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USS S-36 (SS-141)

USS S-36 (SS-141) patch

USS S-36 (SS-141) was a S1-class World War II era submarine.

On December 30, 1941, the S-36, captained by Lieutenant John R. McKnight, Jr., departed Mariveles harbor for her second and final war patrol. Her orders were to patrol in Philippine waters before heading south to join the Allied forces gathering in the East Indies. On January 1, 1942, she sighted a small transport moored to the seawall at Calapan Harbor, Mindoro Island, fired one torpedo, and sank it. (The sinking of this vessel could not be verified in Japanese records, thus S-36 was never given credit for the kill.) In the days following this attack, S-36 moved southward and began to experience equipment failures that had a negative impact on the submarine's performance. On January 15, 1942, she spotted a Japanese destroyer in the Sulu Sea. Lieutenant McKnight ordered a crash dive, but due to equipment problems, her dive was delayed and the destroyer spotted her. The enemy destroyer dropped seven depth charges which exploded off both quarters of the S-boat. The explosions caused the loss of power control over the bow planes, gyro compass failure, blown fuses on the starboard lighting circuit, and broken lights in the motor room. When she reached 150 feet, her gyro compass was again working and she began turning slowly to starboard. The destroyer was kept astern. After several hours, she heard the last efforts of the destroyer to locate her. She surfaced, cleared the area and began making repairs. On January 17, 1942, she received orders to proceed to Surabaya, Java. She headed for Makassar Strait. 1

The currents in the Makassar Strait are very strong and difficult to predict, making navigation hazardous. In addition, McKnight's charts were imprecise and incomplete. Just before dawn on January 20, 1942, S-36 ran hard aground on Taka Bakang Reef in the Makassar Strait, at the geographic position 04° 58' S, 118° 33' E. The hard hit on the reef holed S-36's hull, flooding the forward battery. McKnight broke radio silence and sent out a plain language call for help to all friendly men-of-war. The message was received by USS Sargo (SS-188) as she was nearing Surabaya. Her captain, Lieutenant Commander Tyrell D. Jacobs, tried unsuccessfully to relay the message to ComSubsAsiatic for five hours. The Sargo then headed for the Makassar Strait to help S-36. Sargo remained surfaced, relaying distress messages to friendly aircraft and surface ships. After Captain John Wilkes acknowledged receipt of the message, Sargo was recalled and a PBY Catalina was dispatched to survey S-36's condition. By radio McKnight told the PBY crew that with assistance he felt he could salvage S-36. The PBY therefore raced to Makassar City and requested assistance from the Dutch authorities, who promptly dispatched the Dutch launch Attla. The launch reached S-36 on January 21 and embarked two officers and twenty-eight men. The remaining crew stayed with S-36 in the hope she could be hauled clear of the reef. But conditions continued to worsen. All efforts to save the submarine were fruitless. McKnight decided to abandon her. The remaining crew rigged S-36 to flood and transferred to the Dutch ship SS Siberote, which took them to Makassar City. All hands reached Surabaya, Java on February 25, 1942, and were reassigned to other duties. 2

S-36 earned one battle star for her World War II service. She was not credited by JANAC or John D. Alden with sinking any enemy vessels. Her SORG score is one vessel sunk for 5,000 tons. 2

Patrol Data & Tonnage Scores


1. Roscoe, Theodore, United States Submarine Operations in World War II, p. 74-75. Also see S-36 in Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

2. Ibid.

3. Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS S-36 (SS-141); 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 S-36 (SS-141), Attack No. 28; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS S-36 (SS-141), 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."