US Navy Submarine, Torpedoed In South China Sea, Discovered After 80 Years! The Story Of USS Harder

In a remarkable discovery, the wreckage of the USS Harder, America’s most lethal submarine during World War II, has been located off the coast of Luzon, Philippines, after eluding detection for over eight decades. 

After eight decades since its last patrol, the USS Harder, an eminent US Navy vessel lost during World War II, has been discovered near the Philippines’ coast in the South China Sea. The Naval History and Heritage Command has confirmed the news.

The vessel, resting upright at a depth of nearly 3,000 feet, bears the scars of its final battle – a gaping wound behind the conning tower from a Japanese depth charge.

Resting off the northern Philippine island of Luzon, the USS Harder lies upright and largely intact, except for damage behind its conning tower from a Japanese depth charge. According to an NHHC press release, ‘the vessel sits upright on her keel relatively intact except for the depth-charge damage aft of the conning tower.’

The Lost 52 Project

The NHHC confirmed the wreck site using data collected and provided by Tim Taylor, the CEO of Tiburon Subsea, and The Lost 52 Project—an organization dedicated to locating and commemorating all 52 U.S. submarines lost during World War II. Taylor established The Lost 52 after discovering his first lost U.S. submarine in 2010.

According to Taylor, the process of locating the USS Harder involved “archival research and deploying multiple autonomous robots to efficiently cover vast search areas.”

“We are grateful that Lost 52 has afforded us the opportunity to once again honor the valor of the crew of the ‘Hit ‘em HARDER’ submarine, which sank the most Japanese warships—through particularly audacious attacks—under her legendary skipper, Cmdr. Sam Dealey,” stated NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral.

How Was It Lost?

Harder was lost in battle on August 24, 1944, along with its entire crew of 79 submariners, while on its sixth patrol of the war, as the US sought to retake the Philippines from occupying Japanese forces.

The Philippines, a U.S. territory at the time, was attacked by Japan shortly after the strike on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. By the spring of 1942, U.S. and Philippine forces in Luzon surrendered to Japanese forces, who then used the archipelago to protect their supply lines from the East Indies and Southeast Asia.

However, by mid-1944, the U.S. was reversing Japanese advances across the Pacific and planning landings to reclaim the Philippines. During this period, the Harder sank three Japanese destroyers and likely destroyed or heavily damaged two more within just four days, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum.

Under the exceptional leadership of Commander Samuel D. Dealey, the USS Harder set a war record for submarines by sinking five Japanese destroyers in five days. Before its loss in 1944, the Harder was credited with sinking 78,000 tons of Japanese shipping, as noted by the USS Harder Memorial.

The Final War Patrol 

Construction on the USS Harder began on December 1, 1941, just six days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan propelled the United States into World War II.

The USS Harder was a ‘Gato-class submarine,’ the first mass-produced submarine by the US. This diesel-electric vessel, among the earliest Gato-class submarines, was launched on August 19, 1942, and commissioned on December 2, 1942, beginning her active duty.

From Pearl Harbor, the USS Harder embarked on her first patrol off the coast of Japan, where she struck the Japanese ship Sagara Maru’. She returned to Midway Island on July 7, 1943, to refit and receive new orders.

On her sixth and final war patrol, starting August 5, 1944, she was ordered to patrol the South China Sea and formed a ‘Wolfpack’ with the ‘USS Hake,’ ‘Haddo,’ ‘Ray,’ ‘Guitarro,’ and ‘Raton’ on August 21. They attacked Palawan Bay, Mindoro, destroying four Japanese ships.

The next day, ‘Harder’ and ‘Haddo’ moved to Bataan and patrolled Dasol Bay. They encountered three Japanese ships: the Matsuwa, Hiburi, and Asakazi.

Harder sank ‘Matsuwa’ and ‘Hiburi,’ while Haddo, having used all its torpedoes, only damaged ‘Asakazi.’ Joined by ‘Hake,’ Harder pursued Asakazi to Dasol Bay, where they encountered a Japanese minesweeper, the Phra Ruang, escort ship ‘CD-22’, and destroyer ‘PB-102’.

4D photogrammetry model of USS Harder (SS 257) wreck site by The Lost 52 Project. The Lost 52 Project scanned the entire boat and stitched all the images together in a multi-dimensional model used to study and explore the site off Luzon, Philippines. Tim Taylor and the Lost 52 Project/Courtesy US Navy

While attempting to evade the Japanese ships, Hake’s radioman reported 15 explosions in the distance at 07:28 on 24 August 1944. Later that afternoon, Hake surfaced to investigate but found no trace of the Harder or her crew.

The United States Navy declared the Harder lost on January 2, 1945, as per the Naval History and Heritage Command website.

Now, the discovery of the Harder’s wreck not only solves this enduring enigma but also serves as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by the silent service during WWII’s brutal Pacific campaign.

  • Shubhangi Palve is a Defence and aerospace Journalist. Before joining the EurAsian Times, she worked for ET Prime. In this capacity, she focused on covering Defence strategies and the Defence Sector from a financial perspective. She offers more than 15 years of extensive experience in the media industry, spanning print, electronic, and online domains.
  • Contact the author at shubhapalve (at) gmail (dot) com.