On May 28, 1958, the USS Stickleback (SS-415) became the second US submarine lost since the end of World War II. The Balao-class vessel had missed out on the conflict, beginning her first combat patrol on August 6, 1945, the day Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima. She did, however, see service in Korea between February-July 1952.
Following the Korean War, Stickleback took part in various exercises, meeting her end during one.
USS Stickleback (SS-415) following World War II
On June 26, 1946, following the Second World War, the USS Stickleback was decommissioned. However, the submarine was recommissioned on September 6, 1946, serving as a training ship out of San Diego. In November 1952, the vessel was sent to Mare Island Naval Shipyard to be converted into a GUPPY IIA-type submarine.
After her conversion, Stickleback joined Submarine Squadron 7 out of Pearl Harbor. Between February-July 1954, she saw service supporting the United Nations (UN) forces in Korea. Following the conflict, the vessel participated in a number of exercises and training missions.
Not-so-routine anti-submarine warfare exercise
One of these exercises, an anti-submarine warfare operation, saw the USS Stickleback operate alongside the USS Silverstein (DE-534), a John C. Butler-class destroyer escort, and a torpedo retriever off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.
During the exercise, Stickleback experienced a significant issue. Once she’d completed a simulated torpedo attack on Silverstein, she lost power and began to dive deep into the ocean. It’s reported the submarine reached a depth of 800 feet, double her maximum dive depth.
If the crew weren’t able to get back to the surface, Stickleback would be crushed by the water’s pressure. The crisis was averted when the vessel’s ballast tanks were blown, and the submarine rose to the surface. While she and her crew were out of danger of being crushed below the surface, they were still at risk, this time from an unexpected source: Silverstein.
Disaster strikes the USS Stickleback (SS-415)
After escaping the depths of the ocean, the USS Stickleback had surfaced directly in the path of the USS Silverstein. To avoid the submarine, the destroyer escort’s engines were put into reverse and the vessel put her rudder hard to the left. Despite this effort, Silverstein sailed into Stickleback’s port side, creating a large hole.
Stickleback began to fill with water. Deeming they could do nothing, the 82 crew members aboard were removed to the torpedo retrieval ship that had been taking part in the exercise. In an effort to save the vessel, Silverstein, along with the USS Sturtevant (DE-239), Sabalo (SS-302) and Greenlet (ASR-10), tied lines around her.
Their efforts were in vain, however, and the submarine flooded. It was reported that, at 6:57 PM on May 29, Stickleback “sank in 1,800 fathoms of water.” Just a month later, she was stricken from the Naval Register.
Discovering a wreck at the bottom of the ocean
In 2020, the Lost 52 Project, a private company that intends to find all US submarines sunk during the Second World War, as well as the four lost during the Cold War, began searching for the USS Stickleback. The vessel is the company’s sixth discovery, and it was made through the use of sonar-based imagery and robotics.
Bob Neyland, head of the Naval History and Heritage Command’s Underwater Archaeology Branch, stated Stickleback‘s discovery provided “an opportunity to remember and honor the service of our sailors and marines.”