The submarine USS Cachalot (SS-170) was laid down at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in October of 1931, the eighth of nine so-called V-boats to be produced for the United States Navy. The vessel—which was named for the sperm whale—was launched exactly two years later. Just over a month after completion, Cachalot was commissioned into service under the command of Lieutenant Commander Merril Comstock. She was the first submarine to be equipped with Arma Corporation’s Mark I Torpedo Data Computer, which marked a major leap forward in submarine fire control.
After her initial period of shakedowns and additional construction, USS Cachalot was ordered to San Diego, where she became part of Submarine Force, US Fleet. She remained on the West Coast of the United States until 1937, participating in fleet problems and training exercises. Afterward, she sailed to New London, CT for experimental torpedo firing and sonar training. In June, 1939, Cachalot was reassigned to Submarine Force and the Scouting Force stationed at Pearl Harbor.
It was this assignment that would place her at the scene of one of the United States’ most devastating events.
USS Cachalot at Pearl Harbor
When the Japanese attackers flew into Pearl Harbor, USS Cachalot was undergoing overhaul in the Navy Yard. In the chaos of the attack, Cachalot was undamaged and suffered just one injury, which was remarkable considering her mooring just aft of USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), a battleship that came under heavy fire.The wounded sailor survived the attack and the overhaul on Cachalot was expedited so that she could be primed and ready for war in early 1942. By January 12, she was ready to sail on her first patrol, where her first call was at Midway Island for fueling.
Cachalot in the Pacific Theater
Throughout the early months of the War in the Pacific, Cachalot carried out reconnaissance between Wake Island, Eniwetok, Truk, Pohnpei, the Hall Islands, and Namonuito. On March 18, 1942, she arrived back at Pearl Harbor with crucial intelligence on Japanese bases across the Pacific.
During her second war patrol, she was ordered to just off the Japanese home islands, where she fired on a Japanese tanker. Ultimately, Cachalot saw little combat during her first two patrols.
After returning to Pearl Harbor in July of 1942, Cachalot embarked on her final war patrol in September, sailing to the Bering Sea to support operations in the Aleutian Islands.
A New Role for USS Cachalot
At this point of the war, Cachalot started to show wear and tear that made her ill-equipped to continue performing war patrols in the Pacific. Instead, she was given a new assignment as a training ship for the Submarine School at New London. From late 1942 to June, 1945, she remained in New London. Cachalot was decommissioned on October 17, 1945 and sold for scrap in January of 1947.
Despite her short time in action during the war, USS Cachalot was awarded the American Defense Service Medal with “FLEET” clasp along with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three battle stars, American Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.