Gato (SS 212) provided the prototype design for the World War II vintage submarine. Construction of this class was accelerated in 1940 due to the escalation of the war in Europe. In order to increase production capability the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company in Wisconsin was contracted to build submarines under license from Electric Boat.
Eventually, 81 Gatos were launched between May 1941 and November 1943: 41 by Electric Boat in Groton, Connecticut; 18 by the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard; eight by the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California; ten by the Manitowoc Ship Building Company, Manitowoc, Wisconsin (from whence they were barged down the Mississippi to New Orleans); and four by Cramp Shipbuilding, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Gato-class ships were followed in series construction by the Balao (SS-285) class, first launched in October 1942, but the brunt of the Pacific submarine campaign was borne by the earlier boats. Consequently, 21 of the Gato class - over a quarter - were lost in World War II, most with all hands.
The success of the 1930's Salmon class had inspired the development of the superb 1,500 ton Fleet Boat. Designed with food, fuel, and weapons sufficient for long range independent patrols, Fleet Boats enabled a shift in doctrine from coastal defense to open ocean attacks on enemy warships and convoys critical to enemy logistical support. Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt declared unrestricted air and naval warfare against Japan on 8 December 1941. Since much of the US Battle Fleet had been damaged or destroyed during the attack, US submarines became America's primary offensive weapon in the Pacific Theater.
U.S. submarines operated in Japanese-controlled waters from the beginning of World War II. Unfortunately, defective torpedoes, ineffective tactics, and inexperienced captains and crews hindered early submarine operations. Submariners resolved these problems, and ultimately played a key role in stemming the tide of Japanese advancement. Operating from Pearl Harbor and Australian bases at Fremantle and Brisbane, and employing the new, reliable Gato, Balao, and Tench class submarines, the Submarine Force began taking a mounting toll on Japan's merchant marine ships and warships. Leveraging a new technology, radar, and an intelligence breakthrough (code name Magic) which enabled deciphering encrypted Japanese communications, US submariners intercepted and prosecuted Japanese ships in the vast Pacific. By late 1943, US submariners, employing aggressive daytime submerged and nighttime surface attack tactics, were destroying large numbers of enemy ships throughout the Pacific and in Japanese controlled home waters.
The Gato (SS-212) class was the main production submarine of the US Navy when it entered the Second World War. 73 boats were ordered to this specification 1941-43. These were built at Portsmouth Navy Yard, Manitowoc, Electric Boat, and Mare Island Navy Yard. Drum (SS-228) was the first to be laid down in September 1940; Croaker (SS-246) was the last, in April 1943. Drum was also the first to commission in November 1941 -- she was the only Gato class boat in commission when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Three more would commission in December 1941, thirty-three more in 1942, and thirty-six in 1943. They would form the bulk of the US submarine force in the Pacific during World War II. Eighteen were lost to enemy action and one was lost accidentally.
The pressure hull consisted of 11/16-in mild steel. Test depth was 300-feet. There were eight waterproof compartments in addition to the conning tower. They were equipped with four engine rooms, diesel-electric reduction gear, one auxiliary generator, four electric motors generating 5480 hp when submerged driven by two 126-cell batteries. Submerged endurance was 48 hours at 2 knots. Cruising range was 11,000 miles on the surface at 10 knots with 94,400 gallons of diesel fuel. Patrol duration was 75 days.
After the Second World War, 23 Gato class boats were laid up in reserve never to see service again. A number of these boats were converted to the GUPPY (Greater Underwater Propulsion Program) specification with streamlined hulls and deck guns removed, among other improvements. These were withdrawn from service by 1969. Six of these boats exist as museums to this day.
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