The USN command in the Pacific was really looking forward to the arrival of the units of the massive Gato class fleet submarines. One squadron expected at Pearl Harbor was Squadron 12 consisting of new Gato boats. However, boats of that squadron made a long diversionary trip. A force of submarines under RN command had been sent to Brisbane Australia and to compensate for its loss in the war against U-Boats, Winston Churchill convinced President Roosevelt to send USN boats to the United Kingdom to work against the U-Boats. This squadron named Squadron 50 consisted of six new boats, of which two, USS Gurnard and USS Gunnel, had originally been scheduled to be deployed to Pearl Harbor. The USN considered this a waste of fine new fleet boats but considering the first operations of Squadron 50 it is perhaps a lucky twist of fate that sent them first for Atlantic duty. When the Gato class was designed, the USN also had light weight diesel engines also designed by various firms. One of these firms was Hooven-Owens-Rentschler (H.O.R.). Both Gurnard and Gunnel were fitted with four of the H.O.R. diesel engines. Unfortunately, these engines had serious flaws. One was the steel used for the gearing. The steel was cooled too quickly and the gears had internal fractures that made them extremely fragile. Their first operation was to support Operation Torch with the submarine flagship aboard the cruiser Augusta. However, Gurnard developed problems with the H.O.R. engines and went to Scotland instead of North Africa. It was fortunate for Gurnard's crew that they missed Operation Torch because the only action seen by the other Squadron 50 boats was dodging attacks by friendly aircraft and surface warships.
Gurnard at this time was fitted with heavier armament than the original Gato boats. Instead of the original three-inch (76mm) deck gun, she carried a four-inch (102mm) gun. For AA defense she carried Oerlikon 20mm guns instead of ineffective machine guns. Gurnard made her first war-time patrol in the Bay of Biscay under very restrictive Rules of Engagement. She was ordered not operate on the surface in the day and in the event that she sighted a ship heavier than 5,000 tons, she had to radio the Admiralty for permission to attack. This was hardly a recipe for success. The commander, Herb Andrews, had been informed of the defects of the H.O.R. engines so he ran only three of them on the patrol. Even as it was, two of the three engines used broke down and Gurnard limped back to Scotland on the remaining two. By April 1943 Gurnard was sent back to the US to rejoin Squadron 12, which had delayed deployment to the Pacific because of the troubles of the H.O.R. engines. Finally in May 1943 the H.O.R. engined boats of 12 Squadron reached Pearl. Gurnard's first Pacific patrol was off the Palau Islands. The H.O.R. engines were still casing problems as one lost all of the teeth from its gears and had to be shut down for the rest of the patrol. Andrews was very aggressive and patrolled at the mouth of the harbors. He was spotted while submerged by the Japanese . The depth charges went off under Gurnard and the diving planes were jammed in the up position. The boat started to bob to the surface and Andrews sent 50 men running to the bow. The boat then started descending at an alarming rate. After passing 300 feet Andrews backed the engines and sent the 50 crewmen running from the bow to the stern. Gurnard hit 495 feet when it stopped its descent and the stern was below that depth and in fact was below rated crush depth. This incident did not cause Gurnard to return to Pearl. Instead she maintained her aggressive patrol but rarely went below 70 feet. During this patrol she claimed sinking two merchant ships and a destroyer and hitting a carrier with two torpedoes.
Gurnard was given new engines and in 1944 was transferred to Freemantle Australia to be part of MacArthur's navy. MacArthur's Southwest Pacific campaign was a masterpiece, as he cut off Japanese garrisons and left them to "wither on the vine." As a consequence 1,000s of Japanese troops were tied up in cut off garrisons, which were basically their own prison camps. Those troops were cut off, unable to be resupplied and unable to supply their own needs. The Japanese Army needed more troops for New Guinea and had them in China. Two divisions were sent to Shanghai for transport to New Guinea. Eight troop ships were assigned along with escorts under Rear Admiral Kajioka, who had invaded Wake Island. The convoy was named Take Ichi (Bamboo One). The convoy lost one troopship to USS Jack but it was Gurnard that struck the heavy blow. Alerted by Freemantle about the convoy, Gurnard attained a perfect attack position. On May 6, 1944 Bamboo One was in the Celebes Sea and headed straight for the waiting Gurnard. The boat fired her forward six torpedoes and then reversed course and emptied her aft tubes. Three transports were fatally struck. Aden Maru 5,824 tons, Taijima Maru 6,995 tons and Tenshinzan Maru 6,886 tons all went dead in the water. Andrews was later told 6,000 Japanese troops were lost due to the Gurnard attack. The convoy, having lost half of its troopships was diverted to Halmahera, where the Japanese used small barges in an effort to get the surviving troops to New Guinea. On this same patrol Gurnard was vectored to the Davao Gulf south of Mindanao to attack a battleship on May 18. The boat fired six torpedoes and reported hearing two explosions. On May 21 Gurnard sank the fleet tanker Tatekawa Maru, 10,000 tons.
If you have the Trumpeter 1:144 scale Gato class fleet submarine, you can now model the USS Gurnard SS-254 as she appeared in the fall of 1942 for her operations out of Scotland. Nautilus Models produces a resin and plastic set of replacement parts for the kit. Included is a new sail and 4-inch deck gun. The sail has 20mm AA mounts on fore and aft platforms. The resin parts will require some cleaning and fixing as there is a significant amount of flash to be removed. Additionally, there are some small voids that will need to be filled and sanded. The one plastic part is the aft 20mm gun deck for the sail.
In Nautilus Models continuing quest to provide unusual conversion sets to provide further interesting and unusual variations of injected plastic kits, the USS Gurnard 1:144 scale presents another good example. With this conversion set, the USS Gurnard with a new 4-inch deck gun and fore and aft Oerlikon 20mm AA gun platforms on the sail, the set allows the modeler to represent the first upgrade of the gun armament of the Gato class.