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USS Cutlass: A Legendary Submarine That’s Still Active After Nearly 80 Years

USS Cutlass: A Legendary Submarine That’s Still Active After Nearly 80 Years

By Eli Becht/June 25, 2023 5:00 pm EST

You might expect that a submarine in use during World War II would be retired, but that’s not the case for the USS Cutlass. In fact, the usual life for a submarine is between 20 and 30 years, so the Cutlass has defied those expectations more than twice over. This submarine dates back to 1944, and it’s still being used today. It started as a vessel for the U.S. Navy, but it has since been sold to Taiwan where it remains in active service. 

Taiwan brought it in for maintenance in 2017, and the goal was to extend its service life to 2026. It’s mainly used for training these days, but reports have indicated the Cutlass, now known as Hai Shih, is capable of laying mines and could still potentially fire torpedoes. Taiwan’s submarine fleet actually features two from the WWII era. Joining the Cutlass is the Hai Pao, another submarine that was once owned by the U.S. Navy. Formerly known as the USS Tusk, this submarine was launched in 1945 and sold in 1974, a year after the Cutlass.

The Cutlass never saw combat

Despite departing from Pearl Harbor — a few years after the 1941 attack that brough the U.S. into World War II – and patrolling Japanese waters, the Cutlass never saw any battles. It arrived near Japan a day after the Japanese surrender in 1945. The Cutlass patrolled the area for a little over a month before returning to Pearl Harbor and eventually settling on the United States east coast. In 1949, the Cutlass became the test submarine for Operation Rainbow, an exercise done to evaluate color schemes on subs as visibility was becoming a bigger problem since these vessels began to dive deeper than ever before.

From that point on, it mostly made trips around the Western Hemisphere before going to Europe in 1953. The Cutlass’ remaining time with the U.S. Navy consisted of patrols, exercises, and antisubmarine warfare training before it was retired from the military and sold off to Taiwan nearly 30 years after its launch. 

Transfer to Taiwan

The Cutlass was renamed Hai Shih after being sold to Taiwan, and it remains the oldest active submarine in the fleet by just a year. There are four Taiwanese subs in total — the Hai Shih, Hai Pao, Hai Lung, and Hai Hu. Both the Hai Shih and Hai Pao are from the 1940s, while the Hai Lung and Hai Hu are from the late 1980s, making all four ships well older than typical retirement age.

In 2018, it was reported Lung-class ships, the Hai Lung and Hai Hu, would be undergoing upgrades to extend their service lives into the 2030s. As of 2022, Taiwan had developed its first submarine, reportedly in hopes of defending against a possible attack from China. The Cutlass still has a little bit of life left, but it is reportedly unable to dive below 100 meters, making it tough to envision the WWII-era sub holding up well in any future combat scenarios.

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