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S-44
The first US Submarine to sink an enemy heavy cruiser

First patrol, March 1942:

From Panama, the division (now SubDiv 53) was ordered to the southwest Pacific. Starting across the Pacific in early March, the boats reached Brisbane in mid-April, and within ten days, S-44 was on her first war patrol. She cleared Moreton Bay on 24 April. On 29 April, she began running submerged during the day and surfacing at night to recharge batteries and intake fresh air. By 2 May, she was in her patrol area, New Britain-New Ireland waters. Six days later, she sighted a ship through a haze of rain and launched two torpedoes which missed. She attempted to close the range. However the surface ship easily outdistanced her. The next afternoon, she attempted to close on a Japanese destroyer, east of Adler Bay, but again was easily outrun. On 10 May, off Cape St. George, she closed on another target but was sighted and attacked.

In late afternoon of 12 May, 15 miles from the cape, she encountered a merchantman and a trawler escort. She launched four torpedoes while surfaced and hit with two. The Shoei Maru, a vessel of over 5000 tons was sunk.  A Japanese escort attacked S-44 and dropped sixteen or depth charges, none of which was close.

2nd patrol, June 1942:

On 7 June she left of Moreton Bay on a course for the Solomon Islands. Within the week, she was on patrol off Guadalcanal, operating from there to Savo and Florida Island. A few days later, she shifted south of Guadalcanal and on 21 June sank the converted gunboat Keijo Maru. At 14:15, S-44 fired her torpedoes. Just 3 minutes later the enemy aircraft dropped a bomb which exploded close to the submarine, bending the holding latch to the conning tower and allowing in 30 gallons of sea water. This damaged the depth gauges, the gyrocompass, and the ice machine, besides causing leaks.

3rd patrol, July 1942:

On 31 July, S-44 commenced patrolling the Rabaul-Tulagi shipping lanes.  The next day, she sighted a convoy off Cape St. George, but heavy swells hindered depth control and speed, and prevented her from attacking. From Cape St. George, S-44 moved up the east coast of New Ireland to North Cape and Kavieng, where she waited. 

On 7 August, the American offensive opened with landing of the 1st Marine Division on the beaches of the Solomon Islands of Guadalcanal and Tulagi. On 9 August, off Savo Island, Cruiser Division 6 of the Imperial Japanese Navy had inflicted one of the worst defeats of the war on American and Australian surface ships.

The next morning, the victorious enemy cruisers neared Kavieng, bound for home. At 07:50, S-44 sighted the formation of four heavy cruisers at less than 900 yards. At 08:06, she fired four Mark 10 torpedoes at the rear ship, only 700 yards away. By 08:08, three torpedoes had exploded and the heavy cruiser Kako was sinking.  S-44 had claimed the largest Japanese man-of-war in the Pacific War to date.



With one ship sunk on each patrol so far, she set a record no other S-boat would match.

4th patrol, September 1942:

On 22 September, she began surfacing only at night, and, two days later, took patrol station off New Georgia to interdict Japan's Faisi-Guadalcanal supply line. On the morning of 4 October, she attacked a destroyer, then survived an intensive depth charge attack with seemingly minor damage.  When she submerged the next day, however, the submarine began taking water. She surfaced, made repairs, then submerged to 50 feet.

Leaks were found in her motor room and torpedo room flappers. The latter were jacked shut, but the former continued spraying water onto both motors. Within an hour, four Japanese destroyers had moved into the area. S-44 went to 70 feet.  The leak worsened.  The motors were covered in canvas and sheet rubber and the crew waited for the destroyers to pass over her position. As they disappeared, S-44 moved up to 55 feet and repairs were made on the flapper.  That night, further repairs were made while the ship was surfaced off Santa Isabel Island; and, by midnight, the S-boat was en route back to her patrol area.

5th patrol, September 1943:

On 26 September, S-44 departed Attu on her last war patrol.  One day out, while en route to her operating area in the northern Kuril Islands, she was spotted and attacked by a Japanese patrol plane.  Suffering no damage, she continued west. On the night of 7 October, she made radar contact with what she thought was a "small merchantman" and closed in for a surface attack. Several hundred yards from the target, her deck gun fired and was answered by a salvo. The "small merchantman" in fact was the Shimushu-class escort Ishigaki. An emergency dive was ordered, but too late.  She then took several hits in the control room, the forward battery room, and elsewhere.

S-44 was ordered abandoned. A pillow case was raised from the forward battery room hatch as a flag of surrender.  Eight men were believed to have got off the sinking submarine, but only two were picked up by the escort.  Following interrogation, the two survivors were sent to the Ashio copper mines.  It was only after the two men were liberated that the Navy was able to determine what had happened by S-44, which had previously been listed as “Missing—presumed lost.”