74 Men Lost

March 15, 1943

USS Triton (SS 201)
At Dutch Harbor, Alaska on July 16, 1942

  • Tambor Class Submarine
  • Keel laid: July 5, 1939, at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery, ME
  • Launched: March 25, 1940
  • Commissioned: August 15, 1940
  • Displacement: 1,475 tons surfaced; 2,370 tons submerged
  • Length: 307′ 2″
  • Beam: 27′ 3″
  • Depth limit: 250′
  • Complement: 5 officers, 54 enlisted
  • Armament: ten 21″ torpedo tubes, six forward, four aft, 24 torpedoes, one 3″/50 deck gun, two .50 caliber machine guns, two .30 caliber machine guns

On February 16th, Triton began her sixth and final war patrol, hoping to destroy enemy shipping between the Shortland Basin and Rabaul. Ten days later, she reported that she had seen smoke on February 22nd and that the Japanese had installed radar at Buka. On March 6th, the submarine attacked a convoy of five destroyer escorted ships, sinking the cargo ship Kiriha Maru and damaging another freighter. One of her torpedoes made a circular run, and Triton crash-dived to evade it. She attacked another convoy on the night of March 8th and claimed that five of the eight torpedoes she had fired scored hits. She could not observe the results or make a follow-up attack because gunfire from the escorts forced her down. On March 11th, Triton reported that she was chasing two convoys, each made up of five or more ships. She was informed that submarine Trigger (SS-237) was operating in an adjoining area and ordered to stay south of the equator. On March 13th, Triton was warned that three enemy destroyers in her area were either looking for a convoy or were hunting American submarines.

On March 15th, Trigger reported that she had attacked a convoy and had been depth charged. Even though attacks on her ceased, she could still hear distant depth charging for about an hour. No further messages from Triton were ever received. Post-war examination of Japanese records revealed that on March 15, 1943, three Japanese destroyers attacked a submarine a little northwest of Triton’s assigned area and subsequently observed an oil slick, debris, and items with American markings. On April 10, 1943, Triton was reported overdue from patrol and presumed lost.

However, there are persistent rumors that Triton was actually lost off Moreton Island near Brisbane; that she was sunk either by friendly fire from an Australian pilot or by Japanese naval mines or torpedoes. Its loss was allegedly covered up by the Australian military. It is undisputed that two weeks after Triton was supposed to have been sunk, a welcoming committee, complete with band, mail delivery, fresh fruit and ice-cream was waiting for it on the dock at New Farm on the Brisbane River. The Australian Defence Department refers inquiries to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. The Memorial’s position is that it was highly unlikely Australian fire had sunk the submarine, and if there had been a cover-up during the war, the truth would have come out in the intervening years.

Triton received five battle stars for World War II service.

Was is sunk by friendly fire?

Naval Historical Center

Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet

USS Triton (SS 201)
Patch(es) were obtained from:
NavSource Online (Submarine Photo Archive).
Originally contributed by Mike Smolinski.
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