USS Pilotfish SS-386 (1943-1946)

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Named for a hardy herbivorous fish, the USS Pilotfish was built at a Navy Yard in Portsmouth. This astounding ship was notorious for her speed and operation. She was laid down on May 15, 1943, and launched that August.

After training in Portsmouth, the Pilotfish carried out experimental torpedo firings at Newport in an effort to maximize the effectiveness of the projectiles. The Pilotfish completed every one of her scheduled tests, trials, and test runs in New England. On April 7 of that year, she traveled to the Panama Canal to report for duty.

Action in World War II

Following that period of progressive training, the Pilotfish departed on May 16, 1944 for her first war patrol in the company of the submarines the Pintado and the Shark. Less than two weeks later, the pack would encounter Japanese Convoy No. 3530. While the other two subs were able to sink parts of the convoy, the Pilotfish played only a supporting role in the attack.

On July 27, 1944, the Pilotfish departed on her second war patrol. Nearly an hour after the initial watch on August 20, she came upon a 150-ton freighter. She fired two Mk.23 torpedoes, but was not successful in her effort to strike her target, though she later sank the Ina Maru.

After receiving repairs for her third war patrol, the Pilotfish encountered a payload ship accompanied by what was presumed to be two Chidori-class torpedo vessels. Though she was able to fire off four torpedoes, no damage was done to the enemy’s ships. The Pilotfish’s fourth war patrol to Saipan, in the company of the USS Finback and the USS Rasher, was similarly uneventful.

The Pilotfish’s fifth patrol mainly involved lifeguarding duties at Marcus Island, Saipan, and Guam, and the war ended a week into her sixth patrol.  She participated in the beginning of the occupation of Japan before departing for home on September 3, 1945.

After the War

Like many World War II watercraft, the USS Pilotfish was used as a target in the atomic bomb tests of the mid-1940s.  She was sunk in July of 1946, and though salvage crews were sent to raise her, she was found to be too damaged.  However, for her service in the war, the Pilotfish received five battle stars.

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.


Naval Historical Center

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