ARA Santa Fe (S-21)

  (Redirected from USS Catfish (SS-339))

ARA Santa Fe was an Argentine Balao-class submarine that was lost during the Falklands War. Built by the US during the Second World War, the ship operated in the United States Navy as USS Catfish (SS-339) until 1971 when she was transferred to the Argentine Navy. She served until 1982 when she was captured by the British at South Georgia after being seriously damaged and subsequently sank along a pier, with just her conning tower (sail) visible above the waterline. The submarine was raised, towed out of the bay and scuttled in deep water in 1985.

USS Catfish;0833910.jpg
Catfish underway, during her visit to the Far East, 1956.
United States
NameUSS Catfish
BuilderElectric Boat Company, Groton, Connecticut[1]
Laid down6 January 1944[1]
Launched19 November 1944[1]
Commissioned19 March 1945[1]
Decommissioned1 July 1971[1]
In service
  • World War II
  • Korean War
Stricken1 July 1971[2]
FateTransferred to Argentina, 1 July 1971[1]
NameARA Santa Fe
Acquired1 July 1971
In serviceFalklands War
FateCaptured by British during Falklands War and scuttled
General characteristics (As completed)
Class and type Balao-class diesel-electric submarine[2]
  • 1,526 tons (1,550 t) surfaced[2]
  • 2,424 tons (2,463 t) submerged[2]
Length311 ft 9 in (95.02 m)[2]
Beam27 ft 3 in (8.31 m)[2]
Draft16 ft 10 in (5.13 m) maximum[2]
  • 20.25 knots (38 km/h) surfaced[3]
  • 8.75 knots (16 km/h) submerged[3]
Range11,000 nautical miles (20,000 km) surfaced at 10 knots (19 km/h)[3]
  • 48 hours at 2 knots (3.7 km/h) submerged[3]
  • 75 days on patrol
Test depth400 ft (120 m)[3]
Complement10 officers, 70–71 enlisted[3]
General characteristics (Guppy II)
Class and typenone
  • 1,870 tons (1,900 t) surfaced[8]
  • 2,440 tons (2,480 t) submerged[8]
Length307 ft (93.6 m)[7]
Beam27 ft 4 in (7.4 m)[7]
Draft17 ft (5.2 m)[7]
  • Snorkel added[8]
  • Batteries upgraded to GUPPY type, capacity expanded to 504 cells (1 × 184 cell, 1 × 68 cell, and 2 × 126 cell batteries)[8]
  • 4 × high-speed electric motors replaced with 2 × low-speed direct drive electric motors[8]
  • Surfaced:
  • 18.0 knots (33.3 km/h) maximum
  • 13.5 knots (25.0 km/h) cruising
  • Submerged:
  • 16.0 knots (29.6 km/h) for ½ hour
  • 9.0 knots (16.7 km/h) snorkeling
  • 3.5 knots (6.5 km/h) cruising[8]
Range15,000 nm (28,000 km) surfaced at 11 knots (20 km/h)[7]
Endurance48 hours at 4 knots (7 km/h) submerged[7]
  • 9–10 officers
  • 5 petty officers
  • 70 enlisted men[7]
Sensors and
processing systems
  • WFA active sonar
  • JT passive sonar
  • Mk 106 torpedo fire control system[7]

U.S. Navy serviceEdit

Catfish was launched 19 November 1944 by Electric Boat Co., Groton, Connecticut; sponsored by Mrs. J. J. Crowley; and commissioned 19 March 1945, Lieutenant Commander W. A. Overton, USNR, in command.

Catfish sailed from New London 4 May 1945 for Pearl Harbor, arriving 29 June. After training and the installation of new equipment, she proceeded to Guam for special training, then departed 8 August on her first war patrol, a special mission to locate a minefield off Kyūshū. When the cease-fire order was given 15 August, she was ordered to the Yellow Sea for surface patrol and lifeguard duty. She returned to Guam 4 September, thence to the West Coast, arriving at Seattle 29 September.

Based at San Diego, Catfish operated locally on the west coast and made two cruises to the Far East during which she conducted simulated war patrols and provided services to the Seventh Fleet.

Catfish was extensively modernized in a GUPPY II conversion (August 1948–May 1949), giving her greater submerged speed and endurance. She was on another Far Eastern cruise when war broke out in Korea, already in the area, she made a reconnaissance patrol in support of the United Nations forces. Catfish returned to the States 20 October 1950 and was based in San Diego.

After that the submarine carried out training exercises with the Naval Reserve off the west coast, operated with the Canadian Forces in joint antisubmarine warfare exercises, and made several cruises to the Far East.

Catfish was decommissioned and transferred to the Argentine Navy on 1 July 1971.


Argentine serviceEdit

Catfish was renamed ARA Santa Fe (S-21), after she was acquired by Argentina in 1971, along with her sister ship USS Chivo (SS-341) which was renamed ARA Santiago del Estero (S-22), a Balao-class GUPPY 1A submarine.[9]

Chile conflictEdit

In the 1978 conflict between Argentina and Chile, the Argentine Submarine Force deployed all four submarines, including Santa Fe and her sister ship Santiago del Estero, which made several patrols in the conflict area. Peace was achieved on 21 December, in part due to the visit of the Pope and the diplomatic intervention of both countries, and war was avoided. All Argentine ships returned to port without any incident.[citation needed]

Falklands WarEdit

In 1982, the ship's commander was Captain Horacio Bicain.[9] In March 1982, Santa Fe participated in an exercise called Cimarron, together with the Uruguayan Navy. Her sister ship, Santiago del Estero, was no longer in operation at the time. She took part in the Falklands War (April 2 - June 14, 1982) alongside San Luis, a German Type 209, which was the other operational Argentine submarine.[10]

Santa Fe supported the landings on April 2 - Operation Rosario -, transporting divers from the Agrupacion de Buzos Tacticos to Playa Roja - Yorke Bay - and marking the beach for the main amphibious force, completing this objective at 3 am; the main assault at Playa Roja would begin at 6.30 am. Another mission for ARA Santa Fe divers during Operation Rosario, was to seize the lighthouse at Cape Pembroke, which was also achieved. Once the mission was complete, the submarine returned to Argentina, arriving on 7 April.[10]

On 12 April, Santa Fe was ordered to ferry a party of Argentine marines and supplies to Grytviken, in South Georgia. The island of South Georgia is situated 784 NM southeast of Falklands, 1.300 NM east of South America, 2.600 NM west of Africa and 720 NM north of Antartica. Santa Fe departed from Mar del Plata in the early hours of 16 April, being armed with WWII-vintage Mk 14 and Cold War Mk 37 torpedoes, and also carrying supplies for the Argentine garrison that was in the island since 3 April.[11] On 24 April, the submarine reached the island and began unloading the supplies. Members of the Argentine garrison had salvaged a crippled BAS launch, which was used to unload the cargo.[12] Among other supplies unloaded, were Bantam anti-tank missiles and a recoilless rifle; heavy equipment that had to be maneuvered through the hatch by hand, and then to the small boat, which did three trips to ferry the troops and supplies. This part of the mission ended at 5.44 am of 25 April, and then Santa Fe quickly departed, trying to reach ocean depth deep enough to safely submerge.[13]

Fatal attackEdit

On 23 April, the Royal Navy ships HMS Brilliant, HMS Antrim, HMS Plymouth and the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance had been sent to retake the island of South Georgia, with a detachment of Royal Marines and Special Boat Squadron commandos. This operation had the name of Paraquet. Around 6 am, 25 April, after leaving Grytviken, Santa Fe was detected on radar by Lieutenant Chris Parry, the observer of the Westland Wessex HAS.3 anti-submarine helicopter from Antrim, and attacked with depth charges. This attack caused extensive internal damage, including the splitting of a ballast tank, the dismounting of electrical components and shocks to the machinery. As the submarine struggled to return to Grytviken on the surface, Plymouth launched a Westland Wasp HAS.1 helicopter, and Brilliant launched a Westland Lynx HAS.2. The Lynx dropped a Mk 46 torpedo, which failed to strike home, but strafed the submarine with its pintle-mounted 7.62 mm L7 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). The Wessex also fired on Santa Fe with its GPMG. The Wasp from HMS Plymouth and two other Wasps launched from Endurance fired AS-12 air-to-surface anti-ship missiles at the submarine. Due to the fiberglass material of the ship's sail, the missiles passed from side to side. However, in this action Corporal Alberto Macias was severely wounded, later losing one of his legs. MG fire was used to respond the attack from the ship as it retreated back to Grytviken. Interestingly, Santa Fe was fitted with doors at the sail, from which to shoot while navigating on the surface. It was a feature that most American submariners considered unnecesary, as it was unlikely to be used in modern warfare.[9]

Once ashore, Santa Fe's crew and the Argentine garrison at South Georgia, still under attack, attempted to fire their rifles and machine guns, and a Bantam anti-tank missile at the aircraft, which missed. The Argentine boat was damaged badly enough to prevent her from navigating. The British aircraft decided to end the attack and retreat to their ships. The crew abandoned the listing submarine at Grytviken pier.[14][15] At 5 pm on 25 April, the Grytviken garrison commander decided to surrender, after being warned by the main guns of the ships HMS Plymouth (F-126) and HMS Antrim (D-18); there were also several helicopters in the area, transporting SAS and SBS commandos to strategic points. Lt. Alfredo Astiz and fifteen of his men, at Port Leith, initially refused to surrender on March 25, but would do so finally on the morning of 26 March. [16][17]

Reclamation and disposalEdit

A Royal Navy officer told the Santa Fe's captain, Cpt. Horacio Bicain, that they would have to work together to move the submarine from the main pier in Grytviken to a whaler quay, about 2,000 yards away. To accomplish the move, a reduced crew was assigned, Cpt. Bicain being one of them. The British assigned some guards. While under guard on the submarine by a British Royal Marine, Argentine Navy Petty Officer Felix Artuso was mistakenly shot dead on 26 April while a prisoner of war. His body was buried at Grytviken Cemetery.[18][19] Artuso was shot because it was believed that he was trying to sabotage the vessel.[16] According to some members of her crew, in the middle of the confusion that followed the incident, a number of valves and hatchways were left open, the submarine flooded and sank alongside the pier, with only her combat-damaged conning tower showing above the surface.[20][21] Artuso is, until present day, the only Argentine buried in the Georgias, and the only Argentine submariner who died in a war.[9]

Before the conflict ended on 14 June, the crew of ARA Santa Fe had been taken as POWs to Ascension island, from where a Red-Cross-chartered airliner flew them to Uruguay. The half-sunken submarine remained in Grytviken. During June 1982, tugs dragged it to a shallow inlet called Moraine Fjord, having part of the sail still visible. The submarine was considered to be worthless as a war prize because she was non-standard, obsolete, badly damaged and too expensive to repair. In 1983, a first attempt to dispose of the ship was made, but a sudden storm appeared and it sank completely in slightly deeper water, where it remained for over a year. However, the submarine was still loaded with torpedoes, there was oil leaking from it, acidic electrolyte in the batteries, and lead-based paint flaking off. As a result, in 1985, the British Ministry of Defence arranged the final disposal of the ship, Operation Okehampton. This costly operation involved the ship MV Salvageman, a specialist ship of United Towing Company, UK, and the government-owned ship RMAS Goosander, divers and special equipment in order to lift the submarine to the surface. The submarine was temporarily raised on 11 February, the contaminating elements were removed over a period of eight days, and the submarine was towed into deep water and scuttled north of South Georgia, about 5 miles out, on 20 February 1985.[9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Friedman, Norman (1995). U.S. Submarines Through 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 285–304. ISBN 1-55750-263-3.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 275–280. ISBN 0-313-26202-0.
  3. ^ a b c d e f U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305-311
  4. ^ a b c d e Bauer, K. Jack; Roberts, Stephen S. (1991). Register of Ships of the U.S. Navy, 1775–1990: Major Combatants. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 275–280. ISBN 978-0-313-26202-9.
  5. ^ U.S. Submarines Through 1945 p. 261
  6. ^ a b c U.S. Submarines Through 1945 pp. 305–311
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h U.S. Submarines Since 1945 pp. 242
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Friedman, Norman (1994). U.S. Submarines Since 1945: An Illustrated Design History. Annapolis, Maryland: United States Naval Institute. pp. 11–43. ISBN 1-55750-260-9.
  9. ^ a b c d e jwh1975 (18 July 2020). "Last voyage of ARA Santa Fe 1982". wwiiafterwwii. Retrieved 24 March 2022.
  10. ^ a b jwh1975 (18 July 2020). "Last voyage of ARA Santa Fe 1982". wwiiafterwwii. Retrieved 8 April 2022.
  11. ^ Bóveda, Jorge (2007). La Odisea del submarino Santa Fe. IPN editores, pp. 79–90. ISBN 978-950-899-073-0 (in Spanish)
  12. ^ Bóveda, pp. 105–106 and 122
  13. ^ Submarinos Argentinos en Malvinas 1982, retrieved 8 April 2022
  14. ^ Cindy Buxton; Annie Price (1983). Survival: South Atlantic. HarperCollins. p. 172. ISBN 0-246-12087-8.
  15. ^ Biggs, Si (25 April 2020). "Operation Paraquet - South Georgia". RoyalMarinesHistory.
  16. ^ a b Yates, D. (2006). Bomb Alley – Falklands War 1982: Aboard HMS Antrim at War. Pen & Sword Maritime. pp. 95–105. ISBN 1-84415-417-3.
  17. ^ Bóveda, pp. 110–123
  18. ^ Evans, Michael (5 October 2007). "Marine killed Argentinian in Falklands war blunder". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 27 July 2008. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  19. ^ "ARTUSO, Felix".
  20. ^ "La guerra que no se vió". La Nacion (in Spanish). 6 April 1997. Luego de atracar, y aprovechando la distracción de los británicos por un incidente que le había costado la vida al suboficial Félix Artuso, tripulantes del submarino lograron burlar la guardia y abrieron disimuladamente válvulas y escotillas de la nave, provocando su hundimiento. No sólo el Santa Fe quedó así inutilizable: también el muelle.
  21. ^ "Wreckage of the Santa Fe". Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2008.

External linksEdit

  • Photo gallery of Catfish at NavSource Naval History no nationality or prefix;

Coordinates: 54°10′59″S 36°22′32″W / 54.18306°S 36.37556°W / -54.18306; -36.37556