The dark, early-morning hours of October 25, 1944 were punctuated by the bright light of the explosions. Rather than sleeping (as most people do at this hour), the men of the USS Tang were having a field day. But for this Balao-class submarine, “incredible success” would have been the catchphrase for entire patrol. Since departing from Midway and taking up station in the Formosa Strait, the officers and men had one Japanese target after another.
There were a pair of cargo ships in early October, and then a quiet period. But the last 48 hours…wow! The lone sub had discovered a large convoy on the 23rd. As darkness fell, she closed in for the kill, sinking 3 freighters and a transport before making her escape.
But now, as October 24th wrapped into the 25th, the Tang’s radar screen was again lit up, this time with so many blips that it was practically impossible to read. At periscope depth, the view was one of more transports (with aircraft on the decks, making them most inviting), tankers, and destroyer escorts.
The Tang planted at least one torpedo in the large transport, the tanker exploded, and a destroyer (which was now bearing down on them) exploded as well. It was shaping up to be another banner day. After doing a check and finding themselves clear of immediate pursuit, turned to finish off the tanker, still afloat but dead in the water. And with but two torpedoes left (of 24 they carried), these would be the final shots before returning home.
With the firing solution obtained, the 23rd torpedo was off, running (in Navy parlance) “hot, straight, and normal.” The 24th torpedo was then fired, and while it was “hot”, it was anything but “straight and normal.” It began turning in a wide circle, almost as though it was targeting the ship that shot it. The Tang quickly moved to escape the torpedo’s circle, but with only half a minute, there wasn’t enough time. And at 2:30 in the morning, the torpedo hit the Tang, coincidentally, in the torpedo room.
A handful of men, including Lt. Commander Richard O’Kane, managed to escape the sinking vessel, but they were quickly picked by a (surviving) Japanese destroyer. And as it was also carrying survivors of the vessels O’Kane and his men had just sunk, it’s safe to say that they didn’t receive a very warm welcome. The nine survivors would remain POWs until the war ended.
Recommended Reading: The Bravest Man