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 Rus­sian Sakha­lin Penin­sula. Armed with ten tor­pe­do tubes, the Wahoo was one of the most cele­brated sub­ma­rines of World War II, sinking at least 19 Japa­nese cargo and trans­port ships, more 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 air­craft carrier Unyo. The USS Tang, a Balao-class submarine (suc­ces­sor to the Gato-class), sank 33 ships dis­placing 116,454 tons in her short twelve-month career (five war pa­trols). 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

Morton (left) and O’Kane on "Wahoo" bridge, February 1943USS "Wahoo" with broom and pennant, Pearl Harbor, 1943

Left: Morton (left) speaks with his execu­tive officer, Richard O’Kane, on the bridge of the Wahoo days after tor­pe­doing the Japa­nese troop trans­port Buyo Maru, north of New Gui­nea, on Janu­ary 26, 1943, on the sub’s third patrol. O’Kane would later assume command of the USS Tang.

Left: Affixed to the Wahoo’s periscope is a broom (top center in photograph), which the sub proudly displayed on its return to Pearl Harbor in 1943. The broom indicated that the oceans had been “swept clean” of the enemy. 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. The Tang was credited with sinking 31 ships in her five patrols, totaling 231,500 tons, and damaging two for 4,200 tons. This wartime credit was unequaled among U.S. submarines.

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