The standard references to U.S. submarine losses during World War II characterize the fate of USS GRUNION (SS 216) as “an unsolved mystery”. A new boat under the command of Lieutenant Commander Mannert L. Abele, the submarine left Pearl Harbor on her first patrol on 30 June 1942 for patrol in Aleutian Island waters. On 15 July, Commander Abele reported firing three torpedoes at a destroyer without success. In a later message he claimed sinking three destroyer-type ships that same day. (Postwar records identified his victims as the 460 ton submarine chasers CH-25 and CH 27. The third ship, CH-26, in a message intercepted and decrypted by the U.S. code breakers, reported finding no survivors of her sister ships.) On 28 July Commander Abele reported firing two more torpedoes at unidentified ships off Kiska, again without hits. His final radio message, received on 30 July 1942, reported heavy anti-submarine activity at the entrance to Kiska harbor. With ten torpedoes left, GRUNION was ordered to return to Dutch Harbor but was never heard from again.
The late K. Jack Bauer concluded that GRUNION must have been the submarine reported sunk by the Japanese 1-25. However, it was later determined that 1-25 actually torpedoed the Soviet submarine L-16 on 11 October 1942 in the belief that it was an American boat. The incident was hushed up by all parties because of the delicate international situation where the Soviet Union was receiving lend-lease material from the U.S. via the northern Pacific route for use against Japan’s allies in Europe, but was not at war with Japan.
Postwar records of Japanese shipping losses identified the 8572 ton ship KASHIMA MARU as having been damaged by a submarine 12 miles northeast of Kiska on 31 July 1942. 4 The official Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee identified this ship as KANO MARU sunk 8 August by U.S. surface ships and Army aircraft.s A later and more detailed Japanese source stated that KASHIMA MARU was earlier named KANO MARU and had been torpedoed by GRUNION on 21 July, beached and subsequently shelled by U.S. cruisers on 7 August, and finished off by aircraft the next day. Since GRUNION had been heard from as late as 30 July, this attack did not appear directly associated with the submarine’s loss.
Japanese documents translated by Mr. W. G. Somerville of Lincolnshire, England, shed new light on the case. Although the information was published by Vernon I . Miller in the British Journal Warships in the 1980s, to the best of bis and my knowledge it received no mention elsewhere in the U.S. The story is as follows.
The transport KANO MARU, formerly named KASHIMA MARU, was attacked three times on 31 (not 21) July, presumably by GRUNION. One hit was scored in the first attack, the second missed, and two torpedoes hit in the third salvo but were duds. The submarine then surfaced and was taken under fire by the transport’s forward 80mm gun. At least one hit was claimed from 84 shells fired, and the submarine sank.’ The disabled ship was towed into Kiska harbor on 2 August and unloaded. On 15 August it was further damaged by U.S. aircraft but remained afloat until beached and abandoned on 22 September.
It is reasonable to speculate that Commander Abele, frustrated by the failure of his torpedoes, decided to surface and finish off the damaged ship with his deck gun, not realizing that his intended victim was still well armed. Faced with a hail of 80mm shells, he probably pulled the plug in a hurry. The boat could have received a fatal hit, or it could have suffered a diving casualty during its hasty submergence. In any cue, KANO MARU’s account clarifies the confusing earlier records and offers a credible explanation for the loss of GRUNION.
1. US. Submarine Losses World War D. Washington: Naval History Division, Office of CNO, 1963, p. 28. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. m. Washington: Naval Historical Center, 1968, p. 170. Holmes, Harry. The Last Patrol, Shrewsbury, England: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1994, p.25. Holmes, W.J. Undersea Victory. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1996, p. 154.
2. Bauer, K. Jack. Ships of the Navy 1775-1969, Vol. 1. Troy, NY: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1969, p. 267.
3. Blair, Clay Jr. Silent Victory. Philadelphia & New York: J.B. Lippincott Co., 1975, p. 271. Rohwer, Jurgen. Axjs Submarine Successes 1939-1945. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1983, p. 281.
4. The Imperial Japananese Nayy in World War ll. Military History Section, Special Staff, General Headquarters, Far East Command, February 1942.
5. Japanese Naval and Merchant Shipping Losses Purine World War II by All Causes. Prepared by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, Navy Department, Washington, DC, February 1947.
6. Jentschura, Jung, & Mickel. Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869-1945. 1982, p. 276. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press,
7. Komamiya, Shinshichiro. Senji Sempaku Shi (Wartime Ships’ History). Privately printed, 1991, p. 44; Mam Magazine No. 190 (March 1963), p. 88.
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