USS Volador SS-490 (1948-1977)

The USS Volador, a Tench-class diesel-electric submarine, was built by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Began in June 1945, her hulk remained unfinished until August 1947, when her construction resumed with GUPPY II enhancements to the original Tench design. Sponsored by Mrs. Dudley W. Morton, she was launched on May 21, 1948. With Commander H. A. Thompson in command, she was commissioned on October 1, 1948.

Service History

Following completion of her builder’s trials on January 20, 1949, she sailed for San Diego, making several port stops along the way. She operated on the California coast until October 13, 1949, when she sailed for Pearl Harbor. However, she returned to San Diego just over a week after arriving, spending the rest of 1949 as well as most of the following year conducting various west coast training exercises. In June 1950, en route to a two-week reserves cruise to Hawaii, the Korean War broke out, and the submarine spent two months training in Hawaiian waters before returning to San Diego for operations on the west coast that lasted into the summer of 1951.

Action in the Korean War

Departing San Diego on July 21, she arrived at Yokosuka, Japan on august 15, 1951. Three days later she began a period of special operations, which saw her conduct an undetected reconnaissance patrol in the area of Hokkaido, Japan, for a four-week period. This patrol allowed Commander, Naval Forces Far East, to stay informed of any Soviet or Chinese communist seaborne and airborne activity in that area. She identified and photographed numerous radar contacts during this operation, including the exchange of patrol reports and other valuable information with other U.S. vessels. She ended this patrol at Yokosuka on September 22, after celebrating her 1,000th dive. She then conducted ASW operations, followed by hunter/killer operations en route to Okinawa from Japan in company with Task Group (TG) 96.7.

Returning to San Diego in January 1952, she conducted local operations until early summer, then spent three months in the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Puget Sound area before entering the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for an overhaul in October. She then provided services to ASW surface units, aircraft, and the Fleet Sonar School and participated in type training, Exercise "Pacphibex," and hunter/killer exercises after returning to San Diego. Returning to Pearl Harbor in mid-August, she received briefings and tested experimental sonar equipment at sea on August 20.

Two days later, on August 22, 1953, she began another period of special operations, undertaking an Alaskan training cruise which kept her in northern waters until October 1953. Volador arrived back at Pearl Harbor on October 7, 1953. She then returned to San Diego, providing services and conducting training there until May 1954, where she again underwent overhaul. In October she returned to local operations in San Diego, departing on January 3, 1955 for her second tour of duty in the Western Pacific (WestPac).

After arriving at Yokosuka on January 26, she conducted type training and provided ASW services to a destroyer division and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force until March 1, 1955. Two weeks of routine upkeep preceded another period of special operations on the 14th. On March 19, she began a submerged patrol on the lane between Vladivostok and La Perouse Strait, which lasted until April 8. Upon completing this patrol, she was commended for excellent photography, correct identification of contacts, and accurate reporting of identifying characteristics regarding the 33 ships contacted.

After returning to San Diego on July 1, 1955, she spent the next two years operating along the west coast. She finally began another Far East deployment in August 1957, departing Pearl Harbor on August 6 for a 30-day patrol off Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka. Nine days into this intelligence-gathering mission, motor troubles cut the trip short, and she left the Petropavlovsk area on August 25. This patrol saw the Volador contact 13 merchant and eight war ships.

After a scheduled upkeep, she left Subic Bay for Yokosuka on November 17, conducting a special reconnaissance patrol in the Sea of Okhotsk until January 4, 1958. Despite severe ice and blizzard conditions, she finished this photographic mission undetected. She then returned to San Diego via Japan and Pearl Harbor, arriving on January 28, 1958. After remaining in San Diego until October 3, she spent the next month making port visits at Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. Following that, she patrolled the areas of Esquimalt, Port Angeles, Tacoma, and Seattle until November 22, when she returned to San Diego, arriving on 26 November. She operated there until May 5, 1959, when she entered the San Francisco Naval Shipyard at Hunters Point for overhaul.

Local operations resumed after the overhaul, followed by a late December WestPac deployment. This deployment included many operations, like amphibious Exercise "Blue Star" and SEATO Exercise "Sea Lion." She then returned to San Diego and 20 months of local operations. A reserve cruise in early April, 1962 preceded her placement 'in commission, in reserve" while undergoing FRAM Mk I conversion to a Guppy III configuration at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard. When she returned to local operations at San Diego in April 1963, she was one of the most modern diesel-electric submarines in the Fleet.

In September 1963, another WestPac deployment took place, which included a special assignment resulting in her receiving a commendation from the Commander, Submarine Force, United States Pacific Fleet. She again received recognition for a successful weapons system evaluation test in late 1964.

January 1966 saw the Volador’s participation in weapons system accuracy trials, followed by San Diego refresher training, a three-week administrative inspection and a nuclear weapons acceptance inspection. Type training, sound trials and propeller replacement followed. She then spent the remainder of April until May 11 in San Diego tests and preparations for another WestPac deployment.

After making her way to Yokosuka and remaining in upkeep status there from September 15 to 23, she sailed for Hong Kong on the September 26, making stops at Kaohsiung and Midway Island before returning to her home port via Pearl Harbor. Arriving in mid-November, she spent the remainder of 1966 in holiday leave and upkeep status.  For her service that year, she was nominated for the Captain Edward F. Ney Memorial Award and received the Squadron 5 award for fire control and weapons excellence.

She spent the first half of 1967 participating in various exercises, undergoing upkeep and repairs, and qualifying for a nuclear weapons technical proficiency inspection, a material inspection, and an operational readiness inspection. She then traveled to New Zealand, arriving on August 15 for participation in LONGEX 67. She then traveled to Subic Bay for upkeep and repair, participated in Exercise "Gillnet," visited Buckner Bay, Okinawa, and arrived at Yokosuka, Japan, on September 26. Various operations out of Yokosuka occupied the remainder of the Volador’s year.

She began 1968 with a Hong Kong port visit, followed by a stop at Yokosuka, where she learned that her deployment was being indefinitely extended in response to the capture of Pueblo (AGER-2) by the North Koreans. Departing January 31, she returned 31 days later, stopping at Pearl Harbor before returning to San Diego. Arriving on March 29, she was in post-deployment upkeep and local operations until June 26.  A regular overhaul and the installation of an Mk 48 fire control system followed. On December 20 and 22, post-overhaul trials were conducted and she finished out the year at the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California.

Sound and weapons trials in the Puget Sound area occupied Volador’s January and February, followed by upkeep and training in preparation for heading to the Pacific Northwest for a quality assurance system test of the Mk 48 Astor torpedo. A May 20 and 21st stop for students of the Naval Postgraduate School, local members of the Navy League, and city leaders at Monterey, California proved highly successful and generated great media attention.

Returning to San Diego, she began upkeep and a final workup for deployment before sailing for Yokosuka, Japan. That Christmas season, she visited Bangkok, Thailand, providing a week of services to the Royal Thai Navy. She left December 26 for Hong Kong.

Two more weeks at Yokosuka followed before her return to San Diego. Arriving February 12, 1970, she spent a month in upkeep and crew rest before a three-month period of numerous exercises and drills to retrain the crew and prepare for transfer to the east coast. After departing on August 7, she spent the remainder of 1970 at her new home port of Charleston, South Carolina.

Drills and upkeep in preparation for a Mediterranean deployment occupied the first few months of 1971. Arriving in Rota, Spain, in April, she participated in Exercise "Dawn Patrol 71" with several NATO units, She then made several Mediterranean port visits before a July 19 return to Rota. She then left for Charleston on July 21, though on August 1 she was diverted to render assistance to the tanker M/T Lacon, a Liberian vessel which was on fire. She arrived at Charleston four days later, beginning a period of leave and upkeep until September 20, when she entered the Charleston Naval Shipyard for a regular overhaul and battery renewal.

Volador was transferred to Italy on August 18, 1972. For her service during the Vietnam War, she received three campaign stars.

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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