|The remarkable Wahoo skipper, Cdr. "Mush" Morton|
The Wahoo was one of the latest Gato class submarines, but in her first two patrols her skipper was unaggresive. They found an aircraft carrier headed their way, but Cmdr Kennedy was over careful in approaching the fast target, so never had a chance to fire. He and his executive officer, Dick O’Kane, disagreed sharply. The second patrol a prospective commanding officer (PCO) named Dudley Morton reported aboard. After that patrol, the skipper was replaced by Morton, who worked well with O’Kane.
To start the third patrol in January 1943 Morton called the crew to quarters on deck to promise an aggressive patrol. He spent two days playing cat and mouse with the destroyer Patterson so both crews could sharpen offensive and defensive skills, before they headed for their wars.
The third patrol they stayed on the surface during the day in sight of enemy held land. The morale of the crew soared. When an aircraft appeared, Morton stayed on the surface, watching the plane that disregarded them. Dogma was submerge by day; by staying on the surface they made 20 knots instead of 2 and could see much further with radar than through a periscope.
They were ordered to reconnaissance Wewak, which was not on any charts, but found in a school geography book a crewman bought for his kid. Morton said reconnaissance meant slip submerged inside the harbor, which they did, not knowing depths or other details. Many miles into the bay they found a destroyer.
Wahoo started to attack, but it got underway, so four torpedoes missed. The destroyer turned to depth charge Wahoo that fired her last forward torpedoes at the narrow, charging bow, and hit, sinking it. She then escaped the anchorage without raising her periscope, because the sound man had the initiative to keep a careful record of sea sounds as they entered.
While leading a seminar, I told of this action, and a friend spoke up, “I’m sure glad I was in the infantry!”
The next day they intercepted a convoy, and in a series of attacks that lasted into dusk, they torpedoed all ships. Having used all torpedoes, Morton invented a new term, “Ahead Pearl Harbor.” That night he radioed Pearl, “In a fourteen hour running gun and torpedo battle today sank convoy of one tanker, two freighters, and one transport…”
The next day without torpedoes they found an eight-ship convoy, and tried a deck gun attack on a slower ship. But an escort appeared out of a rain shower that Morton thought was a “Chidori” that was no faster than Wahoo as she turned to flee. But the escort speeded up, showing it was a destroyer, and fired a salvo that barely missed as Wahoo dove. That night another message: “Another running gun battle today … Wahoo running destroyer gunning.”
Before entering Pearl Harbor, Morton had a broom tied to the shears. It was a symbol from the days of sailing frigates that they had made a clean sweep.
Entering Pearl after 3rd patrol. Sterling at top center. O'Kane and Morton upper right.
Wahoo conducted additional patrols with Morton commanding, but her torpedoes often failed to work. She was lost while leaving the Sea of Japan after finally receiving working torpedoes and sinking a number of ships.
As part of normal rotation, O’Kane and many other officers and crewmen were transferred off Wahoo. O’Kane was the first skipper of the new Tang that made many aggressive attacks, but was sunk by one of her own torpedoes running circular. Her combat life was some nine months. O'Kane and several crew survived to spend the war in POW slave labor camps.
O’Kane, the yeoman Forest Sterling, George Grider all were on Wahoo's third patrol and wrote excellent books about their experiences on Wahoo.
After that third patrol by Wahoo, pioneering tactics, such as staying on the surface, going into harbors, and many others were widely copied as skippers became more aggressive.