USS Grunion SS-216 (1942)

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Launched from Groton, Connecticut, on December 22, 1941, the USS Grunion was an ill-fated Gato-class submarine that served briefly in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  The sub received her formal commission on April 11, 1942, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Mannert L. Abele and sailed for the Pacific the next month.

Action in World War II

While under way to Pearl Harbor, the Grunion transited the Caribbean Sea, headed for the Panama Canal.  While there, she was able to rescue 16 survivors of a downed transport ship, the USAT Jack, which had been attacked by a German U-boat.  The Grunion took the survivors to the naval base at Coco Solo in Panama before continuing to Hawaii.

The sub received training at Pearl Harbor and was sent on her first war patrol to the Aleutian Islands on June 30.  Travelling north of Kiska Island, her crew radioed in a report claiming that their vessel had been attacked by a Japanese destroyer, but she continued on her patrol through July, sinking two enemy patrol boats.  At the end of July, the Grunion reported antisubmarine activity in the area and was ordered to return to harbor.

Disappearance at Sea

That was the last message received from the Grunion, which never arrived in port.  Search planes found no trace of her, and she was assumed to be lost on October 5, 1942.  Japanese records report no attacks in the area at the time the Grunion, and the reason for her sinking remains a mystery.  Even her wreckage remained hidden until 2007.

The continuing search was funded by Lt. Cmdr. Abele’s sons.  They discovered that there had been a possible attack on a Japanese ship in the Kiska area on July 31, 1942, and that the ship had fired on a submarine.  Sonar images of the area showed a large, oblong object on the sea bed.  The was found on August 22, 2007, and the next year the Navy confirmed that it did indeed belong to the Grunion.

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.


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