†††††††† USS Tang (SS-306)
a Second World War era Balao-class submarine. She was launched in 1943 and had a brief but successful career before being sunk by one of her own faulty torpedoes in 1944.
Tang was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the tang, a surgeonfish, especially the several West Indian species. The contract to build her was awarded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 15 December 1941, and her keel was laid†on 15 January 1943. She was launched on 17 August, sponsored by Mrs. Antonio S. Pitre, and commissioned on 15 October 1943 with Lieutenant Commander Richard H. O'Kane, the extraordinarily effective former executive officer of Wahoo†(SS-238), in command, and delivered to the Navy on 30 November 1943.
The story of Tang?s fate comes from the report of her surviving commanding officer.
On the night of 10-11 October 1944, Tang sank the cargo ships Joshu Go and ‘ita Maru. The submarine continued on patrol until 23 October, when she contacted a large convoy consisting of three tankers, a transport, a freighter, and numerous escorts. Commander O'Kane planned a night surface attack. Tang broke into the middle of the formation, firing torpedoes as she closed the tankers (later identified as freighters). Two torpedoes struck under the stack and engine room of the nearest, a single burst into the stern of the middle one, and two exploded under the stack and engine space of the farthest. The first torpedoes began exploding before the last was fired, and all hit their targets, which were soon either blazing or sinking. As the submarine prepared to fire at the tanker, which was crossing her stern, she sighted the transport bearing down on her in an attempt to ram.
Tang had no room to dive, so she crossed the transport's bow and, with full left rudder, saved her stern and got inside the transport's turning circle. The transport was forced to continue her swing to avoid the tanker, which had also been coming in to ram. The tanker struck the transport's starboard quarter shortly after the submarine fired four stern torpedoes along their double length at a range of 400†yards. The tanker sank bow first and the transport had a 30-degree up-angle. With escorts approaching on the port bow and beam and a destroyer closing on the port quarter, Tang rang up full speed and headed for open water. When the submarine was 6000†yards from the transport, another explosion was observed aboard that ill-fated ship, and its bow disappeared.
On the morning of 25 October, Tang began patrolling at periscope depth. She surfaced at dark and headed for Turnabout Island. On approaching the island, the submarine's surface search radar showed so many blips that it was almost useless. Tang soon identified a large convoy which contained tankers with planes on their decks and transports with crated planes stacked on their bows and sterns. As the submarine tracked the Japanese ships along the coast, the enemy escorts became suspicious, and the escort commander began signaling with a large searchlight. This illuminated the convoy, and Tang chose a large three-deck transport as her first target, a smaller transport as the second, and a large tanker as the third. Their ranges varied from 900 to 1400†yards. After firing two torpedoes at each target, the submarine paralleled the convoy to choose its next victims. She launched stern torpedoes at another transport and tanker aft.
As Tang poured on full speed to escape the gunfire directed at her, a destroyer passed around the stern of the transport and headed for the submarine. The tanker exploded, and a hit was seen on the transport. A few seconds later, the destroyer exploded, either from intercepting Tang?s third torpedo or from shell fire of two escorts closing on the beam. Only the transport remained afloat, and it was dead in the water. The submarine cleared to 10,000†yards, rechecked the last two torpedoes which had been loaded in the bow tubes; and returned to finish off the transport.
The twenty-third torpedo was fired at 900†yards and was observed running hot and straight ('hot' meaning the engine had ignited). At 0230 on the morning of 25 October, the twenty-fourth and†last torpedo was fired. It broached and curved to the left in a circular run. Tang fishtailed under emergency power to clear the turning circle of the torpedo, but it struck her abreast the aft torpedo room approximately 20 seconds after it was fired.†The explosion was violent, and men as far forward as the control room received broken limbs. The ship went down by the stern with the after three compartments flooded. Of the nine officers and men on the bridge, three were able to swim through the night until picked up eight hours later. One officer escaped from the flooded conning tower and was rescued with the others.
The submarine came to rest on the bottom at 180†feet (55†m) and the men within crowded forward as the aft compartments flooded. Publications were burned, and all assembled†in the forward room to escape. The escape was delayed by a Japanese patrol, which dropped depth charges and started an electrical fire in the forward battery. Thirteen men escaped from the forward room, and by the time the last made his exit, the heat from the fire was so intense that the paint on the bulkhead was scorching, melting, and running down. Of the 13 men who escaped, only nine reached the surface, and of these, five were able to swim until rescued. A total of 74 men were lost.
Those who escaped the submarine were greeted in the morning with the bow of the transport sticking straight out of the water.
When the nine survivors were picked up by a destroyer escort, there were victims of Tang?s previous sinkings on board, and they tortured the men from Tang. O'Kane stated, "When we realized that our clubbing and kickings were being administered by the burned, mutilated survivors of our handiwork, we found we could take it with less prejudice." The nine captives were retained by the Japanese in prison camps until the end of the war, and were treated by them in typical fashion.
In the last attack, Tang had sunk Kogen Maru and Matsumoto Maru. During her brief career, Tang was officially credited by JANAC with sinking 24 Japanese ships which totaled 93,824†tons. In 1980, this was revised to 31 ships and 227,800 tons, as originally claimed by Tang.† Tang was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 8 February 1945.