The USS Gato (SS-212) was the lead ship of the large Gato-class submarine fleet which numbered 77 boats and, along with the Balao-class submarines, made up the backbone of US Navy submarine operations in the Pacific Theater during World War 2. The type was later accepted into service through nine refurbished examples with the Brazilian, Greek, Italian, Japanese and Turkish navies in the post-war years though it would be its exploits with the US Navy in World War 2 that would rightly solidify its place in naval history. It is of note that the life of a submariner in World War 2 was one of the most dangerous occupations in the conflict. 288 US Navy submarines were launched and 52 of these were lost - often times with all hands on board with little chance of escape or rescue. 3,505 of the 14,750 young USN submariners - some 24% - were lost in the whole of the war.
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.
On July 2nd, the USS Gato was given her next war patrol assignment off of the Kurile Islands towards the Aleutian Island chain. While successfully engaging an enemy vessel on August 15th, 1942, steaming four torpedoes into the target, the results were unconfirmed and thus ended the second patrol of the USS Gato. She then made her way to port at Dutch Harbor, Unalaska, Alaska for resupply.
Her third war patrol began on September 4th where she was called to action off of Kiska in the Aleutian Islands chain. She then passed through Midway Island with a stop at Pearl Harbor before settling at the Truk Atoll. An enemy convoy was identified and, on December 6th, the USS Gato sprung into action. However, she was driven off once more by a combined aerial attack and depth charge assault - the latter by accompanying enemy destroyers. Gato ended her third war patrol at Brisbane, Australia on December 23rd, 1942.
On January 13th, 1943, the USS Gato set out to sea once more to begin her fourth war patrol. She attacked the transport Kenkon Maru on January 21st, successfully sinking the vessel off of New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. The Nichiun Maru cargo vessel then followed on January 29th and they were both followed by the downing of the Suruga Maru on February 15th. Her fourth war patrol ended with much success on February 26th, 1943.
The fifth war patrol of the USS Gato began on March 19th, 1943 to which special operatives of the Australian Intelligence Party were landed at Toep in Bougainville on March 29th. In turn, the Gato took on 39 civilians (27 of these children) and delivered them to the safety of SC-531 at Ramos, Florida Island on March 31st. On April 4th, the Gato was in the process of conducting a submerged radar attack around the Tanga and Lihir islands when she came under another intense depth charge attack by enemy destroyers, suffering damage to her hull and some components which required her to retreat and undergo repairs at Brisbane. She remained out of the fight from April 11th to the 20th before being set out to sea once more. On May29th, the USS Gato was used to land Australian special forces members at Toep Harbor and took on more refugees, the latter relocated to the safety of Ramos Island. A reconnaissance patrol off of Tarawa then followed before she set a course for Pearl Harbor on June 6th, thus ending her fifth war patrol. An overhaul at Mare Island Shipyard near San Francisco then followed before she returned to Pearl on August 22nd.
The USS Gato took on her sixth war patrol beginning September 6th. She made her way to Brisbane via Truk and Bougainville when, on October 19th, she attacked two enemy cargo vessels with unconfirmed damage and her sixth war patrol ended on October 28th.
The seventh war patrol of the USS Gato began on November 18th, 1943. She was sent to the Bismarck Archipelago to which, on November 30th, she assisted the USS Ray and sank the Columbia Maru. On December 16th, the Gato came across a lone Japanese soldier adrift on a raft and took him in as a prisoner of war. On December 20th, the Gato identified, tracked and engaged another Japanese supply convoy, sinking the Tsuneshima Maru while damaging an accompanying freighter. Enemy destroyers responded with the usual depth charge barrage, sending the Gato under the protection of the sea. The USS Gato continued to avoid the exploding charges for some two hours before it made its way to safety.
From then on, the Gato and crew made their way to Tigmon in an effort to reconnect with the damaged enemy freighter and finish her off. However, the deck crew noticed an unexploded depth charge still clinging to the Gato's hull. Attempts were made to dislodge the charge and, once loaded onto an available raft, was set out harmlessly to sea. To compound matters, however, the Gato watch identified two speeding enemy destroyers and took evasive maneuvers before outrunning the pair. While she did miss out on finishing off the damaged freighter, the Gato watch identified another convoy and gave pursuit. This endeavor was too abandoned when a Japanese Navy floatplane gave chase on December 29th. The floatplane was sent away thanks to the work of the Gato deck gunnery crew but the initiative against the convoy was lost. Her seventh war patrol ended on January 10th, 1944 at Milne Bay, New Guinea.
The Gato was then put out to sea for her eighth war patrol on February 2nd, 1944. She was sent to patrol the waters near Bismarck and Truk to which a trawler was sunk on February 15th, The Daigen Maru No. 3 soon joined the trawler on February 26th and, on March 12th, the Okinoyama Maru No. 3 was sent to the bottom. A pair of trawlers were also added to the tally to which the Gato was then called back to Pearl on April 1st, 1944.
The ninth war patrol of the Gato began on May 30th 1944. During the early stages of this patrol, the Gato served as a clandestine transport for Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, successfully delivering him and his entourage to Midway Island. From there, the Gato conducted a photographic reconnaissance sortie against Woleai island and supported air attacks on Truk (as a lifeguard station charged with recovering downed airmen) from June 11th to June 18th. She was sent to the Majuro Atoll to complete her ninth war patrol on June 22nd, 1944.
USS Gato undertook her tenth war patrol on July 15th and served once again as a lifeguard station during air attacks on Chichi Jima. During the fighting, the Gato was called to rescue at least two downed airmen and she did so successfully before returning to Pearl Harbor on September 2nd, 1944. She was then ordered to Mare Island for another overhaul and refit before returning to Pearl for her eleventh war patrol.
Her eleventh war patrol began on January 13th, 1945 and this brought her to the Yellow Sea. As part of a larger fighting force, the Gato downed the Tairiku Maru cargo ship on February 21st. She was returned to Guam for further orders before embarking out to sea once more, thus ending her eleventh war patrol on March 13th, 1945.
The twelfth war patrol of the USS Gato began on April 12th, 1945. During this month, German leader Adolf Hitler would commit suicide in late April in Europe and effectively and formally end the European campaign in May, allowing much-needed supplies, machine and men to be relocated to the Pacific Theater. Gains by the Allies on the sea and across the various islands of the Pacific (and on land in Southeast Asia) began to encircle the Japanese Mainland proper. The Gato took the role of lifeguard station during the amphibious assault of Okinawa and, on April 22nd and into the 23rd, Gato engaged two enemy submarines without success and barely escaped herself. From April 27th to April 30th, Gato was credited with rescuing no fewer than 10 US Army airmen from the waters off Toi Misaki, Kyushu. She was then ordered to return to Pearl Harbor and did so on June 3rd, 1945.
Her thirteenth war patrol beginning on July 8th saw her as a lifeguard station once more during the air attacks against Wake Island. She then served this same role against Honshu. It was during an attack approach against a Japanese cargo vessel on August 15th that the crew of the USS Gato received the final word to abort further attacks on Japanese targets - formally ending the war in the Pacific and World War 2 in whole. The cargo vessel was no doubt spared by fate and the long wartime career of the USS Gato came to a close.
The USS Gato was part of the massive Allied contingent in Tokyo Bay on August 31st, called to witness the official surrender of the Japanese Empire on the deck of the USS Missouri which occurred on September 2nd, 1945. On the 3rd, the USS Gato left Japan and returned to Pearl Harbor for resupply. She then made her way to the New York Shipyard via the Panama Canal to formally end her tour of duty concerning World War 2. She was officially decommissioned as a US Navy fighting boat on March 16th, 1946. From then on, she served for a time as a reserve training platform for up and coming Navy submariners in New York harbor prior to being relocated to Baltimore. Her name was struck from the US Naval Register on March 1st, 1960 to which then the vessel was sold for scrap on July 25th, 1960 to the Northern Metals Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - such was the end of another glorious fighting ship of the war.
All told, the USS Gato and her crew netted a total of 13 Battle Stars for its accomplishments in World War 2. Furthermore, the Gato was the recipient of the Presidential Unit Citation.
The USS Gato and Gato-class of fighting boats were named after the small Gato catshark, a species generally found off of the west coast of Mexico.