USS Archerfish and her sixty thieves

This deprecation of individual freedom was objectionable to me. I am convinced now, as I was then, that man is an end because he is a child of God. Man is not made for the state; the state is made for man. To deprive man of freedom is to relegate him to the status of a thing, rather than elevate him to the status of a person. Man must never be treated as means to the end of the state; but always as an end within himself.” Dr. M.L. King Jr.

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USS Archerfish was a Balao class fleet submarine that served during and after World War II.  This photograph of her was taken in June 1945.

She is famous for sinking the largest aircraft carrier ever launched by Japan (and the biggest of any World War II combatant), the Shinano, while the latter was on her maiden voyage.  Shinano is shown below during sea trials in Tokyo Bay in 1944, shortly before she was sunk.

Shinano was originally designed and laid down to be the third Yamato class battleship, but was converted to a super-large aircraft carrier after the Japanese lost four carriers at the Battle of Midway in 1942.  She displaced approximately 72,000 tons, more than twice as much as a contemporary US Essex class fleet carrier.  She remains the largest warship ever sunk by a submarine.

After serving as a training submarine through the 1950’s, USS Archerfish was reclassified as an auxiliary submarine, tasked with measuring the earth’s gravitational variations for the benefit of the guidance systems of intercontinental ballistic missiles.  The last decade of her life was spent on this task.  The US Navy insisted that because she spent years away from any home port, she had to be crewed by bachelors only.  Needless to say, this led to some of the wildest parties in the Submarine Service when Archerfish pulled into some exotic foreign harbor.  She developed quite a reputation as the “bachelor party submarine”, and competition to join her crew was reportedly intense.

The fun began even before she started her surveying career.  When she was assigned to the task, she was badly in need of a full dockyard overhaul;  but there was no budget to provide one, and since she was no longer a combat vessel (her guns and torpedoes having been removed), it was difficult to justify diverting scarce funds from fighting submarines for her benefit.  Accordingly, she was allocated minimal funds, and told to do the best job she could using her own crew and resources at the quayside, because no dockyard could be spared.

That was a mistake of gigantic proportions by the US Navy bureaucracy.  Keen to get down to work, and knowing the fun that awaited them, Archerfish’s crew proceeded to demonstrate the fine old arts of scrounging, cadging, wheedling, repurposing, misappropriating, and just plain stealing what they needed, to an extent seldom, if ever, equalled by subsequent ships.  In their book “Gallant Lady:  A Biography of the USS Archerfish“, authors Ken Henry and Don Keith (both former crew members) devote an entire chapter to the chaos that ensued.

More information, at Bayou Renaissance Man