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USS Caiman (SS-323) History

Last Update: 2/14/2016

NEW - USS Caiman (SS-323) War Patrol Reports

The history of the USS Caiman (SS-323) spans from its launching in 1944 to June of 1972. Caiman made four war patrols during World War II and three patrols during the Korean War. Between 1954 and 1972 she remained in the Pacific fleet conducting local operations and made many west pac deployments until she was transferred to the Turkish Navy June 30, 1972 as the TCG Dumlupinar (S-339). She was decomissioned as a Turkish warship on 23 December 1983. She operated continuously for over 39 years with over 1500 men serving aboard her keeping her in top condition as a proud US and Turkish warship.

Here is the link to the War Patrol Reports: War Patrol Reports

1944-1950

The USS Caiman, a Balao class diesel electric fleet type submarine, was originally going to be named the USS Blanquillo. It was renamed 24 September 1942. The renaming of new boats was a fairly common occurance back then. It was launched as the USS Caiman (SS-323) 30 March 1944 by Electric Boat Co. in Groton, Connecticut. It was sponsored by Mrs. A. E. Bonjour and commissioned 17 July 1944 with Commander J. B. Azer in command. Here is a list of the commissioning crew (AKA Plankowners).

The launching of the Caiman was a little different than most. The article that appeard in the New London Day newspaper the following day had this headline: "E.B Launches Caiman; Wins Recognition as Enlisted Man's Sub". The article describes the affair in great detail. Agnes Bonjour was the wife of a Chief Machinist Mate and the President of the Periscope Navy Wives club representing the families of enlisted men of the submarine service. The Governor of Connecticut, Raymond E. Baldwin, attended and spoke at the ceremony. The launching time was arranged so that all employees of the Victory yard at E.B. could attend and most of them did. It was announced over the public address system by L. Y. Spear, president of the Electric Boat Co. that Mrs. Bonjour, as sponsor, represented the enlisted force of the Navy. The Governor, who was a former enlisted man in the Navy in World War I, gave a very poignant speech celebtating the work done by E.B employees and honoring the crew of the Caiman and their wives, sweethearts and families. Here is a transcribed copy of the article.

Caiman sailed from Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol 13 November 1944. It didn't take long for Caiman to encounter the enemy. After departing Pearl Harbor she made a quick dive to check equipment. She went to periscope depth and while making a sweep around saw a torpedo heading right for her. She made an emergency dive and took evasive manuevers and successfully evaded the torpedo. After awhile she broke from the area, surfaced and continued on toward the South China Sea pausing in Saipan to put ashore her severely ill commanding officer and embark his relief. On station, she combined offensive patrol with lifeguard duty to rescue aviators downed in air strikes on enemy-held territory. During this patrol she operated in a wolf pack with the USS Sealion (SS-315) and the USS Blenny (SS-324). Aggressive American submarine and naval air attack had already greatly reduced the Japanese merchant fleet; hence Caiman made no contacts on this patrol, from which she returned to Fremantle, Australia, on 22 January 1945 to refit.

In February of 2016, Terrence Horton, the son of Thomas Jefferson Horton, sent a copy of the Caiman Daily Diary (Report of Changes) from November 13th, 1944 that shows the names of shipmates that came aboard the Caiman right before it left on its first war patrol. His fathers name is shown on this list along with Bernie Ritscher who has attended many of our reunions.

On her second patrol in the South China Sea and off the Gulf of Siam, from 18 February to 6 April, Caiman joined a wolf-pack consisting of the USS Pampanito (SS-383), USS Pintado (SS-387), USS Sea Robin (SS-407). She rendezvoused with the Pampanito near the small island of Pulau Redang, and Lt. Commander William Bush, Perspective Commanding Officer (PCO) was transferred to Caiman to take command of the Caiman. Control of the wolf pack was turned over to Bush in Caiman. The wolf pack made no contact with the enemy. Caiman headed for Subic Bay for refit alongside the USS Anthedon AS-24.

On her third patrol, which began at Subic Bay in the Philippines on 28 April, she sank two small schooners with gun fire. Their use illustrated graphically the almost complete loss of modern merchant ships which the Japanese had suffered largely at the hands of the U.S. Navy. Also during this patrol, Caiman fired four torpedos at a freighter at too long a range and suffered a depth bomb attack as a result. Jack Kidder, one of her crew that made all of her war partrols, recalls that the they went deep to near 1000 feet to escape the depth charges and they were down for 60 hours while leaving the area. What he remembers the most is the moaning sounds of the hull and the jets of water from leaking valves. It is believed that Caiman was one of the first US submarines to operate out of Subic Bay which is ironic as it was also the last WWII boat to pass through Subic in 1971.

Returning to Fremantle 27 June from her patrol area off southern Indo-China and western Borneo, the submarine refitted for her fourth war patrol, during which she performed three dangerous special missions, landing and later evacuating agents from the coast of Java. On this patrol, which took place from 22 July to the end of hostilities, she sank another Japanese schooner. On 3 August, under CDR W.L. Frey, Jr., conducted evacuation of agents near Kendari, Celebes and then on 9 August she accomplished a special mission in the vicinity of Sekala Island in the Java Sea. She returned to Subic Bay 19 August, then sailed for San Francisco. Of Caiman's four war patrols, the last was designated "successful." She received two battle stars for service in World War II.

Here is a more detailed accounting of her fourth patrol which is published here with permission from Ed Howard at subsowespac.org. Caiman's fourth war patrol spanned twenty-nine days, of which twenty-one days were spent on her assigned objectives. Prior to her departure from Fremantle, she underwent a refit during which a new surface radar, two 40MM guns, and one 20MM gun were installed, and approach training, torpedo exercises, and gunnery training were conducted. On July 22, 1945, she departed Fremantle. Her patrol objectives would take her to the Flores Sea, the Java Sea, and the South China Sea. Three special missions were conducted. On July 28, she reconnoitered the coast of Lombok and interrogated natives fleeing the island before continuing on into the Flores Sea. On July 31, she stood off Kendari, Celebes, to pick up Allied Intelligence Bureau coast watchers. Contact was not made, however, nor did she find any surface targets. On August 6, she was almost attacked by USS Chubb before recognition signals could be exchanged. On August 9, she landed three agents on Sekala Island, for scouting missions on Java, and began investigating native shipping. The next day, off Bandjermasin, she investigated, and sank with 40MM fire, a native prau that was carrying Japanese cargo. On August 15, after passing through Karimata Strait, Caiman received orders to cease hostilities against Japanese forces. She returned to Subic Bay four days later.

During the war, Caiman participated in four wolf packs. The first was commanded by CDR F.C. Lucas, Jr. and consisted of the Caiman, Lapon and Sealion. The second was a pack of four boats commanded by CDR P.E. Summers with the Pampanito, Mingo, Sealion and Caiman. The third was made up of Caiman, Sealion and Mingo and was commanded by CDR W.L. Frey, Jr.. The final and fourth wolf pac that Caiman was engaged in was commanded by CDR B.A. Cleary which included the Pintado and Caiman.

After the war Caiman operated out of San Diego, Guam, and Pearl Harbor. On March 26, 1946, at a Submarine Officer's Conference attended by the former ComSubPac, Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, it was decided to dispose of all captured Japanese submarines by sinking. On May 21, the I-203 was the target vessel for operational testing of the Mark 9 torpedo exploder. At 1143, I-203 was sunk by a Mark 18-2 electric torpedo fired by USS Caiman SS-323 at coordinates 21° 13' North, 158° 8' West.

The USS Caiman (SS-323) War Patrol Reports are available for download from the USS Caiman (SS-323) War Patrols page. The War Patrol Reports were provided by our fellow submariners from the USS Sealion (SS-315) web site.

In 1947 she sailed from Seattle in operation 'Blue Nose', an Arctic familiarization cruise, with the submarine tender USS Nereus (AS-17) and submarines USS Boarfish (SS-327) and USS Cabezon (SS-334). On 15 July she left for the Aleutian Islands. The group was underway again 25 July, this time for the Pribiloff Islands. During this transit Army Air Force planes based at Adak took part in the antisubmarine training. On 30 July the group passed through the Bering Strait and crossed the Arctic Circle. Following along the International Date Line, the ships of Operation "Blue Nose" sighted pack ice on the morning of 1 August 1947. After reaching 72 degrees 15' north latitude, the ships continued independently along the ice pack to determine its shape. Caiman returned to Seattle and served as a reserve training boat and conducted joint operations with the Canadian Navy for a few years.

1951-1960

In the spring of 1951 she made her way down to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California and on 23 April 1951 she began a conversion from a standard fleet type to a streamlined 'guppy' submarine. 'Guppy' stands for 'Greater Underwater Propulsion Power'. She was outfitted with a 'snorkel' which is a breathing device that permits diesel electric submarines to take in and exhaust air while operating submerged. This allowed her to charge batteries while submerged thus allowing her to operate submerged for long periods of time. The conversion also included installing high capacity electric storage batteries and streamlining her hull and sail.

Following her conversion the Caiman departed in February, 1952 for the Western Pacific to support the United Nations' Forces engaged in the Korean Conflict. She made an interim stop at the island of Chichi-Jima in the Bonin Islands to provide supplies to the submarine detachment stationed on the island. This small eight square mile island, located 600 miles from Tokyo, was used by Japanese seaplanes and torpedo boats. The bay was full of old torpedo warheads. This six-month deployment earned the Caiman a commendation and a "Well Done" from the Commander in Chief, US Pacific Fleet.

Returning to Pearl Harbor in August, 1952, she conducted routine training in Hawaiian waters until April 1953 when she entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for a routine three month overhaul. She operated from Pearl Harbor for the next 10 months. In August, 1953 she conducted operations in the Bering Straits. She began her second deployment to the Orient since the outbreak of the Korean War in June, 1954. In December, 1954 she returned to Pearl Harbor and resumed local operations until June, 1955 when she participated in a special six week training cruise to the Northern Pacific.

In August, 1955 Caiman again entered the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard for a routine overhaul. On August 31, 1955 she was selected as the outstanding ship of Submarine Squadron Seven for the Fiscal Year 1955 and subsequently awared the Navy 'E' for Excellence by Rear Admiral Leon J. Huffman, the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force Commander.

On January 21, 1956 shortly after completing overhaul, the Caiman was deployed to the South Pacific before reporting to her new home base in San Diego, California Submarine Division 33. She returned to San Diego in August and then left a few months later in November for another West Pac which took her to the usual ports including Sasebo, Japan and a trip to Australia to participate in the Battle of the Coral Sea Celebration. The Coral Sea Week Souvenir Program tells the story. Note that the Souvenir Program is signed by LCDR Jack Hawkins, the Commanding Officer of the USS Caiman (SS-323). After the visit to Australia, Caiman traveled to Papeete, Tahiti and then back to Pearl Harbor.

Thereafter she alternated between local operations and fleet exercises with tours of duty in the Far East or West Pac at 18-month intervals. This cycle was broken every few years with some time at Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco or a floating dry dock for overhauls, battery changes or repairs.

In 1960 Caiman went out on a dependents cruise. During the first dive it was discovered that an error was made in the compensation causing a much faster and steeper dive than normal and then an emergency surface. The crew did a good job of making it seem part of the show for the dependents. Visit the Stories section of the Gallery for the rest of the story. A Guest Cruise Booklet was made for this cruise which contains a very good overview of the Caiman.

1961-1972

In January 1961 Caiman went into the yards at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco for a six month overhaul. During this overhaul the step sail was replaced with a tall fiberglass sail and the after deck was replaced with a fiberglass hinged clamshells

Caiman departed for West Pac shortly after her overhaul. Captain T. J. Bruck, the Caiman CO, mailed out a Family Gram to a long list of spouses and other family members after the transit to Pearl. After leaving Pearl Harbor she transited to the op areas near Okinawa for ASW exercises. While being chased by USS Samuel N. Moore (DD-747) which was acting as a screen for the USS Yorktown (CVS-10), the rudder of the Moore struck the after portion of Caiman's sail, causing severe damage to several masts and antenna’s. Caiman headed for Yokosuka to repair her sail and replace the damaged masts.

In 1967, Caiman went through an overhaul at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Later in 67, she left for a West Pac. During this deployment, she made a long run out of Yokosuka that spanned Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

Caiman once again went into the yards at Hunters Point for a battery job in 1968. She left for another West Pac deployment late 68 and returned in May 1969.

Over the years Caiman participated in community festivals up and down the west coast in San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, and the Puget Sound areas. At these functions or when ever there were visitors aboard they were often given a Welcome Aboard Brochure that explained a little history of the Caiman and information about the Commanding Officer and the submarine force.

Caiman's last yard overhaul was in Hunters Point for six months in 1970. After the overhaul she operated out of San Diego and made a trip up to Bangor Washington to test and align her fire control systems.

In November 1970, she left for her last West Pac which was the last West Pac mission for a WWII submarine. This West Pac took her to Yokosuka, Pusan, Hong Kong, Subic Bay, Singapore, Kaoshiung, Manila, Darwin, Brisbane, Suva and Pago Pago. Caiman was in the war zone off the coast of Vietnam for a few days. During a transit, she hit an unknown underwater obstruction that took a chunk out of one of the screws. She was put in a floating drydock for about a week in Subic to replace the screw.

During this last deployment she participated in training excercises with the ROC Navy near Kaoshiung Taiwan and the US Navy in the Indian Ocean. She traveled more than 50,000 miles and visited 11 foreign ports. Some of the highlights of this cruise included running for several weeks without any air conditioning with the temperatures in the boat exceeding 120 degrees; being the first US submarine to enter Darwin Australia since WWII; transiting the Torres Straits at night without any navigation aids; and making an unscheduled and unannounced entrance into the port of Port Moresby, New Guinea, and being met by a gun boat to off load the pilot.

Her last cruise, before she was decommissioned, took her to the Northwest. The first stop was Port Angeles and then Victoria, BC. After that she headed south and up the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon. The next stop was in the Northern California town of Eureka for their Rhododendron Festival. After that it was on to San Francisco.

After departing the dock in San Fransisco Captain Meaux took the deck and the conn and and steamed up and down along the Embarcadero, in San Francisco and called for "rig ship for dive". Caiman submerged before leaving the bay and made a submerged transit under the Golden Gate bridge.

The USS Caiman (SS-323) was decommmissioned and transfered to the Turkish Navy on June 30, 1972. The USS Caiman (SS-323) was one of the last few WWII boats in service. It was renamed the TCG Dumlupinar (S-339). The Caiman was the third US submarine sold to the Turkish Navy to bear this name.

The name Dumlupinar has an important place in Turkish history. It comes from the last battle of the Turkish War of Independence in 1922. The ex-USS Blower (SS-325), the second submarine to bear the name, was lost in the treacherous Dardanelles on 4 April 1953 where 81 Turkish submariners perished in the accident.

Four years after Turkey took over the ex-Caiman on August 31, 1976, it suffered a collision with the Soviet freighter Szik Vovilov in the Dardanelles about 28 miles from where the former USS Blower sank. After the collision, the crew managed to ground her before it sank. There were no injuries. The Dumlupinar was salvaged and repaired and served in the Turkish Navy for 11 years before her Decommissioning as TGC Dumlupinar (S-339) on 23 December 1983. She served as a proud war ship for a total of 39 years and 5 months. She was once again put back into service in December 1983 as a battery charging facility and then in September 1986 was sold for scrap.

Here is the Captains List of the 20 Captains that commanded the USS Caiman (SS-323) through its 28 year history.

USS Caiman (SS-323) Awards

  • Two battle stars for service in World War II
  • Navy Unit Commendation Aug, 1952
  • Battle Efficiency "E" Sep, 1955
  • Battle Efficiency "E" Jan 28, 1966
  • Battle Efficiency "E" Jun 3, 1972

USS Caiman (SS-323) Factlets

USS CAIMAN (SS-323)

  • Launched: March 30, 1944
  • Displacement: 1,526 tons
  • Length: 311 feet and 9 inches
  • Draft: 15 feet and 3 inches
  • Speed: 18-20k on the surface
  • Armament: 6 Fwd Tubes and 4 Aft
  • Complement: 66-72 crew and officers
  • Class: Balao
  • Radio Call Sign: NKCC
  • Guppy I Conversion: 1951

Sources and Acknowledgements

The history of the USS Caiman (SS-323) is an on going project of piecing together information collected from many public sources and from the memories of the USS Caiman Association members. The following is a list of those sources and members that have helped make a complete story of the USS Caiman (SS-323)/TCG Dumlupinar (S-339).

USS Caiman/TCG Dumlupinar Crew Members - THANK YOU!

JK BainGeorge Breault
Greg DoradoChris Field
Tony FreyJohn Haley
Jack KidderDick Meaux
Doug SmithR.C. Thompson
Tommy ThompsonJack Warden
Charlie WildRay de Yarmin
Bob BowlinSait Kucuk
Brian Riggs

Contributing Internet Sites - THANK YOU!

Navsource.org
Subnet.com
NavyHistory.com
San Francisco Maritime National Park Association
Wikiverse
Tendertale.com
History of USS Current (ARS-22)
Diodon349.com - Collision of Samuel Moore and Caiman
Bowfin.org - Subs in Korean War
St Mary's Submarine Museum

Special Individual Aknowledgements - THANK YOU!

Don Wagner


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