USS Torsk: Galloping Ghost of the Japanese Coast

The USS Torsk SS-423 is docked at the Baltimore Maritime Museum and is one of two Tench Class submarines still located inside the United States. Nicknamed the “Galloping Ghost of the Japanese Coast,” the vessel is the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the torsk, a food fish of the North Atlantic. Torsk is the Norwegian word for codfish.


Service History

1944-1945

Her keel was laid down on 7 June 1944 at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. She was launched on 6 September 1944 sponsored by Mrs. Allen B. Reed, and commissioned on 16 December 1944 with Commander Bafford E. Lewellen in command.Completed on the last day of 1944, Torsk trained out of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Newport, Rhode Island, and New London, Connecticut, until 11 February 1945, when she headed for Florida. On 16 February, the submarine arrived at Port Everglades, Florida, where she provided services for antisubmarine research. She departed that Florida port on 20 February, transited the Panama Canal, and reached Hawaii on 23 March.After a repair and training period, she got underway from Pearl Harbor for her first war patrol. Torsk paused briefly at Guam en route to an area off Kii Suido which she reached on 11 May and began lifeguard duty. Air contacts were few in this period, and the submarine found no opportunity to conduct rescue operations. Toward midnight on 11 May, she set course for her patrol area off the northeastern coast of Honshū. She arrived there on 13 May and, for two days, attempted to contact other members of the wolf pack, “Lewellen’s Looters.” On 16 May, she made rendezvous with submarines Sand Lance (SS-381) and Cero (SS-225). For more than a fortnight, their careful coverage of the east coast of Honshū turned up nothing more interesting than naval mines.

On 2 June, while patrolling between Honshū and Hokkaidō, Torsk came upon a small coastal minelayer. The submarine fired six torpedoes—which the small vessel avoided by maneuvering—and then dove and rigged for depth charges which did not materialize. Torsk had another disappointing encounter on 4 June when, while patrolling off Kobe Saki, she fired four torpedoes at a 700-ton freighter without scoring. The following day, she set her course homeward, stopped at Midway Island on 11 June, and returned to Pearl Harbor on 16 June.After refitting and the installation of new equipment, the submarine got underway for her second war patrol on 17 July. She spent the first two days of August at Guam and set her course for the Sea of Japan.She passed through the minefields of Tsushima Strait on 10 August and, on the morning of 11 August, rescued seven Japanese merchant seamen who had survived the sinking of the Koue Maru some four days before. Early that afternoon, the submarine entered her patrol area and, on the following morning off Dogo Island, Torsk made a submerged periscope attack which sank a small coastal freighter.

On 13 August, she patrolled off Ando Saki and, after sighting a number of fishing boats during the morning, sighted another small freighter which she promptly sank. Later the same day, she made an unsuccessful attack on a cargo ship as it entered Wakasa Wan; then dodged through a 75-boat fishing fleet, and outdistanced the maru’s escort.Off Amarubi Saki on the morning of 14 August, Torsk sighted a medium cargo ship and took up the chase. A 745-ton Kaibokan-class patrol escort vessel accompanied the freighter to seaward, presenting the submarine with a tempting target. At 1035, as the freighter and her escort approached Kasumi Ko, Torsk launched one of the new experimental Mark 28 torpedoes at the escorting ship. Minutes later, the “fish” found its mark; an explosion bent the stern of the frigate up to a 30 degree angle, and shortly thereafter the target sank. As the freighter entered the harbor half an hour later, Torsk attempted to sink her but was unsuccessful, possibly because the torpedoes struck undetected reefs near the mouth of the harbor.Around noon, another frigate appeared, apparently a reinforcement which had been called in. Continuing her aggressive action, Torsk fired a Mark 28 torpedo at the frigate which had already detected the submarine’s presence. Commander Lewellen then initiated deep submergence procedures and ordered the crew to rig for silent running. After a tense five minutes, she reached 400 feet (120 m) and there she launched another torpedo, this time the new acoustic Mark 27. Almost immediately, a loud explosion announced that the first torpedo had found its mark, and a minute later a second explosion sounded, followed by strong breaking up noises. The secret new torpedoes had proven their worth in battle and Torsk was credited, not only with two enemy warships, but also with sinking the last Japanese warship sunk in World War II. Held down by enemy planes and patrol vessels, the submarine remained submerged more than seven hours. Then, she surfaced and headed for the Noto peninsula.

On 15 August, following four highly successful days of aggressive patrolling, Torsk received word of the cessation of hostilities. She continued her patrol in the Sea of Japan, conducting visual and photo surveillance and destroying floating mines. On 31 August, what was thought to be a torpedo wake was sighted, an indicator that not everyone had heard the news of the war’s ending..The submarine set her course for the Mariana Islands on 1 September, passed through Tsushima Straits on 3 September, and arrived at Guam on 9 September, successfully completing her second war patrol.

1946-1968

She departed the Marianas on the next day, proceeded via Pearl Harbor and the Canal Zone, and arrived at New London in mid-October. For the next seven years, she operated out of that port serving as a training ship, participating in exercises and tests, and occasionally making naval reserve training cruises. In June 1949, she was assigned to Submarine Squadron 2; and; in the summer of 1950, she was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea. The ship returned to New London in the fall for fleet exercises and, the following year, extended her operations into the Caribbean Sea.

Early in 1952, she completed her conversion to a Fleet Snorkel submarine and was deployed again to the Mediterranean that summer. Returning on 27 November, she continued operations out of New London ranging from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Havana, Cuba, as she trained prospective submarine personnel and laid exercise mine fields. In 1955, she was reassigned to Submarine Squadron 6 at Norfolk, Virginia. There, her duties included services to aircraft and surface ships to help them hone their skills in antisubmarine warfare. She made frequent Caribbean voyages and participated in Operation “Springboard.” In June 1959, she proceeded via the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes, visited various ports on Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan, then returned to the Norfolk operating area in mid-August.

In the early 1960s, she made Mediterranean deployments; joined Commonwealth countries in Exercise “New Broom X”, and continued her duties in training antisubmarine forces in the Atlantic. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962, she patrolled in support of the blockade of that Caribbean island.

1968-1972 & legacy

On 4 March 1968 the veteran submarine was decommissioned and, following modifications at the Boston Navy Yard, was assigned to the Washington Navy Yard for use in training reserves. Torsk operated out of Washington until 1971 and, on 15 December of that year, was struck from the Naval Vessel Register. On 26 September 1972, she was turned over to the state of Maryland to be used as a museum ship in the Inner Harbor at Baltimore, Maryland. She is currently part of the Baltimore Maritime Museum.

Torsk received two battle stars for World War II service and the Navy Commendation Medal for her service during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She set the all-time record of career dives, at 11,884. She is also the only submarine converted in the Fleet Snorkel program that has the original snorkel.

Career

Builder:     Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine
Laid down:     7 June 1944
Launched:     6 September 1944
Commissioned:     16 December 1944
Decommissioned:     4 March 1968
Struck:     15 December 1971
Fate:     Museum ship at Baltimore, Maryland, 26 September 1972
General characteristics
Class and type:     Tench-class diesel-electric submarine
Displacement:     1,570 tons (1,595 t) surfaced
2,414 tons (2,453 t) submerged
Length:     311 ft 8 in (95.00 m)
Beam:     27 ft 4 in (8.33 m)
Draft:     17 ft 0 in (5.18 m) maximum
Propulsion:

4 × Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-⅛ 10-cylinder opposed piston diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
2 × low-speed direct-drive General Electric
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced
2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed:     20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced
8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged
Range:     11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Endurance:     48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth:     400 ft (120 m)

Complement:     10 officers, 71 enlisted
Armament:     10 × 21-inch (533
mm) torpedo tubes
(six forward, four aft)
28 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon electric motors

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