USS Cobia SS-245. An AirBnB with a difference

USS Cobia Launch 28 Nov 1943

Launch of the Gato Class Submarine, USS Cobia, 28 November 1943. Official Electric Boat Co. press photograph.

uss cobia ss245 patch

Original WW2 period handmade USS Cobia SS-245 patch.

The US Navy Gato class submarine, USS Cobia SS-245 was ordered on 9 September 1940, laid down 17 March 1943 and launched on 28 November 1943. She was commissioned on 29 March 1944. She commenced her first war patrol from Pearl Harbour under the command of Lt. Cdr. Albert Lilly Becker on 26 June 1944.

USSCobiaSS245

USS Cobia SS-245. Photographer unknown.

Heading towards the Bonin Islands area, the USS Cobia had her first victory when she sank the Japanese guard boat Takamiya Maru (138 GRT) with gunfire east of Ogasawara-Gunto on 6 July and a week later on the 13th she sank the Japanese army cargo ship, Taishi Maru (2813 GRT) about 190 nautical miles north-west of Chichi Jima. Then, on 18 July 1944 USS Cobia torpedoed and sank the Japanese auxiliary gunboat Unkai Maru No.10 (851 GRT) north-west of Chichi Jima and west of Chichi Jima, the Japanese army cargo ship Nisshu Maru (7785 GRT), which was carrying a Japanese tank regiment to Iwo Jima, causing the loss of 28 tanks. The US Marine Corps considered this sinking critical to their success in capturing Iwo Jima six months later. Two days later, on 20 July, the submarine sank the Japanese auxiliary submarine chasers Yusen Maru No.3 (193 GRT) and Kaio Maru No.2 (62 GRT) north-west of Ogasawara-Gunto. Then on 5 August 1944 she sank Japanese transport ship Yayoi Maru (495 GRT) before ending her very successful first war patrol at Majuro in the Marshall Islands on 14 August 1944.

Cobia crew prior to 2nd war patrol

Crew on deck at Majuro prior to second war patrol, September, 1944. Photo courtesy of James P. Marion, III

USS Cobia SS-245 Battle Flag

Officers of USS Cobia on deck with their battle just prior to their second war patrol in September 1944. The flag shows the insignia of the ship at center, with flags and stripes indicating sunk Japanese transports and warships. Notes on back of photo: Left to Right Top Row: Lt. Cdr. Joseph J. Sibley, USNR Lt. (JG) William S.C. Henry, USNR Lt. (JG) Lester Davis, USN Lt. Cdr. Montrose G. McCormick, USN Cdr. Albert L. Becker, USN Lieut. James P. Marion, USN Lt. (JG) Daniel C. Pelton, USNR Kneeling: Lt. (JG) Sidney E. Henderson, USNR Lieut. John M. Tufts, USNR Stamp: Official Naval Photo NOT FOR PUBLICATION Stamp: Processed by Naval Censor

After refitting at Majuro from 14 August to 6 September 1944, Cobia sailed into the Luzon Strait for her second war patrol, which was punctuated by Japanese aircraft attacks, but did not result in any successful encounters with enemy shipping and she ended her patrol at Fremantle in Western Australia on 5 November 1944.

USS Cobia departed on her third war patrol, this time to the South China Sea on 30 November 1944. On 14 January 1945 she torpedoed and sank the Japanese minelayer Yurijima off the east coast of Malaya some 70 miles east of Kota Bharu and then returned to Fremantle on 24 January.

Her fourth war patrol commenced on 18 February when she was ordered into the Java Sea. On 26 February the Cobia engaged and sank two small Japanese vessels with gunfire in the Java Sea, but was damaged by return gunfire from one of the Japanese craft, which killed one crewman and damaged the radar equipment forcing the submarine to return to Fremantle to make repairs before recommencing the patrol and finally ending it at Subic Bay on 15 April 1945.

Cobia sea burial of Ralph Clark Huston Jr.

Burial of Ralph Clark Huston Jr. who was wounded in action on 26 February 1945 during a surface attack with 2 Japanese vessels. He died the following morning, and was then buried at sea. USN photo courtesy of ussubvetsofwwii.org

Cobia began her fifth war patrol on 9 May 1945, heading for the Gulf of Siam. On 8 June she torpedoed and sank the Japanese survey ship Hakusa (6799 tons) and the Japanese tanker Nanshin Maru No.22 (834 GRT) off southern French Indochina. On 18 June she returned to Fremantle to end her patrol. A month later on 18 July 1945, the USS Cobia began her sixth and final patrol, first inserting intelligence teams along the coast of Java, she sailed to Formosa before docking at Saipan on 22 August 1945, concluding her final war patrol.

Cobia persnnel transfer

Personnel transfer from Boarfish (SS-325) to Cobia (SS-245) during fifth patrol. Photo courtesy of James P. Marion, III.

Of Cobia’s six war patrols, the first, third, fourth, and fifth were designated as “successful” war patrols, for which she received four battle stars. She was credited with having sunk 13 ships, a total of 16,835 tons of shipping, as well as rescuing 7 downed airmen.

After the war she was decommissioned and placed on reserve on 22 May 1946. Recommissioned 6 July 1951, the submarine was used to train reservists and Submarine School students at New London until placed in commission in reserve at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard 29 October 1953. After overhaul, she was towed to New London, where she was again decommissioned and laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet on 19 March 1954.

Decommissioned submarines circa 1947

Line up of decommissioned subs at Groton, CT., circa 1947. From left to right:Archerfish (SS-311), Flasher (SS-249), Cobia (SS-245), Croaker (SS-246), Drum (SS-228) & what looks like the Cavalla (SS-244).

By 1959, the Navy considered Cobia obsolete as a deployable warship and transferred her to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Naval Reserve Center. There she served as a training platform for the next eleven years. She was redesignated an Auxiliary Submarine, AGSS-245, 1 December 1962.

On 1 July 1970, the Navy struck Cobia from the Naval Register, and on 17 August she was towed to Manitowoc, Wisconsin to serve as an international memorial to submariners. In 1986, Cobia was incorporated as a part of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, which had evolved out of the submariner’s memorial to become the state’s maritime museum. USS Cobia was then declared a National Historic Landmark, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Cobia final voyage 1970

USS Cobia SS-245 being towed to Manitowoc, by the tug Lauren Castle on 17 August 1970. The 75 mile trip from Milwaukee to Manitowac took 9 hours. Photo courtesy: John Krupka

whole_museum

The Wisconsin Maritime Museum

The museum is one of the largest maritime museums in the region, preserving the heritage of the 28 submarines built there, by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company during WW2 and also the general maritime history of Wisconsin plus Great Lakes region. The museum covers 60,000 square feet of space which is home to over 85,000 artifacts including a collection of model boats, an operating steam engine as well as a display of over 50 historic vessels. It also acts as an official repository for retrieved shipwreck materials. But for the submarine enthusiasts, the highlight of the collection must be the USS Cobia, which is the most historically intact WW2 submarine in the USA. Visitors can go aboard for tours every hour during the museum’s opening times, which run from Wednesday thru Sunday.

But, if you’re really keen, go to Airbnb and book it as your overnight accommodation, then stay aboard and use it as your home base to explore the area.

cobia airbnb listing

According to their listing,

Sub Bnb sleeps up to 65 people in sailors’ bunks throughout the boat. The listed price includes the first five guests. Additional guests are $30 each.

The space
Your stay will be as unique as the submarine. No two visits are exactly alike. With more than 65 different places to sleep, you get to choose your own adventure on USS Cobia.

USS Cobia is the best preserved submarine in the country. It has been meticulously restored with amenities added like heat and air conditioning, making it perfect for year-round overnight visits.

During your stay, you’re welcome to explore the submarine with a dedicated staff member. They will be your point of contact and on-site all evening. A personalized tour through the boat is available if desired.

USS Cobia is only accessible via stairs and there are seven bulkhead doors to climb through. The only access to get out onto the boat is through the museum.

We provide bedding, toiletries, a private tour of the submarine as well as coffee from a veteran-owned company in the morning. We also have WWII movies in the museum and board games for your use in the sub. Your stay includes admission to the museum during business hours.

Because we are an operational museum, our policies are a little different. You’re welcome to stay several nights, but we will pack up and secure your items during the day as the museum and sub are open for tours.

The restrooms on Cobia are 76 years old. They’re lovely, but they’re not functional. The Museum will be accessible for your usage at all times, with restrooms and showers available.

We’re happy to store your food in our catering kitchen inside the museum. You’re welcome to use the fridge, freezer and microwave in that kitchen. The kitchen is stocked with coffee, tea and light snacks for you to enjoy during your visit.

uss cobia exterior 1

Deck view overlooking Lake Michigan. Photo: Courtesy of the Wisconsin Maritime Museum

Guest access
You’ll have access to the entire submarine and its deck from 6pm until checkout. You will also be given a key to enter the staff door of the museum so you can come and go as you please during your stay.

Other things to note
We clean the submarine extensively before and after every stay and throughout the day when we are open.

The provided bedding is professionally cleaned.

Masks are required in the museum when we are open to the public. Staff are required to wear masks when with you and other guests.

The submarine has a new HVAC system and air purifiers are placed throughout the submarine for additional sanitization.

The virtual tour video below gives a really good overview of the submarine, its layout, how it operated during the war and a tempting taste of what to expect for visitors and overnight guests… but without the smell of old diesel.

For more information or to book a tour, contact the museum below or visit their Airbnb listing.

The Wisconsin Maritime Museum
75 Maritime Dr
Manitowoc
FWI 54220, USA

Phone: +1 920-684-0218
Email: museum@wisconsinmaritime.org
Website: https://www.wisconsinmaritime.org

Open: Wednesday to Sunday. Contact the museum for specific times.

USN Officers Dolphins qualification and Submarine Combat Insigni

WW2 period USN officer’s ‘Dolphins’ submarine qualification badge (manufacturer H&H, New York) and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars indicating successful completion of 4 ‘war’ patrols (manufacturer AMICO, New York). Collection: Julian Tennant

Please also check out my posts on the Submarine Combat Insignia awarded to submariners after a successful war patrol and a personalised  set of USN officer’s ‘Dolphins’ insignia from an officer aboard the USS Skipjack (SS-184).

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WW2 USN Submariner ‘Dolphins’ from an officer aboard USS Skipjack (SS-184)

USN Submariner badge, type 2, "deep wave" variation made by Hillborn & Hamburger Inc. and engraved "To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42". Collection: Julian Tennant

USN Submariner badge, type 2, “deep wave” variation made by Hillborn & Hamburger Inc. and engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42”. Collection: Julian Tennant

Another item from my collection this week. This time it is a WW2 USN “deep wave” type 2 Submariner badge made by Hillborn & Hamburger that I acquired from a family here in Australia. The badge originally belonged to Lieutenant Sidney Alfred Kelf who served aboard the Salmon class submarine, USS Slipjack (SS-184) in 1941 and 1942.

The badge came from the estate of Audrey Beryl Hughson an Australian who was given it as a keepsake by Kelf whilst he was stationed in Australia during WW2. The badge is engraved “To Audrey from Sidney Kelf 11.25.42” which indicates the engraving was done at the conclusion of the boat’s 5th war patrol which took Skipjack from the submarine base at Fremantle in Western Australia to Pearl Harbor.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) off Provincetown, Massachusetts during sea trials, 14 May 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) off Provincetown, Massachusetts during sea trials, 14 May 1938. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

USS Skipjack (SS-184) was laid down on 22 July 1936, launched 23 October 1937 and commissioned on 30 June 1938. It was one of the 29 submarines that formed the US Navy’s Asiatic Submarine Fleet that was based in Manila in the Philippines at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Skipjack left for her first war patrol off the east coast of Samar two days later. It ended on 14 January 1942 in Darwin, Australia and after 16 days in port, commenced her second patrol in the Celebes sea which concluded in March at the Fremantle base in Western Australia.

American Submarines at North Wharf, Fremantle, 1945. The ship in the background is submarine tender USS PELAIS, surrounded by her 'brood', which included the subs BONEFISH, RASHER, BOWFIN, BLUEFISH, NARWHAL, TINOSA, CREVALLE and COD. Photo: Family of RAN photographer, Saxon Fogarty

American Submarines at North Wharf, Fremantle, 1945. The ship in the background is submarine tender USS PELAIS, surrounded by her ‘brood’, which at that time included the subs BONEFISH, RASHER, BOWFIN, BLUEFISH, NARWHAL, TINOSA, CREVALLE and COD. Photo: Family of RAN photographer, Saxon Fogarty

On the 14th of April, under the command of Lt. Cdr. James Wiggins Coe, Skipjack left Fremantle for her third war patrol, this time in the South China Sea. The submarine had her first success on 6 May 1942 when it torpedoed and sank the Japanese transport ship Kanan Maru (2567 GRT) about 25 nautical miles north-east of Cam Ranh Bay, French Indochina. It followed this up on 8 May when it sank the Japanese transport ship Bujun Maru (4804 GRT) about 125 nautical miles east of Cam Ranh Bay and then the Japanese troop transport Tazan Maru (5477 GRT) near the Gulf of Siam on 17 May before returning to Fremantle on the 2nd of June.

On 18 July 1942, USS Skipjack left Fremantle for her 4th war patrol, this time in the Banda Sea and had her next victory when she torpedoed and damaged the Japanese fleet oil-tanker Hayatomo (14050 GRT) south-west of Ambon, Netherlands East Indies on 23 August. The patrol ended when she returned to Fremantle on 4 September.

I am not sure of when Sidney Kelf met Audrey or the circumstances of their meeting and the Audrey’s family could not provide me with any additional information about the relationship, but it would have occurred before Skipjack left for her 5th war patrol on 29 September 1942. Once again she was ordered to patrol in the Banda Sea, then work her way up north and end this war patrol at Pearl Harbor. On 14 October Skipjack had her next success sinking the Japanese transport ship Shunko Maru (6780 GRT) about 450 nautical miles west-south-west of Truk.

The Japanese Freighter S.S. Shunko Maru sinking in the central Pacific, after she was torpedoed by Skipjack (SS-184) on 14 October 1942. Photographed through Skipjack's periscope. Shunko Maru's back appears to be broken, and her hull bears traces of pattern camouflage paint. Photo: US National Archives # 80-G-33292

The Japanese Freighter S.S. Shunko Maru sinking in the central Pacific, after she was torpedoed by Skipjack (SS-184) on 14 October 1942. Photographed through Skipjack’s periscope. Shunko Maru’s back appears to be broken, and her hull bears traces of pattern camouflage paint. Photo: US National Archives # 80-G-33292

The submarine concluded her 5th war patrol in Pearl Harbor on 26 November 1942, before being ordered to Mare Island Navy Yard for an overhaul. It appears that Sidney Kelf did not accompany the submarine for refit to California but remained in Pearl Harbor and assigned to the Lapwing class Minesweeper,  USS Seagull (AM-30) which was reclassified as a Submarine tender.

USS Skipjack returned to Pearl Harbor after her overhaul and completed another 5 war patrols, sinking Japanese destroyer Suzukaze and transport ship Okitsu Maru on her 9th patrol and damaging the Japanese motor sail ship Tatsu Maru No.6 on her 10th and final patrol in November 1944. The submarine was then retired to training duties before being sunk during Test Baker, the second of two atomic bomb tests conducted at Bikini Atoll on 25 July 1946.

Insignia of USS Skipjack (SS-184) during WW2

Insignia of USS Skipjack (SS-184) during WW2

My research regarding the life and service of submariner, Lt. Sidney Alfred Kelf is far from complete and I do need to do a lot more research as my original records were lost when a computer hard-drive failed. I do know that he originally joined the navy as an enlisted man and was a Chief Torpedo-man before being commissioned. I also have a photograph of his grave headstone which indicates that he was born on May 8 1902, died October 31 1966 having served in the Navy in both World War 1 and 2.

USN submariner Kelf headstone

In addition to his submariner ‘dolphins’ badge, Sidney Kelf’s participation in two successful war patrols would have qualified him for the Submarine Combat Insignia with gold star. I am not sure what his medal entitlement is but as I intend to continue to research this individual, I’ll update this article as new information presents itself.

USN Submarine Combat Insignia qualification.

USN Submarine Combat Insignia qualification. This is one of two rare variations made by Sheridans of Perth to supply the submariners stationed at Fremantle during the war. Collection: Julian Tennant

EDIT: 01 May 2020.
Not directly related to Sidney Kelf, but I just found this amusing article from the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans relating the to frustration felt by the skipper, Lieutenant Commander James Coe, when the submarine’s request for toilet paper was denied. You can read the Skipjack’s battle for toilet paper on the museum website.

 

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Note that this site has NEW content posted every Sunday! If you like what you see here, please follow this page via email or by using either the buttons below or in the column on the right. Knowing that somebody is looking at this gives me the encouragement I need to go through my archives and collection to develop the content for the page. And of course, feel free to contact me here, via email or by visiting my Facebook or Instagram pages