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-41. 3
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 thumbnail below marks these coordinates.
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 Seawolf. 4
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 On Eternal Patrol. Seventeen U. S. Army personnel who were being transported by the Seawolf were also lost.
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 Combined Fleet.
4. Jones, David and Peter Noonan, op. cit., p. 218-219.
5. Beach, Edward L., Submarine!, p. 101.
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).