USS S-44 (SS-155) was a S42-class World War II era submarine.
On September 26, 1943, the S-44, captained by Lieutenant Commander Frank E. Brown, departed Attu Island to begin her fifth and final war patrol. Her orders were to patrol off Paramushiro in the Kurile Islands area. She was never heard from again after departing Attu. American code breakers had intercepted Japanese radio communications regarding the sinking of the S-44. Thus, Admiral Lockwood's staff did not have to wait until the end of the war to learn of her loss. However, as was the case with many other double-edged secrets, the information could not be disclosed lest the enemy changed their encryption codes. Lieutenant Commander Brown, who went down with the S-44, was the only American submarine skipper to lose two submarines. He had also been the skipper of USS S-39 (SS-144) when on August 13, 1942, she hit a submerged reef off Rossel Island, began breaking up, and was abandoned. The S-44's loss was made public on February 8, 1944: 1
Navy Department Communiqué No. 504, February 8, 1944
1. The U. S. Submarine Cisco and the U. S. Submarine S-44 are overdue from patrol and must be presumed to be lost.
2. The next of kin of personnel in the Cisco and the S-44 have been so informed.
The details of how the S-44 was sunk became known after two of her crew members were repatriated by the Allies at the end of the war from a Japanese prisoner of war camp. They relayed that on the night of October 7, 1943, the S-44 mistakenly identified a radar contact as a small Japanese merchant ship. Captain Brown ordered battle surface. The target turned out to be what they thought was a Japanese destroyer. It promptly began firing at the S-44 with all deck guns. The submarine was holed below the waterline in the control room and after battery. An S-44 crewman opened the forward torpedo room hatch and waved a white pillowcase as a sign of surrender, but the destroyer continued firing shells until the S-44 slipped below the waves. Only about eight men made it into the forty-degree water struggling to survive. Only two of them were picked up by the destroyer. They were taken first to Paramushiro, then to the prison camp at Ofuna, and then to the copper mines at Ashio, where they worked until the end of the war. 2
Japanese records indicate that on October 8, 1943, at 1830, the kaibokan Ishigaki was escorting the refrigerator ship Koko Maru when, at a position 18.6 nautical miles north by northeast of Araito Island and west of the Kamchatka Peninsula, at the estimated geographic position 50° 25' N, 155° 21' E, a lookout spotted a surfaced enemy submarine off the escort vessel's port bow. The submarine opened fire at the Koko Maru with its four-inch deck gun. At 1832, Ishigaki returned fire with its 4.7-inch bow gun. The kaibokan's first shell hit just below the submarine's conning tower. Blinded by the kaibokan's searchlight, the submarine's gunners were not able to return accurate fire. Ishigaki closed to within 55 yards of the submarine and scored a second hit in her battery section. The kaibokan then commenced firing with all three 4.7-inch guns, scoring three more hits and causing the submarine to sink. About eight crewmen were seen in the water before the submarine sank. Ishigaki picked up two of them. 3
The S-44 received two battle stars for World War II service. Her JANAC score is 17,070 tons of Japanese shipping sunk in three vessels. Her Alden-McDonald score is 16,970 tons sunk in three vessels. Her SORG score is four vessels sunk for 11,600 tons. The S-44 is most remembered for sinking the IJN heavy cruiser Kako. 4
A list of the personnel lost with S-44 is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.
1. Moore, Stephen L., Presumed Lost: The Incredible Ordeal of America's Submarine POWs during the Pacific War, p. 111-122; Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 420.
3. Hackett, Bob and Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Escort Ishigaki: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet; Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 44, p. 51.
4. Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS S-44 (SS-155); 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-44 (SS-155), Attack Nos. 152, 206, 269, and 347; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS S-44 (SS-155), 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."