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USS Pompano (SS-181)

USS Pompano (SS-181) patch


The USS Pompano (SS-181) was a Perch-class World War II era submarine.

The namesake of the USS Pompano is a marine fish of the genus Carangoides, which is native to the southern Atlantic and Gulf coasts of North America.

The radio call sign of the USS Pompano was NAN-EASY-NAN-QUEEN.

On August 20, 1943, the USS Pompano, captained by Lieutenant Commander Willis M. Thomas, left Midway Island on her seventh and last war patrol. She was headed for the northeast coast of Honshu, where she had been ordered to patrol from August 29th until sunset on September 27th. The Pompano was never heard from again after departing Midway. She did not return to Midway on the scheduled date, nor did she respond to numerous radio transmissions. On October 15, 1943, SubPac headquarters reported her as presumed lost in enemy waters. Her loss was made public on January 5, 1944. 1

Navy Department Communiqué No. 495, January 5, 1944

1. The U. S. Submarine Pompano is overdue from patrol and must be presumed to be lost.

2. The next of kin of personnel in the Pompano have been so informed.

The Pompano was struck from the Navy List on January 12, 1944.

According to a memorandum dated October 15, 1943, by ComSubPac Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., although the Pompano was assigned to patrol Area 2, she was informed by dispatch that after September 6, 1943, Area 1 was vacant. Most submarine officers considered Area 1 to be more productive than Area 2, so it is quite likely that the Pompano may have moved into Area 1 when she learned it was vacant and her loss may have occurred in that area. 2

There was no immediate evidence of any enemy antisubmarine attacks during this period in the Pompano's assigned patrol areas. SubPac headquarters reckoned she may have struck a mine, experienced a fatal operational failure, or underwent an unrecorded enemy attack. All that can be said with certainty is that she disappeared sometime after she damaged the Japanese cargo ship Nanking Maru, on September 9, 1943, east of Kuji Bay. According to Wilfred J. Holmes, at that time it was not known that the Japanese were laying anchored mines in that area within the 250-fathom curve. Holmes attributed the losses of the Runner and the Pompano to the new minefields. 3

Another possibility is that she was sunk on September 17, 1943, by a bomb and depth-charge attack in the sea off Cape Shiriyazaki, the northeastern-most point of Honshu, in Higashidōri, Aomori Prefecture, by a Japanese seaplane and surface vessels. On September 17, at 0735 hours, a Japanese floatplane spotted a moving oil slick in the Tsugaru Strait, at bearing 320 from and only two miles off Cape Shiriyazaki. This was seen as evidence of a damaged enemy submarine lurking beneath the surface. The aircraft dropped two depth charges on the oil slick and requested reinforcements from the Ominato Naval District Headquarters. The converted patrol boat Miya Maru and the submarine chaser CH-41 were dispatched to that area, where they were directed to the target by the floatplane. Miya Maru reported the oil slick was at bearing 350 from and six miles off Cape Shiriyazaki and moving eastward. The converted patrol boat made three attacks with depth charges. Following the last one the target stopped and the oil slick was seen to be spreading. At 1050 hours, Miya Maru was joined by converted patrol boats Higashi-Nippon Maru No. 2 and Mizuho Maru. Each vessel made an attack against the target. Next the minelayer Ashizaki arrived from Hakodate, followed by the minelayer Ishizaki from Muroran. Ashizaki made a depth-charge attack at 1340 hours, causing more oil to float to the surface in large quantities. Ishizaki made a depth-charge attack at 1450 hours. After each explosion the oil slick grew larger. It was concluded that a enemy submarine was probably resting on the seabed in an area at bearing 318 from and about three miles off the Shiriyazaki Lighthouse. The attackers believed the submarine had lost motive power. Attempts to locate the target using the fathometer and sonar were unsuccessful. More depth charges were dropped and more gushing oil was seen. At 1750 hours, Higashi-Nippon Maru No. 2 marked the suspected location of the submarine with a buoy. On September 18, the location of the buoy was verified as being at bearing 319 and about 2,900 meters (about 1.8 miles or 3,172 yards) from the Shiriyazaki Lighthouse. Oil kept gushing out from that location during the entire day. Prior to these events, the Pompano could have taken damage in a previous depth-charge attack that caused the telltale oil leak and other serious damages. Captain Thomas could have been searching for an area near the coast where the boat could be scuttled and his crew could make it safely ashore when the Japanese floatplane spotted the moving oil slick. The numerous depth charges dropped during the antisubmarine action on September 17, 1943, probably inflicted additional catastrophic damage. He had no alternative but to head closer to shore, in the hope of reaching water shallow enough to allow his crew to escape. But the the depth charges knocked out Pompano's ability to surface or move. 4

In August 2014, the U.S. Navy investigated a wreck site in the Tsugaru Strait that was possibly the remains of the USS Pompano. Its findings have been published in the document "Field Report: 2014 Search For USS Pompano." It was determined that the wreck was a cargo or fishing vessel constructed after the 1930s. The Navy concluded that the Japanese Ominato Guard did not sink a submarine in that area as stipulated in historical records. Also, the oil slicks reported in the area of the attacks possibly came from this wreck and the depth charging. The Pompano may have been attacked and sunk elsewhere in the Tsugaru Strait or at another location. She may also have been sunk within the 250-fathom curve off northeast Honshu by one of the anchored mines cited by Wilfred J. Holmes (above). 5

There is no conclusive evidence of what happened to the Pompano. The reason for her loss remains a mystery.

The Pompano was credited by JANAC with sinking two enemy merchant vessels during her last patrol: the 5,600-ton cargo vessel Akama Maru, on September 3, 1943, and the 2,958-ton cargo vessel Taiko Maru, on September 25, 1943. However, the JANAC score for the Taiko Maru is disputed by the Alden-McDonald score, which documents that the JANAC geographic position coordinates given for that sinking are in the Sea of Japan, well outside of the Pompano’s assigned patrol area off the northeast coast of Honshu. The Alden-McDonald score also proves that the Taiko Maru was instead sunk by the USS Wahoo on the same date and at the same coordinates, in the Sea of Japan, which was the Wahoo’s assigned patrol area at that time. Therefore the JANAC score for the Pompano is overstated by the amount of the credit given for this vessel. 6

The Pompano received seven battle stars for service in World War II. She was credited incorrectly by JANAC with sinking 21,443 tons of Japanese shipping in five vessels. The correct score should have been 18,185 tons in four vessels. The Alden-McDonald score for the Pompano is eight vessels sunk with a gross tonnage of 22,702 and four vessels damaged for 12,742 tons. The SORG score for the Pompano is six vessels sunk worth 42,000 tons and four vessels damaged with a gross tonnage of 55,300. 6

A list of the personnel lost with Pompano is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.

Also see:

Patrol Data & Tonnage Scores

Pompano Wreck Possibly Found

Cape Shiriyazaki and the Shiriyazaki Lighthouse

Pins & Needles Time For Pompano

Remembering USS Pompano

NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive for USS Pompano (SS-181)

Navy Suspends Search For Pompano

Field Report: 2014 Search For USS Pompano


Footnotes:

1. United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 54-55.

2. Lockwood, Charles A., Jr., Commander Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, memorandum regarding the loss of USS Pompano (SS-181), October 15, 1943, in Submarine war patrol reports on CD, for USS Pompano (SS-181).

3. Ibid.; Also see: Holmes, Wilfred J., Double-Edged Secrets: U. S. Naval Intelligence Operations in the Pacific during World War II, p. 156; 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 Pompano (SS-181), Attack No. 1099.

4. Hackett, Bob and Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Minelayer ISHIZAKI: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet; Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 44, p. 46; Kingsepp, Sander, untitled and undated summary and analysis of events relating to an antisubmarine attack on a possible American submarine, on September 17-18, 1943, off Cape Shiriyazaki, that could have accounted for the Pompano's loss. The information was compiled from records of the Ominato Guard Squadron and is published online at NavSource.

5. Naval History and Heritage Command. "Field Report: 2014 Search For USS Pompano," Washington Navy Yard, 2014.

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 Pompano (SS-181), Attack Nos. 40, 178, 180, 188, 192, 196, 271, 272, 310, 590, 599, 622, 743, 951, 963, 975, 978, 1072, 1076, 1099, and 1155; 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," see USS Pompano (SS-181); Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Pompano (SS-181).