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USS Capelin (SS-289)

USS Capelin (SS-289) patch

The USS Capelin (SS-289) was a Balao-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the Capelin is a small fish of the smelt family, Mallotus villosus, of coastal North American waters.

On October 30, 1943, the Capelin, captained by Commander Elliott E. Marshall, left Port Darwin on her first war patrol. She was on a special mission to pick up downed aviators from an Army B-24 that went down on Celebes. En route the special mission was canceled and Marshall was ordered to patrol in the Molucca, Flores, and Banda Seas instead. On November 11, 1943, the Capelin spotted a convoy northwest of Ambon Island. Marshall reported sinking two merchant vessels in this convoy. Two escorting destroyers attacked the Capelin with depth charges, but the submarine did not take any damage. The Capelin ended her first patrol at Darwin on November 16, 1943. After undergoing a refit and repairs to a defective conning tower hatch, bow plane, and a malfunctioning radar tube, she got underway for her second war patrol on November 17, 1943, in the same areas as her first patrol. 1

On December 1, 1943, Lieutenant Commander Walter Griffith, captain of the USS Bowfin (SS-287), was returning to Fremantle after a patrol off Indochina.  He sighted the USS Bonefish (SS-223) and the Capelin in the Makassar Strait, and then continued on to Fremantle. Commander Thomas Hogan in the Bonefish was busy tracking a convoy. Later Hogan wrote:

"On December 2, we sighted Capelin ... heading west about 10 miles off the coast [of Celebes]. He was about 5 miles away and dove right away. By sonar I told him who I was, about the convoy, and named him by his nickname: 'Steam.' I told him that since he was in the area I was going to leave what was left of the convoy to him and would continue on to my patrol area. He receipted for the message by sonar. I left and did not see him again." 2

The findings of fact for the investigation into the loss of the Capelin lists the Bonefish's geographic position as 01° 10' N, 123° 50' E, when Commander Hogan sighted the Capelin to seaward at a range of about five miles. 3

The sonar exchange between Hogan and Marshall was the last anyone saw or heard from the Capelin. Her loss remains an unsolved mystery. All that is known for sure is that she disappeared sometime after her contact with the Bonefish. Possible causes for her loss include an unrecorded enemy attack, an operational mishap, a circular-torpedo run, or contact with an enemy mine. The repairs the Capelin underwent at Port Darwin are characteristic of hull distortion, which could have been caused by hurried construction time that did not allow for sufficient annealing of the boat's all welded hull. There were existing minefields at various locations along the north coast of Celebes where the Capelin was patrolling. Their locations were not known by Marshall. It is possible he could have strayed into one the minefields or hit a floater.

Japanese records indicate that on November 23, 1943, at the geographic position 01° 34' N, 123° 07' E, at 0903 hours, a surfaced submarine was detected by a single Mitsubishi Type 0 observation floatplane of 934th Air Group Detachment based at Gurua (Wasile Bay) and the minelayer Wakatake. This position is off Kaoe Bay, Halmahera. The aircraft dropped two Type 99, 60 kilo antisubmarine bombs. The minelayer Wakatake dropped nineteen depth charges in three separate attacks between 0908 and 0923 hours. The Japanese claimed the last attack produced "black water columns" with oil that contained wood and cork splinters spreading for a radius of 500 meters. Japanese Army aircraft later recovered a life raft in the same area. It is possible that the submarine was the Capelin. She was the only American submarine in the attack area.

On December 9, 1943, the Headquarters, Commander Task Force Seventy-One, attempted to communicate with the Capelin by radio. The communication did not elicit a response from the submarine. She was most likely lost by that time. 5

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

Navy Department Communiqué 510, March 18, 1944

1. The submarines USS Capelin and USS Sculpin are overdue from patrol and must be presumed to be lost.

2. The next of kin of personnel in the Capelin and the Sculpin have been so notified.

The Capelin was awarded one battle star for her service in World War II. She was credited by JANAC with sinking 3,127 tons of Japanese shipping in one vessel. The vessel is the cargo ship Kunitama Maru. It was sunk with torpedoes at the geographic position 02° 40' S, 131° 12' E. Capelin's Alden-McDonald score is the same. Her SORG score is two vessels sunk for 7,400 tons. 5

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


1. Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 501-503.

2. Ibid.

3. Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Capelin (SS-289), "Record of Proceedings of a Board of Investigation convened at the Headquarters of the Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet by order of the Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet to inquire into the circumstances connected with the possible loss of the U.S.S. Capelin on her second war patrol, March 3, 1944."

4. Nevitt, Allyn D., "IJN Wakataka: Tabular Record of Movement,"; Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 42, p. 119.

5. op. cit., "Record of Proceedings of a Board of Investigation convened at the Headquarters of the Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet by order of the Commander Submarines Seventh Fleet to inquire into the circumstances connected with the possible loss of the U.S.S. Capelin on her second war patrol, March 3, 1944"; Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses."

6. 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 Capelin (SS-289), Attack Nos. 1299, 1302, and 1317; 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 Capelin (SS-289).