After commissioning, submarine V-6 conducted special submergence tests near New London, Connecticut, United States until Mar 1931. Submarine V-6 was renamed Nautilus on 19 Feb 1931 and given new designation SS-168 on 1 Jul 1931. In late 1932, she arrived at Pearl Harbor and became the flagship of Submarine Division 12. Between 1935 and 1938, she was a member of Submarine Division 13 at San Diego, California, United States. Between 1939 and 1941, she was based in Pearl Harbor. In Jul 1941, she entered Mare Island Navy Yard in California for to modern her radio equipment, diesel engines, and air conditioning. This modernization proceeded through the United States’ entrance into WW2.
Nautilus completed the modernization in spring 1942 and reached Pearl Harbor on 28 Apr. On 24 May, under the command of Lieutenant Commander William H. Brockman, Jr., she departed for her first war patrol, searching for the Japanese fleet sailing for Midway. At 0755 on 4 Jun 1942, she sighted the Japanese fleet at about the same time Japanese aircraft sighting the submarine. The aircraft strafed her with machine gun fire, but she submerged to depth of 30-meters and continued to observe the Japanese fleet. At 0800, she noted one cruiser and three destroyers (misidentified as a battleship and three cruisers) before being sighted from the air again and attacked by bombs. Two of the three spotted destroyers closed in to her position with depth charges. Nautilus escaped the attack unharmed. Some time between 0815 and 0830, she came up to periscope depth and found she was amidst the Japanese fleet. She fired two bow torpedoes at a cruiser (again misidentified as a battleship); one mis-fired and the other missed. At 0830, she was spotted by a destroyer, which attacked her with depth charges, forcing her into a dive again. At 0846 and 0900, she rose to periscope depth twice. At 0918, she was attacked by six depth charges from a Japanese destroyer, forcing her to dive again. At 0955, she rose to periscope depth again, but by then she had lost track of the Japanese ships. At 1253, she sighted the damaged carrier Kaga (misidentified as Soryu). After maneuvering into firing position, she fired four torpedoes at Kaga between 1359 and 1405 from a range of 2,700 meters or less. The first torpedo was stuck in the tube, while the second and the third missed widely. The fourth hit Kaga squarely, scaring the swimming sailors near by, but it failed to detonate. Ironically, the torpedo broke in half and provided floatation tools for the Japanese sailors. For unknown reason, the crew of Nautilus reported a torpedo hit with visible flames. The two Japanese destroyers near by attacked her with a prolonged depth charge attack, forcing her to remain deep for hours. She rose to periscope depth at 1610 to observe abandoned Kaga burning. At 1941, after surviving 42 depth charges, Brockman ordered the boat to move out of the area. Between 7 and 9 Jun, Nautilus replenished at Midway, and then continued her patrol. She reached waters off the Japanese home island of Honshu by 20 Jun and damaged a Japanese destroyer at the entrance to the Sagami Sea on 22 Jun. On 25 Jun, she sank destroyer Yamakaze and damaged an oil tanker. On 27 Jun, she sank a wooden sampan. On 28 Jun, she damaged a merchantman and survived an intense depth charge attack, though the damage sustained ended her patrol. She was repaired at Pearl Harbor from 11 Jul to 7 Aug.
Brockman was awarded the Navy Cross for the Battle of Midway.
Nautilus departed for her second war patrol on 8 Aug. On this mission, accompanied by submarine Argonaut, she delivered Lieutenant Colonel Evans F. Carlson’s Second Raider Battalion to Little Makin in the early morning of 17 Aug. At 0703 in the same morning, she provided gunfire support against targets on Ukiangong Point, sinking a troop barge and a patrol boat. She was attacked by Japanese aircraft at 1130 and 1255, forcing her to dive. She picked up less than 100 surviving raiders after the attack at the night of 18 Aug and returned to Pearl Harbor, arriving 25 Aug.
On 15 Sep 1942, Nautilus departed for her third war patrol. She patrolled the entire length of the Japanese islands from Kurile Islands to Ryukyu Islands. Heavy seas and mechanical problems haunted her during this patrol, but she was still able to sink two cargo ships and three wooden sampans. On 12 Oct, after surviving a depth charge attack, an oil leak was discovered. On 20 Oct, as the oil leak worsened, air leaks were discovered. She moved to an area with less Japanese aerial presence so that the leaks would not expose her position, and was able to sink a cargo ship in the less-trafficked area. She reached Midway Island on 31 Oct for temporary repairs, and ended her third war patrol at Pearl Harbor on 5 Nov 1942.
On 13 Dec, Nautilus departed on her fourth patrol. On 31 Dec 1942 and 1 Jan 1943, she rescued 26 adults and three children in Toep Harbor. She went on to sink cargo ship Yosinogawa Maru and damage a tanker, a freighter, and a destroyer. On 4 Feb, she disembarked the 29 rescued civilians in Brisbane, Australia, ending her fourth patrol.
Five days after arriving at Pearl Harbor, Nautilus left for her fifth war patrol on 20 Apr 1943. She arrived at Dutch Harbor, Alaska, United States on 27 Apr, and delivered 109 scouts of the 7th Army Scouts on Attu in the morning of 11 May, five hours before the main assault on the island.
Nautilus was sidelined at the Mare Island Navy Yard for most of summer 1943 for an overhaul.
On 16 Sep 1943, Nautilus sailed from Pearl Harbor for her sixth war patrol with the primary mission of gathering intelligence in the Gilbert Islands area. She returned on 17 Oct with valuable photographs on Tarawa, Kuma, Butaritari, Abemama, Makin, and other islands. On 18 Nov, on her seventh war patrol, she returned to Tarawa to gather last-minute weather and surf conditions. At 2159 on 19 Nov, she was mistaken for a Japanese ship and was fired upon by destroyer Ringgold, blasting a hole in her conning tower with a 5-in shell. After temporary repairs, she completed a mission of delivering 78 scouts on Abemama during the night of 20 to 21 Nov, who secured the lightly defended island in the next few days. Nautilus returned to Pearl Harbor on 4 Dec.
On 27 Jan 1944, Nautilus departed for her eighth war patrol. Off Palau Islands and Mariana Islands, she sank cargo ship America Maru and damaged three others. The patrol ended on 21 Mar, though she supported several guerrilla actions in the Philippine Islands in Apr 1944.
On her ninth patrol beginning on 29 May 1944, Nautilus carried ammunition, oil, and dry stores to guerilla fighters on Mindanao of the Philippine Islands. Her tenth patrol in Jun saw similar missions to Negros Island of the Philippine Islands.
Her eleventh, twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth patrols beginning on 30 Jun 1944, Nautilus landed reconnaissance parties and supplies to various islands in the Philippine Islands. On 31 Oct, during the thirteenth patrol, she was ordered to scuttle submarine Darter which was damaged and could not be recovered. Embarrassingly, Nautilus’ torpedoes repeatedly missed Darter, all exploding on the reef. After the torpedo failures, it was decided Darter would be hit by so many shells from Nautilus’ 6-inch gun that nothing would remain salvageable. She made port call at Darwin, Australia on 30 Jan 1945 that completed her fourteenth and final war patrol.
Nautilus was decommissioned in Philadelphia, United States and was sold for scrap to the North American Smelting Company of Philadelphia on 16 Nov 1945.
Recommended Reading on the USS Nautilus:
USS Nautilus Memorabilia: