USS Sturgeon SS-187 (1938-1948)
This Salmon-class, composite diesel-hydraulic and diesel-electric submarine was laid down on October 27, 1936 by the Mare Island Navy Yard. Launched on March 15, 1938 and sponsored by Mrs. Charles S. Freeman, the USS Sturgeon was commanded by Lieutenant Commander A. D. Barnes.
After completing builder’s trials, she began her shakedown cruise on October 15, visiting ports in Mexico, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Ecuador, and Costa Rica before her return to San Diego, California on December 12, 1938. After assignment with Submarine Squadron (SubRon) 6, she operated along the West Coast until making two squadron cruises to Hawaii with the Pacific Fleet. The submarine then left San Diego for Pearl Harbor on November 5, 1940, operating from that port until the month before the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Action in World War II
During the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the Sturgeon was moored in Mariveles Naval Section Base. However, she put out for her first patrol on the next afternoon, patrolling an area between the Pescadores Islands and Formosa. Despite contact with several enemy ships, the Sturgeon ended her first war patrol without any enemy hits. Her first patrol ended on December 25, when she returned to Mariveles Bay.
She began her second war patrol on December 28, sailing to the Tarakan area, off the coast of Borneo. On January 22, she attacked a large ship in a Japanese convoy after being alerted by the Pickerel. She then endured a two and a half hour depth charge attack by the enemy ships, which caused her no damage. She later damaged an enemy transport, though no post-war record of that hit could be found, and made two hits on an enemy tanker two days later. She next was able to warn the commander of the Submarines Asiatic Fleet of an enemy convoy moving towards Makassar City. She finished that patrol escorting the Holland and Black Hawk to Fremantle, Western Australia along with the Stingray.
Her third patrol again took her to Makassar City, where she sank a cargo ship on March 30. On April 3, she hit an enemy frigate directly under the bridge and the Navy officially listed that vessel as probably sunk. She then hit a merchantman, causing it to list heavily as it sailed to the Celebes shore. She avoided two close enemy depth charge attacks during the later part of that voyage before preparing to sail back to Fremantle. However, that return was interrupted as she tried to rescue some Royal Air Force personnel stranded on an island at the entrance of Cilacap Harbor. However, the crew spotted only an abandoned lean-to on their search, and continued onto Fremantle, arriving May 7.
After a refitting, she returned to patrol an area west of Manila for her next patrol, hitting the largest of a nine-ship convoy. After sinking subsequent depth charges virtually unscathed, she sank the 7,267-ton transport, Montevideo Maru, on July 1. Four days later she scored hits on a tanker heading north from Manila. Unfortunately, it was later discovered that over 1,100 Australian POWs and civilian internees were on board the Montevideo Maru when she went down, which was the worst maritime disaster in Australian history.
On her fifth patrol, the Sturgeon sank the 8,033-ton aircraft ferry, Katsuragi Maru, with three torpedo hits. She evaded depth charges from an escort and returned to Brisbane on October 25 for repair and refitting. The submarine ended her sixth patrol on January 4, 1943, arriving at Pearl Harbor for an overhaul after scoring one hit on an enemy maru. Her seventh and eighth patrols proved fruitless as she scored only possible hits on one vessel.
Her ninth patrol brought her to the Japanese home waters, where she attacked a seven-ship convoy on January 11, 1944, sinking the cargo ship, Erie Maru. Five days later she attacked a destroyer and freighter, hearing four hits which the Japanese did not record. Two later attacks on a four-ship convoy sank the Chosen Maru and produced a hit on another ship. She then returned to Pearl Harbor for a refit.
Her next assignment brought her to the Bonin Islands area from April 8 until May 26 and included plane guard duty near Marcus Island during the carrier strikes there. She later attacked a convoy, making two hits before retreating. She attacked that same convoy the next morning, sinking a freighter and leaving another ship dead in the water after two recorded hits. Her last war patrol saw her make a June 29 attack on a convoy which sank the 7,089-ton passenger-cargo ship, Toyama Maru. She then sank a cargo ship in a nine-ship convoy on July 3, evading depth charges and aerial bombs and returning to Pearl Harbor on August 5.
After the War
After arriving in San Francisco for overhaul on Augusts 15, she later sailed to San Diego before heading to the east coast on January 5, 1945. After arriving in New London, she was assigned to SubRon 1, operating in the Block Island Sound as a training ship until October 25. She entered the Boston Navy Yard on October 30 and was decommissioned on November 15. After being struck from the Navy list on April 30, 1948, she was sold to Interstate Metals Corporation on June 12 for scrap. The USS Sturgeon received ten battle stars for her World War II service.
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.