AFV Club 1/350 Gato Class Submarine (1941)
USS Wahoo (SS-238):
One of the greatest American submarines of the Second
World War, USS “Wahoo,” named for a blue-colored food fish found around
She was launched
February 14, 1942
and was commissioned on May 15, 1942,
with LCDR Marvin G. Kennedy commanding, and LT Richard H. O’Kane as XO.
On completion of initial training and shakedown along
coast, the submarine arrived at
August 18, 1942.
“Wahoo” was unsuccessful during her first two war
patrols, sinking only a small freighter off
during her second patrol.
The crew immediately judged LCDR Kennedy as not being a
combative leader, when he blew their first attacks on the first patrol; the CO
never recovered from those mistakes.
In part this lack of success was due to the
unreliability of the Mark 14 torpedo used by
submarines, and in it was seen by all as a problem of command, with LCDR Kennedy
falling under the baleful stare of COMSUBPAC for “lack of guts.”
When “Wahoo” departed Pearl Harbor on her second patrol
on November 8, 1942, she carried as Prospective Commanding Officer the man who
would lead boat and crew to immortality, LCDR Dudley W. “Mush” Morton, one of
the most outstanding American submarine commanders of the war.
Upon arrival in
at the conclusion of her third patrol, Morton assumed command of “Wahoo” and
almost immediately began to make history.
(It should be noted that LCDR Kennedy returned to
surface forces operations and made a name for himself as CO of a destroyer
providing fire support at
for the D-Day invasion.)
“Mush” Morton could never have achieved the record he
did without the other member of the “dynamic duo,” Dick O’Kane.
Morton’s attack system had O’Kane manning the periscope
while Morton directed the attack according to O’Kane’s observations. No other
submarine captain ever used such a system, but Morton’s record speaks for
for her third war patrol on
January 16, 1943.
The orders for Morton’s first patrol
included the directive: “Adjust speed, if possible, to
permit daylight reconnaissance vicinity
After consulting with his officers for their
interpretation of “reconnaissance,” Morton made his intentions clear: “Wahoo”
would enter the shallow harbor, submerged, and sink as many enemy ships as
possible. There were no official charts, but a petty officer in the crew had
purchased a child’s atlas in Australia that had “Wewak” marked on the map;
Morton blew up the appropriate portion of a US Navy chart and when “Wahoo”
conducted a periscope survey of an inlet for which he had no official charts, a
Japanese Shiratsuyu‑class destroyer was
found apparently at anchor with several Japanese submarines.
Morton fired a salvo of bow torpedoes, to discover the
target was underway and the torpedoes would miss astern.
He fired his last bow torpedo at 800 yards range using a
“down the throat” shot as the now fully-alert destroyer charged the
periscope with intent to ram. Morton obligingly kept the
periscope raised to lure the destroyer into the path of the
He later explained that this was why he had
O’Kane on the periscope: “He’s the one who gets scared
and I stick to business.”
January 26, 1943
“Wahoo” attacked a small convoy which consisted of two freighters, a large
transport, and a tanker. “Wahoo” hit the first with two torpedoes and the second
with a single torpedo, missing with the fourth. She then turned and fired a
three torpedo spread at the transport from the bow tubes.
The second target, Fukuei Maru No. 2,
attempted to ram the submarine and Morton fired another torpedo.
Hit, the ship continued the ramming attempt and
“Wahoo” had to turn away at full speed to avoid
that point the battle became very confusing: the first ship had sunk,
Fukuei Maru No. 2 was still moving, and the
transport (later identified as Buyo Maru)
was stopped but not yet sinking, so “Wahoo” fired another torpedo that hit her
amidships, while yet another failed to explode.
From here, the action became somewhat controversial.
Morton surfaced to recharge batteries, at the same time
going after the surviving troops from the transport with gunfire from the two
20mm cannon mounted on the aft conning tower and aft main deck. Most of the
troops in the water were actually Indian POWs, along with a number of Japanese
garrison troops. 195 Indians were killed, along with 87 Japanese (including
those killed in the torpedo attack and sinking) out of 1,126 men aboard.
Morton’s actions were not generally condemned at the
time, since it was presumed the combat troops remained legitimate targets as
long as they were in a position to resist, were actively doing so, and were
likely to be able to resume the fight.
Having sunk the Buyo Maru close to enemy-held islands,
leaving the lifeboats intact would arguably have meant the troops would be able
to do just that. Also, Morton
reported that the Japanese were shooting at “Wahoo.”
On January 27, 1943, “Wahoo” intercepted another convoy
but was unable to make an attack due to the alert escort. Having used all of her
torpedoes, “Wahoo” was forced to give up on a possible surface gun action and
escape the destroyer in a squall.
Morton reported the incident thus: “Another running
Destroyer gunning, Wahoo running.”
Morton’s aggressive leadership had turned around the
crew and raised morale sky-high, according to Wahoo’s yeoman, Forrest J.
Sterling, who would later write the submarine classic, “Wake of the Wahoo.”
“Wahoo” ended her patrol on February 4, 1943 - one of
the shortest to that time - and entered Pearl Harbor with a broom lashed to the
forward periscope to indicate a “clean sweep,” the first time this symbol had
been used by an American submarine to signal success.
The patrol was considered the most successful by an
American submarine to date.
Morton was awarded a Navy Cross by Admiral Lockwood and
an Army Distinguished Service Cross forwarded from General MacArthur.
This patrol set the standard for subsequent “Wahoo”
patrols, being short and successful.
“Wahoo” departed Pearl Harbor for her fourth war patrol
on February 23, 1943, topping off at Midway, then heading on to make the first
penetration by an American submarine of the northern Yellow Sea, an area
previously off-limits due to the fact the average depth was only 150 feet
(meaning that an American fleet boat at periscope depth would have less than 100
feet of water beneath the keel, and likely much less) On March 19, “Wahoo” sank
Zogen Maru with a single torpedo. An
attack on Kowa Maru four hours later
failed due to a defective torpedo and sharp maneuvering on the part of the
Off the Korean coast on March 21, “Wahoo” sank
Hozen Maru, following that four hours later with
the sinking of Nitsu Maru.
“Wahoo” also sank several fishing boats with her gun
armament in separate surface actions near the Shantung Peninsula and the port of
Dairen in water too shallow to dive.
With all torpedoes expended, “Wahoo” set course 090 for
Pearl Harbor 20 days after arriving on station (the usual patrol was 60-75
days), credited with a total of eight targets sunk for 36,700 tons, a SubPac
record to date.
The Japanese reports had it that a wolf pack of submarines were
operating in the area, and “Wahoo” was christened “The One‑Boat Wolf Pack.”
With intelligence that the Japanese fleet might sortie
to defend Attu and Kiska against the planned invasion, ComSubPac’s most
successful submarine ended her fourth patrol at Midway for a quick refit and
reload, then departed for the northern reaches of the Japanese Home Islands for
her fifth patrol on April 25, 1943.
“Wahoo” made ten attacks on eight targets during a ten
day period but was able to sink only three ships due to the obstinate refusal of
the Bureau of ordnance to listen to the submarine commanders and fix the
defective Mark 6 exploder, which cost Morton another three or four targets on
this patrol. Despite the torpedo problems, Morton received a second Navy Cross
for this patrol.
“Wahoo” returned to Mare Island for overhaul on May 29,
The overhaul included cutting down the conning tower and sail further,
and adding a gun deck for a third 20mm cannon ahead of the bridge.
With work completed on July 21, “Wahoo” left for Hawaii,
arriving on July 27.
When “Wahoo” departed on her sixth war patrol August 2,
she did so without Dick O'Kane, who was transferred on Morton’s recommendation
to take command of the new submarine “Tang,” (SS‑306), where he would become the
most successful American submarine commander during a stellar one-year combat
life of “Tang.”
The sixth patrol was even more frustrating.
“Wahoo” became the first submarine to operate in the
landlocked Sea of Japan. Penetrating the shallow Sea of Okhotsk and transiting
La Pérouse Strait, Morton found a dozen targets within four days and attacked
nine with no results. Ten of the dreadful mark 14 torpedoes broached, ran
erratically, or hit their targets without exploding! Morton was ordered back to
Pearl Harbor after reporting his torpedo problems.
Back at Pearl Harbor, Morton insisted on a full war load
of the new Mark 18 electric torpedo, just put into production from captured
German G7e torpedoes.
While this weapon was slower than the steam-powered Mark
14, it was “wakeless,” an important point since “Wahoo” would be returning to
the Sea of Japan.
“Wahoo” departed on her seventh patrol on September 9,
1943, topping off at Midway and arriving in the Sea of Japan on September 29.
Between October 2 and October 8, the Japanese reported
the loss of four ships.
Admiral Lockwood ordered his most successful boat home
and Morton headed toward La Pérouse Strait.
On October 11, 1943, a Japanese anti-submarine air
patrol spotted an American submarine running on the surface of La Pérouse Strait
and made an attack, after which the submarine was seen to either dive or sink
below the surface. “Wahoo” was declared overdue/presumed sunk on November 6,
1943 and stricken from the naval list on December 2, 1943.
It was not until 2004 that the grave of the “Wahoo”
would be found, after a major effort over the previous 10 years was launched
through the USS Bowfin Foundation and supported by families of the lost crew,
with the assistance of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.
Vice Adm. Kazuo Ueda, JMSDF, a World War II submarine
veteran, was able to access the Japanese archives and speak with the
participants of the attack to accurately predict “Wahoo’s” location; by 1995,
Ueda had estimated the location of “Wahoo” to within one nautical mile of what
turned out to be its actual location.
Side-looking radar found a target shaped like a “Gato”
class submarine in 213 feet of water on the western side of the strait.
On July 28 and 29, 2006, a Russian dive team led by
Boris Postovalov, accompanied by Andrei Doroshenko, located “Wahoo” on their
The wreck of the “Wahoo” is in one piece, having been holed by
the single aerial bomb.
It is now a recognized war grave.
There has long been interest in a Gato-class fleet
submarine in the popular 1/350 scale.
Club, having done the major classes of German U-boats in this scale, has now
released a model of “Gato” in her 1941 configuration. The molding detail is
superb, every bit as good as a larger scale and a tribute to what is now
possible with CAD.
With a 1942 version already announced for imminent
release, it is entirely possible that
club will do a range of fleet boats, perhaps up to and including the “Balao”
In the meantime, a modeler with the proper information can proceed to
modify the kit themselves to other boats of the class.
With luck, the kits will prove popular and attract the
aftermarket for further and better detail.
I have long been a fan of “Wahoo,” ever since reading
her exploits in Edward L. Beach’s excellent “Submarine!” as well as Forrest J.
Sterling’s superb “Wake of the Wahoo.”
I was fortunate to have the Yankee Modelworks resin “Gato,”
which has issues of its own, but has a later conning tower, which I used for
this model, along with scratchbuilding the periscope sail.
I can now use the hull of this kit to create a post-war
Guppy boat, which the kit is more suited to.
As with the other
Club kits, everything fits, and construction was not hard, other than I managed
to lose enough of the infitesimally-small bits for the deck that I eventually
I will have to get a smaller and more precise set of tweezers when I do
my next Gatos.
I elected to retract the bow planes and pose the model in
surfaced cruising state.
I modified the deck gun, and substituted three 20mm AA
weapons from “extras” left over from the USS San Francisco kit.
The photoetch railing from the Yankee Modelworks kit was
Research showed that “Wahoo” had discarded the propeller guards
after her overhaul at Mare Island in June and July 1943, so I was able to
dispense with the photoetch set provided in the kit.
At the outset of World War II, U.S. submarines were
painted black, a color that really didn’t work for the kind of battle surface
operations the boats would engage in.
Beginning in the summer of 1942, some fleet boats were
repainted in an overall Ocean Grey.
It was not until 1944 that the shadow-shaded grey
camouflage came into widespread use.
Photos of “Wahoo” after her overhaul show her to still
be in overall black.
Thus, the lower hull was painted “Hull Red,” while the
upper surfaces were painted Tamiya “NATO Black.” It’s not a visually-friendly
scheme, but it does hide the mistakes made on this first conversion.
I think the “Gato” class submarines are the coolest
conventional submarines ever built.
They have a style about them like clipper ships, and
come with a history of having been one of the two major weapons to defeat Japan
(the other being carrier aircraft), and the most successful submarines in
This kit is beautifully detailed and will certainly take up much less
space than the enormous 1/72 Revell Gato, or even the 1/144 Trumpeter Gato.
Highly recommended to submarine fans.
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