Navy Cross: "For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the USS Seahorse during the Second War Patrol of that vessel in enemy Japanese-controlled waters. Alert and aggressive as he navigated dangerous seas in search of Japanese shipping, Commander Cutter conducted bold attacks against the enemy and, maintaining a high standard of efficiency throughout this important patrol, succeeded in sinking nine vessels totaling 48,000 tons, and in damaging another ship of 4,800 tons... [He] inspired confidence and maximum effort among the officers and men of his command, inflicting heavy losses upon the enemy and bringing his ship back to port undamaged despite intensive hostile countermeasures..."

Gold Star in lieu of the Second Navy Cross: "...as Commanding Officer of the USS Seahorse during a War Patrol of that vessel in enemy-controlled waters. In spite of the thorough enemy aircraft patrols and intensive methods in which the Japanese conducted their anti-submarine measures, he aggressively attacked and successfully delivered damaging torpedo attacks against heavily escorted enemy convoys... [sinking] five enemy ships totaling over 30,000 tons. On one occasion, it was necessary to pursue an enemy convoy over a period of eighty hours and only by exceptional determination and skill was he able to penetrate the escort screen and sink two freighters... [evading] severe enemy counter-attacks to bring his ship back to port undamaged..."

Gold Star in lieu of the Third Navy Cross: "... As Commanding Officer of the USS Seahorse, during a War Patrol of that vessel in enemy Japanese controlled-waters of the Pacific, from March 28 to April 27, 1944... [He] launched repeated torpedo attacks to sink four hostile ships totaling over 25,000 tons and to damage an enemy submarine of over 600 tons. Although subjected to severe depth charging and aerial bombing, he skillfully evaded the enemy and brought his ship safe to port..."

Gold Star in lieu of the Fourth Navy Cross: "For extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the USS Seahorse, during the Fifth War Patrol of that vessel in enemy Japanese-controlled waters, from June 3 to July 19, 1944. Penetrating heavy and unusually alert escort screens, Commander Cutter pressed home well planned and executed torpedo attacks to sink six enemy ships totaling 37,000 tons and damaged an additional ship of 4,000 tons. Undaunted by severe enemy anti-submarine measures, he directed his vessel and succeeded in bringing her safe to port.


Slade Deville Cutter

CDR Slade Deville Cutter
Four-time Navy Cross Recipient


Submarine Hero - CDR Slade Deville Cutter

by Edward C. Whitman

Slade Deville Cutter

Second only to Dick O'Kane and tied with "Mush" Morton in the number of Japanese ships they sank in World War II, Slade Cutter had an uncanny ability to find and destroy enemy targets wherever he went. It was said by VADM Charles Lockwood, COMSUBPAC, that Cutter "could find Jap ships in Pearl Harbor if asked." Cutter's four war patrols as Commanding Officer of USS Seahorse (SS-304) netted 19 sinkings and more than 70,000 tons of shipping in the postwar accounting, and he was awarded four Navy Crosses during the conflict. Slade Deville Cutter was born in Oswego, Illinois in November 1911, and he entered the Naval Academy in 1931 on a congressional appointment. An all-American football player, he achieved instant fame as a first classman when he won the 1934 Army-Navy game with a first-quarter field goal. On the basis of his Academy football career, he was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Cutter graduated in 1935, served on the battleship USS Idaho (BB-42), where he coached another winning football team, and entered the Submarine School in June 1938. 

Cutter was the Executive Officer of USS Pompano (SS-181) under LCDR Lew Parks when she left Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol on 18 December 1941, just 11 days after the Japanese attack. Only two days out of Pearl Harbor, Pompano was sighted by a U.S. patrol plane, which attacked the friendly submarine and called in dive bombers from the nearby USS Enterprise (CV-6). Three additional near-misses ruptured Pompano's fuel tanks and left the ship trailing an oil slick. Parks shook off his friendly pursuers and pressed on to confirm the presence of Japanese troops on Wake Island. Pompano then continued to the Marshall Islands, where she found a 16,000-ton Japanese transport at Wotje, which was attacked with four torpedoes and presumably sunk. Parks remained off Wotje for five more days and eventually attacked a destroyer, but his first two torpedoes detonated early, and his second two - "down the throat" - missed. After an inevitable depth-charge attack and with fuel draining relentlessly from the oil leak, Pompano returned to home base on 31 January 1942. Unfortunately, postwar analysis credited Parks with no more than possible damage to the Wotje transport. 

Cutter made two more war patrols as Executive Officer of Pompano, operating in the vicinity of Okinawa and Honshu, respectively. The boat narrowly escaped destruction on 9 August 1942, when a Japanese depth charge unseated an engine exhaust valve, causing major flooding and driving her into the bottom near the Japanese coast. Fortunately, the crew managed to surface the boat and creep away. After their return to Pearl Harbor, Cutter was assigned as Executive Officer on USS Seahorse, then under construction - the boat on which he would ultimately achieve his legendary reputation. 

After shakedown, Seahorse reached the Pacific in the summer of 1943 under CDR Don McGregor and departed on 3 August for her first war patrol. It was not successful. Stationed off the Palaus, McGregor made only two attacks and allowed a number of convoys pass by unscathed. After the boat returned to port, an investigation of her poor performance by VADM Lockwood and his staff led to McGregor's removal for not being aggressive enough, and Cutter fleeted up to become the Commanding Officer of Seahorse in October 1943. 

Cutter took his new charge out of Pearl Harbor on 20 October for her second war patrol and his first as CO. Heading for the East China Sea, he drew first blood on the 29th, 30th, and 31st, when Seahorse sank three trawlers with gunfire south of Japan. On the night of 1-2 November, several hundred miles south of Bungo Suido, the southern entrance to Japan's Inland Sea, both Seahorse and USS Trigger (SS-237) - at first unbeknownst to each other - attacked a large convoy that had already been fingered by USS Halibut (SS-232) the day before. Surprised by the sudden evidence of Trigger's torpedoes, Cutter shot nine of his own and sank the freighters Yawata Maru (1,852 tons) and Chihaya Maru (7,087 tons). Additionally, Trigger destroyed two ships, and Halibut one, for a total, including Cutter's bag, of 26,400 tons from a single convoy. Moving northward in the East China Sea toward the Korea Strait, Cutter scored twice more on 22 and 27 November, sinking the steamer Daishu Maru (3,322 tons) and the oiler San Ramon Maru (7,309 tons), respectively. Then, after an unsuccessful attack on another freighter on 1 December, Seahorse returned to Pearl Harbor on 12 December boasting a total kill of 4 ships and 19,570 tons, not even counting the trawlers. 

Cutter left Pearl Harbor again on 6 January 1944 bound for the Palau Islands, east of the Philippines. On the 16th, approximately 300 miles north of Truk, he came across the freighter Nikko Maru (784 tons), accompanied by four escorts. In a night surface attack, Seahorse sent her to the bottom. Arriving at his patrol area southeast of Palau, Cutter received an ULTRA cue on an approaching convoy and spotted it visually on 21 January: two freighters and three escorts. He fired three torpedoes at one of the freighters and was rewarded with hits on both, the 3,156-ton Ikoma Maru sinking immediately, and the 3,025-ton Yasukuni Maru settling precariously. After a re-attack on the latter was thwarted by a malfunctioning target bearing transmitter (TBT), the ship was finally destroyed by two more torpedoes that ignited a sea of fire around the datum from a deck cargo of gasoline drums. 

Seahorse then moved directly to Palau itself, and on 28 January, Cutter discovered three freighters emerging from the harbor under heavy escort. He tracked the convoy for 32 hours waiting for an opening and at 0200 on the 30th was finally able to put three torpedoes into Toku Maru (2,747 tons). One of these blew the stern off, and she went down directly, taking over 450 troops with her. Harassed by the escorts and accompanying aircraft, Cutter nonetheless kept Seahorse in trail of the remaining Japanese for another 48 hours and attempted another attack just after midnight on 1 February. Eight torpedoes missed. Under heavy pressure from a charging escort, he shot two last torpedoes from his stern tubes just before going deep. Amid the violence of the ensuing depth charge attack, the Seahorse crew heard both torpedoes strike home and the now-familiar sound of exploding gasoline drums. Indeed, it was later confirmed that they had sunk the Japanese steamer Toei Maru (4,004 tons). After this 80-hour chase - nearly a record - Seahorse returned to Pearl Harbor on 16 February with another five ships and 13,716 tons to her credit. 

War patrols of USS Seahorse (SS-304) under Slade Cutter.
War patrols of USS Seahorse (SS-304) under Slade Cutter.

Seahorse's fourth war patrol took her to the Marianas, specifically to prevent the Japanese from reinforcing Guam and Saipan. She departed Pearl Harbor on 16 March 1944, and near Guam on 8 April came across a Japanese supply convoy. Cutter gained firing position and torpedoed the converted submarine tender Aratama Maru (6,784 tons) and the freighter Kizugawa Maru (1,915 tons). Subsequently, Aratama Maru drifted ashore on Guam and was abandoned as a total loss. Meanwhile Kizugawa Maru was towed to Guam for repairs but was so damaged by subsequent aircraft attacks that she was given up and scuttled in June. Seahorse moved on, and the very next day found a 15-20 ship convoy that had already been attacked by Trigger as it neared Saipan. Cutter attacked with two torpedoes and nailed the 4,667-ton Mimasaka Maru, leaving her dead in the water. In two attempts to deliver the coup de grace, both immediately and after nightfall, Seahorse was driven away by the escorts, but nonetheless, Mimasaka Maru sank just after midnight anyway. Patrolling submerged on lifeguard duty in support of carrier air strikes on Saipan, Seahorse next sighted the Japanese submarine I-174 on the surface on 20 April and fired two torpedoes from 1,800 yards. Inadvertently losing depth control and leaving periscope depth, Cutter heard a loud detonation, and it was later confirmed that I-174 (1,420 tons) had indeed become his latest victim. Then, only a week later, Seahorse found another convoy 45 miles west of Saipan and sank Akigawa Maru (5,244 tons) with three hits out of four torpedoes. Cutter took Seahorse to Milne Bay, New Guinea, to refuel on 3 May, and they ended another extraordinary patrol at Brisbane, Australia, on the 11th. 

With the U.S. invasion of the Marianas (Saipan, Guam, and Tinian) approaching in mid-June 1944, VADM Lockwood sent more than a dozen submarines westward to interdict possible Japanese reinforcements. Accordingly, Seahorse left Brisbane on 3 June for her 5th war patrol and took station with USS Growler (SS-215) off the Surigao Strait between Mindinao and Leyte ten days later. Meanwhile, Japanese admiral Jisaburo Ozawa, realizing that the Marianas - and not Palau - were the focus of a long-expected American drive, had sortied from Tawi Tawi the morning of 13 June with his main body: six carriers, four battleships, five heavy cruisers, and a flock of escorts. Simultaneously, a supply convoy had left Davao on Mindinao, and a powerful striking force built around the super-battleships IJS Yamato and IJS Musashi departed Batjan in the Moluccas, all heading north. 

At 1845 on 15 June, Cutter was patrolling 200 miles due east of the Surigao Strait when he saw smoke on the horizon. He moved to close the range to this contact and had drawn to within 10 miles, when one of his main motors began overheating, and he was forced to reduce speed. He fell behind the Japanese formation but was able to get off a vital contact report to Lockwood early the next morning. He had located the Yamato battlegroup. By this time, U.S. troops were hitting the beach at Saipan, but this new development had made it clear to ADM Raymond Spruance, commanding Task Force 58, that ADM Ozawa was coming in full force, and he postponed the invasion of Guam to deal with the approaching threat. The result was the Battle of the Philippine Sea, later christened the "Marianas Turkey Shoot," in which the Japanese lost three of nine carriers and over 330 aircraft before Ozawa broke off and retreated toward Okinawa. 

In the aftermath of the battle, VADM Lockwood formed up a wolfpack from the Philippine Sea boats to patrol the Luzon Strait. This commenced on 25 June 1944, when Cutter in Seahorse joined Growler and USS Bang (SS-385) to scour the area. By the early hours of 27 June, Cutter had found a Japanese convoy of five ships and five escorts and loosed six torpedoes into their midst. The 5,000-ton tanker Medan Maru was sunk immediately, and his attack left the 6,385-ton Ussuri Maru so badly damaged that it was easy prey for U.S. aircraft, who sank it while under tow the next day. Then, late on 3 July, Seahorse was joined by Bang to attack another convoy east of Hainan Island, and Cutter sank Gyoku Maru (2,232 tons) and damaged Nitto Maru (2,186 tons), both freighters. At midday on the 4th of July, Seahorse and Bang re-attacked the same convoy, finishing off Nitto Maru and adding Kyodo Maru #28 (1,518 tons) to Cutter's tally - five ships for 17,321 tons - before returning to Pearl Harbor on 19 July. 

Slade Cutter wins the 1934 Army-Navy Game with a Field Goal
Slade Cutter wins the 1934 Army-Navy game
with a field goal.

Following his fourth patrol, now-Commander Cutter returned to the United States for 30 days rest and recreation, but during this period was assigned as Commanding Officer of the new-construction USS Requin (SS-481) at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard. Cutter's wife, Fran, sponsored the ship when it was commissioned on 28 April 1945. Requin left Portsmouth for the Pacific theater in early June and arrived at Pearl Harbor at the end of July. Two weeks later, with Requin on her way to Guam for her first combat patrol, the Pacific conflict ended, bringing Cutter's extraordinary wartime history to a close. His legacy is more than a record of ships sunk and damaged, however. In addition to the fighting spirit and relentless persistence he showed on patrol in seeking out and destroying the enemy, Slade Cutter was revered for his natural amiability and abiding concern for the well-being of his crew. To him, they were just like the football teams he had coached, and he trained and practiced with them the same way, starting with the fundamentals and working up to an integrated "game plan" for approach and attack. After every engagement or depth-charging, he would drop by the crew's mess to offer his own account to the "team" of what had happened and why. As a result of this and other examples of his generous humanity, the affection and respect he received then from his Sailors is still alive among a new generation of submariners today. 

Cutter enjoys an informal exchange with his crew in the Torpedo Room.
Cutter enjoys an informal exchange with his crew in the Torpedo Room.

After the war, Cutter achieved the rank of Captain and subsequently commanded the oiler, USS Neosho (AO-143), and the converted heavy cruiser USS Northampton (CLC-1) while the latter served as flagship of the U.S. SECOND Fleet. He retired from active duty in 1965 and now lives with his wife in Annapolis, Maryland.

The UNDERSEA WARFARE staff contacted Captain Cutter during the preparation of this article and received several letters from him as a result. The following excerpt typifies his personal humility - and sense of humor.

"The Seahorse sank nineteen enemy ships during the four war patrols I was the skipper. The crew got the job done. I was merely the coordinator. They were brave and talented, and I never had to be reckless. I thought of the lives of those fine men, and frankly, I was aboard too."

Dr. Whitman is Senior Editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE magazine.