The USS Tang (SS-306) was a Balao-class World war II era submarine.
The namesake of the USS Tang (SS-306) is any tropical marine spiny-finned fish of the family Acanthuridae, having a compressed brightly colored body with one or more knifelike spines at the base of the tail. It is also called a surgeonfish.
The radio call sign of the USS Tang (SS-306) was NAN-YOKE-KING-CHARLIE.
On September 24, 1944, the Tang departed Pearl Harbor for her fifth and final war patrol, with Commander Richard H. O'Kane at the helm. She refueled at Midway Island and on September 27, 1944, left for her assigned patrol area in the Formosa Strait.
From October 10 to October 23, 1944, the Tang attacked several Japanese convoys, sinking at least five ships and damaging one. On October 24, 1944, with twelve torpedoes remaining, she detected convoy MI-23, which consisted of seventeen ships. Using a night surface attack, she fired ten torpedoes at the convoy. Six ships were hit and two large tankers exploded and sank. Commander O'Kane turned the Tang away from the convoy to load her last two torpedoes. Lieutenant (jg) Henry James Flanagan oversaw the loading of forward tubes five and six with the last two Mark 18 Model-1 electric torpedoes after his torpedo men had thoroughly inspected each one. By 0125 hours the reload was complete, and Commander O'Kane called his crew back to battle stations and began to close the convoy again on the surface to pick off the cripples from her last attack. At 0200 hours, the nearest crippled ship was only 1500 yards ahead. Commander O'Kane ordered Tang to six knots and conned her for a zero-angle shot on the damaged ship. At 0230 hours, with Tang only 1100 yards away from the target, Commander O'Kane gave the order to fire the last two torpedoes. 1
The first torpedo ran hot, straight and normal. However, the second torpedo broached as soon as it left the tube and made a hard turn to the left. Those on the bridge could see the errant torpedo splashing as it came about and headed for Tang. Commander O'Kane ordered evasive maneuvers, but the torpedo was only twenty yards abeam and closing. It hit Tang's port side abreast the after torpedo room, causing a violent explosion. The submarine sank quickly by the stern. As it sank, Tang's 23rd torpedo exploded as it hit the crippled enemy ship. 2
Commander O'Kane and eight other men on the bridge were propelled into the water. One other officer had barely escaped the conning tower to join them on the bridge. The ten men tried to stay together, but they began to slip away and drown, until only O'Kane and three others remained. Meanwhile, crew still alive aboard Tang had managed to bring her to rest fairly level at 180 feet. Around 0600 hours, four groups, totaling thirteen men, began the escape procedure they had learned at submarine school using the escape trunk and Momsen Lungs. Only five men survived the ascent or exposure in the sea. In total, only nine of Tang's crew, including Commander O'Kane, survived the accident and were taken prisoner. All other hands were lost with Tang. The nine captives were retained by the Japanese in prison camps until the end of the war. They were all repatriated. On November 15, 1944, the IJN second-class destroyer Kuri located the Tang's wreck at the geographic position 25° 02' 06" N, 119° 15' 00" E. On November 28, 1944, Japanese divers examined the outside of the wreck, but did not enter it. Bad weather and American aircraft forced the operation to be called off. The wreck location was marked with a buoy. The orange pin in the thumbnail below marks this geographic position. 3
Ned Beach penned a compelling visualization of the Tang's final moments.
Tang returns to the scene of the recent action, finds the transport which had been damaged during the last attack low in the water, stopped, but not sinking. Two destroyer escorts are patrolling around her, both to seaward. So Dick orders a wide circle, comes in from the land side slowly and quietly, gets all set, and fires torpedo number twenty-three, which runs straight for the doomed ship, a perfect coup de grâce. And then to make sure of the crippled ship, torpedo number twenty-four is fired.
Instantly this torpedo is observed to begin a circle to the left!
O'Kane screams down the hatch, "All ahead emergency!" Then, a moment later, as the ship commences to gather way, "Right full rudder!" There is only one thing to do - get out of the way of the oncoming torpedo. If its rudder has jammed, as appears to be the case, or if the gyro or steering engine has gone haywire, the deadly fish will certainly come back to the point from which it was fired.
Will we make it? The question is almost a prayer to those on the bridge. Down below it is known that something is wrong, but they are used to Dick O'Kane's wild and unorthodox maneuvers. Still this smacks of a real emergency. Then the word comes down via conning tower telephone: Torpedo running circular!
The slightly phosphorescent wake can be seen, off to port, describing a perfect circle. It curves back toward Tang - it looks as if it might hit the bridge - there is nothing anyone can do except hope that it will veer off on another erratic phase. With eyes popping out of their sockets, the men on the bridge stare at the Frankenstein monster they have released coming back to claim them - now it looks as though it will hit aft - still it comes - maybe it will pass astern - here it is - hold your breath -
WHRANGG! A terrific blow strikes Tang in the after torpedo room! Instantly the three after compartments fill, and the ballast tanks in that section of the ship are completely destroyed. The stricken hull of the submarine sinks by the stern immediately, as though it had been held up at the bow and the stern and the stern support had suddenly been removed. 4
On November 27, 1944, Tang was reported as presumed lost. However, U. S. Navy code breakers had previously intercepted Japanese dispatches indicating Tang had caused substantial damage to the Empire's merchant fleet on her last patrol. They had also learned that Tang had sunk and that Commander O'Kane and eight other Tang crew members were POWs. This information could not be disclosed to the families of the crew or the public because to do so would compromise the code breakers' important work. 5
Tang's loss was made public on February 5, 1945:
Navy Department Communiqué No. 575, February 5, 1945
1. The submarine USS Tang is overdue from war patrol and presumed lost.
2. Next of kin of officers and crew have been informed.
The Tang was struck from the Navy list on February 8, 1945.
The Tang received four battle stars and two Presidential Unit Citations for her World War II service. Her commanding officer, Richard H. O'Kane, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for the Tang's final action. The JANAC score for the Tang is 93,824 tons of Japanese shipping in twenty-four vessels. Her Alden-McDonald score is twenty-six vessels sunk for 88,677 tons and two vessels damaged for 1,439 tons. The SORG score for the Tang is thirty-one vessels sunk worth 227,800 tons and one vessel damaged for 4,100 tons. 6
A list of the personnel lost with Tang is maintained at On Eternal Patrol.
1. Moore, Stephen L., Presumed Lost: The Incredible Ordeal of America's Submarine POWs during the Pacific War, p. 203-205.
2. Ibid., p. 206-208.
3. Blair, Clay Jr., Silent Victory: The U. S. Submarine War Against Japan, p. 768-769; Hackett, Bob, Sander Kingsepp and Peter Cundall, "IJN Second Class Destroyer KURI: Tabular Record of Movement," published online at Combined Fleet.
4. Beach, Edward L., Submarine!, p. 205-206.
5. Moore, Presumed Lost: The Incredible Ordeal of America's Submarine POWs during the Pacific War, p. 224.
6. 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 Tang (SS-306), Attack Nos. 1649, 1650, 1672, 1676, 1677, 1688, 1692, 2132, 2133, 2134, 2135, 2170, 2183, 2184, 2198, 2201, 2214, 2425, 2426, 2446, 2486, 2509, 2525, 2526, 2805, 2897, 2891, 2895, 2896, 2897, 2898, 2922, 2923, 2924, 2925, 2926, and 2927; 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 Tang (SS-306).