The USS Squalus was launched on September 14, 1938, commissioned in March of 1939, and sank in May of the same year during a test dive in shallow water off the shore of New Hampshire. The Squalus had successfully completed 18 dives when it went down for another. Failure of the main induction valve caused flooding of the torpedo room, both engine rooms and the crew’s quarters. 26 men drowned instantly. The rest of the ship was sealed off which prevented further flooding. The ship bottomed in only 243 feet of water.
The 33 surviving crew members were rescued by divers from the rescue ship Falcon. Four of the divers involved in the rescue received the Medal of Honor for their efforts. Using cables and pontoons, the Squalus was refloated. She experienced difficulties and sank back to the bottom. The USS Squalus was raised again, this time successfully and towed to the Portsmouth Navy Yard.
The USS Squalus was repaired, recommissioned and renamed the USS Sailfish which launched less than a year after the sinking. During the Pacific War, the captain on the former Squalus issued standing orders that anyone caught using the word “Squalus” would be abandoned at the following port of call. The crew members then began calling the ship “The Squailfish” much to the Chagrin of their commander. Court marshall was threatened for anyone saying Squailfish.
The former USS Squalus went on to run twelve patrols, most very successfully. She gained much fame and honor during that time and was credited several times for impeding the enemy’s attempts. After her twelfth patrol the ship returned stateside and was decommissioned on October 27th 1945. She was placed for sale in 1948. The tower of the ship stands as a memorial to the Squalus and the lost crew. This memorial is at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.