The hours just after midnight on the morning of 14 April 1945 found USS TIRANTE (SS-420), commanded by Lieutenant Commander George Street, in the waters off the northwestern coast of Quelpart (also known as Cheju) Island in the East China Sea. A short while before, Street had received an intelligence report alerting him to the presence of a Japanese transport ship in the island’s main port; he took TIRANTE in, on the surface, to have a look. To avoid detection, TIRANTE hugged the coast, working her way through mine- and shoal-infested waters that were often less than ten fathoms (60 feet) deep. By 0340, Street had grown tired of simply looking—“decided to get in closer and have this over with,” he wrote in his patrol report—but he was aware that the situation was not ideal. At least one patrol boat had grown suspicious and was pinging for targets, although clutter from the land behind her kept TIRANTE from being detected. “Land loomed close aboard on both sides,” Street noted. “Since it is too shallow to dive, we will have to shoot our way out if boxed in.”

At least the intelligence report had been correct: as they neared the harbor, the executive officer, Lieutenant Edward Beach, stationed topside, could see two escorts and one other giant ship, possibly, Street thought, carrying ammunition or aviation fuel. TIRANTE’s first torpedo missed, but the next two were dead on. “A tremendous beautiful explosion,” Street wrote. “A great mushroom of white blinding flame shot 2000 feet into the air. Not a sound was heard for a moment, but then a thunderous roar flattened our ears against our heads. The jackpot, and no mistake!” Street saw this all with his own eyes, having ventured topside “to get in on the fun” after the first torpedo had been fired. Unfortunately, the enemy was probably also taking a look around, especially since “in the glare of the fire, TIRANTE stood out…like a snowman in a coal pit. But, more important, silhouetted against the flame were at least two escort vessels, both instantly obvious as fine new frigates of the MIKURA Class.” TIRANTE fired a total of three torpedoes at the two vessels and then, at 0404, Street wrote what many of his men must have been thinking: “Now let’s really get out of here!” She turned to make her exit just as the two frigates began to sink. Street was ready to fight his way out, but as he made his way along the shoreline he noted that the patrols seemed to be too focused on the burning ships to look for the sub that had caused the carnage. “So we just ran down the coast of Quelpart headed for the open sea. …As we rounded [the] southwestern tip, the glare from the anchorage could still be seen above the dark hills, and a heavy smoke cloud hung like a shroud over the entire western end of the island.” TIRANTE spent most of that day and the next avoiding Japanese ships and airplanes as they searched the seas for the American sub that had just dealt its navy such a serious blow.

For this successful and incredibly daring raid, Lieutenant Commander Street was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest decoration for military valor. The executive officer, Lieutenant Beach—who would go on to command USS TRITON (SSRN-586) during the first-ever circumnavigation of the globe by a submerged submarine—was awarded the Navy Cross. TIRANTE herself, along with her crew, received a Presidential Unit Citation.

LCDR Fred Freeman's drawing of the attack.

LCDR Fred Freeman’s drawing of the attack.