USS Tench SS-417 (AGSS -417)
USS Tench was the lead ship of her class of submarines by the same name. The Tench-class subs were constructed for the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1951, and boasted a stronger build and improved internal layout over their preceding classes, despite weighing only 35 to 40 tons more. USS Tench was commissioned on October 6, 1944 with Commander William B. “Barney” Sieglaff in command.
Tench completed a total of three war patrols between 1944 and 1945, for which she received a total of three battle stars for her service. During her first war patrol, Tench was assigned to a wolf pack consisting of three other subs, Sea Devil SS-400, Balao SS-285, and Grouper SS-214. This wolf pack was a coordinated attack group designated to a patrol area that started in the region of the East China Sea, extending north into the Yellow Sea. The four subs rotated patrols, conducting weather-reporting, photographic-reconnaissance, and lifeguard duties. Prior to concluding her maiden war patrol, Tench was ordered to take part in a picket line of submarines off Japan, serving as part of an early warning system. When the picket was disbanded Tench cleared the area in order to conduct an air-sea rescue sweep of the East China Sea. During this rescue mission, which was at the end of her patrol, Tench was able to pickup both the pilot and radioman from a dive bomber from Essex CV-9.
During her second patrol, Tench again entered waters off the Japanese homeland, this time at the northern entrance of the Sea of Japan. Her mission at this location consisted of intercepting Japanese shipping attempting to run north and south between the Kuril Islands and Tokyo. Tench was able to assail several motor luggers, picket boats, steam trawlers, and other small craft, but no ships of consequence. This, however, was not the case for the remainder of the war patrol. Before heading back to Midway Island in mid June, Tench managed to sink a total of four enemy ships, totaling 5,000 tons.
Tench’s third war patrol would be the last of her hostile actions. This mission involved the destruction of various vessels and dockside installations at the hands of Tench. However, she was officially credited with zero hits due to the size of those craft. That August the Japanese Empire surrendered, effectively ceasing all hostilities. Tench remained on station until August 28, 1945 before mooring at New London, Connecticut exactly one year to the day since she had entered commission.
Post War Service and Decommissioning
In March of 1946, Tench was placed in reserve at New London, where she remained idle until October 1950 when she was converted to a Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program, or GUPPY, submarine. Following extensive modifications to improve submerged operations, she was re-commissioned in January 1950 at Norfolk, Virginia with Commander Frederiek N. Russell in command.
Her second period of active service lasted over two decades, and consisted mainly of routine training operations off the East Coast. During the late summer and early fall of 1968, Tench participated in a NATO exercise, known as Operation Silvertower, in the eastern Atlantic. Toward the end of her career she was given the hull classification symbol AGSS-417, which stands for general auxiliary submarine, in October 1969, and placed in commission, in reserve, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Following this change in May 1970, Tench was berthed and placed out of commission. She remained in reserve until 1973, when in August she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register, after which she was scrapped.
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.