(Editor’s Note: On October 24th, 1944 three U.S. submarines were lost-DARTER (SS 227), SHARK (SS 314), and TANG (SS 227) .SHARK was probably sunk by a Japanese counter-attack after torpedoing a freighter. DARTER was stranded on Bombay Shoal off Palawan after torpedoing two Japanese cruisers, and was destroyed by gunfire from NAUTILUS. TANG was sunk by its own last torpedo during a Fonnosa Strait convoy battle on its fifth war patrol. This is the story of TANG’s last patrol, as told in Theodore Roscoe’s S. Submarine Operations in World War II. Copyright 1949. Reproduced by pennission of the United States Naval Institute.)
USS TANG – Fifth War Patrol
24 September 1944 to 24 October 1944
One submarine that contributed Herculean support to the United States offensive was TANG (Commander R.H. O’Kane) . By indirect (in the Philippines) contribution (cargo carriers sunk during previous patrols) she had helped bring about a raw material scarcity which resulted in a shortage of parts of kamikaze planes. More direct was the contribution of her October 1944 patrol in Formosa Strait-a patrol which went far to cut down the volume and the speed of Japanese reinforcements.
Commander O’Kane on the bridge, TANG set out from Pearl Harbor on September 24 to conduct her fifth war patrol in the southern reaches of the East China Sea; specifically, the reach between northwest Formosa and the China Coast. Here she would be on the inside of the Formosa Strait bottleneck, in that danger-ous area which was hemmed by minefields to eastward and a hostile coast on the west. O’Kane was given the choice of making the long run down through the East China Sea alone, or joining a wolf-pack heading for a southern East China Sea area. O’Kane chose to go it alone.
TANG topped off at Midway on September 27, and neither the wolf-pack nor any submarine base beard from her or saw her thereafter. But the Japanese both beard from and saw her. First intimation that she was blockading their Formosa Strait traffic lane came on the night of October 10-11 when O’Kane and company torpedoed and sank two heavily laden freighters. This was the beginning of a foray that was to be officially described as “the most successful patrol ever made by a U.S . submarine”.
Following the action of October 11, the hunting slacked off, and TANG spent the next 12 days in routine search. Then, after a careful analysis of the shipping routes, O’Kane put a finger on the chart. TANG reached that point on October 23rd. And down the road as calculated came a convoy-three cargomen, a troop transport, a tanker or two and pugnacious escorts.
O’Kane decided to stop this convoy with a surface attack. And stop it he did. Driving TANG into the center of the formation, he unleased a series of ship-puncturing salvos that mangled the marus on all sides. Ensued a ferocious free-for-all-freighters blowing up, escorts dashing about in frenzy, the submarine weaving and dodging through a storm of bullets and shells. Looming up out of the battle smoke, the troop transport bore down on TANG to ram her under. Emergency speed and bard left rudder saved the submarine. Then she was boxed in with three burning vessels on one side, and a freighter, a medium transport and several infuriat-ed destroyers charging in on the other. Holding the bridge, O’Kane swung the submarine to attack her attackers. A salvo tore into the freighter and disabled the transport. TANG’s tubes were now empty, but O’Kane aimed her bow at the nearest destroyer and sent her charging at the DD. The bluff worked . Unwilling to risk a possible torpedoing, the destroyer veered away. As the night flared and shook with the din of gunfire and shell-bursts, TANG, her tubes unloaded, raced out through the cordon of escorts. Depth charges flailed the sea behind her. Unscathed, she reached quiet water and submerged.
O’Kane reported seven ships torpedoed in this battle. According to Japanese records, only three of these went to the bottom. The remaining four supposedly made port, but if they did so, it must have been the nearest port and not the destination intended . And while the residue of this convoy limped off into some backwater, TANG returned to the surface of Formosa Strait to intercept another.
On October 24, exactly 24 hours after her previous encounter, she picked up this second convoy, another heavily escorted herd of marus steaming south to reinforce the Imperial troops on Leyte. O’Kane could make out tankers with aircraft on their lengthy decks and troop transports loaded like camels, their fore and after decks piled high with crated planes. Again O’Kane directed a surface approach. But this time as TANG closed in, she was detected before she reached attack position. Immediately the convoy’s escorts swept the sea with random 5-inch and 40-mm fire. O’Kane held TANG on the surface, driving in. When the range was reduced to about 1,000 yards, O’ Kane fired six torpedoes-two at a transport, two at a second transport, two at a nearby tanker. All torpedoes smashed home with a series of shattering blasts that tossed up clouds of fire and debris.
At once the night became livid with the glare of burning ships, spitting guns, larruping tracer and exploding shells. Milling convoy and attacking submarine were exposed in the hell-light as O’Kane maneuvered TANG for a shot at another target. A large transport and a tanker were astern of the submarine, and off the beam a destroyer was charging in at 30 knots. Two DEs rushed at TANG from the other side, and the three burning ships were directly off the bow. For the second time in 24 hours the submarine was boxed in. And again O’Kane’s expert handling saved her from destruction by the enemy.
As on the previous night, he rang full speed ahead and sent TANG charging straight at her attackers. But this time the charge was no bluff. Closing the range, O’Kane fired three fast shots to clear the way. The first struck the tanker which promptly spewed a geyser of flame. The second hit the transport and stopped her dead in the water. The third struck the destroyer and stopped this foe with a thunderclap that shook TANG from stem to stern. Sprinting out through the gap, she dashed away from the Jap DEs. The night blazed and boomed in pandemonium astern. O’Kane held the submarine at safe distance while the last two torpedoes were loaded in the tubes.
Loaded into the tubes with these last two torpedoes was Fate, the one factor neither O’Kane, nor TANG’s crew, nor TANG herself could dominate. What TANG, crew and O’Kane might have gone onto accomplish, had this factor taken a normal turn, can only be imagined in the light of what they had thus far achieved. Abbreviated as was TANG’s fifth patrol, O’Kane and company had already scored the following:
Now Fate was to cut down this fighting submarine at the very hour when she deserved the laurels of victory.
Loss of TANG
O’Kane picked the damaged troopship as the target for a parting salvo. Rushing this way and that, the convoy’s rattled escorts gave the submarine an opening, and O’Kane sent her darting through the gap to attack the transport. The crippled vessel was a set-up-as O’Kane gave the order to fire, there was no intimation of impending disaster.
The first torpedo found its groove and ran straight for the mark, trailing its luminescent wake. The second torpedo-TANG’s lookouts stared in cold shock! This torpedo swerved sharply to the left, porpoised and made a hairpin turn. A circular turn!
O’Kane shouted for emergency speed, and the rudder was immediately thrown over. Too late. Twenty seconds after firing, the terrible boomerang returned from the night and struck TANG in the stern. The blast flung O’Kane and his companions from the bridge. In the submarine’s control room men were hurled against the bulkheads, a number suffering fractured arms or broken legs. Mortally stricken, TANG plunged 180 feet to the bottom. Her crew fought its way forward from the flooded after compartments.
Nine submariners had been blown from the bridge into the boiling sea. Three of this group managed to swim throughout the night. One officer, who had escaped from the flooded conning tower, swam with them. O’Kane was among these four swimmers who were picked up by the Japanese the following morning.
The men trapped in the submarine looked Death squarely in the face. After code books and similar publications were burned, these crew members assembled at the escape hatch. Before the escape could be attempted, a Japanese A/S vessel roamed overhead and launched a depth-charge attack. Blast after blast hammered the sunken submarine, bruising her bow and starting a vicious electrical fire in the forward battery. To the men caught at sea bottom, this added torture of blinding smoke and heat seemed the final extremity. But they did not yield to despair and abject resignation. Thirteen of these submariners escaped from the forward compartment. By the time the last man squeezed into the escape hatch, the electrical fire was melting the paint on the bulkhead. Eight of the 13 escapees reached the surface alive. Five were able to swim until morning, when they were picked up .
TANG’s nine survivors had to meet another ordeal after their escape from the sea. Aboard the destroyer escort which picked up the nine, there were Japanese survivors from the sh ips torpedoed by TANG. Blows, kicks and clubbings were dealt the American submariners until the punishment was almost beyond endurance. Yet the torment was suffered with stoicism and stamina.
“When we realized that our clubbings and kickings were being administered by the burned, mutilated survivors of our own handiwork, we found we could take it with less prejudice. ”
In that statement Commander Richard H. O’Kane displayed a magnanimity and sense of justice that characterized him as a naval officer of extraordinary stature.
When TANG’s survivors were recovered from Japanese prison camps at the end of the war, the Board of Awards and Review, Submarine Force, Pacific Fleet, recommended that Commander Richard H. O’Kane be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in combat, (reads the formal citation) … at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty .. .
This is a saga ofone of the greatest submarine cruises of all time, the fifth and last war patrol of a fighting ship-the USS TANG-ably led by her illustrious, gallant and courageous commanding officer, and his crew ofdaring officers and men. During this unprecedented patrol, TANG conducted a series of history-making attacks against the enemy which proved to be of immeasurable assistance toward the Allied conquest of the Pacific… ”
For contributing that assistance at the critical opening of the Philippines campaign, TANG was awarded her second Presidential Unit Citation. Although the shipping downed by her torpedoes in the Formosa Strait did not equal the massive tonnage sunk during her June-July patrol in the Yellow Sea, her single-handed blockade of the Formosa bottleneck was a strategic masterwork.
At the time TANG went down, only one other submarine, TAUTOG, had sunk as many Japanese ships. Only TAUTOG, fighting through to war’s end, would sink more than TANG’s 24. O’Kane’s submarine also had served with outstanding success as a lifeguard, with 22 rescues to her credit. But one other subma-rine, TIGRONE, would top this rescue score.
Three warships in the United State Navy were twice awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Two of the honored three were submarines-GUARDFISH (Commanders T.B. Klakringand N.G. Ward) and TANG (Commander R.H. O’Kane).
In Washington, DC, April 1946, President Truman presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to Commander O’Kane.