In Memoriam - USS R-12 (SS-89) Lost 12 June 1943
USS R-12 (SS-89) was part of a class submarines built after the First World War. These submarines were envisioned as being used for coastal and harbor defense, but they were able to carry enough fuel for extended operations. Habitability was improved over previous submarines, and there was even room aboard R-12 for a small machine shop, allowing for at least limited repairs while underway.
Most of the R-class submarines were decommissioned in the 1930s to save money, and R-12 was no exception. She spent nearly eight years in the reserve fleet before being returned to service in 1940.
R-12 conducted war patrols out of the Panama Canal Zone during the first few years of the war, then shifted to the New England area for a time before being transferred to Key West, Florida to be a training ship, providing instruction for the many submariners being trained to serve aboard the newer Gato and Balao class subs being built for the war.
R-12's career as a school ship was short. She arrived in Key West in May 1943. On 12 June, 1943, R-12 sank during a training exercise. She was scheduled to practice an underwater torpedo attack. As she was preparing to dive, a report was made that there was flooding in the forward battery compartment. Despite an order to blow all ballast tanks, the small submarine quickly flooded and within 15 seconds of the initial alarm, R-12 sank.
The only survivors were the Commanding Officer, two other officers and three enlisted men, all of whom were on the bridge when the accident occurred. No one from inside the submarine was able to escape. In all, 42 men, including two Brazilian Navy observers, lost their lives.
Since the water depth in the area was about 600 feet, and R-12's crush depth was around 300 feet, no rescue or salvage was attempted.
The Naval History and Heritage Command announced on 24 May, 2011 that R-12 had been located on the sea floor in 600 feet of water. A detailed examination of the site is planned for 2012.
Image courtesy of Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, DC.