USS Ray (SS-271) was one of the many Gato-class diesel-electric attack submarines constructed during World War 2 (1939-1945) for service with the United States Navy (USN). She managed to survive a total of eight war patrols before being retired. Called back into service in the early 1950s, she was reworked to serve as a "radar picket" submarine and she operated in this role until the latter part of the decade. USS Ray became yet-another of the storied group of Gato-class boats to serve the USN during the global conflict.
The Gato-class boats numbered seventy-seven in all and were part of the massive rearmament of the USN in 1941-1943. The series served alongside the two other major submarine designs of the conflict - the Balao-class and Tench-class. As submariner was one of the most dangerous occupations in the war, it was no surprise that twenty total Gato submarines were lost to action for their part. Fifty-seven lived to see the end of the war (some serving into the late 1960s) and six of the lot were ultimately preserved as floating museums. The Gato-class is notable in USN history for they were the first attack boats to be fitted with an air conditioning system from the beginning of their development.
USS Ray was constructed by the Manitowoc Building Company of Wisconsin and saw her keel laid down on July 20th, 1942. The yard was founded in 1902 and held a long, storied history of constructing ferries and haulers until the war arrived, to which point the company shifted to production of attack submarines and landing craft for the USN. She was launched into Lake Michigan for the requisite evaluations and trials on February 28th, 1943 and officially commissioned for service into the USN on July 27th, 1943.
The boat was outfitted with 4 x Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8 9-cylinder opposed diesel-fueled engines of 5,400 horsepower which drove electric generators for surface running. For submerged travel, USS Ray relied on 4 x General Electric high-speed electric motors with reduction gears outputting 2,740 horsepower. 2 x 126-cell battery banks were installed. On the surface, the boat could expect to make headway at about 21 knots while submerged travel speeds dropped to 9 knots. Range was out to 11,000 nautical miles. The hull was tested to depths of 300 feet. Structural dimensions included a length of 311.8 feet, a beam of 27.2 feet and a draught of 17 feet.
Aboard was a crew of sixty made up of six officers and some fifty-four enlisted personnel. Onboard provisions allowed the vessel and its occupants to remain at sea for up to 75 days and submerged for up to 48 hours (at a pedestrian speed of 2 knots however). In this period of submarine history, the electric-driven portion of the powerplant arrangement forced the boat to surface to recharge its battery packs and exhaust dangerous CO2 gasses.
Installed armament was the standard Gato-class arrangement of ten total torpedo tubes, six bow-facing and four stern-facing. Twenty-four total torpedo reloads were carried into battle. For surface work, the boat was equipped with the usual USN warship arrangement involving a deck gun and several Bofors and Oerlikon autocannons. For USS Ray, this encompassed 1 x 3" (76mm) /50 caliber deck gun as well as 40mm Bofors and 20mm Oerlikon installations - all on trainable mountings. USS Ray carried a Torpedo Data Computer (TDC), first the Mk III series and then the Mk IV in 1943, to assist in targeting and attacking and, when radar fits became common to the Gato-class, USS Ray integrated this system with the new technology to broaden her tactical value.
USS Ray's first war patrol took place between November and December of 1943 where she operated in the Bismarck Archipelago. Her second outing was from December 1943 until January of the following year and the third took place from February to March 1944. War patrols four, five and six took up all of the rest of 1944 to which she ended her voyaging with entry into Pearl Harbor.
During war patrol number six, USS Ray attacked enemy freighters as usual but was herself attacked by enemy patrol planes and depth charges. Flooding from an unsecured hatch was controlled but damage sent the boat to Mios Woendi before the end of October. More enemy targets fell to Ray's torpedoes (the enemy cruiser Kumano was damaged by her) and helped in support of amphibious operations as well as many pilot rescues (22).
From there, the boat journeyed stateside (Mare Island Naval Shipyard) to undergo a much-needed refit and refurbishment. She was back in action from April to June of 1945 in Pacific Waters, which covered her seventh war patrol, and ended her career with war patrol number eight which spanned from July until the end of the Pacific War in August of 1945. She returned to New London, Connecticut on October 5th of that year. With the war over USS Ray was used as a crew training platform before being decommissioned for the first time on February 2th, 1947.
For her service in the Second World War, USS Ray was awarded seven Battle Stars and a US Navy Unit Citation to cover her exploits in war patrol number six. In addition to this, the boat was awarded the Philippine Republic Presidential Unit Citation.
With the growing threat posed by Soviet bombers against the American carrier fleet, the USN reinstated USS Ray for service as a radar picket submarine. Her hull was lengthened by 24 feet to take on the new equipment and she lost her aft-facing torpedo tubes to make more room for sleeping areas. Her sail was lengthened and enlarged to accommodate all-new systems including the BPS-2 search radar, the AN-BPS-3 height radar and the AN/URN-3 TACAM beacon. The conversion took place at the Philadelphia Naval Yard and this work resulted in the boat being given the new hull classification of "SSR-271" back in January of 1951. She was commissioned for a second time on August 13th, 1952 and this led to an initial period of crew training and official deployments across the Atlantic and Mediterranean theaters with the USN and under the NATO banner. In the radar picket role, the submarine was used as a first-line of defense in searching and tracking for potential airborne dangers to the American battlegroup headed by its powerful aircraft carriers. This role was eventually overtaken by fixed-wing Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft launched from carrier decks themselves.
In June of 1958 she was removed from service and placed out of commission. Her name was struck from the Naval Register on April 1st, 1960 and her hull stripped of its military value. The boat was then sold off for scrapping in December of that year.