USS THORNBACK (SS-418)
Thornback (SS-418) was laid down on 5 April 1944 by the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard; launched on 7 July 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Peter K. Fischler;
and commissioned on 13 October 1944,
Comdr. Ernest P. Abrahamson in
Thornback stood out of New London, Conn., on 20 March 1945 bound, via the Panama Canal, for the
Hawaiian Islands. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 25 May and conducted training
in Hawaiian waters prior to getting
underway on 11 June for the western Pacific. As she stood down the Pearl Harbor channel, a formation of LCI's, running down the wrong side of
the channel, forced Thornback to
crowd dangerously near the extreme
edge of the channel. In the process, the submarine damaged her sound dome, necessitating repairs and a two-day delay in departing.
She set sail for Saipan on the 13th, but she was rerouted to Guam. En route to the Marianas, Thornback
conducted an average of four
training dives daily, in conjunction
with battle problems, drills, and emergency surfacing exercises, before
she arrived at Guam on 25 June.
As lead ship of a wolf
pack nicknamed "Abe's Abolishers,"
Thornback stood out to sea on 30 June, bound for the Japanese home islands. By this point in the war, American and British task forces steamed within easy gun range of Japanese coastal targets
with near impunity. Japan's merchant marine and Navy had dwindled in size. Allied submarines and aircraft
had taken an ever increasing toll. In the air, Japan's once vaunted air forces had been struck from the skies. Sweeping
ahead of 3d Fleet Task Forces, the "Abolishers"
made antipicket boat sweeps in the Tokyo-Yokohama area before proceeding to
hunting grounds off the east coast of
Honshu and south of Hokkaido.
Rough seas, strong winds,
and generally poor visibility
prevailed during Thornback's patrol. She sighted a hospital ship on 5 July and let it pass. Six days later, a minor fire in the pump room caused a
temporary shutdown in the number one
air conditioning plant before swift
repairs enabled the ship to continue as
On the 15th, Thornback sighted
Sea Poacher (SS-406), and the
two boats exchanged information on their hunting areas. They also swapped movies, precious commodities for
boosting morale on board the crowded submersibles.
Six days later, Thornback proceeded north to patrol off Erimo Seki, an
area which had recently seen a series of devastating carrier raids by Admiral William F. Halsey's Fast Carrier Task Force
38. The submarine's commanding
officer noted somewhat humorously,
"This area should be about as heavily travelled as the Sahara Desert after the working over it just had. . . ."
His assessment was
correct-only straggling merchantmen
and small patrol craft hugged the barren coasts. On 26 July, at 0320, Thornback
submerged 8,000 yards off Hei Saki. At 0400, the submarine's sound gear picked up the "pinging"
projected by a snooping Japanese
escort ship, and she came to periscope depth to have a look.
into position, Thornback fired one
shot from her stern tubes at 0429 and soon heard a small explosion which stopped the enemy's screws. Almost immediately the submariners picked up new sounds-two more escorts, "pinging" and
coming aggressively closer. After
sizing up the new attackers, Thornback
felt that they were too small to
use a torpedo on-besides, a Japanese
floatplane had begun circling the
area. A rowboat with a few Japanese sailors amidst a pile of flotsam testified
to the fact that the first ship was
no longer there. Satisfied that their quarry had been sunk, the
submarine cleared the area. One of the other
escorts gave up the chase and picked up survivors of her sunken sister.
"All antisubmarine vessels have closed
the beach," Thornback's commander
later recorded, "and seem to be pinging away at the rocks."
Three days later, by periscope, the submarine spotted a 950-ton "sea truck," similar to Sanko
Ma.ru, at 2,000 yards, close
inshore. Unescorted, the Japanese presented
a tempting target for a gun attack; but, no sooner had Thornback's periscope shears and bow broken the surface, than the target slipped into the
misty weather. Not to be daunted, Thornback
followed, playing a cat and
mouse game, and fired five torpedoes. All missed. She later sighted the enemy again, missed with three more torpedoes, and took the "sea
truck" under fire. Despite poor
visibility, Thornback closed to 300
yards and scored numerous hits with the 40-millimeter guns. The target, however, was able to move closer inshore and
escaped in the fog which closed around
her like a shroud.
The submarine lurked on
the surface off Hokkaido on 31 July and again tangled with some of the numerous
Japanese patrol craft. She sighted a
100-foot patrol boat at 500 yards and
closing. Thornback's five-inch deck
gun was trained out, but her crew could not keep their sights on the
attacker through the telescopes and switched
to open sights. Meanwhile, the 40-millimeter gun opened a devastating barrage at the enemy craft as it came steadily on a collision course. These
shells continually hit the escort ship
along the waterline and in the pilot
house, probably killing the occupants on the bridge.
Thornback had passed her target once at 300 yards and came about for a second pass when the forward torpedo room reported sharp noises forward.
Further amplification showed that the
noise was caused by enemy machine gun
bullets striking the submarine's hull.
Resuming the attack, Thornback swung back into action, with visibility
only 300 yards and lessening. Her 40-millimeter
fire continued to maul the Japanese vessel, shooting away one of her masts and leaving her limping shoreward
at only 3 knots. After securing from battle stations,
Thornback passed through an oil slick and noted a mast from the heavily hit patrol craft.
Later on the 31st, Thornback
rendezvoused with Sea Poacher
off Kessennuma and proceeded north
to pick up Angler (SS-240) en
route to a projected shore bombardment mission against Hokkaido. The sight of the
three submarines cruising on the surface moved Thornback's commander to
write: "On this clear and sunny
day, the three ships in perfect column on a flat sea made a beautiful picture tearing along at 18.5 knots."
At 1402 on 1 August, this
part of "Abe's Abolishers" -Thornback, Angler, and Sea
Poacher-made landfall off their target
of Urakawa, Hokkaido. They swung parallel
to the beach with guns manned and ready. Twelve minutes later, slowing to 10 knots, Thornback and her consorts opened fire with 5-inch and
40-millimeter batteries at a range of
4,200 yards. The first few rounds
from Thornback's five-incher went wild, but the crew soon locked onto the range. Firing by
hand after the foot firing plunger broke off, Thornback's gunners
eventually sent 100 rounds of 5-inch shells shoreward,
heavily damaging a factory and a power plant. "The firing took 22
minutes and was of inestimable value to the
entire crew," wrote the submarine's commanding officer. "The training was excellent and the boost to
Thornback set sail for Midway after the shelling of Urakawa, and arrived at the atoll on 8 August.
Seven days later, Japan-hemmed in by
veritable armadas of Allied ships and planes which were able to roam
almost at will and unchalleneged off her
coast and in her skies -surrendered.
Thornback soon returned to the United States, where she was decommissioned at New London on 6 April 1946 and was placed in the Atlantic Reserve
Fleet. Subsequently brought to the
Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, she was
converted and reactivated as a Guppy II-A.
On 2 October 1953, the submarine was recom-missioned, Lt. Comdr. Thomas C. Jones, Jr., in command, and assigned to Submarine Squadron (Sub-Ron) 4.
Shaking down in her new
configuration, the submarine performed a "first" for submarines on 6
November 1954, when she snorkled in
the Mississippi River at New Orleans
from the Industrial Canal to the foot of
Canal Street. With SubRon 4, the ship was based at Key West, Fla., and visited Caribbean ports before
entering the Charleston (S.C.) Naval
Shipyard in February 1956 for
overhaul. Upon completion of this work,
the submarine was deployed to the Mediterranean for a tour with the 6th Fleet before returning to Key West in March 1957. While with SubRon 4, Thornback
participated in operations
supporting the Operational Development
Force, the Fleet Sonar School, and the Fleet
Training Unit at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
On 2 June 1958, Thornback
departed the Caribbean, bound for
Londonderry, Northern Ireland, and operations with the joint Royal Navy-Royal Air Force antisubmarine school. While thus engaged, the
submarine damaged her port propeller
at Derry and became the first
American submarine to be docked at Faslane by the Royal Navy. Thornback returned to the 6th Fleet and her second Mediterranean deployment which
lasted from 2 July to 24 September
For the remainder of the ship's active career, she was based out of Charleston, conducting deployments
to the North Atlantic, the
Mediterranean, and to the Caribbean and operating in a support capacity
as newer submarine types joined the Fleet.
Placed in a reduced-manning status on
14 April 1971, the ship was turned over to the Turkish Navy on 1 July
1971 and renamed Uluc Ali Reis (S-338). Decommissioned from the United States Navy on that same date, she was
later struck from the Navy list on 1
Thornback received one battle star for her World War II service.
[Note: The above USS THORNBACK (SS-418) history may, or may not, contain text provided by crew members of the USS THORNBACK (SS-418), or by other non-crew members, and text from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships]