USS Albacore (SS-218)

USS Albacore (SS-218)

USS|Albacore|SS-218 was a "Gato"-class submarine which served in the Pacific Theatre during World War II, winning four Presidential Unit Citations and nine battle stars for her service. During the war, she was credited with sinking 13 Japanese ships (including two destroyers, a light cruiser, and the aircraft carrier "Taihō") and damaging another five; not all of these credits were confirmed by postwar JANAC accounting.

Operational history

"Albacore" was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named for the albacore. Her keel was laid on 21 April 1941 by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on 17 February 1942 (sponsored by Mrs. Elwin F. Cutts, the wife of Captain Cutts), and commissioned on 1 June 1942, Lieutenant Commander Richard C. Lake (Class of 1929) in command.

First Patrol

Following shakedown, the submarine proceeded "via" the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor and, from that base on 28 August 1942, began her first war patrol, to waters of the north and northeast pass through the coral reef which surrounds Truk. On 13 September, "Albacore" sighted two cargo vessels in column and prepared for her first combat action. She made a submerged approach and fired three torpedoes at the leading ship and two at the second. One or two torpedoes hit on the first ship; none struck the second. "Albacore" claimed to have damaged the leading vessel.

Her next enemy contact came on 1 October when she made a night surface attack on a Japanese tanker. She expended seven torpedoes and scored two hits. Although the tanker appeared to be low in the water, she was still able to leave the scene under her own power. On 9 October, "Albacore" spotted a "Shōkaku"-class aircraft carrier escorted by a heavy cruiser and a destroyer, but the submarine was depth charged by the escorts and forced to break off her pursuit. The next day, she attacked a freighter. One torpedo hit the mark and, 12 minutes after firing, the sound of two heavy explosions caused the submarine's crew to presume they had downed the vessel.

Beginning on the mid-morning of 11 October, "Albacore" was depth charged numerous times. At 15:48, the conning officer finally spotted the Japanese attackers, two submarine chasers and an airplane. A third ship equipped with sound gear joined the group and continued the hunt. The ships crisscrossed over "Albacore", close enough for propeller noise to reverberate throughout her hull and compelled her to proceed at silent running, with her ventilator fans shut down. After a chase of nearly seven hours, the Japanese ships disappeared astern, and "Albacore" then surfaced to clear the immediate area. The next day, "Albacore" headed for Midway Island. Although she had had several opportunities to score during the patrol, "Albacore" was not credited with any damage to Japanese shipping. The submarine arrived at Midway Island on 20 October and commenced a refit.

econd Patrol

With her refurbishing completed and a new 20 millimeter gun installed, "Albacore" sailed on 11 November 1942 for her second patrol. Her assigned areas were the Roger St. George's Channel, New Britain, along the east coast of New Guinea to Vitiaz Strait, and the Dallman Pass off Madang harbor. On 24 November, the submarine spotted a convoy of two cargo vessels. "Albacore" maneuvered into position and fired two stern tubes, but neither torpedo found its target. Two days later, on 26 November, "Albacore" herself became the quarry. Two Japanese destroyers depth charged her and the explosions caused numerous small leaks around the cable packing glands in the pressure hull. After a two-hour chase, the Japanese retired, and "Albacore" shifted her patrol area to Vitiaz Strait. Another golden opportunity arose on 13 December, when "Albacore" found three Japanese destroyers. She released a three-torpedo spread but again was unsuccessful. On 18 December, "Albacore" was stationed off Madang. The submarine discovered what seemed to be a transport and a destroyer.

"Albacore" torpedoed the "transport," and it exploded in a mass of flames and sank. "Albacore" had in fact downed the light cruiser "Tenryū" (3,300 tons), and the second Japanese cruiser sunk by an American submarine in World War II. "Albacore" put into port at Brisbane, Australia, on 30 December 1942.

Third Patrol

After an overhaul of her engines, "Albacore" got underway on 20 January 1943 to begin her third patrol. Off the north coast of New Guinea, she spotted 11 targets in as many days. The first group, encountered on 20 February, consisted of a destroyer and a frigate escorting a minelayer. "Albacore" fired ten torpedoes and believed she had sunk the destroyer and damaged the frigate. In the following days, "Albacore" attacked one tanker, several freighters, and another destroyer. Of eight torpedoes expended during these actions, all missed their targets. When "Albacore" ended her patrol at Brisbane on 11 March, she was credited with sinking one destroyer and a frigate for a total of 2,250 tons.

Fourth Patrol

"Albacore" was briefly dry-docked for repairs and underwent refresher training before sailing for a fourth patrol on 6 April 1943. This time, her area was around the Solomon Islands and Bismarck Islands and off the north coast of New Guinea. While she sighted several convoys, she recorded no hits. "Albacore" returned to Brisbane on 26 May. While "Albacore" was being refitted at that port, Lieutenant Commander Oscar E. Hagberg relieved Lieutenant Commander Lake in command of the submarine.

Fifth & Sixth Patrols

On 16 June 1943, "Albacore" was underway for her fifth patrol and waters surrounding the Bismarcks and Solomons. During this patrol, she sighted three separate convoys and attacked two. "Albacore" claimed to have damaged a transport on 19 July but the submarine failed to sink any vessels. "Albacore" arrived back at Brisbane and began a refit alongside USS|Fulton|AS-11|3.

On 23 August, "Albacore" left to patrol roughly the same area as on her previous assignment. She spotted a Japanese submarine on 31 August but was unable to press home an attack. On 4 September she encountered a two-ship convoy protected by two escorts and sank one of the ships, "Heijo Maru", with three torpedo hits made shortly after the initial contact. The submarine then pursued the other vessel for the next two days but was able to inflict only minor hull damage on her target. She terminated her patrol at Brisbane on 26 September.

eventh Patrol

"Albacore"'s seventh patrol began on 12 October 1943. She fired six torpedoes at a large merchant ship on 25 October but recorded no hits. On 6 November, she received a report of a convoy which had been spotted by USS|Steelhead|SS-280|3, and began to search for it. On 8 November, the submarine found the convoy and started to track it. However, a plane from the Fifth Army Air Force bombed her and caused her to lose contact with the Japanese ships. The submarine sustained no damage.

"Albacore" was again bombed by American aircraft on 10 November. This time, the submarine suffered considerable damage. All auxiliary power was knocked out, and the submarine was plunged into total darkness. The main induction valve went under water before it was shut, and it began filling up with water. "Albacore" plunged to a depth of convert|450|ft|-1 before her dive was checked. For the next two and one-half hours, she bounced between convert|30|ft|-1 and convert|400|ft|-1 while at various attitudes. She finally managed to return to the surface with her trim almost restored. The submarine re-submerged, and it was decided to continue the patrol while simultaneously making necessary repairs.

Eighth Patrol

Following this ordeal, "Albacore" received orders to locate and attack light cruiser "Agano", which had been hit and damaged by USS|Scamp|SS-277|3. "Albacore" found "Agano" on 12 November 1943 and tried to attack, but Japanese destroyers held the submarine down with a four-hour depth charge barrage.

On 25 November "Albacore" sank Japanese army transport "Kenzan Maru".cite book | url =| title = The official chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II | chapter = Chapter V: 1943 | chapterurl = | first = Robert | last = Cressman | location = Annapolis, Maryland | publisher = Naval Institute Press | year = 2000 | isbn = 9781557501493 | oclc = 41977179 | accessdate = 2007-11-25 ]

On her return to Brisbane on 5 December, Lieutenant Commander James W. Blanchard replaced Hagberg in command.

"Albacore" departed Australia on 26 December 1943 to patrol north of the Bismarck Islands. She spotted her first target on 12 January 1944 and sank cargo vessel "Choko Maru" with two separate torpedo attacks. Two days later, in company with Walter Ebert's USS|Scamp|SS-277 and "Bub" Ward's USS|Guardfish|SS-217, she blew up the destroyer "Sazanami" (flushed by "Guardfish") [Blair, Clay, Jr. "Silent Victory" (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975), p.484.] with four shots from "Albacore"'s stern tubes. Another destroyer pinned "Albacore" down and delivered fifty-nine depth charges, leaving "Scamp" and "Guardfish" free to pursue the three tankers; they succeeded in sinking one each. [Blair, p.484.] Following more than a fortnight of uneventful patrolling, the submarine headed home. She made brief fuel stops at Tulagi and Midway Island before reaching Pearl Harbor on 22 February. After three days of repairs to get her ready for the voyage, "Albacore" continued on to the Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, California, for overhaul.

Ninth Patrol

"Albacore" left Mare Island on 5 May 1944 and held training exercises with USS|Shad|SS-235|3 "en route" to Hawaii. "Albacore" reached Pearl Harbor on 13 May and spent the next two weeks on final repairs and training. "Albacore" began her ninth patrol on 29 May and was assigned waters west of the Mariana Islands and around the Palau Islands. During the next few days, she made only one contact, a Japanese convoy which she encountered on 11 June. But before the submarine could maneuver into attack position, a Japanese aircraft forced her to dive and lose contact.

The Sinking of "Taihō"

On the morning of 18 June, two days after American forces began landing on Saipan, "Albacore" shifted from her position west of the Mariana Islands to a new location convert|100|mi|km further south. Admiral Lockwood (COMSUBPAC) [Blair, p.654.] ordered this move in the hope of enabling the submarine to intercept a Japanese task force (under command of Admiral Jisaburo Ozawa) reportedly steaming from Tawi Tawi toward Saipan. At about 08:00 the next morning, 19 June, "Albacore" raised her periscope and found herself in the midst of Ozawa's main carrier group. Blanchard allowed one Japanese carrier to pass unharmed and selected a second one for his target. Once inside convert|5300|yd|m|abbr=off, the submarine's torpedo data computer (TDC) started giving false information. To maximize the odds of a hit, Blanchard fired all six bow tubes. The carrier was in the process of launching an air strike, and one of the pilots intentionally dove his plane into a torpedo, setting it off early. Three Japanese destroyers immediately charged "Albacore". While the submarine was diving to escape, her crew heard one solid torpedo explosion. About that same time, 25 depth charges began raining down on the submarine. Then Blanchard heard "a distant and persistent explosion of great force" followed by another. [Blair, p. 628.]

One of Blanchard's torpedoes had hit the carrier. It was Ozawa's flagship, "Taihō", 31,000 tons, the newest and largest in the Japanese fleet. The explosion jammed the ship's forward aircraft elevator; its pit filled with gasoline, water, and fuel. However, no fire erupted, and the flight deck was unharmed.

The one torpedo hit on "Taihō" caused little concern on board. Ozawa still "radiated confidence and satisfaction" and by 11:30 had launched raids Three and Four. Meanwhile, a novice took over the damage-control work. He thought the best way to handle gasoline fumes was to open up the ship's ventilation system and let them disperse. When he did, the fumes spread all through the ship. Unknown to anybody on board, "Taihō" became a floating time bomb.

About 3:30 that afternoon, "Taihō" was jolted by a severe explosion. A senior staff officer on the bridge saw the flight deck heave up. The sides blew out. "Taihō" dropped out of formation and began to settle in the water, clearly doomed. Though Admiral Ozawa wanted to go down with the ship, his staff prevailed on him to survive and to shift his quarters to the cruiser "Haguro". Taking the Emperor's portrait, Ozawa transferred to "Haguro" by destroyer. After he left, "Taihō" was torn by a second thunderous explosion and sank stern first, carrying down 1,650 officers and men.

[Blair, p.630.] No one on "Albacore" thought "Taihō" had sunk, and her skipper was angry for "missing a golden opportunity." After this action, "Albacore" was assigned lifeguard duty for planes striking Yap and Ulithi. On 2 July, "Albacore" shifted over to intercept traffic between Yap and the Palau Islands. The submarine spotted a wooden inter-island steamer loaded with Japanese civilians. "Albacore" decided to stage a surface gun attack. After insuring the ship was afire, "Albacore" dived to avoid an airplane. The submarine surfaced soon thereafter and picked up five survivors.

"Albacore" put in to Majuro on 15 July. She was praised for an aggressive patrol and received credit for damaging a "Shōkaku"-class carrier. American codebreakers lost track of "Taihō" after the Battle of the Philippine Sea and, while puzzled, did not realize she had gone down. Only months later did a POW reveal her sinking.

Tenth Patrol

After a refit alongside USS|Bushnell|AS-15|3, the submarine began her tenth patrol on 8 August 1944. Her assignment was the Bungo Suido-Kii Suido area, and, during this period, "Albacore" was credited with sinking two Japanese vessels, a cargo ship and a submarine chaser. The patrol ended at Pearl Harbor on 25 September.


"Albacore" left Pearl Harbor on 24 October 1944 (with Hugh Rimmer, Class of 1937, [Blair, p.959.] in command), topped off her fuel tanks at Midway Island on 28 October, and was never heard from again. According to Japanese records captured after the war, a submarine (presumed to be "Albacore") struck a naval mine very close to the shore off northeastern Hokkaidō on 7 November 1944. A Japanese patrol boat witnessed the explosion of a submerged submarine and saw a great deal of heavy oil, cork, bedding, and food supplies rise to the surface. On 21 December, "Albacore" was presumed lost. Her name was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 March 1945.

"Albacore" won nine battle stars for her service and the Presidential Unit Citation for her second, third, eighth, and ninth patrols during World War II.

(See also List of U.S. Navy losses in World War II)




*Blair, Clay, Jr. "Silent Victory". Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1975.

External links

* [ On Eternal Patrol: USS "Albacore"]

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