On this day in 1944, a 1525-ton Gato-class submarine was destroyed, but nobody knew what happened until a week later. The sub was named for the robalo – a warm-water sport fish that resembles a large pike.
The USS Robalo had been in commission approximately a year at the time of her loss. The state-of-the-art vessel was built in Wisconsin and launched in May 1943; it was then floated down the Mississippi and out to the Pacific Ocean. The Robalo was commissioned in late July, with its first mission beginning at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and terminating at Fremantle, Australia. On this patrol, she hunted for Japanese ships west of the Philippines, where she damaged a large freighter.
In April 1944, the sub’s second patrol left from Australia to patrol the South China Sea near Indochina. Under the command of Manning M. Kimmel, the Robalo damaged a 7,500-ton tanker on this patrol.
On June 22nd, the sub was deployed again, this time to patrol the area around the Natuna Islands.
She was scheduled to arrive at her next stop about July 6 and remain there for nearly a month. On July 2nd, the Robalo made radio contact to report she’d sighted a Fuso-class Japanese battleship east of Borneo; it was escorted by two destroyers and had air cover.
That was the last message ever received from the sub. When she didn’t return from patrol, she was presumed lost.
A month later, an American prisoner found a hand-written note outside a prison window. The soldier was on a work detail inside Puerto Prineessa, a POW camp on Palawan Island in the Philippines. The American gave the note to another POW, H. D. Hough, Yeoman Second Class. Two days later, Hough was able to pass it to Trinidad Mendosa, wife of guerilla leader Dr. Mendosa.
From the note, Dr. Mendosa learned the Robalo sunk two miles off the western coast of the island on July 26th. The sub had exploded – probably from hitting an enemy mine – and only four of the eighty-one crewmembers survived. These four swam ashore and made their way through the jungle until they were discovered northwest of the POW Camp, where Japanese Military Police arrested them for guerilla activities. About two weeks after the note was discovered, all four of the Robalo’s survivors were put aboard a Japanese destroyer; they were never heard from again.
Several years ago, the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II wanted to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in submarine warfare, including 3,623 crewmen and 52 lost submarines. Each state was asked to “adopt” one lost submarine to memorialize, and North Dakota’s was the USS Robalo.
Jim Brenan, a retired Fargo businessman, headed the North Dakota effort. The submariner enlisted the help of several local businesses, and footings were poured for a 3,700-pound granite slab in Lindenwood Park in south Fargo. The names of the Robalo’s crewmembers are engraved on one side, and a brief history of the Robalo is on the other side.
Phase two of the project added another granite slab listing the names of all North Dakotans who served aboard submarines in World War II. Benches surrounding the memorial are engraved with the names of three prominent North Dakota Navy veterans, including: Commander Harold (Hal) Wright of Antler; Captain Joseph Enright of Bismark; and Lieutenant Commander Verne L. Skjonsby of Hickson. The memorial was dedicated last Saturday
.Sources: DeVine, Terry. “USS Robalo submarine memorial completed.” The Forum. September 18, 2004.
“US Naval Ships History: Robalo SS-273.” Navyhistory.com. http://www.historycentral.com/navy/Submarine/robalo.html
“USS Robalo SS-273 Memorial Dedication.” www.tristateveterans.com.
Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm