USS Finback (SS-230)

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United States
Builder: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine[1]
Laid down: 5 February 1941[1]
Launched: 25 August 1941[1]
Sponsored by: Mrs. A. E Watson
Commissioned: 31 January 1942[1]
Decommissioned: 21 April 1950[1]
Stricken: 1 September 1958[1]
Fate: Sold for scrap, 15 July 1959[1]
General characteristics
Class and type: Gato-class diesel-electric submarine[2]
  • 1,525 long tons (1,549 t) surfaced[2]
  • 2,424 long tons (2,463 t) submerged[2]
Length: 311 ft 9 in (95.02 m)[2]
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)[2]
Draft: 17 ft (5.2 m) maximum[2]
  • 21 knots (39 km/h) surfaced[6]
  • 9 kn (17 km/h) submerged[6]
Range: 11,000 nmi (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 kn (19 km/h)[6]
  • 48 hours at 2 kn (4 km/h) submerged[6]
  • 75 days on patrol
Test depth: 300 ft (90 m)[6]
Complement: 6 officers, 54 enlisted[6]

USS Finback (SS-230), a Gato-class submarine was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the finback.

Finback (SS-230) was laid down 5 February 1941 by Portsmouth Navy Yard. She was launched 25 August 1941 and sponsored by Mrs. Genevieve G. Watson, wife of Rear Admiral Adolphus E Watson, Commandant of the 4th Naval District and the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The boat was commissioned 31 January 1942, Lieutenant Commander Jesse L. Hull (Class of 1926) in command.


First and second patrols[edit]

Finback reached Pearl Harbor from New London 29 May 1942, and two days later, with the Japanese fleet on the move, was ordered out to patrol during the Battle of Midway. She returned to Pearl Harbor on June 9 to prepare for her first full war patrol. She cleared harbor, bound for the Aleutian Islands, 25 June. Finback first contacted the enemy on 5 July, when she attacked two destroyers, and received a heavy return depth charge attack. Two special missions highlighted this first war patrol: a reconnaissance of Vega Bay, Kiska, 11 July, and a surveying operation at Tanaga Bay, Tanaga, 11 August. The submarine ended her patrol at Dutch Harbor 12 August, and returned to Pearl Harbor 23 August to refit.

Departing Pearl Harbor 23 September 1942, Finback made her second war patrol off Taiwan. On 14 October, she sighted a convoy of four merchantmen, guarded by a patrol vessel. The submarine launched two torpedoes at each of the two largest targets, sinking one, the (ex-French merchantman Ville De Verdun), Teison Maru, (7007 tons), returning empty to Japan, and went deep for the inevitable depth charging. When she surfaced, she found two destroyers in the area, preventing a further attack. With tubes reloaded, she headed for the China coast. Four days later, 18 October, she inflicted heavy damage on a large freighter, and on 20 October, Finback made contact with three ships, en route to Yokohama, Japan from Saigon; sinking the passenger-cargo ship; Africa Maru, (9476 tons) carrying a cargo of rice and corn, 112 crewmen and 38 passengers including survivors of cargo ship Teibo Maru (4,472 tons) torpedoed and sunk on 25 September 1942 by USS Sargo (SS-188), and the cargo ship Yamafuji Maru (5359 tons). The submarine completed this patrol with a surface gunfire engagement 3 November, sinking an ocean-going sampan. Finback returned to Pearl Harbor 20 November.


Third and fourth patrols[edit]

During her third war patrol, between 16 December 1942 and 6 February 1943, Finback served for some time as escort for a carrier task force, forbidden to reveal herself by making attacks during that part of the patrol. Later, she engaged the Japanese coaster Yachiyo Maru (271 tons) in a surface gun duel on 17 January, leaving the enemy craft abandoned and sinking.

After refitting at Midway, Finback made her fourth war patrol between 27 February and 13 April, scouting shipping lanes between Rabaul and the Japanese home islands. On 21 March, she damaged the troop transport Sanuki Maru (7158 tons), when one out of two torpedoes that hit the ship failed to explode, and from 24 – 26 March made a difficult chase of a convoy. When in position to attack, she fired three torpedoes at each of two ships and was immediately fired upon, then forced deep by an efficient depth-charge attack. Almost out of fuel, Finback was forced to break off the contact, and set course for Wake Island and Midway. On 5 April, passing a reef south of Japanese-held Wake, Finback sighted the troop transport; Suwa Maru beached and well down by the stern. After manoeuvring Finback was able to elude a patrol boat and a searching airplane before torpedoing and sinking the 10,672-ton ship previously damaged by two of Finback's sister submarines.

Fifth and sixth patrols[edit]

Finback refitted at Pearl Harbor from 13 April to 12 May 1943 for her fifth war patrol. Through most of this patrol, she patrolled off Taiwan, and along the shipping lanes from the Japanese home islands to the Marshalls. On 27 May, she sank IJA cargo ship Kochi Maru (2910 tons), and the auxiliary minelayer Kahoku Maru (3277 tons) on 8 June. Another merchant vessel was sunk by Finback four days later.

After refitting at Fremantle, Western Australia, 26 June – 18 July, the submarine sailed for her sixth war patrol along the Java coast. Her first contact was made 30 July, and sank the IJA cargo ship Ryuzan Maru (4719 GRT) and another cargo ship on 3 August. On 11 August, Finback damaged the auxiliary minelayer Tatsumiya Maru (6343 tons). She encountered two small minelayers, a tug, and an inter-island steamer on 19 August, and engaged all but the tug with surface gunfire, damaging the auxiliary submarine chaser and sinking the Cha 109 (75 tons, former Dutch patrol vessel Kawi). Her limited supply of ammunition forced her to break off the action.


Seventh and eighth patrols[edit]

After a major overhaul at Pearl Harbor between 12 September and 15 December 1943, Finback sailed for the South China Sea on her seventh war patrol, characterized by heavy weather, few contacts, and continual sighting of patrol planes. She sank the tanker Isshin Maru (10044 tons) in a surface attack on New Year's Day 1944, after the tanker was unable to keep up with its convoy due to a rudder malfunction. On 30 January, a fishing trawler was sunk by surface gunfire and another damaged in a similar action the following day.

The submarine refitted at Pearl Harbor once more between 11 February and 6 March 1944, then sailed for her eighth war patrol, off Truk in the Caroline Islands. Prevented from launching attacks through most of this patrol because of her assignment as lifeguard for carrier air strikes on targets in the Carolines, Finback contacted a six-ship convoy on 12 April, noting three escorts. She attacked four of the ships before a counter-attack sent her deep. On 16 April, while making a reconnaissance of Oroluk Atoll, she fired on a partially submerged steamer and a lookout tower on the atoll. Three days later, she sank one of a group of sampans, then sailed for refit at Pearl Harbor from 1 May – 30 May.

Ninth, tenth and eleventh patrols[edit]

During her ninth war patrol, off the Palaus and west of the Marianas, Finback again had as her primary mission lifeguard duty during plane strikes covering the opening of the Marianas operation.

2 September 1944 USS Finback rescuing George H.W. Bush

She returned to Majuro 21 July for refit, then sailed 16 August on her tenth war patrol under command of Lieutenant Commander Robert Russell Williams, Jr., and was assigned to lifeguard duty in the Bonins. Guided by friendly aircraft, she rescued a total of five Naval aviators, one very close inshore off Chichi Jima. Watchman Torpedoman First Class, Donnet Kohler, pulled out a tall lanky young pilot who ended up becoming the 41st President of the United States, George H. W. Bush.[7] Pilot Beckman was rescued by holding on to the periscope until the partially submerged Finback was 5 miles from Haha Jima, out of range of the shelling from the Japanese cannons.[8]

On 10 – 11 September she tracked a convoy, and although twice her attacks were broken off by an alert escort, she sank Hassho Maru (536 tons), and Hakuun Maru No.2 (866 tons).

Finback put into Pearl Harbor for refit. On her eleventh war patrol, she was again detailed to lifeguard duty in the Bonins. She sank troop transport Jusan Maru (2111 tons), on 16 December, and returned to Midway 24 December.


Twelfth patrol[edit]

The submarine's twelfth war patrol, made between 20 January and 25 March 1945 in the East China Sea, was frustrated by lack of targets Finback returned to Pearl Harbor for a thorough overhaul. Still at Pearl Harbor at the close of the war, she sailed for New London 29 August 1945.

Post war[edit]

Homeported at New London for the remaining 5 years of her active career, Finback was engaged in training student submariners. Twice, in 1947 and in 1948, she sailed to the Caribbean to take part in 2nd Fleet exercises. She was decommissioned and placed in reserve at New London 21 April 1950.

Finback was stricken on 1 September 1958, and sold for scrap 15 July 1959.

All but the third, ninth, and twelfth of Finback's 12 war patrols were designated "Successful." She received 13 battle stars for World War II service, and is credited with having sunk 69,383 tons of enemy shipping.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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.
  2. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 271–280. ISBN 978-0-313-26202-9.
  4. ^ U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 261–263
  5. ^ a b c U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  6. ^ a b c d e f U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305-311
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives, Volume 46

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.

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