Conversations with my dad about his service had inspired me to write about some military heroes that he remembered from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. First there was a man who dad personally served with, Captain Slade Deville Cutter. Then there was Commander Howard Walter Gilmore, famous for “take her down!” statement. Lastly, Albert Brown, the last survivor of the Bataan Death March.
Now I’d like to introduce you to Richard O’Kane, a man who participated (directly) in more successful attacks on Japanese shipping than any other fighting submarine officer during World War II.
In July 1943, Lieutenant Commander O’Kane was detached from Wahoo and soon became Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) of the Tang, which was then under construction. He placed her in commission in October 1943 and commanded her through her entire career. He was an innovator, and developed several operational tactics that markedly increased his ship’s efficiency. Among these tactics were daylight surface cruising with extra lookouts, periscope recognition and range drills—enabling clear tactical sureness when seconds counted, and methods of night surface attacks—one of his favorite techniques to obtain and maintain the initiative in battle.
In five war patrols, O’Kane and Tang sank an officially recognized total of 24 Japanese ships. This total was revised in 1980 from a review of Japanese war records corroborated by the Tang’s surviving logs and crewmembers to 31 ships totalling over 227,000 tons sunk. This established one of the Pacific War’s top records for submarine achievement. Several times during the war he took the Tang into the heart of a convoy and attacked ships ahead and behind while coolly steering clear of escorting combatants—counting on Tang’s relative position, speed, and low profile to keep clear of enemy escorts.
The Tang and O’Kane’s third patrol, into the Yellow Sea, ranked first in the war patrol records for number of ships sunk in a single patrol. O’Kane claimed eight ships at the time but post-war analysis increased this to ten ships. On one attack he had targeted two large ships with three torpedoes each and assumed three hits in each.
He was captured by the Japanese when his boat was sunk in the Formosa Strait by its own flawed torpedo (running in a circle) during a surface night attack on October 24–25, 1944, wherein he lost all but eight of his crew, and was secretly (i.e. illegally) held prisoner until the war’s end some ten months later. Following his release, Commander O’Kane received the Medal of Honor for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” during his submarine’s final operations against Japanese shipping.
In addition to the Medal of Honor, O’Kane received three Navy Crosses, three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit with “V” device for valor, the Purple Heart and several other decorations.
Admiral O’Kane was also awarded the American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with 9 battle stars, World War II Victory Medal and the National Defense Service Medal. He was also retroactively entitled to the Prisoner of War Medal and the Combat Action Ribbon.
Dad remembered him as a great man, that was brilliant and dedicated to his crew. Along with his valiant war efforts, he survived being a prisoner of war. A true hero to remember.