Oct. 4, 2008 Commander, Submarine Forces Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC), Rear Adm. Douglas McAneny announced October 2 that a sunken vessel off the coast of the Aleutian Islands is in fact the World War II submarine USS Grunion (SS 216).
The submarine Grunion arrived at Pearl Harbor on June 20, 1942. The vessel completed pre-patrol training before departing on its first war patrol June 30. Grunion's commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Abele, was ordered to proceed to the Aleutian Islands and patrol westward from Attu on routes between the Aleutians and the Japanese Empire. On July 10, Grunion was reassigned to the area north of Kiska. Over the next 20 days, the submarine reported firing on an enemy destroyer, sinking three destroyer-type vessels, and attacking unidentified enemy ships near Kiska.
Grunion's last transmission was received on July 30, 1942. The submarine reported heavy antisubmarine activity at the entrance to Kiska, and that it had 10 torpedoes remaining forward. On the same day, Grunion was directed to return to Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base. There was no contact or sighting of the submarine after July 30, and on August 16, Grunion was reported lost.
"I am honored to announce that, with records and information provided by the Abele family and assistance from the Naval Historical Center, USS Grunion has been located," said McAneny. "We are very grateful to the family of Grunion's Commanding Officer Lt. Cmdr. Mannert L. Abele for providing the underwater video footage and pictures that allowed us to make this determination. We also appreciate the efforts of the USS Cod Submarine Memorial for their assistance in this matter. We hope this announcement will help to give closure to the families of the 70 crewmen of Grunion."
Abele was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for heroism. A destroyer, USS Mannert L. Abele (DD 733), was commissioned in his honor, and was later lost in action off Okinawa in 1945. Japanese anti-submarine attack data recorded no attack in the Aleutian area at the time of Grunion's disappearance, so the submarine's fate remained an unsolved mystery for more than 60 years.
After discovering information on the internet in 2002 that helped pinpoint USS Grunion's possible location, the sons of Grunion's commanding officer, Bruce, Brad, and John Abele, began working on a plan to find the submarine. In August 2006, a team of side scan sonar experts hired by the brothers located a target near Kiska almost a mile below the ocean's surface. A second expedition in August 2007 using a high definition camera on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) yielded video footage and high resolution photos of the wreckage of a U.S. fleet submarine.
"This discovery has come about through a stream of seemingly improbable events; it's like we won the lottery 10 times in a row," said Bruce Abele, eldest son of Grunion's commanding officer. "It is so dramatic to see the underwater photo and be certain it was in fact Grunion; not only is this announcement important for the families of the crew members, it's also important for the Navy and the country."
The Abele brothers then contacted the USS Cod Submarine Memorial for assistance in identifying the wreckage. The vessel is lying at a depth of about 3,200 feet. Very cold water and lack of significant currents has preserved much of the wreckage.
Dr. John Fakan, director of the USS Cod Submarine Memorial, remarked about the importance of having an unmodified example in USS Cod, a fellow Gato-class submarine, in identifying the wreckage of USS Grunion.
"USS Grunion and USS Cod shared the same blueprints," he said. "It is very gratifying for me and my crew to help with the identification of the submarine."
With the information provided by the Abele family and the USS Cod Submarine Memorial, COMSUBPAC and the Naval Historical Center examined the evidence and historical records and determined that the submarine found at the reported position could only be USS Grunion.
"The synergy of our group working together with the Navy for the common cause has been a wonderful group effort," Bruce Abele said. "The teamwork combined with everyone's compassion and wisdom has resulted in our success."
According to Bruce's brother John Abele, those responsible for contributing to this discovery included historians and engineers from the United States, Australia, Israel and Japan. Of particular note was the involvement of Japanese naval architect Yutaka Iwasaki, who provided information critical to pinpointing the location of the submarine.
Bruce and John's brother, retired Lt. Brad Abele, who recently passed away, also played a significant role in the find. As his brother John explained, "Brad's experience as a Naval aviator helped a great deal by helping us to plot the strategy for the discovery."
Unfortunately, the cause of Grunion's sinking remains a mystery. No matter what the cause, the end result was the loss of all hands. As the Naval Historical Center noted, "no amount of analysis or speculation will change or alter the fact that families lost fathers, husbands, uncles and brothers… the Navy and the nation will always be grateful for their service and their sacrifice."
Former Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz once said, "When I assumed command of the Pacific Fleet on 31 December 1941 our submarines were already operating against the enemy, the only units of the Fleet that could come to grips with the Japanese for months to come. It was to the Submarine Force that I looked to carry the load until our great industrial activity could produce the weapons we so sorely needed to carry the war to the enemy. It is to the everlasting honor and glory of our submarine personnel that they never failed us in our days of great peril."
By the end of World War II, submarines had made more than 1,600 war patrols. Pacific Fleet submarines like Grunion accounted for more than half of all enemy shipping sunk during the war. The cost of this success was heavy: 52 U.S. Pacific Fleet submarines were lost, and more than 3,500 submariners remain on "eternal patrol."
A representative of the submarine force will speak on behalf of the U.S. Navy at a memorial service in Cleveland, Ohio, Oct. 11. The service, hosted by the USS Cod Memorial, will honor the 70 crewmembers killed when USS Grunion was sunk near the Aleutian Islands on or about July 30, 1942.
"To provide ourselves and the families this closure, it's icing on the cake," said John Abele. "The memorial service is a symbolic event; we've discovered family we didn't know we had. Not only is this an honor for all of us, it increases the feeling of community we've been able to achieve."
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