USS Grayback (SS-208)

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USS Grayback (SS-208)
Grayback in 1941
United States
Builder: Electric Boat Company, Groton, Connecticut[1]
Laid down: 3 April 1940[1]
Launched: 31 January 1941[1]
Commissioned: 30 June 1941[1]
Fate: Sunk by Japanese aircraft south of Okinawa, 27 February 1944[2]
General characteristics
Class and type: Tambor class Diesel-electric submarine[2]
  • 1,475 long tons (1,499 t) standard, surfaced[3]
  • 2,370 long tons (2,410 t) submerged[3]
Length: 307 ft 2 in (93.62 m)[3]
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)[3]
Draft: 14 ft 7 12 in (4.458 m)[3]
  • 20.4 knots (38 km/h) surfaced[3]
  • 8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged[3]
Range: 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) at 10 knots (19 km/h)[3]
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged[3]
Test depth: 250 ft (76 m)[3]
Complement: 6 officers, 54 enlisted[3]

USS Grayback (SS-208), a Tambor-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the lake herring, Coregonus artedi.

Her keel was laid down by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. She was launched on 31 January 1940, sponsored by Mrs. Wilson Brown, wife of Rear Admiral Wilson Brown, Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, and commissioned on 30 June 1941 with Lieutenant Willard A. Saunders in command.

Attached to the Atlantic Fleet, Grayback conducted her shakedown cruise in Long Island Sound out of Newport, New London, and New York City. In company with Grampus (SS-207), she departed New London, Connecticut, on 8 September for patrol duty in the Caribbean Sea and Chesapeake Bay, then arrived at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on 30 November for overhaul. With the United States's entry into the war, Grayback sailed for Pearl Harbor, arriving 8 February 1942.

Grayback was sunk near Okinawa on 27 February 1944. The wreck was discovered in June 2019.

First patrol[edit]

Grayback's first war patrol from 15 February to 10 April 1942 took her along the coast of Saipan and Guam. There she had a four-day encounter with an enemy submarine; the enemy submarine fired two torpedoes at Grayback on the morning of 22 February, then continued to trail her across the Pacific. Grayback spotted the enemy conning tower a couple of times, and the Japanese ship broached once; but the Grayback could not get into position to attack. After four days, Grayback shook the other sub and continued on patrol. On 17 March she sank her first ship, the 3291-ton cargo ship Ishikari Maru off Port Lloyd, Chichijima, Bonin Islands.

Grayback's second war patrol met with a dearth of targets although she even took the unusual and risky measure of patrolling surfaced during the day. On 22 June she arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia, which was to remain her home base for most of the war. On her third and fourth war patrols, in the South China Sea and St. George's Passage, Grayback was hampered by bright moonlight, shallow and treacherous water, and enemy patrol craft. Despite these hazards, she damaged several freighters and an enemy submarine. The presence of Grayback and her sister ships in these waters, and the threat they presented to shipping and the number of enemy escorts they tied up, were important factors in the successful conclusion of the Guadalcanal campaign, America's first offensive campaign in the Pacific war.

Fifth patrol[edit]

The fifth war patrol began as Grayback sailed from Australia on 7 December 1942. Only a week out of port, Pharmacist's Mate Harry B. Roby was called upon to perform an emergency appendectomy, the second to be done on a patrolling submarine. With Grayback running a hundred feet beneath the surface, the untutored Roby successfully removed the infected appendix, and his patient was back standing watch by the end of the patrol. Then, on 25 December, Grayback surfaced to sink four landing barges with her deck guns. Four days later she was again fired on by an enemy submarine but maneuvered to avoid the torpedoes. On 3 January 1943 Grayback sank I-18, one of 25 Japanese submarines destroyed by western submarines during the war.

On 5 January Grayback served as beacon ship for the bombardment of Munda Bay in the Solomon Islands and also engaged in rescue work. Lying off Munda early in the morning of 5 January, she received word that six survivors of a crashed Martin B-26 Marauder bomber were holed up on the island. Grayback sent ashore two men, then submerged at dawn to avoid enemy aircraft. The submariners located the downed aviators, three of whom were injured, and hid out with them in the jungle. As night fell, Grayback surfaced offshore and by coded light signals directed the small boat "home safe" with the rescued aviators. For this action skipper Edward C. Stephan received the Navy Cross, as well as a Silver Star from the United States Army.

Grayback continued on patrol, torpedoing and damaging several Japanese ships. On 17 January she attacked a destroyer escorting a large maru, hoping to disable the escort and then sink the freighter with her deck guns. However, the destroyer evaded the torpedoes and dropped 19 depth charges on Grayback. One blew a gasket on a manhole cover, and the submarine, leaking seriously, was ordered back to Brisbane, Australia, where she arrived 23 January.

Sixth patrol[edit]

On her sixth war patrol from 16 February to 4 April 1943, Grayback again had a run of bad luck, operating in the Bismarck ArchipelagoSolomon Islands area without any military success. Her newly-installed SJ radar had failed to function; and although she had taken several shots at marus (merchant ships), none were sunk.

Seventh patrol[edit]

The seventh patrol was more successful. Departing Brisbane on 25 April, Grayback intercepted a convoy whose position had been radioed to her by Albacore (SS-218) on 11 May. In a night surface attack Grayback fired a spread of six torpedoes at the seven freighters and their three escorts. The three escorts charged and she had to go deep to elude the attacking enemy. She was credited with the sinking of cargo ship Yodogawa Maru. On 16 May she torpedoed and seriously damaged a destroyer. The following day Grayback intercepted four marus with one escort; she sank the freighter England Maru and damaged two others before she was forced to dive. Grayback arrived at Pearl Harbor on 30 May, then proceeded to San Francisco, California, for a much needed overhaul and modernization.

Eighth patrol[edit]

Arriving at Pearl Harbor on 12 September 1943, Grayback prepared for her eighth war patrol, now under the command of John Anderson Moore. Sailing 26 September with Shad (SS-235), she rendezvoused with Cero (SS-225) at Midway Island to form the first of the Submarine Force's highly successful wolfpacks. The three submarines under Captain Charles B. "Swede" Momsen in Cero cruised the China Sea and returned to base with claims of 38,000 tons sunk and 3,300 damaged. Grayback accounted for two ships: a passenger-cargo vessel torpedoed 14 October and a former light cruiser, Awata Maru, torpedoed after an end-around run on a fast convoy 22 October. Wolf pack tactics came into play on 2 October as Grayback closed on a convoy already attacked by Shad and sunk a 9,000-ton transport, listing from two of Shad's torpedoes. The submarines had now expended all torpedoes, and on 10 November they returned to Midway.

Grayback CO John Anderson Moore was awarded the Navy Cross after this mission.[7]

Ninth patrol[edit]

With almost a quarter of her crew untested in battle Grayback departed Pearl Harbor for the East China Sea on 2 December for her ninth war patrol. Within five days of her first contact with Japanese ships, she had expended all her torpedoes in a series of attacks which netted four ships for a total of over 10,000 tons. The action began on the night of 18 to 19 December; Grayback attacked a convoy of four freighters and three escorts. She sent freighter Gyokurei Maru and escort Numakaze to the bottom and damaged several others in a surface attack. Two nights later, 20 to 21 December, she spotted another convoy of six ships, and after an end-around run she fired a spread of nine torpedoes into the heart of the Japanese formation. This first attack sank one freighter and damaged another before Grayback dived to elude depth charges. Three hours later she surfaced and sank a second freighter. After an unsuccessful attack the following night had exhausted her torpedo supply, Grayback headed home. The submarine surfaced on 27 December to sink a good-sized fishing boat with deck guns before reaching Pearl Harbor on 4 January 1944.

CO John Anderson Moore was awarded a second Navy Cross after this mission.[8]

Tenth patrol[edit]

The USS Grayback (SS-208) memorial on the grounds of the Heslar Naval Armory.

Grayback's tenth patrol, her most successful in terms of tonnage sunk, was also to be her last. She sailed from Pearl Harbor on 28 January 1944 for the East China Sea. On 24 February Grayback radioed that she had sunk two cargo ships on 19 February and had damaged two others (Taikei Maru and Toshin Maru sunk). On 25 February she transmitted her second and final report. That morning she had sunk tanker Nanho Maru and severely damaged Asama Maru. With only two torpedoes remaining, she was ordered home from patrol. Due to reach Midway on 7 March, Grayback did not arrive. On 30 March ComSubPac listed her as missing and presumed lost with all hands.

From captured Japanese records the submarine's last few days can be pieced together. Heading home through the East China Sea after attacking convoy Hi-40 on 24 February, Grayback used her last two torpedoes to sink the freighter Ceylon Maru on 27 February. That same day, a Japanese carrier-based plane spotted a submarine on the surface in the East China Sea and attacked. According to Japanese reports the submarine "exploded and sank immediately", but antisubmarine craft were called in to depth-charge the area, clearly marked by a trail of air bubbles, until at last a heavy oil slick swelled to the surface. Grayback's commanding officer John Anderson Moore was posthumously awarded his third Navy Cross after this mission.[9]

Grayback ranked 20th among all submarines in total tonnage sunk with 63,835 tons and 24th in number of ships sunk with 14. The submarine and crew had received two Navy Unit Commendations for their seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth war patrols.

Grayback received eight battle stars for World War II service.

Wreck discovery[edit]

On 10 November 2019, a private research group, Lost 52 Project, announced it had found the wreck of Grayback 50 miles south of Okinawa, in June 2019.[10] The discovery was officially verified by the United States Navy[11] and the families of the deceased crew members were notified. The submarine sits upright on the bottom in 1,400 feet (430 m) of water.[12] The deck gun was found approximately 400 feet from the primary wreckage.[13]

The wreck has severe damage aft of the conning tower, consistent with Japanese reports of a direct bomb hit in that area.[14] The bow is broken off at an angle and a portion near the stern also imploded. Finally, the builder's plate remains attached to the intact bridge.

The wreck was discovered about 100 miles (160 km) from the coordinates established by the U.S. Navy in 1946 because of an error in their translation of the original Imperial Japanese Navy combat action reports.[15]

Records from Japan indicated that the USS Grayback was hit by an aerial bomb from a Nakajima B5N while on the surface, and was further damaged by depth charges.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d 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 Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p. 270. ISBN 0-313-26202-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  4. ^ 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. 275–280. ISBN 978-0-313-26202-9.
  5. ^ U.S. Submarines Through 1945 p. 261
  6. ^ a b c U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  7. ^ Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 329 August 1944
  8. ^ Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 330, September 1944
  9. ^ Bureau of Naval Personnel Information Bulletin No. 336, March 1945
  10. ^ Fieldstadt, Elisha, "WWII submarine USS Grayback, missing 75 years, discovered off coast of Japan", NBC News, 11 November 2019.
  11. ^ "Navy verifies lost sub rediscovered". Navy Times. 15 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  12. ^ "USS Grayback: Missing WW2 submarine found after 75 years". BBC News. 11 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  13. ^ "American Submarine Lost in WWII Located Off Okinawa". Smithsonian. 12 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019.
  14. ^ Ismay, John, "Navy Submarine, Missing for 75 Years, Is Found Off Okinawa", The New York Times, 11 November 2019.
  15. ^ "World War II submarine USS Grayback found off coast of Japan". Australian Broadcasting Corporation News. 12 November 2019.
  16. ^ "Lost World War II Submarine Rediscovered 75 Years Later". Popular Mechanics. 12 November 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2019. U.S. Navy officials only found out the cause of Grayback’s sinking after the war, when translated Japanese wartime records noted a Nakajima B5N “Kate” bomber attacked a surfaced enemy submarine with a 500-pound bomb. The stricken submarine was then bombarded with depth charges.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 25°47′N 128°45′E / 25.783°N 128.750°E / 25.783; 128.750