The USS Stickleback (SS-415) Was Sunk In a Collision During An Anti-Submarine Exercise

Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized by
Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized by

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

Crewmen standing atop the USS Stickleback (SS-415) while at sea
Lt. Cmdr. Roy Robison, skipper of the USS Stickleback (SS-415), and other crew members, 1952. (Photo Credit: Los Angeles Examiner / USC Libraries / CORBIS / Getty Images)

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

USS Stickleback (SS-415) anchored at port
USS Stickleback (SS-415), 1950s. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

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)

USS Silverstein (DE-534) colliding with the USS Stickleback (SS-415)
Collision between the USS Stickleback (SS-415) and Silverstein (DE-534), 1958. (Photo Credit: U.S. Navy / Naval History and Heritage Command / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

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

USS Stickleback (SS-415) at sea
USS Stickleback (SS-415), 1945. (Photo Credit: US Navy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

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.

More from us: The Tragic Disappearance and Loss of the Argentine Submarine ARA San Juan (S-42)

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.”

Ryan McLachlan

Ryan McLachlan is a historian and content writer for Hive Media. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History and Classical Studies and his Master of Arts in History from the University of Western Ontario. Ryan’s research focused on military history, and he is particularly interested in the conflicts fought by the United Kingdom from the Napoleonic Wars to the Falklands War.

Ryan’s other historical interests include naval and maritime history, the history of aviation, the British Empire, and the British Monarchy. He is also interested in the lives of Sir Winston Churchill and Admiral Lord Nelson. Ryan enjoys teaching, reading, writing, and sharing history with anyone who will listen.

In his spare time, he enjoys watching period dramas such as Murdoch Mysteries and Ripper Street and also enjoys reading classical literature and Shakespeare. He also plays football and is an afternoon tea connoisseur.