Honolulu, Hawaii October 11, 1943

On this date in 1943 the USS Wahoo, a Gato-class (early World War II) sub­ma­rine under Com­mand­er Dudley “Mush” Morton, was sunk in the La Pérouse (Soya) Strait, the chan­nel that sepa­rates the north­ern Japa­nese island of Hokkaidō and the Japanese-held southern half of Sakha­lin Island (today’s Sakha­lin Oblast in Russia’s Far East). Armed with ten tor­pe­do tubes, the Wahoo was one of the most cele­brated sub­ma­rines of World War II, sinking more Japa­nese cargo and trans­port ships than any other sub­ma­rine up to that time. By her fifth pa­trol she had set a record for sinking nearly 95,000 tons and dam­aging over 31,000 tons in only 25 patrol days. On her last patrol the Wahoo sank four ships for 13,000 tons.

The USS Barb sank more ton­nage. During seven war patrols between March 1944 and August 1945, the Barb was offi­cially cre­dited by the Japa­nese with sinking 17 ves­sels totaling 96,628 tons, including the 20,321 ton escort carrier Un’yō. Interestingly, under the cloak of darkness Barb’s sailors con­ducted the only ground com­bat opera­tion on Jap­anese soil (South Sakha­lin Island), planting a bomb on a rail line that later wrecked a train. The USS Tang, a Balao-class submarine (suc­ces­sor to the Gato-class), sank 31 ships dis­placing 231,000 tons in her short twelve-month career (five war patrols) under her com­mander Richard O’Kane. The total of ships and ton­nage sunk was the highest for a single com­manding officer. On the Tang’s third patrol she sank more Japa­nese ships—ten—than any other sub­marine patrol of the war. Sub­ma­riners accounted for less than two per­cent of the entire U.S. Navy in World War II, but they accounted for sixty per­cent of Japa­nese mer­chant marine losses and thirty percent of Japanese Navy losses.

Submariners faced enormous danger: more than 20 per­cent lost their lives aboard their ves­sels, and a sub­ma­riner was six times more likely to die than a sailor on­ board a sur­face ship. As a sub­marine skip­per, the Wahoo’s “Mush” Morton was some­thing of a dare­devil. During the short ten months he com­manded the sub, he lined up an im­pres­sive num­ber of “firsts”: first to pene­trate an enemy har­bor and sink a ship there­in, first to suc­cess­fully use a down-the-throat shot, and first to wipe out an entire con­voy (four ships) single-handedly. After three ardu­ous war patrols, Morton was given the highly dan­ger­ous assign­ment of pene­trating the Sea of Japan, the body of water sand­wiched between the Japa­nese Home Islands and the Asian main­land. The loss of Morton and 80 offi­cers and enlisted men aboard the Wahoo pro­foundly shocked the sub­ma­rine force. All further forays into the inland sea ceased, and it was not breached again until June 1945.

U.S. Submarines Wahoo and Tang, 1941–1944

Dudley “Mush” Morton (left) and Richard O’Kane in "Wahoo" conning tower, January 26, 1943USS "Wahoo" with broom and pennant, Pearl Harbor, 1943

Left: Cmdr. Dudley “Mush” Morton (left) and his execu­tive officer Lt. Richard O’Kane in the conning tower of the Wahoo on Janu­ary 26, 1943, possibly targeting and sinking the Japa­nese troop trans­port Buyo Maru, north of New Gui­nea, on the sub’s third patrol. O’Kane would later assume command of the USS Tang.

Left: A broom on the Wahoo’s peri­scope on its return to Pearl Harbor, 1943. The broom indi­cated the oceans were “swept clean.” The pen­nant flying from the snorkel reads, “Shoot the sunza bitches.”

USS "Tang" off Mare Island Navy Yard, California, December 1942USS "Tang" rescues downed U.S. fliers near Truk, 1944

Left: The USS Tang off Mare Island Navy Yard, Califor­nia, Decem­ber 1943. The Tang received four battle stars and two Presi­den­tial Unit Cita­tions for her war­time ser­vice. Her com­manding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Richard O’Kane, former execu­tive officer of Wahoo, received the Medal of Honor for Tang’s final action against Japa­nese shipping in the Formosa Strait when his sub was sunk by its own flawed torpedo on the night of Octo­ber 24/25, 1944. Captured by a Japa­nese destroyer and impri­soned in several POW camps, O’Kane and eight crew members lived to tell about it.

Right: Downed U.S. airmen on a Vought OS2U King­fisher near Truk Lagoon await res­cue by the USS Tang, 1944. (The OS2U was a cata­pult-launched obser­va­tion float­plane.) On her second war patrol, the Tang was assigned to life­guard duty near Truk. The Tang rescued 22 downed air­men and transported them to Hawaii at the conclusion of her patrol.

Contemporary Film Describing World War II Submarine Service

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