Silent Hunter header

USS S-39 (SS-144)

USS S-39 (SS-144) patch

USS S-39 (SS-144) was a S1-class World War II era submarine.

The S-39 left Brisbane in late July 1942 on her fifth and final war patrol, captained by Lieutenant Commander Frank E. Brown. She had been ordered to patrol north of Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Sea. On August 10, 1942, S-39 had to make an unplanned stop at Townsville harbor at Australia to put her executive officer ashore. He had contracted pneumonia. She then headed for her assigned patrol area. 1

On August 13, 1942, she struck a submerged reef off Rossel Island in the Louisiade Archipelago and began breaking up. The entire crew evacuated S-39 and made it ashore safely. All codebooks and other classified material had been removed or destroyed. On August 16, 1942, they were taken aboard the Australian Minesweeper HMAS Katoomba and brought back to Townsville. All the men were reassigned to other submarines. The S-39's hulk was left on the rocks at Rossel Island to continue breaking up. 2

Lieutenant Commander Brown had decided not to use Katoomba's deck guns to destroy S-39 because he felt confident she would be torn to pieces on the rocks. Back at Brisbane, some on Captain Ralph Waldo Christie's staff, as well as others higher up the chain of command, suggested that Brown be court-martialed for the loss of S-39. However, Christie disagreed, and gave Brown command of USS S-43 (SS-154) instead. Christie also dispatched aircraft to destroy S-39 by bombing her. 3

The S-39 earned two battle stars for her World War II service. The JANAC score for the S-39 credits her with sinking the 6,500-ton Japanese tanker Erimo during her third war patrol. The Alden-McDonald score also credits her with this sinking, however the tonnage score cited is 14,050. The SORG score for the S-39 is two vessels sunk for 10,000 tons. 4

No men were lost in the grounding or while serving on S-39.

Patrol Data & Tonnage Scores


1. Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 300-301.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS S-39 (SS-144); 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-39 (SS-144), Attack Nos. 11 and 87; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS S-39 (SS-144), 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."