USS Razorback, a Balao-class submarine of the Sandlance variant, was built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.
What does Sandlance variant mean?
Submarines, like other naval ships, are built in “classes”. Each class is named after the first ship of the class. Even though all members of a class are largely identical, as new technology is introduced, “variants” of the class occur.
For example, there are nine different variants of the “Balao” class:
- Balao (SS 285 – 291)
- Devilfish (SS 291 – 297)
- Lionfish (SS 298 – 299, SS 308 – 312)
- Moray (SS 300 – 303)
- Seahorse (SS 304 – 307)
- Perch (SS 313 – 352, SS 362 – 378)
- Sandlance (SS 381 – 404)
- Sea Owl (SS 405 – 410)
- Spadefish (SS 411 – 416)
Her keel was laid on 09 September 1943. Razorback was constructed in Drydock #1 at the shipyard, and she was launched, along with two sister ships USS Redfish (SS 395) and USS Ronquil (SS 396), on 27 January 1944. USS Scabbardfish (SS 397) was also launched at the shipyard that day. This was the largest single-day launch of submarines in US history.
Details of Razorback’s Construction
|311 Feet, 7 Inches|
27 Feet, 3 Inches
16 Feet, 10 Inches
|10,000 Nautical Miles|
10 hours, 48 minutes at 2 Knots (21.75 NM)
Various small arms
|10 (21″ diameter); Six Forward and Four Aft|
1 – 4″/50 Mk12 Mod 44 – Forward
Changed to 2 – 5″/25 Mk13 Mod 11 Guns after 3rd War Patrol
2 20mm Single Mount
|Periscopes:||1 – Type 2 Attack Periscope|
1 – Type 3 Search Periscope
|4 – Fairbanks Morse 1,350 HP each|
4 – 685 HP each
2 – 126 cells each 18,600 amp-hr total capacity
She was commissioned on 03 April 1944. Her first Commanding Officer was LCDR Albert W. Bontier, USN.
During her training period, Razorback ran aground in the late evening of 23 May 1944 at Race Rock Light outside New London submarine base. Initial attempts to free her failed, and ultimately Razorback would be forced to unload gun ammunition and torpedoes from the forward torpedo room. Following a short drydocking period (27 May – 04 June), Razorback resumed her training regimen. CDR Roy S. Benson relieved LCDR Bontier as Commanding Officer on 05 June 1944. (LCDR Bontier would go on to command USS Seawolf (SS 197), which was probably sunk by U.S. forces on 03 October 1944.)
World War II Service
Razorback conducted five combat patrols during World War II, sinking Japanese vessels, capturing Japanese POWs and rescuing American pilots who had been shot down. At the end of WWII, she was one of only 12 submarines selected to be present in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrender was signed.
Details of USS Razorback’s WWII Service
Following her commissioning on 03 April, 1944, Razorback and her crew underwent an intensive period of tests, exercises, and other training. She departed New London, CT en route to the Pacific on 23 June, 1944. Stopping from 30 June to 11 July in Key West, FL to act as a target for new SONAR operators at the Fleet Sound School there, she transited the Panama Canal on 15 July, 1944. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on 04 August, Razorback underwent additional training and had the following modifications performed:
- Replaced the 20mm gun on the after end of the bridge with a 40mm gun
- Installed a VHF radio
- Installed an AN/APR-1 Radar Countermeasures System (a Radar detector)
- Replaced one RAL radio receiver with a newer RBH-1
- Painted the submarine in standard camouflage scheme 32/3 SS-B
First War Patrol
Razorback departed for her first combat patrol on 25 August. CDR Roy Stanley Benson, USN, Razorback‘s Commanding Officer, was also in overall command of a group, or “wolf pack” of three submarines, known as the “Dog Pack”:
- USS Razorback (SS 394)
- USS Piranha (SS 389)
- USS Cavalla (SS 244)
(CDR Benson would ultimately rise to the rank of Rear Admiral.)
During the first part of the patrol, the group operated as part of a larger group of submarines (known as the “Zoo”, under the tactical command of CAPT C.W. Wilkins, USN), conducting offensive reconnaissance in support of the invasion of Palau and fleet operations around the Philippines. Then, the group patrolled the areas east of Taiwan and between Taiwan and the Philippine island of Luzon.
Although neither Razorback, nor the other two submarines in the group sank any Japanese ships, it was recognized that this was due to the fact that the group was severely constrained in their operations and movements by the other operations going on in the Pacific. Razorback in particular was recognized for making a systematic collection of information about Japanese use of radar, especially radar aboard aircraft. Razorback‘s newly installed APR radar detector almost certainly prevented her from being sunk by Japanese aircraft. Razorback had bombs and/or depth charges dropped on her twice.
At the end of the patrol on 09 October, the group split up. Razorback headed to Midway, Piranha to Pearl Harbor, and Cavalla to Freemantle, Australia.
Razorback arrived at Midway on 19 October. CDR Benson was relieved by LCDR C. Donald Brown, USN on 21 October. During her time in Midway, a few minor alterations were performed and a week-long training period was conducted. Razorback departed for her second war patrol on 15 November, 1944
Second War Patrol
Razorback operated as part of “Roys Rangers”, a wolfpack group under the command of CDR R.M. Davenport, Commander of USS Trepang. The group consisted of:
- USS Razorback (SS 394)
- USS Trepang (SS 412)
- USS Segundo (SS 398)
The group patrolled the Luzon Strait area. A total of 10 attacks were conducted on six different groups of Japanese vessels. Razorback was so aggressive in pressing her attacks that part way through her patrol, she ran low on torpedoes and returned briefly to Saipan for 24 more.
Razorback sank the following vessels:
- Unknown Shigure-type Destroyer of approximately 1,400 tons
- IJN Kuretake (DD 4), a Wakatake class Destroyer (1,100 tons full load displacement)
- A large Oiler (8,000 tons)
- A large AK (troop carrying freighter) (7,500 tons)
- A large AK or AP (troop ship) type (5,000 tons)
Razorback shares 1/2 credit for the last vessel with Segundo, who had previously damaged it.
Razorback also damaged a medium AK (troop carrying freighter) of about 4,000 tons.
More recent evidence suggests that the attack on the Shigure-type destroyer, conducted on 05/06 December, 1944, was not actually successful. Research is ongoing.
At the end of her second patrol, Razorback headed for Guam.
Razorback arrived at Apra Harbor, Guam on 05 January, 1945 for a refit and overhaul. She departed on her third war patrol on 01 February, 1945.
Third War Patrol
Razorback operated as part of a group “Fulp’s Fiddlers”, consisting of:
- USS Segundo (SS 398) (CDR J.D. Fulp, USN, Pack Commander)
- USS Razorback (SS 394)
- USS Sea Cat (SS 399)
The group patrolled the East China Sea. Razorback conducted two unsuccessful torpedo attacks, but sank two 85-foot long, 100-ton wooden sea trucks; a 50-ton wooden schooner; and a 100-ton, two-masted junk with her 4″ deck gun and her 40mm and 20mm guns. Four Japanese POWs were also captured.
At the end of her third patrol, Razorback stopped at Guam to discharge her prisoners, then proceeded to Pearl Harbor, HI.
Razorback arrived at Pearl Harbor 26 March, 1945. While the crew was given a well deserved rest, Razorback was undergoing both a normal post-patrol refit as well as having major modifications done. Some of the work done included:
- Attempted repair of (followed by replacement of) the port propeller shaft which had begun over heating at deep submergence depths
- Replaced 4″/50 gun forward with a 5″/25
- Installation of a second gun foundation aft
- Installation of a 5″/25 gun aft
- Installation of an ST-type (range-only) periscope radar
Razorback departed on her fourth war patrol on 07 May, 1945.
The majority of this war patrol was spent on lifeguard duty very near the Japanese coast. Razorback rescued a total of five men:
- Lt. Col. Charles E. Taylor, a P-51 pilot
- 1st Lt. J. Z. Keseks, B-29 “MASCOT 31”
- 2nd Lt. J. P. Duffy, B-29 “MASCOT 31”
- 2nd Lt. C. J. Duveen, B-29 “MASCOT 31”
- Staff Sgt A. J. Liberi, B-29 “MASCOT 31”
These men were transferred to USS Dragonet (SS 293) on 05 June, and Razorback continued her patrol.
During this patrol, Razorback saw no large vessels at all, but did see a number of Japanese aircraft and experienced a variety of new Japanese ASW tactics, including “gambit” or loitering tactics by Japanese aircraft and possibly the use of an air-dropped ASW torpedo.
At the end of her fourth war patrol, Razorback headed for Midway.
Razorback arrived at Midway on 27 July, 1945. During a short refit period, the following alterations were performed:
- Replaced 20mm gun on aft cigarette deck with a twin 20mm gun mount
- Replaced the SD-4 air search radar with an SD-5
- Installed a DCDI (Depth Charge Direction Indicator)
- Installed an ice cream freezer
While Razorback was in Midway conducting underway training, GMC Valant, a crewman aboard USS Entemedor (SS 340), was washed overboard. Razorback crewmen LT (jg) W. H. Pattillo, USNR and MoMM3 D.D. Langford went into the water and rescued him, despite the state 3 seas and a nearby reef.
Razorback departed on her fifth war patrol on 22 July, 1945. This patrol was spent in the Okhotsk Sea and east of the Northern Kurile Islands.
Razorback was especially impressed with the performance of the newly installed SD-5 air search radar, which regularly gave contacts at an excess of 50 miles. Previous contact distances had been as low as 10 miles or less.
The only large vessels sighted during this patrol were Russian vessels, and Razorback was able to confirm that they were staying in their agreed upon areas. A number of these vessels were “shot” with a camera, rather than torpedoes. Razorback was able to engage and sink six wooden “sea trucks” and damage two others with her deck guns.
Razorback‘s offensive patrols were interrupted by assigned to lifeguard stations, but fortunately, her services were not needed.
Despite the declaration of a cease fire on 16 August, Razorback was fired upon by an unidentified submerged Japanese submarine on 29 August. Razorback dove to avoid the torpedo and did not return fire.
On 30 August, 1945, Razorback was assigned to the task group “Benny’s Peacemakers”, and she entered Tokyo Bay on 31 August to participate in the formal surrender ceremonies on 02 September, 1945.
She received the coveted Navy “E” for overall excellence in 1949.
Razorback was decommissioned on 05 August 1952 in order to undergo conversion and modernization under the (Greater Underwater Propulsive Power) “GUPPY” program.
The GUPPY program was developed by the US Navy after World War II to improve the submerged speed, maneuverability and endurance of its submarines. The modifications were made at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, where she had been built just eight years before. Many technologies had advanced in those eight short years. The world had also changed and both the technological changes and the geopolitical changes had a direct impact on submarine operations and submarine design.
Details of the GUPPY Program
By 1946 the Soviet Union was already seen as the future adversary of the United States. It was estimated that the Soviet Union had 229 submarines, of which only 13 were obsolete types. It was also estimated that over the next 20 years the Soviet Navy would be able to build over 1200 new submarines. Clearly, the United States could not build enough new submarines to keep up, so existing submarines would have to be modernized.
At the end of World War II, cutting edge German submarine technology, including complete submarines, examples of snorkel technology, highly advanced torpedoes, and even sound absorbing tiles for submarine hulls had been evenly distributed between the three major allied powers (the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union). In this distribution, the United States and the Soviet Union both received 10 German submarines. In addition, American and British Naval leaders believed that advancing Soviet armies, while occupying much of Germany, had captured additional items including blueprints, prototypes and possibly even as many as 40 nearly complete submarines.
It was clear to American Naval leaders that the US submarine fleet would need to be rapidly modernized in order to keep pace with the expected advances in Russian submarine technology. The surface Navy also needed to learn how to detect, defend against, and if necessary, attack the fast, modern submarines the Soviets were building, so they needed similarly fast, modern submarines to train against.
The primary elements of the GUPPY Program were:
- Increased battery capacity
- Streamlined outer hull
- Addition of a snorkel
- Improved sensors
Increased Battery Capacity
The underwater endurance of a diesel-electric submarine is defined by the capacity of it’s batteries. The GUPPY program increased the number of battery cells in each submarine with some later boats receiving improved batteries that provided even more power per cell.
Streamlined Outer Hull
WWII submarines like Razorback were basically surface ships that could submerge, but were very slow under water (8.5 knots vs 18 knots surfaced). A submarine’s underwater speed is limited by the amount of drag created by it’s fairwater, periscopes, guns, and other deck machinery. All of these items created a great deal of drag. Reducing this drag meant that the submarine could go faster while using the same amount of power. Streamlining also had the advantage of reducing an opponent’s sonar effectiveness by 10% or more. Significant changes included:
- Removal of deck guns
- Removal of 20mm and 40mm anti-aircraft guns
- Rebuilding of the bridge/periscope shears structure as a streamlined “sail”
- Capstans made retractable
- Deck cleats made retractable
- Deck safety rail stanchions made flush with the deck
- All deck safety rails made removable
- Replacement of the pointed bow and towing fairlead with a rounded bow (known as the “Guppy Bow”)
Addition of a Snorkel
The snorkel, often credited to the German Navy, was actually a Dutch invention. The Dutch Navy began experimenting with snorkels as early as 1938. When the Netherlands fell to German invasion in 1940, the invention fell in to German hands, and was being installed on German U-Boats by 1943.
The snorkel allows a submarine to run its diesel engines while submerged (down to about periscope depth), greatly increasing its underwater endurance while also greatly reducing its vulnerability to detection by radar. (A snorkeling boat was actually more vulnerable to detection by sonar, but this was considered an advantage for US submarines, since existing sonars and torpedoes, designed to detect and attack surface ships, could still be used to detect and attack a snorkeling submarine. Also, the Soviet Navy operated from a very limited number of bases, allowing US submarines to “lurk” off these bases waiting for their noisy targets to approach.)
The GUPPY program added a wide variety of sensors, including better sonars, better electronic warfare systems, and even new fire control systems in the later boats.
The GUPPY program eventually led to seven different variants:
- GUPPY I
- GUPPY II
- GUPPY IA
- Fleet Snorkel
- GUPPY IIA
- GUPPY IB
- GUPPY III
The apparent out of order sequence is correct. Furthermore, some boats that went through an early part of the program were upgraded a second time in a later phase. For example, both GUPPY I boats (USS Odax (SS 484) and USS Pomodon (SS 486)) went through the GUPPY II program while all nine GUPPY III boats had themselves previously been through the GUPPY II program. A total of 50 submarines went through some phase of the GUPPY program.
While many of the museum submarines in the United States went through some form of the GUPPY program, Razorback is the only Balao class GUPPY IIA boat on display anywhere in the world. Furthermore, she is one of only two GUPPY submarines to have had her hull reinforced so she could act as a live target for torpedo tests, a role Razorback would fulfill regularly during her career. (The other submarine was USS Thornback (SS 418), a Tench class submarine that also served in the Turkish Navy. She is now a museum submarine in Istanbul.)
Cold War Activities and Training
Recommissioned on 08 January 1954, Razorback resumed her Cold War duties. During 1955 alone, she made over 390 dives during exercises and ASW training. In 1957 she made a surveillance patrol around the Russian port of Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia’s primary submarine port in the Pacific.
She also participated in testing of the Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) in 1957. ASROC was designed to give surface ships a long-range ASW capability.
Razorback was awarded a second Battle “E” on 11 August 1959.
In 1960, Razorback continued her R&D work with both the Naval Electronics Library and the Naval Underwater Sound Laboratory.
From November 1961 to February 1962, Razorback was drydocked in San Francisco for additional modifications, including the replacement of her “step-sail” (installed as part of the GUPPY program) with a larger “North Atlantic” sail (the same sail she still has today).
On 04 December, 1961, a Ship’s Party was held. The emcee was Ed Hennessey, who emceed the 1961 “Miss Universe” pagent.
On Christmas Day, 1961, Razorback, then under the command of LCDR Schoenherr, hosted a Christmas Party for “Submarine Group San Francisco”. Unfortunately, the program does not list any of the participants, but it does list some of the crew and a menu. Click here to see a copy of the program from the party.
On 11 May 1962, Razorback participated in the “SWORDFISH” nuclear weapons test. An ASROC with a nuclear depth charge warhead was fired by the destroyer Agerholmn (DD 826) at a target raft from a range of 2 nautical miles. Razorback was submerged at periscope depth 2 nautical miles from the target raft. The ASROC weapon produced a powerful underwater shock wave which visibly shook Razorback and her crew. The resulting data was used to formulate tactical doctrine for ASROC, a weapon that remained in front-line service for nearly 30 years.
Training for Vietnam
Following the “SWORDFISH” test, Razorback resumed her normal duties. She conducted ASW training with many different vessels and aircraft. In 1962, Razorback traveled to Seattle, Washington where she participated in the annual “Sea Fair”. She hosted an estimated 5,000 visitors during her stay.
In 1963, she rescued Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan, USN (ret) and six other men after Admiral Bogan’s yacht, Freedom II sank in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and San Diego. In 1967, Razorback rescued two US Navy crew members from a downed S-2E aircraft. Two Razorback crewmen received citations from the Secretary of the Navy for aiding in the rescue and treatment of the airmen.
On 29 June 1965, Razorback deployed to the western Pacific for seven months, receiving the Vietnam Service Medal and visiting many ports of call before returning to the United States in early 1966.
In May 1967, Razorback recorded her 6,000th dive.
On 02 July 1969, Razorback won the Navy “E” for a third time.
During this period Razorback was also participating in the Vietnam War. She received the Vietnam Service medal four times and the Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation twice. She received five battle stars for her Vietnam-era patrols. Many of the details of her Vietnam-era service remain classified.
Read the Conning Tower Emergency Bills Here
Decommissioning and Transfer to the Turkish Navy
On 30 November 1970, USS Razorback was decommissioned and transferred to the Turkish Navy.
She was recommissioned as TCG Muratreis (S 336) on 17 December 1971. Muratreis served in the 1st Submarine Squadron, based in Karadeniz Eregil on the Black Sea. On 13 August 1993, she was transferred to the 2nd Submarine Squadron, sailing out of Gölcük and Karadeniz Eregil.
During her service with the Turkish Navy, Muratreis served as a front-line, combatant submarine, making at least 14 patrol rotations and 7 long-range deployments. She also participated in the NATO-sponsored exercise LINKED SEA-95, conducted in the Atlantic in June 1995.
TCG Muratreis was decommissioned on 08 August, 2001.
On 25 March 2004, the Turkish Navy officially transferred Muratreis to the “USS Razorback / TCG Muratreis Association”, which is now the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum Foundation.