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V-4 Class Submarine
Argonaut Class Submarine
2,710 Tons (standard)
3,046 Tons (full load)
385' x 33' 9.5" x 16' 1/4"
8 x 21" torpedo tubes
with 20 torpedoes
2 x 6" deck gun
USN August 26, 1942
Built by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Maine. Laid down May 1, 1925 as V-4 as a V-4 class submarine. Launched November 10, 1927. Commissioned April 2, 1928 in the U.S. Navy (USN) under the command of Lieutenant Commander W.M. Quigley.
Assigned to Submarine Division 12 based at Newport, Rhode Island. Underwent trials during January to February 1929 off Provincetown, Massachusetts. On a trial dive, she submerged to a depth of 318', the greatest depth an American submarine had ever reached at the time. On February 26, 1929, V-4 was assigned to Submarine Division 20 (SubDiv 20) and proceeded to San Diego for exercises and cruises off the west coast.
On February 19, 1931 renamed USS Argonaut and designated as a Argonaut Class Submarine. On July 1, 1931 designated submarine, minelayer 1 (SM-1). On June 30, 1932 arrived at Pearl Harbor and assigned to SubDiv 7. She carried out mine laying operations, patrol duty, and training. During October 1934 and again in May 1939, Argonaut took part in joint Army-Navy exercises off Hawaii.
During 1939, Argonaut became the flagship of Submarine Squadron 4 (SubRon 4) commanded by Captain Freeland A. Daubin. USS Argonaut was never officially designated SS-166, but that hull number was reserved for her and a photo shows the submarine occasionally displayed the number. During April 1941 returned to the west coast for exercises with the Pacific Fleet.
On November 28, 1941 under the command of Stephen G. Barchet departs Pearl Harbor on a patrol off Midway when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941 after sunset when the submarine surfaced, the crew heard naval gunfire off Midway. She submerged and made a sonar approach, the first wartime approach on the enemy, but the pair of Japanese destroyers bombarding Midway had withdrawn before the submarine could make an attack.
A week later, Argonaut made contact with another force of Japanese destroyers, but Barchet decided not to attack. On January 22, 1942, returned to Pearl Harbor then to Mare Island for conversion to a troop transport submarine. The two aft mine laying tubes were removed and replaced with torpedo tubes.
USS Argonaut and USS Nautilus (SS-168) were selected to transport Marine Raiders for the "Makin Raid" against Makin Island. On August 8, 1942 at Pearl Harbor the submarines embarked U.S. Marines from the 2nd Raider Battalion, Company A and Company B. then departs for Makin and arriving August 16, 1942. On August 17, 1942 at 3:30am the submarines surfaced and the Marines used rubber rafts to land on Makin. This was the first U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) operation launched from submarines. By midnight on August 18, 1942, the Japanese garrison of about 85 men was wiped out and surviving Marines returned to the submarines then departed for Pearl Harbor arriving August 26, 1942.
On September 22, 1942 redesignated transport submarine 1 (APS-1). Departed for Brisbane. During December 1942, departed Brisbane commanded by Lieutenant Commander John R. Pierce to patrol the area between New Britain and Bougainville, south of St. George's Channel. On January 2, 1943 "Argonaut" sank a Japanese gunboat Ebon Maru in the Bismarck Sea.
On January 10, 1943, while operating between New Britain and Bougainville, Argonaut spotted a convoy of five cargo ships escorted by three destroyers Maikaze, Isokaze, and Hamakaze that departed Lae bound for Rabaul. Argonaut fired a torpedo that exploded and the escorting destroyers dropped depth charges. When the submarine's bow broke the surface, it was hit by gunfire and sank off the southern coast of New Britain. One hundred and five men went down with the submarine.
Overhead, a B-25 Mitchell returning from a bombing mission was flying in the vicinity and witnessed the attack on Argonaut. A crewman on board the plane saw one destroyer hit by a torpedo, and the destroyers promptly counterattack. Argonaut's bow suddenly broke the water at an unusual angle. It was apparent that a depth charge had severely damaged the submarine. The destroyers continued circling Argonaut and firing shells into her.
On the basis of the report by the B-25 crew that witnessed the attack, Argonaut was credited with damaging a Japanese destroyer. Japanese records noted a depth charge attack followed by gun fire that "destroyed the top of the sub". None of the Japanese ships were damaged. Possibly, the torpedo explosion observed was a premature detonation.
Officially, stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on February 26 1943.
During World War II, Argonaut earned two battle stars. Her unofficial designation SS-166 was never allocate to another submarine to honor the missing submarine and her crew.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on January 11, 1944. Each crew member earned the Purple Heart, posthumously. All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
Commanding Officer (C. O.) John R. Pierce earned the Navy Cross and was promoted to the rank of Commander, posthumously. He also has a memorial marker at Saint Anne's Cemetery in Annapolis, MD.
Gordon Bowker (son of Gordon A. Bowker)
"My father died aboard the Argonaut on January 10th, 1943"
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) - Argonaut I (SF-7)
Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) - Argonaut (SS 166) list of crew MIA January 10, 1943
NavSource - V-4 (SF-7) USS Argonaut (SM-1 / APS-1 / SS-166)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John R. Pierce
FindAGrave - CDR John Reeves Pierce (tablets of the missing photo)
FindAGrave - CDR John Reeves Pierce (memorial marker)
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Gordon A. Bowker
FindAGrave - Lt Gordon Albert Bowker (photo, tablets of the missing photo)
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