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
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.
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,
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,
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
"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."
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
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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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."
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
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.
SURVIVORS OF USS TANG