PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) -- Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet declared Oct. 31 that the sunken submarine recently discovered by divers in the Western Pacific is, indeed, the World War II submarine USS Wahoo (SS 238).
"After reviewing the records and information, we are certain USS Wahoo has been located," said Adm. Gary Roughead, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander. “We are grateful for the support of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and appreciate greatly the underwater video footage of the submarine provided by our Russian navy colleagues, which allowed us to make this determination. This brings closure to the families of the men of Wahoo - one of the greatest fighting submarines in the history of the U.S. Navy."
In July, the Russian dive team “Iskra” photographed wreckage lying in about 213 feet (65 meters) of water in the La Perouse (Soya) Strait between the Japanese island of Hokkaido and the Russian island of Sakhalin. The divers were working with The Wahoo Project Group, an international team of experts coordinated by Bryan MacKinnon, a relative of Wahoo’s famed skipper, Cmdr. Dudley W. “Mush” Morton.
“I am very pleased to be part of an effort where old adversaries have joined together as friends to find the Wahoo,” said MacKinnon.
Wahoo was last heard from Sept. 13, 1943, as the Gato-class submarine departed the island of Midway en route to the “dangerous, yet important,” Sea of Japan. Under strict radio silence, Morton and his crew proceeded as ordered. Radio contact was expected to be regained with Midway in late October upon Wahoo’s departure from the Sea of Japan through the Kurile Island chain. No such contact was made. Following an aerial search of the area, Wahoo was officially reported missing Nov. 9, 1943.
At the time, the loss of Wahoo was believed due to mines or a faulty torpedo. But Japanese reports later stated that one of its planes had spotted an American submarine in the La Perouse Strait Oct. 11, 1943. These reports indicate a multi-hour combined sea and air attack involving depth charges and aerial bombs finally sunk Wahoo.
Japan Maritime Self Defense Force retired Vice Adm. Kazuo Ueda assisted the group with providing historical records from the Imperial Japanese Navy that identified the location where Wahoo was sunk.
“We, the families of Wahoo, recognize the historical scholarship and support provided by the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force. We would also like to send our thanks to the U.S. Navy for their diligence in finding and identifying the USS Wahoo,” said Doug Morton, son of Dudley Walker Morton.
“The Morton family is thrilled that there will be closure to the loss of our father,” added Morton, who also spoke on behalf of his sister, Edwina Thirsher and her family. “The loss of a famous submariner who was loved by his family and crew has been very difficult.”
During Wahoo’s rare foray in the Sea of Japan, Morton reportedly sunk at least four Japanese ships. For the patrol, Morton was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross – his fourth.
Morton is credited with sinking 19 ships totaling nearly 55,000 tons during his four patrols in command of Wahoo; his total was second only to his own executive officer, Richard H. O’Kane. Retired Rear Adm. O’Kane went on to command USS Tang (SS 306) and to receive the Medal of Honor.
Noted naval historian Theodore Roscoe described Morton as “an undersea ace” in his book “Submarine Operations in World War II.”
“Few skippers equaled Morton’s initiative, and none had a larger reserve of nerve,” Roscoe wrote. “Combining capability with dynamic aggressiveness, Morton feared nothing on or under the sea.”
The discovery of Wahoo is the culmination of more than a decade of work by an international team dedicated to finding the ill-fated submarine. In 2004, electronic surveys sponsored by a major international energy company (The Sakhalin Energy Investment Corporation) identified the likely site.
The Bowfin Museum in Hawaii worked with the team as an independent “scrutineer” to ensure the project was done correctly and will serve as a central repository for all the Wahoo Project’s findings, according to museum executive director, submariner, and retired Navy Capt. Jerry Hofwolt.
“This is the right thing to do for the families,” Hofwolt said. “We want to be able to tell people that this is where your loved ones are and to be a clearinghouse for all of the information about this and other lost submarines.”
Hofwolt said the museum is making plans to host a memorial ceremony to honor the crew members, most likely in October 2007.
Officials with the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force reviewed analysis and photos provided by the Bowfin Museum and agreed the wreck is Wahoo. The wreck had several characteristics consistent with Wahoo, and the submarine was found very near those reported in Imperial Japanese Navy records. Photographs are available at warfish.com and oneternalpatrol.com. General information about the USS Wahoo Project is available at usswahoo.org.
Wahoo is believed to be near the site of the Russian submarine L-19, possibly sunk by mines in late August 1945 after Japan had surrendered. Based on the information made available to them by The Wahoo Project Group, the Russian team wished to confirm the site was Wahoo and not the L-19. According to The Wahoo Project Group Web site, the group has offered continued assistance to the Russian government in finding that submarine as well.
In addition to the ceremony to be held in Pearl Harbor, U.S. Navy officials are planning an at-sea, wreath-laying service sometime next year to pay tribute to Wahoo. If it can be arranged, a combined service with the Russians and Japanese to honor Wahoo and the Russian submarine L-19, as well as the respective Japanese losses, is also a possibility.
The Navy has no plans to salvage or enter the Wahoo wreck. Naval tradition has long held that the sea is a fitting final resting place for Sailors lost at sea. The Sunken Military Craft Act protects military wrecks, such as Wahoo, from unauthorized disturbance.
Wahoo’s discovery comes on the heels of a similar discovery of USS Lagarto (SS 371), which the Navy confirmed was found in the Gulf of Thailand in June.
“We owe a great debt of gratitude to the brave men on Wahoo and to all of our WWII submariners who performed so magnificently during the war. Much of our submarine force heritage, and many of our traditions, can be traced back to their legacy.” said Rear Adm. Jay Donnelly, deputy commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet. “One of my favorite quotes is from Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz who, after the war, said: ‘We salute those gallant officers and men of our submarines who lost their lives in that long struggle. We shall never forget our submariners that held the lines against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds.’”
According to Pacific Fleet submarine history, the submarine force remained intact following the attack on Pearl Harbor. It became clear at that time the submarine fleet would take the fight to the enemy. By war’s end, submarines had supported all major fleet operations and made more than 1,600 war patrols. Pacific Fleet submarines, like Wahoo, accounted for 54 percent of all enemy shipping sunk during the war. Success was costly. Fifty-two submarines were lost, and nearly 3,600 submariners remain on “Eternal Patrol.”
For related news, visit the Pacific Fleet Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cpf/.