The Most Devastating Submarine Attack of WWII

Submarines have killed a lot of ships over the course of history.

Submarines have killed a lot of
ships over the course of history.

Granted, in the 72
years since World War II ended, the total has been very small. Prior to that, tens of thousands of
ships were hit by submarine attack.

Ironically, while an
American sub has claim to the largest ship ever sunkby submarine, a Japanese
sub, the I-19, can arguably claim it deserves credit for the most devastation
in a single attack.

The date was Sept.
15, 1942. The United States was running a large convoy to support elements of
the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. The carrier USS Wasp (CV 7) was among
the escorting force, which included the battleship USS North Carolina (BB 55),
the cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), and a number of
destroyers, including USS Laffey (DD 459) and USS O’Brien (DD 415).

The Wasp’s design had been dictated by limits imposed by the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. In
essence, she was a scaled-down Yorktown-class design, displacing about 14,900
tons compared to the 20,100 tons of Yorktown (CV 5), Enterprise (CV 6), and
Hornet (CV 8). At the time of the Guadalcanal campaign, Wasp
carried 25 F4F Wildcats, 26 SBD Dauntless, and 9 TBF Avengers. A potent force,
it had missed the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

According to
the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the
I-19 made her attack around 2:44 PM, firing six torpedoes. Three hit the Wasp
forward, where aircraft fuel and munitions were stored. The torpedoes fatally
wounded the carrier. In 36 minutes, it was obvious the Wasp had to be
abandoned. But the spread did more.

One torpedo hit the
battleship North Carolina, tearing a good-sized hole in the fast battleship,
but only did minor damage. A 5.5-degree list got corrected in less than six
minutes, per DANFS. A fifth torpedo hit the destroyer USS O’Brien in the bow, in what appeared to be
minor impact at first. O’Brien would sail under her own power to a series of
forward bases. But on Oct. 19, 1942, effects of the hit caused the destroyer to
break in half and sink after a 3,000 mile journey.

The I-19 would escape
after this brilliant attack, but eventually karma exacted its price. During the
Gilbert Islands campaign, the submarine was located by the USS Radford (DD 446)
and sunk with all hands. The video below shows some of USS Wasp’s moments of
agony after the torpedo attack.