Ship of the Week: USS Archerfish (SS-331)

Submarines are ships too. They are narrow, cramped, long, penis-shaped ships who’s job is to shove similarly penis-shaped objects into other ships, exploding dramatically into a hole that then destroys the other ships.

I’ve been reading too much feminist literature. Everything is a penis now.

Anyway, this is about one of the most famous submarines in naval history. Like many other famous vessels, this ship had a long and distinguished career, but had one action that really made it stand out – one of the greatest submarine actions in American history. We’re talking about:

USS Archerfish (SS-331)

Archerfish was one of 128 Balao-class submarines built by the United States Navy during World War II. The Balao-class vessels provided the bulk of the work done by the USN in the submarine war against Japan, and was very closely related to the preceding Gato-class ships. Like the rest of the ships in her class, Archerfish displaced around 1500 tons on the surface, was around 100 metres long, and could rip along at a stately 20 knots while surfaced. 10 torpedo tubes could deliver 24 torpedoes during one cruise.

Like many submarines, Archerfishstarted her war in 1943, and wasn’t particularly notable right away. She had a few failed attacks and rescued the life of a downed naval aviator during air attacks on Iwo Jima. So, a fairly boring and basic life for a submarine.

That all changed on 28 November, 1944. Archerfish was stationed off Tokyo Bay as a recovery craft for B-29 crew from airplanes shot down or damaged over Japan. However, on that day, there were to be no B-29 raids. However, a large ship was spotted leaving Tokyo Bay – probably a tanker. Archerfish was given license to pursue the ship.

Upon reaching station, Commander Joe Enright, in charge of Archerfish, realized that the ship was not a tanker at all, but instead an aircraft carrier. He tracked the ship carefully, and the carrier turned into Archerfish‘s path. Enright prepared a spread of six torpedoes, to run shallow to hopefully capsize the top-heavy enemy ship.

Four of the torpedos hit, and Archerfish could hear the enemy vessel making breaking noises as she dove away from the scene of the attack. One of the enemy’s escorts pursued the US sub, attacking it with depth charges. However, Archerfish survived, and was hailed as a hero. Enright won the Navy Cross – and Archerfish herself won the Presidential Unit Citation.

Turns out the ship the Archerfish sank was the Shinano, a Yamato-class battleship that had been converted into an aircraft carrier secretly by the Japanese, and was capable of carrying like 160 airplanes. She displaced 72,000 tons, and thus was the largest ship ever sunk by submarine.

Shinano was a rush conversion, and design flaws contributed greatly to Archerfish‘s ability to send her to the bottom. In addition, the damage was originally presumed to be minor; Shinano was able to continue steaming. But the ship’s watertight doors weren’t quite watertight – some theories have said that they failed to close due to incompleteness. In addition, the crew of Shinano was a skeleton crew, moving the ship to where her finishing touches would be added, and not very experienced in fighting floods.

She stayed up for 4 hours, then capsized and sank.

Archerfish served after the war, in the role of an attack submarine, and a research boat after the advent of the nuclear sub. She was finally retired in May of 1968 after 25 years of service in the United States Navy. She was then sunk as a target. In addition to her Presidential Unit Citation, Archerfish received seven battle stars – often as the role of lifeguard for US airplanes. But she will forever be remembered for her role in striking down desperate Japan’s one last great weapon for making war.

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