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From January 24 to February 5, 1945, USS Lagarto (SS-371), under Commander Frank D. Latta, departed Pearl Harbor in company with USS Haddock (SS-231). The pair sailed for the U. S. submarine base at Tanapag Harbor, Saipan. At 1331 hours on February 5th, they moored alongside the tender USS Fulton. On February 7th, Latta received his operation order from Comtaskfor 17, which instructed him to take command of the special task group "Latta's Lancers." The group was made up of Latta's Lagarto, Haddock, and USS Sennet (SS-408), and was designated Task Group 17.13. At 1845 hours that day, the trio got underway for their assigned areas in the Bonin Islands and Bungo Suido. There they would assist Admiral Halsey's carrier task force by eliminating any Japanese radar-equipped picket boats so his carrier planes could reach Japan unmolested.

On February 13th, the trio made their first joint surface gun attack against two trawler-type radar picket vessels at 30°-16'N, 136°-21'E. They used their five-inch and .40-millimeter guns to set the trawlers ablaze. They went alongside each trawler to check for anything worth salvaging and then sank both of them with additional gunfire. In his action report Latta noted that credit for sinking the pickets cannot be allocated to any one submarine to the exclusion of the others because both pickets were under fire from each submarine at varying times. The postwar JANAC assessment did not credit these sinkings to any of the boats because each trawler was under 500 tons. The postwar Alden-McDonald assessment shares the credit with each submarine. The radar pickets were the 109-ton Kotoshiro Maru #8 and the 76-ton Showa Go1

On February 14th, at 0647 hours, the submarines conducted their second gun attack against two additional 300-ton trawler-type radar picket vessels at 30°-21'N, 134°-44'E. Haddock was out of five-inch ammunition, so Latta ordered her to track the targets from eastward while Lagarto and Sennet opened to westward. From a range of 5,600 yards, Sennet and Lagarto swung right to bring their deck guns to bear on the targets. Latta noted the seas were less favorable to gun firing than in their previous attack. At 4,100 yards, Sennet and Lagarto had depleted their supply of five-inch ammunition. They broke off the attack and retired southward. Haddock reported she had fired one torpedo, which missed. In his action report Latta wrote that both picket boats were hit repeatedly by .40-millimeter fire and two or three times by the five-inch guns. But the return fire from the picket boats was heavier and more accurate than during the previous day's attack. Sennet reported numerous bullet holes in her superstructure and one man was wounded by shrapnel. Both picket boats were damaged, but not sunk. Following the attack Latta dispatched Sennet and Haddock to patrol independently in separate areas. Sennet sailed for Kii Suido and Haddock for Bungo Suido. Lagarto proceeded to her assigned patrol sector in the area of 30°-42'N, 131°-45'E. The postwar Alden-McDonald assessment credits both Lagarto and Sennet for damaging the 98-ton picket boat Kanno Maru #3 and a 300-ton sea truck (name unknown) in this attack. 2

On February 24th, from 0619 to 1000 hours, Lagarto conducted photographic reconnaissance of Okino Shima. At 1050 hours, running submerged, Latta spotted an unescorted ship 5,000 yards distant, which he identified as a Japanese RO-class submarine. He said the conning tower was painted black with a red design, possibly the Japanese rising sun. Latta closed to a range of 2,800 yards and then at 1113 hours ordered the Mark 18 electric torpedoes in bow tubes three through six to be fired at the enemy submarine. Sonar reported one of the torpedoes was running erratic, so Latta ordered Lagarto to 150 feet to avoid the possible circular run. At 1117 hours they heard a torpedo explosion and the target's screws stopped. At 1118 hours they heard a second torpedo explosion. Latta noted that the time interval between the two explosions was greater than the maximum firing interval, which was forty-five seconds. Later analysis would show that this torpedo exploded on the shore of Okino Shima. At 1128 hours they heard a powerful underwater explosion, which Latta described as the sound of a collapsing hull. In his action report Latta wrote that the torpedoes from tubes three, four, and six missed the intended target. The report of an erratic torpedo proved to be a mistake. The Mark 18-1 from tube four hit the island. The Mark 18-2 from tube five hit the enemy submarine. Latta based his claim that the submarine had been sunk on the one timed hit after which the target's screws stopped and the heavy underwater noise eleven minutes later which sounded like a hull collapsing. No visual evidence of debris or oil on the surface was seen. The postwar JANAC assessment credited Lagarto for sinking the 965-ton IJN Submarine RO-49 in this action. However, the RO-49 was still active and filing reports a month later. The Alden-McDonald assessment provides evidence that the actual victim of this attack was the 875-ton cargo vessel Tatsumomo Maru.

On March 5th, Lagarto spotted a floating mine. At 1254 hours, they sank it with their .50-caliber machine gun. On March 13th, Lagarto headed for Subic Bay and a badly needed refit. The liner for her number one main engine had to be replaced two times during the patrol and her number two main engine had been out of commission for a day due to two broken head bolts. Early that morning Lagarto established voice communication with Haddock and scheduled a rendezvous with her for the following morning. On March 14th, near the rendezvous point, at 0612 hours, Latta spotted two submarines on opposite bearings. He could not tell which submarine was Haddock. One of them was probably the enemy. At 0703 hours, Latta established voice contact with Haddock and advised her of the possible enemy submarine nearby. They agreed that because Lagarto was running on only three engines Haddock should make an end around on the enemy submarine and make an attack from a favorable position. Lagarto would follow and track the enemy submarine. Latta eventually identified the target as an I-class submarine. At 1235 hours, Haddock reported she had attained a good position well ahead of the enemy and was closing the target for a submerged attack. At 1336 hours, Haddock reported she had lost contact with the enemy submarine. They continued searching for it until 1931 hours, when they parted ways. Lagarto set course for Subic Bay and Haddock for Guam. On March 20th, Lagarto moored alongside the tender Gilmore at Subic Bay. Latta was commended for the successful completion of Task Group 17.13's special mission. The tender Gilmore's relief crew put Lagarto through a thorough inspection and two of her main engines were completely overhauled.

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Footnotes:

1. Alden, John D., and Craig R. McDonald, United States and Allied Submarine Successes in the Pacific and Far East During World War II, Fourth Edition, see USS Lagarto (SS-371), Attack Nos. 3523, 3526, 3533, 3535, 3585, 3586, and 4224; Submarine war patrol reports on CD, USS Lagarto (SS-371), Report of War Patrol Number One; and JANAC.

2. Ibid.