Sixty-six years ago today, Al Jacobson is on the way to the Flier to join her rapidly assembling crew, Robalo is only days away from her second patrol, and Redfin is near Davao Gulf on the southern end of Mindanao Island in the Philippines stalking convoys, though today didn’t offer a good chance for an attack.
On this same day, USS Snook (strangely enough, “snook” is another name for a “robalo”) was sitting in San Francisco being overhauled from her immensely successful fifth patrol. She’d just taken down five ships totaling 26,800 tons. In one patrol she had taken out more than some subs completed in their whole wartime patrols. She also only had one year left.
By April 8, 1945, she completed eight patrols, and sank 17 vessels totaling 75,686 tons. She was a star of the Submarine Force and a top scorer. (After the war patrol records were tabulated after the Japanese surrender, Snook would be #11 in terms of most tons of ships sent to the bottom, and #13 in terms of numbers).
Her ninth patrol took her to the South China Sea, a place where, while she was technically fighting alone, was thoroughly canvassed by American Submarines who frequently radioed the positions and conditions of the now-scarce convoys to one another.
On April 8, 1945, one of the newest submarines of the fleet, USS Tigrone, was patrolling near the Chinese island of Hainan (near the southern border of China, it is south of Hong Kong and just east of Vietnam). After sighting a torpedo attack that went wide of them, the Tigrone thought it might be the Snook that could mistook them for a Japanese submarine or, a Japanese submarine went after them. By the end of the day, Tigrone contacted Bullhead and Blackfish confirming it wasn’t either of them, then tried the Snook, whose patrol area butted against Tigrone’s southern border. It took a long time to go back and forth between the two submarines to confirm positions, and Snook’s transmission was very garbled and hard to hear. The Tigrone asked her to repeat it several times.
Tigrone left the area the following day for lifeguarding duties. Snook was supposed to patrol that area for a while longer, then head for Lombok and home.
But that garbled and damaged transmission was the last time Snook was ever heard from.
On April 12, she was ordered to take up lifeguarding duties near Okinawa. The British were bombarding the island to assist with the ongoing battle for Okinawa. She did not acknowledge.
On April 20, the British Aircraft Carrier reported he had a plane down and a pilot needing rescuing in Snook’s area, but he couldn’t contact her. HQ ordered Snook to proceed to the area and acknowledge the receipt of the message. When she didn’t, the nearby submarine Bang was ordered to run to her area to find the aviators and any sign of the Snook. Both aviators were rescued, but there was no sign of the Snook: no oil slicks, no debris, or sign of a submarine whole or sunken.
On 16 May, with no word from the Snook, and no sightings by anyone, friend or enemy, Snook was officially recorded as overdue and presumed lost, with her crew MIA. They would be changed to KIA over a year later.
Japanese records after the war revealed no anti-submarine warfare anywhere where the Snook could possibly be.
Her demise remains a mystery. Was that garbled message the Tigrone received a symptom of a larger problem? Could Snook have gone down due to mechanical failure? Or, like Flier, hit a mine? Is her resting place near Hainan, or did she receive the orders to proceed to Okinawa, and was unable to acknowledge because her radio was down? Or, due to her radio problems or other possible mechanical failures, did she head for home early, and met her demise somewhere no one would think to look for her?
For the 84 families who lost a loved one aboard that boat, that question may not be answered anytime soon. Or could it?
In 1995, a group of divers with an ROV operating in the same area as Snook was supposed to be patrolling for lifeguard duty, got a hit on their sonar showing a structure roughly the size and shape of a submarine. While Snook may have been lost in the area, five Japanese submarines were known to have been lost there at about the same time (mutual destruction of the Snook and a possible attacker would account for the lack of records to either’s fate.) The sonar also showed several large obstructions, so the ROV was steered around the possible shipwreck. The divers planned to return at a later date to check the area again, but their ROV was lost in a dive two years later, and they have never returned. Neither has anyone else. Was it the Snook?
RIP Snook and your crew, wherever you are.