The war at-sea concerning World War 2 (1939-1945) was just as crucial in the West as it was in the East. For some time, the Pacific Theater remained under the control of the Empire of Japan who had made its way to threaten the Australian mainland and has attacked the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. The American response was fast and thorough and, within years, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) was reduced to a shadow of its former self. Part of the Allied success in the theater was due to the sizeable American submarine force of which the Gato-class proved one of the more important contributors.
The diesel-electric class was built into a force consisting of seventy-seven boats and construction took place from 1940 until 1944. The vessels was in active commission throughout the war and into the 1960s such was their value during the period. Of the lot, some twenty were lost in action, six were preserved and fifty-seven were retired. Among their storied number was USS Cavalla (SS-214), the subject of this article.
The keel to Cavalla was laid down by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut on march 4th, 1943 as World War 2 raged on. She was launched on November 14th, 1943 and formally commissioned into service on February 29th, 1944 - in time to serve in the war's final year.
As built, the boat has a running length of 311.8 feet, a beam of 27.2 feet, and a draught of 17 feet. Power stemmed from 4 x General Motors Model 16-248 V16 marine diesels with 4 x General Electric electric motors paired with 2 x 126-cell Sargo battery sets used to drive 2 x Shafts astern. This provided the boat with a top surfaced speed of 21 knots, this reduced to 9 knots for undersea travel. Range was a useful 20,000km when surfaced. Displacement reached 1,550 tons when surfaced and 2,465 tons when submerged.
Aboard was a crew of about 60 men including six officers, all arranged in a series of watches to keep an active crew on-station at all times. The hull was tested to depths of 300 feet and the boat could remain out at-sea for a full seventy-five days (up to 48 hours submerged) with its onboard food and fuel stores.
The boat was armed through the usual Gato-class arrangement of 10 x 21" (533mm) torpedo tubes and this encompassed six bow-facing and four aft-facing sets. For surfaced work, the vessel could call upon its 3" (76mm) /50 caliber trainable deck gun, useful in assailing unarmed merchants and the like at-range. For Anti-Aircraft (AA) defense, she carried the 40mm Bofors and 20mm Oerlikon automatic guns in single-gunned mountings. All told, the vessel was well-armed for a submarine of the period - able to tackle on-water and in-air threats as needed.
During her time at sea, Cavalla completed six total war patrols, the first of which provided reconnaissance for elements taking part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. It was during this commitment that the boat claimed her greatest prize of the war - the IJN aircraft carrier Shokaku. Shokaku was a veteran of the dastardly surprise attack on American forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941 and, on June 19th, 1944, she was spotted by Cavalla while recovering her warplanes. The crew of Cavalla moved in and let loose a wave of six torpedoes of which three scored against Shokaku causing extensive damage and ultimately sinking her. Cavalla escaped an enemy depth charge response to fight another day but the irreversible damage to IJN power-at-sea was done.
Her sixth war patrol came about during the Japanese surrender. As such, she was present in Tokyo Bay for the formal proceedings and the Allies' show-of-force. She arrived back stateside in early-October of 1945 and was decommissioned on March 16th, 1946.
On April 10th, 1951, the boat was recommissioned into service as part of Submarine Squadron 8 and sailed the Atlantic waters off the American East coast for a time. Again, she entered a decommissioned state as she was scheduled to be modified for the hunter-killer role (and therefore becoming "SSK-244" in the process). During the early Cold War period, this proved common in order to extend the useful service lives of the American submarine fleet - particularly since the Soviet Union was rising as the new threat-of-the-day. Changes to the boat's design included a modification to the sail as well as an all new bow structure, the latter to better house the equally-new BQR-4 series sonar fit (though this cost two of the forward-facing torpedo tubes as a result).
One the work was completed, Cavalla was recommissioned into service on July 15th, 1953 as part of Submarine Squadron 10 and then she moved on to serve, in several experimental roles, with Submarine Development Group 2 in January of 1954. After some non-combat patrols and friendly stops in European waters and along the American East Coast, her designated was reverted back to "SS-214" in August of 1959. She assisted the nuclear-powered submarine, USS Thresher, in Puerto Rican waters by providing power to the boat during an incident in November of 1961.
In July of 1963, with her best days behind, her, the boat was assigned to an auxiliary role as "AGSS-244". Her formal decommissioning was on December 30th, 1969 as she was struck from the Naval Register. In January of 1971, she was handed over to the Texas Submarine Veterans of World War 2 organization to preserve the boat for future display. She was arranged at Seawolf Park on Pelican Island near Galveston, Texas where she remains today (since January 21st, 1971).