USS Porpoise SS-172 (1935-1957)

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In the mid 1930’s, the Portsmouth Navy Yard built two submarines of 1310 tons, the first of which was the USS Porpoise. Commissioned in August 1935, the Porpoise was dispatched in 1936 to Pacific waters where, for three years, she patrolled the western coast of the mainland United States and southwest as far as Hawaii.  As 1939 ended, Porpoise was reassigned. She teamed with the Asiatic Fleet in the Far East and, for the following two years, engaged in peacekeeping operations.

Action in World War II

In December 1941, when Japan instigated the Pacific Theater of the war, the Porpoise was under repair at Olangapo. Her repairs rapidly completed, she joined her initial war patrol before the close of the year. Porpoise participated in six war patrols between 1941 and 1945.

Her initial mission was to the South China Sea and the Philippines. At Java, in January 1942, the mission terminated. Enemy forces suffered no losses.  The Porpoise’s next patrol began in February. She bolstered the forces against Japan’s attack on the Netherlands East Indies. The Porpoise attacked, but proved unsuccessful against a Japanese convoy. Her second patrol ended in March of 1942.

In April 1942, Porpoise was provisionally stationed in Fremantle, Australia. Her third war patrol lasted from April to June. Orders sent her to the East Indies and back to California, where she docked for overhaul until November.  Returning to active combat late in November, the Porpoise received her fourth mission: a dangerous patrol well into Japanese waters, where the ship battled a typhoon and sent down one of the enemy’s cargo ships.

Porpoise’s two final war patrols carried her to the central Pacific for a stint from February to April of 1943 and, once again, from June to July. In July, Porpoise sank an enemy transport but, after weathering a depth charge, leaked oil badly. Her active war patrol days were over.

After the War

By summer of 1943, USS Porpoise, damaged and outdated, was retired from active combat duty. However, the submarine continued to serve as a training facility, stationed in New London, Connecticut, for the remainder of World War II.

In November 1945, Porpoise was officially decommissioned, although continued to serve military purposes. In May 1947, Porpoise began a short, stationary, noncommissioned stint as a training vessel for the Naval Reserve near Houston, Texas. The Navy struck her from its Vessel Register during August 1956, and sold USS Porpoise as scrap metal in May 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.


Naval Historical Center

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