Wednesday, July 13, 2011

USS Torsk (SS-423)

Here is another of the historical ships moored in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. This is the USS Torsk, a Tench-class submarine from WWII.

The Torsk is famous as the last US Navy vessel to sink an enemy warship in World War II. Torsk is one of the 26 Tench-class submarines built for the Navy in 1944-1951. Originally, there were plans to build 146 Tench-class boats, but 115 were cancelled after Imperial Japan's defeat. Only ten ever saw combat service in the war. The Tench class was an evolutionary improvement over the older Gato and Balao classes- larger, stronger and better laid out internally.

The Torsk was built in Portsmouth, Maine in the summer of 1944 and commissioned on 16 December 1944. Her first commander was Commander Bafford E. Lewellen.
She trained in the waters off New London Connecticut for two months and then sailed to Port Everglades, Florida to take part in antisubmarine research for four days. She then transited the Panama Canal and sailed to Pearl Harbor, arriving on March 23, 1945.

Torsk then began the work she was built for. She arrived off the northeastern coast of Honshu on May 13 and began her patrol after linking up with the subs USS Cero and and Sand Lance. Little was discovered other than Naval mines until the Torsk finally found an enemy ship, the very mine layer that had seeded the area with mines. She fired six torpedoes that the ship was able to maneuver away from and then she dove to escape the area. She then returned to Pearl Harbor for refitting and new equipment and began her second patrol on July 17. On August 11, after rescuing seven Japanese merchant seamen adrift from the wreck of the Koue Maru, she made her first kill, torpedoing a coastal freighter from periscope depth.

On August 14, Torsk sighted a 745 ton Kaibokan-class patrol escort vessel and its charge, a medium-sized cargo ship. She took up position near the mouth of the harbor at Kasumi Ko and launched a new Mark 28 torpedo at the warship. They scored a hit and the vessel rose some 30 degrees at the stern and sank quickly. Less than half an hour later the freighter attempted to enter the harbor and Torsk fired but missed, possibly hitting uncharted reefs. Torsk waited and another hour or so later another frigate was sighted, coming to reinforce the harbor. Torsk fired another Mark 28, having already been detected by the frigate. The order was passed to dive and rig for silent running by Commander Lewellen. She reached a depth of 400 feet, (which was getting close to as deep as subs of the era could dive) and launched another torpedo. This one was a Mark 27, able to acoustically home in on the enemy's propeller sounds. The crew heard the explosion of its impact on the frigates' hull and about a minute later, a secondary explosion and the tell tale sounds of a ship breaking up. The Torsk and her crew had proved themselves, sinking two enemy warships in one encounter. This would turn out to be the last Japanese warship sunk in the war. She was forced to dive due to patrolling enemy planes and ships, and remained submerged more than seven tense hours before surfacing and leaving the area.

Escape trunk from the Forward Torpedo room. It could hold four men at a time and was then flooded with seawater to equalize the pressure. The process was then repeated until all the submariners had abandoned ship. Sounds like fun, right?

Forward Torpedo room with six 21 inch torpedo tubes

One thing I have found amazing about subs I have been on is how busy and crammed the inside is. Everywhere you look there is machinery, bunks, gear. I can't imagine what it was like on a combat patrol with supplies and sailors everywhere. To be honest, the whole ship smelled like oil and diesel. Can you imagine what it was like with the engines on? How about with 81 dudes breathing and farting in it?

Engine room with two Fairbanks Morse diesel engines

After Torpedo room with two 21 inch torpedo tubes

BTW a torsk is a North Atlantic fish, related to the cod

(from Wikipedia)
General characteristics
Type: Diesel-electric submarine
Displacement: 1,570 tons (1,595 t) surfaced
2,416–2,429 tons (2,455–2468 t) submerged
Length: 311 ft 8 in (95.0 m)
Beam: 27 ft 3 in (8.3 m)
Draft: 17 ft (5.2 m) maximum

4 × diesel engines driving electrical generators
2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries
2 × low-speed electric motors
two propellers
5,400 shp (4.0 MW) surfaced

2,740 shp (2.0 MW) submerged
Speed: 20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced
8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged
Range: 11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)
Endurance: 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged
75 days on patrol
Test depth: 400 ft (120 m)
Complement: 10 officers, 71 enlisted
Armament: 10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
(six forward, four aft)
28 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon

USS Torsk received two battle stars for its service in WWII and a Navy Commendation Medal for service during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

She set the all-time record of career dives, at 11,884.

USS Torsk, taken from the deck of USS Constellation with the National Aquarium in the background (which is also nice)


  1. I enjoyed your website. I served on the USS Torsk in 1959-1960. I also m-ced two reunions for the Torsk in Baltimore and attended the recommissioning as well as workingparties at various times. It is a wonderful feeling to know that my ship will always be in Baltimore should I care to visit her. She was my first submarine and my home.
    Regards, "Pete" DG Gunn

  2. Thanks for your Service, Pete.

  3. In 1983, while on temporary assignment in Baltimore I had the chance to tour the Torsk. I wish there was more money available to fund the restoration and display of more naval vessels. Its outrageously expensive to keep these old boats safe and afloat. The morons in today's White House would rather send millions to fund our enemies rather than helping fund the Military Historical Museums and preserve our heritage.