USS Whale SS-239 (1942-1960)

This Gato-class submarine was launched on March 14, 1942 after her construction by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Sponsored by Mrs. A. D. Denny, wife of Captain A. D. Denny, the commanding officer of the shipyard, she was commissioned on June 1942, with Lieutenant Commander John B. Azer at her helm. After dock trials and shakedown, she sailed to San Diego for type training in the San Diego and San Francisco areas.

Action in World War II

Arriving in Pearl Harbor in late September 1942, she arrived off Kii Suido on October 25 and began to scout the vicinity, which had been designated for a naval minefield. Though originally ordered to lay mines 20 nautical miles offshore, the sighting of several freighters only about one nautical mile offshore prompted executive officer Frederick "Fritz" Harlfinger II to convince Commander Azer that their mines should be planted as close to the shore as possible. Although it is uncertain how effective this change in location was, Japanese shipping records indicate Whale’s minefield sank five enemy ships.

October 26 proved highly productive, as the Whale first sank a large cargo ship, then damaged another and heard one of her torpedoes explode shortly after firing on a third vessel she sighted. An October 30 attack on two freighters proved less effective, as she scored just one hit and was heavily damaged in a 17-hour enemy depth charge attack.

Repairs followed from November 10, 1949 to January 2, 1943, with her arriving at the Wotje and Kwajalein area on January 10 for two days' patrol off those atolls. On January 13, she sank a 3,550-ton freighter with a four-torpedo attack in the shipping lane from Kwajalein to Truk. On January 17, she sank a passenger-freighter bringing in troop reinforcements with eight direct torpedo hits. After patrolling the Caroline Islands for the next week, she made an unsuccessful attack of a tanker on January 25, which resulted in her receiving light depth charge damage.

The next evening she attacked a steamer, hitting the vessel with a torpedo which did not detonate. On the morning of January 27, she attacked the Shoan Maru,  though faulty torpedoes caused none to detonate. Nevertheless, the Whale was credited with the kill, as the vessel apparently sank due to hits from dud torpedoes.

Four days after a refitting which was completed on February 16, Lt. Comdr. John B. Azer was relieved of command by Lt. Comdr. Albert C. Burrows. Following various test dives and underway tests, on the last day of February the Whale got underway for the Marianas on her third war patrol, arriving off Tanapag Harbor, Saipan Island, on March 10 to begin patrolling the shipping lanes between the Marianas and Japan.

On March 20, she attacked a small convoy, sinking one and damaging another before sustaining heavy damage from depth charges and air fire which prevented her from learning the fate of the enemy convoy. Despite the damage, she continued patrolling, sinking two more freighters on March 23. March 25 saw her take an all-day pursuit which ended with seven torpedo misses, disappointing the crew greatly. After an unsuccessful attack on a small freighter on March 28, she returned to Pearl Harbor, undergoing refitting, subsequent tests, and training before heading to Midway for repairs to her hydraulic system and her air search radar. Her fourth war patrol began on May 10.

On May 15, she arrived east of Wake Island, staying to assist in a bombing attack on that island before leaving that evening. Outside the harbor of Apra, Guam, on May 26, she sank a retriever type sampan acting as the only antisubmarine measure. Scoring three hits on a seaplane tender on June 5, she was forced to abandon the attack when an escort headed towards her. However, Japanese records indicate this vessel survived. On June 9, while heading towards the Empire–Truk route through the Mariana Islands, she scored several hits on two freighters she sighted, leaving the area and arriving back at Pearl Harbor on June 21 after this successful attack.

After almost a month, she returned to Midway for refitting before sailing to the Tokyo–Truk shipping lanes to begin her fifth war patrol. However, poor weather in early August caused significant damage which included the cracking of a number of battery jars, disabling cells forward and aft. Despite a gyro regulator failure on August 7, 1943, she managed to sink a 7,149 ton Naruto Maru with two torpedo hits.

After patrolling in the Tokyo-Truk route, the Bonin area, and the East China Sea, on August 20 the Whale was caught in a typhoon, weathering three days of rough weather without damage. Four days later she intercepted an enemy convoy headed for Nagasaki, hearing four torpedo explosions but being unable to follow of determine the damage done. On her return voyage, she made another unsuccessful attack.

After an overhaul lasting from September to December, she departed for her sixth war patrol in the Tokyo–Truk shipping lanes, Minami Shima, and the Mariana Islands, Nansei and Bonin Islands areas. After sinking a freighter in a convoy the Seawolf had been pursuing, she sustained minor damage. She then sank another freighter being driven her way by the Seawolf shortly thereafter. However, Japanese records failed to credit the Whale with this sinking. On January 24, during an attempted attack, a fire in her trim pump necessitated her return to Midway, where Lt. Cmdr. James B. Grady relieved Burrows as commanding officer on February 9. She then returned to Pearl Harbor for a starboard propeller replacement, failing to return to Midway for her seventh patrol until March 13.

Her seventh patrol saw her sink an unescorted freighter on April 8. The rest of her patrol was relatively uneventful, with the exception of an April 23rd retreat from a patrol boat. She ended that patrol at Majuro on May 3 for refitting and a three-day training period. Her eighth war patrol took her from Majuro on May 28 and to the Japanese home islands. On June 7, she made an attack on a convoy, scoring several hits before being forced to retreat. After continuing patrol until July 5, she headed for Midway, then Pearl Harbor, undergoing a refitting which lasted until August 12 and was followed by training exercises.

Her ninth patrol, beginning on August 24, saw her join a large force of submarines to form a scouting line between the western Caroline Islands and the Philippine Islands to act as offensive scouts during Operation "Stalemate," which was the invasion of the Palau Islands. After spending over a week making emergency repairs and conducting training dives, patrolling on station, and submerging to avoid detection by unidentified aircraft, she sailed to the southeast of Formosa, where she received further orders to continue patrols. On October 6, while a unit in "Wilkins' Bears,” she sank a large tender. After further patrols, she returned to Midway for refitting.

November 21 saw her begin her tenth war patrol as she operated off the Ryukyus islands until the end of 1944. After an unsuccessful attack on December 22, she sank four trawlers with gunfire the following day. After an unsuccessful early January search for 11 survivors of a downed B-29 Superfortress, she received orders to return to Midway, then Pearl Harbor, arriving on January 15. On January 26, 1945, she entered the Mare Island Navy Yard for overhaul.

Unfortunately, after returning to Pearl Harbor, the submarine's hydraulic plant was discovered to need an overhaul, which delayed her eleventh war patrol a month. Lt. Cmdr. Freeland H. Carde, Jr., also relieved Commander (Cmdr.) James B. Grady during this delay. Her patrol began on June 15, and she began patrolling the Japan-Wake island supply lines until a June 30 trip to Guam. Lifeguard duty in the areas of Nanpō Islands, Marianas, and Bungo Suido then occupied her for two weeks, during which time she saved 15 downed aviators. She again hit heavy seas during a patrol east of Okino Shima on July 30. After taking on several rescued aviators from other vessels, she returned to Saipan for fuel, hearing of the Japanese capitulation there. She then arrived at Pearl Harbor on August 25, 1945.

After the War

After departing Pearl Harbor on August 30, she made several east coast stops before arriving at New London, Connecticut on October 30, 1945 for inactivation preparations. Decommissioned in January 1947, she was placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet before being towed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, making several visits to Portsmouth and New London before ending at New London in September, 1948. Partially reactivated from November 14 to December 14 1956, she arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana on January 22, 1957 for recommissioning. She was decommissioned for the final time in September 1957 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on March 1, 1960. She was sold for scrap on September 29, 1960. For her World War II service and sinking of 57,716 tons of Japanese shipping, she received 11 battle 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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