USS Whale (SS-239), a Gato-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the whale, an extremely large, aquatic mammal that is fishlike in form. Her keel was laid down on 28 June 1941 by the Mare Island Naval Shipyard of Vallejo, California. She was launched on 14 March 1942 sponsored by Mrs. A.D. Denny, wife of Captain A.D. Denny, the commanding officer of the shipyard, and commissioned on 1 June 1942 with Lieutenant Commander John B. Azer (Class of 1930) in command.
Dock trials and initial shakedown training commenced on 30 July. The submarine—escorted by destroyer —departed San Francisco, California, on 4 August and arrived at San Diego, California, two days later. Between 30 July and 9 September, she conducted type training in the San Diego and San Francisco areas.
The following day, Whale arrived at Seto Saki hoping to intercept some inbound freighter traffic. By the light of a full moon, she sighted a large freighter directly ahead and fired a three-torpedo spread at the target. Two torpedoes hit the cargo ship, and she went down by the bow with her screws emerging. Whale sighted a second target astern of the freighter, fired three torpedoes, and observed the target listing slightly to port and heading for the beach. Whale fired a stern shot at a third freighter and heard a heavy torpedo explosion after 43 seconds.
From 27 October to 29 October, Whale patrolled the entrance to Bungo Suido. On 30 October, ten miles off Ichie Saki, Whale spotted two freighters and a torpedo boat escort; she fired two torpedoes at each of the ships, scoring only one hit. The torpedoes alerted the escort which bore down on the submarine and attacked her with depth charges. A 17-hour chase ensued in which Whale, although badly damaged, managed to shake the torpedo boat three times.
After an unsuccessful search for a disabled sampan, Whale made rendezvous with an escort and proceeded to Pearl Harbor where she underwent repairs from 10 November 1942 through 2 January 1943. The next day, Whale got underway from the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, bound for the Marshall Islands. After conducting training dives and drills en route, she arrived in the Wotje and Kwajalein area on 10 January for two days' patrol off those atolls.
Whale conducted surface patrols on the Truk-Empire shipping lanes until 17 January when she sighted a passenger-freighter bringing in troop reinforcements. Through the periscope, Whale observed hundreds of uniformed soldiers crowding the decks. She fired nine torpedoes and scored eight direct hits which were necessary to sink the 9815-ton Heiyo Maru. The cargo must have been of such a nature as to prevent her from sinking more rapidly.
The next seven days were spent patrolling the Caroline Islands. On 25 January while on a surface patrol along the Truk–Empire line, Whale sighted smoke in the bright moonlight and fired a three-torpedo spread from the stern tubes at the target. Only one torpedo scored a hit. The tanker, Syoyo Maru, sent up a flare which summoned an escort to her rescue. Whale went deep and sustained light damage from several depth charges.
The following evening, Whale sighted the smoke of a steamer about 16 miles on her starboard bow. She closed and fired one torpedo. A dull thud was heard throughout the boat, and no explosion occurred. On the morning of 27 January, the submarine fired a three torpedo spread but heard no explosions. A fourth torpedo failed to explode, and the target, Shoan Maru turned away and presented a 180-degree angle. Whale fired a fifth and sixth torpedo and the latter passed directly below the target's stern and must have run under its full length without detonating. The Japanese ship then began dropping depth charges as she drew away. Whale fired the last remaining torpedo which hit the target just abaft her stack, causing her to lose power. Apparently, Shoan Maru sank as a result of this attack, for Whale was credited with the kill. After this action, Whale set her course for Midway Island where she arrived on 2 February 1943 and commenced preparations for her next patrol.
On the evening of 19 March, Whale sighted two large freighters and one torpedo boat or destroyer escort. Just after daylight the next morning, the submarine finally worked into a favorable attack position, fired spreads of three torpedoes at each freighter, and hit both. The first target, tentatively identified as Mogamigawa Maru, sank rapidly by the stern. The second, a cargo ship resembling Arizona Maru, was plagued by several heavy internal explosions following a second torpedo hit. Whale, mistaking these secondary explosions for bombs, went deep. Upon discovering the mistake, she started to surface but was greeted by a barrage of depth charges from the escort. She dove again but again came under attack—this time from the air—when she attempted to return to examine the wreckage. The submarine suffered extensive damage during this attack—which prevented her learning the fate of her targets—her closest escape, by far.
Nevertheless, Whale continued to patrol shipping lanes to Kobe and Tokyo and, while off Tanapag Harbor on the evening of 22 March, she sighted the masts of two ships and the smoke of a third, all leaving the harbor. Whale tried to close but lost contact. The next morning, Whale gained a position ahead of two freighters and fired two spreads of three torpedoes each. Two hits were observed on each target, one under each stack and a second under each stern. The closer freighter, Kenyo Maru, blew up with a tremendous explosion and sank in four minutes leaving no survivors. Part of the stern of the farther ship blew into the air, and she appeared to be sinking slowly by the stern as she signaled rapidly with a blinker light.
Fearing the approach of an escort, Whale fired a fourth torpedo which ran "hot, straight and normal"—for one minute, then circled, heading back in the direction of Whale. "We went to 120 feet and prayed", the commanding officer later reported. The erratic torpedo changed its mind after reaching Whale's beam and headed back for the freighter, finally exploding. The target was awash from stern to stack and on fire forward. At morning twilight, the ship was still burning with her bow up and her stern under.
The submarine spent the next two days patrolling Kobe-Saipan, Empire-Truk shipping routes. On the morning of 25 March, she sighted the smoke of a small freighter and pursued it throughout that entire day and the next, firing seven torpedoes at the target, all misses. Either the target's draft had been overestimated or the torpedoes ran too deep, or both. This poor torpedo performance was bitterly disappointing to the submarine's crew. "The thought of the fuel expended," her commanding officer lamented, "on the long, endaround runs, coupled with the loss of the torpedoes themselves, made 'heartbreaking' but an inadequate euphemism."
On 28 March, Whale was on the surface, intending to cross the Saipan-Truk route, when she spotted the smoke of a small freighter headed for Truk. She fired a three torpedo spread; the target made an unanticipated zig, and all three torpedoes missed. A lack of fuel forced Whale to abandon her quarry, and she headed north along the Empire–Truk route.
Whale headed homeward on 31 March, and she arrived at Midway Island on 6 April. She refueled there, had her last torpedo removed, and sailed for Hawaii the following day conducting daily training of gun crews and test dives for radio reception en route. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 11 April and underwent refitting, subsequent tests, and then training. Whale got underway westward again on 5 May and arrived at Midway Island four days later to undergo repairs to her hydraulic system and her air search radar. Whale departed Midway Island to begin her fourth war patrol on 10 May.
From 20 May to 24 May, Whale patrolled the shipping lanes between Japan, Truk, and Saipan. On the latter day, she conducted a search for a submarine base reportedly on Rota; found nothing; then surfaced and headed for Guam.
The following day, Whale sighted the masts of three ships in the harbor at Apra, Guam, anchored in such a way as to be protected by reef islands. A retriever type sampan appeared to be the only antisubmarine measure. Waiting outside the harbor, Whale sighted and then tracked the 3580-ton freighter Shoei Maru. At 00:14 on 26 May, Whale fired her first torpedo which hit with a blinding, orange flash midway between the stack and bow of the freighter. The explosion blew the ship's entire bow away, and she sank in four minutes with no survivors.
On 5 June, Whale sighted the masts of a seaplane tender, and she tracked and closed the target. The submarine fired four torpedoes, scoring three hits. The target's screws stopped instantly, and powerful, rumbling explosions came from the target. However, the tender must have managed to limp to port since postwar study of Japanese records did not confirm a kill. An escort was "running wild" toward Whale, so she went deep and eluded her pursuer.
The submarine spent the next three days patrolling the Saipan area and, on 8 June, set a course for the Empire–Truk route through the Mariana Islands. The next day, she sighted the masts and kingposts of two large freighters about 800 to 1000 yards abeam of each other with an escort ahead of and between them. Whale fired three torpedoes at the first freighter, scoring two hits. She then shifted to the second freighter and fired the fourth, fifth, and sixth torpedoes. Tremendous explosions from the first ship were followed by two more explosions. The submarine commander concluded that one or more of the latter spread of torpedoes—aimed at the second freighter—hit the first, already damaged target. Whale fired another three-torpedo spread at the second freighter and soon heard two heavy explosions followed by a deep, rumbling detonation with the accompanying water noises which suggested that a ship was breaking up. Whale then headed eastward and touched at Midway Island on 17 June, before continuing on toward Hawaii. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 21 June and commenced refitting.
On 7 August 1943, Whale covered the Tokyo-Truk lane east of the Bonins. The following day, Whale's periscope watch sighted a large aircraft ferry and her escort. When everything was set to fire a spread of straight bow shots, the forward gyro regulator failed, and it was necessary to shift to manual operation of the gyro regulator. After one torpedo hit, 7149-ton Naruto Maru stopped dead in her tracks, listed to starboard and started going down slowly by the stern. Whale fired another torpedo which hit amidships and prodded the ship into sinking faster. The submarine escaped aircraft bombs and set course for the Tokyo-Truk route.
From 9 August through 19 August, she patrolled the Tokyo-Truk route, the Bonin area, and the East China Sea where, on 20 August, she was caught in a typhoon. She weathered the three-day storm with her only severe problem being a low main storage battery. On 24 August, Whale positioned herself 20 miles west of Kusakaki Shima and intercepted an enemy convoy headed for Nagasaki. Whale fired a salvo of four torpedoes and, other than hearing four explosions, did not manage to ascertain their effect. The ships were last seen going over the horizon, and pursuit was impractical due to the submarine's proximity to Nagasaki and the condition of her battery.
Whale was en route to Midway Island when she sighted two large cargo ships and a destroyer escort. She fired a salvo of three torpedoes, followed by a fourth stern shot. All four shots missed, and Whale continued toward her home port, touching at Midway Island on 2 September and pushing on toward Hawaii the following day. Whale arrived at Pearl Harbor on 7 September and commenced a major overhaul which lasted until 7 December.
Whale patrolled the Mariana Islands and the Bonin Islands from 18 January to 23 January. On 24 January, she made contact with an enemy submarine and attempted an end-around, but her maneuver was thwarted by a fire in the trim pump which filled the control room with smoke, forcing Whale to surface. Two days later Whale—low on fuel—headed for Midway Island. She arrived there on 3 February for refitting. Lt. Cmdr. John B. Grady relieved Commander Albert C. Burrows as commanding officer on 9 February. A casualty to the starboard propeller necessitated a trip to Pearl Harbor, and it was not until 13 March that Whale returned to Midway Island, the staging port for her seventh patrol.
From 12 June to 4 July 1944, Whale patrolled off the southern coasts of Japan. She sighted several Japanese aircraft and a properly lighted hospital ship. On 5 July, Whale surfaced and set course for Midway Island where she arrived on 11 July. She pushed on toward Hawaii the following day and arrived at Pearl Harbor after a four-day passage. An extensive refitting lasted until 12 August and was followed by training exercises.
Whale arrived at Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, on 3 September and the next day got underway in company with the other "Bears" and coastal minesweeper which acted as their escort. She proceeded to a rendezvous with on 8 September about 45 miles from Samar Island, Philippines. She spent the next eight days making emergency repairs and conducting training dives, patrolling on station, and submerging to avoid detection by unidentified aircraft.
On 17 September, the position of the "Bear Pit" was changed to the southeast of Formosa; and Whale arrived on station on 20 September. Four days later, she received orders to disband and proceed as a coordinated attack group of four submarines called the "Bears" to "Convoy College", the north end of the South China Sea, between Luzon, Formosa, and the Chinese mainland. She entered those strategic waters on 25 September and, the following day, she surfaced in Bashi Channel, 41 miles from Y'Ami Island of the Batan Islands, and proceeded to her patrol station south of Garan Bi, Formosa. On 27 September, Whale evaded a small patrol craft and the next day submerged for a periscope patrol 60 miles south of Formosa. On 29 September, she made rendezvous with Seahorse, received written instructions for conducting the remainder of the patrol; and set her course for a new station southwest of Formosa. The submarine arrived on station on 3 October and submerged some 60 miles north of Cape Borjeador, Luzon, and patrolled around Calayan and Dalupiri islands in the Babuyan group.
"Wilkins' Bears" searched the Luzon Strait on 6 October and found a convoy of at least nine ships. Using a high periscope, Whale could see two large tankers, a large tender, and two Hibiki-class destroyers patrolling ahead of the tanker. Whale fired six bow tube shots at the tanker, then submerged quickly to avoid detection. The escorts dropped 34 depth charges, none of which was uncomfortably close. Meanwhile, Seahorse verified the sinking of Whale's target, Akane Maru, and sank a destroyer herself that was picking up survivors from the tanker.
The next day, Whale received a message extending her patrol for seven days and ordering her to rendezvous with submarines and in the area northwest of Luzon on 9 October and 10 October, respectively. On 16 October, Whale was harassed throughout the day by plane contacts and ordered to take a new station at the southwest end of Nansei Shoto in anticipation of a Japanese fleet sortie which never occurred. Three days later, Whale was ordered to head for Midway Island for refitting, and she arrived there on 29 October.
On 4 January and 5 January 1945, Whale and sister ship searched unsuccessfully in the waters near Sufu Gan for a life raft containing 11 survivors of a downed B-29 Superfortress. There were heavy seas and visibility was only 500 yards, and the B-29 did not answer calls on the lifeguard frequency. Its failure greatly hampered the rescue operation. On 6 January, Whale received orders to proceed via Midway Island to Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 15 January. She soon pushed on to the west coast and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, on 26 January 1945 for an overhaul.
Whale commenced patrol east of Okino Shima on 30 July and ran into heavy seas: "Couldn't hold our own with this current, so took soundings each half hour." On 4 August, she submerged for patrol off Bungo Suido and, four days later, made rendezvous with submarine to take on board a rescued pilot. On 9 August, Whale received 16 aviators and one patient who were transferred from submarine , using a rubber boat with lines on bow and stern for propulsion. On 11 August, Whale received orders to proceed to Saipan for fuel and to Midway Island for refitting. She arrived at Saipan on 14 August. The next day, President of the United States Harry S. Truman announced the final Japanese capitulation. Whale sailed in company with submarine for Hawaii and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 25 August 1945.
Whale was decommissioned in January 1947, berthed in New London, Connecticut, and placed in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was towed to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where she arrived on 8 April 1948. Whale made several visits to Portsmouth and New London during the summer, and she finally came to rest at New London on 11 September 1948. The submarine was partially activated from 14 November to 14 December 1956 in order to replace submarine . Whale departed New London on 12 January 1957 and, on 22 January, arrived at New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was recommissioned upon arrival.
See for the other ship of the same name.