The Balao (SS-285) class was conceived as an improved Gato (SS-212) class submarine. The United States Navy built hundreds of "fleet boat" submarines during the Second World War. World War II "fleet boats" were built as part of a major submarine construction program that followed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The submarine warfare pursued by the United States and supported by this construction program was instrumental in securing an American victory in the Pacific. One hundred thirty-two of the Balao class, the most common U.S. submarine of the war, were constructed at shipyards throughout the country. As part of this effort, beginning in 1940, an order was placed for 73 Gato-class vessels, "in response to the realization that the U.S. would probably become involved in the current war."
It would be impossible to characterize BALAO as just another fleet submarine - no such creature exists. Every submarine is unique, special, and remembered. As the lead boat in very large class of 1500-ton submarines, BALAO was bigger than life in many respects. Longer, tougher, and with more endurance, the Gatos were supplemented after Pearl Harbor by an order for 132 near-identical Balao-class submarines. The Balaos were slightly reconfigured for prefabrication and were built with a higher tensile steel that extended their diving depth 100 feet beyond the Gato boats' 300-foot operating limit.
The Balao (SS-285) class was a welded, riveted, and high-tensile steel submarine -- 311.8 feet long overall, with a 27.3-foot extreme beam, a height of 47.2 feet, and a 15.3-foot draft at surface trim. They displaced 1,525 tons standard surfaced and 2,424 tons submerged.
The boat's primary armament consisted of ten 21-inch torpedo tubes--six located forward and four aft. They carried 24 torpedoes. The secondary armament was a single 5-inch/25 caliber deck gun mounted on the deck aft of the conning tower, and two 40-mm antiaircraft guns, singly mounted on either side of theconning tower.
They were equipped with four engine rooms, diesel-electric reduction gear, one auxiliary generator, four electric motors generating 2,740 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 116,000 gallons of diesel fuel. Patrol duration was 75 days. The boat's two shafts were driven by twin Elliot electric motors, each rated at 2,740 shaft horsepower for a total of 5,480 SHP. While surfaced, electricity was provided by four Fairbanks-Morse diesel engines, each rated at 5,400 brake horsepower. While submerged, the motors were powered by 252 Exide battery cells. These submarines carried between 94,000 and 116,000 gallons of diesel oil; when submerged, the submarine was powered by 504 Exide acid-cell batteries. They were capable of 20.25 knots surfaced and 8.75 knots submerged.
Similar to the earlier Gato class submarine, if not virtually identical, the Balao class submarines were known as "thick-skinned boats," being built with a thicker (nearly 1 inch) welded high tensile steel pressure hull. The fact that Japanese depth charges were set for a maximum depth of 295 feet dictated the need for vessels that could dive deeper than 300 feet. The most important improvement was the thicker pressure hull, using 7/8" high tensile steel plates rather than the 5/8" plate used in the earlier Gato class. Improvements in hull construction increased the test depth of this class to 400-feet as opposed to 350-feet in the Gato class and fuel capacity was significantly increased which improved patrol radius.
There were eight waterproof compartments in addition to the conning tower. As originally built the boats were divided into 16 principal compartments, one compartment being added to make 17 when some were converted in the 1960 to a GUPPY Type III submarine. Starting at the stern is the aft torpedo room, with four torpedo tubes and eight torpedoes (four in the tubes and four reloads in torpedo stowage), mines, a signal ejector, the stern plane motors, bunks for crew members, a head, engineering office, and an escape trunk. Moving forward is the manuevering room, where the electrical power was distributed by the main propulsion controls, consisting of levers that operated breakers, which in turn controlled the two double armature main motors located one deck below in the motor room.
The after engine room houses two 1600-h.p. GM diesels, two 1100-KW direct current generators, as well as air conditioning compressors located one deck below, and lubricating and fuel oil purifiers. The forward engineroom also houses two GM Diesel engines and 1100-KW generators, and two fresh water evaporators capable of distilling 1000 gallons of fresh from salt water, 3000 psi air compressors, lighting voltage regulators, overhead ship's supply and exhaust fans, and lubricating and fuel oil purifiers. The crew's quarters or aft battery compartment, with the majority of bunks (the peacetime complement was 60, the wartime complement 80), washroom and showers, and the main ballast tank flood valves operating gear, also held, below deck, 252 of the battery cells.
The crew's mess, which accomodated 20 crewmembers at one sitting, also contains an access hatch, garbage ejector, which disposed of refuge in weighted bags, and the safety tank flood valve operating gear. One deck below is the magazine, storeroom, reefer (capable of holding food for a 90 day voyage) and fresh water tank. The galley contains two electric ranges, coffee urn, deep fat fryer, dough mixer, andother appliances.
Next is the radio room, then the control room, with the steering equipment, bow and stern plane controls, depthgauges, main gyrocompass, and the hydraulic manifold, which controlled the operation of all major systems, such as steering,diving, periscopes, torpedo doors, and windlass. One deck above, in the conning tower, are two periscopes (for night and dayattacks) and the periscope wells. The periscopes are fitted for navigation, radar ranging, and photography. The conning tower also contains navigation, sonar, radar, radio, and fire control systems, as well as various alarms. A ladder and access hatch lead from the conning tower to the bridge.
Below the Control Room is the pump room, with the trim manifold, which permitted the transfer of water from one tank to another, the drain pump, air conditioning equipment, a compressor, emergency alarms fordiving and collision, and the 1st Class Chief Petty Officers' bunks. Forward of the Control Room was the forward battery compartmentand officers' quarters or "Wardroom Country" [that part of an apartment on board ship used in common by all officers of the same mess]. The battery compartment contains the remaining 252 battery cells; the officers quarters house the ship's office, CPO stateroom, the Executive Officer's quarters, Commanding Officer's quarters, the officers' pantry, and the wardroom. The final compartment wasthe forward torpedo room, with six torpedo tubes, torpedo stowage, sound equipment, forward trim manifolds, bunks, head, and escape trunk.
BALAO introduced several new concepts to the submarine force when she was commissioned in 1943. During their lifetime the Balao class introduced new sophisticated electronic gear for detecting targets, a Torpedo Data Computer (TDC) for working out and setting torpedo firing angles, new Mark 18 electric torpedoes, and a Bathythermograph for detecting cold water layers, or thermoclines, under which she could slip to deflect enemy sonar pings and make the boat hard to detect. These technological advances gave the BALAO class a level of reliability and battle survivability that had never been experienced by submarines of any nation to that time.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the mission of the submarine was one of strike, intelligence, reconnaissance, and covert operations. During World War II the BALAO and her sister ships waged war against the Axis powers, amassing a record of devastation and sheer killing power that was unmatched by any other land or sea assault platform. American submarines like BALAO supported deployment and recovery of raiding parties and the insertion and removal of intelligence assets as a matter of course - the submarine was the perfect platform for this mission.
These new fleet submarines were purpose built for taking the fight to the enemy - designed with food, fuel, and weapons sufficient for long-range independent patrols. BALAO and her sisters enabled the Navy to shift its submarine doctrine from coastal defense to open ocean attacks on enemy warships and convoys critical to enemy logistical support. This doctrine of forward presence and strike warfare by the submarine remains today.
A total of 256 boats of this class were ordered between 1942 and 1945; many of which were re-ordered to the Tench (SS-417) class specification. A total of 122 [119 ?] boats were actually completed to this specification by five shipyards, making the Balao Class is the largest class of submarines ever built. They were built at Portsmouth, Manitowoc, Electric Boat, Mare Island, and Cramp Shipbuilding. The first boat, Devilfish (SS-292) was laid down in March 1942; the last, Mero (SS-378) in July 1944. SS-353 to 360, 379, and 380 (10 boats) of this class were cancelled in October 1944. Balao (SS-285) was the first to commission in February 1943. 111 boats were commissioned before the end of World War II. The last to commission was Tiru (SS-416) whose construction was suspended. She was completed to the GUPPY specification and commissioned in September 1948.
Of these submarines, all 73 Gato and 101 of the Balao boats saw combat, all of it in the Pacific. These boats waged a terrible war of attrition against Japan's navy and merchant marine, particularly the latter. U.S. submarines sank most of Japan's merchant fleet, crippling the industrial capabilities of the empire and forcing the abandonment of far-flung outposts.
Consigned to the Operation Crossroads tests, Apogon arrived at San Diego on September 11, 1945. There the boat was readied for the tests. One of eight submarines selected for Crossroads, Apogon was modified to submerge and surface without a crew on board. According to Bombs at Bikini, "never before had there been occasion to submerge a submarine without crew aboard. The method used was to fill part of the ballast tanks with water, then suspend heavy weights from the bow and stern by cables of carefully chosen length. These weights overcame the submarine's residual buoyancy and drew her down to the desired depth. She could be surfaced again by pumping air back into her ballast tanks." Lightly damaged during Able, Apogon sank during Baker. Shortly after sinking, Navy divers located the submarine in 180 feet of water, entered the boat, and began salvage operations, which included blowing air into the flooded hulk. The salvage efforts were abandoned, however, before the boat was brought to the surface. Apogon was decommissioned and stricken from the Navy Register on February 25, 1947.
Pilotfish was one of eight submarines originally slated for scrapping or reserve fleet lay-up, that were instead modified for use in the atomic bomb tests. Lightly scorched while moored on the surface for Able, Pilotfish was submerged for Baker. Closest of the submarines to the zeropoint, Pilotfish was sunk by the Baker blast. According to some accounts, Pilotfish, although decommissioned August 29, 1946, little more than a month after sinking, was in fact raised, towed away, and "resunk" on October 16, 1948, as a target off Eniwetok. This report is in error; Navy records indicate the ship was "expended" at Bikini on July 25, 1946, decommissioned on August 29, 1946, and stricken from the Navy list on February 28, 1947. Pilotfish lies on the bottom of the lagoon at its mooring for the Baker test.
The GUPPY (Greater Underwater Propulsive Project) or "fleet snorkel" submarines, of which Clamagore is an example, comprised the bulk of the United States' submarine forces through the mid-1960s. Of the hundreds of "fleet boats" built during the war, only 15, which include two subsequent GUPPY II conversions, Torsk and Becuna, remain preserved in the United States. These modifications occurred first in the late 1940s, when the deck armament was removed, the sail enlarged, and a snorkel underwater air-intake was installed as part of a GUPPY Type II conversion. At this time the boats also received an enlarged sonar dome on deck at the bow.
Subsequently modified in 1947 and 1962 into a FRAM II/GUPPY III submarine by the US Navy, Clamagore, one of only nine submarines converted to a GUPPY III, is now the only surviving GUPPY Type III submarinein the United States. She represents the continued adaptation and use of war-built diesel submarines by the Navy for the first two decades after the war. In 1962, during her last conversion, Clamaqorewas cut in half, just forward of the control room, and a 15-foot section housing then modern electronic and fire control systemswas added to the hull. This room increased the number of interior compartments to 17, the submarine's length to 327 feet,and Clamaqore's surfaced displacement to 1731 tons. In late 1962, when the submarine was again modernized to her GUPPY Type III configuration, the bridge was enclosed in a larger fiberglass sail, the original teak deck around the sail was replaced with fiberglass, and three sonar domes or PUFFS (BQG-4) for passive ranging sonar were added to the deck while the vessel was enlarged. There are subtle changes in some equipment, particularly in the galley, where new mess tables and benches were installed in 1962, and the radio room, which has updated 1960s and 70s equipment. The most notable changes are in the officers' quarters, where formica panels and linoleum impart a feeling more akin to the 1960s than the 1940s, and the new sonar room with 1962 addition electronic and fire control equipment added forward of the control room.
The last of the GUPPY modernized boats in service were decommissioned 1968-75. Tiru (SS-416) was the last to decommission in July 1975. Eight Balao class submarines became museums. Unlike her guppied sisters, Clamagoreas the sole surviving GUPPY III represents the ultimate use and technological adaptation of war-built diesel submarines by the Navy.
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