The Loss of USS TRITON (SS-201)

On 16 February 1943, USS TRITON (SS-201) departed Brisbane, Australia, on her sixth war patrol. Her assigned area: the waters around Papua New Guinea.

On 6 March, after sinking the Japanese cargo vessel Kiriha Maru, the boat was forced deep when one of her torpedoes made a circular run. For the next nine days she contended with a variety of enemy ships and believed that at least five of the eight torpedoes she expended hit their mark. On 15 March, USS TRIGGER (SS-237), which was operating in an area near TRITON, reported that she had experienced heavy depth charging after attacking a convoy. The attacks continued in the distance for an hour after they stopped in TRIGGER’s vicinity.

Several weeks later a welcoming committee—complete with a band, fresh fruit, and ice cream—gathered on the pier and waited for TRITON to appear as scheduled. She never did. She was reported overdue and presumed lost on 10 April. The cause of her sinking has been in dispute ever since. Japanese records examined after the war’s end indicate that three Japanese destroyers attacked a sub in TRITON’s general area on 15 March. Sailors aboard the ships subsequently observed an oil slick and debris with words in English. Although this sub could have been TRITON, others argue that she may have been lost to a second circular-running torpedo like the one she dealt with on 6 March; two other American submarines, USS TULLIBEE (SS-284) and USS TANG (SS-306) suffered that fate in 1944.

Regardless of what happened, TRITON, the recipient of five battle stars for her wartime service, took 74 men to the bottom with her.

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