USS Drum (SS-228)
Diesel-Electric Attack Submarine
USS Drum SS-228 was the twelfth boat of the large and storied Gato-class attack submarines of the USN in World War 2.
Authored By: Dan Alex | Last Edited:
When the United States entered into war with the Empire of Japan, it understood its undersea fighting force would play a crucial role in curtailing the effective reach of the island nation. Japan required much in the way of outside war-making materials - metals, oil, food, and supplies - and the United States Navy (USN) submarine fleet would be called upon to engage both enemy warships and commerce shipping in strangling the enemy into submission. Upon entering the conflict, the large Gato-class made up a critical component of the USN submarine force eventually to number some 77 total boats led by USS Gato (SS-212) itself. Many boats of the class went on to have storied careers in the war while some twenty were lost in action. The job of USN submariner during World War 2 was one of the most dangerous jobs to be had in all of the war.
Part of this stellar class of undersea boat was the USS Drum (SS-228). The boat was ordered on June 12th, 1940,over a full year prior to the American declaration of war still to come in December of 1941. Drum was built by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine and saw her keel laid down on September 11th, 1940. She was launched to sea on May 12th, 1941 and formally commissioned on November 1st, 1941. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor would come on December 7th of that year and lead to the official American declaration of war the following day.
USS Drum followed the same design mold established by the USS Gato. She displaced at 1,510 tons when surfaced and 2,090 tons when submerged. Her length was 311 feet, 9 inches with a beam of 27 feet, 3 inches and a draught of 17 feet even. All of the class boats were diesel-electric boats which was the machinery of the day regarding attack submarines. As such, Drum carried 4 x Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-1/8 9-cylinder diesel engines for surface travel and 4 x Elliott electric motors for undersea travel. This arrangement drove two shafts at 5,400 shaft horsepower. When surfaced, the vessel made headway at 21 knots and this was reduced to 9 knots for undersea travel. Range was out to 11,000 nautical miles on the surface and up to two days when submerged. The boat held the capability to conduct war patrols up to 75 days long - offering good endurance to American naval warplanners across the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The vessel could hit depths down to 300 feet.
USS Drum took on a typical World War 2-era submarine profile with its flat-top surface deck (of teakwood) and upward-cranked bow design. The conning tower was centrally located amidships and held the necessary communications and sensor equipment as well as search and attack periscopes. Catwalks along the tower provided variable views of the surrounding terrain. The edges of the surface deck were lined with safety rail to provide some protection to the external crew when surfaced in rough seas. Dive planes were fitted forward along the sides of the bow. The sides of the hull were bulged out at center to provide for the necessary internal volume required of the deep-sea submarine.
Due to its attack nature, USS Drum was appropriately armed with no fewer than ten 533 (21-inch) torpedo tubes divided into six tubes at the bow (facing forward) and the remaining four tubes at the stern (facing rearwards). This provided the boat captain with a dual-attack nature without having to completely turn his vessel around to face the enemy. The method of warfare for World War 2 submarines involved spotting a potential target via periscope while submerged close to the surface of the water. Torpedoes ("fish") were typically launched in staggered pairs or more to offer the best chance of securing a lethal hit against the hull of an unsuspecting enemy vessel. A total of 24 torpedo reloads were carried.
In addition to its expected torpedo stores, USS Drum was also outfitted with a 76mm (3-inch) deck gun for use when surfaced against surface targets. The weapon offered the needed range and firepower to engage lightly armed and armored threats that posed little danger to the submarine itself when surfaced. For air defense, Drum carried the venerable 40mm Bofors autocannon (single-mounting) as well as the smaller 20mm Oerlikon cannon (twin-mounting). These provided defense against incoming aerial threats - one of the greatest being Japanese naval flying boats armed with depth charges.
USS Drum featured a complete crew complement of 83 men broken down into 75 enlisted personnel with eight officers. The crew were further divided into established watches to serve in intervals to allow one quarter of the crew the allotted downtime and rest required to operate at full efficiency.
Drum became the twelfth named boat of the Gato-class thought the first of the group to actually be completed for USN service in World War 2. Gato-class boats were soon recognized for their inherent firepower, ocean-going speed, and endurance. Drum entered the war by traversing the Panama Canal from the American East Coast and arriving at Pearl Harbor on April 1st, 1942. Her first war patrol then followed as she made her way to the Japanese coast for hunting prey. On May 2nd, she claimed the Mizuho seaplane carrier of the IJN - a critical vessel able to carry some 24 seaplanes. However, Drum was then the recipient of an IJN depth charge attack which kept her underwater for sixteen hours. Surviving her first outing, Drum then sailed again and claimed three Japanese merchant vessels before retreating to friendly waters for a refit. She arrived at Pearl on June 12th.
Her second war patrol from mid-July to early September was less nerve-wracking as she only damaged a freighter. She returned to Midway and underwent another refit thereafter.
One September 23rd, 1942, Drum took on her third war patrol which netted a Japanese cargo vessel. Enemy air support drove Drum down. Another attack the following day resulting in the boat heading under again to avoid destruction from the Japanese response. Drum claimed three more cargo vessels before returning to Pearl on November 8th.
From November 29th, 1942 to January 24th, 1943, Drum was on her fourth war patrol. She dispersed naval mines at Bungo Suido straight of the Japanese islands and successfully damaged the light carrier Ryuho. She took on damage and survived another depth charging action and returned to Pearl for an overhaul. From March 24th to May 13th came her fifth war patrol which saw her sinking two enemy cargo vessels. On her sixth war patrol from mid-June to late-July, Drum recorded a passenger/cargo ship.
From Brisbane, Australia, Drum took on her seventh war patrol beginning on August 16th. On the 31st, the crew claimed another cargo ship and patrolled for a time before ending at Brisbane once more. Thus came her eight war patrol on November 2nd when she netted another cargo ship on November 17th. A few days later, a depth charge attack damaged her to the point that she was delivered back to Pearl for repair. From here, she was sent to the American West Coast for more thorough repairs - ending 1943 in a shipyard.
From March 29th onwards, Drum began her ninth war patrol from Pearl with a new conning tower having been installed. During this outing, she was able to use her stealth to ascertain enemy positions near Iwo Jima and elsewhere. Sailing to Majuro, she was given a refit which saw her tenth war patrol begin in late June 1944. She supported Allied actions and claimed a large enemy vessel during this sail. She returned to Pearl for mid-August.
During mid-September, Drum conducted her eleventh war patrol and supported the Leyte amphibious assault. She claimed three more enemy cargo ships and rescued Allied airmen before returning for refit to Majuro. Her twelfth war patrol in January of 1945 reveled nothing of interest and led to her thirteenth war patrol taking place from February 11th to April 2nd. During this time, she supported Allied amphibious actions at Iwo Jima and Okinawa - two classic Allied victories of the war. With fewer and fewer Japanese surface targets available for her torpedoes, Drum was relegated to information gathering, Allied airmen rescue, and other non-direct enemy contact roles for the remainder of her service career. She was relocated to the American West Coast to undergo another overhaul and returned to Pearl for training by August. En route to her fourteenth war patrol of the conflict, the Japanese government signed the surrender on August 15th, 1945 to officially end the fighting in the Pacific. The formal surrender ceremony took place on September 2nd at Tokyo Bay - marking the official end to World War 2 in full.
With the war now over, Drum was sent to the American East Coast. Her services no longer needed, she was decommissioned on February 16th, 1946. She served in a support role for the Potomac River Naval Command from Mach 18th, 1947 onwards and then resided in Virginia (Norfolk) waters from the period of 1967 to 1969. On April 14th, 1969, she was handed to the USS Alabama Battleship Commission to become a display piece for the public. She was accepted on May 18th, 1969 and took on her first tourists in July. Moored near the USS Alabama, USS Drum was damaged during 1998's Hurricane Georges which resulted in her hull being raised and set upon supports on land where she resides under the Mobile sun today (2014). 2005's Hurricane Katrina also pummeled the display. She is still open to the public as part of the USS Alabama floating exhibit which also includes outdoor aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery systems, and an indoor aircraft hangar. All portions of the boat remain accessible including the forward torpedo bay, rear torpedo bay, the conning tower, and all parts in between.