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USS Tang (SS-306)

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Awarded:15 December 1941
Laid down:15 January 1943
Launched:17 August 1943
Commissioned:15 October 1943
Fate:sunk by own torpedo
Stricken:8 February 1945
General Characteristics
Displacement:1470 tons light, 2040 tons full, 570 tons dead
Length:95 meters (312 feet) overall, 93.5 meters (307 feet) waterline
Beam:8.2 meters (27 feet)
Draft:5.1 meters (17 feet)
Complement:ten officers, 68 men
USS Tang (SS-306), a Balao-class submarine, was the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the tang, several West Indian species of surgeonfish. The contract to build her was awarded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 15 December 1941, and her keel was laid down 15 January 1943. She was launched on 17 August, commissioned 15 October, and delivered to the Navy on 30 November 1943.

Tang is credited with sinking 31 ships in her five patrols, totaling 227,800 tons, and damaging two for 4,100 tons. This record is unexcelled among American submarines; Tang was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation twice during her career.

In her first patrol, spending February 1944 west of Truk and Saipan, she sank three freighters, a large tanker and a submarine tender. Tang's second patrol was in the area west of Palau, east of Mindanao in the Philippines, and at Truk. She made no ship contacts worthy of attack, but at the latter island she rescued 22 Navy airmen during a carrier-based strike at Truk on 30 April through 1 May 1944. Her third patrol was in the East China and Yellow Seas. Here she sank six freighters, a tanker, and a large aircraft transport. She covered the waters along the southern coast of Honshu in August 1944. She sank a freighter, a large transport, a tanker, and two patrol craft, while she damaged another freighter and small craft.

On 24 September 1944, Tang set out from Pearl Harbor under Commander Richard O'Kane on her fifth war patrol. Commander O'Kane has been called the Submarine Service's most outstanding officer; he served as Executive Officer of the very successful Wahoo (SS-238) before taking command of Tang. On 27 September Tang topped off with fuel at Midway Island and left there the same day, heading for an area between the northwest coast of Formosa and the China Coast.

In order to reach her area, Tang had to pass through narrow waters known to be heavily patrolled by the enemy. A large area stretching northeast from Formosa was known to be mined by the enemy, and O'Kane was given the choice of making the passage north of Formosa alone, or joining a coordinated attack group (Silversides (SS-236), Trigger (SS-237), and Salmon (SS-182), under Commander Coye in Silversides) which was to patrol off northeast Formosa, and making the passage with them. Tang chose to make the passage alone and these vessels never heard from Tang, nor did any base, after she left Midway Island.

The story of Tang's sinking comes from the report of her surviving commanding officer. Tang had found good hunting and had fired twenty-two torpedoes in three attacks. Twenty-one torpedoes hit enemy ships, sinking thirteen of them, and one missed.

The fourth attack, a night surface attack, was launched on 24 October, 1944 against a transport which had previously been stopped in an earlier attack. The twenty-third torpedo of the patrol was fired, and when it was observed to be running true, the twenty-fourth and last was shot. It curved sharply to the left, broached, porpoised, and circled. Emergency speed was ordered and the rudder was thrown hard over. These measures resulted only in the torpedo striking Tang's stern rather than amidships.

The explosion was violent, and people as far forward as the control room received broken limbs. The ship went down by the stern with the after three compartments flooded. Of the nine officers and men on the bridge, three were able to swim through the night until picked up eight hours later. One officer escaped from the flooded conning tower, and was rescued with the others.

The submarine came to rest on the bottom at 180 feet and the men in her crowded forward as the after compartments flooded. Publications were burned, and all assembled to the forward room to escape. The escape was delayed by a Japanese patrol, which dropped depth charges, and started an electrical fire in the forward battery. Thirteen men escaped from the forward room, and by the time the last made his exit, the heat from the fire was so intense that the paint on the bulkhead was scorching, melting, and running down. Of the 13 men who escaped, only eight reached the surface, and of these only five were able to swim until rescued. A total of 78 men were lost.

When the nine survivors were picked up by a destroyer escort, there were victims of Tang's previous sinkings on board, and they tortured the men from Tang. O'Kane stated, “When we realized that our clubbing and kickings were being administered by the burned, mutilated survivors of our handiwork, we found we could take it with less prejudice.”

The nine captives were retained by the Japanese in prison camps until the end of the war, and were treated by them in typical fashion. The loss of Tang by her own torpedo, the last one fired on the most successful patrol ever made by an American submarine, was a stroke of singular misfortune. She is credited with having sunk 13 vessels for 107,324 tons of enemy shipping on this patrol, and her commanding officer earned the Medal of Honor.

Tang was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 8 February 1945.

See USS Tang for other ships of the same name.


This article includes information collected from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.