With a 1526 ton displacement, the USS Lagarto (SS-371) was built in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, with sea trials conducted in Lake Michigan. After being launched on May 28, 1944, the boat was commissioned in mid-October of that year, after which it travelled down the Mississippi River, finally entering salt water in December from the mouth of the Mississippi. The boat passed through the Panama Canal from the Atlantic side ready to see action in the Pacific theater where its first patrol proved both submarine and crew sea- and battle-worthy.
Action in World War II
The USS Lagarto was a Balao class submarine that successfully completed its first war patrol in dangerous Japanese waters. It is credited with sinking a small Japanese freighter and an enemy submarine over the course of February and March 1945. The mission was part of a three-submarine action group, and the USS Lagarto also took part in destroying various picket ships during associated patrols. These picket ships were deployed by the Japanese navy to protect their forces and transport ships from attack through the use of radar. Due to the efforts of the USS Lagarto’s crew, enemy defenses were weakened and American sea power was effectively expanded during this combat exercise. The USS Lagarto honorably carried out its mission.
Hardened by its first encounter, the crew of the USS Lagarto met an unfortunate end in April 1945. Operating out of Subic Bay in the Philippines, the USS Lagarto was paired with the USS Baya for its second war patrol in dangerous waters occupied by the enemy. Details are inconclusive about what happened on the night between May 3 and 4, 1945.
Disappearance at Sea
The two submarines attacked a Japanese convoy passing through the Gulf of Siam under cover of darkness on high alert for trouble. During frantic and fast-changing conditions, the USS Lagarto was lost. As nearly as can be determined by the record, the USS Lagarto was sunk by the Japanese minelayer Hatsutaka. What seems apparent is that during the confusion of battle, the USS Lagarto encountered one of the mines laid by the Hatsutaka. The entire complement of officers and enlisted men aboard the USS Lagarto were lost. The submarine has not been recovered. Both boat and crew are listed as casualties of war.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially throughout conflicts of the last century, submarines also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. However, these risks extend beyond the inherent dangers that existed while operating the vessels during military conflicts. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were also common aboard submarines because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Furthermore, the enclosed environment of submarines put servicemen at an even higher risk of exposure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with or served on submarines should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.