A great piece of history concerning the first submarine to draw blood in the waters off of Japan.
America was still reeling from the attacks at Pearl and across the Pacific. The large battleships were crippled or sunk and the aircraft carriers that would ultimately tip the scales were still few and far between. One weapon America had at it’s disposal was the submarine fleet. The Japanese had bombed the battleships and supporting fleet but did not inflict any serious damage to the submarine base or the boats assigned.
The submarine USS Pollack had been stationed in Pearl Harbor since October 1939. Submarine warfare during the 1930’s had been focused on scouting and harbor protection. In early 1941, The Navy was still largely fixated on the rumbling behemoths called battleships and was gradually coming to a place where air power was grudgingly acknowledged. But the little submarines were still not seen as the warriors they would become because of necessity.
The USS Pollack (SS-180), a Porpoise-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the Pollack, a food fish resembling the true cod, but with the lower jaw projecting and without the barbel.
The Porpoise class were submarines built for the United States Navy in the late 1930s, and incorporated a number of modern features that would make them the basis for subsequent Salmon, Sargo, Tambor, Gato, Balao, and Tench classes. Based on the Cachalots, enlarged to incorporate additional main diesels and generators, the Portsmouth boats were all riveted.
In general, they were around 300 feet (91 m) long and diesel-electric powered. Displacement was 1,934 tons submerged for the first four boats, 1,998 tons for the later ones.
The all-electric drive was troublesome. In this arrangement, the boat’s four main diesel engines drove only electric generators, which supplied power to electric motors attached to the propeller shafts. The engines themselves were not connected to the propeller shafts. For submerged propulsion, massive storage batteries supplied electricity to the motors. Problems arose with flashover and arcing in the main motors. There was also a loss of 360 hp (270 kW) in transmission through the electrical system. Their Winton Model 16-201A 16-cylinder diesels also proved problematic, and were eventually replaced with 12-278As
Pollack was a later flight of the Porpoise class and had 4 Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8 diesel engines (1,365hp ea), 1 Fairbanks-Morse Model 7-38A5¼ aux diesel engine, 4 Elliott electric motors (1,090hp ea), 2 120-cell Gould AMTX33HB batteries, 2 shafts
The goal of a 21-knot fleet submarine that could keep up with the standard-type battleships was still elusive. The relatively high surfaced speed of 18 knots (33 km/h) was primarily to improve reliability at lower cruising speeds. A major improvement essential in a Pacific war was an increase in range from Perch onwards, nearly doubling from 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km) to 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h). This allowed extended patrols in Japanese home waters, and would remain standard through the Tench-class of 1944.
The first Pollack was laid down 1 October 1935 by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, in Kittery, Maine; launched 15 September 1936; and commissioned 15 January 1937, Lt. Clarence E. Aldrich in command.
USS Pollack was underway from San Francisco to Hawaii when the Japanese attacked on 7 December, and she entered Pearl Harbor two days later.
As you enter the harbor from the narrow passage, you can see Ford Island off to your left.
Two days after Pearl Harbor, the submarine crew that had been on board when she left for the west coast were probably stunned by what they saw. The smoke from the attack was still present on some of the hulks and the lingering smell of death and destruction must have been in the air. The temperature that day was probably in the seventies and like most mornings, there were mauka showers off and on. The smell of the diesel engines more than likely did not mask the other lingering odors. Small boats would have been busy crossing the harbor from place to place carrying repair and rescue crews. Armed guards were present everywhere. So was the ever present noise of hammers and rivet guns.
Even peaceful Hawaii was transformed.
The Pollack and her fellow boats would not have much time to think about what they saw. COMSUBPAC was anxious to get the boats back to sea as quickly as possible. After the Pearl Harbor debacle, changes were made to the command structure of the Navy. First, Admiral King was appointed CNO and second, Admiral Nimitz was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Pacific fleet. Both men were former submariners and understood the potential for these small but sturdy vessels. Nimitz officially established the submarine base in Pearl Harbor in 1920. Now, 21 years later, he was ready to put the submarine fleet to the test.
Nimitz and others realized that the Japanese offensive was kept alive by supply ships that ranged the ocean. Without the vital supplies needed, the Imperial Japanese Fleet would be nothing more than hulks on the water. Only by maintaining their shipping could the Japanese maintain their conquests and their advances towards Australia and other areas. Those merchant and Navy supply ships were a lifeline. Since the battle fleet was crippled and the precious aircraft carriers were still vulnerable, the submarine force was the only viable option to strike a blow.
Pollack, Gudgeon (SS-211) and Plunger (SS-179) departed Pearl Harbor 13 December and were off the coast of Honshu, Japan, a few hours before midnight 31 December, the first American submarines to reach Japanese waters in World War II.
USS Pollack was the first with a kill
Pollack damaged 2,700-ton cargo ship Heijo Maru 5 January 1942 and two days later sent 2,250-ton cargo ship Unkai Maru No. 1 to the bottom, the first officially confirmed victim of the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force. On 9 January she sank 5,387-ton freighter Teian Maru by a night surface attack, and ended her first war patrol at Pearl Harbor 21 January.
January 5, Mon.
Submarine Pollack (SS-180) torpedoes Japanese cargo ship Heijo Maru 80 miles east-southeast of Tokyo Bay, Honshu, 34°15’N, 140°08’E.
January 7, Wed.
Submarine Pollack (SS-180) torpedoes and sinks Japanese collier No.1 Unkai Maru south of Honshu, 34°27’N, 139°59’E.
January 9, Fri.
Submarine Pollack (SS-180) torpedoes and sinks Japanese merchant cargo ship Teian Maru (ex-Yugoslav Tomislav) 40 miles south-southwest of Inubozaki, Japan, 35°00’N, 140°36’E.
January 18, Sun.
Submarine Plunger (SS-179) torpedoes and sinks Japanese merchant cargo ship Eizan Maru (ex-Panamanian Aurora) off mouth of Kii Suido, Honshu, 33°30’N, 135°00’E.
By the end of the war, the Pollack received ten battle stars for her World War II service.
The attack on shipping so close to the homeland was one of the first of many shocks the Japanese people would receive. Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo would help to shatter the feeling of invincibility that the Imperial War Machine had propped up. But it would be the submarine fleet that helped to starve the home islands and IJN. In the first two years of the war, the submarine force, which represented less than 1.6% of the Navy’s personnel would account for 73% of the Japanese ship losses. By the end of the war, submarines would still account for 54.7% of merchant losses and 29% of Japanese naval vessels.
Upon their return to Pearl Harbor, Mosley and two other skippers were awarded the Navy Cross for successful patrols in Empire waters.
Navy Cross Citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander Stanley Page Moseley, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. POLLACK (SS-180), on the FIRST War Patrol of that submarine during the period 13 December 1941 to 21 January 1942, off the coast of Kyushu in Japanese home waters. Despite intensive enemy air and surface anti-submarine patrols, Lieutenant Commander Moseley successfully made six attacks on enemy ships, sinking three of them totally 16,000 tons. Through his experience and sound judgment Lieutenant Commander Moseley brought his ship safely back to port without damage to the submarine or to the personnel of his command. His conduct throughout was an inspiration to his officers and men and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
The Navy Department announcement read:
ALL BUT THE SUBMARINE COMMANDED BY LIETENANT COMMANDER GRENFELL WERE ATTACKED IN JAPANESE WATERS, AND IN ALL BUT THAT INSTANCE THE ATTACKS WERE DRIVEN HOME IN THE FACE OF INTENSIVE ENEMY AIR AND SURFACE PATROLS. ONLY ONE OF OUR SUBMARINES WAS DAMAGED – THAT DAMAGE WAS SLIGHT – WHILE THERE WAS NO INJURY TO PESONNEL.
Fleet headquarters amplified those words with the following communique:
THEY CAME BACK TO THEIR BASE GRINNING, TRIUMPHANT, TACITURN. MOST OF THEM HADN’T SEEN THE LIGHT OF DAY FOR WEEKS. THEY HAD CARRIED THE WAR RIGHT TO THE ENEMY’S FRONT DOORSTEP, TORPEDOED HIS SHIPS, SOMETIMES ALMOST IN VIEW OF LOOKOUTS AT HIS PRINCIPLE HOME PORTS, AND SUSTAINED THE WORST DEPTH CHARGE ATTACKS HE COULD LAUNCH.
THEY WERE THE SUBMARINES OF THE PACIFIC FLEET.