On Eternal Patrol: USS Barbel lost 4 February 1945

Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2012

<sigh> it seems like no matter my intentions, eventually I get bogged down by sick kids, and constant mommying. Or exhaustion.  I worked 20 hours a week through college, did extracirriculars, worked two jobs every summer.  I thought I was tired then!  It’s nothing compared to active young ones!  I love it, but I now must apologize to the men of USS E-2, USS S-26, USS S-36, USS Scorpion (I), and my readers.  To the subs and your crews, your stories are not forgotten and will be posted (albeit retroactively).  To my readers, I know, I keep apologizing.  One day, I’ll get this right! Thanks for the understanding.

USS Barbel, SS-316, was built and Commissioned April 13, 1944.  She actually commissioned with her sister Razorback (now on display at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum) and beat Razor to the war zone.

She had three successful war patrols under her commissioning officer, Cmdr. Robert A. Keating.  In an era when submarines were so successful they were starting to put themselves out of work, Barbel was a busy hunter.  During her first patrol she claimed four kills, three on her second patrol, and two on her third patrol, for a wartime total of nine ships in just five months.  Actually, rather impressive.  (The Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) later lowered that total to six, discounting one on the first patrol and two on the second)

During this time, the Allies were storming the Pacific.  The battle of Leyte Gulf happened during Barbel’s second patrol, and by her third patrol, the Allies were already deeply in the Philippines, landing on Mindoro Island.  Soon, the Japanese would be completely cast out of that nation.

Submarine bases were changing and moving too.  When USS Flier was pulling out for her last patrol on 2 August 1944, there were really only three (maybe four, if you counted Midway and no one wanted to R&R there.  No girls, only gooney birds.  Lousy dates!) bases: Pearl Harbor, Freemantle/Perth Australia and Brisbane, Australia.  But so much changed in the few weeks between 12 August when Flier left for eternity and 21 August when Barbel came in from her first run that she actually had R&R on Majuro Atoll with the submarine tender USS Bushnell (AS-15) who set up base that much closer to the front lines only a short time earlier.

After her second patrol, she R&R-ed in Saipan Harbor where she was refitted and sent out on her third war patrol in just seven days.

After her third patrol, she pulled into Fremantle, where her CO was replaced by Cmdr. Conde Raguet, and she headed back into the fray on 5 January 1945.

She was assigned to operate in a wolfpack with submarines USS Perch (II) and USS Galiban,  guarding the western entrances to Balabac Strait.  Since the losses of USS Robalo and USS Flier in or near Balabac Strait  in August 1944, Navy HQ decided to close it to all Allied traffic, but since the Japanese laid the minefields in the first place, they still used it.  So, submarines were assigned to guard either the western or eastern entrances, both which provided lots of entertainment.

According to “The History of USS Barbel” filed by the Navy in 1956, on 3 February, Barbel radioed Galiban as well as Tuna and Blackfin (who must have been in the area) that she was dodging more aerial patrols that usual.  Three times already that day, planes had buzzed overhead, dropping depth charges which she thus far, evaded.  Cmdr. Raguet said he would communicate more the following night (presumably, the 4th of February.)

No one heard from her that night.  Or the next.  On the 6th of February, Tuna sent a message to Barbel, ordering her to surface and rendezvous at a particular place and time on the 7th.  Barbel never answered and never showed.  This was reported to HQ and they listed Barbel as lost on 16 of February, 1945.

After the war, a record surfaced.  On 4 February, a Japanese pilot, spotting an Allied submarine SW of Palawan in the vicinity of Balabac Strait, dropped his two depth charges on her.  One missed.  The other hit the sub’s bridge, and she “plunged under a cloud of fire and spray.”  No other submarines were in that area or recorded an attack that day.  It’s likely this description was the Barbel’s fate.  Her loss date was therefore listed as 4 February 1945.  Her crew of 81 lie with her.

Following her loss, she was honored with a little sister: USS Barbel (II) SS-580.  The lead ship in the first designs of teardrop shaped hulls, Barbel (II) had an…interesting career.  Reading what little is in the public domain about her reminds me why I so admire the men (and now women) who crew these boats, and why I could never do what they do.  Barbel was decommissioned in 1990 and sunk as a target in 2001, but her triplet sister, Blueback (SS-581), is on display at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, if you ever want to see her.

Barbel (I)’s memorial is along the Oregon Trail Veterans Cemetery near Evansville, Wyoming.

To her 81 men, may I say, “Sailor, Rest Your Oar” and thank you, from a grateful citizen.

Photos of USS Barbel’s Memorial

Deck Logs of USS Barbel, including her official history (first three pages)

The Lost crew of USS Barbel

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