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Naval Warfare

USS Porpoise (SS-172)

Diesel-Electric Attack Submarine [ 1935 ]

The USS Porpoise was a pre-World War 2 attack submarine that managed to survive the conflict, see retirement and was sold for scrapping in the late-1950s.

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 04/10/2017 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.

USS Porpoise (SS-172) led her 10-strong class prior to and during World War 2 (1939-1945). The boat was a conventional diesel-electric-powered attack submarine armed with six torpedo tubes and sixteen total torpedoes. The vessel saw her keel laid down on October 27th, 1933 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine and launched on August 15th, 1935. She was commissioned a short time later on August 15th, 1935 after successfully completing her sea trials. The USS Porpoise managed an operational existence through to the end of the war to which she was then decommissioned from US naval service on November 15th, 1945 and eventually sold for scrapping on May 14th, 1957. During her World War 2 tour of duties, the USS Porpoise was awarded five Battle Stars.

As built, the USS Porpoise was given a running length of 283 feet with a beam of 25 feet and draught of 13 feet, 10 inches. Her surface displacement under standard load was 1,330 tons with a submerged weight of 1,965 tons. Power was served through 4 x Winton Model 16-201A 16-cylinder, 2-cycle, diesel-fueled engines developing 1,300 shaft horsepower each (to twin shafts) driving electrical generators via a reduction gear arrangement. Undersea power was provided for by 2 x 120-cell Exide VL31B batteries which drove 4 x Elliott electric motors. Total submerged output was 1,075 horsepower. As with other World War 2-era submarines, the USS Porpoise was required to surface to recharge her batteries and oxygen supply. The engine configuration gave the vessel a straight-line surface speed of 19 knots while she could make headway under the water at 8 knots full. Operational range was 6,000 nautical miles when running at 10 knots. At 5 knots underwater, the boat could stay submerged up to eleven hours. Onboard provisions allowed for a crew of 14 officers and 42 enlisted personnel divided into three rotations.

In a 1942 refit, the Porpoise was given 4 x General Motors 2-cycle Model 12-278A series diesel engines outputting at 1,200 horsepower each.©MilitaryFactory.com
As an attack submarine, the USS Porpoise fielded six torpedo launch tubes, four fitted at the front hull and the remaining two at the rear facing aft. In this way, the submarine did not have to turn completely around to engage targets behind her. Sixteen total torpedoes were stored onboard with six ready in the tubes. Additional armament (for surface contacts) included a 76mm deck gun and 2 x 0.30 caliber machine guns (anti-aircraft). In 1942, her torpedo armament was increased with the addition of two external bow-facing launch tubes.

The legacy of the USS Porpoise began during the period of relative quiet prior to World War 2 known as the interwar years. She berthed at San Diego after passing through the Panama Canal in September of 1936 to undergo gunnery and torpedo attack training for her crew. In April of 1937, she was sent for an overhaul to Mare Island Naval Yard in Vallejo, California. In January of the following year, she was positioned at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and participated in general fleet exercises prior to joining the US Asiatic Fleet at Manila in the Philippines.

On December 7th, 1941, the Empire of Japan utilized attack aircraft from her naval forces to assail Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in an attempt to knock US aircraft carrier power out of the upcoming war. Success would have yielded complete access to Pacific territories including Southeast Asia and Australia. Fortunately for the US, her carrier fleet resided elsewhere and losses were generally contained to battleships and attack surface craft and aircraft unlucky enough to be stationed in the harbor at the time of the attack. For the USS Porpoise, she was given a refit at Olongapo in the Philippines and escaped destruction and damage. The work to bring her back to sea was completed and the Porpoise set off. Her first war patrol (without any attack successes recorded) was undertaken in December and ran throughout January 1942. Her second war patrol took her to the Dutch East Indies from the period of February into March 1942 where she claimed an enemy cargo vessel. After a stop at Fremantle, Australia, Porpoise missed out on another cargo vessel but was able to rescue five downed airmen in a separate action during her third patrol.

Once again at Mare Island for an overhaul, her forth patrol took her near Honshu, Japan where she sank an enemy vessel. On her fifth patrol off of the Jaluit Atoll, she claimed another enemy ship before missing out on another target of opportunity in April. Back at Pearl for another refit, the USS Porpoise departed on her sixth war patrol from June into July and sank another enemy ship while damaging two others. After this action, she was sent to the east coast of the United States to New London, Connecticut by way of Pearl Harbor and the Panama Canal to address leaking oil tanks.

From that point on, the USS Porpoise was relegated to training future submariners in the fine art of warfare under the sea. World War 2 ended in August of 1945 followed by the formal surrender of Japan in September, bringing a close to the Porpoise's wartime career. She lay in Boston Harbor into November 1945 and held in reserve until May of 1947. From 1947 into 1956, she was used by the United States Navy to train its reservists in the Gulf of Mexico off of the Houston, Texas coast. While still holding a decommissioned status, she was withdrawn from active service in the USN and struck from the Naval Register on August 13th, 1956 only to be sold for scrapping to a New Orleans-based concern on May 14th, 1957.

Thus came to a close the storied career of the USS Porpoise. Her class ultimately included the USS Pike (SS-173), the USS Shark (SS-174), the USS Tarpon (SS-175), the USS Perch (SS-176), the USS Pickerel (SS-177), the USS Permit (SS-178), the USS Plunger (SS-179), the USS Pollack (SS-180) and the USS Pompano (SS-181).©MilitaryFactory.com
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United States
Operators National flag of the United States
United States
National Origin
Hull Class
USS Porpoise (SS-172); USS Pike (SS-173); USS Shark (SS-174); USS Tarpon (SS-175); USS Perch (SS-175); USS Pickerel (SS-177); USS Permit (SS-178); USS Plunger (SS-179); USS Pollack (SS-180); USS Pompano (SS-181)

Submerged Attack
Traveling under the surface to search, track, and / or engage or reconnoiter areas.
Maritime Patrol
Active patroling of vital waterways and maritime areas; can also serve as local deterrence against airborne and seaborne threats.
Fleet Support
Serving in support (either firepower or material) of the main surface fleet in Blue Water environments.

283.0 feet
(86.26 meters)
25.0 feet
(7.62 meters)
14.0 feet
(4.27 meters)
Displacement (Submerged)

1935: 4 x Winton Model 16-201A 16-cylinder, 2-cycle, diesel-fueled engines developing 1,300 shaft horsepower; 2 x 120-cell Exide VL31B batteries driving 4 x Elliott electric motors at 1,075 shaft horsepower; 1942 REFIT: 4 x General Motors 2-cycle Model 12-278A diesel engines developing 1,200 horsepower; 2 x Shafts.
19.0 knots
(21.9 mph)
Surface Speed
8.0 knots
(9.2 mph)
Submerged Speed
5,996 nm
(6,900 miles | 11,104 km)
1 knot = 1.15 mph; 1 nm = 1.15 mile; 1 nm = 1.85 km

6 x 21" (533mm) torpedo tubes (4 facing forward and 2 facing aft). 16 x total torpedoes. Additional 2 x tubes added in 1942.
1 x 3" (76mm) /50 cal deck gun
2 x 0.30 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns


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Image of the USS Porpoise (SS-172)
Image from the Public Domain.

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