BY JOC Cindy Adams

Published in POLARIS February 1981

The torpedo hit abreast the after torpedo room, close to the maneuvering room bulkhead. The detonation was devastating, our stern going under before the topside watch could recover. One glance aft told me that there would be insufficient time to clear the bridge. My order, "Close the hatch," was automatic, and my heart went out to those below and to the young men topside who must now face the sea. (Richard H. O'Kane in "Clear the Bridge.")

Thus ended one of the epic sea battles of all time involving the submarine USS TANG (SS 306), commanded by Richard H. O'Kane.

Her career was short - but brilliant. Since her commissioning in October 1943, and her first patrol in January 1944, TANG made five war patrols, sank a total of 93,824 tons of enemy shipping, rescued 22 naval aviators and eventually won two Presidential Unit Citations.

It was during her fifth war patrol that the mighty TANG was cut down by fate. Patrolling the Formosa Straits in October 1944, TANG single-handedly delivered a deadly blow to enemy shipping and herself.

Sunk by her own last torpedo, TANG's loss was a tragic finale to what then Submarine Force Commander Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood called "one of the greatest submarine cruises of all time."

Of the 87 crewmen aboard TANG during her last patrol, only nine survived to spend the duration of the war in enemy POW camps. Among them was their skipper, who became one of the Navy's most highly decorated submarine commanders.

What happened to TANG on that fateful night of October 24 is detailed in O'Kane's book, "Clear the Bridge."

Two other survivors, recently in Hawaii, told their own accounts of TANG's last war patrol, of her tragic sinking and their ii months in prison.

The two men had not seen each other since their repatriation and they visited Hawaii on separate occasions, missing each other by two weeks.

Escape Together

Jesse DaSilva, a 56-year-old press supervisor for the Los Angeles Times; and Pete Narowanski, a 62-year-old technical representative for an electronics firm in Maryland, were among the only five to escape from the sunken submarine and live. They were at opposite ends of the boat when she sank to 180 feet and both escaped from the forward torpedo room escape trunk together, using Momsen lungs.

Narowanski, a torpedoman third class, was working in the forward torpedo room. He had just launched the last two torpedoes when number 24 broached and circled back. Twenty seconds after it left the tube, the torpedo rammed TANG in the after torpedo room.

DaSilva, a motor machinist mate second class, worked in the after engine room and a coffee break saved his life. After the last two torpedoes were loaded and readied for launch, he left the engine room for a cup of coffee in the crew's mess "I never really liked coffee," said DaSilva, "but that's one coffee break I'm glad I took." He was standing between the bunkroom and the mess when they were hit aft..

Being on board TANG when she sank was ironic for Narowanski, whose first ship was shot out from under him in November 1942. He was on board the troop transport USS HUGH L. SCOTT when it was torpedoed by an enemy sub off Casablanca during the allied occupation of North Africa. Later, he was serving aboard the battleship USS ALABAMA and "getting tired of shoveling snow on deck when he volunteered for submarine duty.

He had lust completed a second patrol with USS HALIBUT and spent 30 days leave in San Francisco before returning to Pearl Harbor. He learned that TANG would make one more patrol before going to San Francisco for an overhaul and thoughts of San Francisco came to mind when he met one of TANG's crewmen who wanted to trade duty. "He was the third lookout onboard and didn't want to go out again," said Narowanski. "So, I arranged a swap with him."

DaSilva was one of the top 10 motor machinists in his Navy class. "I could have gone to more schooling," he said, "but another guy convinced me to volunteer for submarines."

Stationed at Pearl Harbor, he attended a six-month refrigeration school and worked on submarine air conditioners and ice cream machines. He decided to transfer back to the relief crew and volunteered to join the TANG for her third war patrol.

Fateful Mission

The TANG left Pearl Harbor on September 24, 1944 for her fifth war patrol. She carried the 24 Mark 18-1 torpedoes originally prepared for USS TAMBOR, whose next patrol was delayed.

It was known that erratic, circular runs could occur with some torpedoes, as was the case in 1915 in Constantinople harbor. In fact, the tendency for Mark 18's to malfunction this way was confirmed by the lone survivor of the USS TULLIBEE.

Nevertheless, O'Kane noted in "Clear the Bridge" that all of TANG's Mark 18s had been properly routined while on station, referring back to the performance of their first 23 torpedoes with 23 hits as proof of their quality.

On October ii, TANG torpedoed and sank two heavily laden freighters and spent the next 12 days patrolling shipping routes in the narrow straits between Formosa and Mainland China. On October 23, TANG encountered a heavily escorted convoy, loaded with troops and supplies for Leyte. The submarine torpedoed seven ships, sinking three,

Exactly 24 hours later, a second convoy was encountered and TANG launched a series of torpedoes, damaging several ships and sinking two.

They withdrew to reload their last two torpedoes in the forward tubes and returned to the scene of the previous battle to finish off the damaged ships. It was about 0230 on the morning of October 25 when TANG fired her last two torpedoes at a crippled tanker,

Deadly Boomerang

Number 23 headed straight and true, but a few yards ahead of the TANG, the last one broached and turned sharply towards them. O'Kane shouted, "all ahead emergency, right full rudder," and TANG executed a fishtail maneuver to avoid the oncoming torpedo. Several terrifying seconds later, the weapon rammed the after torpedo room, flooding the last three compartments.

Narowanski remembered the short interval between the time he fired the last torpedo, and that he stepped from between the tubes and said, "Hot dog, course zero nine zero, head her for the Golden Gate." The next thing he knew, he was lying on the deck.

He said deck plates were tossed everywhere and the torpedo room was filled with confusion.

DaSilva recalled those final moments after he left the engine room. He never did get that cup of coffee. Instead, he paused in the air lock door between the bunkroom and the mess to listen to the action report. "Two other men were with me and one was sitting on a bunk with head-phones on, keeping us posted.

"After the last torpedo was launched, we heard the order, 'all ahead emergency' . . . then we got it."

DaSilva instinctively grabbed for the ladder under the after battery hatch to steady himself as the boat was whipped around violently "like a giant fish grabbed by the tail."

"Water was pouring in from the open control room doorway," he said. "Two or three of us seized the door and with a great effort forced it shut."

The stricken submarine sank immediately by the stern, its bow still protruding above water. Several men topside, including O'Kane, were swept into the sea as water flooded over the bridge and into the conning tower. In response to O'Kane's last order, control room personnel managed to close the lower hatch in the conning tower.

"It seemed like a matter of seconds before we started settling down," recalled DaSilva. "Someone in the control room apparently flooded one of the main ballast tanks."

Terror Below

At this time, Japanese escorts launched a series of depth charges overhead, which delayed escape efforts and caused an electrical fire in the forward battery.

The three after compartments were flooded and no one from those areas ever escaped. Some men were able to close off the after engine room when TANG was hit and sealed the door between the forward engine room and the crew's quarters as they escaped forward.

"There were about 20 of us in the crew's quarters and the mess," said DaSilva. "We knew that we couldn't remain there long because of chlorine gas (from the flooded batteries). We also knew our only chance to escape was through the forward torpedo room. But, we had to go through the control room to get there.

They discovered water was already up to the eye port in the control room door, but on testing the bulkhead flappers in the ventilation piping, determined the water was not yet at that level. They decided to risk it.

"Someone cracked the door and water gushed in and rose around our legs before gradually subsiding," he said. The control room was partially flooded from the still leaking conning tower hatch and they waded forth in knee deep water.

Secret devices were destroyed and DaSilva remembered one officer with a cut on his forehead ordered the burning of classified documents in the wardroom. Fighting their way through smoke filled passageways, they eventually joined about 20 other men already in the forward torpedo room.

"The air was foul and breathing was difficult," said DaSilva. "There were about 40 of us; some were injured."

He squeezed in among the others and found his buddy.

The survivors organized four-man escape parties about six a.m., and DaSilva remembered that pressurizing the escape trunk to the 180 foot depth made numerous returns to the torpedo room necessary for some men who were unable to withstand the pressure.

That was the worst part of the ordeal for Narowanski, who sadly recalled that his best friend was screaming in pain as they pressurized the escape trunk. Though Narowanski tried to reassure him as the pressure built up, they only had a few more pounds to go when they were forced to vent off and bring his friend down.

In the torpedo room, some men had decided to return to the control room and try the gun access hatch, according to DaSilva. But, when they cracked the torpedo room door, smoke from the forward battery fire billowed through. "They closed it off again," said DaSilva, "but the air worsened. The lights were getting dimmer and we were using battle lanterns. The bulkhead near the forward battery grew so hot that the paint began to melt."

As DaSilva talked with his buddy, they found themselves standing below the escape trunk when someone called down for another man. In the tank were Narowanski and Flanagan, the torpedo officer who told DaSilva he was already sick from having been up once before. "I quickly climbed the ladder to the trunk and called down to my buddy," said DaSilva, "but he let another man go in his place. I remember the time was 0800, because I looked at the clock on the bulkhead. "Pete really took charge of things; is he was the one responsible for getting us out of there," continued DaSilva.

Everything went just as they were taught. Flooding the trunk as rapidly as possible and bringing the air to ambient pressure, they filled their Momsen lungs with oxygen and tested them. DaSilva found that breathing became difficult as the pressure increased. When the water reached above the side door, they cracked the hatch open.

"I was the third one out. Someone had already let out the buoy line from previous escapes and I wrapped my feet around the rope and slowly let myself up 10 feet at a time, stopping to count to 10 each time.

"About a third of the way up, breathing became difficult, but the problem went away as I continued up. Suddenly, I was on the surface."

DaSilva found four others clinging to the buoy and, looking around, he could see the wreckage of ships they had hit the night before. The coast of Mainland China was in the distance.

Thirteen men had escaped from below, but DaSilva said he was the last one out who lived. "Two more men came up shortly after I did," said DaSilva. "One was our pharmacist's mate, who surfaced nearby, but he was having difficulty breathing, so we held on to him. Another one, a steward, came up at a distance. I considered myself a good swimmer and started toward him, but he disappeared before I could reach him."

DaSilva is still not sure what may have happened to the others below - whether a final explosion occurred or not - but he knows the pharmacist's mate they held on to was never brought with them when they were picked up by a Japanese escort sometime after 10 o'clock that morning.


On board the ship were survivors of the Japanese convoy and the TANG crewmembers were kicked and beaten by the very men who had received the brunt of their torpedoes the night before.

They were taken to the island of Formosa, put on a train to the other end of the island and ailed.

"I was with two or three others in a cell which had a raised wooden floor and large wooden bars. A hole in the ground served as our toilet and we were served the same food that the guards received."

Two days later, they were separated and put on two ships to Japan. Arriving at a naval training center, they boarded a train for Ofuna. It was wet and cold when they arrived and the men were marched some distance to the camp.

"The only thing I had on was a pair of dungarees," said DaSilva. "I had lost one of my sandals after we were torpedoed and I kicked the other one off before I escaped, so my feet were very sore and numb from the cold."

Narowanski still wore the pair of Hawaiian shorts he had on when he escaped.

They were each issued a dry shirt and pants, and a pair of tennis shoes "about three sizes too small." According to DaSilva, that was all the clothing he ever received the whole time they were prisoners.

Prison Life

DaSilva celebrated his 20th birthday in prison. He still recalls many details of their life as POWs.

In their barracks, he explained, were small individual cells about six feet long and 10 feet wide, with a barred window at the end and a raised floor with a 3 x 6 foot mat at one end. "With the three blankets they gave me and the grass mat, this was to be my bed for the next six months."

The camp was fenced off into two sections, with Japanese quarters in the middle and the prisoners in barracks on either side. The TANG survivors were among the new arrivals on one side and they were forbidden to talk with senior prisoners on the other side of the fence. Ofuna served as an interrogation camp.

"We were not there very long when we were given a demonstration on the older prisoners," said DaSilva. 'They opened the gates between the two compounds and had the older prisoners lined up facing the guards. Several were singled out for certain offenses and beaten until they collapsed.

"After watching this, I knew what would be expected if we didn't do as we were told."

DaSilva was questioned often, he said, by a Japanese officer who spoke good English. "He was very polite and would offer me a cigarette and ask me how everything was. He told me he had been educated in the U. S. After several interviews, with the same questions over and over and no answers, he gave up on me.

DaSilva described the guards in camp as very young and their treatment by the majority of them as fair. 'They would allow us to go out into the compound for exercise. The only clothing we had was what we had on our backs, so we would march around with blankets over our heads and stamp our feet to get the circulation going."

With two feet of snow on the ground and no heat in the cells, they talked the guards into letting several of them gathers in one cell to keep warm.

"We would talk about ourselves and our personalities but we mostly talked about food - - - food - - - food, as our rations were getting smaller," said DaSilva. He couldn't stop thinking about those three apple pies he saw on TANG's galley as he ran into the flooded control room; Narowanski couldn't forget those turkeys that were being thawed for their big victory dinner on their voyage home.

"I knew if I ever got back home after that, I'd never starve again," said DaSilva.

One day a young B-29 flier was brought to camp. Badly wounded from when he was shot down, he soon died from lack of medical care. DaSilva was among those who volunteered to bury him, knowing that he would get a bailed potato as payment.

"I'll never forget that day, cause we had to carry him some distance from the camp in deep snow to a hilly, wooded area. We dug a hole and buried him. There was no feeling in my feet for about four months after that."

Before Christmas they received their first Red Cross food box containing soap, cigarettes, gum, chocolate bars, powdered milk, dried prunes or raisins, canned fish and meat, a small block of cheese, canned butter and a small can opener. Bargaining among prisoners would fallow, as men bartered what they had for something else. DaSilva kept what he received and rationed it to himself accordingly.

"We only received three of these boxes and we got the third one only because Commander O'Kane was able to persuade the guards to give it to us," said DaSilva. "They had more but we figured they kept them for themselves."

Senior Prisoners

The TANG survivors were eventually moved into the other compound where Marine ace Major Greg "Pappy Boyingtan was among the senior prisoners. "Pappy was assigned to the kitchen detail and was able to obtain certain privileges, so he always helped us in every way he could," said DaSilva.

"One morning after our meal, we were all lined up in front of our barracks and accused of stealing some of the Red Crass food boxes that were stored at one end of the barracks. Of course, no one would admit it, so we all had to stand at attention in front of the barracks until someone confessed. Around dinnertime, no one had come forth, so they ordered us into a pushup position. If anyone moved, they were clubbed. This didn't work either, so they marched us inside for further interrogations and beatings. Still no one confessed, so they gave up and gave us dinner."

Like so many of the others, DaSilva was suffering from diarrhea and beriberi. Their slow recovery alarmed the Japanese officials, who put a group of them, along with Pappy Boyington and some B-29 fliers, on a train for another prison camp.

They were sent to Omori, a camp built near Yokohama on a small causeway - connected island on Tokyo Bay by U. S. prisoners in 1943. Housed in one building, they were not allowed to mingle or talk with other prisoners in the camp.

Their new barracks had a dirt floor and raised wooden platforms on each side. Their food consisted of a combination of barley and rice, and a small bowl of soup three times a day.

"Sometimes we'd get a few pieces of fish, but we never received any meat," said DaSilva.

After awhile, Boyington and the rest agreed they should be doing something with their time and the Marine ace talked the guards into letting the men Out of camp to plant vegetables in the bombed out area of Yokohama. Every day, those who were able would be marched out of camp to tend the gardens. Since DaSilva was not well enough to do much work, he volunteered to be the "tea dobin" and would take along a five-gallon can of water to make tea for the others.

"I remember once when one of the guys slipped off to the nearby fish market," he said. "I don't know where he got the money, but he brought some fish and I boiled them in the can of water. We tried to sneak them back into camp for our evening meal, but the smell of the cooked fish alerted the guards. They took the fish away and our group leaders were punished."

Sometimes DaSilva would wander off and pick through garbage behind buildings for "choice items" such as fish heads and scraps of vegetables. "When you're starving, anything tastes goad," he said. "I remember one time we were all sitting around on our tea break when an old dog strayed by and we sat around discussing the possibility of eating it. But, none of us had the heart to kill it."

Instead, DaSilva would do everything possible to obtain food. As the vegetables they planted became ripe, he'd pick them when the guard wasn't looking.

The End Was Near

The prisoners experienced several incendiary raids on the city of Yokohama, but were not allowed in the air raid shelters. "When the fireworks started, the Japanese boarded up all the windows in the barracks, then hurried off to their shelters," said DaSilva. "It was frightening as bombs were dropping all around and same fragments ended up in camp. There was one consolation in knowing the end must be near.

Norowonski, who was a member of the working party allowed to leave camp, remembered those air raids. During one of the attacks, he and a buddy sneaked into the air raid shelter. Inside, they broke into some food supplies and stole several packages of noodles.

They carried those noodles with them on their last work detail before the cease-fire,

According to DaSilva, the morning after the lost big air raid, they woke up to find all the guards gone, except one, who told them the war was over. The prisoners took over the camp and waited for liberation.

During the next two weeks, U. S. planes rained supplies of food and clothing on the camp. Some of the boxes would crash through the buildings. "The food containers would split open on impact and by the time we were rescued, we had literally gorged ourselves on the food," said DaSilva.

It was two weeks before help arrived and Narowanski described the first Americans he saw coming up the channel aboard a cruiser.

"I was standing on the pier wearing nothing but a loincloth and someone began filming a newsreel. One of the officers shouted, 'Alright boys, get ready - we're going home!' When one of the Japanese officials protested that they had no authority from Tokyo to release any prisoners, the young officer stuck his revolver in the guard's face and said, 'This is your Tokyo!"

Narowanski left prison with several of his teeth caps knocked out as a result of the beatings he endured and he still puzzles over the VA's refusal to fix them later. "They told me it wasn't a service connected injury," he said.

When liberated, those who were well enough were flown home, but DaSilva, still suffering from malnutrition and beriberi, was taken aboard the hospital ship BENEVOLENCE. He remembers his first meal of bacon and eggs and said, "When I was captured, I weighed 170 pounds. At the end, I was down to about 100."

He was later transferred to the hospital ship RESCUE for the 21-day voyage home. He arrived in San Francisco exactly one year since the TANG was sunk.

They were among several TANG crewmen who received Silver Stars. (Narowanski received his award personally from Vice Admiral Lockwood at Pearl Harbor.) Their skipper, Commander Richard H. O'Kane, received the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The TANG won her second Presidential Unit Citation for her daring fourth and fifth patrols and became one of only three U. S. Navy ships ever to receive that honor. Since her loss, only TAUTOG exceeded her record of 24 ships sunk.

When the men were repatriated, they learned that they were initially declared missing in action when TANG did not return from patrol and were finally declared killed in action.

Narowanski and DaSilva both finished their enlistment and got out of the Navy.

Narowanski worked for AlA Corporation in Baltimore. His (recent 1980) stopover in Hawaii enroute to Korea gave him a chance to revisit the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor. Touring the submarines USS THOMAS EDISON, USS INDIANAPOLIS and USS BARBEL - and finding himself back in the forward torpedo room each time - proved haunting for him. "Here I was back in the same spot over and over again," he said.

DaSilva was treasurer for the Los Angeles chapter of the U. S. Submarine Veterans of WWll and came to Hawaii for a two-week vacation with his wife Joyce. He also enjoyed touring Pearl Harbor's modern submarines, but going aboard the ex-USS BOWFlN at Pier 39 in Honolulu was almost like old times again. "Seeing that boat brought back a lot of old memories," he said.

Reminiscing about his fellow survivors, DaSilva remains philosophical about the tragedy they shared when the TANG was sunk. Whether or not Fate rode with them to the bottom of the Formosa Straits, he is convinced it was a miracle they survived.


CDR Richard H. O'Kane, Commanding Officer

LCDR Lawrence Savadkin, Engineering Officer

LT(jg) Henry J. Flanagan, 1st Lt and Torpedo Officer

RT1C Floyd Caverly

BM1C William Leibold

MoMM2C Jesse DaSilva

MoMM3 Clayton Decker

TM2C Hayes Trukke

TM3C Pete Narowonski