| Much speculation has
been made about WAHOO's final dash through La Perouse Strait. Morton's
previous attempts had been night surface transits. Why would he compound
the risk of a passage that is already hazardous in the extreme by attempting
it during daylight hours? In his book, WAHOO, Richard O'Kane
presumed, based on his knowledge of Morton, that there must have been some
catastrophic damage which occurred to WAHOO which prevented her from diving
and that her inability to dive would have necessitated an immediate exit
from the Sea of Japan for friendlier waters.
O'Kane went on to conclude that the only damage scenario which fit all the criteria was a circular run and detonation of one of WAHOO's own torpedoes, probably in a forward section of the hull. As evidence, O'Kane offered his own experience in TANG in which the final war shot of her Fifth War Patrol, a new electric powered Mark 18 torpedo, broached, made a circular run and exploded in her stern, sinking the boat. It is true that WAHOO returned to the Sea of Japan with a load of Mark 18's following his dismal luck during his first foray. Also, at least one other boat, TULLIBEE, was sunk in this manner. However, couldn't there be a less ironic set of events which transpired?
A look at the more mundane aspects of WAHOO's war patrol reports is illuminating. Beginning with her First War Patrol and the accidental firing of the ready fish in tube one, WAHOO regularly experienced major machinery derangements or malfunctions during her operations. Through a mishandling of the main induction flapper an engine was severely damaged during her Third War Patrol. WAHOO was "pooped" during patrol number four and the deluge of salt water ruined her electrical cubicle requiring replacement of the entire unit. The litany of torpedo failures during her Sixth War Patrol has been documented.
Alone, surrounded by her enemy's home islands, torpedoes expended, honor restored, perhaps the unthinkable happened; stress fatigued metal failed, fire broke out, an essential rivet or weld gave way. Or perhaps an expert hand, bone tired and dreaming of the Royal Hawaiian, opened a valve too soon, threw a lever too late. Casualties come quick and mercilessly at sea. Faced with some mechanical failure, Morton might just have easily made the same decision to dash for open water in daylight.
But WAHOO wasn't alone in the Sea of Japan, she was accompanied by SAWFISH. The two boats divided the sea into two areas for maximum coverage in the same way WAHOO did with PLUNGER during her previous patrol. O'Kane also states in his book that Morton met with PLUNGER's skipper, Lt. Commander Benny Bass, prior to their departure to arrange rendezvous points in case of trouble during the patrol. It stands to reason that he took these same precautions prior to his return. However, no records exist of a message received from WAHOO while in the Sea of Japan during her Seventh War Patrol.
If his boat was severely damaged, why didn't Morton call for help? It is possible that SAWFISH could have taken on her crew and WAHOO could have been scuttled. DACE would perform this same service for DARTER a year later.
O'Kane further concludes that internment in Russia, a slim but viable alternative to the dangerous daylight passage, would have been anathema to Morton in light of his circular run hypothesis; his desire to relay the dangers inherent in the Mark 18's would have outweighed his desire for self preservation. Again, wouldn't a radio transmission to COMSUBPAC have been more expedient? Boats would continue to risk themselves to transmit messages concerning Japanese fleet movements throughout the war. Perhaps the disaster which befell her also crippled WAHOO's radio.
One final hypothesis, and the most unthinkable, concerns Morton himself. Could this most aggressive of sub commanders, flushed with a four ship redemption and assuming the final torpedo of the patrol was the final one of his combat career, have decided to make one last brazen move and given orders for an early morning dash? He had pretended to be a trawler going in, might he have wanted to catch them sleeping on the way out? While it smacks of a terrible disregard for the lives of his men, Captain Slade Cutter and others have related how the feeling of invincibility crept up on them as they approached their fifth patrol. Had not Morton sailed into an enemy harbor and shot it out, toe to toe, with a veteran Japanese destroyer? He had passed successfully through those shallow waters three times before...
The answers lie, if anywhere, in the frigid waters off Soya Cape in La Perouse Strait. Perhaps sport divers will venture down to her and discover some tell tale damage. Given the action she underwent during her final dive and the deterioration caused by fifty plus years of submersion, probably not. As for Morton's state of mind and the orders that he gave, that is a secret for the ages.