In June 2019, Tim Taylor and his team went in search of a U.S. submarine, that once disappeared under mysterious and tragic circumstances. A remote-controlled underwater vehicle served them as an aid. When the machine drove through the depth, it didn’t work as it should.
Taylor then brought the vehicle back to the surface and looked at the data it had recorded. Then he discovers two strange inconsistencies that prompted him to send another probe down. And what the device recorded left his entire team speechless. We will reveal the secret of the lost submarine and its crew on the following pages.
1. The mission
The submarine that researchers and engineers were looking for was the U.S.S. Grayback, also known as S.S.-208. The salvage operation was carried out on behalf of the “Lost 52” project, which is dedicated to the search for the 52 submarines of the USA, that disappeared in World War II. The U.S. Navy had already reported the grayback missing in late March 1944.
On January 28, 1944, the Grayback set out from Pearl Harbor. It was her tenth mission of its kind, and it should be the last. However, before the submarine disappeared into the depths of the ocean, it sent a message to the base on February 24. It reported that it sunk two Japanese freighters and hit two others.
2. A last radio message
The submarine made another report on February 25, in which its crew reported that they had seriously damaged the Asama Maru liner. The Japanese used it as a troop carrier for military service. The Nanpo Maru tanker was also sunk by the submarine. As a result of these attacks, the grayback only had two torpedoes left and had to be phased out to supply the Midway Atoll in the North Pacific.
However, the February 25 radio message was the last to be heard from the Grayback. Although the naval commanders had expected the submarine to land in Midway Atoll on March 7, 1944, there was no sign of her that day. What happened?
3. How it all started
The small amount of remaining torpedoes to defend was worrying. Even more alarming was that the grayback still hadn’t appeared three weeks later. The authorities had no choice but to declare the submarine and its 80-strong crew missing at sea. They did so on March 30, 1944.
We’ll come back to the secret of the Grayback’s disappearance soon, but let’s interrupt the story for now. It makes sense to learn a little more about the background of this U.S. Navy submarine. The story of the submarine began on April 3, 1940, when the shipbuilders in Groton, Connecticut’s Electric Boat Company, laid the keel.
4. The company
The project was in good hands since the Electric Boat Company’s skilled workers had been building submarines since 1899. The first specimen the company had built was indeed the very first submarine in the U.S. Navy. The U.S.S. Holland was put into operation in 1900. At the time of the First World War, the Electric Boat Company and the associated shipyards built 85 submarines for the U.S. Navy and the British Royal Navy.
During World War II, Electric Boat created another 74 submarines – including the Grayback. It was a Tambor-class ship, of which 12 were built. Seven copies were then destroyed during the war. Read on the following pages why these details are important for the story.
5. Impressive dimensions
The Tambor-class submarines were removed from military service in 1945. The Grayback was of course one of those submarines that never made it to the end of the war and disappeared before that. When the grayback was finally completed, it was just over 90 meters and displaced 2,410 tons when immersed.
At its widest point, it measured just over 8 meters while her maximum surface speed at about 20 knots lay. She was able to sail at almost nine knots underwater. At lower speed, the submarine could remain underwater for up to 48 hours and its range was almost 20,000 km. What do you estimate how many crew members were officially approved?
6. The crew
In addition, the Grayback’s two propellers were powered by four electric motors, which in turn were operated by a quartet of diesel engines. Their official garrison was 54 soldiers and six officers. In fact, as we found out, there were 80 men on board when the submarine disappeared in 1944.
The Grayback was also well equipped, with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes – six at the bow and four at the stern. Additional armament was provided by a 50-caliber machine gun and cannons, all of which were mounted on the deck. These were designed to defend against aerial attacks, although they could also be used to attack enemy ships. In the end, could the grayback no longer defend itself adequately?
7. The maiden voyage
About ten months after the Electric Boat Company started construction, the Grayback became on January 31, 1941, officially launched by Rear Admiral Wilson Brown’s wife. The submarine was then put into service with the U.S. Navy on June 30. It was used by the United States in World War II for only about five months.
After commissioning, the Grayback, under the command of Lieutenant Willard A. Saunders, embarked on its first trip in Long Island Sound. This was of course an opportunity to test the submarine’s systems and give the crew the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the ship.
8. Off to the Pacific
Since the submarine was up to the task, it finally went on patrol in the Chesapeake Bay and the Caribbean in September 1941. After further maintenance at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on the Maine coast, the Grayback headed for Pearl Harbor in February 1942. At that point, the United States was clearly part of the conflict.
It was getting serious for the boat and its crew. On February 15, the submarine set out on its first war patrol. It made its way into the Pacific and drove along the coasts of the island of Guam, which had attacked Japan in December 1941. At that time, nobody knew what fate the grayback would suffer …
9. A long journey
The grayback also traveled near the Saipan coast, which was also Japanese territory at the time. During this patrol, the boat spent four days playing a cat-and-mouse game with a Japanese submarine. In this battle, the enemy fired two torpedoes at the grayback. Fortunately, the submarine got away unscathed.
However, after escaping the attention of the Japanese submarine, Grayback managed to sink her first ship: a 3,291-ton cargo ship. In contrast, the Grayback’s second patrol was a relatively uneventful affair. A Western Australian port should be the base for their remaining service. At least that’s how it was wished …
10. Enemy ships
The next two Grayback patrols in the South China Sea were affected by Axis patrol boats, moonlit nights, and hard-to-navigate seas. There she encountered an enemy submarine and some merchant ships. On December 7, 1942, her fifth service began when she left Australia.
At Christmas 1942 the Grayback appeared, caught four landing craft and sank them all. Four days later, an enemy submarine fired torpedoes at the American ship, which the Grayback crew successfully avoided. The beginning of 1943 was similarly eventful when the US submarine attacked the I-18 ship of the Imperial Japanese Navy. The days of the grayback were now numbered.
11. Daring rescue operation
During this fifth tour, the grayback also carried out a daring rescue operation. Six Americans who had boarded a Martin B-26 Marauder bomber crashed stranded in a bay in the Solomon Islands. Two of the submarine’s men therefore went ashore after dark and found the soldiers.
The following night, the two submarine drivers successfully brought the six survivors back to the Grayback. The captain of the boat, Commander Edward C. Stephan, helps the Navy Cross for this action together with a U.S. Silver Star. Army. The submarine continued its mission and later torpedoed several Japanese ships before finally being damaged by an enemy destroyer itself.
12. A bitter setback
A hatch on the Grayback’s hull was damaged in the attack and the resulting leak forced her to return to Brisbane Harbor. Unfortunately, the submarine’s next patrol in February 1943 did not result in any successful attacks, which was partly due to a newly equipped but non-functioning radar.
In any event, the Grayback managed to survive on their seventh tour, which began in Brisbane on April 25, 1943. During this voyage, she came across a Japanese convoy, hit the merchant ship Yodogawa Maru with two torpedoes and sank it. A few days later, the US ship torpedoed an enemy destroyer, doing great damage. How long was this grayback streak going to last?
12. Strategy « Wolf Pack »
It wasn’t the last American victory either. The following day, the Grayback sank another cargo ship, the England Maru, and hit two more. After these triumphs, it was time to go to Pearl Harbor for a major overhaul. On September 12, 1943, the Grayback was back in Pearl Harbor and ready for another Pacific mission.
Now, two weeks after returning to Pearl Harbor, the submarine set out for the Midway Atoll, together with the U.S.S. Shad On the Midway Atoll, the U.S.S. Cero, whereby the three ships formed a so-called « wolf pack ». This strategy of combining submarines as joint attack troops had proven very successful with German submarines.
13. A celebrated commander
However, the new strategy was effective. Together, the three submarines were responsible for the sinking of 38,000 tons of Japanese ships and damage to another 3,300 tons. After all torpedoes had been used up, the trio returned to Midway Atoll and arrived there on November 10, 1943. After the success of this mission, Moore was the second of the Grayback’s captains to receive a naval cross.
On December 2, 1943, the Grayback left Pearl Harbor for the East China Sea. During this ninth patrol, the submarine fired its entire torpedo supply in five attacks, sinking four Japanese ships, before returning to Pearl Harbor. She would never see this port again afterward…
14. The commander
After a stopover of just over three weeks in Pearl Harbor, the Grayback finally set out on its tenth mission on January 28, 1944. And it turned out to be her last. The last radio contact with the base was on February 25th. After that, you heard nothing of the submarine.
On March 30, the Navy officially declared her missing. On this last mission, the Grayback single-handedly sank an alarming 21,594 tons of Japanese sea vehicles. It was the third such trip she had taken with Moore at the helm. But was Chief Commanding Officer Moore ultimately responsible for the disappearance?
15. Wrong translation
However, it would take many decades to learn what had happened to the Grayback and its 80-strong crew. The U.S. Navy originally believed that it had sunk about 100 miles southeast of the Japanese island of Okinawa. However, as it turned out later, this presumption was based on data that contained a crucial error.
The information the Navy had relied on came from records made by the Japanese. However, it turned out that a single-digit had been incorrectly transcribed when the corresponding document was translated. As a result, the grayback was actually far from the place that had been adopted over the years.
16. Project « Lost 52 »
It wasn’t until 2018 when the American Tim Taylor decided to re-examine the grayback’s disappearance. Taylor is the founder of the Lost 52 Project, which is working to find the remains of the 52 submarines that disappeared without a trace during World War II.
The “Lost 52” project began with a successful search for the US submarine R-12, which was missing in 1943 along with 42 crew members. All in all, the Lost 52 project aims to locate all of the U.S. submarines sunk during the war. To determine Navy. It’s a big job indeed, but over the past decade, Taylor and his crews have come across five submarines, the exact whereabouts of which were previously unknown.
17. Many other submarines
In particular, Taylor wants to uncover the fate of these sunken submarines for posterity and to give certainty to the family members of the lost sailors. In addition to locating the ship, “Lost 52” is working on extensive investigations of the wreckage found, collecting artifacts and providing material for educational purposes.
In addition to the R-12 and the Grayback, the Lost 52 project also discovered two other submarines from World War II. The U.S.S. Grunion was found off the Alaskan coast while the U.S.S. S-28 was in Hawaiian waters. Overall, the efforts of Taylor and his team were rewarded with remarkable success. But what had happened to the grayback?
18. Just a little mistake
Now we come back to Taylor’s work on finding the grayback. In search of the submarine, the ocean researcher contacted the Japanese researcher Yutaka Iwasaki and asked him to search the Sasebo base files. These were created by the Japanese Imperial Navy during World War II.
The records there included daily reports from Naha on the island of Okinawa, where an air force station of the Japanese Navy was located. Iwasaki went to work, whereupon he discovered the crucial mistake. This mistake had been made in the transcribed version of a report. This was radioed from Naha to Sasebo on February 27, 1944, which was only a few days after the Grayback last reported to the base.
19. Insightful report
The corresponding Japanese report described an attack by a Nakajima B5N bomber launched from an aircraft carrier. The Nakajima B5N was a Japanese torpedo bomber. This particular example, which flew on February 27, had apparently dropped a £ 500 bomb on a submarine that was moving over the waves.
The report also described how the bomb hit the submarine just behind the control tower. After that, the ship had blown up and sank quickly, with no apparent survivors.
In Japanese war files, he found coordination from a location more than 100 miles from the suspected location.
20. Finally a success
With this new, accurate information, Taylor believed that there was now a realistic chance of locating the grayback wreck. And surprisingly, the Lost 52 team actually found the lost submarine, the hull of which was almost completely in one piece even after several decades. However, this discovery caused mixed feelings among divers and researchers.
The discovery was also sobering because the divers had also found 80 missing men. Of course there were others for whom this discovery was a significant event. It was the relatives of the submarine crew who lost their lives on board the Grayback.
21. A second grayback
One of the people who was deeply affected by the news that the remains of the grayback had been discovered was Gloria Hurney. Her uncle Raymond Parks had served as an electrician onboard the submarine. She could find inner peace through the discovery of the Grayback.
Kathy Taylor is another relative of one of the people who died on the Grayback. John Patrick King was both her uncle and her godfather. The loss of the grayback did not mean the end of his legacy. A second grayback submarine was put into service in July 1957. That was 14 years after the first boat sank.