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USS Finback (SS-230)
USS Finback (SS-230) on the day of her launch
Launch of USS Finback
Builder: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine[1]
Laid down: 5 February 1941[1]
Launched: 25 August 1941[1]
Sponsored by: Mrs. A. E Watson
Commissioned: 31 January 1942[1]
Decommissioned: 21 April 1950[1]
Struck: 1 September 1958[1]
Fate: Sold for scrap, 15 July 1959[1]
General characteristics
Class & type: Gato-class diesel-electric submarine[2]
Displacement: 1,525 long tons (1,549 t) surfaced[2]
2,424 long tons (2,463 t) submerged[2]
Length: 311 ft 9 in (95.02 m)[2]
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)[2]
Draft: 17 ft (5.2 m) maximum[2]
  • 4 × Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-18 9-cylinder opposed-piston diesel engines driving electrical generators[3][4]
  • 2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries[5]
  • 4 × high-speed Elliott electric motors with reduction gears[3]
  • 2 × propellers[3]
  • 5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced[3]
  • 2,740 shp (2.04 MW) submerged[3]
Speed: 21 knots (39 km/h) surfaced[6]
9 kn (17 km/h) submerged[6]
Range: 11,000 nmi (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 kn (19 km/h)[6]
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 kn (4 km/h) submerged[6]
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 300 ft (90 m)[6]
Complement: 6 officers, 54 enlisted[6]

USS Finback (SS-230), a Gato-class submarine was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the finback, the common whale of the Atlantic coast of the United States.

Finback (SS-230) was laid down 5 February 1941 by Portsmouth Navy Yard. She was launched 25 August 1941 (sponsored by Mrs. A. E Watson), and commissioned 31 January 1942, Lieutenant Commander Jesse L. Hull (Class of 1926) in command.


First and second patrols

Finback reached Pearl Harbor from New London 29 May 1942, and two days later, with the Japanese fleet on the move, was ordered out to patrol during the American victory in the Battle of Midway. She returned to Pearl Harbor 9 June to prepare for her first full war patrol. She cleared harbor, bound for the Aleutian Islands, 25 June. Finback first contacted the enemy on 5 July, when she attacked two destroyers, and received her baptism of fire in a heavy depth charge attack. Two special missions highlighted this first war patrol: a reconnaissance of Vega Bay, Kiska, 11 July, and a surveying operation at Tanaga Bay, Tanaga, 11 August. The submarine ended her patrol at Dutch Harbor 12 August, and returned to Pearl Harbor 23 August to refit.

Departing Pearl Harbor 23 September 1942, Finback made her second war patrol off Taiwan. On 14 October, she sighted a convoy of four merchantmen, guarded by a patrol vessel. The submarine launched two torpedoes at each of the two largest targets, sinking one, then went deep for the inevitable depth charging. When she surfaced, she found two destroyers in the area, preventing a further attack. With tubes reloaded she headed for the China coast. Four days later, 18 October, she inflicted heavy damage on a large freighter, and on 20 October, Finback sent another large freighter to the bottom. The submarine rounded out this highly successful patrol with a surface gunfire engagement 3 November, sinking an ocean-going sampan. Finback returned to Pearl Harbor 20 November.


Third and fourth patrols

During her third war patrol, between 16 December 1942 and 6 February 1943, Finback served for some time as escort for a carrier task force, forbidden to reveal herself by making attacks during that part of the patrol. Finally freed of this restriction, she engaged a patrol boat in a surface gun duel on 17 January, leaving the enemy craft abandoned and sinking.

After refitting at Midway, Finback made her fourth war patrol between 27 February and 13 April, scouting shipping lanes between Rabaul and the Japanese home islands. On 21 March, she damaged a large cargo ship, and from 24 – 26 March made an exasperatingly difficult chase of a convoy. At last in position to attack, she fired three torpedoes at each of two ships, and was immediately fired upon, then forced deep by an uncomfortably efficient depth-charging. Almost out of fuel, Finback was forced to break off the contact, and shaped course for Wake Island and Midway. On 5 April, passing a reef south of Japanese-held Wake, Finback sighted a merchantman that was beached and well down by the stern. Through radical maneuvers and brilliant timing, the submarine was able to elude both a patrol boat and a searching airplane and put a torpedo in the beached ship. This was the final blow in sinking this 10,672 ton ship previously damaged by two of Finback's sister submarines.

Fifth and sixth patrols

Finback refitted at Pearl Harbor from 13 April to 12 May 1943 for her fifth war patrol. Through most of this patrol, she roamed off Taiwan, and along the shipping lanes from the Japanese home islands to the Marshalls. On 27 May, she sank a cargo ship, and sent another to the bottom on 7 June. Yet another of Japan's dwindling merchant fleet was sunk by Finback four days later.

After refitting at Fremantle, Western Australia, 26 June – 18 July, the submarine sailed for her sixth war patrol along the Java coast. Her first contact was made 30 July, and although the freighter defended herself with gunfire, she was sunk, as was a larger cargo ship on 3 August. A week later, Finback outwitted both a surface escort and a patrol plane to inflict damage on another merchantman. She encountered two small minelayers, a tug, and an inter-island steamer on 19 August, and engaged all but the tug with surface gunfire, leaving three badly damaged ships behind when her dwindling supply of ammunition forced her to break off the action.


Seventh and eighth patrols

After a major overhaul at Pearl Harbor between 12 September and 15 December 1943, Finback sailed for the South China Sea on her seventh war patrol, characterized by heavy weather, few contacts, and continual sighting of patrol planes. She sank a large tanker in a surface attack on New Year's Day 1944, sent a fishing trawler to the bottom after a surface gunfire action on 30 January, and left another badly damaged after a similar action the next day.

The submarine refitted at Pearl Harbor once more between 11 February and 6 March 1944, then sailed for her eighth war patrol, off Truk in the Caroline Islands. Prevented from launching attacks through most of this patrol because of her assignment as lifeguard for carrier air strikes on targets in the Carolines, Finback contacted a six-ship convoy on 12 April, noting three escorts. She attacked four of the ships before heavy counter-attack sent her deep. On 16 April, while making a reconnaissance of Oroluk Atoll, she fired on a partially submerged steamer and a lookout tower on the atoll. Three days later, she sank one of a group of sampans, then sailed for refit at Pearl Harbor from 1 May – 30 May.

Ninth, tenth and eleventh patrols

During her ninth war patrol, off the Palaus and west of the Marianas, Finback again had as her primary mission lifeguard duty during plane strikes covering the opening of the Marianas operation.

She returned to Majuro 21 July for refit, then sailed 16 August on her tenth war patrol under command of Lieutenant Commander Robert Russell Williams, Jr., and was assigned to lifeguard duty in the Bonins. Guided by friendly aircraft, she rescued a total of five downed Naval aviators, one very close inshore off Chichi Jima. Watchman Torpedoman First Class, Donnet Kohler, pulled out a tall lanky young pilot who ended up becoming the 41st President of the United States, George H W Bush.[7] On 10 – 11 September she tracked a convoy, and although twice her attacks were broken off by an alert escort, she sank two small freighters.

Finback put in to Pearl Harbor for refit. On her eleventh war patrol, she was again detailed to lifeguard duty in the Bonins. She sank a freighter on 16 December, and returned to Midway 24 December.


Twelfth patrol

The submarine's twelfth war patrol, made between 20 January and 25 March 1945 in the East China Sea, was frustrated by lack of worthwhile targets, and Finback returned to Pearl Harbor for a thorough overhaul. Still at Pearl Harbor at the close of the war, she sailed for New London 29 August 1945.

Post war

Homeported at New London for the remaining 5 years of her active career, Finback was engaged in training student submariners. Twice, in 1947 and in 1948, she sailed to the Caribbean to take part in 2nd Fleet exercises. She was decommissioned and placed in reserve at New London 21 April 1950.

Finback was stricken on 1 September 1958, and sold for scrap 15 July 1959.

All but the third, ninth, and twelfth of Finback's 12 war patrols were designated "Successful." She received 13 battle stars for World War II service, and is credited with having sunk 69,383 tons of enemy shipping.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 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. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 271–273. ISBN 0-313-26202-0. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 271–280. ISBN 978-0-313-26202-9. 
  4. U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 261–263
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305-311

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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