Commissioned on 2 December 1942 at Electric Boat Company in Groton, CT, USS HARDER (SS-257) set off from Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol just seven months later. What followed was a streak of incredibly successful patrols, notably the fifth, which some have called the most brilliant patrol of the entire war. Over the course of four days in the area around the Japanese anchorage at Tawi-Tawi, HARDER sank four destroyers and damaged a fifth. Perhaps more importantly, the sheer number of attacks and submarine sightings convinced Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda that subs were swarming over the anchorage, although HARDER was the only boat in the area. Fearing further sinkings, he sent the fleet out from Tawi-Tawi a day early, thus upsetting battle plans and contributing to the Japanese defeat in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
On 5 August 1944, HARDER stood out from Fremantle, Australia, along with USS HAKE (SS-256) and USS HADDO (SS-255). Two weeks later, passing into the South China Sea, they joined up with USS RAY (SS-271), USS GUITARRO (SS-363), and USS RATON (SS-270) in a wolfpack that cost the Japanese four cargo ships. The next day HARDER and HADDO were at it again, sending three coastal defense vessels and two frigates to the bottom. After crippling an enemy destroyer with her final torpedo, HADDO left HARDER and HAKE on their own to head to Biak, an island north of Papua, to take on additional supplies and weaponry.
Dawn on 24 August 1944 found the two subs prowling the waters around Hermana Mayor Island, which lies off the Philippine island of Luzon. Just before six in the morning they sighted what was later identified as the Japanese vessel PB-102 and its escort. (PB-102 was actually USS STEWART (DD-224), an American destroyer that the Japanese had raised from a sunken dry dock in Surabaya, Indonesia, overhauled, and commissioned as their own.) PB-102 entered nearby Dasol Bay; the escort remained outside the harbor, pinging for subs. Then the escort swung in HAKE’s direction. “Figured he had contacted us so started deep and rigged ship for silent running,” HAKE’s commanding officer wrote in his patrol report. “He kept pinging in our direction…. He apparently had two targets and couldn’t decide what the score was.” The other target was, of course, HARDER. At around 1730 HAKE heard the enemy escort drop fifteen depth charges in quick succession, none of which was close by. Unfortunately, the charges were close to HARDER. Though HAKE didn’t know it at the time, her sister sub had gone down. HAKE’s C.O. noted in confusion that the escort “made no more drops although he seemed to have us fairly well located.” In all probability the Japanese Sailors were, in the words of a report examined after the war, too busy watching “oil, wood chips, and cork” rise to the surface above HARDER’s grave to go after HAKE.
Thus ended HARDER’s incredible run as one of the war’s most successful submarines; seventy-nine men remain on eternal patrol with her. The boat received six battle stars for her service, as well as the Presidential Unit Citation. In accordance with Navy tradition, the citation was presented to the crew of USS HARDER (SS-568) when she was commissioned on 19 August 1952.