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USS Scorpion

Six vessels of the United States Navy -- four ships and two submarines -- have borne the name USS Scorpion, named for scorpions, an order of arachnids having an elongated body and a narrow segmented tail bearing a venomous sting at the tip. See also HMS Scorpion and CSS Scorpion.

The first USS Scorpion was ...

The second USS Scorpion was a schooner launched in the spring of 1813 at Presque Isle (now Erie, Pennsylvania), probably by Noah Brown of New York, for service on the upper Great Lakes during the War of 1812.

Scorpion, commanded by Sailing Master Stephen Champlin, first cousin to Oliver Hazard Perry, operated with Commodore Perry's squadron on Lake Erie during the summer and fall of 1813.

On 10 September 1813, she participated in the battle off Put-in Bay[?], Lake Erie, which resulted in the defeat and capture of the British fleet. Scorpion had the distinction of firing the first and last shot in the battle in which she lost two men. At the close of the action, she and Trippe pursued and captured the fleeing British schooner Chippeway and the sloop Little Belt.

After Perry's historic victory, the schooner assisted General William Henry Harrison's forces operating in the Thames River area, by transporting troops as well as stores and ammunition captured from the enemy.

During the winter of 1813 and 1814, she was laid up at Erie, Pennsylvania. From May 1814 to September 1814, the schooner cruised on Lake Erie and Lake Huron, cooperating with the army in the Detroit area by transporting troops, staking out the flats through the St. Clair River[?], and blockading the enemy at the Nottawasaga River[?] and Lake Simeoe[?].

On 6 September 1814, while on blockade duty on Lake Huron, Scorpion, under command of Midshipman Henry E. Turner, was surprised and captured by the former American schooner, Tigress, which also had been taken by the British a few days ear lier. Both vessels and prisoners were taken to Mackinac[?].

Scorpion was subsequently taken into the British Navy as the four-gun schooner Conflance, which along with Tigress, according to local legend, was later sunk in Georgian Bay[?], Lake Huron, off Penetanguishene, Ontario[?].

Table of contents
1 Sinking
2 Ship's specifications

General Characteristics

  • Displacement 86 tons
  • Length: 62 feet
  • Beam: 17 feet
  • Draft: 5 feet
  • Complement: 35
  • Armament: one long 32-pounder, one 32-pounder carronade

The third USS Scorpion was ...

The fourth USS Scorpion was ...

The fifth USS Scorpion (SS 278) was a Gato-class submarine. Her keel was laid down by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard of Kittery, Maine[?] on 20 March 1942. She was launched 20 July 1942 sponsored by Miss Elizabeth T. Monagle, and commissioned 1 October 1942, with Lieutenant Commander William N. Wylie in command.

Following further yard work and fitting out, Scorpion conducted shakedown operations off the southern New England coast during January 1943 and sailed for Panama in late February. In mid-March, she transited the Panama canal, and, on the 24th, she arrived at Pearl Harbor. There, she underwent modifications which included the installation of a bathythermograph, a then new oceanographic instrument to enable her to locate and hide in thermal layers that minimized the effectiveness of SONAR equipment.

On 5 April, Scorpion departed Pearl Harbor for her first war patrol, a hunting and mining mission off the east coast of Honshu. On the 19th, she reached the mining area near Nakaminato. During the afternoon, she reconnoitered the coast; and, in the evening, she planted her mines; then retired to deep water. On the 20th, she sank her first enemy ship, a 1,934-ton converted gunboat. On the 21st, prior to 0100, she fired on and destroyed her first sampan in surface action, then moved up the coast to observe the fishing grounds, shipping lanes, and coastline of the Shioya Saki area. On the night of the 22nd, she destroyed three more sampans with gunfire and continued north, toward Kinkasan To.

With the absence of shipping along the coastal lanes, she moved seaward and, on the 27th, sighted a convoy of four freighters escorted by a destroyer. At 0459, she fired four torpedoes at the first and largest merchantman; two at the second; then dived and rigged for depth charging. At 0505, the destroyer dropped her first depth charges. A half-hour later, the Japanese warship broke off her search for Scorpion to aid the stricken passenger-cargo ship. While Scorpion escaped with slight damage, the 6,380-ton merchant vessel sank.

On the 28th, Scorpion received orders home. En route on the 29th, she sighted and engaged a 100-ton patrol vessel, which she left burning to the waterline. On the morning of the 30th, she stalked, fired on, and finally torpedoed and sank a 600-ton patrol ship. During the hour and three-quarters fight, however, Scorpion received her first casualty. LCdr R. M. Raymond, on board as prospective commanding officer, was hit and killed by gunfire.

Soon after the patrol vessel went down, an enemy plane appeared. Scorpion submerged; survived the plane's depth charges and continued toward Midway and Pearl Harbor, arriving on 8 May.

With a four-inch gun in place of her three-inch gun, Scorpion set out on her second war patrol on 29 May. On 2 June, she refueled at Midway and, on the 21st, she arrived off Takara Jima in the Tokara Gunto. For the next week, she searched for targets in that archipelago in an effort to disrupt shipping on the Formosa-Nagasaki routes. On the 28th, she shifted her hunt to the Yellow Sea and, by the 30th, was off the Shantung Peninsula. On 3 July, she sighted a five-freighter convoy with one escort making its way through the eastern waters of that sea. By 0955, she had sent torpedoes toward the convoy and dived. As the depth charging began, she struck bottom at 25 fathoms. Two charges exploded close by. Between 1002 and 1006, five more shook her hull. Fearing that she was stirring up a mud trail, her screws were stopped and she settled on the bottom at 29 fathoms. At 1008, a chain or cable was dragged over her hull. Four minutes later, her hull was scraped a second time. Immediately underway again, she began evasive course changes and escaped further exploding charges. The hunt continued for over an hour; and, at 1149, Scorpion came to periscope depth; spied the destroyer 7,000 yards off; and cleared the area. Postwar examination of Japanese records show that Scorpion scored five hits and sank a 3,890-ton freighter, and a 6,112-ton passenger-cargo ship.

Because of damage received during the depth charging, Scorpion retraced her route through Tokara Gunto; underwent a bomber attack east of Akuseki Jima; and continued on to Midway. On 26 July, she arrived back at Pearl Harbor; underwent repairs conducted training exercises, and, on 13 October, departed Pearl Harbor for her third war patrol. After touching at Midway on 17 October, she headed for the Marianas, where she reconnoitered Pagan and Agrihan Islands on the 25th and 26th, and Farallon de Pajoras on the 1st and 2nd of November. On the last date, she struck an uncharted pinnacle; but suffering no apparent damage, continued her patrol. On 3 November, she was off Maug; and, two days later, she sighted her first target, a Mogami-class cruiser. Squalls interfered, however, and she abandoned the target after a four-hour chase. On the 7th, she was back off Agrihan; and, on the 8th, she closed a freighter, which turned and gave chase. The freighter was a "Q" ship, a warship disguised as a merchantman. Unable to regain the advantage, Scorpion retired.

Poor weather continued to plague the submarine's hunting until, on the 13th, she sighted a freighter and a tanker escorted by three warships. Firing her torpedoes, she scored on the oiler, which went dead in the water. One of the escorts dropped depth charges, then rejoined the formation. On the 14th, Scorpion patrolled near Rota; and, on the 15th, she watched for targets off Saipan.

For the next week, the submarine continued to work the shipping lanes of the Marianas without success. Heavy seas and squalls continued to shelter enemy traffic. On the 22nd, she sighted a transport accompanied by two destroyers and a corvette. She stalked the formation for 16 hours but was unable to fire. A few hours later, low on fuel, she headed home.

Departing Pearl Harbor on 29 December 1943, Scorpion stopped at Midway to top off with fuel, and left that place on 3 January 1944, to conduct her fourth war patrol. Her assigned area was in the northern East China and Yellow Seas.

On the morning of 5 January, Scorpion reported that one of her crew had sustained a fracture of the upper arm and requested a rendezvous with USS Herring[?] (SS-233) which was returning from patrol and was near her. The rendezvous was accomplished on that afternoon but heavy seas prevented the transfer. Herring reported this fact the next day, and stated "Scorpion reports case under control." Scorpion was never seen or heard from again after her departure from that rendezvous. On 16 February 1944, USS Steelhead[?] (SS-280) and Scorpion were warned that they were close together, and that an enemy submarine was in the vicinity.

No information has been received from the Japanese which would indicate Scorpion's loss was the result of enemy anti-submarine tactics. There were, however, several mine lines across the entrance to the Yellow Sea. The presence of these mine lines and the "restricted area" bounding them was discovered from captured Japanese Notices to Mariners at a much later date. In the meantime several submarines had made patrols in this area, crosing and recrossing the mine lines without incident, and coming safely home. It is probable that these mine lines were very thin, offering only about a 10 percent threat to submarines at maximum, and steadily decreasing in effectiveness with the passage of time. Scorpion was lost soon after these mines were laid, or at a time when they presumably offered the greatest threat. She could have been an operational casualty, but her area consists of water shallow enough so that it might be expected that some men would have survived. Since we know of no survivors, the most reasonable assumption is that she hit a mine.

In her first three patrols, Scorpion sank ten ships, for a total of 24,000 tons, and damaged two more, for 16,000 tons. Her first war patrol was in the approaches to Tokyo in April 1943. Here she sank two freighters, four sampans and two patrol craft. In addition, she damaged a freighter. On her second patrol, conducted in the Yellow Sea, she sank two freighters. Her third patrol was made in the Mariana Islands, and resulted in damage to a tanker.

Scorpion earned three battle stars for her World War II service.

General Characteristics

  • Displacement: 1475 tons surfaced, 2370 tons submerged
  • Length: 307 feet
  • Beam: 27 feet
  • Speed: 20 knots surfaced, 8.75 knots submerged
  • Test Depth: 300 feet
  • Armament: one 3"/50 gun, six 21-inch torpedo tubes forward, four 21-inch torpedo tubes aft
  • Complement: 6 officers, 54 men

The sixth USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was a Skipjack-class submarine[?] of the United States Navy. She was one of the few American submarines to be lost at sea while not at war. Her keel was laid down on 20 August 1958 by the Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, Connecticut; launched on 19 December 1959; sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison; and commissioned on 29 July 1960, with Commander Norman B. Bessac in command.

Assigned to Submarine Squadron 6, Division 62, Scorpion departed New London, Connecticut, on 24 August for a two-month deployment in European waters. During that period, she participated in exercises with units of the 6th Fleet and of other NATO navies. After returning to New England in late October, she trained along the eastern seaboard until May 1961, then crossed the Atlantic again for operations which took her into the summer. On 9 August, she returned to New London and, a month later, shifted to Norfolk, Virginia.

With Norfolk her home port for the remainder of her career, Scorpion specialized in the development of nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying her role from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises which ranged along the Atlantic coast and in the Bermuda and Puerto Rico operating areas; then, from June 1963 to May 1964, she interrupted her operations for an overhaul at Charleston, South Carolina. Resuming duty off the eastern seaboard in late spring, she again interrupted that duty from 4 August to 8 October to make a transatlantic patrol. In the spring of 1965, she conducted a similar patrol in European waters.

During the late winter and early spring of 1966, and again in the fall, she was deployed for special operations. Following the completion of those assignments, her commanding officer received the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other Scorpion officers and crewmen were cited for meritorious achievement.

On 1 February 1967, Scorion entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for another extended overhaul. In late October, she commenced refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests. Following type training out of Norfolk, she got underway on 15 February 1968 for a Mediterranean deployment. She operated with the 6th Fleet, into May, and then headed west for home. On 21 May, she indicated her position to be about 50 miles south of the Azores. Six days later, she was reported overdue at Norfolk.


A search was initiated, but without immediate success. On 5 June, Scorpion and her crew were declared "presumed lost." Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 June.

The search continued, however; and, at the end of October, the Navy's oceanographic research ship, USS Mizar[?] (T-AGOR-11) located sections of Scorpion's hull in more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) of water about 650 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of the Azores. Subsequently, the Court of Inquiry was reconvened and other vessels, including the submersible Trieste were dispatched to the scene and collected a myriad pictures and other data.

Although the cause of her loss cannot be ascertained with certainty, the most probable cause is inadvertent activation of the battery of a Mark 37 torpedo during a torpedo inspection. In this scenario, the torpedo, in a fully ready condition and without a propeller guard, began a live "hot run" within the tube. Released from the tube, the torpedo became fully armed and successfully engaged its nearest target, Scorpion. Alternatively, the torpedo may have exploded in the tube owing to an uncontrollable fire in the torpedo room.

The explosion -- later correlated to a very loud acoustic event recorded by monitoring stations -- broke the boat into two major pieces, with the forward hull section, including the torpedo room and most of the operations compartment, creating one impact trench while the aft section, including the reactor compartment and engine room, created a second impact trench. The aft section of the engine room is inserted forward into a larger diameter hull section in a manner similar to a telescope. The sail is detached and lies nearby in a large debris field.

The Navy has periodically monitored the environmental conditions of the site since the sinking and reported the results in an annual public report on environmental monitoring for U.S. naval nuclear-powered ships. These reports confirm that two nuclear-tipped torpedoes were aboard Scorpion when the ship was lost. The reports provide specifics on the environmental sampling of sediment, water, and marine life that is done to ascertain whether the submarine has significantly affected the deep-ocean environment. The reports also explain the methodology for conducting this deep sea monitoring from both surface vessels and submersibles[?]. The monitoring data confirm that, by the standards of the U.S. Navy, there has been no significant affect on the environment. The nuclear fuel aboard the submarine remains intact and no plutonium in excess of levels expected from fallout from past atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons has been detected by the Navy's inspections.

Ship's specifications

  • displacement: 3,075 tons (surfaced), 3,500 tons (submerged)
  • length: 76.7 meters (251 feet 9 inches)
  • beam: 9.6 meters (31 feet 7 inches)
  • speed: 20 knots
  • complement: crew of 99
  • armament: 6 torpedo tubes

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