She was the U.S. Navy submarine USS Cutlass, a 1,570-ton Tench-class vessel that launched on Nov. 5, 1944 during World War II. Her wartime service was brief, and Cutlass didn’t reach her first patrol zone near the Kuril Islands until the day after Japan capitulated.
When the United States sold her to Taiwan in 1974, it sealed up Cutlass’ 10 torpedo tubes — six forward and four aft — and she became the Hai Shih. Very little has changed internally, apparently, but she still works.
On Jan. 21, 2017, Taiwan announced that the 72-year-old SS-791 Hai Shih, or Sea Lion, will receive a retrofit allowing it to continue sailing until 2026. The $19 million retrofit will be to improve the hull and the diesel vessel’s “navigational elements,” Taiwan News reported.
That will make this a potentially 80 year old sub, commissioned originally in WWII!
“Torpedo rooms forward and aft were operational and both carried test torpedoes,” Jane’s Defense Weekly reported in 2002.
“The Navy command recently took the unprecedented step of telling the media that [Hai Shih] was on an offshore mission, thus dispelling doubts about the World War II-era submarine still being useful and safe the next century,” Taiwan News noted.
But even if Hai Shih and Hai Pao are not combat-capable, the submarines could still be useful as reconnaissance vessels. They certainly would not match the Chinese navy, which could send dozens of submarines into Taiwan’s waters along with sub-hunting destroyers and aircraft.
Then again, if the antiques can still bite, they might pose a threat to some surface ships such as transport vessels.
Knowing the Taiwanese, those subs are fully combat capable. They might surprise an opponent someday.