USS Plunger SS-179 (1936-1957)
The USS Plunger was a 1330-ton Perch class submarine constructed at the Portsmouth Naval Yard in Kittery, Maine. Commissioned in November of 1936, she embarked on a shakedown cruise, visiting areas like Ecuador via the Panama Canal. Later in the year, she relocated to the west coast of the United States. Over the next four years she conducted missions around Alaska, Panama, and Hawaii after officially rebasing to Pearl Harbor in the fall of 1941, one week before the fateful kamikaze attack of the Japanese. On December 7th, 1941, the Pacific Theater of World War II began.
Action in World War II
In order to closely monitor her enemies, the USS Plunger quickly headed en-route for the Japanese islands, beginning her first war patrol. Upon arrival, she sank one cargo ship and continued to sink more, terrorizing the Japanese until early June of 1942. The USS Plunger provided support during the Battle of Midway and then took to the water off the coast of China. Her next two patrols, taking place in October through December, found her at the Solomon Islands, where she helped halt Japanese forces during the battle of Guadalcanal.
She continued to snipe away at enemy ships, sinking a total of five ships in the months of March and May 1943. These forays marked her fifth and sixth patrols, respectively. After a few brief skirmishes, the USS Plunger made a daring strike into the Sea of Japan, sinking four merchantmen and simultaneously securing a vital war zone that was previously considered a hotbed of danger for Allied submarines.
Afterwards, she rebased to the Marshall Island in November of 1943, where she conducted multiple rescue missions for downed aircraft in direct support of the Gilbert Islands campaign. During one mission of such search and rescue, a Japanese plane strafed the USS Plunger, causing wounds to six of her crew. After taking leave of foreign waters for a time, she returned to Japanese waters for her tenth patrol, immediately sinking three ships bound for the Marinas with the additional support of the newly commissioned Snook submarine.
Always on the move, the USS Plunger rebased yet again to the Bonin Islands, providing much needed support for the invasion of the Marina islands further south. Her final patrol took place the following summer, and following an overhaul, she was decommissioned in mid-November, a mere three months after the Japanese surrender.
After the War
For another decade, the USS Plunger continued to be a non-operational training submarine for recruits in Brooklyn, New York, and Jacksonville, Florida. After many years of service, the USS Plunger was decommissioned on July 1956 and sold for scrap metal in April 1957.
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.