The Grunion’s Ghost

Posted by Rebekah
Aug 02 2010

To finish the post on the Grunion…

The USS Grunion, under the command of Cmdr. Mannert Abele, left their families on the East coast on 24 May 1942, and took their brand new boat to her assigned base in Pearl Harbor.  The trip to Pearl was eventful, since they ran across survivors of the USAT Jack which had been torpedoed by U-Boat 558.  These sixteen men reported that they had seen thirteen more in the waves right after the sinking, and Grunion changed course to head for the site of the sinking.  They found nothing, and after searching for twenty-four hours, continued on to the Panama Canal.  (They likely dropped off the survivors there, though they do not mention it).

They arrived at Pearl, trained for a few days, and headed off for their first patrol, in the Aleutian Island Chain, off Alaska.

USS Grunion, during her testing phase in 1941. Her bridge and periscope shears would be remodeld between when this photo was taken and when she sank, likely at Pearl Harbor. Photo from navsource.org

Why the Aleutians?  Well, one of the fears shortly after WWII began was the Japanese might try to attack North America not by crossing the ocean (since they had already done that once) but by skirting around the north and coming down the western coast.  These fears were actually well founded, and the Japanese invaded Attu and Kiska Islands in early June, 1942.  The American military struck back and re-took Attu Island in 1943, but on this date 68 years ago, the Grunion was sent to patrol through enemy territory.

They were highly successful, taking out two enemy patrol vessels.  On 22 July, Grunion was assigned to patrol the entrances to Kiska.  Crowley’s S-28 was in the area, also patrolling the entrances to Kiska.   On 30 July, the Grunion, tracking a ship later revealed to be the Kano Maru, came under attack.  At some point on the 30th of July, possibly early in the morning, they sent a message to their headquarters reporting they were under heavy anti-submarine attack.  HQ ordered Grunion back to Dutch Harbor, the submarine base in Alaska immediately.

Also on 30 July, HQ contacted the S-28 and the S 32, two submarines patrolling nearby and asked them to report immediately to the Kiska area.  They never saw Grunion, nor were they expecting to, and neither of them reported seeing a ship that day.  Commander Crowley, on the S-28 however, reported seeing a periscope around 10:45 am, and another (or the same one) at 2:38 pm that afternoon. S-28 never tried to identify that submarine as friend or foe and neither did the other (Japanese submarines were likely in the area.)  Both also recorded hearing underwater explosions between 2:36 pm and 10:31 pm on 31 July.  Both boats assumed that what they were hearing was the bombardment of Kiska Island.

After her transmission on 30 July, Grunion was never heard from again, and she was considered lost in August of that year, though the military, not hearing of any submarine attacks in the area and knowing of no mines, had no idea what happened.

Following the war, the Japanese records showed no anti-submarine attacks in that area around that date either, leaving the military to assume that Grunion may have been the victim of a mechanical failure or an unknown minefield.

But the sons of Commander Abele never gave up looking for their father, but they were faced with a huge problem:  that area of the ocean is large and treacherous.  Even during the summer, the weather may not hold.  S-28’s reports showed days of thick fog or storms when they couldn’t get a bearing.  it is also deep and full of reefs and shallow places.

Through an amazing lucky chance, a map to the final attack of the Grunion and her fate was discovered, and the Abele brothers set out to search for her remains based on the accounts of men who saw her final battle from the deck of her intended victim.  Published in the 60’s in a little known Japanese magazine, the map lead them almost straight to her, and over two seasons searching, once with sonar, once with an ROV, the Grunion finally came to light. (I’m truncating a lot of the story here, and will post a far better place to read the full story).

She’s been blown apart and rests almost ten times deeper than Flier.  Her bow is gone, and she imploded as she descended.  There is some evidence that she slid down the mountainside that she rests on.

The wreck is so deep there is no natural light down there. This artist used the photos and video brought back from the site to create this painting of what the Grunion looks like today. From ussgrunion.com

Perhaps, all those years ago, those underwater explosions that Crowley heard aboard S-28 was the Grunion’s dying breath.  Perhaps not.  But either way, it is interesting that Crowley was sent to the same area Grunion reported suffering a severe anti-submarine attack, and later, both the Grunion and the Flier, his future boat, would be found through the dogged determination of those left behind.

Grunion's periscope, photographed from above. From ussgrunion.com

S-28 was also lost during the course of the war near Hawaii.  Perhaps she will be the next one to come to light?


The Official Website of the USS Grunion, containing the story of her location, confirmation and photos of the wreckage, as well as theories as to what happened to her.

NavSource.org pages on the Grunion, containing many images and maps about Grunion

On Eternal Patrol’s website about Grunion, with photos of her crew.

Sailors, rest your oars.

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