Sixty-six years ago today, the USS Robalo pulled into Fremantle after her first patrol. She may even have moored next to the Redfin.
Robalo and Redfin shared a special relationship. All submarines are sisters, but some are closer than others. The Redfin (SS-272) and the Robalo (SS-273) were both Manitowoc boats, were built side-by-side, were laid, launched, and commissioned within weeks of each other. They tested themselves in the depths of Lake Michigan, and probably moored side-by-side night after night. Both were packed up on barges and shipped down the Mississippi to New Orleans, and both would have a new commander after her first patrol.
But now, the Robalo was finishing her first patrol, under her commissioning CO Stephan Ambruster. She had traveled from Pearl Harbor, down the western coast of the Philippines and finished in Fremantle. She damaged one freighter. Her crew was looking forward to the standard two-week R&R that was due them as soon as they could be relieved by the Tender’s relief crew.
Redfin was beginning her two weeks of training and testing before leaving for her second patrol. Both would return to Fremantle after their second patrols, and Redfin would bring news of Robalo home to Fremantle.
Their endings would be quite different.
While Robalo would vanish and her ending remains a mystery in many ways (not even her date of loss is known for certain), the Redfin completed seven war patrols and served honorably in Korea and Vietnam. Despite numerous upgrades and refittings, Redfin eventually was retired and finally scrapped, the fate of many gallant submarines. Her crew still gathers and maintains a website in Redfin’s memory.
For more information on the Redfin, check out their webpage (with some great photos of WWII submariners at work and play)