Staff Writer (Updated: 9/2/2014):
The Gato-class boats were developed as improved "T-class" boats which themselves appeared following the earlier "S-class". This new breed of boat added more forward torpedo tubes and increased endurance which played well with the vastness that was the Pacific Ocean and allowed for prolonged operations and reserved use of torpedoes. The destruction of the Japanese Empire would be a long campaign, covering tens of thousands of miles of ocean and islands while involving aircraft, surface ships, infantry and submarines to bring her power under control. The primary focus of the submarine would be in controlling the supply/resupply routes utilized by the Empire through her many convoys. These convoys - particularly unprotected ones - represented "juicy" targets for hunting fish like the USS Gato.
The USS Gato's keel was laid down in October 5th, 1940 with construction handled by the Electric Boat Company of Groton Connecticut. She was launched on August 21st, 1941 and formally commissioned on December 31st, 1941 with officer Lieutenant Commander W.G. Myers at the helm. Production of Gato-class boats reached a peak of three vessels per month from three individual shipyards during the war. it was this sort of industrial power that could not be matched by either Germany or Japan during the war - eventually leading the Allies to complete victory.
The USS Gato managed a running length of 311 feet from bow to stern with a 27 foot beam and 17 foot draught. She displaced at 1,550 tons when surfaced and 2,460 tons when submerged while being powered by an arrangement of 4 x General Motors Model 16-248 V16 diesel engines which, in turn, supplied electric generators. There were 2 x 126-cell Sargo batteries intended for submerged operations. As with all diesel-electric submarines at this point in naval history, it was required that the USS Gato be surfaced for a period of time to recharge its battery stores and take on fresh oxygen. This proved the most vulnerable time for submarines in general as their submerged time was directly tied to their battery supplies - the fuller the charge, the longer one could stay safely underwater. 4 x General Electric electric reduction gear motors managed the two propeller shafts outputting 5,400 shaft horsepower while on the surface and 2,740 shaft horsepower when submerged. Maximum surface speed was 21 knots while the vessel could make headway at 9 knots underwater. The Gato-class could dive to depths of 300 feet (officially) though many were known to go deeper, stressing the limits of their steel hulls to the max. Range was approximately 11,000 nautical miles when traveling on the surface, allowing the vessel to stay out on patrol for some 75 total days. The crew could also stay submerged for up to 48 hours if need be - often when maintaining the element of surprise or attempting to evade attacking destroyers. The USS Gato was generally crewed by 60 to 80 personnel which included 6 commanding officers. The crew was further made up of specialists such as mechanics, torpedo handlers, cooks, surface gunners and various systems personnel.
Outwardly, the USS Gato followed a well-accepted method of design for its external configuration. The design was characterized by its boat-like bow section and slim profile. The center section bulged to accommodate the needed internal volume while the top face of the hull was flat as if the deck of a boat, a practice since abandoned by modern-day submarines. The stern was capped by a rudder held under the hull dividing the two propellers fitted atop shaft extensions. The Gato's sail was of a modest profile design (these were modified during the war after a period of operational service) and contained the bridge, observation deck, periscopes and communications/sensors array - the latter through several projecting masts. A gunnery platform was affixed to the front of the sail with a longer-running gunnery platform fitted aft. The main deck gun was aft of the sail with an anti-aircraft mount fitted ahead of the sail. Dive planes were noted along the sides of the forecastle and safety lines ran the length of the deck to assist unfortunate personnel finding themselves outdoors during rough seas.
As built, the USS Gato was given 10 x 21" (533mm) torpedo tubes, six of these were fitted in the bow and the remaining four at the stern. In this configuration, the crew could attack targets in front or behind without having to completely turn the entire boat around. There were 24 torpedo reloads which allowed the Gato-class to engage multiple targets before returning for resupply. Surface threats were countered by the installation of 1 x 4" (102mm) /50 caliber deck gun. The weapon was also utilized on targets within the minimum range of the torpedoes and as an emergency measure against enemy attack vessels such as destroyers or armed patrol boats. Air defense was handled by a 40mm Bofors and 20mm Oerlikon cannon installation. Apart from enemy destroyers and their depth charges/deck guns, the enemy floatplane or flying boat remained a very serious threat to submarine operations in the war. Over the course of the war, many Gato-class boats were revised with additional deck armament to further increase inherent defense capabilities.
The Gato's shakedown cruise took place off of New London to which the vessel then left for Pearl Harbor, leaving the East Coast of the United States on February 16th, 1942. She entered the Panama Canal en route to San Francisco bay before arriving in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Beginning April 20th, the USS Gato took on her first wartime patrol in the Pacific, seeing her first notable action on May 3rd in which she failed to sink an identified enemy aircraft carrier near the Marshall Islands. In the ensuing action, Gato was chased off by four escorting Japanese destroyers that had unleashed a barrage of deadly depth charges in their wake. Instead of facing ruin, the commander retreated to a more advantageous position to fight another day. On May 24th, she was called to station to protect the western waters off of Midway Island, helping to ensure that the Battle of Midway was decided in favor of the Allies - the battle effectively signaling the beginning of the end of the Imperial Japanese Navy. Her first war patrol ended on June 10th, 1942.