USS Tang (SS-306) was a Balao-class submarine of World War II, the first ship of the United States Navy to bear the name Tang. She was built and launched in 1943. In her short career, Tang sank 33 ships totalling 116,454 tons. Commander Richard O’Kane received the Medal of Honor for her last two engagements (23 and 24 October 1944). Tang was sunk during the last engagement by a circular run of her final torpedo, going down in 180 ft (55 m) of water.
The story of Tang ‘s fate comes from the report of her surviving commanding officer:
On the night of 10–11 October, Tang sank the cargo ships Joshu Go and Ōita Maru. The submarine continued on patrol until 23 October, when she contacted a large convoy consisting of three tankers, a transport, a freighter, and numerous escorts. Commander O’Kane planned a night surface attack. Tang broke into the middle of the formation, firing torpedoes as she closed on the tankers (later identified as freighters). Two torpedoes struck under the stack and engine room of the nearest, a single burst into the stern of the middle one, and two exploded under the stack and engine space of the farthest. The first torpedoes began exploding before the last was fired, and all hit their targets, which were soon either blazing or sinking. As the submarine prepared to fire at the tanker which was crossing her stern, she sighted the transport bearing down on her in an attempt to ram. Tang had no room to dive, so she crossed the transport’s bow and with full left rudder saved her stern and got inside the transport’s turning circle. The transport was forced to continue her swing to avoid the tanker, which had also been coming in to ram. The tanker struck the transport’s starboard quarter shortly after the submarine fired four stern torpedoes along their double length at a range of 400 yd (370 m). The tanker sank bow first and the transport had a 30° up-angle. With escorts approaching on the port bow and beam and a destroyer closing on the port quarter, Tang rang up full speed and headed for open water. When the submarine was 6,000 yd (5,500 m) from the transport, another explosion was observed, and its bow disappeared.
On the morning of 24 October, Tang began patrolling at periscope depth. She surfaced at dark and headed for Turnabout Island. On approaching the island, the submarine’s surface search radar showed so many blips that it was almost useless. Tang soon identified a large convoy which contained tankers with planes on their decks and transports with crated planes stacked on their bows and sterns. As the submarine tracked the Japanese ships along the coast, the enemy escorts became suspicious, and the escort commander began signaling with a large searchlight. This illuminated the convoy, and Tang chose a large three-deck transport as her first target, a smaller transport as the second, and a large tanker as the third. Their ranges varied from 900–1,400 yd (820–1,280 m). After firing two torpedoes at each target, the submarine paralleled the convoy to choose its next victims. She fired stern torpedoes at another transport and tanker aft.
As Tang poured on full speed to escape the gunfire directed at her, a destroyer passed around the stern of the transport and headed for the submarine. A few seconds later, the destroyer exploded, either from intercepting Tang ‘s third torpedo or from shell fire of two escorts closing on the beam. Only the transport remained afloat, and it was dead in the water. The submarine cleared to 240 ft (73 m), rechecked the last two torpedoes which had been loaded in the bow tubes, and returned to finish off the transport. The 23rd torpedo was fired at 900 yd (820 m) and was observed running hot and straight. Tang ‘s score for the night would later be confirmed as the freighters Kogen Maru (6600 tons) and Matsumoto Maru (7000 tons).
At 02:30 on the morning of 25 October, the 24th and last torpedo (a Mark 18 electric torpedo) was fired. It broached and curved to the left in a circular run. Tang fishtailed under emergency power to clear the turning circle of the torpedo, but it struck her abreast the aft torpedo room approximately 20 seconds after it was fired.The explosion was violent, and men 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, including O’Kane, three were able to swim through the night until picked up.
The submarine bottomed at 180 ft (55 m) and the thirty survivors crowded into the forward torpedo room as the aft compartments flooded, intending to use the forward escape trunk. Publications were burned, and all assembled in 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. Those who escaped the submarine were greeted in the morning by the sight of the bow of the transport sticking straight out of the water. This was the only known occasion on which a Momsen lung (underwater rebreather) was used to escape a sunken submarine.
Nine survivors, including O’Kane, were picked up the next morning by the Japanese and were placed in a prison camp at Ōfuna until the end of the war, where they were interrogated by Japanese intelligence. 78 men would lose their lives. Tang was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 8 February 1945.