Saturday, October 3, 2015


USS Lionfish, SS-298, Balao-class fleet submarine.
The Lionfish, another New England native out of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard up in Kittery, Maine, is an example of a Balao-class fleet submarine, of which 120 were built. Lionfish is thus a member of the most numerous submarine class ever used by the Navy. The Balaos were an improved version of the earlier Gato-class fleet submarines.

The Lionfish was built by the Cramp Shipbuilding Company out of Philadelphia at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, Maine. She was laid down on 15th December 1942 and launched on 7 November 1943. She was sponsored by May Phillips Train (wife of Rear Admiral Harold C. Train, mother of Admiral Harold D. Train II and grandmother of Rear Admiral Elizabeth C. Train. Wow, lot of admirals in that family!)

Her first captain was Lieutenant Commander Edward D. Spruance, son of Admiral Raymond Spruance. (For whom an entire class of destroyers were named, the lead ship in the class was USS Spruance, DD-963. There is also an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named for the admiral, DDG-111. The latter is another New Englander, built at Bath Iron Works up in Maine. Bath built is best built, so they say.)

Lionfish was commissioned on 1 November 1944, decommissioned the first time on 16 January 1946 then recommissioned on 31 January 1951. She was decommissioned for the last time on 15 December 1953 then struck from the Naval Register  on 20 December 1971. She joined the fleet at Battleship Cove on 30 August 1972. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

Here are some of the boat's* vital statistics:
  • Displacement: 1,526 long tons surfaced, 2,424 long tons submerged
  • Length: 311 ft 6 in
  • Beam: 27 ft 3 in
  • Draft: 16 ft 10 in maximum
  • Propulsion: 4 × Fairbanks-Morse Model 38D8-⅛ 9-cylinder opposed piston diesel engines driving electrical generators, 2 × 126-cell Sargo batteries, 4 × high-speed General Electric electric motors with reduction gears driving two propellers
  • The diesel engines provided 5,400 shaft horsepower (shp) surfaced and the electric motors 2,740 shp submerged
  • Speed: 20.25 knots (23.30 mph) surfaced and 8.75 knots (10.07 mph) submerged
  • Range: 11,000 nautical miles (13,000 miles) surfaced at 10 knots (12 mph)
  • Submerged endurance on battery power alone: 48 hours at 2 knots (2.3 mph) submerged
  • She could carry enough fuel and supplies to spend 75 days on patrol.
  • Test depth: 400 ft
  • Complement: 10 officers, 70–71 enlisted
  • Armament: 10 × 21-inch torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes could be carried (10 would be loaded in the tubes, which could be reloaded at sea.
  • Deck armament: 1 × 5-inch / 25 caliber deck gun, 1 x Bofors 40 mm and 1 x Oerlikon 20 mm cannon W
The only thing Lionfish has attacked lately was me. I think the old girl was mad because Murphy kept playing with switches. He triggered the dive alarm in my ear, then I had a head butting contest with some doo-dad hanging over the plotting table. I can tell you this, Lionfish is a lot tougher than my head! (It's all better now, for those who were wondering...)

Now for some pictures!

Looking towards the bow, standing in the conning tower looking past the Bofors gun mount. The torpedo loading hatch can be seen and it's where the tourists (such as Murph and I) gain access to the interior.
Looking at Lionfish from the flight deck of the Joey P. The person aft of the conning tower provides an idea of how large the Lionfish is. Aft of the conning tower is the 5-inch gun mount.
Looking at the stern of Lionfish, tied up alongside Hiddensee.

After coming aboard at the stern, this is the view looking forward. Those rails are for the tourists. Submarines were not, and still are not, equipped with hand rails.
Port-side lookout's station. The black thing is where the lookout would stand, scanning the sea with binoculars for targets and threats. The black pipe-looking things were for the lookout to hang onto. The stations (there's another to starboard) were very open so that the sailors could get out and down the hatch forward very quickly if the need arose.
View from the conning tower looking aft past the port-side lookout's station. The stern of the Hiddensee and the stern of USS Massachusetts are visible as are the gangways used to get on board.
Aft torpedo room. No, they didn't have HD TVs back. That orange bit to the right is the nose of a torpedo. No, they are not live torpedoes. I think.
View from the control room looking aft. Note the many gauges and valves. There are many controls on a sub, all of them vital.
Radio room.
Crew's mess, I don't know who owns that cover.** Placing one's cover on a table like that is a big no-no according to The Nuke. I almost committed that sin on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Engine room, looking aft.
I thought I had more pictures, I think I was too busy "ooh-ing and aah-ing" over everything and forgot to take pictures of some of the spaces. That and after smacking my head in the control room I was keeping a weather eye on all the protrusions, levers, controls and various and sundry other items upon which I might injure the cranial unit.

That and I may have still been slightly deaf from Murph's activation of the dive alarm. (I still thought it was hilarious. Especially the look on Murph's face.)

There's more to come, the Hiddensee and Big Mamie. Battleship Cove is an awesome place to visit, especially when the weather is fine, which it was on Sunday, which it isn't now.

Oh well, that's New England. Don't like the current weather, wait a few seconds, it'll change.

* Submarines are always called "boats," never "ships." All surface vessels are known, in the submarine world, as "targets." Thought you'd like to know...

** What we call a "hat," the Naval Service calls a "cover."


  1. Cool pix. I did my senior Middy cruise in USS Odax (SS-484), she was pretty much identical to Lionfish inside; though as a GUPPY IIIA conversion very different in appearance topside. "My" bunk (shared with two others in rotation ) was in the forward torpedo room. Sleeping with a Mark 14 was....interesting.

    1. Lionfish never underwent the GUPPY conversion so she is still pretty much "as built." There are some internal spaces which were modified to make her a museum ship but on the exterior a sailor who was on board during the war would not see any difference.

      I looked her up, USS Odax was the first of the GUPPY conversions and is another New Englander, built in Kittery.

    2. Yup. USS Clamagore (SS-343) at Patriots Point (Just across the Cooper River from Charleston, SC) is a GUPPY IIIA. I almost got my wife into her Control Room to show her where I worked (she had a claustrophobic attack and nearly trampled me getting out). Stunning coincidence #500--Clamagore was the very first submarine I ever set foot in---as a Sea Explorer at USN Summer Camp in Key West Florida.
      Funny about full circles and all.

    3. P.S.: Lionfish is what was called a "Fleet Snorkel"..Basically a WW II Fleet Boat with a snorkel added. More useless information from Steve's trivia tyrove.

    4. I spent a few days down in Charleston, made it over to Patriot's Point to ride the ferry out to Fort Sumter. Was overruled when I suggested a visit to things of more recent historic note would be in order. Next time and there will be a next time. I love that area.

    5. Lionfish had a snorkel? I did not know that.

      Information is anything but useless to a fellow who loves history. As I do.

  2. There is something about a submarine that is more menacing than any other warship. I remember seeing the US Ohio coming up Hood Canal to Bangor. Scary.

    1. Concur. I've seen attack boats coming into Norfolk and there's something about them that is ominous.

      A missile boat on the other hand is a special kind of scary. They're big and they carry world-ending ordnance. Something out of a nightmare.

  3. Nice pics! It's really amazing how many old submarines we have laying around considering how greatly this country disliked U-boats. We even have one here in MetroParkCentralis and one day I'll go aboard. It's somewhat humbling to walk around Pearl Harbor museum and see how many of our submarines remain on eternal patrol.

    1. At the submarine base in Groton they have a similar display, honoring those who are on eternal patrol. Never fails to bring a tear to my eye.

      Thanks Cap'n.

  4. She's a rare boat, having her deck gun aft of the conning tower, but truth be told, that is where your better skippers WANTED the deck gun. Not forward.

    In the Torpedo room photo... there are actually SIX tubes, not just the four you can see. Tubes 5 and 6 are below the deck plates which must be pulled up in order to load and access the tubes.

    1. That's the aft torpedo room, only four tubes, in the forward torpedo room (which I neglected to take a picture of) there are indeed six tubes, two beneath the deck plates as you indicated,

      I did think it odd that the deck gun was aft. In reality I would think that that's a better place for it.

  5. I got to tour an Nuke Attack Sub while going through Joint Staff School at Norfolk. As big as it was compared to the WWII boats, I felt claustrophobic and was glad to get off.

    1. Not a lot of room to begin with, then put a pilot in there, a fellow used to the wide open skies?

      I see your point.

  6. And that is a BIG diesel boat... :-)

  7. Do you guys seriously call it a hat? I never cease to be amazed... Or maybe that's dazed? Anyway, on to a plethora of fourth-grader questions:

    In the first image, what's that round drum with the swing-away hatch attached to the aft starboard corner of the conning tower? Five inch ready store?

    In the aft torpedo room there's some kind of a device sitting on the skid (?) just in front of the roller; wood and metal with a pin on one end and a pulley on the other. What it are?

    And finally, are the torpedo tubes really made of bronze?

    Great post and lots of fun. :)

    1. As regards the term "hat" - in reality that is a generic term, the Air Force doesn't use the word "cover" in regards to what is on one's head. We tend to use a specific term, flight cap, ball cap, helmet, bus driver or "wheel" hat. I used the word "hat" for the many civilians who visit here.

      Your second question, to paraphrase what a Middie might say, "I have no idea but I'll look into it."

      Ditto in regards to your third question.

      As for what the torpedo tubes are made of, I doubt it's bronze, I would think brass, but in actuality I'll revert to the standard Middie answer of "I'll look into it."

      Geez you ask a lot of questions...


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