Tuesday, March 3, 2020


The five gentlemen in the opening graphic were the top five United States Navy submarine commanders of World War II, all operated in the Pacific. Together they accounted for 95 Japanese ships of 370,000 combined tons!

Numbers in parentheses indicate multiple awards.

Included in those totals are an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, numerous destroyers, a frigate, and a number of enemy submarines. Between these five men there are three Medals of Honor, eighteen Navy Crosses, two Distinguished Service Crosses, 1 Distinguished Service Medal, six Silver Stars, and a Bronze Star with "V" for Valor. A highly decorated group.

Among the major combatants of Word War II, only Japan and the United Kingdom were island nations, heavily dependent on shipping to survive. Nazi Germany tried to bring Britain to her knees with her U-Boat fleet in Word War II. They came very close to doing so. Had it not been for Hitler's obsession with destroying the Soviet Union, there is a possibility that Britain might have had to sue for peace as the full might of the German military would be concentrated against her.

Three things (in my estimation) saved the British people from defeat: Hitler's invasion of the USSR in June of 1941' the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941 (accompanied by Hitler's idiotic decision to declare war on the United States - the Japanese did not reciprocate by declaring war on the USSR), and in those days there was just no quit in the inhabitants of the British Isles.

In the Pacific theater, the United States Navy's submarines were a key factor in driving the Japanese Empire to the brink of defeat. In terms of merchant shipping, the Japanese started the war with 5,975,000 tons of shipping, at the end of the war that had been reduced to 1,983,000 tons. The submarine fleet played a large role in cutting off Japan from nearly all raw materials and leaving a number of Japanese garrisons to be left on their islands, out of the war and with no way to get back into the fight.

Of course, no submarine commander is very effective without a good crew. It was typical in WWII (on both sides) for the skipper to be decorated for the actions of the entire boat. It's worth noting that under the command of those five men, each of their crews received the Presidential Unit Citation -
The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to units of the uniformed services of the United States, and those of allied countries, for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after 7 December 1941. The unit must display such gallantry, determination, and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions so as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. (Source)
Napoléon is alleged to have said that "there are no bad regiments, only bad colonels***." While it's true that a good unit can overcome having bad leaders (and that's pretty rare), a good leader can raise the performance of his unit to such an extent that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Those five men did exactly that.

Here are a few brief excerpts from the commands of these extraordinary skippers (all source listed below) -

Dick O'Kane - 
Under O'Kane, Tang also performed "lifeguard duty", a common joint operation, with a Fast Carrier Task Force, of positioning one or more submarines in a "ditching station" off an enemy island under air attack in order to rescue downed pilots. Off Truk, he and the Tang rescued 22 airmen in one mission, thus earning a Presidential Unit Citation.
O'Kane was captured by the Japanese when Tang was sunk in the Formosa Strait by her own flawed torpedo (a circular run of a Mark 18) during a surface night attack on October 24–25, 1944. O'Kane lost all but eight members of his crew, and was at first secretly held captive at the Ōfuna navy detention center, then later moved to the regular army Omori POW camp. Following his release, O'Kane received the Medal of Honor for "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity" during his submarine's final operations against Japanese shipping.
Slade Cutter - 
On lifeguard (aircrew rescue) duty in support of carrier air strikes on Saipan, Seahorse next sighted and sank the Japanese submarine I-174, one of the few submarine attacks on another submarine in World War Two. A week later, Seahorse found another convoy 45 miles west of Saipan and sank another freighter, refueling in New Guinea returning to Brisbane, Australia, on the 11th. The patrol earned Cutter a third Navy Cross.
Accompanying the U.S. invasion of the Marianas in mid-June 1944, Lockwood sent more than a dozen submarines westward to interdict possible Japanese reinforcements. Seahorse departed Brisbane on 3 June for her fifth war patrol and took station with Growler in the Surigao Strait between Mindanao and Leyte 13 June. Seahorse's greatest contribution to the Battle of the Philippine Sea was locating a Japanese battle group centered around the Japanese battleships Yamato and Musashi. In 1997, Cutter told a reporter the task force was too distant to catch, but he sent a routine contact report.
Dudley "Mush" Morton - 
After three arduous war patrols, Morton was given the highly dangerous assignment of penetrating the Sea of Japan for the second time. Morton was reported missing in action in December, when his submarine was presumed lost. After the war, it was determined from Japanese records that, on October 11, in the time frame in which the Wahoo was expected to exit through La Perouse Strait, an antisubmarine aircraft found a surfaced submarine and attacked, dropping three depth charges.
Declared deceased on January 7, 1946, Morton had been awarded the Navy Cross with three gold stars in lieu of a second, third, and fourth awards, and the Army Distinguished Service Cross.
Eugene "Lucky" Fluckey - 
In one of the stranger incidents in the war, Fluckey sent a landing party ashore to set demolition charges on a coastal railway line, destroying a 16-car train. This was the sole landing by U.S. military forces on the Japanese home islands during World War II. Fluckey ordered that this landing party be composed of crewmen from every division on his submarine. "He chose an eight-man team with no married men to blow up the train," Captain Max Duncan said, who served as Torpedo Officer on the Barb during this time. "He also wanted former Boy Scouts because he thought they could find their way back. They were paddling back to the ship when the train blew up." The selected crewmen were Paul Saunders, William Hatfield, Francis Sever, Lawrence Newland, Edward Klinglesmith, James Richard, John Markuson, and William Walker. Hatfield wired the explosive charge, using a microswitch under the rails to trigger the explosion.
Fluckey was awarded four Navy Crosses for extraordinary heroism during the eighth, ninth, tenth, and twelfth war patrols of Barb. During his famous eleventh patrol, he continued to revolutionize submarine warfare, inventing the night convoy attack from astern by joining the flank escort line. He attacked two convoys at anchor 26 miles (42 km) inside the 20 fathom curve on the China coast, totaling more than 30 ships. With two frigates pursuing, Barb set a then-world speed record for a submarine of 23.5 knots using 150% overload. For his conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity, Fluckey received the Medal of Honor. Barb received the Presidential Unit Citation for the eighth through eleventh patrols and the Navy Unit Commendation for the twelfth patrol.
Samuel Dealey - 
Dealey brought Harder back to Pearl Harbor in late February 1944 and took her out for her fourth war patrol on March 16, 1944, accompanied by USS Seahorse (SS-304). Initially assigned lifeguard duty for downed U.S. aviators in the western Caroline Islands, Harder on April 1 was sent to rescue an injured navy pilot on a small enemy-held island just west of Woleai, which had been hit that day by an American aircraft carrier strike. Under an umbrella of friendly air cover, Dealey nosed Harder toward the beach until he could ground the bow up against the encircling reef and hold it there by working both screws. Then, in the face of Japanese sniper fire only partially suppressed by the circling aircraft, a rubber boat was sent in to retrieve the navy pilot, Ensign John Galvin, who was brought to safety in what soon became a legendary rescue. As Blair**** describes it:
"By the time Harder got to the reported position, the aviator, Ensign John R. Galvin, was already stranded high and dry on the beach. Dealey lay alongside a reef. Dealey's third officer, Samuel Moore Logan, and two volunteers jumped in the water with a rubber raft, secured to Harder by a line. They fought their way through the surf and coral to the island and picked up Ensign Galvin. As they were attempting to get back to Harder, a navy floatplane landed to help. It ran over the line and parted it. Another Harder volunteer jumped in the water and swam another line through the surf and coral to the beach. While navy planes circled overhead, Japanese snipers fired away from the foliage while the Harder's men pulled the raft and the five men aboard. The rescue was later hailed as one of the boldest on record."
Continuing his war patrol, Dealey next scored his first of four successes against the toughest target of all – an enemy Japanese destroyer. Spotted by an enemy aircraft north of the Western Carolines on April 13, 1944, Harder became the quarry of a patrolling enemy destroyer Ikazuchi, which closed to within 900 yd (820 m) before Dealey fired a spread of torpedoes. The destroyer sank within five minutes. Dealey's ensuing contact report quickly became famous: "Expended four torpedoes and one Jap destroyer". Four days later, Dealey also sank Matsue Maru (7,000 tons) near Woleai – then surfaced again near the island on April 20 to bombard the beleaguered Japanese garrison with his submarine's 4 in (100 mm) deck gun. Harder ended its fourth war patrol at Fremantle, Australia, on May 3, 1944.
Brave men, brave crews.

Sinking of the Japanese destroyer Yamakaze on 25 June 1942 approximately 110 km southwest of Yokohama harbour, Japan,
photographed through the periscope of the U.S. Navy submarine USS Nautilus (SS-168).


Editor's Notes: 
  1. Yes, I'm still in a bit of a nautical mood, I ran across the story of CDR Dealey and one thing led to another. Which is often how a blog post is born (at least the way I do it).
  2. That header will be up all this week to commemorate the passing of Captain Carroll "Lex" LeFon eight years ago, an event that played a large role in my starting this blog. The F-4E Phantoms were photographed at the memorial service for Brigadier General Robin Olds, one of my heroes. This Missing Man formation is slightly non-standard as it is the leader of the formation (#1) pulling up from the formation, usually the leader of the second element (#3) is the one who does that. As Robin Olds was arguably one of the best leaders to ever serve in the United States Air Force, it is only fitting (and proper) that #1 pulls away. In the hearts of many, General Olds will always be #1.

* The Joint Army–Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC) was a United States inter-service agency set up to analyze and assess Japanese naval and merchant marine shipping losses caused by U.S. and Allied forces during World War II. (Source)
** One war patrol as prospective commanding officer.
*** Colonels command regiments, at least they did in "olden times."
**** Blair Jr., Clay (1975). Silent Victory: The U.S. Submarine War Against Japan. Philadelphia and New York: J. B. Lippincott Company. ISBN 0-397-00753-1


  1. Amazing men. Thank you for this information

  2. Excellent post Sarge. Bringing back 22 rescued aircrew, that's one crowded submarine. Lots of men with intestinal fortitude in those boats.

    1. Not a lot of spare room (as in none) on those boats to begin with!

    2. (Don McCollor)([from Guerrilla Submarines, Edward Dissette and H.C. Adamson, 1972 [stuff on Nautilus and Narwhal too])...USS Angler (R.I. Olson Capt.) received a call in March 1944 to rescue 18 US civilians. There were 58 waiting for them...soldiers, civilians, women, children, and a two month old baby. They took them all aboard, and went on half rations to feed their guests, entire crew sleeping in after battery till they reached Darwin...

    3. Another great story, thanks Don. I think I need to have a look at those big boats like the Narwhal and I-400 classes.

    4. (Don McCollor) ...Thank you for the kind words. Another obscure book of interest is "I-Boat Captain" (1976) by Zenji Orita and Joseph Harrington that is a view from the Japanese submarine side...

  3. This is rapidly becoming my favorite blog of my morning routine. You are awesome in your research and your dedication to telling these stories. goosebumps were all over as I read the awards these five men earned. To think they did all this with torpedoes that should have been a war crime at the beginning of the war. Simply amazing. They must have carried their manhood around in wheelbarrows...them and their crews!!

    USMC CWO4 (Ret)

    1. Welcome aboard Coffee Man, always good to have a Marine around.

      Semper Fi!

  4. May God Bless All Of Them!

    And God Bless Sarge for taking the time to do the research and post this for us to be able to learn and appreciate the sacrifices of these fine men and women.

  5. The men of the "Silent Service" were an amazing lot. Dick O'Kane was Mush Morton's Exec on WAHOO. Morton was an individualist and was the only submarine captain that had his Exec on the periscope. He said that it allowed him to build a better mental picture of the situation. Morton did not receive the Medal of Honor because REMFs in Washington were aghast that he had machine gunned survivors after one action. Dick O'Kane was in then same Japanese prison camp with Pappy Boyington. They both received their Medals of Honor after they were repatriated.

    1. I plan on looking deeper into Mush Morton's story, I remember reading about him as a kid.

      Didn't know that O'Kane and Boyington were in the same POW camp, sounds like a story there as well.

  6. WWII submarine warfare was pretty heroic, on both sides. And as with Dave's comment, "Morton did not receive the Medal of Honor because REMFs in Washington were aghast that he had machine gunned survivors after one action," also controversial at times. Wonder if Morton was sent on the Sea of Japan mission with at least some of the higher ups hoping it would end the way it did in order to defuse any controversy?? Hope not, but politics was (is) always present even in warfare.

    Thanks for the post focused on this area - excellent as always

    1. Clausewitz wasn't far off when he said, "War is the continuation of politics by other means."

    2. I think Sun Tzu also said as much, in a bit different accent!

  7. I believe that one of Japan's biggest mistakes was the attack on Pearl Harbor. I also think that it was one of the United States biggest blessings. If you look at the total number of people killed in the attack almost half came from the USS Arizona. If Japan wouldn't have attacked Pearl, the US Fleet would have gone out after the Japanese Fleet. At that time the US Fleet was totally outclassed by the Japanese. In a fight in open water I believe that we would have lost several battleships with no chance of salvage and huge losses among their crews.

    1. Concur, I think we would have gone to war with Japan eventually. Hard to say what that would have looked like, but you present a plausible scenario.

  8. O'Kane and Fluckey wrote very good books. It boggles the mind that anyone would take ships with essentially zero reserve buoyancy into harms way.

    Great post Sarge.

    1. Those old boats had little margin for error!

  9. Those 5 men, and all the other broomsweeper captains and crews, heck all the captains and crews, flourished and achieved due to one man. Admiral Charles Lockwood. One man created and fostered the semi-piratical gung-ho environment of the US Navy's Pacific submarine service. He encouraged thinking outside the box, encouraged and pushed his crews to give more than even they already gave. And he fought for them, with and against Big Navy and the Pentagon, to give them the best that the US could supply.

    Every book I've read about US submarine operations in WWII all show a what-seems-to-be-chaotic but really a very organized and detailed series of campaigns and strategies centered around Lockwood. A man who didn't question methods.

    He was the Robin Olds of the Submarine Service. I don't think any other admiral could have gotten his crews to achieve as much.

    And... It's one of the reasons the US Navy prevailed in the Pacific. We had admirals who were nothing but fight. Admirals who though they did believe in the bigger hammer theory, also understood that most Nathan Forrest concept of fighting, 'Keepin up the Skeer.' (which is really a distillation of the American Way of War. Always Forward, In Harm's Way are other ways to phrase it. But all mean keep pushing and pushing and pushing, even when you don't have much to push with.)

    I hope that somewhere in the eleventy-thousand admirals currently on the rolls of the US Navy there are leaders like Lockwood, Nimitz, Halsey. I know the jerk-in-charge last administration seemed to work openly on ferreting out leaders who had any fight in them and beaching them, grounding them, sending them out to pasture. Grrrrr.

    The US Sub Service has always been one of forward thinking and innovation. First diesels, first magnetic fuses, first nukes (all around).

    And the US Fleet boats of WWII weren't the cramped U-Boats of the Kriegmarine. They were big, elegant subs, made to roam vast distances and take the fight to the enemy in the Pacific. (Though, when on patrol, they were very cramped at the beginning as they were full of fuel, food and fight.)

    1. I've been aboard a couple of WWII fleet boats, they're still pretty cramped compared to a modern boat. But they were still bigger than a Typ-VIIC U-Boot:

      1,525 tons surfaced
      2,424 tons submerged
      Length: 311 ft 8 in – 311 ft 10 in
      Beam: 27 ft 3 in
      Draft: 17 ft maximum

      769 tons surfaced
      871 tons submerged
      Length: 220 ft 2 in
      Beam: 20 ft 4 in
      Draft: 15 ft 7 in

    2. The very class type of the US subs says it all. Fleet Boats. Not attack boat or transport boat or patrol boat, fleet boat.

      Only the Japanese built larger subs.

    3. The I-400 springs to mind. Even has an aircraft hangar!

    4. ok, so I gotta ask...what in the name of all that is good do ya do with an aircraft hanger in a SUB?!?!?? How does the aircraft take off?? Or land?? Recently you had a post about day and night landings of aircraft on an aircraft carrier...how would ya do that on a SUB?? Inquiring minds would like to know...

      Wonder what kind of sonar reading do ya get with THAT??? Talk about "out of the box thinking"...just saying...

    5. The aircraft had to be assembled somewhat, then it was placed in the water, it was a seaplane.

      I think it only carried one, good for scouting, not much else. Sea conditions had to be pretty calm as well.

      Not real useful, but it had a certain utility. I suppose...

    6. Beans is right, as usual. At the start of the Pacific War many sub skippers clung to prewar tactic that were ineffectual. That, coupled with bad torpedoes (or at least the fuses) meant limited success. Admiral Lockwood changed the mindset.

    7. Actually, the I-400 carried three Aichi M6A Seiran seaplanes, one of the loveliest single-engined seaplanes of the war. They were launched by catapult off the bow of the submarine (necessary with full gas tanks and a full load of bombs). They would land in the water, and a crane would retrieve them to be broken down and stored in the hanger again. The I-400 had an incredible surface cruising range, but no flush toilets. I guess they used honey buckets. That could make a depth charge attack just a little bit worse if those things leaked.

    8. The last picture of the post was taken by the Nautilus, a large boat in its own right. 2,770 tons displacement, 389' long, with a 33' beam. The Narwhale-class were an early attempt at a fleet boat. It carried a pair of 6" deck guns. It was one of the two subs that carried the Marine 2nd Raider Battalion to Makin Island. The picture at the link gives an idea of the size of the Nautilus, which was useful here, but it was criticized as too slow to dive and not maneuverable enough. Nonetheless, it gave good service in the war up until January 1945. Not bad for a boat laid down in 1927.

    9. Larry #1 - Yes, the Seiran is a sweet-looking aircraft, Udvar-Hazy has one on display near the Enola Gay. I have forgotten about the I-400's catapult. This may call for a post!

    10. Larry #2 - Wow, didn't really dig deeper into USS Nautilus (SS-168), that is a BIG boat! I think this probably calls for its own post as well! (POCIR)

      Thanks for that!

  10. The Imperial Japanese didn't have to declare war on the USSR. As they were basically already fighting them since 1939. Though after Kashin Gol, the Soviets basically 'hired' Chinese Communist forces to fight Japan. Which they did indifferently, letting the Nationalist Chinese fight the Japs, and more often spending their warfighting time fighting... the Nationalist Chinese. (Communist China has always been better at fighting itself than anyone outside their borders. Which is one of the reasons I don't fear ComChina as much as others do. I mean, how long did it take for ComVietnam to beat us? Never. How long did it take ComVietnam to beat ComChina? Longest the ChiComs stayed in activish combat with ComVietnam was 3 years, (79-81,) which resulted in ComChina's teeth being knocked out, though they played at fighting and losing to Vietnam till 91, until they had no more teeth to get kicked out. We withdrew, ComChina got kicked out. Big difference.)

    The actual 'declared' war occurred, coincidentally, on August 9th, 1945, after the US told Japan twice, August 6 and August 9, after the US almost starved the nation due to the US submarine war. Hmmm. Coincidence?

    And back to subs. There were three paths to the end of Japan in WWII by the US.

    Path 1: Bomb them into surrendering. Barely worked. Again, it took two big bombs to shut the war down. After a horrible aerial bombing campaign. This plan was to include continued carpet and fire bombing of Japanese cities, punctuated by nukes, along with spreading defoliants on farmland and poisons in the rivers and oceans.

    Path 2: Invasion. Nobody would have won if this had happened. Japan would no longer exist, and the US as we knew it also would no longer exist. Would have been bloody and violent and long-lasting and and and.

    Plan 3: Blockade. Complete blockade with active naval gunfire at anything that moved. With constant but not as intense bombings and poisonings and defoliationing. Blockade until the island nation starved to surrender or death.

    And the Soviets think their little seizure of Manchuria and a few islands was 'the end of Japan?' Please....

  11. Number one, yes. Both individuals honored hereon.
    Great post, thank you.
    In 1963, I had a ride on the Bonne Homme Richard (Bonny Dick) from (probably) Sasebo Japan to someplace on Okinawa (I'm old, cut me some slack). A trap in a stoof with a roof and a cat in the same. Most fun. Learned that Naval Aviator's quarters are not dry. They were flying F3H's I think. An occasional Crusader and they lost, one night, a B-66 or A3D. The poor guy couldn't get it aboard the ship and he ran out of gas. They punched out at low level, in a very highly choreographed way. Both picked up within minutes. That's where I learned that I wanted tracers along with my 357 rounds (two years later). Firing two of them in quick fashion can point right to you, bobbing in the ocean over there.

  12. There are fifty two submarines with 3,500 crew still on eternal patrol. U.S. losses in the submarine service was about 20%. But to compare that with the Kraigsmarine U-boats where losses exceeded 80%.

  13. It took a great team to make a fleet submarine noteworthy in WW2, and a lot of luck. Bad torpedoes caused a lot of grief and a lot of Japanese shipping survived (for a while) because of them. The Silent Service is not for the feint of heart. Note even today.

  14. Thanks for the link to the 1934 Lucky Bag, found my dad (Houston) on page 260.

    1. That's pretty cool. This link has a LTJG Robert Cecil Houston assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1 (MTB Ron 1) in 1940. Was that your Dad? MTB Ron 1 had quite a war record.

  15. Just to remind that enemy gets their own fullbore... Top 5 u-boot aces between them sank over million allied tonnage. Against much togher defending forces, on less advanced boats themselves.

    1. Of the top five, by tonnage sunk, all survived the war. One by a mere five days -

      In January 1944 Wolfgang Lüth took command of the 22nd U-boat Flotilla, before being appointed commander of the Naval Academy Mürwik in July. Lüth was mistakenly shot and killed by a German sentry on 13 May 1945.

      Good idea for a post!

  16. My father used to join one of his friends from his Naval War College days and have lunch with Fluckey. They had some interesting lunches.

  17. Beans, 3MAR@9:35AM/

    "I hope that somewhere in the eleventy-thousand admirals currently on the rolls of the U.S. Navy there are leaders..."

    Fat chance..


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