USS Robalo (SS-273)
|Builder:||Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company, Manitowoc, Wisconsin|
|Laid down:||24 October 1942|
|Launched:||9 May 1943|
|Commissioned:||28 September 1943|
|Struck:||16 September 1944|
|Fate:||Mined west of Palawan, 26 July 1944. 4 of the 81 crew survived, died as POW's |
|Class & type:||Gato-class diesel-electric submarine|
|Displacement:||1,525 tons (1,549 t) surfaced
2,424 tons (2,460 t) submerged
|Length:||311 ft 9 in (95.02 m)|
|Beam:||27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)|
|Draft:||17 ft 0 in (5.18 m) maximum|
4 × General Motors Model 16-248 V16 diesel engines driving electrical generators
|Speed:||21 knots (39 km/h) surfaced
9 knots (17 km/h) submerged
|Range:||11,000 nmi (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)|
|Endurance:||48 hours at 2 knots (4 km/h) submerged
75 days on patrol
|Test depth:||300 ft (90 m)|
|Complement:||6 officers, 54 enlisted|
|Armament:||10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
(six forward, four aft)
1 × 3-inch (76 mm) / 50 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon
USS Robalo (SS-273), a Gato-class submarine, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the róbalo or common snook. Her keel was laid down on 24 October 1942 by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company at Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She was launched on 9 May 1943, sponsored by Mrs. E.S. Root, and commissioned on 28 September 1943.
After passage by inland waterways and being floated down the Mississippi River, Robalo deployed to the Pacific. On her first war patrol (under the leadership of Commander Stephen Ambruster, Annapolis Class of 1928), she sortied from Pearl Harbor, hunting Japanese ships west of the Philippines. There, en route to her new station in Fremantle, she damaged a large freighter, firing four torpedoes at 3,100 yards (2,800 m). She spent 36 of her 57-day mission submerged. When she arrived, her commanding officer was summarily relieved by Admiral Christie and replaced with Manning Kimmel (Class of 1935).
In March 1944, Christie (based on Ultra) feared surprise from a strong Japanese force. When Chester W. Nimitz, Jr. in USS Haddo (SS-255), made contact on his SJ radar and reported "many large ships", Christie scrambled to respond. Robalo, along with USS Flasher (SS-249), USS Hoe (SS-258), USS Hake (SS-256), and USS Redfin (SS-272) all ran to intercept. No attack ever materialized.
For her second patrol, Robalo went to the South China Sea, assigned to interdict Japanese tanker traffic from French Indochina to the fleet anchorage at Tawi Tawi. On a "wildly aggressive patrol" lasting 51 days, Robalo fired twenty torpedoes in four attacks. She was bombed by a Japanese antisubmarine aircraft, suffering shattered and flooded periscopes and loss of radar, while taking a harrowing plunge to 350 feet (110 m) after her main induction was improperly closed (a casualty frighteningly reminiscent of Squalus) in diving to escape. When she returned to Fremantle, Captain "Tex" McLean (commanding Subron 16) and Admiral Christie both considered relieving Robalo's skipper for his own safety. She was credited with sinking a 7500-ton tanker which was not confirmed postwar by JANAC.
Robalo departed Fremantle on 22 June 1944 on her third war patrol. She set a course for the South China Sea to conduct her patrol in the vicinity of the Natuna Islands. After transiting Makassar Strait and Balabac Strait (which was well-known to be mined), she was scheduled to arrive on station about 6 July and remain until dark on 2 August 1944. On 2 July, a contact report stated Robalo had sighted a Fusō-class battleship, with air cover and two destroyers for escort, just east of Borneo. No other messages were ever received from the submarine and when she did not return from patrol, she was presumed lost.
Fate of survivors
On 2 August, a note was dropped from the window of a cell of Puerto Princesa Prison Camp on Palawan Island in the Philippines. It was picked up by an American soldier who was on a work detail nearby. The note was in turn given to H.D. Hough, Yeoman Second Class, who was also a prisoner at the camp. On 4 August, he contacted Trinidad Mendosa, wife of guerrilla leader Dr. Mendosa who furnished further information on the survivors.
From these sources, it was concluded Robalo was sunk on 26 July 1944, 2 miles (3.2 km) off the western coast of Palawan Island from an explosion in the vicinity of her after battery, probably caused by an enemy mine. Only four men swam ashore, and made their way through the jungles to a small barrier northwest of the Puerto Princesa Prison Camp, where Japanese Military Police captured them and jailed them for guerrilla activities. On 15 August, they were evacuated by a Japanese destroyer and never heard from again. Even though Admiral Christie knew better it was reported for morale reasons that all hands went down with the boat. However, other prisoners on Palawan reported that Capt. Manning Kimmel, son of Admiral Husband Kimmel, was one of the survivors. After an air strike on Palawan the Japanese were so angered that they pushed Kimmel and other prisoners into a ditch poured in gasoline and burned them alive. This incident was reported by Clay Blair Jr., himself a veteran of the submarine war, and author of the definitive work Silent Victory. See Volume 2, pp660-662 for details.Robalo was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 16 September 1944.
There were two Japanese destroyers that were lost in August 1944, either of which could have held the four survivors for transport:
- Akakaze, sunk on 23 August 1944 off Cape Bilinao (Luzon), by USS Haddo (SS-255).
- Yūnagi, sunk on 25 August 1944 off northwest Luzon by USS Picuda (SS-382).
- America's Fresh Water Submarines
- The Memorial to USS Robalo at Lindenwood Park in Fargo, North Dakota
- Fresh Water Submarines: The Manitowoc Story by Rear Admiral William T. Nelson, USN (Ret.)
- The Wisconsin Maritime Museum in Manitowoc
- A History of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company
- On Eternal Patrol: USS Robalo
- Dive Detectives Dive Detectives TV series looks for the Flier and Robalo (http://www.history.ca/ontv/titledetails.aspx?titleid=152495).
- USS Robalo (SS-273)
- Friedman, Norman (1995). U.S. Submarines Through 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 285–304. ISBN 1-55750-263-3.
- Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 271–273. ISBN 0-313-26202-0.
- U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 261
- U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305-311
- Blair, Clay, Jr. Silent Victory (Bantam, 1976), pp.581 & 942.
- Blair, p.942.
- Blair, p.581.
- Blair, pp.582 & 942.
- Ambruster got no chance to defend himself, and was reassigned as Chief Of Staff to the base commander at Midway. Blair, p.582.
- Blair, pp.626 & 948. He was a son of Admiral Husband Kimmel, who commanded the Pacific Fleet when the Japanese attacked, and nephew of Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid.
- Blair, p.616.
- Son of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, then CINCPAC.
- Blair, pp.616-7.
- Blair, p.617.
- Blair, p.618.
- Blair, p.626.
- Blair, p.948.
- Blair, p.610.
- Blair, pp.626 & 948.
- Blair, p.687.
- Information on the fate of survivors is from Silent Victory, Vol 2, by Clay Blair, Jr.