The first USS Gudgeon was a Tambor-class submarine built at the Mare Island Navy Yard in California. She was launched on January 25, 1941, and commissioned on April 21 under Lieutenant Commander Elton W. “Joe” Grenfell. At the end of the summer, the Gudgeon headed north to Alaska to examine several harbors for possible naval bases. She then proceeded to Pearl Harbor, but was at the Lahaina Roads channel when the Japanese attacked the base in December.
Action in World War II
Four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Gudgeon was sent out on the first American submarine war patrol of World War II. She was also the first U.S. sub to patrol the Japanese coast and the first to sink an enemy warship, the Japanese submarine I-73. Her success continued into her second and third patrols, where she sank two ships before participating in the Battle of Midway. Though she did not fight in the battle, she acted as part of a submarine screen surrounding the action.
The Gudgeon’s fourth patrol brought only one kill near Truk, though she also attacked a four-ship convoy. Her fifth patrol yielded similar results, though on her sixth, she was assigned two special missions. First, in January of 1943, she landed six men on an island in the Philippines to assist with guerilla resistance and then rescued 28 men from Timor Island.
On her seventh and eighth patrols, the Gudgeon sank transports and tankers, and delivered more guerilla fighters to the Philippines. After a much-needed overhaul in San Francisco, the sub ran a patrol in the Marianas Islands, sinking one ship and damaging others. On October 31, while in the South China Sea, she took out two more Japanese tankers and a troop transport. During her eleventh and final patrol, she was attacked by escorts of an aircraft carrier, but managed to sink several smaller boats by the end of the patrol.
Disappearance at Sea
On the way out to her twelfth patrol on April 7, 1944, the Gudgeon stopped for fuel at Johnston Island, which was the last contact her crew had with anyone. The exact location and nature of her sinking is unknown, but it was likely either near Iwo Jima or the Maug Islands. For her service, the Gudgeon was awarded eleven battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.
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.