Tuesday, February 7, 2012
USS Balao (SS-285, AGSS-285)
Figure 1: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Balao (SS-285) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, following overhaul, 25 October 1944. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Balao (SS-285) returns to a Pacific base following a successful war patrol, circa early 1945. The location is probably Guam. Note USS LCT-1000 in the right distance. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, USN, Commander Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet (center), on board USS Balao (SS-285), welcoming the submarine back to port from a successful war patrol, circa early 1945. Location is probably Guam. Balao's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Robert K.R. Worthington, is to the right of Vice Admiral Lockwood, facing the camera. Note 4-inch deck gun, with a Japanese flag and six "hash marks" painted on its barrel. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: Submarine crewmen wave their newly delivered mail, as their "boat" returns to port from a successful war patrol, circa early 1945. Location is probably Guam. The returning submarine is probably USS Balao (SS-285). Note USS LCT-1062 in the left distance, and .30-caliber and .50-caliber machine guns mounted at the submarine's deck edge. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Balao (SS-285) photographed circa 1952. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1974. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Balao (AGSS-285) exercising with a Brazilian S2F anti-submarine airplane and H-34 (HSS-1) helicopter off Key West, Florida, 7 March 1961. The Brazilian helicopter is flying over the submarine in this view. Balao is a unit of Submarine Squadron Twelve, whose insignia is visible on her fairwater, directly over her hull number. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Balao (SS-285). View of USS Balao's "sail,” with Submarine Squadron Twelve insignia, circa 1963. Removed shortly before Balao was expended as a target in 1963, this structure has been on exhibit at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC, since about the middle 1960s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC. Main entrance to the Navy Memorial Museum, circa summer 1978. This entranceway, located between the building's two southern wings, was demolished and rebuilt to another design in 1981-1982. Note the three submarine periscopes located in the museum's southwestern wing, and the old anchor mounted in front of that wing. Large metal plaque above the "Navy Memorial Museum" sign identifies the building's previous use, as the Naval Gun Factory's Breech Mechanism Shop. At right is the conning tower fairwater ("sail") of USS Balao (SS-285), which was relocated to another part of the Navy Yard in 1982 and again in 2001. This photograph was received by the Naval Photographic Center in January 1979. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after a small, slender fish, USS Balao (SS-285) was the lead ship in a large class of American submarines built during World War II. Balao weighed in at 1,526 tons on the surface and 2,414 tons submerged. She was approximately 311 feet long and 27 feet wide, had a top speed of 20 knots on the surface and 8.75 knots submerged, and had a crew of 66 officers and men. Balao was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, one 4-inch and one 40-mm deck gun, and two .50-caliber machine guns. Balao was built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard at Kittery, Maine, and was commissioned on 4 February 1943.
After undergoing her shakedown cruise off the coast of New London, Connecticut, Balao was sent to the Pacific to begin her war against the Japanese. Balao’s first three war patrols originated from Brisbane, Australia, and took place between July 1943 and January 1944. She scoured the area between the Caroline and Bismarck Islands, but was not able to sink any ships, although an attack on a Japanese convoy on 23 October 1943 resulted in a wartime credit for one ship that was not confirmed in post-war review.
Balao left Brisbane for her fourth patrol in February 1944. This time, though, the submarine had much better luck. Balao was patrolling the area north of New Guinea on 23 February when she spotted a small convoy of two enemy freighters and one small escort. Balao fired six torpedoes at the larger of the two freighters, scoring three hits. The small escort steamed towards the submarine, but Balao left before an attack could take place. Balao later returned to the area where the ship went down and found one Japanese survivor and took him on board. The survivor told the Americans that they had sunk the 5,857-ton passenger cargo ship Nikki Maru and that she had sunk rapidly after being hit. A few days later, shortly after midnight on 28 February, Balao crept up on some more Japanese ships and sank the 2,723-ton freighter Shoho Maru and the 6,803-ton passenger cargo ship Akiuro Maru.
Balao made two more war patrols (her fifth and sixth), this time while based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, from April to early August 1944. She sank an armed trawler and rescued several downed US pilots off the Palau Islands. After that, Balao was sent back to the United States and on 20 August arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, for a major overhaul. Once the overhaul was completed, Balao returned to Pearl Harbor and arrived there on 15 November.
Balao left Pearl Harbor on 4 December 1944 on her seventh war patrol and rendezvoused with two other American submarines, USS Spot (SS-413) and USS Icefish (SS-367). Together these three ships formed a small “wolfpack” and made their way to the Yellow Sea between China and Korea. Up until 2 January 1945, the only things the submarines spotted were fishing boats and floating mines. But on that day Balao sighted the masts of a sailing vessel. It was a three-masted schooner and Balao surfaced to attack. Balao fired three torpedoes, two of which missed, but the third hit the schooner squarely amidships and the ship sank immediately. On that same day, Balao located a larger ship on her radar and successfully crept up on her. Early the next morning, Balao got in close to the ship and fired six torpedoes. Three of them hit the target, but the ship, which looked like a tanker, refused to sink. As the tanker sat dead in the water and helpless, Balao circled like a wolf coming in for the kill. Balao fired seven more torpedoes at the tanker and scored three more hits, but, incredibly, the ship refused to go down. Finally, Balao came in close to the ship and fired three more torpedoes, scoring one more hit. This appeared to be the final blow and the ship went down after that. Although the Balao’s captain thought he had “bagged” a tanker, post-war records show that it was, in fact, the 5,244-ton freighter Daigo Maru. Balao patrolled independently after that and on 19 January 1945 she arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam, for some repairs alongside the submarine tender USS Apollo (AS-25).
Balao began her eighth war patrol on 27 February 1945 by joining three other American submarines and heading for the East China and Yellow Seas. On 18 March, Balao located a 188-ton trawler and sank it with gunfire. The next morning, Balao attacked a convoy of four Japanese transports that were guarded by four escorts. Balao fired 10 torpedoes at three of the targets. The men on board Balao heard four of their torpedoes hit and they later received credit for sinking the large 10,413-ton transport Hakozaki Maru. Later that same afternoon, Balao surfaced to attack a group of small trawlers. The submarine sank one trawler with gunfire and left the three others burning. On 26 March, Balao sank the 880-ton cargo ship Shinto Maru No. 1 using gunfire and then returned to Guam for fuel, provisions, and torpedoes.
Balao’s two final combat cruises, from May to August 1945, produced no major results for the submarine, but she did manage to save several American pilots who were forced down over the ocean. Balao was sent back to the US east coast at the end of August 1945, shortly after the war with Japan ended. She was decommissioned a year later and joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
Balao was re-commissioned on 4 March 1952 at the US Naval Submarine Base at New London, Connecticut. After her shakedown training, Balao was sent to Key West, Florida. There she served primarily as a training ship for antisubmarine and Special Development Forces in the Key West and Guantanamo Bay operating areas. For the next ten years, she served as a target in training exercises for anti-submarine forces and regularly visited ports around the southern United States. Balao made a South American cruise from January to March 1957 and participated in exercises with local navies. Then in 1959, USS Balao played a “starring role” in the movie “Operation Petticoat,” with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. Balao was the famous “pink submarine” in that motion picture and became a celebrity within the fleet, at least for a little while.
Balao was re-classified AGSS-285 in April 1960 and continued participating in training exercises for the next three years. She deployed to the Mediterranean in mid-1962 and served at sea in the western Atlantic during the Cuban Missile Crisis later that year. USS Balao was decommissioned on 1 August 1963 and her name was struck from the Navy list that same day. Her hulk was sunk off the coast of northern Florida on 6 September as a target. However, before she was sunk, Balao’s conning tower fairwater (which is the superstructure that surrounds and conceals the conning tower, also known as the “sail”) was removed from the ship. It was preserved and has been on exhibit at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC, since the mid-1960s. USS Balao received nine battle stars for her service during World War II, but no Oscar nominations for her role in the movie “Operation Petticoat.”