USS Sterlet was a Balao-class submarine, which was part of the class of submarines that comprise the largest class in the United States Navy. This successful design was used during World War II, and was built upon the earlier designs of the Gato-class. Sterlet was commissioned on March 4, 1944 with Commander O. C. Robbins in command.
Sterlet completed a total of five war patrols, with the first in the Bonin Islands where she was able to sink four enemy ships. Her second war patrol sent her to the Nansei Shoto where she managed to rescue six downed airmen off Okinawa, as well as repeated attacks on a Japanese convoy. During November 1944 Sterlet was one of seven total submarines that formed a coordinated attack group. While a component of this attack group Sterlet, Trigger, and Silversides engaged in a gun duel with an enemy sub chaser, eventually sinking the enemy craft with torpedoes. After nearly two months in Hawaii, Sterlet sailed off for Honshu, Japan particularly the area off Tokyo Bay. During this post she stood lifeguard duty for Fifth Fleet pilots attacking Tokyo, making reconnaissance sweeps of the Japanese Fleet. She also patrolled with a wolf pack consisting of four other subs, claiming two kills, a freighter and a tanker. Sterlet’s final war patrol consisted mainly of assisting in lifeguard duties for crews of carrier planes and B-29 superfortresses attacking Japan. Sterlet was awarded six battle stars for World War II service.
Post World War II
After the war Sterlet operated along the western Pacific, as well as participating in the Navy’s show of force along the northern China coast. She also spent some time along the Hawaiian Islands and Brisbane, Australia, among other locations. On May 1, 1948 Sterlet reported to the Pacific Reserve Fleet for inactivation; she was placed out of commission, in reserve on September 18, 1948 and berthed at Mare Island, California. Nearly two years later she was ordered reactivated and re-commissioned on August 26, 1950 with Lieutenant Commander George W. Kittredge in command. In January 1953 she was deployed to the Far East, joining in on hunter-killer exercises, as well as conducting photographic reconnaissance on Marcus Island.
For the remainder of her career Sterlet reported for duty to Submarine Squadron 1 at Pearl Harbor, having exchanged crews and home ports with Besugo SS-321. Upon return from her final deployment during the summer of 1968, Sterlet was found to be unfit for further naval service. She was decommissioned on September 30, 1968 and her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register the following day. Her last act of service occurred on January 31, 1969 when Sterlet was sunk as a target by the nuclear-powered submarine USS Sargo SSN-583.
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.