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Mistake of the Wahoo

The early afternoon of December 14, 1942 found the USS Wahoo patrolling the northern approaches to the Shortland Islands. This was her second war patrol. She was once again under the captaincy of Lieutenant Commander Marvin G. Kennedy. Lieutenant Commander Dudley Walker Morton was aboard for his prospective commanding officer (PCO) patrol. The patrol was made in conjunction with Wahoo’s transfer from the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force to Task Force 42 at Brisbane. Around 1321 hours, while submerged, Wahoo sighted a Japanese I-class submarine running on the surface in a northerly direction at eleven knots. From a range of 3,000 yards, Kennedy observed a large Japanese flag and the designation “I2″ painted on the conning tower. At 1328 hours, from a range of 800 yards, Wahoo fired a divergent spread of three Mark 14-1 torpedoes at the I-2. Kennedy’s patrol report indicates the first torpedo hit the I-2 about twenty feet forward of its conning tower 37 seconds after firing and it went down with personnel still on the bridge at 6°-30′ S, 156°-09′ E. He also wrote that about two and a half minutes later the sound operator reported hearing breaking-up noises. Kennedy said these sounds indicated that the I-2 had collapsed at a deep depth.

On December 26, 1942, after Wahoo reported to Task Force 42 at Brisbane, James Fife credited her for sinking I-2 for 1,955 tons. However, he also criticized Kennedy for not developing three other contacts into attacks. Postwar analysis proved the I-2 was not sunk in this attack. Two substantial noises and concussions, likely from torpedoes exploding prematurely, alerted the I-2 and it crash-dived immediately. It did not take any damage. The I-2 arrived safely at Truk on December 17, 1942. Lieutenant Richard H. O’Kane was Kennedy’s XO during this patrol. In his book Wahoo: The Patrols of America’s Most Famous World War II Submarine, first published in 1987, O’Kane argued that the Japanese submarine was the I-15. However, postwar records prove that the I-15 was sunk on November 10, 1942 at the south end of Indispensable Strait after being hit in her conning tower by gun fire by USS Southard (DMS-10), an old four-stack destroyer (DD-207), that had been converted to a fast minesweeper. The submarine sank by the bow with all 91 hands.

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