The U.S.S. Cod: a refurbished tribute to lost World War II Navy submariners

World War II has now become a part of the distant past. Of the 16 million Americans who served in the military during the war only about 1% remain alive today.

Cleveland can claim an extraordinary survivor, a unique combat veteran of the war in the Pacific, the submarine USS Cod. Docked near Burke Lakefront Airport, it is the last fully intact World War II fleet submarine in existence.

A Gato Class vessel, the sub was laid down by the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Connecticut on July 21, 1942.

The Cod immediately had a Cleveland connection. The sub’s four V-16 Diesel engines were built by General Motors plant in the Cudell neighborhood, and 80 years later those fine engines remain in operating condition.

The 312-foot, 1,525-ton U.S.S. Cod was launched on March 21, 1943, and was commissioned four months later, on June 21, 1943. The vessel’s first captain was Commander James C. Dempsey, USN.

The Cod’s first experience of combat was ironic. On August 30, 1943, the American cargo ship SS Alcoa Patriot fired on the Cod twice with a deck gun in the Caribbean Sea.

Fortunately for the Cod’s crew, the Alcoa Patriot’s gunnery was as poor as its warship recognition skills. No damage was done to the sub, which proceeded to pass through the Panama Canal and head across the Pacific Ocean to bases in Fremantle and Brisbane, Australia, and Apra Harbor, Guam to start its first war patrol.

In October 1943, the Cod began seven war patrols in the South Pacific. These voyages took the vessel into grave danger. The Cod and her crew survived terrifying depth charge attacks and sent 12 Japanese ships to the bottom of the ocean.

In addition to rescuing downed U.S. Navy aviators, the Cod saved the entire crew of the Dutch submarine O-19 after a navigational error left it hopelessly aground.

War’s end found the Cod in Fremantle.

Sailing for home on August 31, 1945, the Cod stopped for an overhaul at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She returned to New London, Connecticut where she was decommissioned and placed in the reserve fleet in June 1946.

Placed back in service in 1951, the Cod performed Cold War duties for three years before being decommissioned for the last time.

In 1959 the Cod was brought to Cleveland to serve as a Naval Reserve training vessel. The Cod has been moored on Cleveland’s lakefront ever since.

Local activists took an interest in the Cod in the early 1970s. They formed the Cleveland Coordinating Committee To Save The Cod, Inc. Recognizing their high level of interest, the Navy ultimately gave the group guardianship of the submarine. It opened for public tours in May 1976.

One of a very small number of remaining WW II submarines, the Cod is significant because it is virtually unchanged from its wartime configuration. Much of the original equipment remains functional, and visitors must enter and exit the Cod using the same ladders and hatches used by the wartime crew.

The Cod met with a crisis in recent years. Advanced corrosion of the underwater hull threatened its future.

In June 2021 Michigan-based Malcom Marine transported the submarine by tugboat 100 nautical miles—a 14-hour trip—to Donjon Shipping and Repair in Erie, Pennsylvania for a 63-day stay at in the summer of 2021.

At a cost of $1.4 million, Donjon workers overhauled the Cod’s underwater hull, including its torpedo tube shutters, applied a fresh coat of paint, and repaired the corrosion caused by years of saltwater and freshwater exposure.

The COD’s future has been secured for years into the future.

Of the 263 U.S. submarines deployed during WWII, 52 failed to return. To this day, those lost submarines and their crews are said to remain on patrol.

The Cod serves today to honor them, and the 3,900 submariners who have lost their lives in the Navy’s 100-year Submarine Force history. The U.S.S. Cod will help to recall their sacrifice long after the last WWII bluejacket has gone to his grave.

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About the Author: Tom Matowitz

Recently retired after a 37-year career teaching public speaking, Tom Matowitz has had a lifelong interest in local and regional history. Working as a freelance author for the past 20 years he has written a number of books and articles about Cleveland’s past. He has a particular interest in the area’s rich architectural history.