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NavSource Online: Submarine Photo Archive


Contributed by John S. Sandy

Blackfish (SS-221)

Radio Call Sign: November - Alpha - Whiskey - Mike

Gato Class Submarine: Laid down, 1 July 1941, at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT.; Launched, 18 April 1942; Commissioned USS Blackfish (SS-221), 22 July 1942; Decommissioned, 11 May 1946, New London, CT.; Laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet; Placed in service as a Naval Reserve Training Vessel, at St Petersburg, FL., 5 May 1949; Returned 2 February 1954, to New London, CT.; Placed out of service on 19 May 1954; Laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet; Struck from the Naval Register, 1 September 1958; Final Disposition, sold for scrapping, 4 May 1959. Blackfish received eight battle stars for her World War II service.
Partial data submitted by Yves Hubert.

Specifications: Displacement, Surfaced: 1,526 t., Submerged: 2,424 t.; Length 311' 9"; Beam 27' 3"; Draft 15' 3"; Speed, Surfaced 20.25 kts, Submerged 8.75 kts; Complement 6 Officers 54 Enlisted; Operating Depth, 300 ft; Submerged Endurance, 48 hrs at 2 kts; Patrol Endurance 75 days; Cruising Range, 11,000 miles surfaced at 10 kts; Armament, ten 21" torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes, one 3"/50 deck gun, two .50 cal. machine guns, two .30 cal. machine guns; Propulsion, diesel electric reduction gear with four General Motors main generator engines, HP 5400, Fuel Capacity, 97,140 gals., four General Electric main motors, HP 2740, two 126-cell main storage batteries, twin propellers.
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Blackfish28kCommemorative post mark on the occasion of Blackfish's (SS-221) keel laying, 1 July 1941, at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. Courtesy of Jack Treutle.
Blackfish1.70k Mrs. Henry de F. Mel, wife of Captain Henry de F. Mel (SC), USN (Ret) christening the Blackfish (SS-221) 18 April 1942 at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. USN photo # 80-G-5163, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
Blackfish1.50kBlackfish (SS-221), sliding down the launching ways at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. USN photo # 80-G-5162, from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
Blackfish1.20kAgainst a wind caused by her launching, the crew of the Blackfish (SS-221) salute the colors as she is sliding down the launching ways at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. USN photo # 80-G-11702, from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
Blackfish26kCommemorative post mark from the launching of the Blackfish (SS-221), 18 April 1942. Courtesy of Jack Treutle.
Blackfish21kCommemorative post mark from the launching of the Blackfish (SS-221), 18 April 1942. Courtesy of Jack Treutle.
Blackfish1.20k3/4 Bow view of the Blackfish (SS-221) at rest 4 July 1942 at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. USN photo courtesy of ussubvetsofworldwarii.org.
Blackfish18kCommemorative post mark from Blackfish's (SS-221) commissioning, 22 July 1942 at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, CT. Courtesy of Jack Treutle.
Rosneath, Scotland78kTwo of the 6 subs of from Sub Squadron 50:
Barb (SS-220),
Blackfish (SS-221),
Herring (SS-233),
Shad (SS-235),
Gunnel (SS-253), and
Gurnard (SS-254) tied up at Rosneath, Scotland, circa 7 December 1942. The sub tender Beaver (AS-5) is in the background.
USN photo courtesy of jmlavelle.com.
Rosneath, Scotland
98k A 1943 Watercolor by the artist Dwight Clark Shepler entitled "Jerry Hunters, Rosneath, Scotland." portrays the stern view of the sub tender Beaver (AS-5) and 3 of the 6 subs of Sub Squadron 50:
Barb (SS-220),
Blackfish (SS-221),
Herring (SS-233),
Shad (SS-235),
Gunnel (SS-253), and
Gurnard (SS-254).
Painting #87 / 88-199-CK.
Courtesy of the USNHC.
Davison 208k Lt. John F. Davison was in command of the Blackfish (SS-221) from October 1942 to December 1943. He became Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy during the Kennedy administration from 1960 to 1962. Photo & text courtesy of Dave Johnston (USNR).
Blackfish191kOn 19 February 1943, the Blackfish (SS-221), (Lt.Cdr. J.F. Davidson) attacked a section of German Vorpostenboote (auxiliary patrol craft), torpedoed and sank V 408 / Haltenbank (432 GRT) north of Bilbao, Spain in position 4330'N, 0254'W, but is then counterattacked, depth charged and damaged by V 404. Photo courtesy of navypedia.org & graptolite.net
Text courtesy of uboat.net
Blackfish56kOn 16 January 1944, the Blackfish (SS-221),(Lt.Cdr. J.F. Davidson) torpedoed and sank the Japanese troop transport Kaika Maru (2087 GRT) about 275 nautical miles south-west of Truk in position 0350'N, 14841'E. Photo courtesy of wrecksite.eu
Text courtesy of uboat.net
Blackfish800kAdmiral James Fife presenting submarine combat pins to the crew of the Blackfish (SS-221) on 23 December 1943 at Milne Bay.
The boat to starboard is the Redfin (SS-272). The non-drilled out roundover should have been my first clue, along with the non-covered wagon bridge. The photo was apparently taken at Milne Bay, not Brisbane. That's where Blackfish ended that patrol, and that's where Redfin called on her way eventually to Fremantle; her routing orders were changed from Brisbane to Milne Bay partway across the Pacific from the Canal Zone. The smallish off-center bridge strongly suggests a Manitowac boat, and Redfin seems to fit the bill. Other details, like the square cut vertical trailing edge of the lookout platform, the tripod 20mm base, and the four incher forward deck gun also match.
US National Archives photo # 80-G-394429 from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
Photo i.d. & Redfin (SS-272) i.d. text courtesy of Robert Morgan.
Blackfish624kAdmiral James Fife presenting submarine combat pins to the crew of the Blackfish (SS-221) on 23 December 1943.US National Archives photo # 80-G-394430 & 80-G-394431 from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
Blackfish892kAdmiral James Fife presenting submarine combat pins to the crew of the Blackfish (SS-221) on 23 December 1943.US National Archives photo # 80-G-394432 from National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), College Park, Maryland, courtesy of Sean Hert.
Davison 83k Capt. Robert Charles Gillette was a 1939 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. He was renowned both for his exceptional basketball skills -- he is still remembered for his hard-court magic and as the "best story teller on both sides of the Mississippi." He attended Submarine School in New London CT. During World War II, he served as Navigator and Executive Officer of the Lapon (SS-260) for eight war patrols, for which the Laponreceived the Navy Unit Citation for sinking or damaging over 100,000 tons of Japanese shipping. Capt. Gillette received two Silver Stars for his part in that outstanding record. He then became Commanding Officer of the Blackfish (SS-221). While CO, the Blackfish was responsible for the rescue of eight downed aviators during one of their patrols, for which he received a Letter of Commendation. Upon his retirement in 1969, he received the Legion of Merit for his 30 years of naval service. Photo & text courtesy of navy.togetherweserved.com.
Photo added 02/17/14.
221 782k Four page PDF history of the Blackfish (SS-221). USN photo courtesy of Scott Koen & ussnewyork.com.
PDF added 02/17/14.
Blackfish 432k This photo was originally in the "Who Am I?" section for several months.
On the 16th of September 2008 David Johnston wrote the following: The photo cAugust ht my eye due to the flags painted on the fairwater. One of them is German. This will help in identifying the boat.
Only 6 U.S. submarines were credited with sinking German ships during WWII. These are Flounder (SS-251), Besugo (SS-321), Blackfish (SS-221), Shad (SS-235), Gurnard (SS-254) and Herring (SS-233). One of these, Besugo, can be eliminated due to the fact that she is a Balao class boat and the configuration of her fairwater does not match the one in the photo. Herring was lost before the end of the war.
The boat is not Gurnard. The configuration of her fairwater did not match the boat in the photo. We can also rule out Flounder. She finished the war with a SV type radar on it's own mast aft on the cigarette deck. The boat in the photo still has the older SJ radar mast forward of the periscope shears.
That leaves us with Blackfish and Shad. Both boats served with Squadron Fifty in the Atlantic and made European war patrols before transferring to the Pacific. Both sank at least one German ship, although Shad's were small barges and trawlers. The other flag on the conning tower I can't account for, although Shad is said to have damaged a blockade runner in the Bay of Biscay (she might have thought it sank). Shad went on to have an active war record in the Pacific that would account for the Japanese ships claimed on the conning tower. Blackfish was far less successful in the Pacific, and even allowing for a generous overestimation of kills, her war record can not account for the Japanese claims on the conning tower.
The last part of the puzzle is the claim of the rescue of 6 airmen during lifeguard duty. Blackfish rescued 6 army fliers in August 1945. Shad was assigned to lifeguard duty off Marcus Island late in the war, but no mention is made of her picking anyone up. As Mr. Crozier stated in the original caption to the photo, the boat would know if it picked up fliers or not, so this part of the boat's record can not be disputed, and I think is key to identifying the boat.
I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the lady with the torpedo. It may have been some temporary artwork put on the conning tower fairwater to dress up the boat for it's return to the states.

On 22 Sept 2008 Richard McCarthy wrote the following:

My boss has that exact photo and the full history of that photo. In fact he is in that photo, being the one on the upper level in the lookout hole. His name is Richard McCarthy (age 82) and rate was MOMM3 (SS) which is a motor machinist back in WW2. This photo of the Blackfish was taken in August 1945 in Pearl Harbor at sail (pier) 5 just before returning to the states. The conflict with the Japanese flags is attributed to the fact that the Blackfish sank 7 merchant ships and shown on the sail as white with black suns and the 2 warships sunk were flags of the setting sun colors making a total of 9 ships sank.
The photo contains 4 sailors: The top sailor in the lookout hole looking down is Richard McCarthy MOMM3, and he lives in Youngstown, Ohio. The sailor on the left under Richard McCarthy is S.E.Chreist YO1. The sailor in the middle of that row is: Earl Hotskish MOMM2. The sailor on the right as you look at the picture is Jim Hodges, RM2.
USN photo courtesy of Ric Hedman.
Photo i.d. courtesy of Paul Crozier & David Johnston (USNR).
Text courtesy of David Johnston.

View the Blackfish (SS-221)
DANFS history entry located on the Haze Gray & Underway Web Site.
Crew Contact And Reunion Information
U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation
Fleet Reserve Association

Additional Resources and Web Sites of Interest
Ep-21 (1) - Victory At Sea ~ Full Fathom Five - HQ

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