The mystery of a lost WWII submarine and its 80 crew members has been unrevealed

Image: Imago / United Archives International

The United States had lost 52 submarines in WWII, and their loss remained a mystery for many decades until a private underwater diver Tim Taylor found the wreck of U.S.S.R-12, a submarine in 2010 that sank offkey west. After this rediscovery, the underwater diver decided to start an ambitious expedition, namely “locating all 52 U.S submarines lost over the course of conflict”.

Till now the Tim Taylor and his team have discovered five submarines of the lost 52 project. In 2019 Tim Taylor, as head of the project, announced in a press release that he and his team had discovered U.S.S. Grayback, a submarine that was lost 75 years ago with its 80 crew members.

1. Tim Taylor and his team:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Wire

Tim Taylor and his team are ambitious to find out about the United States submarines that went missing mysteriously during WWII. The U.S.S. Grayback is one such sub that vanished without leaving any traces behind, with 80 crew members on board.

Taylor was very excited to solve the mystery behind the loss of this vessel, but unfortunately, during the expedition, his underwater vehicles became faulty, and with a heavy heart, Tim had to bring the craft back to the surface. When you looked at the data his vehicle recorded, he found some discrepancies. After some analysis, he spots two inconsistencies in the data, which is enough to give you goosebumps.

2. U.S.S. Grayback Submarine:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Wire

Many people don’t know that the U.S.S. Grayback is also referred to as SS-208. It is a Tambor- class submarine, and it was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the Lake Herring.  The U.S.S. Grayback submarine was launched on 31 January 1940 and commissioned in command of Lieutenant Willard A. Saunders on 30 June 1941.

The SS-208 had a total of 10 war petrol, and its last petrol is considered most successful before it sunk in the depth of the ocean.  The United States Navy declared the Grayback lost in late March 1944, over 75 years ago.

3. A combat patrol from Pearl Harbor:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Wire

If we look at the facts, we will find out that the U.S.S. Grayback has started its tenth patrol that is a combat patrol from Pearl Harbour, on 28 January 1944, and unfortunately, it turned out as its last patrol.

After staying for more than a month under the deep waters of the East China Sea, the submarine sent a message to the base on 24 February.  The message reported that the sub is going to sink the Japanese fighters Toshin Maru and Taikei Maru, along with two other fighters. Note that this was not the last message from the vessel, but it surely was an important one.

4. 25th February, Liner Asama Maru:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

The next day, on 25 February 1944, the U.S.S. Grayback made another report to the base. This time the sub was claiming to done serious damage to the Liner Asama Maru.  The Asama Maru was a civilian ship, but it served the military at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Asama Maru was one of the ships transporting the Imperial Japanese Army’s 1st Division from China to the Philippines.  The submarine also reported that it sunk the tanker Nanpo Maru.

These continuous attacks for two days left the Grayback with only two torpedoes, and it set sail to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific for resupply, but unfortunately, the Craft never reached there.

5. The last Radio Massage:

Image: IMAGO / United Archives

The 25 February was the last radio message that anyone received from the Grayback, and after that, there is a never-ending silence from its side. Finally, when Grayback sends a message that it is heading towards the Midway Atoll for resupply, the navy commander anticipated that the vessel would reach there on 4 March 1944, but it did not.

The U.S. Navy decided to give some more time to the Grayback; maybe it shows up at the Midway Atoll, but three weeks passed, and it still hadn’t appeared.  So on 30 March, the authorities being not left with any other choice, declared Grayback and her crew of 80 as lost at sea. No one knew what had happened to the Grayback.

6. Huge loss to the nation and U.S. Navy:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

Many men lost in the deep sea, leaving their loved ones and the entire nation devastated and clueless about what had happened to them. The United States Navy tried to look for the submarine, but there was no sign of it. The loss of U.S.S. Grayback submarine was a huge loss to the U.S. Navy.

The Grayback and its crew have played a prominent role in World War II battles. The submarine was also one of its kinds, and it was built by the legendary Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut. The Electric Boat Company is famous for many achievements that have helped the United States Navy grow stronger.

7. Electric Boat company:

Image: Imago / Leemage

We called the Electric Boat company legendry because it made the U.S. Navy’s very first submarine “The U.S.S. Holland” in 1900, and it also built the first nuclear submarine “the U.S.S. Nautilus” in 1954. Issac Rice founded this Company in 1899.

At the time of World War I, this Company, along with its associate Shipyard, built 85 submarines and other crafts for United States Navy and British Royal Navy. Then during World War II, it built 74 submarines and other crafts of various classes like Tambor, Mackerel and Gato etc. the Grayback was also built during World war 11, and it belonged to class Tambor.

8. Tambor class Submarine:

Image: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Tambor class vessels were designed and used primarily during World War II. It was one of the successful U.S. submarine fleets that began the war right after their construction.  Twelve vessels were built of this class, out of which seven were destroyed in the war. Six of the class served in the Hawaiian water or central Pacific and one in the Pearl Harbor.

The Tambor class submarine loss is the highest loss of any U.S. submarines class; therefore, the Tambor submarines were taken out of combat service in 1945. Some of the Tambor class submarines are Tambor, Tautog, Thresher, Gar, Grampus and Grayback.

9. Grayback was a colossal Vessel:

Image: Imago / Photo12

The U.S.S. Grayback (S.S. – 208) was enormous in size, and when she was finally completed, her length was 307 feet and 2 inches (93.62m) from stem to stern.  Its displacement was 499 tons at the standard surface and 2410 tons when submerged. Her widest beam is measured 27 feet and 3 inches (8.31 m).

Her maximum speed at the surface was 20 knots, and underwater, she could travel under 9 knots. If she kept her speed around 2 to 3 knots, she could stay submerged for up to 48 hours. The range of Grayback was 12,500 miles.  So it would definitely take a longer time to bring down this beast, yet no one knows what has happened to her.

10. Powerful Sub:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

The Grayback was not just enormous, but it was powerful too. It had two propellers that were driven by four electric motors with reduction gears.  The model of the General Motors’ was 16-248. In addition, a group of four V16 diesel engines was driving the electric generators.  Together, all these made her a powerful vessel of her time.

Additionally, the Grayback submarine had an official crew strength of six officers and 54 enlisted men. But we all know that at the time of its disappearance, it has 80 crew members, and none of them was recovered. But the 80 crew members are not the only thing that disappeared with the craft; there are more to it.

11. Armament capacity:

Image: Imago / KHARBINE-TAPABOR

The Grayback submarine was well-equipped with different deadly armaments. It had ten 21 inches of torpedo tubes, six of which were located at the bow and four at the aft. It also had a 3 inch 50 caliber deck machine gun. Additional armaments included Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm canons.

All these armaments were intended as self defense from an airstrike from the enemy, but they could also be used to attack the enemy’s shipping when the submarine was surfaced. Moreover,  It is so unfortunate that all these deadly weapons couldn’t prevent the Grayback to have such an adverse fate.

12. Sponsorship:

Image: Imago / Arkivi

When the United States started to notice the rising tension between Germans and its opponents and believed that this would lead to a war, it decided to expand its fleet of crafts.

Accordingly, in 1940 the Electric Boat Company started construction of Ships and submarines, tankers and many other crafts. Some ten months after the Company restarted its construction, the Grayback was launched on 31 January 1941 and was commissioned into U.S. Navy on 30 June 1941.

The construction of Grayback was sponsored by Mrs Wilson Brown; she was the rear Admiral Wilson Brown wife. Rear Admiral Wilson Brown was superintendent in the United States Naval Academy.

13. Shakedown cruise:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

After the U.S.S. Grayback was commissioned to the United States Navy; it embarked on her shakedown cruise under the command of Lieutenant Willard A. Saunders. 

She did her shakedown cruise with the Atlantic fleet on Long Island Sound out of Newport, New London and New York City.  The shakedown cruise is an opportunity to test out the submarine system, and it also helps the crew to familiarize themselves with the vessel and its functions.

After successfully completing the shakedown cruise, the sub went on patrol duty on 8 September 1941 in Company with Grampus (SS-207), in the Caribbean Sea and the Chesapeake Bay.

14. First Wartime patrol:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

The Grayback submarine arrived at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine coast on 30 November for some regular maintenance. After the overhaul, she headed for Pearl Harbor in February because the Unites States had finally decided to be part of active conflict. So now the things were getting serious for the Vessel and its crew.

She started her first wartime patrol on 15 February 1942, sailed into the Pacific, and cruised along the coasts of Saipan and the Island of Guam. The Japanese attacked this coast in December 1941. Moreover, The Grayback finished her first wartime patrol on 10 April 1942.

15. Four-day encounter:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

The Grayback sailed in the proximity of the Coast of Saipan, which was at that time the Japanese territory. So the Grayback had a huge risk of being attacked by the Japanese, which actually happened. During the three-week patrol at this territory, the Grayback spent four days in a cat and mouse game with the Japanese submarine.

On the morning of 22, February, the enemy submarine fired two torpedoes on the Grayback, which she successfully douched, but the enemy submarine was trailing the Grayback across the Pacific. The Grayback spotted the enemy conning tower a few times, and it also spotted japans ship broached, but could not maneuver to attack them.

16. Sinking her first ship:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

After successfully escaping the attention of the Japanese submarine, the Grayback knocked down her first ship on 17 March 1942. It was a 3291 cargo ship Ishikari Maru off Port Lloyd, chichijima, Bonin Island. It is the first achievement of the Grayback vessel that earned it huge respect in the United States navy.

The second war petrol of the Grayback was not eventful; although it took some risky measures by patrolling surfaced at the day time, it did not catch the attention of the enemy’s fleets. Her second fleet ended when she arrived at Fremantle, Western Australia, on 22 June, and it remained home base for the Grayback at most of the wartime.

17. Third and fourth patrol:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Wire

The third and fourth patrol of the Garyback was somewhat similar to the second patrol, which did not meet with the dearth of the targets but managed to shake the fleets of the enemy. The thirds and fourth patrol of the vessel in the South China Sea and St. George Passage, the Grayback was vulnerable by the bright moonlight, enemy patrol crafts and deceitful and shallow water.

The Grayback managed to hit an enemy submarine and several cargo ships.  The presence of Grayback and her sister ships in the water posed a serious threat to the enemy’s crafts and made the Americas’ first offensive campaign in the Pacific war, the “Guadalcanal Campaign”, successful.

18. The fifth Patrol:

Image: Imago / ZUMA/Keystone

The Grayback has begun her fifth wartime patrol on 7 December 1942 as she sailed from Australia.  On 25 December 1942, the Christmas day, the Grayback surfaced, and it destroyed four enemy barges that were unaware of the vessel, and it sank them all. On 29 December, an enemy sub fired torpedoes at the Grayback, but its crew evaded the attack by taking quick action.

At the start of 1943, on 3 January, the American vessel attached the Imperial Japanese Navy vessel 1-18, but the 1-18 escaped undamaged in this round.  One month later, the Grayback attacked 1-18 vessels again and sank it with her 102 crewmen.

19. Her rescue mission:

Image: Imago / UIG

On her fifth patrol, the Grayback served as a signal buoy on 5 January 1943 when she warned the Munda Bay for the bombardment in the Solomon Islands.  The Grayback also had varied out a daring rescue operation when she received a message that six survivors of the crashed Martin B-26 Marauder bomber are stranded on the Solomon Island.

The Grayback sent two men ashore; it surfaced at dawn to avoid the attention of the enemy. The men hid in the jungle with the six aviators; three of them were injured. After that, the Grayback went underwater again so that the enemy crafts do not spot it.

20. The military medal:

Image: Imago / Kyodo News

At night the Grayback once again surfaced and sent light coded signals directed to the small boat to evacuate the aviators and its crew members. For carrying out this daring operation, the captain of the boat was commander c. Stephan was awarded the Navy cross and also a Silver Star from the United States Army.

 The Grayback continuing her patrolling mission, torpedoed and damaged several Japanese war crafts and cargo ships. Then, on 17 January 1943, the American sub opened her deck gun on the Japanese destroyer escorting a large maru, hoping that it will disable the escort. However, the destroyer escaped the attack with causing some serious damage to the Grayback.

21. Damage and the sixth patrol:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

The Japanese destroyer fired 19 death charges on the Grayback, which blew the gasket on the manhole cover and started serious leaking. The leakage resulted in the submarine’s return to the Port of Brisbane, Australia, where she arrived on 23 January 1943.

The sixth petrol of the Grayback began on 16 February 1943, and it saw no successful attacks. She was operating in the Bismarck Archipelago in the Solomon Islands but had not succeeded in landing an encounter with the enemy’s vessel as her newly installed S.J. radar had failed to function.  She tried to take several shots at the merchant ship but failed; thus, she was called back on 4 April 1943.

22. Seventh Patrol:

Image: Imago / ZUMA/Keystone

The Grayback seventh patrol began on 25 April after departing Brisbane. The Grayback intercepted a convoy, and the position of the convoy was reported to her by the Albacore (S.S. – 218) on 11 May.

The Grayback surfaced at night and attacked the convoy by firing six torpedoes at the seven merchant ships and their escorts. The attack resulted in the sunk of the cargo ship Yodogawa Maru.

Five days later, she torpedoed and damaged a destroyer. Then, on 16 May, Grayback intercepted a convoy of four merchant ships and one escort; she attacked them and destroyed one freight England maru and hit two more. Finally, on 30 May, the Grayback arrived at Pearl Harbor and then it moved to San Francisco, California, for refurbishing.

23. Eighth patrol:

Image: Imago / VWPics

After the refit and modernization of the Grayback at the San Francisco, the Grayback once again arrived at Pearl Harbor on 12 September 1943. The Grayback was all set to start its another mission in the Pacific water, an eighth of the war and which also one of the most successful missions of the Grayback.

This time, the commander of the vessel was John Anderson Moore. John Anderson Moore was awarded three Navy Crosses and a Purple Heart Medal before his death. Two weeks after returning to Pearl Harbor, the Grayback set off to the Midway Atoll alongside Shad (S.S. – 235).

24. Wolf pack:

Image: Imago / Photo12

While proceeding towards the Midway Atoll, the Gray Back (S.S. – 208) and Shad (S.S. – 235) were joined by another submarine, the Cero (S.S. – 225). Together these three constituted a highly successful submarine force and were referred to as a “Wolfpack”.  The three submarines carried several operations under the command of Captain Charles B. Swede Momsen in the China Sea.

This approach of the United States Navy to combine the submarines was inspired by the Germans. In WWII, the Germans united their U boats submarines as joint attack forces. The U.S. Navy tries this tactic for the first time in Midway Atoll, proving equally successful.

25. the triumph of Wolfpack:

Image: Imago / StockTrek Images

The new tactic proved effective, and the Wolfpack had claimed to cause huge damage to the enemy’s crafts. The three submarines returned to base, claiming that they sunk 38,000 tons of Japanese shipping and further damaged 3,300 tons.

The Grayback alone accounted for sinking two ships, one of which was a passenger-cargo vessel, which was torpedoed on 14 October. The second was a light cruiser, Awata Maru, and it was torpedoed on 22 October. Thus, the Shad and Grayback together brought down a 9,000 tons transport by applying the wolfpack tactic, and after firing all of their torpedo supply, the pack returned to Pearl Harbor on 2 November.  The CO John Anderson received his first Navy Cross after this mission.

26. Ninth Patrol:

Image: Imago / UIG

The Grayback departed Pearl Harbor to the East China Sea on 2 December 1943. On the night of 18 and 10 December, the Grayback attacked a convoy of four cargo ships and three escorts.  The Grayback sunk the merchant ship Gyokurei Maru and an escort Numakaze in the deep blue sea by firing a spread of torpedoes.

On 21 December, the Grayback attacked another convoy of six ships. She fired nine torpedoes o the Japanese formation and sank one ship and causing damage to one more before it dived.  After expanding all of its torpedoes, the Grayback headed back home, but it surfaced on 27 December to sink a large fishing boat with its deck gun and reached Pearl Harbor on 4 January 1944.

27. The last patrol:

Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Grayback stayed at Pearl Harbor for at least three weeks before it sailed towards its tenth petrol, which also turned its last one. The tenth patrol is also her most successful in terms of tonnage sunk. On 24 February 1944, the Grayback sent a radio message to the base stating it has destroyed and sunk two ships, Taike Maru and Tohsin Maru.

On 25 February, the Grayback transmitted its last radio message that it has sunk a tanker Nanho Maru and severely damaged Asama Maru, and now the Grayback is left with two torpedoes. She was ordered to return home and was expected to reach Midway on 7 March, but she did not.

28. The most successful war career:

Image: IMAGO / ITAR-TASS

When the Grayback did not show up even three weeks later her expected arrival date, on 7 March, ComSubPac listed her missing and lost in the ocean.  But before getting lost in the sea, the Grayback played its part in the war to its fullest.

The Grayback single-handedly sunk 21,594 tons of the Japanese shipping craft, which is undoubtedly a huge achievement. The Grayback sailed its last patrol commander John Anderson and this mission made him earned his third Navy Cross. After the war ended, the Grayback (S.S. – 208) herself was awarded eight battle stars for her World War II services.

29. The Grayback was lost for many decades:

Image: Imago / OceanPhoto

For many decades no one knew what had happened to the Grayback her crew of 80 seamen. At that time, the U.S. navy believed that she might have been sunken beneath the waves.  According to that data, the U.S. Navy assumption was based on data it received from the Japanese Navy, and according to that data, the Grayback has sunk around 100miles to the Southeast of Japanese Island Okinawa.

Later on, after finding the discrepancies in the data, the Japanese record was once again checked and thoroughly analyzed, and it was discovered that there was a crucial error in the Japanese data.  After this discovery, the assumption of the U.S. Navy regarding Grayback was also nullified.

30. The crucial error:

Image: Imago / United Archives International

As we said, the U.S. Navy assumption about the missing Grayback sub has relied on the Japanese records, but it turned out that the record had some consistencies. In addition, after further investigation, it was found out that a single digit in the map reference was wrongly transcribed when the data was translated. So, in reality, the Grayback wreck was far from the location that had been assumed over the years.

This mystery was untangled in 2018 when Tim Taylor decided to re-examine the case of Grayback disappearance. Tim Taylor was the founder of the Lost 52 project, a private enterprise that was working on to find about all the lost 52 U.S. submarines in WWII.

31. U.S.S. R-12:

Image: Imago / ZUMA/Keystone

Tim Taylor and his organization decided to launch the Lost 52 project after the successful discovery of the United States submarine R – 12. The R – 12, also known as S.S. – 89, is one of the U.S. submarines that disappeared in World War II along with her 42 crew members, without leaving any traces behind. Instead, the R – 12 vessel sunk during a training exercise off the coast of Florida.

The R-12 was launched in 1919, but it was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 1932 and assigned to the reserve fleet.  She was brought back to the U.S. Navy in July 1940 and was sailed to the naval submarine base New London, Groton, for overhaul and refit.

32. R-12 joined U.S. Navy again:

Image: Imago / OceanPhoto

After refurbishment, in October 1940, the r-12 was ready for active duty. Her first mission was to patrol the waters of the Panama Canal. She served there for one year, and after that, the U.S. navy ordered R-12 to come back and cruised along the shores of New England. Then, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, she was ordered to go back to the Panama Canal and stayed there for ten months.

She went on various cruises, and in May 1943, she was once again assigned as a training submarine based in Key West Florida. One month later, she was doing a routine training exercise when the vessel has begun to take on water, and within no time, she was sunk to the depth of 600 feet.

33. The cause of the sink:

Image: Imago / Leemage

the real cause of the sinking of the R-12 is unknown, and even the people who survived that accident are not able to decider the real cause behind it. When the waves started to overwhelm the R – 12 sub, four or five of its members, including skipper Lieutenant commander E. E. Shelby, were on the conning deck. 

When the vessel started sinking, they were thrown overboard into the sea and are the only survivors or R – 12. The remaining 42 crew members did not make it, and they lost their lives in the dark ocean.  The wreck of the R-12 was discovered after seven decades of its sinking.

34. The discovery of R -12:

Image: Imago / OceanPhoto

Tim Taylor and his team aboard Research Vessel Tiburon in fall 2010 discovered the remaining of the R-1 vessel. They were using high-tech, remotely controlled robot for this purpose.  The team revisited the site for further investigations like mapping the site, taking the images of the wreck of R – 12 etc.  Tim Taylor and his team also made efforts to contact the surviving relatives of those who had lost their lives with R-12.

After this discovery, the Taylor and team decided to discover all other submarines that had disappeared in WWII.  There is a high human cost associated with these 52 submarines, with 3,505 human lives perishing in total.

35. Discovered five submarines:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Press

It is a very tall list to discover all 52 submarines, but the enthusiasm of Taylor and his team is not coming slow, and over the years, they had discovered the wrecks of five submarines whose whereabouts were previously unknown.

Taylor wanted to discover the wrecks of the lost submarine not just for prosperity but also to give a clue to the family members of the seamen that what had happened to them. The Taylor organization is locating the wrecks of the subs, but they also collect artifacts, make a comprehensive survey of the wrecks and make material available for educational purpose.

36. Sasebo Base

Image: Imago / ZUMA/Keystone

To locate the wreck of Grayback, Taylor contacted the Japanese researcher, Yutaka Iwasaki. The American sub explorer asked him to go through the records of the Sasebo base.  At the time of World War II, the Sasebo base was used by the Japanese Imperial Navy o communicates to their crafts at war.

The Sasebo base records also included daily radio updates from the Naha on Okinawa Island. Naha was the Japanese naval air facility at WWII. After a thorough investigation of the Sasebo base records, Iwasaki spotted the crucial signal error that was made at the time of transcribed version of the report.

37. Nakajima B5N:

Image: Imago / OceanPhoto

The report was radioed to the Sasebo base on 27 February 1944; the Grayback reported going back to the Midway Atoll just one day later. The details of the report were that Nakajima B5N, a Japanese torpedo bomber, had discharged a 500-pound bomb on a submarine that was travelling above the waves on 27 February.

The report also said that the bomb had hit the sub at the rear of the conning tower. After being hit, the submarine blew up, and it quickly sank into the ocean. Iwasaki said that the longitude and latitude shown by the reports are although a hundred miles away from that place where U.S. Navy assumed that the Grayback has sunk.

38. Gloria Hurney:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Wire

After finding out the new accurate location, Taylor and his team started locating the wreck of Grayback and surprisingly, the Lost 52 team found the submarine in entirely one piece. Of course, this discovery touched all the divers and researchers, but one person greatly affected by the news was Gloria Hunter, niece of Raymond Parks.

Raymond Parks served as an electrician’s mate, first class, at the Grayback. Gloria Hunter told A.B.C. news that “There’s a book I read, and it says these ships are known only to God. But now we know where the Grayback is.” she also speaks to the CNN and tells the reporter that “The discovery brings closure to the questions that surrounded the Grayback as far as its sinking and location. I believe it will allow healing as relatives of crew members come together to share their stories.”

39. Kathy Taylor:

Image: Imago / ZUMA Wire

She is a relative of another electrician onboard Grayback serving as electrician’s mate, third class. He was not only Kethy’ uncle, but he was also her godfather.  Kathy Taylor spoke to the A.B.C. news that “I committed from the very beginning, from a little girl, that I was going to find him or follow him or keep his memory alive – whatever I could do.”

We believe that it will be very difficult for the relatives of all those seamen who lost their lives at Grayback to know what had happened to them finally, but at least they know now the reality.

40. Grayback legacy continued:

Image: National Archives at College Park, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The loss of Grayback did not end its legacy because, in July 1957, another submarine named Grayback  (S.S.G. – 574)started serving the United States Navy.  The new Grayback was launched by Mrs Virginia S. Moore, the widow of the commander of the original Grayback commander John Admiral Moore.

The new Grayback is definitely more advanced than her predecessor as it is equipped with the guided missiles, a technology that was not available when the original Grayback was launched in 1941. In addition, the newer craft carries four Ragulus I missiles that make her capable of hit targets on land. Surprisingly, the new Grayback was also based at Pearl Harbor in 1959.