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USS Spadefish (SS-411)
Spadefish (SS-411), off Mare Island Navy Yard, 11 May 1944.
Builder: Mare Island Naval Shipyard[1]
Laid down: 27 May 1943[1]
Launched: 8 January 1944[1]
Commissioned: 9 March 1944[1]
Decommissioned: 3 May 1946[1]
Struck: 1 April 1967[1]
Fate: Sold for scrap, 17 October 1969[1]
General characteristics
Class & type: Balao class diesel-electric submarine[2]
Displacement: 1,526 long tons (1,550 tonne) surfaced[2]
2,424 tons (2,463 t) submerged[2]
Length: 311 ft 10 in (95.05 m)[2]
Beam: 27 ft 4 in (8.33 m)[2]
Draft: 16 ft 10 in (5.13 m) maximum[2]
  • 4 × Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-⅛ 10-cylinder opposed piston diesel engines driving electrical generators[3][4]
  • 2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries[5]
  • 4 × high-speed General Electric electric motors with reduction gears[3]
  • two propellers[3]
  • 5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced[3]
  • 2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged[3]
Speed: 20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced[6]
8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged[6]
Range: 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)[6]
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged[6]
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)[6]
Complement: 10 officers, 70–71 enlisted[6]

USS Spadefish (SS/AGSS-411), a Balao-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the spadefish. Although she was commissioned late in the war and spent only one year in the Pacific war zone, she was to run up a record of 88,091 tons in 21 ships and numerous trawlers sunk.

The first Spadefish was laid down on 27 May 1943 by the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif.; launched on 8 January 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Francis W. Scanland; and commissioned on 9 March 1944, Commander Gordon W. Underwood in command.

First war patrol, July – September 1944

Following shakedown training along the coast of California, Spadefish departed San Francisco on 14 June and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 22 June. On 23 July, she got underway from Pearl Harbor for her maiden war patrol, as a member of a coordinated attack group with Picuda (SS-382) and Redfish (SS-395).

On 19 August, while patrolling in Philippine water off the northwest coast of Luzon, Spadefish torpedoed and sank her first enemy target the 9,589-ton, passenger-cargo ship Tamatsu Maru. Three days later, she trailed three large tankers through Babuyan Channel along the northern Luzon coast; closed range; and fired two spreads of torpedoes, sinking the 10,023-ton tanker Hakko Maru No. 2, and damaging a second tanker that, protected by a destroyer, limped back to a shallow cove off Luzon.

For several hours into the next day, Spadefish attempted to get around the escort to attack the damaged ship anchored in the cove. The submarine finally let go with four stern torpedoes at the destroyer, but the enemy zigged clear and proceeded to depth charge the entire area. Having only three torpedoes remaining, Spadefish set course for Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, to replenish her supply.

On 8 September, Spadefish was patrolling in waters of Nansei Shoto when she contacted a convoy of eight cargo ships. During a daring night surface attack, she fired a total of 20 torpedoes, sinking cargo ships Nichiman Maru, Nichian Maru, Shinten Maru, and Shokei Maru and damaging another. The following morning, she fired her final four torpedoes at an escort guarding the stricken ship; but they ran under the target. The submarine's only reward on this occasion was a rain of depth charges.

Although she was out of torpedoes, Spadefish continued to trail the remaining ships of the convoy that first took refuge in the harbor of Ishigaki; and then, in company with five escorts, continued their voyage. Spadefish terminated her first war patrol at Pearl Harbor on 24 September, having sunk six enemy ships for a total of over 31,500 tons. With the additional 33,000 tons sunk by her sister submarines, the coordinated attack group accounted for a total of 13 ships and over 64,000 tons of enemy shipping.

Second war patrol, October – December 1944

Spadefish did not rest on her laurels. On 23 October, she got underway from Pearl Harbor for her second war patrol, in a coordinated attack group with Sunfish (SS-281) and Peto (SS-265). While patrolling in the Yellow Sea on 14 November, she torpedoed and sank the Japanese cargo ship Gyokupy Maru.

Three days later, she contacted an enemy convoy headed directly at her. After letting the convoy pass overhead, she surfaced after darkness had set in and commenced an “end around.” She first fired six torpedoes at the prime target, the 21,000-ton escort aircraft carrier Shinyo; and then turned rapidly to port and fired four stern torpedoes at a tanker. The unarmored fuel tanks of the escort carrier Shinyo exploded and started a massive fire that destroyed the ship and killed most of her crew. Only 70 men from her crew of 1,200 officers and men survived. Damage to the tanker could not be confirmed.

Later that same night, Spadefish drove in for another attack, firing four stern torpedoes at Submarine Chaser No. 156. As the enemy disappeared in the resulting explosion, the submarine quickly evaded other escorts and left the vicinity.

Spadefish sank the fourth ship of her second patrol on 29 November by torpedoing the 3,925-ton cargo ship Daiboshi Maru No. 6; and then concluded her patrol at Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands on 12 December.

Third war patrol, January – February 1945

After spending the holidays at Majuro, Spadefish departed on 6 January 1945 for her third war patrol, conducted with Pompon (SS-267), Atule (SS-403), and Jallao (SS-368) in the Yellow Sea. On 28 January, she intercepted an enemy convoy and let go with two spreads of torpedoes. The 7,158-ton converted seaplane tender Sanuki Maru, exploded and quickly sank, and the frigate Kume, spouted flames and began slowly to sink. Three enemy escorts pounced on Spadefish, but the submarine made her escape and continued her patrol.

Spadefish added to her score on 4 February by sinking the passenger-cargo ship Tairai Maru. Two days later, only five miles from Port Arthur, she blasted the 1,092-ton passenger-cargo ship Shohei Maru, to the bottom. An enemy patrol airplane dropped a depth charge in the vicinity of the submarine; but, although she was rocked by the shock waves, Spadefish was unharmed and returned to Guam on 13 February.

Fourth war patrol, March – April 1945

On 15 March, Spadefish departed Guam for her fourth war patrol, conducted in the East China and Yellow Seas. On 23 March, the submarine sneaked past four escorts and let go with three torpedoes that sank the 2,274-ton cargo ship Doryo Maru. Spadefish patrolled along the coast of Kyūshū, continuing north to Tsushima Strait, where she carried out reconnaissance to determine the presence of minefields. She demolished an enemy schooner off the coast of Korea on 1 April and gave the same treatment to a three-masted junk on 7 April. Two days later, she sank the cargo ship Lee Tung; and, on 11 April, damaged a minesweeper. She terminated her fourth patrol at Guam on 21 April.

Fifth war patrol, June – July 1945

USS Spadefish's battle flag.

Equipped with a new mine-detecting device, she began her fifth war patrol, joining eight other United States submarines in penetrating through the minefields of Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan. On 10 June, outside the breakwater of Taru Kawa Basin, Spadefish overtook the outbound passenger-cargo ship Daigen Maru No. 2, and blew the enemy ship apart with two torpedo hits. Before the day was over, the submarine had also sunk the passenger-cargo ships Unkai Maru No. 8 and Jintsu Maru.

Before dawn on 12 June, Spadefish sank a motor sampan with 20 mm fire; and, later in the day, sank three trawlers in gunfire attacks. On 13 June SS-411 sank the Soviet merchant ship "Transbalt" in a friendly fire incident.[7] On 14 June, she sank the passenger-cargo ship Seizan Maru; and, in a night attack on 17 June, she sank the C.M. minelayer Eijō Maru. She then rejoined the other submarines and exited the Sea of Japan, returning to Pearl Harbor on 4 July.

Spadefish was preparing for another war patrol when hostilities with Japan ended. She remained at Pearl Harbor until 2 September and then set course for Mare Island Naval Shipyard where she was decommissioned on 3 May 1946 and was placed in reserve. She was reclassified an auxiliary submarine, AGSS-411, on 6 November 1962, was struck from the Navy List on 1 April 1967, and sold for scrap in 1969.

Spadefish (SS-411) received four battle stars for World War II service.

See also

  • Gordon Waite Underwood, commanding officer for first three war patrols
  • USS Spadefish, helmsmans wheel and battle flag appraisal. Antiques Roadshow, PBS Aired 20 August 2009.


  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. 275–280. 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. 275–280. 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
  7. Alla Paperno, The UNKNOWN WORLD WAR II in the NORTH PACIFIC

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