Dakota Datebook

USS Robalo

Monday, October 24, 2011


Construction began on the USS Robalo on this date in 1942, when its keel was laid down in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. A Gato-class submarine commissioned by the U.S. Navy for patrols in the Pacific, the Robalo was launched on May 9th, 1943. It sunk less than fifteen months later, in July of 1944. In 1960, the Robalo was adopted by the state of North Dakota as a move to honor and remember the fifty-two submarines lost by the United States during World War II.

Like many of its sister ships, the Robalo’s naval career was tragically short. The submarine began its first patrol out of Pearl Harbor during the early months of 1944, commanded by Stephen Ambruster. The crew spent two months hunting Japanese ships west of the Philippines. In March of 1944, Manning Kimmel took command, and the Robalo began a patrol of the South China Sea. Assigned to intercept Japanese traffic between Vietnam and the Philippines, the Robalo’s second patrol proved more aggressive; the crew engaged in four different attacks and suffered a direct hit by a Japanese bomber. The submarine returned to dock at Fremantle in Western Australia for repairs. Before setting out on her third patrol, Commander Kimmel offered leave to several men, and some accepted. It would prove a fortunate decision for those few men.

The Robalo struck a mine north of Borneo on July 26th, and sunk. Seventy-seven of the ship’s crew drowned, and the remaining four survivors swam to shore. Picked up by Japanese forces, these men were placed in a Philippine prison camp, but were never heard from again. It is believed that they were put on a Japanese destroyer that was later sunk.

During the 1960 meeting of the Submarine Veteran’s of World War II, each U.S. state adopted a lost submarine to honor. North Dakota chose the Robalo, and in 2005 a memorial commemorating the crew was dedicated at Fargo’s Lindenwood Park. In 2009, David Zier was honored at the memorial by local leaders and veterans. Visiting from his home in Maryland, Zier was one of those crewmen who remained behind in Australia during the ship’s final mission. Standing in front of the memorial, engraved with the names of his lost shipmates, Zier expressed his gratitude to the state for honoring the lost ship and her crew.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job








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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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