Friday, January 20, 2012

USS S-36 (SS-141) Runs Aground

Originally built in 1918, USS S-36 was, at the time of her construction, on the cutting edge of technology. Armed with four torpedo tubes and a 4-inch gun, S-36 was, along with her sisters of the same "S" class, the workhorses of the American submarine force in the 1920s and 1930s.

A number of "S" class boats were assigned to the Asiatic Fleet, which operated out of American bases in the Western Pacific, including Qingdao, China (then known as Tsingtao) and Manila, Philippines.

When hostilities broke out, S-36 was on patrol in the northern Philippines. Hampered by repeated equipment failures, S-36 ended her patrol on December 18th. After repairs, she was ordered to make a final patrol of Philippine waters, then retire to the East Indies, where Allied forces were gathering after the loss of the Cavite Naval Yard in Manila.

On January 1st, S-36 located a small Japanese transport tied up to the seawall in the port of Calapan, Philippines. She fired a single torpedo at her stationary target and claimed a sinking. However, postwar records could not confirm this.

At the end of her patrol, S-36 was ordered to Surabaya, Indonesia. During the trip, S-36 ran hard aground on a reef in Makassar Strait. Despite damage control efforts, the decision was made to abandon the submarine. Dutch forces evacuated the entire crew, who were reassigned to other submarines and continued to fight.

After all classified material was removed or destroyed, S-36 was left for the sea to claim.

S-36 was awarded one battle star for her WWII service.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's Been a BUSY Winter

During the winter, when the weather prevents us from working outside, we still have plenty to do inside. We have been removing many of the front covers off of various indicator panels and other pieces of equipment and restoring them to their original condition.

This work includes carefully removing label plates, lights and other items, then stripping off the existing paint (sometimes as many as 20 layers). Once cleaned, the cover is then re-painted with a historically accurate paint.

While this is going on, the lights are checked for damage and broken lenses or bulbs are replaced. The label plates (often themselves covered with multiple layers of paint) are cleaned and the lettering restored (using paint applied with a needle).

The all the parts are re-assembled, and the restored cover plate is replaced.

All this work is done in a matter of days, because the restored cover plates have to be back in place to allow tours to be safely conducted.

All told, nearly 50 pieces of equipment has been restored this winter alone.

Photograph courtesy of Joe Mathis. More photographs of the work we are doing can be seen on the 2011 Restoration Page.

Photographs of all of the restoration work done over the last 6+ years can be found here.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Memoriam - USS Swordfish (SS-193)

Swordfish (SS-193) was a very successful submarine, despite being a pre-war Sargo-class submarine with only four torpedo tubes forward (Razorback, like most WWII submarines had six torpedo tubes forward). During her career, Swordfish sank a destroyer and sank or damaged 28 merchant ships, including three that she engaged on the surface with her 3" 50-caliber deck gun.

also holds the distinction for being the first U.S. submarine to sink a Japanese vessel during World War II. She also participated in the evacuation of critical personnel from the Philippines, including the President of the Philippines and his family.

USS Swordfish (SS-193) was lost with all hands during her thirteenth war patrol.

She had been ordered to conduct photographic reconnaissance of Okinawa, in preparation for the planned amphibious assault on the island, a Japanese stronghold. She transmitted a radio message on January 3rd and was never heard from again.

January 12th is given as the most likely date of her loss, as USS Kete (SS-369) reported radar contact with a submarine that morning, and then heard the sounds of a depth charge attack in the same area about four hours later. It is generally believed that the radar contact was with Swordfish, making it likely that she was lost in the subsequent depth charge attack. However, Japanese records do not record any attack, so her true fate may never be known.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

In Memoriam - USS Argonaut (SS-166) - Sunk 10 January, 1943

USS Argonaut (SS-166) was sunk by Japanese forces on 10 January, 1943, after intercepting a Japanese convoy southeast of New Britain. An American pilot witnessed the attack from a U.S. Army plane and reported that Argonaut's torpedoes severely damaged a Japanese destroyer.

After withstanding an intense depth charge attack, Argonaut was forced to surface, apparently at a very steep up-angle. Her bow was shelled by the remaining destroyers in the convoy, and no further radio contact was made with her. Japanese records indicate that she was destroyed in this engagement by depth charging and subsequent gun fire.

Argonaut served three war patrols during WWII. During her second patrol, she coordinated with USS Nautilus to transport US Marines to Makin Island for an attack against enemy shore installations, and then to return the marines to Pearl Harbor, an operation which proved highly successful.

Just over four months after this accomplishment, Argonaut went down with all 105 hands.

Photograph courtesy of the U.S. Naval Historical Center

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Sailor, Rest Your Oars. Passing of CAPT Ken Brown, USN (ret)

It is with deep regret that we announce the passing of Captain Ken Brown, USN (ret).

Captain Brown passed away at Tripler Army Medical Center, in Honolulu, Hawaii after a battle with cancer.

Captain Brown had been Razorback's Commanding Officer from March, 1966 to May 1968.

Captain Brown was an active and enthusiastic supporter of the museum. He traveled to visit us several times, and was even kind enough to donate his personal scrapbook to us. The scrapbook contained over 200 photographs, newspaper clippings and other documents related to his time aboard Razorback.

While some of the photographs were routine, many others offered a candid look at life aboard a submarine during the height of the Cold War. The above photograph was taken on New Years Eve 1966. A number of items from Captain Brown's scrapbook are on display in the museum.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Captain Brown's family, and have not yet reached us. Please take a moment to remember this member of Razorback's crew.

Anniversary of Razorback's Return to Duty

USS Razorback on 08 January 1954

On January 7th, 1954, Razorback returned to active duty after spending 16 months in the shipyard being modified and modernized under the GUPPY (Greater Underway Propulsive Power) program. The GUPPY modifications were so extensive and took so long to accomplish that submarines going through the program were routinely decommissioned, freeing up their crews for duty on other submarines.

Some of the major modifications included:

  • Increased battery capacity
  • Streamlined outer hull
  • Addition of a snorkel
  • Improved sensors
While the snorkel allowed Razorback to run her diesel engines while submerged at periscope depth, the streamlining of the outer hull greatly improved her underwater performance while on battery. Some of these changes were:
  • Removal of both deck guns
  • Removal of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns
  • Rebuilding of the bridge/periscope shears structure as a streamlined "sail"
  • Capstans made retractable
  • Deck cleats made retractable
  • Deck safety rail stanchions made flush with the deck
  • All deck safety rails made removable
  • Replacement of the pointed bow and towing fairlead with a rounded bow (known as the "Guppy Bow")

These improvements increased Razorback's top underwater speed from approximately 10 knots to nearly 20 knots, and increased her "sustained" speed (the speed she could maintain for long periods) from 2 knots to over 10 knots.

Razorback could now attack a formation of warships and "sprint" away faster than the responding destroyers could search, and she could cruise underwater for days or even weeks at a time, performance unimaginable just a few years before. It would be hard to overstate the effects that these developments had.

We have a copy of the booklet issued for the recommissioning ceremony. Her CO at recommissioning was LCDR Charles E. Stastny, USN. Six other officers, eight Chief Petty Officers, and 74 enlisted men were assigned to Razorback when she was commissioned. A digital copy of this program is available on our website. (Adobe PDF File)

We also have a large collection of digital blueprints from the GUPPY conversion, including blueprints for USS Picuda (SS-382), USS Balao (SS-385), USS Sea Fox (SS-402), USS Threadfin (SS-410) and USS Stickleback (SS-415). Contact the museum for more information.