Historical Reflections

HISTORICAL REFLECTION

 


SUBMARINE HEROES

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Tirante during the first war patrol of that vessel against enemy Japanese surface forces in the harbor of Quelpart Island, off the coast of Korea, on 14 April 1945. With the crew at surface battle stations, CDR (then LCDR) Street approached the hostile anchorage from the south within 1,200 yards of the coast to complete a reconnoitering circuit of the island. Leaving the 10-fathom curve far behind he penetrated the mined and shoal-obstructed waters of the restricted harbor despite numerous patrolling vessels and in defiance of five shore-based radar stations and menacing aircraft. Prepared to fight it out on the surface if attacked, CDR Street went into action, sending two torpedoes with deadly accuracy into a large Japanese ammunition ship and exploding the target in a mountainous and blinding glare of white flames. With the Tirante instantly spotted by the enemy as she stood out plainly in the flare of light, he ordered the torpedo data computer set up while retiring and fired his last two torpedoes to disintegrate in quick succession the leading frigate and a similar flanking vessel. Clearing the gutted harbor at emergency full speed ahead, he slipped undetected along the shoreline, diving deep as a pursuing patrol dropped a pattern of depth charges at the point of submergence. His illustrious record of combat achievement during USS Tirante's War Patrol Recordthe first war patrol of the Tirante characterizes CDR Street as a daring and skilled leader and reflects the highest credit upon himself, his valiant command, and the U.S. Naval Service.

       
     
     USS Tirante's War Patrol Record

Commander
George Levick Street III
Medal of Honor Recipient
Commander George Levick Street III - Medal of Honor Recipient

 

USS TIRANTE InsigniaGeorge Levick Street, III

by Edward Whitman

One of seven submariners to receive the Medal of Honor in World War II, George Levick Street, III earned that distinction for the extraordinary success of his first war patrol in USS Tirante (SS-420), and particularly for his daring attack on Japanese shipping in a harbor at Quelpart Island, south of Korea, in April 1945. Moreover, he then repeated that exploit in a raid on the port of Ha Shima near Nagasaki only two months later.

Street was born in Richmond, Virginia on 27 July 1913 and entered the Navy between the wars. By the time he reported aboard as Tirante's first Commanding Officer in November 1944, Street had already made nine war patrols on USS Gar (SS-206). Moreover, his Executive Officer, then-LT Edward L. "Ned" Beach, later to become well known as the author of Run Silent, Run Deep and many other books of naval literature, was himself a veteran of ten patrols on USS Trigger (SS-237). After shakedown training in Long Island Sound and off Panama and Oahu, Tirante departed Pearl Harbor on 3 March 1945 for her first war patrol and headed via Saipan for the approaches to Nagasaki west of Kyushu, athwart Japanese communication lines from Shanghai, Dairen, and Tsingtao. On 25 March, she claimed her first victim, the 700-ton tanker Fuji Maru off Kagoshima and three days later sank the 1,200-ton freighter Nase Maru. The ensuing counter-attack by Japanese escorts kept Tirante down for seven hours, but she managed to slip away without damage and sank a 100-ton lugger on 31 March.

Upon the U.S. invasion of Okinawa on 1 April, Tirante was ordered to guard the western exit of the Japanese Inland Sea against a possible sortie of enemy heavy units in response. When relieved of those guard duties, Street moved Tirante north to the southern coast of Korea in hopes of finding a target or two among the increasingly few at sea that late in the war. On 6 April, however, word arrived that the Japanese super-battleship Yamato and its escorts had indeed sortied from the Inland Sea, and Street moved south again to position Tirante for an attack in case the Japanese were heading for Sasebo. Yamato, however, was sunk on the 7th by aircraft from Task Force 58, and Street lost no time in returning northward to sink a small freighter that same day, which unfortunately could not be confirmed by postwar records.

With information derived from broken Japanese naval codes, Tirante was then vectored to intercept a small convoy from Shanghai bringing Japanese soldiers and sailors back to the homeland. Street maneuvered into position for an ambush and fired six torpedoes at two different ships, succeeding in sinking the Nikko Maru, a 5,500-ton transport. As the Japanese escorts turned to attack, Tirante countered with a homing torpedo at one of them, and although "breaking-up" noises were heard, the sinking could never be confirmed after the war.

Tirante had resumed patrolling the East China Sea between Shanghai and Quelpart Island south of Korea when new intelligence arrived reporting that an important transport had anchored with its escorts in a confined harbor on the northern coast of the island. With Japanese shipping virtually driven from the seas, Street realized that he would have to take the fight into the harbor to score a kill. On the night of 13 April, Tirante put the ten-fathom curve behind her and headed in on the surface, through several miles of shallow water guarded by patrol vessels, shore-based radar, and minefields. Inside the harbor, with Ned Beach manning the bridge, Street fired three torpedoes at the transport, Juzan Maru, 4,000 tons, which disintegrated in a blinding explosion that lit up the whole scene. With Tirante illuminated by the burning transport, the Japanese frigate, Nomi, and a small coastal defense vessel turned to the attack as Street maneuvered to make good his escape. Pausing only long enough to launch three torpedoes at his pursuers, Street headed back out to sea at flank speed as the two Japanese escorts became his second and third victims that night and blew up. Her torpedoes expended, Tirante headed for home via Midway, but managed to capture two downed Japanese airmen before ending her patrol on 26 April 1945.

For his relentless initiative and remarkable courage in the action at Quelpart, and with six ships of nearly 13,000 tons credited to Tirante's first patrol, then-CDR Street was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in October 1945, while Ned Beach received the Navy Cross and went on to his own command. The ship herself was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

The "rest of the story" is almost more incredible. In June 1945, on Tirante's second war patrol, Street carried off a near repetition of his Quelpart attack in making a long submerged approach in the shallow waters off Nagasaki to torpedo the 2,200-ton Hakuju Maru moored alongside a colliery on the island of Ha Shima. The gun crew of the wounded Japanese ship took Tirante's protruding radar mast under fire, and Street had to expend two more torpedoes to finish the job. Tirante then surfaced to clear the area at high speed amid a hail of gunfire from Japanese shore batteries on the surrounding headlands. The ship and her crew lived to tell the tale, and only the end of the war in mid-August 1945 cut short her third patrol.

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Dr. Whitman is a Technical Director at the Center for Security Strategies and Operations (CSSO) at the Techmatics Division of Anteon Corporation in Arlington, Virginia.

 

 

USS Tirante (SS-420) was launched on 9 August 1944 at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard and commissioned on 6 November that same year. Then-LCDR George L. Street, III was her first commanding officer. Tirante was a late member of the USS Balao (SS-285)-class, of which approximately 135 were commissioned between early 1943 and the end of World War II. They were followed in series construction by the Tench (SS-417) class, which first appeared in mid-1944. After the war, Tirante was decommissioned and placed in reserve, but she was later upgraded to the so-called GUPPY configuration (for Greater Underwater Propulsive Power) and returned to service in late 1952. Tirante spent the next two decades as an active unit of the Atlantic Fleet until her final decommissioning in October 1973. Her principal characteristics (during World War II) are listed here:

USS TIRANTEDisplacement: ........... Surfaced:1,570 tons
                                    Submerged: 2,416 tons
Length: ...................... 311' 8"
Beam: ........................ 27' 2"
Draft: .......................... 15' 3"
Speed: ....................... Surfaced: 20.25 knots
                                     Submerged: 8.75 knots
Complement: .............  66 men
Armament: ................. 10 21" torpedo tubes
                                     (6 forward, 4 aft)
                                     1 5"/50 deck gun
                                     1 40 mm gun
                                     1 20 mm anti-aircraft gun
                                     2 .50 cal. machine guns