Her keel was laid down on 14 January 1936 by the Mare Island Navy Yard in California. She was launched on 11 March 1937, sponsored by Mrs. Isaac I. Yates, and commissioned on 12 June 1937 with Lieutenant Commander Lewis S. Parks (Class of 1925) in command.
Although the submarine was awarded a battle star for the attack on Pearl Harbor, she had not yet arrived from Mare Island. Reaching port shortly after the attack, she sailed from Pearl Harbor on 18 December 1941 for her first war patrol, devoted mainly to reconnoitering the eastern Marshall Islands for an aircraft carrier strike in January. Friendly (or, at least, American) planes from bombed her in error on 20 December (an experience which would become familiar to U.S. submarines), but she escaped damage.
Pompano arrived off Wake Island on 1 January 1942 to gather intelligence, approaching close enough to see Japanese machine gun posts. On 8 January, "bedeviled by breakdowns in her temperamental H.O.R. engines she inspected Bikar and subsequently viewed several other islands of the group.
She sighted several large ships protected by patrol craft in the harbor at Wotje. On 12 January, one of these stood out, the 16,000-ton Yawata, with four escorts. Pompano fired four Mark XIV torpedoes for two hits, and the target apparently broke up, disappearing from view. Five days later, when one of the patrol boats steamed out of the harbor, Pompano worked her way between him and the channel. Both torpedoes exploded prematurely (a constant problem for the Mark VI exploder), foiling her first attack. Then, with the enemy charging directly for her, the submarine waited until her target was away before firing two more torpedoes "down the throat". They missed, and the enemy delivered an ineffective depth charging.
After thoroughly reconnoitering Maloelap, Pompano departed 24 January, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 31 January. On the same day, aided by her reports, the fast carriers of the Pacific Fleet struck the Marshall Islands.
On her next patrol, to Japanese home waters, Pompano left Pearl Harbor 20 April 1942 (with a load of older Mark X torpedoes, due to production shortages at Newport Torpedo Station), refueled at Midway Island, and entered her area 7 May patrolling the sea lanes west of Okinawa and in the East China Sea. Shipping was scarce, but on 24 May, she caught a large sampan and sent it down with gunfire. On the next day, after chasing for seven hours and fighting a motor fire in the process, she torpedoed 900-ton tanker Tokyo Maru, which exploded and sank.
As Pompano shifted her patrol area to the main route between Japan and the East Indies, a large transport escorted by one destroyer caught her eye 30 May. Running to a position ahead of the convoy, she waited until her victim was only away, scoring solid hits (with two more Mark Xs) which sank the 7,983 ton transport Atsuta Maru two and a half hours later.
With her fuel getting low and a strong possibility of not being able to refuel at Midway Island on the way back because of the Japanese attempt to invade the island, Pompano began to work eastward. On the morning of 3 June, she found a small inter-island steamer, setting the vessel afire with gunfire.
On 5 June, while on the shipping route between Japan and the Mariana Islands, the submarine caught a trawler and sank it with gunfire. Two days later, word arrived the Japanese fleet, decisively defeated in the Battle of Midway, was fleeing toward Japan. Pompano took up a position to intercept them, but made no contact. On 13 June 1942 she put into Midway for refueling, and on 18 June arrived in Pearl Harbor. She was credited with sinking five for a total of 16,500 tons; postwar, only two for 8,900 tons were confirmed.
After a refit (and a change of command, to Willis M. Thomas, Class of 1931), she sailed from Pearl Harbor again 19 July, bound for Japan, on her third war patrol. By 3 August, she was in her area, and began patrolling within four miles (7.5 km) of the coast. A few minutes past midnight on the morning of 7 August, she fired four torpedoes at a large freighter, but all missed.
Two days later, a destroyer sighted Pompano, and opened fire. As Pompano ducked under, shells could be heard hitting the water. Soon a heavy barrage of depth charges exploded close aboard. Rising water in the engine room necessitated starting the pumps, which brought another heavy barrage. After running aground twice while attempting to escape, wiping off the sonar heads and with her battery almost exhausted, she surfaced, determined to fight on, only from shore, evaded the tincan and hastily cleared the area.
Undaunted, at noon 12 August 1942, she dove and set up on a freighter, which was coming into position when Pompano sighted an enemy destroyer coming down between the sub and her target. Firing two torpedoes, Pompano's men heard two very loud explosions, and saw a huge column of spray and water through the periscope, blotting out the destroyer's bow at . Both sets of screws stopped immediately. As Pompano closed the freighter, it settled below, evidently a victim of the second torpedo.
Another attack on 21 August failed when a convoy escort kept Pompano down while three freighters passed. On the morning of 23 August, she launched another torpedo attack on a large passenger freighter, only to have all three torpedoes miss. The target replied with his deck gun. Surfacing after nightfall, the sub sighted a destroyer away but could not attack when the destroyer sighted her in turn, and launched depth charges close aboard.
The last attack of the patrol came while en route Midway, when, on the 500-mile (925 km) circle from Tokyo, Pompano sighted a patrol ship, Naval Auxiliary 163, lying to. Since the vessel was of shallow draft, and since there were no other enemy forces visible, the submarine surfaced and engaged with deck guns, sinking the enemy an hour later. Pompano sighted an unidentified periscope the next morning, but it disappeared before she could attack. The ship arrived Midway 8 September and Pearl Harbor four days later.
An overhaul at Mare Island Navy Yard, including the installation of new main engines to replace her trouble-plagued HORs, kept the ship in the yard until 18 December 1942. Sailing back to Pearl Harbor, she departed on her fourth war patrol 16 January 1943. The Marshalls were her first objective, and at dawn on 25 January, she was off Kwajalein. After reconnoitering the area, she moved on to Truk to begin patrolling.
Catching a tanker with only one escort on 30 January, she damaged it with torpedoes. Another tanker came in view 4 February, but only one of the stern torpedoes hit; damaged, it managed to make port. Moving back to the Marshalls, Pompano sighted another tanker on the morning of 18 February. Two hits slowed the Japanese down, but depth charging held Pompano down until her target had escaped. After reconnoitering Rongerik, Rongelap, and Bikini, she returned home, mooring at Midway 28 February. She would get credit for no sinkings this time out.
She left Midway again 19 March, bound for Tokyo. During the entire patrol, with 26 days on station, she sighted only four torpedo targets, one of them a submariner's dream, an aircraft carrier, identified as . Pompano fired six torpedoes at long range (4,000 yd/3,700 m), and was credited with damage for 28,900 tons (denied postwar). She made only one other attack, spent two-thirds of the patrol fighting rough weather, and returned to Midway 5 May, then to Pearl Harbor five days later.
On 6 June the submarine was underway again from Pearl Harbor for the Nagoya, Japan. Stopping briefly at Midway to top up supplies, she entered her area 19 June, patrolling across traffic lanes from Japan to the south. She celebrated the Fourth of July by putting two more torpedoes into a grounded ship, damaged by an earlier attack by Sam Dealey's . Next day, she encountered a convoy, firing four torpedoes with no hits. on 7 July, she came upon two destroyers and, showing surprising aggressiveness, fired three torpedoes at each, missing every time. Two days after that, an ill-advised long shot at a three-ship convoy also missed, while on 10 July, a tanker escaped thanks to two erratic Mark XIVs. Her last two torpedoes were extreme-range misses against a freighter. A good-sized sampan was sunk with gunfire 17 July. Pompano ended the unsuccessful patrol at Midway 28 July.
Pompano left Midway 20 August, bound for Hokkaidō and Honshū. She was never heard from again, and when she failed to return, was presumed lost. The Japanese knew she was in her area, however, for two ships fell to her torpedoes during September: Akama Maru, a 5,600-ton cargo carrier, on 3 September, and Taiko Maru, a 2,958-ton cargo carrier on 25 September. The enemy made no anti-submarine attacks during this period in Pompano's area, so newly-laid mines in the vicinity, not known to U.S.Navy intelligence until after she sailed, probably sank her. Pompano was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 12 January 1944.
Pompano received seven battle stars for service in World War II.
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