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USS Seawolf (SS-197)

USS Seawolf (SS-197) patch

The USS Seawolf (SS-197) was a Seadragon-class World War II era submarine. Only four boats of this class were built: USS Seadragon (SS-194), USS Sealion (SS-195), USS Searaven (SS-196), and USS Seawolf (SS-197). In their outward appearance they were almost identical to the Sargo-class boats, however they had a different engine arrangement and all-electric drive. 1

The namesake of the USS Seawolf is the Atlantic wolffish (Anarhichas lupus), also known as the seawolf, Atlantic catfish, ocean catfish, wolf eel (the common name for its Pacific relative), or sea cat. It is a marine fish, the largest of the wolffish family (Anarhichadidae). They are commonly sighted throughout Asia.

The radio call sign of the USS Seawolf was NAN-EASY-LOVE-WILLIAM.

On September 21, 1944, captained by Lieutenant Commander Albert M. Bontier, the Seawolf left Brisbane on her fifteenth and final war patrol. She arrived at the Manus Island submarine base on September 29, 1944, where she embarked a seventeen-man army reconnaissance party and ten tons of supplies. After topping off her fuel, she sailed the same day to land them on Samar Island in the Philippines, north of General Douglas MacArthur's planned invasion site on Leyte Island. 2

On October 3, 1944, at 0756 hours, the Seawolf exchanged recognition signals by radar with the USS Narwhal (SS-167). Both boats were in a safety lane in which American surface forces were prohibited from attacking any submarine unless it was positively identified as an enemy. At 0807 hours, 35 miles east of Morotai Island, the commanding officer of the Japanese submarine RO-41 fired his last four torpedoes at two American escort carriers, the USS St. Lo (CVE-63) and the USS Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70). The torpedoes missed both escort carriers. However, the destroyer escort USS Shelton (DE-407), while turning to evade one of the oncoming torpedoes, was hit on the starboard screw by a second torpedo, which caused severe damage and flooding. The destroyer escort USS Rowell (DE-403) came alongside and removed the crew, after counterattacking the RO-41 unsuccessfully with depth charges. The Shelton was taken under tow, but eventually capsized and sank. Three hours later, one of the St. Lo's aircraft sighted a submarine in the safety lane and dropped two bombs and dye marked its position as the boat submerged. The destroyer escort USS Rowell (DE-403) got to the scene and detected the submarine on sonar. The sonar operator reported his equipment was receiving signals consisting of long dots and dashes from the submarine. The Rowell's commander dismissed these as an attempt to jam his sonar and pressed on with firing Mark 10 "hedgehog" projector mortars. Following a second barrage of twenty-four projectiles, the Rowell reported, "Three explosions heard. Two large boils [bubbles] observed off port beam. Debris observed in the boils." Four submarines were in the safety lane at the time of these events. Urgent calls from the surface forces to the submarines to report their positions brought responses from three of them, but there was only silence from the Seawolf. At that point it became obvious that the submarine the Rowell had sunk was the Seawolf and not the RO-413

The attack against the Seawolf by the Rowell occurred in the vicinity of 2° 31' 60.000" N, 129° 18' 0.000" E. This location is off the east coast of Morotai Island, which is located in the Halmahera group of eastern Indonesia's Maluku Islands (Moluccas). The orange marker in the map below marks these coordinates.

USS Seawolf resting place

On October 5, 1944, an inquiry into the incident was held at Manus Island. It was found that the Rowell had sunk the Seawolf. The Rowell's captain, Commander Harry A. Barnard, Jr., was censured for making insufficient efforts to identify his target, for dismissing the sound signals, and for attacking the Seawolf4

Ned Beach wrote that the Seawolf tragedy was due to "...a lack of the rudiments of common sense." He also penned the following poignant visualization of the Seawolf's final moments: 5

And so, alone and friendless, unable to defend herself, frantically striving to make her identity known to her attacker, the old Wolf came to the end of the trail. Who can know what terror her crew must have tasted, when it became plain to them that the American destroyer escort above them, specially built and trained to sink German submarines, was determined to sink them also? Who can appreciate their desperation when they realized that the genius of their own countrymen had, by a monstrous miscast of the dice, been pitted against them?

And who can visualize the hopeless, futile, unutterable bitterness of the final disaster, when, combined with the shock of the frame-smashing depth charges, came the rapier-like punch of the hedgehogs, piercing Seawolf's stout old hull, starting the hydrant flow of black sea water, and ending forever all hopes of seeing sunlight again. 6

The loss of the Seawolf was made public on December 28, 1944:

Navy Department Communiqué No. 564, December 28, 1944

1. The submarine USS Seawolf is overdue from patrol and presumed lost.

2. Next of kin of casualties have been informed.

She was struck from the Navy list on January 20, 1945.

The Seawolf received thirteen battle stars for World War II service. Her JANAC score is eighteen vessels sunk for 71,609 tons. Her Alden-McDonald score is twenty-seven vessels sunk for 97,035 tons and six vessels damaged for 32,950 tons. Her SORG score is twenty vessels sunk for 109,600 tons and fourteen vessels damaged for 74,100 tons. 7

A list of the personnel lost with Seawolf is maintained at Seventeen U. S. Army personnel who were being transported by the Seawolf were also lost.

Patrol Data and Captains for the USS Seawolf (SS-197)

Patrol Duration
Rank & Name
1 East Luzon 08-Dec-41 to 26-Dec-41 LCDR Frederick B. Warder Manila
2 Special Mission 31-Dec-41 to 09-Jan-42 Same Manila 8
3 Special Mission 16-Jan-42 to 07-Feb-42 Same Port Darwin 9
4 Barrier 15-Feb-42 to 07-Apr-42 Same Java 10
5 Manila Area 12-May-42 to 02-Jul-42 Same Fremantle
6 Celebes 25-Jul-42 to 15-Sep-42 Same Fremantle
7 Davao Gulf 07-Oct-42 to 01-Dec-42 Same Fremantle 11
8 East China
03-Apr-43 to 03-May-43 LCDR Royce L. Gross Pearl 12
9 East China
17-May-43 to 12-Jul-43 same Midway 13
10 East China
14-Aug-43 to 15-Sep-43 Same Pearl
11 East China
05-Oct-43 to 27-Nov-43 Same Pearl
12 East China
22-Dec-43 to 27-Jan-44 Same Pearl
13 Palau 04-Jun-44 to 07-Jul-44 LCDR Richard B. Lynch Pearl 14
14 Special Missions 01-Aug-44 to 23-Aug-44 LCDR Albert M. Bontier Port Darwin 15
15 Special Mission 21-Sep-44 to 03-Oct-44
Same Brisbane

JANAC Score for the USS Seawolf (SS-197)

5 15-Jun-42 Nampo Maru Converted
1,206 14-20N, 120-20E
6 14-Aug-42 Hachigen Maru Passenger-
3,113 5-07N, 119-37E
6 25-Aug-42 Showa Maru Cargo 1,349 P 3-55N, 118-59E
7 02-Nov-42 Gifu Maru Cargo 2,933 6-14N, 126-07E
7 03-Nov-42 Sagami Maru Passenger-
7,189 7-02N, 125-33E
7 08-Nov-42 Keiko Maru Converted
2,929 6-22N, 126-03E
8 15-Apr-43 Kaihei Maru Cargo 4,575 21-06N, 151-45E
8 23-Apr-43 Patrol Boat
No. 39
Old Destroyer 820 e 23-45N, 122-45E
9 20-Jun-43 Shojin Maru Cargo 4,739 24-39N, 118-52E
10 31-Aug-43 Shoto Maru Passenger-
5,254 28-27N, 123-03E
10 31-Aug-43 Kokko Maru Cargo 5,486 28-27N, 123-03E
10 01-Sep-43 Fusei Maru Passenger-
2,256 31-28N, 127-24E
11 29-Oct-43 Wuhu Maru Cargo 3,222 22-30N, 115-25E
11 04-Nov-43 Kaifuku Maru Passenger-
3,177 21-22N, 113-20E
12 10-Jan-44 Asuka Maru Cargo 7,523 27-35N, 127-30E
12 10-Jan-44 Getsuyo Maru Cargo 6,440 27-22N, 127-31E
12 11-Jan-44 Yahiko Maru Cargo 5,747 27-10N, 127-28E
12 14-Jan-44 Yamatsuru Maru Cargo 3,651 28-30N, 133-40E
TOTALS e = estimated
P = probably sunk
  18 vessels 71,609 tons  

Alden-McDonald Score for the USS Seawolf (SS-197)

1 14-Dec-41 Sanyo Maru Converted
4 01-Apr-42 Naka Light Cruiser   5,195
5 15-Jun-42 Nanho Maru Converted
6 14-Aug-42 Hachigen Maru Passenger
6 25-Aug-42 Showa Maru Cargo 1,349  
7 02-Nov-42 Gifu Maru Cargo 2,933  
7 03-Nov-42 Sagami Maru Cargo 9,264  
7 08-Nov-42 Keiko Maru Converted
8 15-Apr-43 Kaihei Maru Cargo 4,575  
8 19-Apr-43 Banshu Maru #5 Converted
Supply Ship
8 20-Apr-43 Kotoku Maru Picket Boat 58  
8 23-Apr-43 P39 Frigate 935  
8 23-Apr-43 Nisshin Maru #2 Tanker 17,579  
8 26-Apr-43 Unknown Sampan 3 75  
9 27-May-43 Unknown Sampan 3 75  
9 20-Jun-43 Shojin Maru Cargo 4,739  
10 31-Aug-43 Kokko Maru Ore Carrier 5,486  
10 31-Aug-43 Shoto Maru Cargo 5,253  
10 31-Aug-43 Sagi Torpedo Boat 4   960
10 01-Sep-43 Durban Maru Cargo   7,163
10 02-Sep-43 Fusei Maru Cargo 2,256  
10 05-Sep-43 Unknown Sampan 3 75  
10 05-Sep-43 Unknown Sampan 3 75  
10 07-Sep-43 Kaio Maru #2 Picket Boat   75
11 29-Oct-43 Wuhu Maru Passenger
11 04-Nov-43 Kaifuku Maru Cargo 3,177  
11 09-Nov-45 Amatsu Maru Tanker   10,567
12 10-Jan-44 Asuka Maru Cargo 7,523  
12 10-Jan-44 Getsuyo Maru Cargo 6,440  
12 11-Jan-44 Yahiko Maru Repair Ship 5,747  
12 14-Jan-44 Yamazuru Maru Tanker 3,651  
12 14-Jan-44 HA-51 Midget
12 16-Jan-44 Tarushima
Cargo 4,865 sh  
  TOTALS 27 vessels sunk
6 vessels damaged
3 = Probable
4 = Possible
sh = Shared credit with
Whale (SS-239)
Tons sunk
Tons damaged

SORG Score for the USS Seawolf (SS-197)

USS Seawolf SORG score report

SORG totals for Seawolf
20 vessels sunk for 109,600 tons
14 vessels damaged for 74,100 tons

Updated Thursday, 25-Dec-2014 16:46:48 EST


1. Alden, John D., The Fleet Submarine in the U. S. Navy: A Design and Construction History, p. 72-73.

2. United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 109-110.

3. Ibid. Also see Jones, David and Peter Noonan, U. S. Subs Down Under: Brisbane, 1942-1945, p. 218-219; Hackett, Bob and Sander Kingsepp, "HIJMS Submarine RO-41: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at (accessed October 3, 2011).

4. Jones, David and Peter Noonan, op. cit., p. 218-219.

5. Beach, Edward L., Submarine!, p. 101.

6. Ibid.

7. 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 Seawolf (SS-197), Attack Nos. 13, 68, 69, 74, 75, 76, 111, 112, 113, 203, 256, 275, 295, 407, 409, 410, 420, 751, 752, 756, 757, 765, 766, 773, 840, 858, 903, 1067, 1068, 1069, 1070, 1071, 1073, 1081, 1082, 1092, 1244, 1263, 1283, 1482, 1483, 1484, 1485, 1500, 1501, 1502, and 1516; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Seawolf (SS-197), 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 Seawolf (SS-197), published online at (accessed September 29, 2011).

8. The Seawolf transported staff to Australia. The patrol ended at Port Darwin.

9. On January 27-28, 1942, the Seawolf delivered to Corregidor 72,585 pounds of ammunition and embarked twenty-five Army-Navy pilots, submarine spare parts, and sixteen torpedoes, for evacuation to Java.

10. The Seawolf ended her fourth war patrol at Fremantle, Australia. Her patrol areas included the Surabaya and Java Sea areas, the southern approaches to the Sunda Strait, the Australian-Sunda traffic lanes, and the waters surrounding Christmas Island.

11. The Seawolf conducted her fourth patrol incidental to her transfer to Submarines Pacific Fleet. She ended the patrol at Pearl Harbor.

12. The Seawolf underwent a complete overhaul at the Mare Island Navy Yard, December 9, 1942 to February 24, 1943. Her eighth war patrol terminated at Midway Island. On January 18, 1943, Lieutenant Commander Royce L. Gross relieved Commander Frederick B. Warder as the commanding officer of the USS Seawolf.

13. The Seawolf ended her ninth patrol at Pearl Harbor on March 13, 1943.

14. After her twelfth war patrol, the Seawolf underwent a major overhaul at Hunters Point. During the interim period, Lieutenant Commander Richard B. Lynch relieved Lieutenant Commander Royce L. Gross. Pursuant to orders, on July 17 to 30, 1944, the Seawolf sailed to Port Darwin for transfer to the Seventh Fleet. On July 30, 1944, Lieutenant Commander Albert M. Bontier relieved Lieutenant Commander Royce L. Gross as the commanding officer of the USS Seawolf. The Seawolf conducted a special photographic reconnaissance mission during her thirteenth war patrol in the Palau area.

15. The Seawolf completed two Spyron missions during her fourteenth patrol. She successfully landed troops and supplies at Tongehatan Point on Tawi-Tawi Island and at Pirata Head on Palawan Island. She ended her fourteenth patrol at Brisbane.