Balao Class Submarine
1,526 Tons (Surfaced)
311' 9" x 27' 3" x 16' 10"
10 × 21 in torpedo tubes
(6 forward, 4 aft)
1 × 5" deck gun
1 × 40mm AA gun
2 × 20mm guns
May 28, 1944
Mike Gadd June 2006
Built by Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company at Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Laid down January 12, 1944. Launched May 28, 1944 sponsored by sponsored by Emily Taft Douglas, U. S. Congresswoman from Illinois. Commissioned October 14, 1944 into the U. S. Navy (USN) as USS Lagarto (SS-371) named for the Lagarto lizard (Chioninia coctei). Assigned to Commanding Officer (C. O.) under the command of Commander Frank D. Latta, a veteran of nine war patrols who earned the Navy Cross commanding USS Narwhal (SS-167). Every patrol made by
Latta was designated successful and awarded a combat
insignia, a record surpassed by no other Commanding Officer (C. O.) in the U. S. Navy Submarine
Afterwards, the submarine was transported inside a floating dry dock down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico then via the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor arriving December 25, 1944. On January 24, 1945, USS Lagarto and USS Haddock proceeded to Tanapag Harbor off Saipan arriving February 4, 1945.
This submarine's first patrol began on February 7, 1945 in the Nansei
Shoto chain as part of an anti-picket-boat sweep by submarines
to aid Task Force 38 carrier plane attacks on Japan. She sank the Japanese submarine RO-49 on
February 24, 1945, and participated in several surface gun attacks
with Haddock and Sennet. Two small vessels were sunk and two more
damaged in those attacks, and Lagarto shared credit for the results
with these submarines.
On April 12, 1945 departed Subic Bay starting her second war patrol in the South China Sea. On April 27, 1945 directed to patrol the outer portion of the Gulf of Thailand (Gulf of Siam) and contacted USS Baya (SS-318) also patrolling in the same area.
On May 2, 1945 the two submarines exchanged messages via SJ radar and later that day Baya sent Lagarto a contact report about a convoy
consisting of one tanker, one auxiliary and
two destroyers. Lagarto soon reported being in contact with same
convoy and both submarines closed to make an attack. Approaching, the escorts detected USS Baya with their 10cm radar and opened fire. Spotted, both submarines broke off their attack to wait and to make another another attack.
On May 3, 1945 in the early morning, Lagarto
and Baya rendezvous to discuss a new attack plan. Lagarto was to
dive and follow the convoy's track and make a contact at 2:00pm while Baya
would take up position 10-15 miles further along the track. During
the day, numerous contact reports were exchanged between the two submarines.
4, 1945 at 12:10am, after a prolonged but unsuccessful attack Baya was
driven off by alert escorts. No further contact was
made with Lagarto which was presumed lost. According to Japanese records, after midnight minelayer Hatsutaka detected an enemy submarine, made a depth charge attack and claims the submarine as sunk. In fact, this submarine was USS Lagarto that was lost with all 86 crew.
On May 19, 2005 a group of divers led by Jamie MacLeod based aboard MV Trident located the shipwreck of a U. S. submarine at a depth of of 225' / 72m upright on the bottom in the Gulf of Thailand off Malaysia. During July 2005 Jamie MacLeod and another team of divers returned to document the site and were accompanied by relatives of the crew that did a memorial service aboard the dive boat above the shipwreck.
The submarine was upright with a large rupture on the port bow area measuring roughly 18' tall and 8-9' wide. This damage was likely caused by the explosion of a nearby depth charge near the forward torpedo room that ruptured the hull and caused her to sink. The no. 4 torpedo tube door was partially open and empty, suggesting the possibility Lagarto fired one torpedo before the sinking. The forward dive planes are in the position to dive and the stern dive planes are set to surface and the rudder is in the hard right position. All the hatches were closed indicating that none of the crew attempted to escape and most likely all perished aboard. When found, the stern was shrouded in fishing nets that had snagged on the shipwreck.
During June 2006, USS Salvor (ARS-52) entered the Gulf of Thailand (Gulf of Siam) and divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 (MDSU-1) conducted six days of dives on the shipwreck found the previous year. For six days to survey and photographed the shipwreck to confirm the identity. More evidence was documented including the twin 5" gun mount plus "Manitowoc" on the propellers. The documentation was sent to underwater archaeologists for further review and the U. S. Navy confirmed to be USS Lagarto (SS-371).
As a U. S. Navy submarine and war grave, the shipwreck is still considered property of the U. S. Navy and protected. No penetration into the interior or artifact recovery is permitted. Any SCUBA diving is subject to permission from the U. S. Navy.
The entire crew was officially declared dead May 25, 1946. All are memorialized at Manila American Cemetery on the tablets of the missing.
During July 2005 relatives of the crew that did a memorial service over the shipwreck aboard the dive boat and a U. S. flag was attached to the conning tower in honor of the missing crew.
On June 16, 2006 U. S Navy divers from USS Salvor (ARS-52) placed a memorial plaque on the aft capstan. The plaque reads: "In memory of the fighting men on USS Lagarto (SS-371) from the crew of USS Salvor (ARS-52) 16 June 2005".
The USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park includes the Waterfront Memorial with memorial markers dedicated to each U. S. Navy submarine lost during World War II, including USS Lagarto (SS-371).
A historical marker dedicated to the USS Lagarto (SS 371)
is located at the Manitowoc Company in Manitowoc, WI.
NavSource - USS Lagarto (SS-371)
Combined Fleet - Submarine Operations Research Group Attack Data USS Lagarto (SS-371)
Thai Wreck Diver - USS Lagarto Sub
USS Lagarto (SS-371) Official Website via Wayback Machine September 7, 2009
Navy News "Divers to Inspect Presumed WWII Submarine" via Wayback Machine July 6, 2006
Wisconsin Maritime Museum - The “Lost Sub” Documentary Project (video, photos)
YouTube "Lost & Found: Legacy of the USS Lagarto" August 15, 2007
Naval History and Heritage Command - Lagarto (SS 371) (photo, crew list)
Naval History and Heritage Command - Statement concerning USS Lagarto
On Eternal Patrol - USS Lagarto (SS-371) (photos, crew list)
HMdb.org U.S.S. Lagarto (SS 371) (memorial marker)
Thanks to Mike Gadd for 2006 dive
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May 1, 2020
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