USS Growler SS-215 (1941-1944)
A Gato-class submarine constructed by the Electric Boat Company, the Growler was launched on November 2, 1941 and commissioned on March 20, 1942, seeing command from Lieutenant Commander Howard W. Gilmore.
Action in World War II
On April 29, 1942, the Growler began her first war patrol, taking her to patrol around the Dutch Harbor, Alaska area, which she reached on June 30. Five days into that patrol, she encountered three enemy destroyers, firing torpedoes which struck the first two targets amidships. Those destroyers were put out of action while the third took a hit to its bow, though she managed to fire two torpedoes of her own, which sailed by on either side of the Growler and narrowly missed the submarine. Luckily, no depth charges followed and the enemy destroyer, the Arare, sank. Not finding any additional targets during that patrol, the Growler returned to Pearl Harbor on July 17.
Her second and most successful war patrol began with her entering the area near Taiwan on August 21. Beginning her patrol of that area with near misses on two freighters, she eventually spotted a convoy which she could not catch, yet managed to sink one of the convoy’s ex-gunboats, the Senyo Maru. Shifting to the east side of the island, the Growler first sank the Eifuku Maru, a 5,866-ton cargo ship which she put down within just 40 minutes of first spotting. On September 4, the Growler sank by gunfire the Kashino, a 4,000-ton supply ship, while three days later she hit the 2,204-ton cargo ship, Taika Maru, with two torpedoes, breaking her in half and sending her to the ocean floor in two minutes. She returned to Pearl Harbor on September 30.
Sailing to the Solomon Islands equipped with new surface radar and a new 20mm. gun, she was not able to make attacks on enemy vessels in this area because of the heavy enemy aircraft cover that protected the Guadalcanal area’s vessels. She arrived at Brisbane, Australia on December 10 to rest until her next patrol, which began on New Year’s Day, 1943. As she entered her patrol, the Truk-Rabaul shipping lanes area, on January 11, she waited only 5 days before sighting an enemy convoy. After firing two torpedoes and sinking the Chifuku Maru, a passenger-cargo ship, she had to dive without continuing the attack because she was only about 400 yards from an enemy destroyer.
This patrol continued normally until February 7, when she approached a gunboat for a night surface attack. Unfortunately, the boat turned to ram, forcing Comdr. Gilmore to bring the Growler left full rudder and ram the enemy amidships at 17 knots. However, the enemy vessel raked the bridge of the submarine with gunfire, lethally wounding Comdr. Gilmore, who cleared the deck, except for himself, and ordered her taken down before he could make his way inside. Realizing he could not make it inside if his ship were to be saved, for his sacrifice the commander was awarded the Medal of Honor, just one of six submariners to receive this award. The seriously damaged Growler returned to Brisbane under command of her exec., Lt. Comdr. A. F. Schade, docking on February 17 for repair.
Her fifth, sixth and seventh patrols out of Brisbane to the Bismarck-Solomon area were relatively uneventful, though she was able to sink the passenger-cargo ship, the Miyadono Marti, on the fifth. Heavy enemy air cover and a lack of targets slowed the progress of these patrols. Her seventh patrol was marred by trouble with the storage battery and generators, sending her to Pearl Harbor just 11 days out of Brisbane. From there she headed to the Navy Yard at Hunter’s Point, California for an extensive overhaul and refitting.
Upon returning to the Pacific on February 21, 1944, the Growler headed for her patrol area after departing Pearl Harbor and refueling at Midway. However, a typhoon delayed her arrival to her patrol area. Returning to Majuro on April 16, the Growler departed from there on May 14 to patrol the Marianas-Eastern Philippines-Luzon area, where the initial stages of the attack on the Marianas and the Battle of the Philippine Sea were beginning. Rendezvousing with the Banff and Seahorse to form a wolfpack, she was able sink only one cargo ship despite closing several targets.
Her tenth war patrol found her in the “Ben’s Busters” wolfpack with Sealion and Pampanito as the three sailed to the Formosa Straits area. She attacked a Japanese convoy on August 31, though no sinkings were reported. Another attack on a convoy on September 12 saw the Growler hit an enemy destroyer, which attempted to ram the submarine, yet narrowly missed. Other torpedoes fired from the Growler and the other wolfpack members struck the rest of the convoy and upon returning to Fremantle, Australia, “Ben’s Busters” were credited with sinking six enemy ships. Growler sank the destroyer, Shikinami, and the frigate, Hirado, while her companion ships each sunk two vessels as well. The submarines also managed to save over 150 allied prisoners from a torpedo ship serving as a Japanese prison.
The Growler’s eleventh and final war patrol saw the vessel sail in a wolfpack with the Hake and Hardhead. On November 8, the wolfpack closed on a convoy for attack headed by the Growler. Both other submarines then obeyed the order to commence attacking from the lead ship. However, during the attack the Hake and Hardhead heard the sounds of a torpedo explosion and then a series of depth charges on Growler’s side of the convoy, then silence. Efforts to contact the Growler over the next three days proved futile and the submarine was listed as lost in action against the enemy, cause unknown. The Growler received eight battle stars for her World War II service.
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.