Tuesday, November 18, 2008

USS Finback (SS-230)

Figure 1: USS Finback (SS-230) slides down the building ways at her launching at Portsmouth Navy Yard, New Hampshire, 25 August 1941. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: Launching of the USS Finback (SS-230) at Portsmouth Navy Yard, 25 August 1941 at 2:40 PM, view showing ship in water being towed to berth No.1 by the tugs Penacook (YT-6) and Sightseer. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: U.S. Naval Submarine Base, New London, Connecticut. Members of the 4th Command Class at the Submarine Base, February 1942. Those present are, bottom row left to right: Lieutenant Commander Mannert L. Abele; first command would be USS Grunion (SS-216). He would be killed in action while commanding the Grunion, 30 July 1942. Lieutenant Commander Thomas B. Klakring; first command would be USS Guardfish (SS-217); Commander Karl G. Hensel, Officer in Charge; Lieutenant Commander George W. Patterson, Jr., Senior Assistant; and Lieutenant Commander Jesse L. Hull; first command would be the USS Finback (SS-230). Top row, left to right: Lieutenant Commander Howard W. Gilmore; first command would be USS Growler (SS-215). He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after he was killed in action on the bridge of Growler, 7 February 1943. Lieutenant Commander Philip H. Ross; first command would be USS Halibut (SS-232); Lieutenant Commander Arthur H. Taylor; first command would be USS Haddock (SS-231); Lieutenant Commander Albert C. Burrows; first command would be USS Swordfish (SS-193); and Lieutenant Commander Leonard S. Mewhinney; first command would be USS Saury (SS-189). Official U.S. Navy Photograph # 80-G-88577, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Flasher (SS-249) and probably Finback (SS-230), most likely from April of 1945 when Flasher was in Pearl Harbor while on its way to San Francisco for an overhaul. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: Finback (SS-230) underway off New London, CT, 7 March 1949. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: Lieutenant Junior Grade George H. W. Bush is pulled aboard USS Finback (SS-230) on 2 September 1944 after his TBM Avenger was shot down over ChiChi Jima, a Japanese radio station. Bush was the last aviator shot down over the island to be rescued. All of the other pilots captured on this island during the war were executed. Click on photograph for larger image.

USS Finback (SS-230) was a Gato class submarine that was built by the Portsmouth Navy Yard and was commissioned on 31 January 1942. She displaced 1,526 tons surfaced and 2,424 tons submerged and had a top speed of 20 knots surfaced and 9 knots submerged. Finback had a crew of 60 officers and men and was armed with one 3-inch gun, one 4-inch gun, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes. The submarine also was approximately 311 feet long and 27 feet wide.

After her shakedown cruise, Finback was sent to Pearl Harbor and arrived there on 29 May 1942. On 25 June, she left Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol, which took her to the Aleutian Islands. While in the Aleutians, Finback was attacked by two Japanese destroyers on 5 July. She managed to survive an intense depth charge attack and slip away from the enemy. Finback then completed a reconnaissance of Vega Bay, Kiska, on 11 July and also surveyed Japanese activities at Tanaga Bay, Tanaga, on 11 August. She ended her first war patrol by going to Dutch Harbor on 12 August and then returned to Pearl Harbor on 23 August for an overhaul.

After leaving Pearl Harbor on 23 September 1942, Finback’s second war patrol took her to Formosa. On 14 October, Finback intercepted a convoy of four merchantmen and sank one of the ships before the convoy’s escorts forced her to leave the area. She then headed for the Chinese coast and on 18 October Finback severely damaged a large freighter. On 20 October, Finback sank another large merchant ship and, while steaming on the surface, destroyed an ocean-going sampan with gunfire. Finback arrived back at Pearl Harbor on 20 November.

During her third war patrol, Finback was assigned to escort a carrier task force and on 17 January 1943 she attacked an enemy patrol boat while surfaced. After an intense gun battle, Finback managed to sink the Japanese warship. After a brief stop at Midway Island for repairs, Finback started her fourth war patrol, which lasted from 27 February to 13 April 1943. During this patrol, she scouted the shipping lanes between Rabaul and the Japanese home islands. On 21 March, Finback damaged a large cargo ship and she pursued an enemy convoy from 24 to 26 March. The submarine managed to fire six torpedoes at two of the largest ships in the convoy, but was chased away by Japanese escorts before she could determine whether or not any of them hit. While on her way back to Pearl Harbor, Finback sank a large freighter off Japanese-held Wake Island.

Finback returned to Formosa on her fifth war patrol and on 27 May 1943 she sank a cargo ship. On 7 June she sank a merchant ship and managed to sink another on 11 June before going to Fremantle, Australia, for an overhaul. During her sixth war patrol, Finback prowled around the coast of Java. She sank one freighter on 30 July and another on 3 August. On 10 August, Finback evaded a Japanese escort and a patrol plane and inflicted substantial damage on yet another cargo ship. On 19 August, Finback also badly damaged three small Japanese ships with her guns while surfaced.

After another overhaul, Finback left Pearl Harbor in December 1943 for her seventh war patrol. She went to the South China Sea and, although plagued by bad weather, few contacts, and Japanese patrol planes, Finback still managed to sink a large tanker on 1 January 1944. While surfaced, she also sank a Japanese fishing trawler with her guns on 30 January and badly damaged another the next day.

Finback’s eighth war patrol took her to the Caroline Islands, where she acted as a rescue ship for American pilots while also searching for enemy shipping. She attacked a six-ship convoy on 12 April 1944 but, due to attacks made by the convoy’s escorts, she was unable to determine if she had hit any of her targets. On 16 April, while making a reconnaissance of Oroluk Atoll, Finback fired her guns on a steamer and a lookout tower on the atoll. She then went back to Pearl Harbor for repairs.

During her ninth war patrol, Finback was sent to the Palau Islands and to the Mariana Islands. Her primary assignment was lifeguard duty for American pilots who were shot down while attacking targets on the Mariana Islands. She returned to Majuro in the Marshall Islands on 21 July 1944 for a refit and then left on 16 August for her tenth war patrol. Once again she was assigned to lifeguard duty, this time off the Bonin Islands. She rescued a total of five downed American pilots. One of those pilots was shot down on 2 September 1944 while on a mission to bomb a Japanese radio station on the island of ChiChi Jima, located roughly 600 miles southwest of Japan in the Bonin Islands. He was in his TBM Avenger bomber and, after he dropped his payload and hit his target, his plane was struck by antiaircraft fire. The pilot was forced to bail out of the burning aircraft and landed off the coast of ChiChi Jima. The few American pilots who had landed on the island were all executed by the Japanese, so it was critical to stay as far away from ChiChi Jima as possible. The other American aircraft that took part in the attack radioed for help and strafed a Japanese patrol boat that was attempting to reach the downed pilot who was floating helplessly in his small life raft. Finback was patrolling 15 to 20 miles from the island when she received the call for help. She raced to the scene and within a few hours was able to surface and rescue the young pilot. The downed pilot was 20-year-old Lieutenant Junior Grade George H.W. Bush, the man who would live to become the forty-first president of the United States and father of the forty-third. For his courage and disregard for his own safety in pressing home his attack on ChiChi Jima, Bush was later awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross. Had Finback not rescued the future president, he undoubtedly would have been captured and killed by the Japanese.

On 10 and 11 September 1944, Finback followed a Japanese convoy and eventually torpedoed and sank two small freighters. After that, she returned to Pearl Harbor to refuel and rearm. Finback left Pearl Harbor in November 1944 and returned to the Bonin Islands for additional lifeguard duty for downed American pilots. However, she did manage to sink a freighter on 16 December before returning to Midway on 24 December for repairs.

Finback’s twelfth and final war patrol was made between 10 January and 25 March 1945 and it took her to the East China Sea. Unfortunately, due to a lack of worthwhile targets, Finback was forced to return empty handed to Pearl Harbor for a thorough and lengthy overhaul. She was at Pearl Harbor when the war ended in the Pacific.

Finback went to New London, Connecticut, for the remaining five years of her active career. She was used as a training ship and sailed to the Caribbean in 1947 and 1948 to participate in fleet exercises. She was decommissioned and placed in reserve in New London 21 April 1950 and sold for scrapping in 1959. Finback received an impressive 13 battle stars for her service in World War II and was credited with having sunk 59,383 tons of enemy shipping. Not only did she have an impressive wartime career, but Finback also managed to save the life of a future president of the United States. One can only wonder how history would have been altered had this ship not been patrolling off the Bonin Islands on 2 September 1944.