USS Barbero (SS-317)

USS Barbero (SS-317)

USS "Barbero" (SS/A/G-317) was a "Balao"-class submarine of the United States Navy, named for a family of fishes commonly called surgeon fish. Her keel was laid by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut on 25 March 1943. She was launched 12 December 1943, sponsored by Mrs. Katherine R. Keating, and commissioned 29 April 1944, with Lieutenant Commander Irvin S. Hartman in command.

The Barbero in World War II

"Barbero"'s war operations span the period from 9 August 1944, until 2 January 1945, during which time she completed two war patrols. She is credited with sinking three Japanese merchant ships totaling 9126 tons while patrolling in the Java and South China Seas.

On 27 December 1944, en route to Fremantle, Australia, "Barbero", while at periscope depth, received an aerial bomb close aboard aft. This near miss damaged the port reduction gear and put her out of action for the remainder of the war.

In September 1945 she was ordered to Mare Island Naval Shipyard where she underwent pre-inactivation overhaul and was placed in commission in reserve 25 April 1946.

"Barbero" received two battle stars for her World War II service.

Post War Service

Following conversion to a cargo submarine at Mare Island, "Barbero" was recommissioned, her hull classification symbol changed to SSA-317, and assigned to the Pacific Fleet on 31 March 1948. Between October 1948 and March 1950 she took part in an experimental program to evaluate her capabilities as a cargo carrier. Experimentation ended in early 1950 and she was decommissioned into the reserve 30 June 1950.

On 1 February 1955, "Barbero" entered Mare Island Naval Shipyard for her second conversion, equipping her to launch Regulus nuclear cruise missiles. Her hull classification symbol was accordingly changed to SSG-317 and she was recommissioned on 28 October 1955. She operated off the coast of California until April 1956 when she transited the Panama Canal and joined the Atlantic Fleet.

"Barbero" conducted nuclear strategic deterrence patrols in the Atlantic for the next eight years, through the Cuban Missile Crisis and other heightening tensions of the Cold War.

Missile Mail

In 1959 "Barbero" assisted the United States Postal Service (USPS) in its search for faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation. The USPS tried their first and only delivery of "Missile Mail", though the idea of delivering mail by rocket was not new. Shortly before noon on 8 June 1959, "Barbero" fired a Regulus cruise missile at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station, Mayport, Florida. Twenty-two minutes later the missile struck its target; its nuclear warhead had been replaced by two official USPS mail containers.

The USPS had officially established a branch post office on "Barbero" and delivered some 3000 pieces of mail to it before "Barbero" left Norfolk, Virginia. The mail consisted entirely of commemorative postal covers addressed to President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower, other government officials, the Postmasters General of all members of the Universal Postal Union, and so on. They contained letters from United States Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield. Their postage (four cents domestic, eight cents international) had been cancelled "USS Barbero Jun 8 9.30am 1959" before the boat put to sea. In Mayport, the Regulus was opened and the mail forwarded to the Jacksonville, Florida, Post Office for further sorting and routing.

Upon witnessing the missile's landing, Summerfield stated, "This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation." Summerfield proclaimed the event to be "of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world," and predicted that "before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."


"Barbero" ended her nuclear strategic deterrence patrols and returned to the Pacific for decommissioning 30 June 1964. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on 1 July 1964, prior to being used as a target and sunk by USS|Greenfish|SS-351 on 7 October 1964, off Pearl Harbor.


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