Built at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. Laid down September 7, 1937. Launched July 27, 1938. Commissioned January 16, 1939. While on her initial shakedown cruise on 23 May 1939, Sculpin was diverted to search and rescue of the sunken submarine USS Squalus.
First War Patrol
Departing Cavite on the night of December 8, 1941, USS Sculpin and USS Seawolf (SS-197) escorted USS Langley and oiler USS Pecos (AO-65) as far as San Bernardino Strait. She then took station in the Philippine Sea north of Luzon on 10 December. On the night of 10 January 1942, she intercepted two ships, made a surface attack, and scored hits on the lead ship. Forced to dive because of gunfire, Sculpin was unable to assess the results of her attack. Japanese records show that American submarines sank three Japanese ships that night; possibly Sculpin should be given credit for eliminating the 3817 ton merchantman Akita Maru. Her first patrol terminated at Surabaya, Java, on January 22, 1942.
Second War Patrol
From January 30 to February 28, was in the Molucca Sea, east of Sulawesi (Celebes). On 4 February off Kendari, Java, she torpedoed a Japanese destroyer, inflicting heavy damage. After the war, Japanese records revealed that, after a submarine attack off Kendari on 4 February, Japanese destroyer Suzukaze had been forced to run aground to avoid being sunk. Three nights later, Sculpin commenced an approach on a Japanese destroyer but was detected and forced to dive. She escaped four hours later after a heavy depth charge attack by her intended victim and five other destroyers. On the night of 17 February, she was detected while making a surface attack on a destroyer and was forced to dive. During the ensuing depth charge attack, she sustained damage to her starboard main controller and starboard shaft. On 28 February, she arrived at Exmouth, Western Australia, for repairs.
Third War Patrol
March 13 to 27 April, departing Fremantle was in the Molucca Sea area. On 28 March, she fired a spread of three fish at a large cargo ship. The torpedoes were last seen running straight for the target, but apparently ran deep and passed under the merchant ship. A similar incident occurred on 1 April in a night attack. Sculpin, like many of her sister submarines in the early days of the Pacific war, was plagued by malfunctions of torpedo guidance systems which caused the "fish" either to take erratic courses or to run deep. Sculpin returned to Fremantle on 27 April.
Fourth War Patrol
May 29 to 17 June, was in the South China Sea. On 8 June, she was unsuccessful in an attack on a cargo ship, again due to torpedo malfunction. A vigorous depth charge attack kept Sculpin down while the cargo ship escaped. On 13 June, near Balabac Strait, she torpedoed a cargo ship which returned fire with her deck gun and commenced to limp away. Turning on two accompanying tankers astern of the cargo ship, Sculpin made an attack but was forced to dive to prevent being rammed by one of the tankers. Surfacing at dusk, Sculpin pursued the cargo ship, but was again driven away by accurate gunfire from the maru. She shifted her attack to a tanker, leaving the ship listing and making heavy smoke. However, no sinking was confirmed. Off Cape Varella, Indochina, early on the morning of 19 June, she torpedoed a cargo ship, making a hit forward of the stack. A heavy secondary explosion was heard, and the damaged vessel was last seen headed for the shore to beach, smoke pouring from her forward hatch. Sculpin returned to Australia on 17 July.
Fifth War Patrol
The waters of the Bismarck Archipelago were the theater of her fifth patrol, 8 September to 26 October. After reconnaissance operations off Thilenius and Montagu harbors, Sculpin commenced her search for Japanese shipping. On 28 September, she scored two hits on a cargo ship, but was forced to dive as a Japanese destroyer raced to the scene. Sculpin was under depth charge attack for three hours, during which she sustained minor damage. On 7 October, she made her first confirmed kill, the 4731-ton transport Naminoue Maru, off New Ireland. Escaping the Japanese escorts' countermeasures, she remained in the general area where, a week later, she intercepted a three-ship convoy in the shipping lane between Rabaul and Kavieng. Waiting until the escorting destroyer had made a patrol sweep to the opposite side of the convoy, Sculpin fired a spread of four torpedoes at the 2000 ton cargo ship Sumoyoshi Maru. While the blazing and sinking maru lay dead in the water, Sculpin made good her escape. Four days later, she inflicted minor damage on the light cruiser Yura, with a hit forward of the bridge, but was driven off by the cruiser’s gunfire.
Six War Patrol
Departing Brisbane on her sixth war patrol, 18 November 1942 to 8 January 1943, Sculpin worked her way past New Britain to the rich hunting grounds off Truk. After escaping a Japanese aerial attack on 11 December, she was stalking a Japanese aircraft carrier on the night of 18 December, when two destroyers attacked. One illuminated Sculpin with floodlights as both commenced heavy fire with deck guns. The submarine went deep and lay silent as the enemy depth charge attack and prolonged sonar search continued. The following night she scored two hits on a tanker, with no sinking confirmed.
Sculpin arrived at Pearl Harbor on 8 January 1943, and steamed east to San Francisco, California, for a three-month overhaul period. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 9 May.
Seventh War Patrol
Departed Hawaii for her seventh war patrol on 24 May and operated off the northwest coast of Honshū. Three days after arriving on station, she made a surface attack on two aircraft carriers with a cruiser escort. Two heavy underwater explosions were heard as the submarine submerged. Postwar examination of Imperial Japanese Navy records revealed that the light carrier Hiyō had been moderately damaged by a torpedo attack in that area on 9 June. On 14 June, she damaged a cargo ship but was forced to dive and run silent to avoid the vigorous countermeasures of the maru’s escorts. On 19 June, she destroyed two sampans by gunfire, leaving them aflame, with decks awash. During the remainder of the patrol, she spotted other possible targets, but they all hugged the shore some running inside the 10 fathom (18 m) line. The patrol terminated at Midway Island on July 4, 1943.
Eighth War Patrol
25 July to 17 September 1943, was off the Chinese coast and Formosa Strait. On 9 August, she torpedoed and sank the cargo/transport Sekko Maru off the coast of Formosa. She evaded ASW patrol craft in Taiwan Strait on 16 August and 17 August. On 21 August, she intercepted an armed cargo ship and fired a spread of three torpedoes which ran "hot, straight, and normal" but did not explode. Sculpin was immediately pounced upon by escorting destroyers and was forced to dive. The cargo ship escaped in the ensuing depth charge attack. A similar torpedo malfunction occurred on 1 September, when the splash of water resulting from the torpedo striking the target’s hull could be seen, but no detonation occurred. The submarine escaped the immediate counterattack of the escorts; and, after reconnaissance of Marcus and returned to Midway.
Ninth War Patrol
Following a brief overhaul period at Pearl Harbor, Sculpin departed Hawaii on November 5, 1943. Ordered to patrol north of Truk, to intercept and attack Japanese forces leaving Truk to oppose the forthcoming invasion of Tarawa. Sculpin and two other submarines were to form a wolf pack to make coordinated attacks on the enemy. Captain John P. Cromwell was on board Sculpin to coordinate the wolf pack operations. After refueling at Johnston on November 7, Sculpin proceeded to her assigned station, arriving November 16.
During the night of November 18, 1943 Sculpin makes radar contact with the Chogei group including Chogei with escorts Kashima plus destroyers Wakatsuki and Yamagumo. On the morning of November 19, Sculpin made a fast run on the surface, but was forced to dive when the escorts zig-zagged toward her. When the convoy changed course, Sculpin surfaced to make another run, but was discovered by the rear guard destroyer only 600 yards away. Crash diving, the submarine escaped the first salvo of depth charges released by Yamagumo. A second string of depth charges knocked out her depth gauge and caused other minor damage. She evaded the destroyer in a rain squall and attempted to come to periscope depth. The damaged depth gauge stuck was stuck at 125', so the submarine broached and was again detected. She immediately submerged and the destroyer attacked with a pattern of 18 depth charges causing considerable damage, including temporary loss of depth control. As a result, Sculpin ran beyond safe depth causing many leaks to develop in the hull. So much water had leaked inside that the submarine was forced to run at high speed to maintain a constant depth and was easy to track by Japanese sonar. The next depth charge attack knocked out Sculpin’s sonar.
Commander Fred Connaway, decided to surface and give the crew a chance for survival. With her decks still awash, Sculpin’s gunners manned the deck guns but were no match for the destroyer’s main battery. A shell hit the conning tower and killed the bridge watch team, including Commander Connaway, and flying fragments killed the gun crew. The senior ship’s officer surviving ordered the submarine to be scuttled. Before he opened the vents, Captain Cromwell decided to go down with the submarine, as he possessed vital information concerning the forthcoming assault on the Gilbert Islands and subsequent operations. For his actions, Cromwell earned the Medal of Honor posthumously.
On November 29, 1943 Cromwell was ordered to activate the wolf pack. When the submarine failed to acknowledge, the message was repeated 48 hours later. Sculpin was presumed lost on December 30, 1943. Officially stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on March 25, 1944. The submarine earned eight battle stars for her service in WWII and the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation.
Fates of the Crew
Forty-two of Sculpin’s crew were picked up by the Japanese destroyer Yamagumo. One badly wounded sailor was thrown back in the sea because of his condition. The survivors were questioned for about ten days at Truk.
Twenty-one POWs were loaded onto an escort carrier bound for Japan. On December 5, 1943 they reached Ofuna POW Camp and were further questioning, then forced to labor in the Ashio copper mines for the remainder of the war.
The other twenty-one were loaded into the hold of escort carrier Chuyo. On December 2, Chuyo was torpedoed and sunk by USS Sailfish (SS-192) and twenty of the POWs perished. One was able to grab hold of the ladder on a passing Japanese destroyer and hauled himself on board. Ironically, Sailfish — at the time named Squalus — was the same submarine that Sculpin had helped to locate and raise some four-and-a-half years before
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August 4, 2020