USS Tuna SS-203 (1940-1948)

This Tambor-class diesel-electric submarine was laid down by the Mare island Navy Yard and launched on October 2, 1940. Sponsored by Mrs. Wilhelm L. Friedell, she was commissioned on January 2, 1941 and commanded by Lieutenant Commander J.J. Crane. Shakedown operations in Hawaii revealed the submarine’s torpedo tubes were misaligned, forcing her to return to Mare Island for repairs that lasted until January 7, 1942. Her repairs found her away from Pearl Harbor during the surprise attack on December 7.

Action in World War II

Her first war patrol began on January 25 and brought her to the East China Sea. Tine sank a 4,000-ton cargo ship on March 4 for her only kill of that patrol. April 14 saw her begin her next patrol for hunting off Honshu. She sank an 805-ton cargo ship on May 15 before returning to Pearl Harbor a month later.

After a refit, she became Task Unit 8.5.12 and sailed to the Aleutian Islands for her third war patrol. She returned from that patrol after only briefly sighting a Japanese I-boat once that month and aiding in the Army occupation of Adak Island by transporting a colonel and six enlisted men from Dutch Harbor to Kuluk Bay. She returned to Pearl Harbor from that uneventful patrol on September 5.

Following a routine overhaul, she set off for her fourth war patrol. She made an unsuccessful attack on a destroyer off New Georgia Island during this patrol before docking at her new base of Brisbane, Australia. She sailed on her fifth war patrol on January 18, 1943, though unsuccessful attacks around the east coast of Vella LaVella and frustration characterized this patrol.

Following a refitting, she took up her sixth war patrol in the Bismarck Archipelago. However, on March 16, she received orders to shift her position to a point southeast of a line between Mussau and Manus Islands in the Admiralties. Spotting a convoy on March 29, she followed it all night before sinking the 4,697-ton Kurohime Maru with two torpedo hits. On April 4, she again changed patrol zones, and then returned to Brisbane on April 20.

En route for her seventh patrol station, she escaped an attack from a Japanese submarine on May 19, the prepared to bombard Wakde Island. However, Japanese subchasers put an end to those plans. Her eight war patrol began out of Brisbane on July 29, 1943. However, a Royal Australian Air Force patrol bomber attacked her, forcing her to return to Brisbane for 17 days of major repair. That eighth patrol was then pushed back to August 21, though it too proved fruitless.

Her ninth war patrol began on November 7 after a Fremantle, Australia refit. On November 21, she hit an enemy merchantman with one torpedo. However, she had more success on December 12, sinking a 5,484-ton cargo ship, which was her largest kill in the war to this point. She then arrived at Hunters Point, California for a major overhaul.

Her tenth war patrol began on April 24, and saw her rove the Palaus area. On May 4, she sank a 100-ton trawler carrying classified documents. She sank the vessel with her 3-inch deck guns, leaving the ocean around her littered with the secret documents and Japanese survivors. The Haddock then arrived to help pick up the documents and prisoners. After bombarding the phosphate works on Fais Island with 24 rounds from her deck gun ten days later, she served out the remainder of this uneventful patrol, arriving at Majuro Atoll on June 21.

Her 11th patrol ended with her unsuccessful return to Pearl Harbor on September 5. Following refit, she began her next patrol on October 8, sailing for the western Pacific to participate in Operation "King Two," which was the invasion and liberation of the Philippine Islands. During that patrol’s operation with the wolf pack, “Roach’s Riders,” she made only one unsuccessful attack.

Her final patrol brought her to the west coast of Borneo on January 6, 1945. She conducted special missions during that patrol, reconnoitering and landing personnel and supplies. However, she returned to Fremantle on March 13, 1945 with no enemy kills. Participating in training duty and docking at Subic Bay and Saipan, she returned to San Francisco on September 14.

After the War

She returned to the east coast to assist in the maintenance and security of other submarines sent to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for tests. Eventually she was selected as a target vessel for the upcoming atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Arriving at Bikini Atoll in March 1946, she took a place among the target vessels, though she received only superficial damage. After returning to the Mare island navy yard, she was retained as a radiological laboratory unit and subjected to numerous radiological and structural studies. She was decommissioned on December 11, 1946, and on September 20, 1948, she was sunk off the west coast. She was struck from the Navy list on October 21, 1948. Tuna received seven 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.

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