USS Tang was a Balao-class submarine, a class of subs that comprised the largest class in the United States Navy, vital to World War II. Her keel was laid down on January 15, 1943 at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. She was commissioned on October 15, 1943 with Lieutenant Commander Richard H. O’Kane in command.
Tang’s career was a short one, albeit impressive. The Naval Historical Center credits USS Tang with displacing 93,824 tons, by sinking 24 enemy ships. Other sources note that this record remains unequaled by any other United States Submarine. Her commanding officer received the Medal of Honor for her last two engagements. Among her other achievements are four battle stars and two Presidential Unit Citations for her service during World War II. She completed a total of five war patrols.
During her fifth war patrol Tang sunk in 180 feet of water due to a circular run by her own torpedo, causing a violent explosion. Of the nine officers on her bridge, three were able to swim through the night until being rescued eight hours later. Another officer managed to escape from her flooded conning tower, and was rescued with the others. However, there were still men on board, all crowding to the forward room in order to escape. Their escape was delayed by Japanese patrol, which dropped depth charges that started an electrical fire in the forward battery. Thirteen men escaped the forward room, of which only nine made it to the surface. Unfortunately, only five of those nine were able to swim until rescued. These men were the first American submariners to escape a sunken vessel using a Momsen lung, a primitive underwater re-breather. Nine survivors, including O’Kane, were picked up by a Japanese destroyer, remaining captive in prison camps until the end of the war.
During this final patrol Tang was credited with sinking Kogen Maru and Matsumoto Maru. She was stricken from the naval Vessel Register on February 8, 1945.
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.