USS Tang, Reporting For Duty!

Under the Balao-class submarine, the keel of USS Tang (SS-306) was first laid down in early 1943 at the Mare Island Navy Yard in Vallejo, California. Following her predecessors’ fish species namesake pattern, Tang was commissioned to serve in the US Navy amid the raging Second World War in October 1943. As soon as completion, she cruised to San Diego for a two-week training before steering for Hawaii to join the fleet in Pearl Habor.

Tang (SS-306) returning to Pearl Harbor, date unknown. (Image source: Navsource)

After concluding her combat preparation training, Tang departed the allied waters of Pearl Harbor in early 1944 to commence her first war patrol between the aquatic regions of the Caroline Islands and the Mariana Islands. She maintained active patrol for almost a month before encountering her first significant combat, sighting a convoy comprised of two freighters and five smaller ships along with their escorts. Sailors tracked the convoy, plotted its course, and prepared to attack when suddenly, an escort started closing in on Tang. But she was quick to steer and dive deep to evade assault. The submarine hit a couple of vessels from that convoy, including the Japanese transport Gyoten Maru, but the surviving freighters were able to steer clear out of range.

Tang (SS-306) steering underwater, date unknown. (Image source: Navsource)

Nonetheless, Tang continued its war patrol, took down a couple more enemy ships, transmitted warning intel to nearby fleets, and saved dozens of downed airmen floating at sea until that fateful night of October 24, 1944.

A Tragic Turn Of Event

Marking the 75th anniversary since the Japanese issued its formal surrender that officially brought the Second World War to an end, a Navy veteran has recounted his experience vividly and shared them with Task & Purpose last 2020.

William “Bill” Leibold was one of nine survivors of the USS Tang. After the submarine sank, Leibold and his fellow sailors were taken by a Japanese patrol boat from the frigid ocean water to a military compound notoriously known as the “torture farm.” There, they would spend the next ten months in captivity.

The seeming invincibility of Tang ended her valiant service after nearly a month of intense combat against a Japanese fleet in the Formosa Strait en route to the Philippines.

Despite the known risk, sailors aboard the newly refit USS Tang braved through the heavily mined shallow waters with swarming Japanese patrols to reach her designated fifth war patrol area.

Google Earth satellite photo where Tang (SS-306) is assumed to have been lost. (Image source: Navsource)

The USS Tang commander, Lieutenant Commander Richard O’Kane, who also survived that fateful night, recalled the tragic events leading to the submarine’s sinking. According to him, the attack they first initiated on that route was at the crack of dawn on October 11, 1944, when they spotted a “large modern diesel freighter.” Tang powered through, sinking two cargo ships along the way, until her third attack on October 23, when she came in contact with a large convoy “comprised of three large tankers in [a] column, a transport on the starboard hand, a freighter on the port hand, flanked by DE’s in both beams and quarters.” As she continued to track the convoy, one of the escorts became suspicious, with its commanding officer signaling with a large searchlight illuminating the convoy. Tang took the opportunity and attacked the convoy.