01 May 2012

Turn 19: Loss

22—30 April 1942

By late April ’42 in the real world, the U.S. had lost five submarines in the Pacific. In that regard, at least, we have been very, very lucky.

The sub school Color Guard at the WWII National
Submarine Memorial East
Two of those five sub casualties were claimed in combat at sea, one was scuttled after being bombed in port, and two others were lost to mishaps that were not directly combat related. In contrast, going into the final week of April, only a single AL&SW boat had been lost—and that, all the way back in December, when the war was less than a full week old. We’ve had a few close calls, to be sure. But 60 boats have sailed in the Pacific Fleet, and after 18 weeks of sustained and intense combat operations, 59 of them remained in commission. A remarkable run. But this wretched month wasn’t finished with us just yet.

On 22 April, a land-based bomber surprised USS Thresher (SS-200) on the surface in the Marshall Islands operating area, two days after she’d embarked upon her fifth war patrol. The big American fleet boats were not quick divers, making the sudden appearance of enemy aircraft a constant worry. The Japanese plane dropped a string of bombs on the crash diving sub. One was a direct hit, or near enough: the sub’s pressure hull was fatally breached just aft of her conning tower. The sea poured through the wound as, for one last time, The Troublemaker slipped beneath the calm surface of the Pacific.

Her life and career were brief but spectacular. Thresher went down as unquestionably the service’s top performer. Just five days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she made the first American attack on a Japanese capital ship. She (wildly) missed a heavy cruiser, but (after narrowly avoiding disaster in the ensuing counterattack) she doggedly lined up a second attack on the same target—only to miss (wildly) again. Three weeks later she scored her first kill, sinking a target by gunfire (the only sub yet to do so). That put her in an early tie atop the leader board for number of ships sunk; she would never in her life relinquish that spot. Her war ended with five enemy ships sunk, totaling 24,000 tons.

On a personal note, Thresher’s loss affected me more than anything, good or bad, that I can ever remember happening in a game. It’s silly how emotionally invested we can get in these things, isn’t it? (Or maybe that’s just me, and my sentimental streak showing through.)

The real Thresher survived the war with distinction, sinking (officially) 17 enemy ships. She earned 15 battle stars (no sub earned more) and a Navy Unit Commendation. A decade and a half after the war, as many reading this no doubt know, she was reborn, in name, as the lead ship of a new class of nuclear submarines. USS Thresher (SSN-593) carried within her technology, and capabilities, and potential that the sailors who crewed SS-200 just 15 years previously could scarcely have imagined.

On 10 April 1963, in the first of the two great disasters that have befallen the post-war Silent Service, the second Thresher was lost with all hands during deep-diving trials. Her name means something still, and always will, to the men and women who wear the uniform.


  1. Outstanding AAR--probably the best I've ever read. I found out about it on BGG earlier tonight and just read through the whole "history" tonight. I appreciate the structure, with comments on the mechanics of the gameplay and the actual history of the boats interspersed with the AAR commentary/pseudo-history. Thank you, too, for being a great writer! (And thank you THANK YOU for good grammer. ;)

    Finally, thanks for all the work you've put in on this. Having done an AAR or two myself I know how much work they can be, and you've obviously put far more work into yours than I ever did in mine.

  2. I'm playing Silent War too. I'm up to June 1942 and have just transitioned into War Period 2. So far, I've sunk 73 ships for a total tonnage of just over 300k tons. I wish I had taken notes while I played. I have no idea who my "tonnage leader" is but I do remember my first kill was a CL and that was in the second week of the war!

    Much luck and keep up the good work.