With confidence in our armed forces – with the unbounded determination of our people – we will gain the inevitable triumph – so help us God… Franklin Delano Roosevelt


Every December 7th we try to pay tribute to those still serving on the USS ARIZONA and the other courageous men and women who fought and died to stop the Japanese conquest of the Pacific. As often as not we have one or more books about the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor to review but today we do not. We are therefore offering the tragic and heroic story of the USS TANG since it graces us with both noble loss and survivors to tell its story.

USS Tang (SS-306) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 2 December 1943.Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

USS Tang (SS-306) Off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 2 December 1943.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

Escape from the deep : the epic story of a legendary submarine and her courageous crew Philadelphia, PA : Da Capo Press, c 2008 Alex Kershaw World War, 1939-1945 Naval operations Submarine, Tang (SS-306) Hardcover. First edition and printing. xi, 270 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 249-253) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in  text. VG/VG

Vought OS2U "Kingfisher" floatplane, from USS North Carolina (BB-55)Off Truk with nine aviators on board, awaiting rescue by USS Tang (SS-306), 1 May 1944. The plane had landed inside Truk lagoon to recover downed airmen. Unable to take off with such a load, it then taxiied out to Tang, which was serving as lifeguard submarine during the 29 April-1 May carrier strikes on Truk. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Vought OS2U “Kingfisher” floatplane, from USS North Carolina (BB-55)Off Truk with nine aviators on board, awaiting rescue by USS Tang (SS-306), 1 May 1944. The plane had landed inside Truk lagoon to recover downed airmen. Unable to take off with such a load, it then taxied out to Tang, which was serving as lifeguard submarine during the 29 April-1 May carrier strikes on Truk. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Tang was a 1525-ton Balao class submarine that was built at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California. Commissioned in October 1943, she deployed to Hawaii in December 1943 to begin an intense and eventful combat career under the leadership of Commander Richard H. O’Kane. Tang’s first war patrol, conducted in the central Pacific during January and February 1944 during which she sank five Jap freighters. While a second patrol resulted in no direct losses to the enemy it was very important in another way. In three days of lifeguard duty during U.S. aircraft carrier raids on the Japanese base at Truk, Tang rescued 22 downed Navy aviators, a score  that was unsurpassed until very late in the Pacific War.

USS Tang (SS-306)The submarine's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Richard H. O'Kane (center), poses with the twenty-two aircrewmen that Tang rescued off Truk during the carrier air raids there on 29 April-1 May 1944. The photograph was taken upon Tang's return to Pearl Harbor from her second war patrol, in May 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

USS Tang (SS-306)The submarine’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Richard H. O’Kane (center), poses with the twenty-two air crewmen that Tang rescued off Truk during the carrier air raids there on 29 April-1 May 1944. The photograph was taken upon Tang’s return to Pearl Harbor from her second war patrol, in May 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

In June and July 1944, Tang made a patrol into the East China Sea sinking ten ships in a series of daring attacks. The next war patrol, her fourth, was in Japanese home waters, where her torpedoes sank at least two more enemy ships during August. Late in September, Tang departed Pearl Harbor to begin her fifth patrol. Operating in the vicinity of the Formosa Strait, she struck a convoy on 10th-11th of October, sinking two ships. Other convoys were the targets of night surface attacks on the 23rd and 24th, producing five more sinkings.

Commander Richard H. O'Kane, USN Oil painting by Commander Albert K. Murray, USNR, Official U.S. Navy Combat Artist, depicting Commander O'Kane on board the submarine Tang (SS-306) in 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

Commander Richard H. O’Kane, USN Oil painting by Commander Albert K. Murray, USNR, Official U.S. Navy Combat Artist, depicting Commander O’Kane on board the submarine Tang (SS-306) in 1944. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center.

Tragically, Tang’s last torpedo made a circular run that the submarine could not evade. She was hit aft and quickly sank in relatively shallow water off the China coast. Nine of her crew, including Commander O’Kane, survived the accident and were taken prisoner. The survivors of the explosion struggled to stay alive in their submerged “iron coffin” one hundred-eighty feet beneath the surface. While the Japanese dropped deadly depth charges, just nine of the original eighty-man crew survived a harrowing ascent through the escape hatch. But a far greater ordeal was coming. After being picked up by a Japanese patrol vessel, they were sent to a secret Japanese interrogation camp known as the “Torture Farm.” They were close to death when finally liberated in August, 1945, but they had revealed nothing to the Japanese.

Replica of the battle flag - the original lies within the sea tomb.

Replica of the battle flag – the original lies within the sea tomb.

Tang was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations for her exploits, which included officially recognized sinkings of 24 Japanese ships, totalling nearly 94,000 tons. Among U.S. Pacific War submarines, she thus had the second highest score in terms of numbers and the fourth largest based on tonnage calculations.

When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid;

The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears.

from Two Samuel 22

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