The USS Grouper, a Gato-class submarine, was launched by the Electric Boat Company on October 27, 1941, seeing sponsorship by Mrs. Albert F. Church. She was commissioned at new London, with Lt. Comdr. C. E. Duke in command, on February 12, 1942.
Action in World War II
Following shakedown in Long Island sound, the Grouper sailed for Pearl Harbor to become part of the Pacific Submarine Force on March 30, 1942. This force was to disrupt Japanese shipping in the Pacific. Prior to departing for her first patrol, the Grouper took up assignment with the submarine screen ringing the area where the crucial American and Japanese fleet conflict took place, the Battle of Midway. While patrolling the fringe of the battle, the Grouper spotted two damaged enemy carriers which were burning, though heavy air cover prevented her from closing for an attack. She took heavy assault that day, being strafed by enemy aircraft and diving deep to avoid an enemy attack which included over 170 depth charges and bombs.
Sailing for her first war patrol on June 12, she managed to damage two Japanese vessels in the China Sea by torpedo before her return to Pearl Harbor on July 30. The Grouper’s second patrol saw the submarine send two Japanese freighters to the ocean floor on September 21 and October 1. Her third patrol took her around Brisbane, Australia, and was highlighted by her December 17 sinking of the Bandoeng Maru, a passenger-freighter headed for the Solomon Islands with enemy troop reinforcements.
Beginning on January 21, her fourth war patrol saw the Grouper’s rescue of a stranded aviator on Rengi Island. She also managed to locate several important Japanese radar installations in the Solomons, before ending this patrol. Although the next four patrols the Grouper undertook netted her no enemy kills, she did manage to accomplish a wide variety of other important actions, including regular patrolling, tying up Japanese warships, landing 50 men and 3,000 pounds of gear on New Britain Island for continued guerilla warfare there and rescuing yet another American aviator stranded at that location.
Following her January 7, 1944 return to Pearl Harbor for additional repairs, the Grouper embarked on her ninth war patrol, which was the last where she scored an enemy kill with the sinking of the Kumanoyama Maru. She sank that vessel in a night surface attack on June 24, 1944. The final three war patrols the Grouper embarked on provided the submarine lacking in targets, so the vessel stood lifeguard duty during several airstrikes and rescued seven downed aviators who participated in the raids on the Palaus in September 1944.
Action in the Cold War
On April 26, 1945, the Grouper returned to Pearl Harbor from her twelfth war patrol, leaving for overhaul at San Francisco for overhaul the following day. The Grouper returned to Pearl Harbor on August 6, though V-J Day cancelled the next scheduled patrol and along with the Toro and Blackfish, the Grouper sailed back to New London. During the next four years, the Grouper undertook local operations and training exercises along the Florida coast and the Caribbean. This period saw the Grouper make two landmark accomplishments, becoming the first submarine to have a Combat Information Center installed in 1946 and accomplishing the first discharge and recovery of men from a submerged and underway submarine.
On March 5, 1950, the Grouper ended her operations in this region, entering the Mare Island Ship Yard to be converted to the Navy’s first “killer” submarine, seeing her classification change to SSK-214 on January 2, 1951. After receiving snorkel and sonar and radar equipment, the Grouper emerged from Mare Island on June 27, 1951, beginning research on the new submarine-versus-submarine warfare that was anticipated. As a member of the Submarine Development Group 2 unit for the next eight years, the Grouper developed and tested concepts of hunter-killer antisubmarine warfare. These operations took her along the East Coast from Nova Scotia to Florida, participating in Caribbean exercises as well. 1953 and 1955 exercises took her across the Atlantic to Rothesay, Scotland, while the fall of 1957 saw her participate in NATO maneuvers.
Reclassified as the AG (SS)-214 in May 17, 1958, on November 28, 1959 the Grouper entered the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Navy Yard to undergo more modifications. Among the modifications she received were having her forward torpedo room converted into a floating laboratory, receiving work benches and additional berths for scientists, and seeing various types of sonar gear added topside. Following her June 23, 1960 departure from Portsmouth, she began the fourth phase of her research vessel for the Naval Research and Underwater Sound Laboratories. These duties as a floating laboratory took her to the Caribbean and Bermuda frequently, though she continued to make New London her home port and engage in operations from there to Nova Scotia. Focusing on the study of sound propagation in water, in December 1962 the Grouper entered the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for another overhaul and modification to prepare her for additional work in this field, resuming her investigations in May 1963.
The Grouper was awarded the coveted Battle Efficiency “E” in June 1964. Entering the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in November 1965, the Grouper received overhaul and equipment modifications to increase her usefulness as a floating underwater sound laboratory, heading to the Caribbean shortly thereafter for intensive research. On December 2, 1968, the Grouper was both decommissioned and struck from the Naval Vessel Registry, being sold for scrapping on August 11, 1970. The Grouper was awarded 10 battle stars for her service in World War II.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.