USS Batfish

Mark Green
Mark Green

I will start by admitting that I have a touch of claustrophobia. Enclosed spaces are not my cup of tea. So, when we included the USS Batfish in our family vacation schedule in 1990, I very quickly discovered that it was a very good thing that I had not served in the submarine service. That is just a tad more coziness with my fellow human beings than I would want to have to endure.

The Batfish was a Balao-class submarine. It was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Maine, in 1943. In case you are wondering, the batfish is a species of angelfish that is found off the coast of Peru. (This proves that even ugly animals can have boats named after them.) It carried a full crew of 78 sailors and officers, although I frankly do not know where it put them all.

From December 1943 to August 1945, Batfish completed seven war patrols in the Philippine and South China seas. She is credited with having sunk nine Japanese vessels. The largest she received official credit for was the Hidaka Maru at 5486 tons, which was also the first vessel she sunk.

The brightest star on Batfish’s service record, however, is the fact that on her sixth patrol she sank three Japanese submarines in four days. The Japanese subs were equipped with radar, which helped them locate enemy vessels, but also made them vulnerable to attack. The Batfish was able to locate them by searching for their radar emissions.

Following World War II, the Batfish was sent to Mare Island Naval Shipyard for repairs. She was decommissioned in 1946 and became a training vessel for the Pacific Reserve Fleet.

With the outbreak of the Korean War, the boat was recommissioned and sent to the Atlantic Ocean via the Panama Canal, where she spent the rest of her active life as a training vessel along the eastern seaboard. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry in 1969.

At that point, some Oklahoma submarine veterans who had seen the USS Drum museum in Mobile, Ala., had a desire to create a similar site near Muskogee, Okla. After a lengthy process, they were able to get permission to purchase the boat. Secretary of the Navy John Chaffee approved the transaction and congressional approval was obtained in November 1971.

The folks in Muskogee have done an excellent job with their museum. It is just east of the Muskogee Turnpike, not too far off Interstate-40. If you have children who need to learn some real-life facts about World War II naval combat, I highly recommend it.

Just imagine being in the cramped, confined quarters of this sub while it is being bombarded with depth charges. The sub will have been rigged for silent running, which means that all the exhaust fans will have been turned off. The humidity inside the sub will be 100%, to the point that the moisture may be dripping off the ceiling and breathing will not be overly easy.

In the meantime, the depth charges are going off from moment to moment, causing the hull to creak with the force of them. Among the many things for which I am profoundly thankful is that I never had to go through that.