Sailor, Rest Your Oars

“…I got Mad!”
John Meeks, Pacific War series
USS Parche (SS384) battling it out on the surface in the middle of a Japanese convoy

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  I was unable to make my annual visit to a military cemetery today so I offer the following as my tribute to those who have fallen, those still serving and those that have served.

A little over 50 years ago, I “earned my Dolphins” by qualifying as a Submariner on the USS Amberjack (SS522) and went on to serve 8 years on various underwater missions during the Cold War. My Amberjack was the second of that name and being commissioned on 4 March 1946, it did not see combat in WWII.

Her predecessor, USS Amberjack (SS219), had been commissioned on 19 June 1942, two days before my birth. Based out of Brisbane, Australia, she made three war patrols in the Pacific but did not return from her  third. Her last radio message was on 14 February 1943. She was presumed lost on 22 March 1943, her scheduled return date to Brisbane, Australia. Intercepts of Japanese messages implied she was sunk by enemy action on or about 16 February 1943 near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

I suppose every service member thinks his unit is the most elite, is exposed to the most danger and is the most effective fighting force in existence. Such attitudes are to be expected among highly trained individuals and units prepared for the sole purpose of destroying enemies that are in turn trying to destroy him and his comrades.

So without additional comment, I present the statistics for the US Submarines of the Pacific Fleet during World War II.

Two hundred sixty three US submarines made 1,474 war patrols in the Pacific. They sent 1,392 Japanese ships to the bottom for a total of 4.8 million gross tons. This accounted for over 54% of all Japanese tonnage sunk by all means.


Eighty six of those subs were involved in rescue operations plucking 504 US airmen from the sea after their aircraft were downed.

During the 1,347 days of the war, 52 or 1 out of every 5.5 US submarines were lost and 3,505 submariners made the ultimate sacrifice and went down with them. One out of every five U.S. Navy submariners was killed in WWII. The United States submarine service sustained the highest mortality rate of all branches of the U.S. Military during WWII.

USS Wahoo (SS238)
At rest with 80 submariners entombed
in the northern approach to the Sea of Japan
View of main deck gun, looking aft.

U.S. submarines made 1588 patrols during the war; 1474 in the Pacific, 87 in the Atlantic, 22 in Europe and 5 in North African waters.

There were 4 of the US Navy’s then 51 submarines in Pearl Harbor at the time of the December 7, 1941 attack. They were completely ignored by the Japanese pilots which proved to be a huge mistake on their part as 2 of them, the Tautog (SS199) and the Narwhal (SS167) later combined for 33 war patrols in which they sank 45 Japanese ships.

In total, the Pacific Fleet submarines received 36 Presidential Unit Citations, 53 Navy Unit Commendations, and 1,229 Battle Stars.

A Sailor’s Poem

Run silent, run deep
For freedom we fought to keep
How we spent so many days
Beneath the shimmering waves

A terrible foe we fought
And gave our lives; and freedom bought
Now our souls forever lie
Restlessly beneath the waves
So silent now, so deep

For it is not enough for you to weep
For we shall not have died in vain
Lest you forget for what we gave
We gave our lives, freedom to save

For if you forget our deeds
Then we shall never sleep
Though we lie so silent, so deep.

by Al Alessandra, July 3rd, 2005

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