The Tragic Fate of the USS Grenadier (SS-210) and Her Crew

Photo Credit: Shinerunner / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Shinerunner / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

For over 70 years, nobody knew the fate of the USS Grenadier (SS-210). Struck by a Japanese aircraft, the submarine sank to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Thailand, in April 1943. As her 76-men crew attempted to escape, several enemy vessels surrounded the area – they knew then their fates were sealed.

The USS Grenadier delivered devastating blows against Japan

The USS Grenadier was a Tambor-class submarine that was laid down at Portsmouth Navy Yard in April 1940. The vessel was commissioned just over a year later, with Lt. Cmdr. Allen R. Joyce in command.

Prior to America’s entry into World War II, Grenadier participated in the search for the USS O-9 (SS-70), which tragically never resurfaced after a deep dive test. After some time spent in the Caribbean Sea, she returned to port. Just over a month later, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the US into war and Grenadier was on her way to the Pacific to join the Submarine Fleet.

USS Grenadier (SS-210) being launched
USS Grenadier (SS-210), 1940. (Photo Credit: tormentor4555 / Flickr / Public Domain)

Grenadier‘s first patrol off the coast of Japan was unsuccessful, but she made up for it during her second. On May 8, 1942, the submarine torpedoed and sank the Japanese transport ship Taiyō Maru, which was en route to the East Indies. The sinking was one of Grenadier‘s most impressive victories. Onboard the transport were a slew of high-profile officials, including scientists and engineers, making the loss especially devastating for Japan.

On May 25, Grenadier sailed to Midway Island as part of a submarine patrol line, where she played a pivotal role in one of the most successful marine battles of the war. The Battle of Midway resulted in the loss of four Japanese aircraft carriers, along with hundreds of aircraft, making it yet another devastating blow to the enemy.

The tragic fate of the USS Grenadier

The USS Grenadier departed Australia on March 20, 1943 for the Strait of Malacca, in what would be her last patrol. Sailing the coast of Thailand, the submarine was spotted by Japanese aircraft as she surfaced around dawn. She immediately dived 130 feet below the water, her crew thinking they should be safe at that depth – they were wrong.

The bomb struck the submarine, cutting off power and starting a fire onboard the vessel. The crew attempted to make repairs, and after 13 hours managed to resurface to inspect the damage, noting Grenadier‘s propulsion system was broken beyond repair. The decision was then made to bring the vessel closer to shore, so she could be scuttled and her crew able to escape into the nearby jungle.

USS Yorktown (CV-5) being attacked by Japanese aircraft while at sea
The USS Grenadier (SS-210) was part of the submarine patrol line during the Battle of Midway. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Getty Images)

As dawn broke, they could see two Japanese ships headed toward them. Before abandoning the vessel, Grenadier‘s crew burned all confidential documents. They were once again spotted by a Japanese aircraft, but continued to fight back with machine guns, securing a hit. They then abandoned ship and watched as the submarine sank below the water to her final resting place.

Meanwhile, the Japanese ships loomed ever closer. One picked up the eight officers and 68 crewmen, who were taken prisoner and made to suffer horrific torture. Despite their treatment, they refused to reveal any information. Imprisoned and subjected to inhumane conditions, all but four of Grenadier‘s crew survived their two years as Japanese prisoners of war (POWs).

Discovery of the wreck

Like many of the 52 submarines lost during the Second World War, the final resting place of the USS Grenadier was unknown for decades. In 2020, however, it was announced the vessel had been discovered, thanks to the efforts of a four-man dive team, which included Ben Reymenants. He’d shot into the spotlight in 2018 as one of the rescuers during the crisis involving the Thai junior association soccer team who’d become stranded in a cave for several days.

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Reymenants asked locals if they’d encountered any spots where their fishing nets snagged the ocean floor below. Once a couple of possible targets were identified, sonar technology was used to locate the submarine. The team of divers were able to see the wreck for the first time in over seven decades, sitting upright some 270 feet below the water in the Strait of Malacca.

Upon discovering Grenadier, the team sent their findings to the Naval History and Heritage Command, which placed the wreck under the protection of the Sunken Military Craft Act.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

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