USS Wahoo SS-238 (1942-1943)
A Gato-class diesel-electric submarine was laid down at the Mare Island Navy yard and launched on February 14, 1942. Sponsored by Mrs. William C. Barker, Jr., she was commissioned on May 15, 1942 with Lieutenant Commander Marvin G. “Pinky” Kennedy in command. After fitting out and training along California’s coast, she sailed for Pearl Harbor, arriving on August 18 and undergoing additional exercise training.
Action in World War II
Her first war patrol brought her to the area around Truk and lasted from late August until mid-October. Although she recorded no enemy kills, a freighter was damaged. During her second patrol, she traveled the waters between Truk and the northern Solomon Islands, sinking a tanker and attacking an enemy submarine before returning to Brisbane, Australia. Lieutenant Commander Dudley W. Morton took command of Wahoo on the last day of 1942.
Her next war patrol brought her to the area north of New Guinea in January and February. This patrol proved her most successful to that point, as she sank three ships and left others damaged. Her fourth patrol, lasting from late February to early April 1843, saw her operate in the East China and Yellow Seas. This patrol saw her sink nine enemy vessels. Her fifth patrol, lasting from late April to late May, saw her only sink three enemy vessels due to faulty torpedoes. She followed this with a California overhaul.
Her sixth war patrol was also marred by torpedo problems. During her attacks on nine vessels, all 12 torpedoes she launched either missed, broached of failed to explode. During a September return to the Sea of Japan, she entered what would be a three-week stay in the narrow strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin. Japanese records indicate that during this patrol she sank four ships. However, their records also indicate a successful anti-submarine attack in the La Pérouse Strait on October 11, which accounts for the Wahoo’s failure to return.
Recognized with a Presidential Unit Citation, the Wahoo managed to sink twenty enemy vessels, despite faulty torpedoes. Even after torpedo upgrades helped U.S. forces in the Pacific sink more vessels, the Wahoo still ranks seventh in terms of numbers of enemy vessels sunk.
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.