USS Steelhead was a Gato-class submarine that was commissioned on December 7, 1942 with Lieutenant Commander David L. Whelchel in command. During World War II the Gato-class subs were an instrumental core of service, largely responsible for the destruction of the Japanese merchant marine and a large portion of the Imperial Japanese Navy.
Steelhead began her first war patrol on April 25, 1943 where she planted 12 mines off the Japanese mainland near Erimo Saki, along with bombarding a steel plant and iron foundry near Muroran, Hokkaido. Her second patrol included sailing to the Gilbert Islands where she operated as a lifeguard submarine off Tarawa in order to assist Army aircraft. That same deployment also called for her to sail to the Palau Islands during which she was able to damage the tanker Kazalhaya, as well trailing a large convoy in order to provide information to other submarines in the area. While patrolling off Bungo Suido from December 1943 to March 1944, Steelhead torpedoed and sank the 6,795 ton converted salvage vessel Yamabiko Maru. Her remaining war patrols had similar successful results, including the sinking of various other enemy ships. Steelhead completed a total of six war patrols during her service, receiving six battle stars for her service in World War II.
After World War II
Steelhead arrived in San Francisco on September 5, 1945, where she provided services for the West Coast Sonar School until January 1946. She was placed in reserve, out of commission on June 29, 1946 and attached to the Pacific Reserve Fleet. The following May she was placed in service, in reserve and operated as a reserve training ship until she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on April 1, 1960.
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.