ARA Santa Fe was an Argentine Balao-class submarine which was lost during the Falklands War. Built during the Second World War, the submarine served in United States Navy as USS Catfish (SS-339) before being commissioned into the Argentine Navy in 1971. She served until 1982 when she was captured by the British at South Georgia after being seriously damaged and subsequently sank along a pier, with just her sail visible above the waterline. The submarine was raised, towed out of the bay and scuttled in deep waters in 1985.
U.S. Navy service
The submarine was built during the Second World War by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut and was launched on 19 November 1944. Commissioned into the US Navy as USS Catfish, the submarine entered service in March 1945. As Catfish the submarine took part in the closing stages of the Pacific war against Japan. Afterwards she served in the US Seventh Fleet in the Pacific Ocean seeing service in the Korean War. After this period, the boat was given a Guppy II conversion.
In 1971, Catfish was decommissioned and sold to Argentina, where she was renamed ARA Santa Fe.
In 1982, Santa Fe took part in the Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas/Guerra del Atlántico Sur) alongside San Luis, the only two operative submarines in the Argentine Navy. Santa Fe supported the Argentine invasion by landing tactical divers at Yorke Bay, who marked the beach for the main amphibious force and seized the lighthouse. Later, she departed from the islands and stayed on station in the naval submarine base at the city of Mar del Plata as a large British task force approached the South Atlantic.
On 12 April, Santa Fe was ordered to ferry a party of marines, based at Puerto Belgrano, and supplies to Grytviken, in South Georgia. She departed from Mar del Plata in the early hours of 17 April.
On 23 April, the Royal Navy ships HMS Brilliant, HMS Antrim, HMS Plymouth and the ice patrol ship HMS Endurance were sent to retake the island of South Georgia with a detachment of Royal Marines and Special Boat Service commandos. The threat of Santa Fe forced the British ships to keep at a distance as they landed troops on the island.
Santa Fe accomplished the resupply mission and landed the marines on 25 April. Members of the Argentine garrison had salvaged a crippled BAS launch, which was used to download the cargo. Some hours later, after leaving Grytviken, Santa Fe was detected on radar by Lieutenant Chris Parry, the observer of the Westland Wessex HAS.3 anti-submarine helicopter from Antrim, and attacked with depth charges. This attack caused extensive internal damage, including the splitting of a ballast tank, the dismounting of electrical components and shocks to the machinery. As the submarine struggled to return to Grytviken on the surface, Plymouth launched a Westland Wasp HAS.1 helicopter, and Brilliant launched a Westland Lynx HAS.2. The Lynx dropped a Mk 46 torpedo, which failed to strike home, but strafed the submarine with its pintle-mounted 7.62 mm L7 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG). The Wessex also fired on Santa Fe with its GPMG. The Wasp from HMS Plymouth and two other Wasps launched from Endurance fired AS-12 air-to-surface anti-ship missiles at the submarine, scoring hits. Santa Fe's men and the marines onshore attempted to fight off the attack by firing their rifles, machine guns, and an old Bantam anti-tank missile at the aircraft, but the Argentine boat was damaged badly enough to prevent her from submerging or even from sailing away. The crew abandoned the listing submarine at the jetty at King Edward Point on South Georgia and surrendered, along with the Argentine garrison, to the British forces. Brilliant's diving officer, Lt. Chris Sherman, went down to place a charge to disable the submarine further, and blew off its rudder.
Whilst under guard on the submarine by a British Royal Marine, Argentine Navy Petty Officer Felix Artuso was mistakenly shot dead on 26 April while a prisoner of war; his body was buried at Grytviken Cemetery. Artuso was shot because it was believed (wrongly) that he was trying to sabotage the vessel. According to some members of her crew, in the middle of the confusion that followed the incident, a number of valves and hatchways were left open, the submarine flooded and sank alongside the pier, with only her combat-damaged conning tower showing above the surface.
After the conflict ended, Santa Fe was considered to be worthless as a war prize because she was non-standard, obsolete, badly damaged and too expensive to repair. As a result, the submarine was temporarily raised by the British, towed into deep water and scuttled on 10 February 1985.