USS Thornback SS-418 (1944-1971)
USS Thornback was a Tench-class submarine, which was a class built for the United States Navy between 1944 and 1951. This class improved upon its predecessors with a stronger build and improved internal layout, despite only increasing the weight of the sub by 35 to 40 tons. Thornback was commissioned on October 13, 1944 with Commander Ernest P. Abrahamson in command.
World War II Service
Thornback stood out to sea, bound for the Japanese homelands as the lead ship of a wolf pack known as “Abe’s Abolishers.” This wolf pack was instrumental in making anti-picket boat sweeps in the Tokyo-Yokohama area before proceeding to hunting grounds located off the east coast of Honshu and south of Hokkaido. Thornback continued to operate as a part of this wolf pack, which also included Angler SS-240 and Sea Poacher SS-406 throughout the summer months of 1945, engaging in various gunfire battles and occasionally firing her torpedoes. Following the shelling of Urakawa, Thornback set sail for Midway Island arriving just seven days before the Japanese surrendered. Thornback received a battle star for her service in World War II.
Post-War Service and Decommissioning
Once back in the United States, Thornback was decommissioned at New London, Connecticut on April 6, 1946 and placed on in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. Under the GUPPY, or Greater Underwater Propulsive Power Program, Thornback was converted and reactivated. In October of 1953 she was re-commissioned and assigned to Submarine Squadron 4 with Lieutenant Commander Thomas C. Jones, Jr., in command. During her time with Submarine Squadron 4 Thornback participated in operations that supported the Operational Development Force, the Fleet Sonar School, and the Fleet Training Unit located at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In 1958 Thornback sailed for Londonderry Port, Northern Ireland in order to perform operations with the joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force anti-submarine school. During these exercises the sub managed to damage her port propeller, thus becoming the first American submarine to be docked at Faslane by the Royal Navy. Further activity included working in a support capacity for newer subs joining the Sixth Fleet.
After being placed in a reduced manning status, the ship was turned over to the Turkish Navy on July 1, 1971, where she was renamed TCG Ulucalireis S 338. That same day she was decommissioned, and was later struck from the Naval Vessel Register on August 1, 1973.
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.