AFV Club 1/350 Gato Class Submarine (1941)

KIT #: SE 73509
PRICE: 2800 yen at 
DECALS: One option
REVIEWER: Tom Cleaver


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 Florida.  She was launched February 14, 1942 at Mare Island Shipyards in Vallejo, California 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 the California coast, the submarine arrived at Pearl Harbor on  August 18, 1942.

            “Wahoo” was unsuccessful during her first two war patrols, sinking only a small freighter off Bougainville 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 U.S. 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 Brisbane, Australia, 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 Normandy 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 itself.

             “Wahoo” departed Brisbane 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 Wewak Harbor, New Guinea.”  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  final torpedo.  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.”

             On 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 collision.  At 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 gunfight.  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 damaged freighter.  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, 1943.  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 second dive.  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.  AFV 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 AFV club will do a range of fleet boats, perhaps up to and including the “Balao” class.  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 AFV 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 gave up.  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 used also.  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 history.  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.

 Tom Cleaver

December 2010

Review kit courtesy of HobbyLink Japan. Get yours at

If you would like your product reviewed fairly and quickly, please contact me or see other details in the Note to Contributors.

Back to the Main Page

Back to the Review Index Page