A brief history of the U.S.S. COD
by Paul Farace, curator
U.S.S. Cod (SS 224), named after the world’s most important food fish, is a World War II era GATO class fleet submarine. The 312-ft, (95-m) 1,525-ton submarine began her life on July 21, 1942 when her keel was laid at the Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut. Cod was launched on March 21, 1943 under the sponsorship of Mrs. Grace M. Mahoney, wife of a veteran shipyard employee, and was placed in commission on June 21, 1943, under the command of CDR James C. Dempsey, USN. Dempsey had already won fame by sinking the first Japanese destroyer lost in the war while in command of a tiny, World War I-era submarine.
It was on Cod‘s third patrol, Dempsey’s last in command, that Cod fought her biggest battle. Tracking a massive Japanese convoy heading for Subic Bay in the Philippines on the night of May 10, 1944, Cod maneuvered into firing position just after sunrise. Cod fired three of her four stern tubes at the Japanese destroyer Karukaya before unloading all six of her bow tubes at two columns of cargo ships and troop transports. Dempsey watched as the first torpedo exploded under the destroyer’s bridge after a short, 26 second run. Both smoke stacks collapsed and dozens of enemy sailors (watching for submarines) were tossed high into the air. The enemy ship started to sag in the middle, with both bow and stern rising, just as the second torpedo hit near the main mast causing the whole rear half of the Karukaya to disintegrate.
A minute later, all six of Cod‘s bow shots hit targets among the columns of enemy ships. Cod submerged to her 300-foot test depth and ran at her top underwater speed of 8.5 knots for 10 minutes to clear the firing point, which was clearly marked by the white wakes of Cod‘s steam-powered torpedoes. The high-speed run had to be kept to 10 minutes to preserve as much of the submarine’s electric battery as possible for later evasive maneuvers. The firing point was quickly saturated with aircraft bombs and depth charges dropped by enemy escort ships. Between the explosions of enemy depth charges, Cod‘s sonar operators could hear the sounds of several Japanese ships breaking up and the distinct firecracker sound of an ammunition ship’s cargo exploding. Cod‘s own firecracker show soon followed: a barrage of more than 70 Japanese depth charges shook Cod in less than 15 minutes. After 12 hours submerged Cod surfaced 25 miles away from the attack area in the midst of a heavy night thunderstorm.
It was on Cod‘s seventh and final war patrol that she would carve a unique niche for herself, not for destroying enemy ships, but for performing the only international submarine-to-submarine rescue in history. On the morning of July 8, 1945 Cod arrived at Ladd Reef in the South China Sea to aid the Dutch Submarine O-19 which had grounded on the coral outcropping. After two days of attempts at pulling O-19 free, the captains of both vessels agreed that there was no hope of freeing the Dutch sub from the grip of the reef. After removing the 56 Dutch sailors to safety, Cod destroyed the O-19 with two scuttling charges, two torpedoes, and 16 rounds from Cod‘s 5-inch deck gun. The Cod was home to 153 men for the two and a half-day run to the recently liberated Subic Bay naval base.
After delivering the O-19 crew, Cod returned to her patrol area off the coast of Vietnam where she resumed boarding and sinking Junks carrying enemy supplies. During one of these “pirate-like” operations, a five-man boarding party was stranded on a junk after Cod was strafed by a Japanese plane and forced to crash dive. It was several hours before Cod could surface to retrieve her boarding party. When she did, the horizon was littered with Junks.
After a two-day search involving several U.S. submarines, the lost crewmen were recovered by the submarine Blenny. Highlights of the patrol, including the O-19 rescue and return of the lost boarding party, were recorded in color movies made by Norman Jensen, a Navy photographer, who was assigned to film Cod‘s war patrol. The films were discovered in the National Archives in 1992.
Cod returned to her Perth, Australia base on August 13, 1945, and was met at the dock by the men of the O-19 who invited their rescuers to a thank-you party. It was during the party that word of the Japanese surrender was received. Today, Cod‘s battleflag and conning tower both carry a cocktail glass above the name “O-19” to commemorate the rescue and the party.
Mothballed in 1946, Cod was recommissioned in 1951 to participate in NATO anti-submarine training exercises. Her Cold War voyages took Cod to St. John’s Newfoundland, as well as ports in Cuba and South America. During LANTFLEX’ 52 fleet exercise, Cod was credited with “sinking” a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Cod was decommissioned in 1954 and placed in reserve. In 1959 she was towed through the newly opened St. Lawrence Seaway to serve as a naval reserve training vessel in Cleveland, Ohio. The veteran submarine was an instant hit with school children who visited her on field trips. In 1971, no longer useful as a training ship, Cod was stricken from the register of Navy ships.
A handful of Clevelanders formed the Cleveland Coordinating Committee to Save Cod, Inc., to preserve her as a memorial on the city’s lakefront. In January, 1976, the Navy gave guardianship of the submarine to the group. Cod began her career as a floating memorial in May of 1976 when she opened for public tours and quickly established herself as a popular tourist attraction. In 1986, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated Cod a National Historic Landmark.
Today, Cod is one of the finest restored submarines on display and is the only U.S. submarine that has not had stairways and doors cut into her pressure hull for public access. Visitors to this proud ship use the same vertical ladders and hatches that were used by her crew. Cleveland can claim partial credit as Cod‘s birthplace, since the submarine’s five massive diesel engines were built by General Motors’ Cleveland Diesel plant on Cleveland’s west side.
Cod is credited with sinking more than 12 enemy vessels totalling more than 37,000 tons, and damaging another 36,000 tons of enemy shipping. All seven of her war patrols were considered successful and Cod was awarded seven battle stars. Patrols 1, 2, and 3 were under the command of CDR James C. Dempsey, USN; patrols 4, 5, and 6 were under the command of CDR James “Caddy” Adkins, USN; and patrol 7 was under the command of LCDR Edwin M. Westbrook, Jr., USN. When recommissioned in 1951, Cod was under the command of CAPT. Francis E. Rich, USN, and was placed out of commission by CAPT. Joseph Adelman, USN.
During WW II, U.S. submarines sank more than 55% of the Japanese ships lost, including more than 70% of her merchant fleet and more than 220 warships. They also conducted secret intelligence gathering missions and rescued more than 550 aviators who were forced to ditch at sea in enemy waters, including former President George Bush. The U.S. Navy lost 52 submarines with a loss of more than 3,500 men, or 22% of the submarine force.