| Furious over the torpedo
failures of WAHOO's Sixth War Patrol and stung by criticism of the attack
plan he adopted for the patrol area, Mush Morton's mind was clear on one
thing. He had to return to the Sea of Japan. The targets were
there and he had proved it could be penetrated. Now all he needed
was a chance for redemption.
For his boss, Admiral Charles Lockwood, the decision to send him there was not so easy. Morton's fierce aggressiveness had been an inspiration to the submarine force. But how could that kind of pace be kept up without some devestating price being paid? Lockwood knew he would have to give WAHOO to someone else soon, the question was when. In turn, Morton knew his days of combat command were drawing to a close so he pushed hard for a return trip. One more shot was all he wanted. After all, he was Lockwood's star. Lockwood relented.
Perhaps to demonstrate his confidence in his top skipper, Lockwood approved the use of the new Mark-18 electric torpedo on the patrol. Still in the development stage, WAHOO would carry a mixed load of these new wakeless fish to partially supplant the older Mark-14's which had let him down so much of late. Morton was ebullient about the possibilites that lay ahead.
On September 5, 1943, WAHOO sailed from Pearl Harbor for Midway. They arrived on September 13 and stopped to top off their fuel tanks. During the short stay, Yeoman Forest Sterling received orders to Advanced Yeoman's School, a long hoped for opportunity. Morton offered him the choice: finish the patrol or find a replacement on Midway and trade places. Sterling and Morton found Yeoman 2c William T. White, eager to leave the remote island for a berth on the famous boat. Both men quickly gathered up their few personal effects and the exchange was made.
At 1600 hours on September 13, WAHOO departed Midway for the Sea of Japan via La Perouse Strait. Forest Sterling watched them fade from sight on the horizon. They were never seen by American forces again.
On October 5, 1943, the Japanese news service Domei announced that an "inter-island steamer", the 8000 ton transport KONRON MARU, had been torpedoed in the Sea of Japan. She had gone down in seconds, taking with her the lives of 544 nationals. Time magazine reported the announcement on October 15. Lockwood and his staff had known immediately that WAHOO was busy and eagerly awaited Morton's report. However, at the appointed time she failed to transmit.
Undaunted, signals were sent to try and raise her. Hopes for her safe return remained high. But as the hours turned into days and the days into weeks, Lockwood was faced with the unthinkable: Morton and WAHOO were overdue and presumed lost. She was posted as such in November, 1943.
Japanese records, and interviews with eyewitnesses conducted years later, revealed what Lockwood and his staff could only have imagined. At 0830 hours on October 11, 1943 the 6-inch shore batteries on Soya Misaki promontory sighted a surfaced American submarine making a dash through the twenty mile wide Cape Soya Strait. They immediately opened fire and the submarine submerged.
The airfield at Wakkani was notified and a total of four Japanese airplanes arrived on the scene. The submarine was initially betrayed by a trail of oil visible from the air. The pilots then reported seeing a black conning tower and hull. This they used as a point of aim, dropping bombs over the next five hours (view the official Japanese REPORT). With the entire coast now alerted to the enemy submarine's presence, two Submarine Chasers, #15 and #23, joined the battle. They made contact with the submarine and began to drop depth charges.
At 1207 hours, following a depth charge run by Submarine Chaser #15, a bright metallic object, assumed to be a severed propeller blade, was glimpsed in the ensuing explosions. Oil continued to rise to the surface. Auxiliary #18 joined the Submarine Chasers and aircraft, several more bombs and depth charges were dropped. However, no further contact with the submarine was reported.
At approximately 1400 hours a very large volume of oil reached the surface. Over the course of the afternoon the ensuing slick stretched 50 meters wide and 2000 meters long. A sample taken revealed it to be diesel fuel. The aircraft were recalled, the ships returned home and an American submarine was reported sunk. That submarine was undoubtedly the USS WAHOO.
Years later a former member of WAHOO's wardroom would draw his own conclusions about that final issue of oil. In his mind, that sudden belch of fuel coming so long after the attacks meant only one thing: Morton and his men were still fighting. Caught on the surface, driven down and hounded mercilessly for five hours, punctured and without the use of one screw, WAHOO settled to the bottom 20 meters down. Trapped, Morton tried one last valiant attempt to bring his boat to the surface. He gave the order to pump all fuel overboard, hoping it would make the difference and lighten the boat enough for it to rise.
Sadly, this did not happen. Instead, as the hours waned, Commander Dudley W. "Mush" Morton and 79 officers and men made the transition from American heroes to legends of the deep.