Asbestos in the military

USS Albacore (SS-218)

USS Albacore (SS-218)Description:  History of the U.S. Navy submarine USS Albacore (SS-218) including information about asbestos exposure for workers.

The USS Albacore (SS-218) was ordered for the U.S. Navy before the United States entered World War II. Her keel was laid down by the Electric Boat Company on April 21, 1941. She was launched on February 17, 1942 and commissioned on June 1, 1942 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Richard C. Lake.

USS Albacore left Pearl Harbor on August 28 to patrol the waters surrounding Truk. She launched torpedoes at a number of Japanese ships through October, avoiding depth charges on several occasions. The submarine then headed to Midway Island, arriving on October 20 for refitting. In November, she headed off to patrol the coast of New Guinea.  She managed to sink the Japanese cruiser Tenryu on December 18 before putting in for overhaul at Brisbane, Australia on December 30.

After her overhaul was complete, the USS Albacore went out to patrol the coast of New Guinea again. By March 11, 1943, she had been credited with sinking an enemy destroyer and a frigate. Her next patrol of the Solomon Islands and the Bismarck Islands began on April 6, but reported no hits.

The USS Albacore patrolled the same area in June, this time damaging a transport buy not sinking any ships. Her next patrol in August scored three torpedo hits to sink the Japanese ship Heijo Maru. She was bombed by a plane from the Fifth Army Air Force on her next patrol in November, but she was not damaged. Two days later, she was bombed by another American aircraft that knocked out her auxiliary power, requiring her to resurface. She made repairs while continuing her patrols.

On November 25, USS Albacore sank the Japanese transport Kenzan Meru. At the end of December and into January 1944, she patrolled the area north of the Bismarcks. During this patrol, she sank the Cohoko Maru and blowing up the destroyer Sazanami. The submarine headed back to Mare Island via Pearl Harbor for repairs at the end of February.

Repairs were completed in May, and the USS Albacore spent a few weeks training before returning to the war zone. She set out to patrol the area near the Mariana Islands and the Palaus at the end of May, but was unable to launch any attacks. After the American invasion of Saipan in June, the submarine headed off in search of the Japanese task force headed back to the island. On June 18, she launched a number of torpedoes at the Japanese vessels, then was forced to dive when the ships dropped more than 25 depth charges. One of her torpedoes hit home on the Japanese carrier Taiho, sinking the flagship of Admiral Ozawa, though their successful was unknown until a prisoner of war (POW) revealed it several months later.

Following the sinking of the Taiho, USS Albacore took on lifeguard duty for the aircraft attacking Yap and Ulithi. She put in for refitting at Majuro on July 15, emerging on August 8 to patrol the area between Bungo Suido and Kii Suido. By September 25 when she returned to Pearl Harbor, she had sunk a Japanese cargo ship and submarine chaser.

USS Albacore left Pearl Harbor on October 24, 1944, refueling at Midway Island four days later. She was never heard from again. The submarine is believed to have struck a mine off the northeastern shore of Hokkaido on November 7. She was presumed lost on December 21, and removed from the Naval Vessel Register on March 30, 1945. The submarine earned nine battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for her service in World War II.

Like virtually all other vessels from the World War II era, the USS Albacore was built using asbestos-containing materials. The toxic substance asbestos was known for its resistance to heat, water, fire, and corrosion, so it could be found in nearly all areas of the submarine. Anyone who served onboard the USS Albacore or participated in her repair and overhaul was put at risk of developing asbestos-related illnesses like asbestosis, lung cancer, throat cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, and mesothelioma, a dangerous form of cancer that attacks the protective lining surrounding the lungs and other organs.

USS Albacore workers should monitor their health carefully, and consult a doctor if they experience any symptoms associated with mesothelioma.  Anyone who worked in or around the USS Albacore, and is diagnosed with mesothelioma, should also consider contacting a lawyer to discuss their legal rights.

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