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Grayback SS-208 - History

Grayback SS-208 - History


Lake herring, a small fish of great commercial importance in the Great Lakes.


(SS-208: dp. 1,475; 1. 307'2"; b. 27'3"; dr. 13'3"; s. 20.9 k. 1surf.), 8.75 k. (subm.~; cpl. 65; a. 1 3", 10 21"tt.; cl. Tambor)

Grayback (SS-208) was launched by the Electric Boat Co. Groton, Conn., 31 January 1941, sponsored by Mrs. Wilson Brown, wife of Rear Admiral Wilson Brown Superintendent of the Naval Academy; and commissioned 30 June 1941 at New London, Lt. 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. In company with Grampus she departed New London 8 September for patrol duty in the Caribbean and Chesapeake Bay; then arrived Portsmouth N.H., 30 November for overhaul. With America's entry into the war Grayback sailed for the Pacific 12 January 1942 and arrived Pearl Harbor 8 February. There she joined the submarine fleet which was to wreak such havoc on the vital shipping lanes of the Japanese Empire.

Grayback's first war patrol from 15 February to 10 April took her along the coast of Saipan and Guam. There she participated in a deadly 4-day game of hide and-seek with an enemy submarine; the enemy I-boat 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 Grayback could not get into position to attack. After 4 nerve wracking days, Grayback shook the other sub and continued on patrol. First blood for her came on 17 March as she sank a 3,291-ton cargo ship off Port Lloyd

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

The fifth war patrol began as Grayback sailed from Australia 7 December 1942. Only a week out of port, Pharmacist's mate Warry R. Hoby was called upon to perform an emergency appendectomy, the second to be done on a patrolling submarine. With Grayback running silent and steady a hundred feet beneath the surface, the untutored Hoby successfully removed the infected appendix, and his patient was back standing watch by the end of the patrol. Then 25 December, Grayback enjoyed "a Jap appetizer for Christmas dinner," as she battle 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 she gained her revenge by sending to the bottom 1-18 one of 25 Japanese submarines chalked up by the Pacific submarines.

On 5 January Grayback served as beacon ship for the bombardment of Munda Bay and also indulged in some hair-raising rescue work. Lying off Munda early in the morning of 5 January, she received word that six survivors of a crushed B-28 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 episode skipper Edward C. Stephan received the Navy Cross.

Grayback continued on patrol, torpedoing and damaging several Japanese ships. On 17 January she attacked a destroyer escorting a large maw, 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 where she arrived 23 February.

On her sixth war patrol from 16 February to 4 April,Grayback again had a run of bad luck and returned empty-handed from the Bismarck-Solomons area. Her newly installed SJ radar had failed to function; and although she had taken several shots at maws, none were sunk.

The seventh patrol was more successful. Departing Brisbane 25 April, Grayback intercepted a convoy whose position had been radioed to her by Albacore 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 caro ship Yodogawa Maru. On 16 May she torpedoed and seriously damaged a destroyer. The following day Grayback intercepted four maws with one escort and sank freighter England Maru and damaged two others before she was forced to dive. She arrived Pearl Harbor 30 May, then proceeded to San Francisco for a much needed overhaul.

Arriving Pearl Harbor 12 September, Grayback prepared for her eighth war patrol. Sailing 26 September with Shad, she rendezvoused with Cero at Midway to form the first of the Submarine Force's highly successful wolfpacks. The three submarines under Captain C. B. Momsen in Cero, cruised the China Sea and returned to base with claims of 38,000 tons sunk and 63,300 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. Wolfpack tactics came into play 27 October as Grayback closed a convoy already attacked by Shad and administered the coup de grace to 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.

With almost a quarter of her crew untested in battle, Grayback. departed Pearl Harbor for the East China Sea 2 December for her ninth war patrol. Within 5 days of her first contact with Japanese ships, she had expended all her torpedoes in a brilliant series of attacks which netted four ships for a total of over 10,000 tons. On the night of 18 to 19 December Grayback wreaked havoc on a convoy of four freighters and three escorts. She sent freighter Gyokure, Maru and escort Numakaze to the bottom and damaged several others in 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 sunk 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. Undaunted by lack of torpedos, the submarine battled surfaced 27 December and sank a good sized fishing boat with deck guns before reaching Pearl Harbor 4 January 1944.

Grayback's tenth patrol, her most successful in terms of tonnage sunk, was also to be her last. She sailed from Pearl Harbor 28 January 1944, for the East China Sea. On 24 February Grayback radioed that she had sunk two cargo ships 19 February and had damaged two others. On 25 February she transmitted her second and final report. That morning she had sunk tanker Toshin Maru and severely damaged another. 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 reluctantly listed her as missing and presumed lost with all hands.

From captured Japanese records the gallant submarine's last few days can be pieced together. Heading home through the East China Sea, on 27 February Grayback used her last two torpedoes to sink the freighter Ceylon Maru. That same day, a Japanese carrier-based plane spotted a submarine on the surface in the Fast 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 had ended her last patrol, one which cost the enemy some 21,594 tons of shipping.

The fighting submarine's career, so tragically ended, had been an illustrious one. Grayback ranked 20th among all submarines in total tonnage sunk with 63,835 tons and 24th in number of ships sunk with 14. Submarine and crew had received two Navy Unit Commendations for their 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th war patrols.

Grayback received eight battle stars for World War II service.

The mystery of the USS Grayback: How a mistranslation kept the Navy from finding the submarine's final resting place for 75 years

USS Grayback (SS-208), which was sunk by Japanese bombing in 1944, was eventually tracked 100 miles from the area where it was originally thought to have drowned.

(Source : Getty Images)

History never ceases to surprise. On January 28, 1944, when the Second World War was raging in the Pacific, the USS Grayback (SS-208) departed Pearl Harbor for its 10th combat patrol. One of the most successful American submarines, the Grayback never returned and the US Navy listed the vessel as missing and presumed it was lost. Nearly 75 years later it looks like the lost submarine has been located, and now hopefully the mystery of its disappearance can be cracked.

Once the war ended, the Navy tried to piece together the history of all 52 submarines that it lost and the information, which came out in 1949, gave approximate locations where each of the vessels had gone off tracking. The Grayback, which had a successful last patrol, was thought to have sunk in the open ocean around 100 miles east-southeast of Okinawa, Japan.

But the effort to track down the lost submarine failed as the Navy banked on translations of Japanese war records that were far from perfect. In fact, just one erroneous digit in the longitude for the spot where Grayback was believed to have disappeared led the entire tracking operation in the wrong direction.

Lost World War II Submarine Rediscovered 75 Years Later

USS Grayback was found after an amateur historian made a startling discovery.

  • USS Grayback was lost in 1944, off the coast of Okinawa.
  • A Japanese researcher discovered the coordinates of the sinking were mistranslated.
  • The correct coordinates lead searchers to the sub&rsquos final resting place, 75 years later.

USS Grayback, a U.S. Navy submarine lost in 1944 to enemy air attack, has been found. The search was conducted by U.S. and Japanese researchers who were the first to realize that an error in translation had misplaced the location of the ship&rsquos sinking. A search party utilizing drones fitted with high-definition cameras located the shattered submarine, making a positive identification.

USS Grayback (SS-208) was a Tambor-class submarine. Grayback was 307 feet long and 27 feet wide, with a top speed of 20.9 knots surfaced and 8.75 knots submerged. She had a crew of 65 and was armed with ten torpedo tubes&mdashsix facing forward and four backward&mdasha 76-millimeter gun, 40-millimeter gun, and .50-caliber machine gun. Grayback displaced just 1,470 tons, making her less than one-fifth the size of today&rsquos Virginia-class submarines.

The submarine conducted a string of highly successful patrols in the western Pacific, ten in all. Grayback sank 14 Japanese ships, or 63,835 tons of enemy shipping, a figure that translates into nearly 40 times the submarine's own weight. She even sank the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-18, despite submarine vs. submarine warfare being a relatively uncommon occurrence in World War II. Her luck ran out on February 26, 1944, when she was sunk off the coast of Okinawa. The Navy realized she had been lost in March, after she was reported overdue returning to Midway Island.

U.S. Navy officials only found out the cause of Grayback&rsquos sinking after the war, when translated Japanese wartime records noted a Nakajima B5N &ldquoKate&rdquo bomber attacked a surfaced enemy submarine with a 500-pound bomb. The stricken submarine was then bombarded with depth charges. Unfortunately, according to The New York Times, a single digit error in the grid coordinates of the Navy&rsquos translation resulted in the Navy believing she was actually a hundred miles away from her true location.

An amateur Japanese historian and researcher, Yutaka Iwasaki, was examining the Japanese Navy&rsquos wartime records and realized the coordinates of the sinking were incorrect. Iwasaki&rsquos research was brought to the attention of underwater Tim Taylor, whose Lost 52 Project plans to locate the remains of every one of the 52 U.S. Navy submarines lost during World War II. Although the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force was spectacularly effective in depriving Japan from food, oil, and other resources, the loss of 52 submarines and 3,505 submariners was the highest among all the services, amounting to 22 percent of all submarine force personnel.

Taylor&rsquos team of explorers sailed to the correct coordinates and deployed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) fitted with sonar. The AUV scanned the seabed below, beaming data to the surface for analysis. Taylor noticed two anomalies just as the AUV began to malfunction, and sent another unmanned submersible armed with cameras to investigate. Grayback had been found.

Grayback was found in two pieces on the bottom of the ocean, with the front end broken off from the rest of the submarine and a large hole in the stern. These locations roughly correspond to the front and rear torpedo rooms. A Tambor-class submarine held 24 Mark 14 torpedoes, each packing 507 pounds of TNT. The forward section appears to have sustained a larger explosion, large enough to break the ship into two pieces, and indeed the forward torpedo room held more torpedoes than the rear torpedo room.

The sonar image of Grayback also shows serious damage behind the submarine&rsquos sail. This was the location of the 76-millimeter (3-inch) deck gun, which was blown off by the Japanese aerial bomb. Explorers located the deck gun 400 feet from the submarine.

WWII submarine USS Grayback, missing 75 years, discovered off coast of Japan

A World War II submarine that was sunk with 80 sailors on board and has been missing for three-quarters of a century was found, according to an organization dedicated to finding dozens of lost war subs.

The USS Grayback was discovered more than 1,400 feet under water about 50 miles south of Okinawa, Japan, in June by Tim Taylor and his "Lost 52 Project" team, which announced the finding Sunday.

The sub was sunk by a Nakajima b5N carrier bomber Feb. 26, 1944, during its 10th war patrol, according to a video announcement from the Lost 52 project.

Taylor founded the Lost 52 Project after his first WWII submarine discovery of the USS R12. The team has found at least four other subs and is determined to discover, survey and create 3-D documentation of the final underwater resting places of the more than 40 remaining missing subs.

The Navy did compile a history of the 52 submarines it had lost during WWII with approximate locations of where the vessels sank, according to The New York Times. But in the case of the USS Grayback, it had relied on an incorrect Japanese translation of war records that had one digit wrong in the assumed latitude and longitude of where the sub went down.

The USS Grayback left for its final mission from Pearl Harbor on Jan. 28, 1944, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. The sub was ordered home in late February with only two torpedoes remaining after an attack on a Japanese convoy. The Grayback was slated to arrive in Midway in March, but never arrived and was listed as "presumed lost" by the end of the month.

The Grayback was the 20th most successful submarine during WWII and earned two Navy commendations and eight battle stars for its service.

WWII US submarine wreck discovered 75 years after it sank

The wreck of the USS Grayback, a World War II submarine, has been found off the coast of Japan 75 years after its sinking by a Japanese bomber. Records indicate that the sub and its 80-member crew were sunk by a 500-pound bomb dropped in February 1944.

The wreck of World War II submarine USS Grayback has been discovered off Japan 75 years after its sinking by a Japanese bomber.

The submarine was found on June 5, by the Lost 52 Project, which locates lost U.S. World War II submarines. In a statement translated from Japanese, the Lost 52 Project explained that the USS Grayback (SS-208) is the first U.S. submarine discovered off the coast of Japan.

Japanese records indicate that the sub was sunk by a 500-pound bomb dropped by a naval bomber in February 1944. The bomb hit aft of the Grayback’s conning tower and the sub sank with the loss of her 80-strong crew.

The exploration team used an undersea drone to locate the Tambor-class sub, which lies at a depth of 1,427 feet, 50 nautical miles south of Okinawa. The sub’s deck gun was located 384 feet away.

The plaque on the USS Grayback wreck. (Ocean Outreach/Lost 52 Project/YouTube)

In the statement, Lost 52 Project founder Tim Taylor described the discovery as “absolutely amazing.” The sub is ranked the 20th most successful U.S. submarine of World War II, according to the Lost 52 Project.

The USS Grayback was launched on Jan. 31, 1941, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command and quickly earned a fearsome reputation in the Pacific Theater. During 10 war patrols, it sank 14 enemy vessels, including Japanese submarines, totaling 63,835 tons of shipping. In January 1943, the sub’s crew also rescued six downed U.S. aviators from Munda in the Solomon Islands, for which her commanding officer was awarded the Navy Cross.

The wreck of the USS Grayback was found 50 nautical miles south of Okinawa. (Ocean Outreach/Lost 52 Project/YouTube)

In the statement, Lost 52 Project founder Tim Taylor described the discovery as “absolutely amazing.” The research team, he explained, was analyzing some of the final pieces of the sonar data that they had collected when they spotted what proved to be the USS Grayback lying on the ocean floor.

Taylor is also the CEO of Tiburon Subsea, which provides underwater technology equipment and is also the founder of exploration organization, Ocean Outreach.

A video posted to YouTube by Ocean Outreach on Nov. 10 shows Grayback’s damaged hull, as well as a plaque bearing the sub’s name, details about its construction in Groton, Conn., and its launch.

The wreck is lying at a depth of 1,427 feet. (Ocean Outreach/Lost 52 Project/YouTube)

Japanese historian Hiroshi Iwasaki also played a crucial role in the discovery. The expert retranslated a primary record of the Grayback’s sinking and found that the longitude differed from a record created in 1946. Armed with the new coordinates, the Lost 52 Project was able to target the area where the wreck was subsequently found.

The discovery provides closure for the families of the USS Grayback’s crew. “[Seventy-five] year old mystery solved and families of 80 Sailors have closure: USS Grayback has been found,” tweeted the Naval History and Heritage Command on Sunday.

The USS Grayback sank with the loss of her 80-strong crew. (Ocean Outreach/Lost 52 Project/YouTube)

The USS Grayback is the fifth sub discovered by the Lost 52 Project. Earlier this year, the team located the bow of World War II submarine USS Grunion 77 years after the sub went missing off the remote Aleutian Islands in Alaska on her first war patrol.

The USS Grayback photographed in 1941. (Naval History and Heritage Comand. Catalog#: NH 53771)

In a separate project, the deepest sunken shipwreck ever discovered, a U.S. World War II destroyer, was recently found in the Philippine Sea.

The wreck was found resting at a depth of 20,406 feet by experts on the Research Vessel Petrel. Explorers used an undersea drone to locate the mysterious ship, believed to be the USS Johnston, a Fletcher-class destroyer sunk during the Battle off Samar, a key action in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in 1944.

Eerie footage captured by the drone shows the mangled wreckage of the ship lying on the seabed.

The Loss of USS GRAYBACK (SS-208)

USS GRAYBACK (SS-208) left Pearl Harbor for her tenth war patrol on 28 January 1944. She topped off with fuel at Midway and then headed for the strait that separates Luzon in the Philippines from Taiwan, then known as Formosa. She was to remain in the area for eight days, from 8-16 February, and then move into the East China Sea.

At first everything went well. On the 19 th , GRAYBACK reported sinking two cargo ships and damaging two more. On the 25 th she sent one tanker to the bottom and crippled a second. At that point she had only two torpedoes left, so her chain of command ordered her to return to Pearl Harbor. She was supposed to put in at Midway on 7 March, but never arrived. She was declared overdue and presumed lost on 30 March.

Japanese records examined after the war indicate that on 27 February GRAYBACK destroyed a Japanese freighter using her last two torpedoes. Later in the day, she was spotted running on the surface by a patrol aircraft which dropped a bomb directly on top of her. The boat, according to the report, “exploded and sank immediately.” Taking no chances, the aircraft called in a couple of ships which dropped depth charges onto a trail of air bubbles until a slick of oil coated the sea for hundreds of meters in all directions.

Eighty men were lost with GRAYBACK, the recipient of eight battle stars for her wartime service.

GRAYBACK, possibly in drydock, looks up at what appears to be an attack transport, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, 26 August 1943.

VIDEO: WWII submarine USS Grayback found after missing for 75 years

Private explorers have solved a 75-year mystery about the location of the USS Grayback, giving closure to the families of the 80 U.S. soldiers who lost their lives.

The explorers weren’t initially able to find the location of the missing submarine all because of an error of one single digit in the Japanese translation of the coordinates, which had lead to the Navy searching for the ship in the wrong area.

The error went unnoticed until last year, when an amateur researcher, Yutaka Iwasaki, discovered the flawed translation while going through wartime radio records of the Imperial Japanese Navy base at Sasebo, The New York Times reported.

“In that radio record, there is a longitude and a latitude of the attack, very clearly,” Iwasaki said, noting that it was off by 100 miles from what was in the 1949 Navy history.

Iwasaki developed a love for WWII Japanese ships and uncovering mysteries surrounding lost ones when he was a child.

“For me, finding U.S. submarines is part of my activity to introduce the tragic story of war,” he said. “It is my hobby, and also my passion.”

Lead by Tim Taylor, his “Lost 52 Project” team discovered the USS Grayback more than 1,400 feet underwater about 50 miles south of Okinawa, Japan, in June.

The USS Grayback, which was was the 20th most successful submarine during WWII and earned two Navy commendations and eight battle stars, was sunk by the Nakajima b5N carrier bomber on February 26, 1944 after it left for its final mission on January 28, 1944, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The “Lost 52 Project” is named after the 52 submarines the U.S. Navy lost during WWII. According to Taylor, 47 are considered discoverable and the other five were run around or destroyed in known locations.

Since finding the submarines, family members of deceased loved ones on the USS Grayback were given closure.

John Bihn is named after his uncle, John Patrick King, one of the 80 U.S. sailors who died. He told the NYT his family was unable to discuss his uncle’s death because it was “too sad to ask about” and his “mother would cry very often if you spoke to her about it.”

But learning about the discovery of the USS Grayback made him “dumbfounded.”

“I just could not believe it,” he said. “I wish my parents were alive to see this, because it would certainly make them very happy,”

75 Years Ago the USS Grayback Was Lost in the Pacific Ocean: This is the Doomed Submarine’s Epic Story.

On February 27, 1944, a Japanese Nakajima B5N torpedo bomber patrolling over the East China Sea near Okinawa spotted the glinting hull of a submarine surfaced above the water.

Earlier that very day, the freighter Celyon Maru had been sunk by two torpedoes.

The three-man bomber swooped down and reported a direct hit with a 500-pound, causing the submarine to “explode and sink immediately.”

To play it safe, Japanese warships closed in on a trail of bubbles left at the scene and laced the ocean with depth charges. As concussive blasts wracked the water, a black oil slick surged to the surface.

Ten days later, on March 7, the submarine USS Grayback failed to return to Pearl Harbor from her tenth war patrol as scheduled. Nor did she reply to a radio inquiry three days later.

After waiting three weeks, the Navy listed Grayback and the eighty sailors aboard her as “missing, presumed lost with all hands.”

After the Japanese surrender, researchers correlated Grayback’s disappearance with Japanese records. They concluded 1,652-ton submarine had been on something of a rampage before meeting her last patrol, possibly sinking as many as four ships totaling 21,000 tons.

GraybackFound at Last

Seventy-five years later, a privately funded expedition set out to find Grayback’s lost wreck. Team leader Tim Taylor and partner Christina Dennison had previously located the wrecks of four other U.S. World War II submarines as part of a project called Lost 52, leveraging new autonomous underwater vehicle technology that could search wide areas without having to be continuously tethered to a boat.

Two years earlier, I chatted with Taylor and Dennison about their first find in 2010: Navy coastal defense submarine R-12, which sank mysteriously off the coast of Florida, taking with her forty-three crew. They expressed their wish to preserve the memory of the heroic submariners who sacrificed their lives in the conflict and give relatives a sense of closure by identifying the sites of their remains.

According to the New York Times, the wreck’s discovery was only possible thanks to team historian Yutaka Iwasaki finding an error in the latitude and longitude of the original U.S. loss report from 1949, which implied a location 100 miles away from the site of the actual attack.

In June 2019, the team deployed an AUV that spent hours systematically scanning a ten square mile section of seafloor with sonar before surfacing to upload its findings to its mothership for analysis.

That data was used to deploy a second remote-control submarine with powerful cameras that finally revealed the submarine’s wreck 427 meters below the surface.

Video feeds revealed Grayback’s bow had been torn at an angle, and her stern imploded, supporting the report of a direct hit. Her deck gun lay over 100 meters away. But Greyback’s nameplate remained perfectly legible.

The team waited several months for confirmation from the U.S. Navy before declaring their find on November 10, 2019, making sure the relatives of the entombed sailors were amongst the first to see the footage.

The Silent Service

World War II submariners fought a lonely, deadly war. While German submarines famously tried and failed to strangle U.S. convoy transiting the Atlantic in World Wars I and II, Allied submarines largely succeeded at crippling Imperial Japan’s economy during World War II—sinking roughly 80 percent of her merchant shipping by one count.

But the “Silent Service” was also one of the riskiest occupations in the U.S. Navy, as the loss of fifty-two boats during World War II attests. Planes ambushed submarines recharging batteries on the surface, and escort ships bombarded them with depth charges while submerged. Only rarely did lost submarines leave behind survivors who could attest to their fates.

Grayback (SS-208) was laid down in 1940 in Groton, Connecticut by Electric Boat and commissioned June 1941—you can see pictures of her here. She was one of twelve Tambor-class fleet submarines—only five of which survived the war.

These medium-sized submarines were fast enough to accompany surface fleets, had an ocean-spanning range of 12,600 miles, and an expanded armament of six 21-inch bow torpedo tubes plus four in the stern, with fourteen reloads available. A 3” deck gun and two rapid-firing anti-aircraft cannons gave the subs modest firepower while surfaced.

The Tambor’s conning tower also featured a Mark III mechanical targeting computer. Most torpedoes then were unguided straight-line weapons. The Mark III not only helped calculate intercepts but could program the torpedoes’ internal gyroscope to slew away after launch, making it unnecessary to turn the entire submarine to aim. Unfortunately, gyros in early-war American Mark 14 torpedoes were notoriously defective.

Submarine Duels

Five weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grayback sallied forth on her first war patrol off Saipan and Guam under command of Willard Saunders. Just a week later, she was ambushed while surfaced by a Japanese submarine that launched two torpedoes. Both missed.

For the next four days, the two submarines engaged in a high-stakes game of tag, trying to catch the other exposed on the surface. World War II-era submarines weren’t designed with the capability to attack each other underwater (an event that occurred only once, ever). However, they did have to surface frequently to recharge batteries. A Tambor could go at most two days without surfacing, but only while crawling at 2 knots.

Despite spotting each other multiple times, neither managed to line up another attack. Grayback finally eluded her counterpart on February 26 and sank first victim, the coal transport Ishikaru Maru on March 17 near Chichi Jima.

Grayback skirmished repeatedly with Japanese ships and submarines in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, on three subsequent patrol damaging but not sinking any. She was damaged in turn by depth charge attacks by ships and Japanese E8N2 floatplane in November 1942.

The Grayback’s fortune turned with her fifth patrol under Lt. Cdr. Edward Stephan begun December 7, 1942. On Christmas Day she pounced on four Japanese barges and sank them with her deck gun. Then at five minutes past midnight on January 2/3, 1943 Stephan spotted the huge Japanese cruiser submarine I-18 south of New Britain—a boat previously involved in mini-submarine attacks on Sydney and Pearl Harbor.

When I-18 abruptly began submerging, Stephan fired two torpedoes. He reported hearing explosions and was credited with a kill. In truth, the Japanese submarine survived only to be sunk on February 11.

Two days later, Grayback received word that six crew of a downed B-26 bomber Queenie had crash-landed on Rendova Island two days early. But locating the airmen and getting them back on board without exposing Grayback was not going to be easy.

On the evening of January 5, two boats rowed ashore while the Grayback hastily ducked back underwater. The sailors found the downed crew and laid low until nightfall, whereupon they used signal lamps to guide their boat back to the waiting sub.

But Grayback’s luck nearly ran out twelve days later when her torpedoes missed a Japanese destroyer escorting a convoy. The destroyer’s counter-attack badly damaged Grayback, forcing her to limp back to Brisbane.

Stephan commanded Grayback on a sixth and seventh patrol—sinking two ships and damaging three more on the latter, before sailing her back to San Francisco on May 30 for a major refurbishment

Moore’s Navy Crosses

In September, Grayback cruised back into action under Texan John Anderson Moore who would be awarded a Navy Crosses for each of his three patrols.

Grayback joined submarines Shad and Cero to debut new wolf pack tactics in which they patrolled together to box in enemy ships. This proved a resounding success, with Grayback sinking a tanker and the 8,100-ton armed merchant cruiser Awata Maru, and shared in the sinking of the Fuji Maru with Shad.

Moore’s following patrol, begun December 2, saw the submarine fire off all 24 of her torpedoes in just five days of furious action, beginning with the sinking of a freighter on December 18, northeast of Okinawa. When her radar detected the escorting destroyer Numakaze barreling towards her out for revenge, Moore crash-dived Grayback and launched a spread four torpedoes behind her from her stern tubes. Three hit Numakaze, sinking her.

The sub sank two more freighters the night of December 20/21, and a large sampan with gunfire on December 27.

Grayback’s final patrol (described at beginning of article) was her most effective yet, increasing her wartime gross sunk by nearly a third to 63,800 tons and 14 ships sunk.

The crew of the Grayback, and those of her victims, sacrificed their lives for their countries in a pitiless war of unsurpassed scale and violence. Her rediscovery three-quarters of a century later is a unique opportunity to commemorate the bravery of the eighty souls that remain entombed within her.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Submarine Grayback – By Rick Cline

“SUBMARINE GRAYBACK” The Life & Death of the WWII Sub, USS Grayback. By Rick Cline. Her fate would be a tragic death in the depths, but before she was lost, USS Grayback (SS-208) compiled an impressive battle record. The submarine and her courageous crew made a name for themselves sinking nineteen enemy vessels, including another submarine and a destroyer. At the height of her remarkable career, in February 1944, Grayback mysteriously disappeared. When she made her fatal plunge to the bottom of the Pacific, eighty brave Americans, including her gallant captain, were lost. Author Rick Cline takes you aboard this famous submarine for all 10 of her historic war patrols. Grayback sunk over 66,000 tons of enemy ships. She single-handedly executed a daring and bold rescue mission from a Japanese held island. Her pharmacist’s mate performed his first surgery—removing the appendix from an ailing crew member. Cline made exclusive use of the Grayback war patrol and action reports, conducted personal interviews and correspondence with several of her former crewmen. Cline also wrote, Escort Carrier WWII and Final Dive. First and only 1999 Softbound edition. 252 pages, 31 black and white photographs, and index and a complete USS Grayback crew roster, no maps. Ultra-rare and now out-of-print!

Autographed by the author!

USS Grayback: Missing submarine found after 75 years

The following is included in the final pages of this book about USS Grayback. Written in 1999, twenty years before the wreck was discovered.

“What really occurred on February 26, 1944, will never be known. Based on previously obtained research information, here is what I believe occurred on the fateful day.

Flying at 200 plus miles per hour, below Grayback’s SD Radar, the Japanese [Kate] pilot could have easily caught the sub flat-footed. Releasing his bombs at the precise moment, a direct hit could indeed have destroyed Grayback. If they were already engaged in a crash dive, the exploding bombs may have caused enough damage, making it impossible for her crew to stop their fatal plunge to the bottom. Had the submarine been hit by the bombs before a dive was executed, there might have been some survivors thrown into the water from the explosion. In this case, at least a few dead or injured men and some debris would have been found in the water. In addition, there would have been an oil slick on the surface of the sea when the enemy destroyers arrived. I believe Commander Moore or the OOD had successfully cleared the bridge and started the dive before the enemy bombs fell. More than likely Grayback had survived the initial bombing.

Using his last torpedoes on board, Commander Moore sank the Japanese cargo ship, Ceylon Maru on February 26. After the sinking, Grayback remained submerged and slowly slipped away from patrolling enemy escorts. Several hours later when it was all clear, she returned to the surface. Moore ordered a charge on their batteries as the submarine fled the area at full speed. With her bow turned towards Midway, a triumphant Grayback was heading home. A Japanese plane suddenly appeared. Flying below the SD Radar beams, the Kate pilot had surprised Grayback. Lookouts sighted the intruder and Moore gave the order, “Clear the bridge! Dive, Dive!” As Grayback began to submerge in a crash-dive mode, two bombs exploded right next to the submarine. Damage to the boat was serious if not critical. Water was pouring in at a dangerous pace. Crewmen frantically worked to stem the flow of seawater.

After his successful aerial attack, the eager Japanese pilot radioed for assistance. Enemy destroyers steamed to the area as quickly as possible. Perhaps the same tin can’s that were encountered when Commander Moore sank the Ceylon Maru earlier that day. With their boat seriously damaged, the crew of Grayback was fighting for their life and as a result, unable to run silent. Pinging for the submarine’s underwater position, the destroyers easily located Grayback and began dropping depth charges. The sub was jolted by several devastating explosions, all extremely close. The depth charges proved fatal, rupturing Grayback’s already damaged hull. The submarine helplessly plunged to the bottom of the ocean. Within a few minutes, fuel oil and debris bubbled to the surface, marking the final resting-place for the USS Grayback.

Eighty brave souls were lost that day-all forever entombed in the submarine. The boat now rests somewhere on the bottom of the East China Sea. The exact location remains a mystery.”

November 2019 more facts are discovered:

After viewing the Grayback wreck video and still images it appears much of the above opinion is factual. First, the submarine hatches are all closed, so the sub was not sunk with men on deck. Next, the bow-diving planes are extended. On the surface these planes are in the up-right position, against the hull. Therefore the sub was either in the process of diving or already submerged when she took her fatal blow. Like countless other war-time pilots on all sides, this Japanese pilot believed he too had scored a fatal kill in his attack on Grayback. The majority of surface attacks on submarines performed by rogue planes, proved fruitless. And based on the facts we now have, I do not agree the Kate pilot solely sunk this famous submarine. What most people do not know, is the Kate pilot dropped his bomb, then radioed a near-by destroyer. Only after the destroyer attacked did oil and bubbles come to the surface. One final point, the sub was sunk on February 26, 1944. Many others say the 27th. – Rick Cline

Book Reviews:

“An Unsung Hero of World War II—USS Grayback SS-208. After 55 years the true story of the USS Grayback is finally told! Submarine Grayback represents the true essence of how our submarines held the line against the powerful Japanese fleet in WWII. This book is must reading for anyone who appreciates the sacrifices made by our submarines in WWII… the brave officers and men of the Grayback finally have their story told and what a special story it is.” – Captain Albert D. Saleker USN (Ret.)

“You did an outstanding job, I couldn’t have done any better myself. My deepest appreciation for this book, or the story would never have been told… Job well done!” – Merlin ‘Bourgy’ Bourguignon, USN (Ret.) / USS Grayback survivor

“I have always been fascinated by submarines, and am particularly interested in the stories of those subs lost during WWII, as was Grayback. At first I was somewhat put off by the amount of daily minutia Cline includes, but eventually I fell into the rhythm of what life must have been like for her crew. I also like how Cline made each war patrol a single chapter, and my interest grew as I neared that final patrol. The account of her final days—and the speculation as to how she was lost—is both poignant and fascinating… That the story shines through in the end is a testament to the valor of the men of Grayback. I applaud Rick Cline for bringing their heroic tale to life, and I would recommend the book.” – L. S. Jorgensen

“I thoroughly enjoyed your ‘Masterful’ history of the WWII submarine Grayback. It was brilliantly researched and highly readable.” – Nick Christodoulou / USS Scabbardfish / WWII Sub Vet.

“I recently purchased your book regarding the USS Grayback from Amazon.com. I just finished ordering two more and in all likelihood will order more later. I can not thank you enough for this book! You see, Wilbur E. Campbell was my great-uncle. As you know, he died aboard the Grayback. While I never met him, I have heard stories about him all of my life from my father who was also a Navy man. This book gives us so much insight into his life and death there are no words to express our appreciation. Until they died, Uncle Wilbur’s mother and family believed he was simply “lost at sea” and would return. I wish they could have read your book.” – Karen Crile Gaston

“I just finished reading your book, Submarine Grayback. Thank you for writing it. I have read many accounts of the submarine war in the Pacific but yours brought into clear view the amazing story that each submarine must have had. In the case of Grayback, it was a tragic story, but also simply remarkable. I found, incidentally, by doing a web search on Grayback which took me to Amazon.com. I was looking for something new about the boat, and I hit pay dirt” – Bob Littlejohn

Born in Maywood, California, Rick Cline has spent the majority of his life in Southern California. He is the son of a World War II Navy veteran––his father, Clovis Cline, having served aboard the escort carrier USS Petrof Bay (CVE-80). The flattop saw action in several crucial Pacific campaigns. An award-winning photojournalist, Cline’s work has appeared around the world and in publications such as the National Enquirer and World Book Encyclopedia. A long-time enthusiast of World War II history, his first book, Escort Carrier WWII examines the history of his father’s ship Petrof Bay. Cline’s second book, Submarine Grayback covers the World War II history of USS Grayback (SS-208) lost in the Pacific in February 1944. Rick continues to pursue untold submarine stories of World War II with the release Final Dive a book about the USS Snook (SS-279), lost in 1945.

Watch the video: Battle Realms 2: Winter of the Wolf - Graybacks Journey Mission 8 (December 2021).