Tag Archives: USS R-12 (SS-89)

USS R-12, A Submarine Lost at Sea

21 Jul

Everybody has a story, everybody lived a life, everybody will die, yet there is so little of that remains behind. 2011, internet, supposedly limitless information and we still have to dig, truely dig to find out anything meaningful on lesser known people and topics that are truly meaningful. My case in point for this blog is submarine USS R-12 (SS-89), lost at sea June 12, 1943, taking with her approximately 43 men. Forty-three men, they were born, they were children, they laughed, played, they went to school, they grew up, joined the Navy, some even served for a while, and then, one day, they were gone. I can find the very basic information on this boat and I can find a good list of her crew. Still, I am missing alot, I am missing alot about these people.

Who were they?

R-12 (R-12’s deck gun. This is a photo of the wreck, 600 feet underwater, off Key West, Florida)

The only reason I know about this boat is because of my United States Submarines Veterans, Inc. calendar I have, tacked up the window frame right next to my desk. June 12, a Sunday, simply reads “R-12 (SS-89) 1943”.

A disclaimer, if I may. The author of this blog is not complaining about a lack of interest in history in this nation, a terrible insensitivity to lost submariners, or some kind of injustice or failure of our system. People are busy meeting their own needs and history is a real subject requiring real effort and dedication, much like other interests, pursuits and hobbies. The author accepts this and is at peace with the reality that not everyone and their brother has to be an expert on history to be considered a productive human being.

My purpose in this blog is to collect information already in existence on the internet and in my books, put it together in a manageable form, and put it on display. If I find anything new, I will be happy to share it, but do not be surprised if what you see here is repeated on the first pages of Google.

I volunteer at a submarine museum, I give tour guides, I answer a, excuse the pun, boat-load of questions on them. I like to answer them correctly and effectively, so I research submarines of various types and designs as well as specific ones. R-12 was built at the end of World War I and, back then, most submarines in the US Navy were not given names. The first submarine in the US Navy, SS-1 was named USS Holland after the creator of the modern submarine and there was a period where they were being named after fish. The system changed and many boats that did have a name, lost it and was simply given a letter and a number. This happened long before R-12 was launched.

USS R-12 being launched

The specific dates can be found on Wikipedia, where I got much of her historical data from. Up until 1932, her crews conducted patrols with her and participated in training exercises. In 1932, she was taken out of service, decommissioned is the formal saying in the Navy, and placed in the Reserve Fleet. This usually amounts to a vessel being tied up at a port, closed up and unused until a need arises. That need came in 1940 with Germany, Italy and Japan becoming more and more aggressive, and much of the worldly population feeling that war with these countries, the Axis powers was imminent.

Many of the old vessel of WWI were pulled back into service, these included the old “Flush Deck” destroyers, fifty of which were leased to England in a deal that would give the US access to British bases in the Caribbean. In the United States, on July 19, 1940, Congress passed the Two-Ocean Naval Act which authorized an increase in size of the US Navy by seventy percent and, among many other things, authorized the construction of forty-three new submarines. This bill was based on a request by Admiral Harold Stark, after German troops entered Paris. The United States had formally declared neutrality, but it was gearing up for the potential of a war, granted, one that would not take us by surprise.

In the meantime, however, the US made do with what they had, including old submarines. Newer, more advanced submarines with greater range had long come online, these boats having a range of approximately ten thousand miles. Called the “Fleet Boats” these would be the vessels that would take the fight to Japan and the rest of the Axis powers, particularly in the Pacific where the surface fleet had been devastated. The smaller, older boats, the short ranged boats known as the S-boats would see a little action, though they would be hampered by their lack of range. Most of these boats would be used as trainign vessel and crews would see thier first action on the larger, more advanced and far more comfortable Fleet Boats. The R-boats would never see action, despite being used for coastal patrols.

R-11 on the left, R-12 on the right. This was taken in 1920.

And perhaps it was better that way. These vessels, despite the hard work of their crew and the men who brought them out of the Reserve and back into commission, were not much of fighting ships. One former skipper, who would later go on to captain USS Halibut (SS-232) would say they spent more time trying to keep the R-boat he was assigned to floating than searching for potential targets, in his case, German U-boats. R-12 was twenty four years old when it went down, middle aged to say the least and this factor may have contributed to her sinking.

Once R-12 was back into service, she conducted war patrols off the east coast of the United States and down in the Caribbean and served as a training boat. When she was lost, she was serving as a training boat working out of Key West, Florida. On June 12, 1943, R-12 was about to engage in practice exercises for torpedo attacks. There is no evidence that there was anything to be concerned about when the diving alarm was sounded, but within moments of that, flooding was reported in a forward section of the boat, known as forward battery. The main ballast tank was ordered blown immediately, but so much water must have flooded in so quickly, that the action did nothing. Fifteen seconds after sounded that diving alarm, R-12 sank under the ocean for the last time. We know what happened because there were survivors; the commanding offer, the first officer and three enlisted crewmen were swept off the bridge of the boat, atop of the superstructure and were rescued some time later.

Gone, just like that.

One minute, a crewman is working, preparing for the dive, just like so many others. The next moment, panic, water comes pouring in, the lights fail, everything goes black, and the boat begins to descend out of control, water flooding in the compartments….

Is that how it was?

Amazing really, simply amazing.

R-12 was the oldest of all US submarines lost during the WWII, again, that age may have attributed to her loss, in my opinion at least. Last I heard, the cause of her loss is still unknown; she was recently discovered in 600 feet of water off of Key West, however, and a future expedition is to be launched in the spring of 2012.

Here is a link to a memorial site listing all of the men lost on this vessel: http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/uss-r-12-89.htm

All photos in this blog are from navsource.org.