For many years it was customary to name U.S. submarines for
fish, although this custom no longer exists.
World War II submarines were named for everything that swam, from Albacore
to Whale. The Torsk got
its name from a gadoid fish, allied to the codfish, which is found in the North
Atlantic. The name Torsk is Norwegian
USS Torsk (SS-423) was built at Portsmouth
Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. The
keel was laid on 7 June 1944. The
submarine was launched on 6 September 1944, sponsored by Mrs. Allen B. Reed.
Torsk was placed in commission on 16 December 1944 with Commander
Bafford E. Lewellen, U.S. Navy, as her first commanding officer.
Launching of USS
Torsk 6 September 1944
31 December 1944 she put to sea for the first time. After training off the East Coast, she sailed to Fort
Lauderdale, Florida. Next she
proceeded to Panama and from there to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii where she arrived on
23 March 1945. She sailed for the
Pacific war zone on her first war patrol on 15 April 1945.
assignment on this, her first, patrol was to serve as lifeguard for B-29s making
raids on the Japanese empire. During
this patrol, the Torsk took station off Kii Suido, and later off Honshu.
Part of this time she operated with submarines Sandlance,
Cero, and Guardfish. By that time, naval operations against the Japanese merchant
marine had sunk so many ships that submarines found very few targets. Only
two small ships were contacted, but were not attacked.
After clearing Hawaii, Torsk sailed to Guam for a
short stop. Then she went on to the
Sea of Japan. On 11 August she
rescued seven Japanese seamen whose ship had been sunk by a U.S. plane.
On 12 August she had her first combat action when she fired two torpedoes
at a small freighter. The ship appeared to be damaged, but postwar investigation
failed to show that she sank.
The next day Torsk torpedoed and sank a small cargo
ship, the Kaiho Maru. The
following day, 14 August, she completed her wartime career by sinking two more
small ships, Coast Defense Vessel No. 13 and Coast Defense Vessel No.
47 . This action earned Torsk the distinction of firing the last
torpedo and sinking the last Japanese combatant ships of World War II as the
“Cease fire” order went out to all U.S. forces on 15 August. The combined
tonnage of the three ships sunk on her second patrol was 2,473 tons.
After patrolling off Japan for a few days,
Torsk headed east on 9 September 1945.
She made brief stops in Guam and Hawaii, and on 20 September cleared the
Panama Canal en route to New London, Connecticut. where she arrived on 15
October 1945. For the next ten tears Torsk was assigned to the
Submarine Squadron 8 at the Submarine School in New London, where she trained
officers and enlisted men for submarine duty.
This assignment earned her the title of the “divingest” submarine in
the U.S. Navy as she made dives several times a day in the course of her
In the course of her training duties, Torsk operated
along the entire Atlantic coast of the United States and Canada, as well as the
Caribbean. She operated in the
Mediterranean briefly from 9 September to 14 November 1950, and again from 26
August to 27 November 1952. During these periods, she participated in joint
training exercises with the British, Italian, French, and Turkish navies.
On 6 November 1951 Torsk
returned to the Portsmouth Navy Yard for conversion to a Fleet Snorkel
submarine. The snorkel, developed
by the German Navy, is a long tube that can be extended above the submarine
allowing her to take in fresh air for the diesel engines.
This means she can run submerged on diesel power making greater speed
than if she used the batteries to run her electric motors.
She can also charge her batteries while submerged, thus extending her
time below the surface from approximately 24 hours to several days. As part of
the conversion, she received a streamlined “sail” that contains the snorkel
intake and exhaust masts, as well as the periscopes and various radar and radio
after Fleet Snorkel Conversion
On 1 July 1955 Torsk joined Submarine Squadron Six
based at Norfolk, Virginia where she continued her training activities by
providing services to anti-submarine forces developing new ASW techniques.
In the mid 1950’s, the Regulus Missile system was under
development. Regulus was a jet powered, radio controlled pilotless aircraft that
could carry a conventional or nuclear warhead. It could be carried on surface
ships such as cruisers, and in specially designed hangers aboard submarines.
The submarines would surface to launch the missile from rails on their
main deck. In addition to several submarines outfitted as launch boats,
additional units of the Atlantic and Pacific fleet were selected as guidance
boats for the Regulus system. These boats would be positioned along the flight
path of the Regulus missile, and would control the missile’s flight while it
was in their designated area.
Torsk was one of
the Atlantic submarines assigned to this duty, and entered the Philadelphia
Naval Shipyard in late 1955 for modifications and equipment upgrades to allow
her to control the missiles. She participated in various training exercises over
the next few years, until the Regulus system was discontinued in the early
Beginning on 19 August 1957 Torsk took part in NATO
exercises operating with submarines of the Royal Navy.
In 1959 she took part in the ceremonies marking the opening of the St.
Lawrence Seaway during which time she made an inland cruise through the Great
Lakes to Milwaukee, Chicago, and Buffalo. More
than a hundred thousand visitors had their first look at the submarine during
the trip as they trooped through Torsk’s cramped compartments.
She was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for
operations during the 1960 Lebanon Crisis, operating as a unit of the Sixth
Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. She
took part in the 1962 naval blockade of Cuba established by the United States
during the Russian missile crisis. During
the operation, Torsk sent boarding parties to inspect some Soviet
merchant ships. For this action she
won the Navy Commendation Medal.
During the mid 1960’s, Torsk continued to provide
Anti-Submarine training services to the surface fleet. She also made several
cruises to places such as Ireland in 1965, and the Mediterreanean in 1966.
On 4 March 1968 Torsk , at the ripe old age of 24,
was decommissioned at the Boston Navy Yard and assigned to the U.S. Naval
Reserve as a pierside training submarine at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC.
By that time she had made 11,884 dives, a very high number by today's
standards.. Modern submarines stay down
for as long as 60 days when they dive whereas Torsk has very limited
underwater endurance, and as a training submarine she customarily made several
dives in a day.
On September 26, 1972 she was transferred to the State of Maryland, and on May 1, 1973 Torsk was established as the Maryland Submarine Memorial, and berthed in Baltimore. Today, she is moored in the Inner Harbor along with the Coast Guard Cutter Taney, and the lightship Chesapeake.
Torsk is one of two surviving Tench class Fleet Submarines in the
United States. The other is
USS Requin (SS-481) in Pittsburgh, PA. Several other
submarines of the class were sold to foreign countries, and may (though not likely)
still be in service.