01 April 2012

Turn 15: The end of the beginning

24—31 March 1942

USS Gato (SS-212)
Perhaps that title is a bit of an overstatement; perhaps not. More on that below.

The fourth month of the war drew to a close with a lukewarm performance. Most notably, The Troublemaker found her groove again. She had a disappointing (and scoreless) third war patrol, but her fourth was brief, violent, and successful. On the 24th, she attacked a large and heavily defended convoy in the Marshalls. She first brought down a 2,000 ton transport, and then an 8,000 ton oiler. In so doing, she has re-established her place alone at the top of the leader board, in both ships (5) and tonnage (24,000) sunk. She is presently heading back to port to rearm.

The total score for the week was 12,000, with USS Permit (SS-178) contributing the remaining 2,000. For the war, we are standing at 188,000—a good, solid total for the end of March.

And with the end of March comes the end of an era—although it might not seem so at first glance.

The service has not crossed any particular milestone, or achieved any spectacularly noteworthy success (Thresher’s exploits notwithstanding). In game terms, the War Period has not advanced, nor have the (wretched) torpedoes gotten any better. Nonetheless, there is a bright line that today separates the service’s past from its future. The reason for that line can be summarized in four words:



Those are the names of the first Gato-class submarines to join the fleet; they arrive in theater at the beginning of April. They are the first; many will follow. One could argue they are the most significant class of warship in modern history, that they contributed more than any other to the victory over Japan. Regardless, they are game changers.

The Gatos were evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, refinements of the Tambor-class and her immediate predecessors. The Tambors were good, the Gatos were simply better; in fact, excellent. They were the culmination of the USN’s decades-long quest to perfect the concept of the “fleet submarine”—subs with the speed, endurance, hitting power, and overall capabilities required in order to operate as full participants in the massive fleet actions that planners foresaw deciding the outcome of inevitable future wars. As long as Americans go to sea in submarines, they will call them “boats”—but the fleet subs were, every ounce and every inch, full fledged warships.

Of course, the script did not unfold precisely the way the planners envisioned. The fleet that the fleet subs were meant to support was largely burned at its moorings on 7 December. Fortunately, however, the very characteristics for which they’d been bred—speed, endurance, punch—made them perfectly suited for the one role they had left to them: they were viciously effective commerce raiders. As the world, in the spring of 1942, was learning.

So a page has turned. The early, desperate days of the war—when it seemed doubtful that any success could be achieved—are gone. They won’t be back. The service has pulled itself out of that chaos, and performed excellently with the tools it had on hand.

Those tools have just gotten significantly better.


  1. Spent the night aboard the USS Silversides in scouts 20ish years ago.

    1. She's one of very few left. I really want to see her myself one of these days.