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Extremely rare photographs of USS DORADO officers and crew at their commissioning party taken August 13, 1943 at Polly's Inn off West Norwich Road, Groton, CT. Don Wheeler (red circle) is far left, top row, seen looking down toward his right.


Such was the beginning of the 4-and-1/2 month life of USS DORADO (SS-248), a Gato-class submarine launched on May 23rd, 1943, from New London, Connecticut. Her crew knew she was a jinxed boat--and with just cause. Her sea trials proved the readiness of the crew but questioned the readiness of the boat. Just over four months after the launch, she was lost on her maiden operational voyage with all hands. The last ones to see this American submarine were the pilot, co-pilot and bombardier of a PBM aircraft attached to Patrol Squadron 210 out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They last saw DORADO on October 12th, 1943--just before they dropped three Mark-47 depth charges and a 100-lb. Mark-4 Mod-4 demolition bomb on her. At the subsequent Board of Investigation in Guantanamo Bay and the more formal Court of Inquiry at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the aircrew swore they had bombed a German U-boat. After World War II, the confiscated logbook of the German U-boat U-214 painted an entirely different picture of what happened that night--and it was finally learned that the PBM had indeed bombed DORADO. What really happened that fateful night was duly recorded in the U-boat’s logbook.

More than 25 years, since the early 1970s, have been spent researching the loss and whereabouts of DORADO. Her history is sometimes mysterious, sometimes comical, and raises still more questions today than those brought out by the Naval investigations some 50 years ago. The 4-and-1/2 month history of DORADO does not end with its disappearance; our research also traces our attempts to search for the wreckage.

Detailed research indicates that while it was true DORADO was bombed by what is today termed "friendly fire," she was not sunk. In fact, our research presents strong evidence to indicate that DORADO was caught in neutral buoyancy and drifted with a dead crew for some 900 miles over a period of two months before running aground off the Caribbean coastline of Mexico. During World War II the Caribbean coastline of Mexico was nothing more than a mosquito-infested swamp pockmarked by ancient Mayan ruins; today it boasts such popular tourist sites as Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Adventuras and points further south. There, covered by white Caribbean sand, lies what is believed to be the remains of DORADO and her crew.

The evidence includes the sworn statement of an aircraft pilot who saw the remains of a submarine conning tower in the early 1970s--sticking up out of the sandy bottom of the Caribbean Sea. It was seen so often, mostly with the help of a rising or setting sun that threw a silhouette of the sail across the white sand, that he and the other pilots began using the wreck as a reference point and began calling it the "Grey Ghost" or the "Ghost Ship."

This research is, ultimately, a story about a U.S. Gato-class diesel-powered submarine that was launched on May 23rd, 1943, commissioned August 28th, 1943, set sail for Pearl Harbor via the Panama Canal on October 6th, 1943 and was lost on October 12th, 1943, in the Caribbean Sea.

Our research tells a story about a submarine pressed into active duty after a 'shakedown' cruise that recorded a fire, being stuck underwater in a mudbank for 11 hours, and otherwise nearly impossible to submerge or keep submerged.

Our research tells a story about a Board of Investigations and a Court of Inquiry that did not have all the necessary information in front of them to make a final decision, but announced their conclusions anyway.

Our research tells a story about a U.S. submarine attacked by friendly fire on a moonlit but stormy night and which was then never seen or heard from again, and our search for the submarine some 50 years later.

The submarine has never been found, although certain pieces of evidence indicate its whereabouts. The operational logbooks that could answer some of the most important questions have, of course, never been recovered. But Syneca has amassed hundreds of documents, literally thousands of pages, as well as photographs, maps, charts, personal letters, and assorted books, papers and e-mail traffic in its ongoing search. An inventory of many such items are listed below.

The DORADO tragedy bears evidence to the perils in which submariners operated during World War II and which threatened every submarine operating throughout the world, especially those operating in areas where enemy submarines were also known to operate. Not only was a submarine imperiled by its undersea enemies lurking in the depths, but submarines also risked accidental attack by friendly "hunter-killer" ships and aircraft who had failed to "get the word," or who had made some simple navigational errors, or who were otherwise unable to determine the submarine's identity before attack. Such sinkings by friendly forces were remarkably rare on the American side--the bombing of DORADO by a "friendly" aircraft operating from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the Caribbean, and the destruction of SEAWOLF by ROWELL are the only American cases of its kind, although nearly every submariner has his particular story to tell about "friendly fire."

Against the complex backdrop of World War II, this record of two American submarines lost by friendly fire stands as a monument to those who planned and coordinated American offensive operations and developed the techniques of recognition. These two submarines also stand as a quiet reminder that they are "Forever On Patrol" not because of enemy action but due to a failure of communication. This is the story of DORADO brought to you by research efforts of Syneca Research Group, Inc., and the company's "DORADO Expedition" team.

For further information on Syneca, the "DORADO Expedition," and the ongoing research and travels, contact Dr. Douglas Campbell at mailto:dcamp@aol.com. We are always looking for additional funding as we approach the next stage of on-site research. Recently, Syneca signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement with Meridian Sciences, Inc., and are in discussions with Meridian on finding and filming the submarine. Meridian was the company that found the Japanese submarine I-75 in over 10,000-feet of water in the Atlantic Ocean.

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