The USS Lagarto (SS-371) was a Balao-class World War II era submarine.
The namesake of the USS Lagarto is a lizard fish. The lizard fish is any small bony fish of the family Synodontidae, having a slender body and a lizard-like head and living at the bottom of warm seas.
The radio call sign of the USS Lagarto was NAN-KING-JIG-QUEEN.
On April 12, 1945, with Commander Frank D. Latta on the bridge, Lagarto departed the submarine base at Subic Bay for her second and final war patrol. She had been ordered to patrol in the South China Sea. In late April she was directed to move to the outer part of the Gulf of Siam, where she would team up with USS Baya (SS-318) to conduct a coordinated patrol. On May 2, 1945, once on station in their new area, Baya sent Lagarto a contact report on a convoy consisting of one tanker, one auxiliary, and two destroyers. Lagarto later reported being in contact with the convoy, and began positioning for an attack with Baya. Later that night Baya reported she had attempted an attack on the convoy, but was driven off by gunfire from the enemy escorts. Early on the morning of May 3, 1945, Lagarto and Baya met to discuss attack plans. A strategy was agreed upon, and the submarines continued the convoy chase. The two submarines exchanged contact reports during the day. Baya attempted a midnight attack, but was again driven off by the alert IJN escorts. On May 4, 1945, Baya tried to contact Lagarto, but received no reply. Lagarto was never heard from again. 1
Japanese records indicate that during the night of May 3-4, 1945, the minelayer Hatsutaka conducted a depth-charge attack against a U. S. submarine near the Lagarto's known location. The Hatsutaka was one of the radar-equipped escorts operating with the convoy Baya and Lagarto had been tracking. The depth-charging occurred in thirty-fathom water, a depth at which the submarine would have had little chance for evasion. The Lagarto thus became the victim of an alert and aggressive antisubmarine crew. The fatal attack occurred at 07° 55' N, 102° 00' E, in the Gulf of Siam (Gulf of Thailand). 2
On May 16, 1945, the USS Hawkbill (SS-366) avenged her sister submarine the Lagarto. Captained by Commander Francis W. Scanland, Jr., the Hawkbill caught the Hatsutaka moving stealthily southeastward down the Malay coastline. Scanland fired two torpedoes at the minelayer and obtained two hits causing severe damage. The ship was observed the next morning being towed to the beach. From a range of almost 5,000 yards, the Hawkbill fired three more torpedoes into the shallow waters and broke the ship in half. The minelayer was gone. The Lagarto was avenged. 3
On August 10, 1945, the Lagarto was listed as overdue from patrol and presumed lost with all hands. On September 1, 1945, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register.
A list of the personnel lost with Lagarto is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.
The Lagarto received one battle star for her World War II service. She was credited by JANAC with sinking 7,664 tons in three enemy vessels. However, John D. Alden has stated that the JANAC postwar assessment incorrectly credited the Lagarto for the sinking of the 5,819-ton Japanese cargo vessel Hokushin Maru, on June 30, 1945, at 15° 00' N, 115° 00' E. Since the Lagarto was lost on May 4, 1945, the JANAC attribution is impossible. The postwar JANAC assessment also states that the IJN Submarine RO-49 was sunk in the Bungo Suido on 24 February 1945 by the Lagarto, but this is clearly wrong since the RO-49 was active and filing reports a month later. The Lagarto's Alden-McDonald score is three vessels sunk for 1,060 tons and two vessels damaged for 398 tons. Her SORG score is one vessel sunk for 900 tons and one vessel damaged for 300 tons. 4
In May 2005, a British diving team found what they believed to be the Lagarto about 200 feet below the surface in the Gulf of Thailand. According to reports from the divers, a torpedo door was open and the torpedo was missing, an indication that the Lagarto probably went down fighting.
In May 2006, divers from the Navy's Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit identified twin five-inch gun mounts on the deck of the submarine - a feature thought to be unique to the Lagarto. They also found serial numbers and the word "Manitowoc" on the submarine's propeller. Divers said the ship sat upright on the ocean floor and that its hull seemed mostly intact, although damaged. One torpedo door remained open - an indication the ship had just fired. On their last dive, a plaque commemorating the lives and service of the Lagarto's eighty-six crew members was placed on the submarine by the Navy divers.
1. United States Submarine Losses World War II, p. 149.
2. Miller, Vernon J., "U. S. Submarine Losses," issue 44, p. 45; Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Minelayer HATSUTAKA: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet.
4. 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, data collected by the Submarine Operations Research Group (SORG) in the report "Results of U. S. Submarine War Patrols Listed Alphabetically by Name of Submarine"; Japanese Naval And Merchant Shipping Losses During World War II By All Causes, Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee, USS Lagarto (SS-371). Lagarto's SORG score is two trawler-type picket boats sunk for 200 tons, one RO-class submarine sunk for 700 tons, and two trawler-type picket boats damaged for 300 tons. The damaged picket boats were sunk by a coordinated gun attack with the USS Sennet, so the credit was shared equally between the two submarines. The sunken trawler-type picket boats were sunk by a coordinated gun attack with the USS Sennet and USS Haddock, so the credit was shared equally among the three submarines.