The USS Guardfish SS-217, the first to bear that name, was a Gato-class submarine built by the Electric Boat Company and launched on January 20, 1942. She was subsequently commissioned on May 8, 1942, at New London, Connecticut, and Lieutenant Commander Thomas B. Klakring placed in charge. In all, the Guardfish earned 11 battle stars for her service in the war, and all but two of her patrols were designated successful.
Action in World War II
The Guardfish arrived in Pearl Harbor on July 25 and was sent on her first patrol to northeast Honshu. By the end of August, she had sunk an enemy trawler and a cargo ship. Still on her first war patrol, she attacked a Japanese convoy in early September, sinking three more ships. Her second patrol was similarly successful, and for these two cruises she earned the Presidential Unit Citation.
Her third patrol, which ended in Brisbane, Australia, saw her sink a patrol vessel, a cargo ship, and a destroyer. Though her fourth patrol reported no sinkings, she torpedoed one freighter and damaged another during her fifth in the New Guinea area. She destroyed more enemy vessels in her sixth and seventh patrols, but also performed reconnaissance and lifeguard duty.
For her next patrol, the Guardfish teamed up with three other submarines to form an attack group nicknamed “Mickey Finns.” The group, and the Guardfish in particular, had great success, earning another Presidential Unit Citation. Her next two patrols also saw her operating in “wolf packs” with other submarines. On her eleventh patrol in early 1945, she sank no ships, but did rescue two downed pilots out of Saipan. On her final patrol, she performed lifeguard duty and sank a trawler.
After the War
The Guardfish spent the remaining few months of the war at Pearl Harbor, training other ships in antisubmarine warfare. In September, she returned to the continental U.S. and was decommissioned not long after. On June 1, 1948, she was once again brought into service for training purposes, but she was finally taken out of action and stricken from the Naval Register in 1960. The next year, she was sunk as a target for testing of new torpedoes.
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.