The USS Robalo was an American submarine that operated during World War II. She made three patrols during the war, sinking toward the end of her final patrol off the coast Palawan. While there were no survivors to confirm reports it is thought that she struck a charge in the heavily mined waters, and quickly sank afterward.
Action in World War II
The USS Robalo was a Gato class submarine, weighing in at 1525 tons and measuring just under 312 feet long. Built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the sub was a diesel electric model which was commissioned in September of 1943. The Robalo traveled to Pearl Harbor before beginning her first war patrol. She traveled to the Philippines in an effort to oust Japanese forces from the area. During this first patrol she sank no ships and is known to have remained submerged through most of the war patrol. This led to the dismissal of her first commanding officer, Stephen Ambruster.
Her second war patrol took the Robalo into the South China Sea under the command of Manning M. Kimmel. During this patrol she was credited with one sinking, though records have never confirmed this. The Robalo was very active during this period, making several attacks on Japanese freighter in the area. After the Robalo was damaged by enemy bombs she traveled to Fremantle for repairs before starting her third, and final, war patrol.
Disappearance at Sea
After leaving Fremantle, the sub once more headed to the South China Sea to support Allied efforts in the area. A month after embarking on her third war patrol the Robalo had to traverse the heavily mined Balabac Straight near Palawan. It is assumed that she struck a mine in the straight and sank. Four survivors managed to swim to shore, however they were captured by Japanese military police and taken as prisoners of war. While remains have never been found, records show that the four survivors were evacuated by a Japanese ship, which was subsequently sunk by Allied attacks.
During her time the Robalo was granted two battle stars for service during World War II. In September of 1944 the Robalo was officially stricken from naval records.
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.