It takes a special kind of sailor to voluntarily and willingly plunge their vessel into the dark, cold and foreboding depths of the sea. Of all the paths a seaman can take, the life of a submariner is no cakewalk and there is always a very real chance a man won’t be coming home.
The life of a combat submariner is twice the danger. From the brutal Pacific Theater of World War II to the shadowy (and often classified) missions of the Cold War, the risk your latest patrol becoming your last.
This is the story of seven American submarines -and their brave crews- who left their home ports, never to be seen again.
7. USS Scorpion (SS-278) and USS Scorpion (SSN-589)
Okay, we lied- technically, it is the story of eight submarines, albeit one involving two different submarines with the same name and equally tragic ends- one in World War II and the other during the Vietnam War era. So look at it more as a bonus than a deception, you’ll be glad we told both stories when all’s said and done.
The first Scorpion was a Gato-class submarine, commissioned in a Maine shipyard back in 1942. Bred for battle, the Scorpion was born in a particularly brutal time for American submarine warfare: during the Second World War, the US Submarine Service suffered the highest casualty rate of all American armed forces, losing one in five submariners.
A fearsome vessel with three battle stars by the end of 1943, Scorpion sank her first vessel in the first 200 days of her life and would bring down a handful more, often in less-than-favorable weather conditions.
Unfortunately, Scorpion would never return, going missing in the Yellow Sea only a little over a year after she was commissioned.
While the exact cause of her sinking is unknown, one thing is for certain- it would be a crate of oranges that would ultimately kill her and the sixty souls who called her home.
On the morning of January 5, 1944, Scorpion reported that one of her crew had broken his foot after it was smashed by a falling crate of oranges. Requesting a rendezvous with a nearby American submarine, the Scorpion completed the rendezvous and gave one final message to the world: “Scorpion reports case under control.”
She was never seen or heard from again.
While it was originally presumed that she was sunk by a Japanese submarine or vessel, there was never any evidence from (well-kept) Japanese Navy records at the time. To this day, the best guess anyone can surmise is that the hit a mine in the shallow waters she called her playground.
Several years later, a nuclear submarine of the Skipjack class would bear the name Scorpion– and suffer a similar fate.
Commissioned in 1960, the second Scorpion was -at the time- without equal in her class. During her career, she would stalk the Soviet Union’s Navy through the Atlantic during the intrigue-heavy Cold War era, even catching a glimpse of a Soviet missile launch through her periscope in Russian waters before fleeing. Deploying for several special operations, the Scorpion’s crew was well-decorated and regarded.
In May of 1968, the Scorpion reportedly -after some difficulty- managed to send her final message, reporting that she closing in on a Soviet submarine and research group and was beginning her surveillance. Six days later, she would be reported as “overdue” in her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia.
It took a team of mathematic consultants to develop a search pattern to find the Scorpion, who was found months later -around 9,800 feet at the bottom of the Atlantic- near the Azores islands.
The US Navy would later release a haunting audio tape from one of their underwater listening posts that would reveal the sound of the Scorpion’s hull imploding with 99 souls (and two nuclear-tipped torpedoes) aboard.
Several theories would surface in regard to the loss of the second Scorpion, ranging from a battery explosion, a faulty garbage disposal, explosion of a torpedo and even a sinking by the Soviet Union. Since her loss, the wreck has only been visited close-up twice (in 1968 and 1986), though the US Navy periodically visits the site to test for contamination from her nuclear reactor and weapons systems.
There has not been a ship named the Scorpion since.