The first ship to bear the name, was designed and built by the Electric Boat Company of Groton, Connecticut. She was the first ship of her class and the prototype for the major portion of the submarines constructed by the United States for service in World War II. Gato was christened on 21 August 1941 by Mrs. Royal E. Ingersoll, wife of then Rear Admiral Royal Ingersoll who was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations. GATO commissioned in Groton on 31 December 1941 and shortly thereafter left for service with the Pacific Fleet.
From April 1942 until June 1943 GATO saw continuous service in the Pacific Theater. During this period she conducted five war patrols ranging from the Kuriles and Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific, duty in the screening force during the Battle of Midway in the Central Pacific, and finally to patrols around Truk and the Solomon Islands in the Southwest Pacific. During these later patrols, GATO supported Australian coast watchers and intelligence services, making several landings to deliver supplies and personnel to isolated posts in the rear of Japanese-held areas. On one of these operations, in addition to Commandos, GATO evacuated twenty-seven children, nine mothers, and three nuns from a mission on Bouganville.
During this same period GATO conducted reconnaissance of many Japanese-held atolls, including Tarawa and Makin, later to become famous as the site of the first amphibious assault over enemy held beaches. During these operations GATO sunk five enemy ships totalling 41,000 tons.
Following an overhaul in Mare Island Naval Shipyard GATO returned to the Southwest Pacific where she conducted three more war patrols in 1943 and 1944. On her seventh patrol GATO took a prisoner of war from a life raft off the Admiralty Islands. Two weeks later, after sinking the cargo ship TSUNESHIMA MARU, the GATO was subjected to a severe depth charging by several escort vessles. Following the depth charge attack, GATO surfaced and found an unexploded depth charge lodged in the rudder. With the help of the Japanese prisoner, the ship's Gunnery Officer dislodged the charge and lashed it to a rubber raft which was set adrift with a slow leak.
On February 5, 1944 USS Gato surfaced in Open Bay near the village of Maitanakunai, and dropped them at Finschafen. The group included: Gordon Manuel, Owen Giertsen, Carl Planck and Edward Czarnecki. A second group is also rescued consisting of William Townsend, David McClymont and Fred Hargesheimer
Gato's vigilance in patroling the north entrance to Bouganville Sound and her aggressive attacks during her Fourth through Eighth Patrols in the Solomons, Bismarck Sea, New Guinea and Truk areas earned for her a Presidential Unit Citation and the nickname "The Goalkeeper" from Admiral William F. Halsey, the area commander. During these patrols GATO was credited with destruction of 13 enemy ships totalling 69,400 tons. One of those vessels, the 3,781-ton OKINOYA MARU was destroyed during a daring daylight attack in which GATO used only her deck guns to sink the armed enemy vessel.
In May 1944 GATO was transferred to the Central Pacific Theater. Her ninth and tenth patrols were primarily reconnaisance and lifeguard missions in the vicinity first of Truk and later in the Bonin Islands. Upon completion of her tenth patrol GATO returned to Mare Island Shipyard for overhaul.
The last three war patrols of GATO were made in the Western Pacific during 1945. Departing from Pearl Harbor in January 1945, she conducted her eleventh patrol in the Yellow Sea sinking two ships including one destroyer escort. Her twelfth and thirteenth patrols were conducted off the coast of Japan as a lifeguard in support of air operations over those islands. During this duty ten U.S. Army avaitors were rescued from the waters of the Pacific. At the end of her thirteenth patrol GATO anchored in Tokyo Bay to witness the signing of the documents aboard USS MISSOURI which marked the end of World War II.
Following the war, GATO served as a Naval Reserve Training Ship at New York, New York and Baltimore, Maryland. She was stricken from the lists, sold and broken up in 1961.
GATO earned thirteen Battle Stars and five Presidential Unit Citations. She participated in the Midway Operations, the Capture and Defense of Guadalcanal, the Asiatic-Pacific Raids of 1944, the Marjanas Operation, the Western Caroline Islands Operation, the Iwo Jimo Operation, the Okinawa-Gunto Assault and Occupation, and the Third Fleet Operations Against Japan.