The USS Pickerel (SS-177) was a Perch-class World War II era submarine.
The namesake of the USS Pickerel is any of several small species of pike, such as Esox niger (chain pickerel) and E. americanus americanus (redfin pickerel), of eastern North America.
The radio call sign of the USS Pickerel was NAN-ABLE-QUEEN-MIKE.
On March 18, 1943, the Pickerel, captained by Lieutenant Commander Augustus H. Alston, Jr., sailed from Pearl Harbor on her seventh and final war patrol. On March 22, 1943, she stopped at Midway Island to refuel, and then headed to her assigned patrol area along the eastern coast of northern Honshu. She was never heard from again and was listed as missing in action on May 12, 1943. 1
The public announcement was made on August 15, 1943:
Navy Department Communiqué No. 458, August 15, 1943
1. The U. S. Submarine Pickerel has failed to return from patrol operations and must be presumed to be lost. The next of kin of personnel in the Pickerel have been so informed.
The Pickerel was struck from the Navy List on August 19, 1943. She was the first submarine lost in the Central Pacific area.
The Pickerel was possibly lost on April 3, 1943, off the eastern coast of northern Honshu. At 0020 hours that day, Pickerel had sunk the 460-ton Japanese submarine chaser Ch 13 at 40° 03′ N, 141° 58 ′E. All hands were lost with the Ch 13. Later that day, in the afternoon, a Japanese patrol plane from Ominato spotted an oil patch on the sea near the Shiranuka Lighthouse. The Japanese reckoned the submarine that had sunk the Ch 13 earlier that day had subsequently been damaged by a mine, resulting in the oil patch. The patrol plane summoned the IJN Minelayer Shirakami, the submarine chaser Bunzan Maru, and additional aircraft to the spot. A total of 53 depth charges and 23 aerial bombs were dropped at the location causing a larger quantity of oil to rise to the surface. No other American submarine was operating in or near the area of the attacks. Both JANAC and John D. Alden credit the Pickerel with sinking the Japanese cargo vessel Fukuei Maru on April 7, 1943, at the geographic position 41° 00' N, 142° 00' E. In addition, Alden also credits Pickerel with damaging the 3,083-ton cargo vessel Shoei Maru on April 4, 1943, at the geographic position 39° 42' N, 142° 05' E. If JANAC and Alden are correct, then the Pickerel was lost due to a different cause. It is also possible that the dates reported by the Japanese are wrong; perhaps the antisubmarine action occurred after the Pickerel damaged the Shoei Maru and sank the Fukuei Maru. 2
According to Wilfred J. Holmes, the Japanese had heavily mined the northeast Honshu area.
"There were two mine lines in her area, however, laid off shore in deep water the previous October, after Guardfish's field day off northeast Honshu. American submarines did not know about these mines, although in deference to the possible existence of such a field they were directed to stay in water deeper than 60 fathoms. These Japanese mines had been laid in 250 fathoms, deeper than any American submarines expected to encounter moored mines, and Pickerel may have run into this field.
"Japanese mine lines were often laid to present a 10 per cent threat; that is, a submarine crossing a single line once had only a 10 per cent chance of hitting a mine, but of course if Pickerel operated very long in the area she may have crossed either or both of these mine lines many times. Moored mines at the end of 250 fathoms of cable, dipped and swung at the end of their long tether in a wholly unpredictable fashion, and might rarely watch at the depth they were set to operate, but even with the probabilities in favor of Pickerel she may well have hit a mine." 3
The bottom line is no one knows for sure what happened to the Pickerel. The reason for her loss remains a mystery.
The Pickerel received three battle stars for World War II service. Her JANAC score is four Japanese vessels sunk for 6,472 tons, including the two vessels sunk on her last patrol. Her Alden-McDonald score is six vessels sunk for 6,592 tons and three vessels damaged for 12,710 tons. The Pickerel's SORG score is three vessels sunk for 16,100 tons and two vessels damaged for 9,100 tons. 4
A list of the personnel lost with the Pickerel is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.
1. United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 44.
2. Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 44, p. 45-46; United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 44, "However, a special notation is made on the Japanese records to the effect that they are inaccurate for the month of April 1943."; and Hackett, Bob, and Sander Kingsepp and Erich Muehlthaler, "IJN Minelayer Shirakami: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet.
3. Holmes, Wilfred J. Undersea Victory: The Influence of Submarine Operations on the War in the Pacific, p. 221-222.
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 Pickerel (SS-177), Attack Nos. 33, 34, 131, 255, 609, 615, 623, 629, 630, 724, 728, and 734; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, Pickerel (SS-177), 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 Pickerel (SS-177).