Sunday, January 01, 2006

USS Archerfish is 'sub'-ject of biography


North County Times
November 2004

USS Archerfish during WWII.

Although Ken Henry and Don Keith's book "Gallant Lady" is about a ship, it is a biography of sorts. It follows the life of the Navy submarine USS Archerfish from birth (its launching on May 28, 1943) to death (its destruction on Oct. 17, 1968, as a practice target for another sub).

The book also deals extensively with the three peacetime commissions for oceanographic research that occupied most of the sub's lifetime.

Archerfish had a long career -- 25 years. After the war, it was decommissioned and recommissioned twice, and was useful even on its last day.

During the war, Archerfish carried out seven patrols. The first four were not noteworthy, but the fifth signaled its entry into naval history in a big way: In late 1944, Archerfish torpedoed and sank the huge new aircraft carrier Shinano in Japanese waters.

Displacing 72,000 tons, the Shinano was the largest warship ever sunk by a submarine. It never got to launch a single airplane; it was unfinished when sunk during its transfer from Tokyo Bay to the Inland Sea to escape increasing aerial bombing raids.

When the skipper of the Archerfish, Joseph E. Enright, had been in command of the submarine Dace, he had missed a chance to sink the Japanese carrier Shokaku, which had participated in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Disappointed in himself, Enright took the unusual step of asking to be relieved of his command, and went on shore duty. When he was ready to return to the sea, he was given Archerfish and later scored his historic sinking.

Another irony is that when the Shinano was sunk, naval intelligence had not even known the ship existed; it was initially reluctant to believe that Enright had sunk an aircraft carrier, and refused to credit him with its enormous tonnage.

Archerfish was present in Tokyo Bay for the signing of Japan's surrender in September 1945.

Later, it was used to train sonar operators and torpedo men, and it participated in mock combat exercises with other subs and in monitoring gravity's effects on the trajectories of ballistic missiles.

Since they usually worked during the day, the crewmen of the Archerfish had plenty of opportunity to entertain themselves ashore at night, which earned them a reputation throughout the service for being a wild group. Also around this time, the Archerfish "went Hollywood," serving as a backdrop for the 1959 film "Operation Petticoat."

In 1960, the Archerfish became the tool of long-term hydrographic research in an operation that involved taking magnetic and gravitational readings over vast areas of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The collected data greatly contributed to the Navy's knowledge of the ocean floor in various locales.

Since such work required the Archerfish to be at sea about 65 percent of the time, Navy brass decided that the crew should consist only of bachelors, to minimize family conflicts. The arrangement, unique in Navy annals, worked well.

On Feb. 21, 1968, the Archerfish dived and surfaced for the last -- and a record 5,388th -- time.

Later that year, it served as practice prey for the nuclear-powered submarine USS Snook, which fired three torpedoes at it. Archerfish was split neatly in half and sank. It had lived up to its reputation as a "Gallant Lady."

Henry had served on the Archerfish and the story he helps tell is moving and worthwhile reading.

Know more about the USS Archerfish (SS/AGSS-311).



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