RIP USS Kete

Posted by Rebekah
Mar 20 2010

Tomorrow I’ll post about the changes in USS Flier’s crew while they were waiting for her to finish her repairs, but today, I thought I’d take the time to remember another lost submarine.

Sixty-six years ago today, the USS Kete was in Manitowoc Wisconsin on blocks, finishing her construction.  A year later, she’d be lost at sea, her grave unknown.

The USS Kete during her trials on Lake Michigan. Photo from navsource.org

Kete was a new Balao-class boat, unlike the Flier, Redfin and Robalo, which were all Gato-class.  From the outside, they looked almost identical.  The main difference was a thicker skin that allowed the Balao-class to safely dive to 400 feet, rather than the 300 foot depth of a Gato.  There were numerous small differences inside in the engines, electrical systems, ect. that made them a more sophisticated boat, and of course, the newer the boat, the more advanced the technology was installed from the beginning.

Like Robalo and Redfin, Kete was a Manitowoc boat, was tossed sideways into the water on April 9, tested herself in Lake Michigan, was commissioned on July 31,  and rode a barge down the Mississippi to New Orleans.  (In case anyone was wondering, the reason the submarines rode a barge down the Miss to the sea was because there are several places in the Miss that are shallower than a submarine’s 16 ft. draft (the portion of a water vessel that is beneath the waterline).).

The USS Raton, a Manitowoc boat, going down the Mississippi riding in a floating drydock. The Redfin, Robalo and Kete would all have traveled this way to the ocean. These photographs were highly classified during WWII. Photo from navsource.org

She traveled through the Panama Canal, to Pearl Harbor, and went on her first war patrol on the East China Sea in the company of USS Sealion II.  They were near the southern tip of Japan when Kete started having engine trouble, then, during a dive, her bow planes froze in the dive position, forcing the submarine deeper than the crew wanted her to go. They managed to get her under control, but if she couldn’t be fixed, Kete might not be able to surface, or would dive so deeply the pressure of the water would crush her like an empty soda can.

Headquarters ordered Kete to leave Sealion and be escorted to Saipan where the Submarine Tender Fulton repaired her planes and overhauled her engines for a month.  She resumed her first patrol assigned to patrol around Yuro Island, a small Japanese Island north of Okinawa for life guarding.

During a lifeguarding patrol, a submarine was to stand by and rescue any Allied pilots that had to ditch into the ocean.  They were often ordered to NOT attack anyone on a lifeguarding duty, lest they were detected and couldn’t protect anyone.  During the end of the war, this type of duty was more common, since seagoing targets were becoming scarce and air raids on the Japanese Islands were happening more frequently.

President George H.W. Bush was a 19-year old fighter pilot when he was shot down and rescued by a sister submarine  USS Finback, and the USS Tang once rescued 22 pilots in one day, a record that still stands.

Though she did not rescue any pilots or sink any targets, Kete was awarded a battle star for a sucessful patrol.  She was ordered to Guam where she was outfitted for her second patrol.

She patrolled in the same general area, again on a lifeguarding duty during raids,  and transmitting weather reports so the local airstrips and aircraft carriers to coordinate attacks.  But this time she was permitted to hunt freighters between raids.  She sank three medium freighters on March 9, and fired more torpedoes at a cable laying vessel on March 14 (unfortunately she missed).

With only three torpedoes left, the Kete was ordered home to Pearl for an overhaul, and she left the area on March 20, giving a special weather report as she left.  It was the last time anyone ever heard from her.

After the war, Japanese records showed that three Japanese submarines were sunk around this date in that general area, any of which might have been prey of the Kete, but no anti-submarine activity was noted.  There were no minefields nearby.  The two most common theories of the fate of the Kete are 1.) mutual destruction between her and a Japanese submarine, or 2.) Mechanical malfunction forced her down.

She has not been found, and took her 87 crewmen with her.  Her memorial page on On Eternal Patrol is here.

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