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USS Argonaut (SS-166)

USS Argonaut (SS-166) patch

The USS Argonaut (SS-166) was a V-4 (Argonaut)-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the USS Argonaut is a relative of the octopus - sometimes called the paper nautilus - which propels itself underwater by expelling a jet of water. The name Argonaut may also have been inspired by the submarine of that name built in 1897 by Simon Lake which was the first submarine to navigate extensively in the open sea. Ultimately, the name is derived from the band of fifty heroes in Greek legend who sailed with Jason in the ship Argo to retrieve the Golden Fleece. 1

The radio call sign of the USS Argonaut was NAN-ITEM-CHARLIE-TARE.

At the end of 1942, the Argonaut's base of operations was changed from Pearl Harbor to Brisbane, where plans called for using her to perform Spyron missions for General MacArthur. The Argonaut was the fleet's largest submarine. She had originally been built primarily for mine laying. In September 1942, she was converted into a troop transport capable of accommodating 120 men and her hull classification symbol was changed from SM-1 (Submarine Minelayer) to APS-1 (Transport Submarine). The USS Tang's captain, Commander Richard H. O'Kane, who served four years aboard the Argonaut, said of her fighting capacity, "If a fleet boat were stripped of one battery, two engines, six torpedo tubes, and could use no more than 15 degrees of rudder, she would still have greater torpedo attack and evasion ability than Argonaut." 2

On November 24, 1942, the Argonaut, captained by Lieutenant Commander John R. Pierce, sailed from Pearl Harbor for her transfer to Task Force 42 at Brisbane. On December 9, 1942, she topped off at the Allied military supply and support base, naval harbor, and airfield on Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides archipelago. From there the Task Force 42 commander, Captain James Fife, ordered the Argonaut to patrol the southern approaches to Rabaul and be on the lookout for a Japanese convoy consisting of five freighters escorted by destroyers moving north from Lae to Rabaul. On January 10, 1943, the Argonaut spotted the convoy southeast of New Britain. A Japanese seaplane detected the submerged submarine and dropped two anti-submarine bombs. The IJN destroyer Maikaze then moved in and dropped depth charges. Soon the bow of the submarine broached in what seemed to be a vain attempt to surface. The Maikaze and the IJN destroyer Isokaze pounded the injured submarine with battery fire relentlessly. The Argonaut slipped below the waves, never to be seen again, at 05° 40' S, 152° 02' E.  By pure coincidence, a U. S. Army aircraft, returning to its base with empty bomb racks, was flying overhead and witnessed these events. 3

The Navy Department issued the following press release regarding the Argonaut's loss:

Navy Department Communiqué 288, February 21, 1943

1. The U. S. submarine Argonaut has failed to return from patrol operations and must be presumed to be lost.  The next of kin of personnel in the Argonaut have been so informed.

A list of the men lost with Argonaut is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.

The Argonaut earned two battle stars for her World War II service. The Argonaut was not scored by JANAC or Alden-McDonald. Her SORG score is one vessel damaged for 1,200 tons. 4

Patrol Data


1. See Argonaut in Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

2. Jones, David and Peter Noonan, U. S. Subs Down Under: Brisbane, 1942-1945, p. 102-103; O'Kane, Richard H., Wahoo: The Patrols of America's Most Famous World War II Submarine, p. 116.

3. Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 41, p. 56; United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 31; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Argonaut (SS-166), "USS Argonaut - Report of passage Pearl to Espiritu Santos [sic.] New Hebrides"; Nevitt, Allyn D., "IJN Isokaze: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet; Nevitt, Allyn D., "IJN Maikaze: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet.

4. Alden, John D., and Craig R. McDonald, United States and Allied Submarine Successes in the Pacific and Far East During World War II, Fourth Edition, see USS Argonaut (SS-166), Attack No. 519; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, data collected by the Submarine Operations Research Group (SORG) in the report "Results of U. S. Submarine War Patrols Listed Alphabetically by Name of Submarine"; Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Argonaut (SS-166).