USS Dorado (SS-248)
On Eternal Patrol
Gato-class diesel-electric submarine
Launched 23 May 1943
Lost 12 October 1943
USS Dorado Specs
Surfaced: 1,526 tons
Submerged 2,424 tons
Speed: 20 knots surfaced, 9 knots submerged
Armament: 1 3"/50 or 1 4"/50 or 1 5"/50, 6 bow and 4 stern torpedo tubes, 24 21" torpedoes (loaded tubes plus
reloads: 10 forward, 4 aft) Complement: 80
Diesel engines, surfaced/electric motors, submerged Built at Electric Boat Co., and commissioned 28 August 1943
Dorado was one of only two U.S. Navy submarines lost in the Atlantic Ocean during World War II. The other was the USS R-12 which sank during a training dive near Key West, Florida. A total of 52 American Submarines were lost in WWII with a loss of over 3,500 men.
The USS DORADO (SS-248) was a Gato-class submarine and was the first submarine of the United States Navy to be named for the dorado, also known as the dolphinfish or mahi-mahi. Her keel was laid down on 27 August 1942 by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut, she was launched on 23 May 1943 (sponsored by Mrs. Ezra G. Allen) and then was commissioned on 28 August 1943 with LCDR Earle Caffrey Schneider as the first Commanding Officer.
Following sea trials she sailed from New London, Connecticut, on 6 October 1943 for the Panama Canal Zone. She did not arrive.
USS Dorado (SS 248) (LtCmdr E.C. Schneider, USN) went missing on her maiden voyage between New London and the Canal Zone. After her scheduled date of arrival on 14 October 1943, air searches were begun, but they only found widely scattered oil slicks and debris.
The loss of USS Dorado (SS 248) is usually attributed to an attack of the US Mariner aircraft (VP-210 USN/P-9, pilot Lt(jg) Daniel T. Felix, Jr.) stationed on NAS Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on 12 October 1943. The aircraft was patrolling around convoy GAT-92 and dropped three depth charges and one bomb on a surfaced U-boat at 20.51 hours on 12 October. But no explosion was observed and no oil or debris was seen when the plane circled the diving area. During the same patrol the Mariner sighted at 22.33 hours another U-boat not far from the first attack position. They knew that an American submarine was in the vicinity and tried to exchange recognition signals after dropping flares. But the U-boat immediately opened fire with the AA gun, forcing the aircraft to evade, which lost contact with the crash diving U-boat before any attack could be made. Both attacks can be found in the KTB of U-214 with the German times 01.47 and 03.30 hours on 13 October 1943. In the first attack in grid EC 54 four bombs were dropped which were apparently duds. In the second attack in grid EC 52 they mention that an illuminated aircraft attack was fought off with the AA gun. The times and descriptions of both attacks fit to the attacks reported by the pilot of the Mariner.
Between 15.51 hours on 19.02 hours on 8 October 1943, U-214 had laid a mine field of 15 mines in the approaches off Colon, Canal Zone. It is possible that USS Dorado (SS 248) was lost on one of these mines when she passed the area on her way to the submarine base at Coco Solo on 14 October. The mine field was detected on 16 October and ten mines swept.
Seventy-five years ago this month, a submarine, fresh out of Electric Boat and newly commissioned, left Groton for the Panama Canal and was never seen again.
That’s almost all that’s known about the service life of the USS Dorado.
Amid the swirl of World War II, the loss of the boat and 77 aboard was not major news, even locally. On Oct. 25, 1943, The Day reported that the sub was overdue and presumed lost. The brief story was on Page 12.
If there really were nothing else to say, Dorado still would hold a significant place in local history. Of the 52 U.S. submarines lost during the war, it was the only one that met its end directly after leaving Groton.
But in its unnaturally brief career, Dorado left three other legacies:
It was among the first EB subs to be built in part by women. It inspired a unique set of paintings, now enshrined in the Navy’s art collection, that depict life on a submarine in wartime. And its fate is an enduring mystery.
The short, eventful life of USS Dorado
In the early 1970s, cargo pilots flying off Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula used a landmark they called the “Gray Ghost” to tell them they were approaching their destination. It was an object sticking up from the sandy bottom in shallow water, and when the sun was low in the sky, it cast a long shadow.
It appeared to be the conning tower of a submarine.
The Gray Ghost, which later vanished beneath the shifting sands, is one of many unanswered questions surrounding Dorado’s loss.
When the sub failed to arrive at the Panama Canal in October 1943, unsuccessful searches were launched in the Caribbean. A Navy Court of Inquiry decided Dorado had probably been the victim of friendly fire.
A U.S. patrol bomber had gotten bad information about the sub’s expected position, where bombing restrictions were in place. So when the crew encountered an unknown submarine, later presumed to be Dorado, they dropped depth charges and a demolition bomb.
But this story has been questioned on several counts. One, the bomb and one of the depth charges failed to explode.
Two, the crew of the bomber testified that they had studied the submarine carefully before attacking and saw detailed characteristics of a German U-boat. This also has been questioned, as the attack occurred at night, and the crewmen were motivated not to convict themselves of sinking an American vessel.
Three, a confirmed U-boat that subsequently fired on the bomber had just laid a minefield nearby, which Dorado could have sailed into.
One theory speculates that Dorado, which had trouble submerging in its shakedown, was damaged, either by the bombing or a mine, but not sunk. In that scenario, according to oceanographers, it then would have drifted west with the prevailing currents.
That would have brought the stricken submarine to the eastern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula, where three decades later, pilots charted their course by watching for the Gray Ghost.