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The Fall of the Mighty


On October 11, 1943, the famous World War II submarine USS Wahoo (SS-238) dived into eternity with eighty souls within her. It was not an easy death. In the La Perouse Strait the Wahoo had come under fire from a shore battery and was thus forced to dive. The Japanese believed she had then struck a mine causing damage and oil leaks that marked her position on the sea’s surface. Once spotted she had undergone a series of concentrated attacks from surface vessels and aircraft. For over four hours sixty-three aerial bombs and depth charges were dropped on her. Smaller surface vessels dropped forty less potent yet still deadly bombs. The explosions brought air bubbles and more oil to the surface. Soon the Wahoo’s wake was no longer visible. By nightfall a oil slick measuring 60 meters wide and three miles long covered the area.

This fine submarine in the capable hands of her legendary captain Commander Dudley Walker “Mush” Morton brought war to the Japanese in a way they had never seen before. He went into one of their secure harbors and sank the destroyer in charge of keeping that location safe. Then he decimated one of their convoys, piece by piece, until each and every ship in it was sunk. After sinking the transport Buyo Maru, the Wahoo came under fire from Japanese army survivors in rafts and life boats. Morton turned the Wahoo’s guns loose on them killing an estimated 200-300 men. He reasoned that the survivors would be rescued and returned to nearby New Guinea to kill American troops. Some called this action inhumane. Well so was Pearl Harbor and all the other atrocities the Japanese committed throughout the Pacific and Far East. War was hell. Finally, Morton brought war to the enemy in their backyard – the Sea of Japan. ComSubPac knew he had made it into the “Emperor’s Pond” and was raising hell with Japanese shipping inside it. The Fleet Radio Unit Pacific (FRUPAC) had intercepted communications about vessels being sunk. Mush was giving them some payback. But somewhere and somehow on this last patrol that indefinite and immeasurable quality that Edwin P. Hoyt called the J-factor ran out for Morton and the Wahoo. Was it luck, energy, skill, intuition, or courage? Perhaps it was a combination of them all? Whatever it was, the power Mush derived from it ran out as he neared La Perouse Strait for the run back to Midway. As the depth charges and bombs rained down and he knew the end was near, Mush may have thought his past successes had simply been their bad luck, and his good. Now it was their turn.

The captains and the crews of the Wahoo had paid out well for the investment and trust their fellow countrymen had placed in them over seven patrols. Her JANAC score is 60,038 tons sunk in twenty enemy vessels, including the four she downed on her final patrol. The Alden-McDonald score for the Wahoo is twenty-four vessels sunk for 59,648 tons and nine vessels damaged for 35,015 tons. Her SORG score is twenty vessels sunk worth 114,600 tons and three damaged for 30,900 tons. But more than these numbers, Morton left a legacy of tenacity and aggressiveness that resonated throughout the submarine force for the rest of the war and that is still held in awe today.

USS Wahoo

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