USS Tunny SS-282 (1942-1969)

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This Gato-class diesel-electric submarine was laid down by the Mare Island Navy Yard and launched on June 30, 1942. Sponsored by Mrs. Frederick G. Crisp, she was commissioned on September 1, 1942 and commanded by Lieutenant Commander Elton Watters Grenfell.

Action in World War II

After training out of both California and Hawaiian ports, she arrived at Pearl Harbor on January 12, 1943 for her first war patrol. On January 26, she sighted a trawler, though darkness forced her to end that attack. She made another unsuccessful attack on a freighter on January 29, and again in early February. That February attack saw her strike a loaded tanker with a dud torpedo, allowing it to escape without serious damage.

On February 3, she sighted another target on radar, sending a volley of torpedoes that stopped the target’s screws immediately. The Tunny claimed a sinking of this vessel only identified on radar. On the evening of February 8, she gained her first confirmed kill when she sank a 5,000-ton cargo ship after shadowing it all day. She scored two hits on a large transport the following day, though it did not sink. En route to Midway, she sank a 100-ton fishing trawler with her deck guns, concluding her first patrol on February 24, 1943 at Pearl Harbor.

Following refit and training, she left the Hawaiian Islands on March 18, arriving off Wake Island on March 27, 1943. The next morning she followed two patrol boats to a cargo ship, which she hit with torpedo, blowing off its stern. However, the buoyancy of its cargo kept it afloat and the Tunny was driven off before it could finish the job.

On April 2, while patrolling off Alet Island, she sank a cargo ship, suffering minor depth charge damage from a nearby destroyer. She added a third cargo ship kill to her resume on April 7, when she sank an 8,000-ton passenger-cargo ship with two torpedoes. Although an April 9 attack on a convoy was marred by more premature and dud torpedoes, the commander of the Tunny received commendation for his skill and aggressiveness in the attack, which inflicted only minor damages. Close contact with an enemy submarine and destroyer ended this patrol, for which she received the Presidential Unit Citation. She moored at midway on April 23 after her highly aggressive patrol.

Following refit at Midway and repairs at Hawaii, she got underway for Eniwetok on April 27 for her third war patrol. A May 31 bomb exploded over the Tunny’s torpedo room, causing miscellaneous damage, including the destruction of her bridge speaker, which disrupted her on-board communication abilities. Her patrol at Truk was marred by enemy biplanes, which thwarted attacks on convoys by hovering overhead and guiding possible targets around the submarine, out of firing range.

On June 14, she damaged a transport amid enemy vessel gunfire. June wore on without success, until the 28th, when she sank a converted gunboat and managed to avoid the attack of an armed trawler. Her third patrol wound down in early July, as she first headed to Guam, and the Hawaii, amid Japanese aircraft badgering.

Following refit and training, she departed for her fourth war patrol on August 5, entering her assigned area of the Palaus Islands on August 22. On August 25, she began an attack on a convoy, being driven down by depth charges. The next morning she made another attack, though she was again driven deep by depth charges.

An August 26th attack near the Toagel Mlungui Pass led to depth charging which damaged the Tunny, setting a small fire and causing her to temporarily lose main power. However, efficient and skillful handling of the situation ensured the Tunny’s survival. Despite at-sea repairs, the commanding officer ordered the Tunny back to Pearl Harbor, where she arrived on September 8.

She had to return to Hunters Point, California for overhauls and repairs, which lasted until February 2, 1944. She finally departed Pearl Harbor on February 27 for her fifth war patrol. On March 22, while patrolling the Palaus, she made an attack on a convoy, sending six torpedoes at two heavily loaded cargo ships before being driven deep by retaliatory depth charges. 87 depth charges were dropped in an attempt to destroy the Tunny, though she remained undamaged. She surfaced late in the day to search for crippled or remaining vessels, but found none.

On March 23, she maneuvered for position on an enemy I-class submarine, eventually launching four torpedoes. After seeing and hearing what felt like a flash inside the Tunny’s coning tower, causing crew members to fear they were hit, the submarine dove to 150 feet to circle the area. The enemy submarine had been destroyed. On March 29, she made an attack of a large formation clearing the Caroline Islands area in anticipation of an allied aerial bombardment. However, she was not able to sink any of the vessels, and dove to avoid a concentrated depth charge attack. She arrived at the Palau Islands for lifeguard duty early on March 30. However, she was mistakenly attacked by a bomber, which narrowly missed sending her to the ocean floor. For this patrol, which ended at Australia on April 11, she received the Presidential Unit Citation.

After refit and repairs, she arrived to patrol the Mariana Islands for her sixth war patrol on May 11, 1944. On May 17, she made an attack on a convoy, scoring hits on a cargo ship that eventually sunk it before diving to avoid depth charges. Traveling through the Balintang Channel on June 16 with a coordinated attack group, she sank a small sampan with gunfire before returning to Philippine Sea patrols that lasted with her attack group until June 22.

She departed for her seventh war patrol on August 4 as a member of a coordinated attack group called “Ed’s Eradicators.” An August 31 attack by the members of her wolfpack in the South China Sea forced her to continually evade enemy fire into the evening.  Bombing from an enemy plane the following day caused significant damage to the vessel, including sheared off valves and bolts, damaged meters, clocks, and gauges. Furthermore, the Tunny’s radio antennas were all down, a leak in her pressure hull had been aggravated, and Tunny’s rudder action indicated possible damage. She returned to Pearl Harbor on September 17, having suffered damage too great to continue patrolling.

After battle damage repairs and an overhaul at hunter’s Point, she returned to Hawaii and began her eight war patrol on February 3. On March 13 and 14, she performed a special reconnaissance mission off the Nansei Shoto in preparation for landings planned for Okinawa on April 1, completing that mission on March 15 after plotting over 230 mines. During lifeguard patrols off Amami ÅŒshima an enemy plane dropped bombs which landed close, but caused only minor damage. At the end of March, she rescued two fliers from aircraft carrier Intrepid (CV-11) and one from Bennington (CV-20), both ships which took place in the Okinawa assault. En route to Midway to end this patrol, she sank a 200-ton lugger with her deck gun.

Her ninth and final war patrol followed a refitting and a week of sonar and approach training, followed by repairs and additional sonar exercises at Guam. She began that patrol on May 28, forming the second group of “Hydeman’s Hellcats,” known as “Pierce’s Polecats.” On her way to patrol Honshu’s western shore, she again made her way through a straight littered with mines, plotting over 80 by sonar. During this operation, she attacked shipping and made exploratory attempts to enter Japanese harbors, coming within 5,000 yards of the harbor mouth at Uppuri Wan before being spotted and retreating.

On June 16, she came upon numerous rafts filled with Japanese survivors of an attack by Bonefish, taking prisoner a Japanese chief petty officer who had escaped. The following day she narrowly avoided gunfire, and days later her attack on a cargo ship was foiled by shallow waters. After remaining off Hokkaidō for two days in the hope that she might be able to aid Bonefish, missing since her request to make a daylight submerged patrol of Toyama Wan, she returned to her home port, then making her way back to the west coast where she was decommissioned on December 13, 1945 and placed in the Mare Island Group, 19th Fleet.

After the War

The rise of Communist aggression in Korea led to the Tunny’s placement in commission, in reserve, on February 28, 1952. However, she was decommissioned only months later without seeing action. She was then recommissioned in March 1953, and converted to carry guided missiles. Reclassified with SSG-282, she then served as a Regulus missile submarine for nearly 12 years.

May 1965 saw the end of that missile program and the Tunny was redesignated with hull classification symbol SS-282, remaining in Hawaii until the end of that year to conduct training exercises and provide other services.  1966 saw her conversion to a troop-carrying submarine and re-designation to hull classification symbol APSS-282. February 1967 saw her undertake missions in unconventional warfare off the coast of Vietnam, including reconnaissance in preparation for amphibious assault operations and gathering navigational and oceanographic information.  Her ability to transport small teams and gather information led to her involvement with Operation Deckhouse VI.

After her reclassification as LPSS-282, she was decommissioned on June 28, 1969. On June 30, 1969, the Tunny was struck from the Naval Vessel Register and she was sunk as a target the following year, on June 19.

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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