S-39 was an Asiatic Fleet submarine, on patrol off Luzon when the war began. She was ordered to the San Bernadino Strait, where she was discovered by the enemy and subjected to a heavy depth charging. This was followed by an unsuccessful attack on a Japanese freigher and more depth charges. She return to Manila on 21 December.
S-39‘s commanding officer, Lieutenant James “Red” Coe, was ordered to make a second war patrol, at the same time transferring his base of operation to Surabaya, on Java, arriving there in late January.
Her third war patrol included an unsuccessful attempt to rescue a British admiral and a group of refugees from Chebis Island, where they had been stranded after the fall of Singapore. When the refugees failed to appear, Coe sent a landing party ashore. The island was found to be deserted, and there were indications that the Japanese had got there first and captured RAdm Spooner and his party.
On 4 March 1942, S-39 made a successful attack on the 6,500-ton tanker Erimo, sinking it. (Coe claimed 5,000 tons, but the total was increased by JANAC after the war.)
Later in March, S-39 was transferred to Fremantle, Australia, moving again, just over a month later, to Brisbane. At that time Red Coe was relieved, and Lieutenant Francis Brown assumed command. Her fourth war patrol produced no results.
S-39‘s fifth war patrol was her last, running aground in bad weather off Rossel Island on 13 August 1942. The crew was taken off by the RAN minesweeper HMAS Katoomba, and S-39 herself was broken up by the heavy seas.
Builder: Union Iron Works
Sponsor: Miss Clara M. Huber
First Captain: Lt J.A. Scott