s u b m a r i n e s a i l o r . c o m

the fate of the RO-60

 by Greg Howson MM2-SS, USS Ray SSN-653

The RO60 was one of nine L4 type medium series submarines. Construction began in Dec. 1921, she was launched on 22 May 1922 and completed on 17 Sept. 1923. She was originally commissioned as hull # 59 but was changed to RO60 in 1924.Here are her statistics-
  • Displacement: 996 tons surfaced - 1,322 tons submerged
  • Length: 250 ft.
  • Beam: 24.5 ft.
  • Draft: 12.3 ft.
  • Propulsion: 2 diesels; 2,400 hp
  • Electric Motors; 1,600 hp; 2 shafts
  • Speed: 16 knots surfaced / 8 knots submerged
  • Range: 5,500 naut. miles @ 10 knots surfaced
  • 80 naut. miles @ 4 knots submerged
  • Depth: 200 ft. (60 m)
  • Crew: 60 Officers & men
  • Torpedoe Tubes: 6 21 inch in the bow
  • Torpedoes: 10
  • Guns: 1 3-inch (76 mm)

(RO-64 from the same class)

RO-60 was attached to the Fourth Fleets' 26th submarine division along with the RO-61 and RO-62. The entire division was dispatched from Kwajalein Atoll on Dec. 12th 1941 to support the second invasion attempt of Wake island, the first attempt being repulsed by the U.S. Marine defenders.

On the night of 17 Dec. the RO-62 collided with the RO-66 at sea and the RO-66 sank, but all of the crew were saved. The RO-62 continued on her patrol and conducted reconnaisance along with the RO-60 & RO-61 in support of the invasion. The second Japanese invasion was successful and the U.S. Marines surrendered on 23 Dec. 1941. The 26th Submarine division was ordered to return to Kwajalein. While attempting to re-enter the Kwajalein Atoll, during rough weather, the RO-60 ran aground about 1/4 mile north of the deep water pass through the reef, and was lost on 29 Dec. 1941.

Over the years she was stripped of any useful equipment by the Japanese and she was bombed several time by U.S. Naval aircraft during harassment raids and the invasion of Kwajalein during operation Flintlock in Feb. of 1944. During the occupation, and later in preparation for turning the Kwajalein Atoll into Americas' ballistic missile range, military EOD personnel blew the living shit out of it to keep personnel like myself from being hurt by the still intact explosives on the "Long Lance" torpedoes that were on board.

This photo shows 3 of the torpedo tubes with their counter rotating props along with various air flasks and tubing and controls etc. notice how pristine the hold-down lugs for the tube doors are. Remember this thing has been sitting in saltwater and exposed to a highly corrosive atmosphere for over 60 years! Good Bronze I think. (Author is far right, photo taken in 1999 - Ed.) [click here or on photo for larger view]

Today she lies in two large pieces about 100 yards apart on the east reef of the atoll 17 miles south of Roi-Namur island. She can be reached by private boat at low tide and is a popular destination for tourists and the range personnel who are stationed there or who work for DoD contractors. The Marshalles govt. has passed legislation designating the WWII wrecks as historical artifacts and no scavenging is allowed. However, before that law was enacted many unique artifacts were scrounged from the wreck and surrounding waters.

Photo taken in 1991 while the scuba club had asked the Army LCM to land on the reef and about 30 of us walked around the wreck at low tide.

I have lived on the Atoll for the past 9 years and have had a private boat for 6 of those years. I have made many trips to the wreck site due to my own curiosity and to take other people to see the wreck. The motion of the ocean at high tide and the fierceness of the tropical storms are slowly but surely turning the wreck from something recognizable into just a pile of rubble.

This photo shows a watertight door with a porthole in the center of it. The porthole is open and i assume that it allowed communication between compartments. There was one on each side of the door. Directly behind the door is an engine for one of the long lance torpedoes. There are at least 4 of these in the wreckage.


This picture shows me out near the ocean side of the reef with the stern section wreckage. The boat is on its back on the starboard side. The stbd. screw is right beside me and the port one can barely be seen above my right hand. I am holding on to the keel based rudder mount but the rudder is missing. If you look closely you can see that the stern planes had four fingers of steel with teak planks (I think they're teak) inserted between them for webbing. On the backside of the wreck you can see the engine room and an incredible view of the reduction gears. Their are at least 15 gears on each of the propellor shafts. I'm sorry that i don't have photos of this.

Here are three photo collages. Click on each for a larger view.

Left: In this group is a bronze pump that has been laying out in the open on the reef for over 61 years!!!! I have personally flipped this over and grabbed the coupling and the shaft still turns - absolutely unbelievable! This is a pretty good sized pump and as a guess, I would think it to be part of the trim and drain system.

Center: In this group is the top of the stern of the boat. On the extreme right side of the photo you can see a part of the gear train for the port shaft. It is easy to see the struts used to keep the propellors from getting fouled on cables and they are also used as supports for the stern planes.

Right: In this group is a picture of the rudder which has seperated from the wreck but lying close by. The rudder is constructed like the stern planes, using a metal framework with wooden inserts for the control surface. The large knuckle joint that controlled it is intact and looks like it can be unbolted and salvaged for further use. Really amazing stuff to see after all of these years.

It is my pleasure to record this piece of history and share it with the submarine community. If anyone who sees this article has any questions about this wreck or any of the other shipwrecks or military history about the Kwajalein Atoll please do not hesitate to get in touch. I love to talk military history, and there is a lot of history and historical artifacts here.

God bless all the bubbleheads...

-- Greg Howson MM2/SS

Here are some reference photos to give you an idea of what the RO-60 looked like while in service. The RO-63 and RO-64 shown below were of the same class:

The L4-type submarines, such as the RO-63 (formerly No. 84), were the oldest medium submarines to see significant combat in World War II. This photo was taken during sea trials in October 1924. (Imperial War Museum)

The RO-64 struck a mine and sand in the Inland Sea in 1945 going down with her crew of 50 men plus 30 trainees and instructors.

Originated: 3/22/2003 - - - h o m e - - - Revised: 6/2/2003