Famed World War II Submarine USS Harder Discovered off Luzon

USS Harder
USS Harder (NHHC)

Published May 26, 2024 9:41 PM by The Maritime Executive


Just ahead of Memorial Day, the U.S. Navy's historical commission has confirmed the identity of the wreck of the USS Harder, a famed attack submarine that sank more Japanese warships than any other American sub over the course of World War II. 

USS Harder was a Gato-class attack sub commissioned in December 1942, and she fought in the Pacific Theater until August 24, 1944. She sank her first target, a seaplane transport, on June 22, 1943. She continued on to claim many more victories, particularly in her famous fifth patrol. The sub departed Fremantle, Australia on May 26, 1944 - exactly 80 years ago Sunday - and transited to the island of Tawi-Tawi, where the Imperial Japanese Navy maintained a fleet anchorage at the western edge of the Celebes Sea. USS Harder sank four Japanese destroyers in a matter of weeks and heavily damaged or destroyed one more, singlehandedly disrupting Japan's fleet-level battle plans. 

She also observed a heavy concentration of Japanese warships at the Tawi-Tawi anchorage on June 11, and she radioed this critical intelligence to the fleet. The early alert gave Adm. Raymond Spruance more information on Japanese plans for a "decisive battle" - the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Harder's actions helped set the stage for the American victory in that critical engagement, which effectively ended Japanese carrier airpower for the rest of the war. 

Harder was lost on her sixth patrol during an attempted attack on a Japanese ship. Together with submarine USS Hake, she attempted to engage the escort ship CD-22, but the Japanese crew evaded the attack and pursued USS Harder with depth charge runs. The fifth depth charge attack sank USS Harder with all 79 hands aboard; USS Hake escaped. 

Harder's commanding officer, Cmdr. Sam Dealey, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for the vessel's service, along with the Navy Cross, three Gold Stars and a Silver Star. 

Courtesy USN / Lost 52 Project

Eight decades later, ocean search firm Tiburon Subsea and the Lost 52 Project found the wreck of USS Harder off Luzon in 3,000 feet of water. The wreck is relatively intact except for depth charge damage near the conning tower. Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has now confirmed the identity of the site and designated it as a protected wreck. 

Harder was lost in the course of victory. We must not forget that victory has a price, as does freedom,” said NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, U.S. Navy rear admiral (retired). “We are grateful that Lost 52 has given us the opportunity to once again honor the valor of the crew of the ‘Hit ‘em HARDER’ submarine that sank the most Japanese warships."

Previous finds attributed to Taylor and the Lost 52 project include USS Grayback, Stickleback, Grunion, R-12, S-26 and S-28.