USS Lagarto (SS-371)

USS Lagarto (SS-371)

USS "Lagarto" (SS-371), a "Balao"-class submarine, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for the lagarto, a lizard fish.

Her keel was laid down on 12 January 1944 by the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company of Manitowoc, Wisconsin. She was launched on 28 May 1944 sponsored by Emily Taft Douglas, Congresswoman from Illinois, and later United States Senator from Illinois, and commissioned on 14 October 1944 with Commander Frank D. Latta in command. Latta was a veteran of nine war patrols and holder of the Navy Cross, earned while commanding officer of ammunition stowage, bringing the boat’s total capacity to 220 rounds. Additionally, a Panama Bay sound test having revealed a “singing” port propeller, that was replaced. The special training and availability period concluded on 23 January 1945.

January – March 1945

"Lagarto", accompanied by as she lay alongside likewise obtained contact data from the Superfortresses. Thus forewarned, "Haddock" obtained the first radar contact an hour before the end of the first watch on 12 February; opening the range, she commenced tracking what proved to be the “guardboats” (converted trawlers) "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru" (109 tons) and "No.3 Showa Maru" (76 tons), neither vessel underway.

“With excellent SCR communication,” Commander Latta “outlined [the] plan to [the] other skippers as easily as if we were in the same wardroom.” He ordered "Sennet" to westward, maintaining contact with her SJ radar, while "Lagarto" kept in touch with "Haddock" in like fashion. With the coming of the mid watch on 13 February 1945, the Japanese craft still lay-to, “apparently not alerted.” Consequently, Latta ordered "Haddock" to break contact and his boat formed a line of bearing on "Sennet". "Lagarto" began opening to westward at 04:15, and at 05:40 began heading in on the surface toward the last known position of "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru" and "No.3 Showa Maru". With "Sennet" on the left flank and "Haddock" on the right, and "Lagarto" as guide in the center, the boats some 3,000 yards apart, Latta planned to close to 7,000 yards, then turn right about 50 degrees, to put the seas and wind in a most favorable position and still close the range, allocating "Sennet" the picket to the north, "Haddock" the one to the south; "Lagarto", meanwhile, would direct the fire to whichever vessel “appeared to be offering the most opposition.”

At 06:20 on 13 February 1945, "Lagarto" manned her battle surface stations, and opened fire with her number one convert|5|in|cm|sing=on gun 12 minutes later on the clearly unsuspecting enemy that lay “nicely outlined against [the] red eastern sky” 7,200 yards distant. “Japs began jabbering in high gear at 4,475 KCS!” Latta reported subsequently, as one of the guardboats managed to transmit a dispatch as chaos descended suddenly upon her: “Gun attack by submarines in position 30-00N, 136-30E…” "Lagarto"’s photographer seemed elated (in a “happy daze,” the commanding officer reported) at the apparently photogenic aspect of the action he was recording, repeating “Oh boy, Oh boy!”

No such elation seized the enemy, however, who determinedly fought back against his heavier adversaries, as the action progressed, with whatever caliber weapon lay at hand. "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru" and "No.3 Showa Maru" began turning to the northward, returning fire with what appeared to be approximately “40-millimeter size” weapons. "Lagarto" recorded “numerous splashes within twenty yards of ship…” "Lagarto", followed by "Sennet" and "Haddock", concentrated her fire upon "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru", the leading and northerly vessel as she appeared to be laying a smoke screen to obscure her smaller sister; "Haddock" silenced the lead boat’s forward gun. Inside of ten minutes, the Americans’ fire began to tell, as the first quarry began to burn; smoke began obscuring her from view. "Haddock", meanwhile, shifted fire to "No.3 Showa Maru", noting one particularly defiant Japanese sailor firing back with a rifle, while "Sennet", being blanked out by "Lagarto", swung left in a full circle and fell in astern of the pack commander’s boat, shifting her fire to "Haddock"’s target as well.

As "No.3 Showa Maru" began to burn, however, the smoke cleared away from the larger guardboat, revealing her still underway and full of fight. Sennet “commenced hot pursuit” of "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru". "Lagarto" likewise closed the range with the larger patrol vessel, opening up with her 40-millimeter guns at 2,000 yards; by 06:45, "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru"’s guns had fallen silent and she wallowed in the sea, burning fiercely, while "No.3 Showa Maru" likewise lay in extremis. "Haddock", having expended the last of her convert|5|in|cm|sing=on ammunition, headed for the latter, lying riddled and burning, to finish her off, but "No.3 Showa Maru" sank before the submariners could man her 40-millimeter guns. "Haddock" circled the wreckage several times “to see if we could pick up any Japs or material but neither could be found.” "Sennet" neared "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru"’s side “to see if anything worth salvaging was left,” but apparently found it “too hot” and pulled clear. Latta ordered her to sink the wreck. "Sennet" hastened "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru"’s demise with “a couple rounds of 5" from close range.”

“Latta’s Lancers” having summarily disposed of the two guardboats (there were no survivors from either Japanese vessel) with no loss to themselves, "Lagarto", "Haddock", and "Sennet" formed a scouting line and continued their search. A little less than four hours later, a lookout in "Lagarto" spotted a patrolling "Betty" (Mitsubishi G4M Type 0 land attack plane) crossing astern, heading for "Haddock"; "Lagarto" submerged; "Haddock" spotted the Betty and did likewise; both boats logged the presence of explosions that, fortunately, caused no damage.

During the first dog watch on 13 February 1945, a lookout in "Haddock", despite poor visibility conditions, spotted two more guardboats lying-to about 10,000 yards distant. Sending a contact report to her two pack-mates, Haddock maintained contact as the day went on. "Lagarto" exchanged calls with USS|Sennet|SS-408|2 on the SJ, and ordered that boat to close "Haddock". “Our choice of direction is biased,” Latta later explained, “neither boat ["Lagarto" nor "Sennet"] having a sight in two days.” At 22:49 "Lagarto" contacted "Haddock" by the SJ. “When within range of good SCR communication [such as had facilitated the destruction of "No.8 Kotoshiro Maru" and "No.3 Showa Maru"] [Latta] outlined to both skippers a plan previously proposed by Commander [George E.] Porter [Jr., "Sennet"’s commanding officer.] ” Since "Haddock" had expended the last of her convert|5|in|cm|sing=on ammunition in the engagement with the two pickets that morning, Latta ordered her to maintain contact while "Lagarto" and "Sennet" opened to the westward as before. Those two boats would strike at dawn with gunfire and "Haddock" would make a close range submerged torpedo attack. Ironically, "Haddock"’s skipper, Commander William H. Brockman, Jr., had arrived at the same solution independently.

14 February

"Lagarto" began her easterly approach for the attack at 05:50 on 14 February 1945. “No likelihood of bright eastern sky today,” her commanding officer later recounted, “all heavy gray overcast and seas less favorable to gun firing.” Going to “battle surface” 15 minutes later, "Lagarto" opened fire on the right-hand vessel at 5,600 yards, swinging to the right to bring both of her convert|5|in|cm|sing=on mounts to bear, “cold seas washing over [the] gun crews.” The Japanese fought back more spiritedly than the day before. “Return fire heavier than yesterday,” Latta noted in his patrol report, “but targets slower getting underway.” "Sennet" reported numerous holes in her superstructure and one man wounded from the “extremely accurate” fire, but "Lagarto" emerged from the encounter unscathed. "Haddock" fired one torpedo at 300 yards at one of the guardboats, but missed. "Lagarto" and "Sennet", having expended the last of their convert|5|in|cm|sing=on ammunition, broke off the action by 07:00 and stood away from the scene of the action, leaving behind one guardboat, "No.3 Kanno Maru" (98 tons), damaged.

20 February

Detaching USS|Sennet|SS-408|2 to proceed to her assigned patrol area and USS|Haddock|SS-231|2 to hers, "Lagarto" proceeded to carry out the remainder of her patrol. Outside of aircraft sightings on 17, 19 February and 20 February, it seemed devoid of contacts until the forenoon watch on 24 February 1945 off Okino Shima. Identifying a “RO-class submarine” at 10:58, "Lagarto" maneuvered into position and fired four torpedoes at 11:18; she logged the sound of what appeared to be an explosion on the target, and a second explosion that seemed to reflect the impact of the torpedo with an underwater cliff. Her quarry got off a report: “Torpedo attack in position 32-41N., 132-36E. Damage sustained…” The target’s screws appeared to stop shortly after the explosion, followed less than ten minutes later by a “heavy underwater explosion like [a] collapsed hull…” The identity of "Lagarto"’s victim appears to have been the Japanese submarine "I-371" (Lieutenant Kamijukoku Yasuo), that had departed Truk for Yokosuka on 31 January 1945. However, the credit of the 880-ton merchantman "Tatsumomo Maru" to "Lagarto" seems questionable in view of "Lagarto"’s only carrying out one attack on one target, reported as a submarine, in excellent visibility conditions. Sweeping the area with her periscope soon thereafter, "Lagarto" saw only empty ocean. Later that day, she heard “distant, heavy depth charge explosions,” prompting Latta to write: “Hope "Haddock" is not paying for our attack…”

"Lagarto" submerged to conduct a patrol of Van Diemen Strait the following day, 25 February 1945, and the heavy seas encountered rendered control difficult; she encountered 8–10 degree rolls at depths of 80 feet (25 m) between periscope observations. She conducted a submerged patrol off Bungo Suido the next day, sighting a veritable parade of guardboats similar to those encountered and destroyed less than a fortnight before. She photographed the nearest one (2,500 yards) and later, “nothing following these lads,” secured from battle stations. On the 27th, she encountered what she reported as a midget submarine without success. Ultimately, a few more fruitless days passed, after which she exchanged patrol areas with "Haddock" on 7 March.

13 March

Ultimately departing her patrol area on 13 March 1945, bound for Subic Bay and a refit, "Lagarto" shaped course for a rendezvous with "Haddock" the following morning. At 06:12 on 14 March, "Lagarto" sighted a submarine through her high periscope, and began calling "Haddock" on the SCR. At 06:48, however, "Lagarto" sighted another submarine on an opposite bearing. “One of them,” Latta later recounted, “is probably enemy—but which?”

Establishing voice communication with "Haddock" at 07:03 identified her as the first contact, so "Lagarto" advised her sister boat of the second—obviously enemy—contact. Hobbled by her number two main engine being temporarily out of commission, "Lagarto" (“"Haddock" has four engines to our three,” Latta lamented) directed "Haddock" to make an end-around and then attack once she had achieved a favorable position to do so. Tracking the enemy all morning allowed "Lagarto" to improve the bearing, identifying her as an “I-class submarine.” Decreasing the range, both American boats gained on the enemy, but “"Haddock" found a few more turns and began to pull ahead rapidly.” Latta wished Commander Brockman luck. Ultimately, however, the Japanese boat frustrated the Americans’ designs, submerging and escaping both. “After [a] final talk with Comdr. Brockman and mutual well-wishing,” Latta wrote subsequently, “ ["Lagarto"] took departure and set course for previously assigned route to Subic Bay.”

"Lagarto" joined her escort, USS|Douglas A. Munro|DE-422|2 (DE-422) an hour into the morning watch on 20 March 1945, and after anchoring for a sound test in Subic Bay, mooed alongside the submarine tender USS|Howard W. Gilmore|AS-16|2 (AS-16) to commence a refit. She returned from patrol “clean and shipshape with a minimum number of material defects.”

April – May 1945

"Lagarto" departed Subic Bay on 12 April 1945, bound for the South China Sea, and received orders on 27 April to patrol the outer waters of the Gulf of Siam. A little under an hour into the forenoon watch on 2 May, USS|Baya|SS-318|2 (SS-318) exchanged calls with "Lagarto" by SJ radar. Later, an hour into the afternoon watch on 2 May, "Baya" sighted a Consolidated PB4Y-2 Privateer and contacted him by VHF. While “he had no dope for us,” "Baya"’s skipper wrote later, the submarine informed the aviators of the proximity of "Lagarto" and USS|Caiman|SS-323|2 (SS-323). At 20:55, "Baya" again exchanged calls with "Lagarto"; less than an hour later, she slowed to take soundings, recording seven fathoms. She changed course to parallel the coast.

2 May

"Baya"’s SJ picked up four contacts at 15,000 yards at 21:55 on 2 May 1945; her battle stations tracking party took their places. At 22:10, "Baya" sent a contact report to "Lagarto". Latta responded at 22:45 that his boat was in contact with a convoy, tracking it on a base course of 310° (T), speed nine knots (17 km/h), running along the 5 to 7 fathom curve (10 m). There was one large ship, one medium, and two escorts, both of which appeared to be equipped with 10-centimeter radar. Beneath a clear, dark, sky, "Baya" began her attack at 12 knots (22 km/h) through the flat sea, from off the convoy’s starboard bow, setting her torpedoes to run at four feet. Soon she began encountering SJ and 10-centimeter radar interference “all around the dial.” Two additional contacts materialized—one turned out to be a large three-masted junk, the other proved to be "Lagarto". "Baya", however, soon had her hands full; as her commanding officer later reported: “Jap gunnery poor but plenty of it. Tracers passing down both sides of the periscope shears and overhead…” Both escort vessels—one of which "Baya" identified as a “"Shiretaka"-type minelayer”—gave a good account of themselves; at 23:33, "Baya" informed "Lagarto" “that we had been driven off by gunfire.” "Baya"’s skipper later ruminated: “It is nothing short of a miracle that we came through so much gun fire without a single hit.” “We were in a continuous hail of lead, fire, and steel and sustained not a scratch.”

3 May

The dogged defenders, who skillfully utilized searchlights and withering gunfire of calibers from 4.7-inch to 25-millimeter, elicited grudging admiration of the American submariners. During the mid watch on 3 May 1945, "Baya" rendezvoused with "Lagarto" and their captains discussed plans. The latter’s proposed to dive on the convoy’s track to make contact at 14:00, in the middle of the afternoon watch; "Baya" would be 10 to 15 miles further along the track, “if no contact was made we ["Baya"] were to intercept at 20:00 at convoy’s possible 21:30 position.” That having been arranged, the boats set course for their arranged stations.

At 15:00 on 3 May 1945, "Baya" sent the first “of numerous contact reports to "Lagarto".” By 23:47, “having sent "Lagarto" contact reports almost half hourly with no receipt,” "Baya" decided to go it alone. Again, however, the Japanese escorts drove off "Baya" when she attacked during the mid watch on 4 May, again saving their charges from destruction.

Post-war examination of Japanese records revealed the most likely reason for "Lagarto"’s silence. One of the two escorts, the minelayer "Hatsutaka", made an attack on 3 May against a submerged submarine in 30 fathoms of water at coord|7|55|N|102|00|E |region:TH_type:landmark |display=title,inline.

Announced as “overdue from patrol and presumed lost” on 10 August 1945, "Lagarto" was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 September 1945.

Discovery, 2005–2006

In May 2005, a group of private deep-sea divers, led by British wreck diver Jamie MacLeod, discovered the wreck in 70 m (225 ft) of water in the Gulf of Thailand. The wreck is mostly intact and sitting upright on the ocean floor. During the dive, a large rupture was discovered on the port bow area, suggesting a depth charge as the catalyst to her sinking. Also observed during the dive was an open torpedo tube door, with an empty torpedo tube behind it, suggesting the possibility that "Lagarto" fired off a torpedo shortly before her sinking.

In June 2006, Navy divers from the USS|Salvor|ARS-52|3 surveyed and photographed the wreck for 6 days. More evidence was seen that this is the "Lagarto". Twin 5"-gun mounts were seen on the forward and rear parts of the ship. "Manitowoc" was seen on the propellers providing a connection to the Manitowoc, Wisconsin shipyard. The pictures were sent back to naval archeologists for further review. After viewing the evidence provided by the "Salvor" divers, it was confirmed that this was indeed the "Lagarto".


"Lagarto" received one battle star for World War II service.

ee also

*List of submarines of the United States Navy


* [ "Navy News" article about a memorial service to her sinking]

External links

* [ Wisconsin Maritime Museum]
* [ USS]
* [ On Eternal Patrol: USS "Lagarto"]
* [ CNN: USS "Lagarto"]
* [ M/V "Trident": The Thailand Technical Diving outfit that discovered the USS "Lagarto"]
* [ Diving On The USS "Lagarto" — a first person account with photos]
* [ Return To The USS "Lagarto" July 2008 — a first person account with photos of a guardianship dive on the "Lagarto"]

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