Navy Says Wreck Found Off Japan is Legendary Sub USS Wahoo
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
“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
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
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
“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
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/.