Commissioned on 28 April 1945, the naval career of the submarine USS REQUIN (SS 481) began at 1130 that morning, when Captain Slade D. Cutter assumed com-mand and officially accepted the submarine for the US Navy.
Among an order of 80 TENCH Class submarines, REQUIN is one of only 25 boats built and one of only two surviving examples.
Arriving in Hawaii at the end of July, 1945, after an extensive period of training in the Panama Canal Zone, REQUIN carried the standard armament: two 5 inch/25 caliber wet-mount guns, two 40mm rapid fire cannons on the fore and aft cigarette decks, and ten torpedo tubes with 16 reloads, plus an experimental installation of two 24 tube 5 inch rocket launchers. She was just about to leave on her first war patrol when the war in the Pacific ended. With some crewmen upset that they were not getting combat pins and with a commander saying that those men should be glad to be alive, REQUIN returned to the United States a few weeks later and, upon her arrival there, was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet. The next few months were spent in routine training exercises, which consisted for the most part of providing target services for sonar school ships; “a dull and boring assignment” in the words of Slade Cutter. After completing this duty in the summer of 1946, REQUIN received a new commanding officer and a new mission.
Lire as a Radar Picket
REQUIN’ s conversion into a radar picket came about as a result of the Japanese tactics encountered during the later stages of World War II. Subjected to the increased and intensified kamika-ze attacks against surface picket ships, most often destroyers able to warn the main fleets of incoming Japanese aircraft, the US Navy began to ponder the idea of using submarines. They would have to put enough radar on submarines to allow them to be able to control intercepting fighters, direct outbound aircraft, as well as providing warning for the fleet. According to Captain Jack MaGee, who served onboard REQUIN from 1951 to 1953, “the radar picket program grew out of a Pacific Fleet requirement to deploy submarines off Japan as radar pickets in the spring and summer of 1945.” Although the war ended before fully equipped radar picket submarines could be deployed, the need for these vessels put pressure on the Navy to begin converting submarines to radar pickets.
The first two submarines subjected to this conversion were REQUIN and SPINAX (SS 489), with SPINAX being converted during her construction. The equipment used in these conversions was hastily adapted from surface ship units and as such, Jed to many problems . Chief among them was that with so much radar equipment aboard, the after spaces became even more confining.
Another problem encountered was the fact that there was vast amounts of “short-circuiting of the antenna systems due to flooding. “1
Together with the experience and results of the early radar installations onboard REQUIN and SPINAX, the Navy began the process of improving these installations in the Migraine program in 1948. The Migraine conversions were more extensive and the first submarine converted was TIGRONE (SS 419). TIGRONE (and later BURRFISH) had its crews’ mess converted into an air control center, berthing moved to the stem room (which had its tubes removed), its batteries replaced by smaller, more powerful batteries adapted from the GUPPY program, and two forward torpedo tubes removed. Also, both submarines received snorkels to allow them to run their diesels underwater. The air search radar antenna was mounted on a pedestal on the after cigarette deck, the surface search radar antenna was placed on a pedestal about midway between the conning tower and the stem, and the fighter controller radar was located near the stern of the subma-rine.
The Migraine II conversions (REQUIN and SPINAX) were a bit more extensive. On REQUIN, the stern tubes were completely removed, with the forward part of the stem room being converted into an air control center and the after part being converted into berthing space. In addition, the bottom two torpedo tubes in the forward torpedo room were inactivated and sealed, being converted into storage space. The storage batteries were also replaced by improved Sargo batteries with greater capacity.
Topside, in addition to receiving snorkels, the placement of the radar antennas was also different for the Migraine II boats. While keeping the SR-2 air search radar antenna on a pedestal on the after cigarette deck, the surface search radar (on REQUIN, the SV-2) was removed from its pedestal and placed on the deck, above the air control center. A fighter controller beacon (the YE-3) was also placed on REQUIN’s deck, above the after engine room. Along with these modifications, REQUIN received a new designation in 1948 created for the radar pickets, SSR.
Even more extensive than the Migraine II conversions were the Migraine m conversions. Six GATO Class submarines were split in half between the control room and the forward battery compartment and a 24 foot section was inserted which would provide adequate space for the air control center. The stern rooms on the six GA TO Class boats were also converted to berthing space. Topside, the periscope shears, radar antenna mast, and snorkel mast were enclosed in a streamlined sail, rather than the open sails of the Migraine I and II boats.
After her conversion to a Migraine II configuration, REQUIN would spend the next 11 years operating as a radar picket, with its air control center operating in a manner similar to the combat information centers on larger vessels. Most of the time, REQUIN operated along the Atlantic coast, with some cruises to the Arctic (to test the radars’ reaction to ice) and many cruises to the Mediterranean. On a typical operation, REQUIN would have four qualified watchstanders in her air control center: an aircraft controller, a height-finder operator, a plotter to plot all contacts reported, and a phone-talker to the bridge. A typical deployment would have REQUIN operating with another radar picket subma-rine (so that the other submarine could cover in case the primary picket had to submerge) “along the threat axis, “2 with REQUIN’s distance from the main fleet being limited by its ability to communicate with the fleet. Being somewhat of a rare commodi-ty, REQUIN spent more time at sea than other submarines usually did and was also subjected to more distrust than other submarines. On one picket mission in the Mediterranean, the commander of a combat air patrol (CAP) initially refused to be controlled by REQUIN because he thought the submarine would submerge in the middle of the intercept. In any event, the CAP commander was straightened out and the mission continued without a hitch.
REQUIN continued to provide valuable radar picketing services, even when the Navy began to phase out surface and sub-surface based pickets. She operated as a radar picket until early 1959 when the Navy finally concluded the Migraine program and started to phase out the radar picket submarines.
1959 to 1968
While many of her sister submarines were either being scrapped, mothballed, or sold to other navies, REQUIN received a new lease on life, due in part to her excellent condition. With the phasing out of the Migraine program, all of the radar equipment was removed from REQUIN and the open conning tower was replaced by a so-called high plastic sail (actually made of fiberglass).
With these modifications, REQUIN would continue to serve in the Atlantic fleet for the next nine years. Time, though, was beginning to run out for REQUIN. In the latter part of 1966, after REQUIN had returned from participating in UNITAS VII, a series of exercises with various South American navies, the Navy began to consider REQUIN’s usefulness. Concluding that she was fast approaching the end of her service life, it was decided to decommission the submarine at the end of 1968. REQUIN’s final deployment, coming in May 1968, lasted only a week and dealt mainly with the search for the missing nuclear attack submarine, USS SCORPION (SSN 589).
Decommissioned on 3 December 1968, REQUIN was later towed to Tampa, Florida to serve as a Naval Reserve trainer. She served in this capacity until 20 December 1971, when she was stricken from the Navy List. After that, custody of REQUIN was transferred to the City of Tampa in 1972, where it served as a memorial and a tourist attraction. Local interest and support for REQUIN remained fairly high for another 15 years. Due to a growing lack of attention and a scandal involving a one-time tour guide, the City of Tampa asked that the Navy take REQUIN away in 1989 (another reason was that the city wanted to improve its image for the 1991 Super Bowl and did not think that a World War II submarine fit that image).
It was at that time that the Carnegie Museum, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania asked the Navy about the possible donation of an obsolete ship to be placed on exhibit at its new science center being built on the banks of the Ohio River, next to Three Rivers Stadium. Hearing about the availability of REQUIN, the Carnegie contacted various local officials who had contacts in the Navy, and also the late Senator John Heinz (R-PA). Senator Heinz was able to get the necessary legislation through Congress in a relatively short amount of time which allowed the Navy’s 60 day deliberation period (concerning the transfer of obsolete vessels for museum purposes) to be cut to three weeks. The legislation authorizing REQUIN’s move was signed by President Bush in April of 1990.
This attempt at quick passage was necessary because of the timing and planning required by the predicted water levels along various stretches of the Mississippi through which REQUIN had to pass before arriving in Pittsburgh.
After necessary repairs, including the replacement of some outer hull plates, were completed in the Tampa Shipyard, RE-QUIN was moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where she would begin her journey up the Mississippi to Pittsburgh. Placed between four barges, REQUIN moved approximately 120 miles per day, arriving in Pittsburgh on 4 September 1990, where she was greeted by a parade of tire boats and small craft.
Opened for tours in October of 1990, USS REQUIN continues to be one of the most popular attractions today in Pittsburgh. Well supported by funding from the Carnegie Science Center, the attention REQUIN receives ensures a fitting memorial. Divers go into the Ohio River about every six months to inspect her hull, and her interior spaces are the subject of intense maintenance and restoration.
How popular is REQUIN in Pittsburgh? In the almost four years the submarine has been on display, about 400,000 people have toured the submarine. For more information on REQUIN, contact the Carnegie Science Center at the following address and telephone number: The Carnegie Science Center, One Allegheny Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, telephone (412) 237-3400.