USS Harder: Wreck of famed U.S. Navy World War II sub found off the Philippines

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The wreck of one of the most storied U.S. Navy submarines of World War II has been found in the South China Sea eight decades after its last patrol, the Navy’s History and Heritage Command said Thursday.

The USS Harder lies under 3,000 feet (about 900 metres) of water off the northern Philippine island of Luzon, sitting upright and intact except for damage behind its conning tower from a Japanese depth charge, the NHHC said in a press release.

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

“Harder was lost in the course of victory. We must not forget that victory has a price, as does freedom,” NHHC Director Samuel J. Cox, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, said in the press release.

According to a U.S. Navy history, Harder sank two Japanese escort ships off the Bataan Peninsula on Aug. 22, 1944, and then headed north along the Luzon coast with two other subs in search of more targets.

In a battle with Japanese escort ship CD-22 on the morning of Aug. 24, Harder fired three torpedoes that missed and was later sunk by the Japanese ship’s fifth depth charge attack, according to Japanese records cited by NHHC.

The NHHC said the wreck of the Harder was confirmed by data provided by the Lost 52 Project, an effort led by Tim Taylor, CEO of Tiburon Subsea, to find the 52 U.S. subs lost in World War II.

The group has previously located at least six WWII subs, the NHHC said.

“We are grateful that Lost 52 has given us the opportunity to once again honour the valour of the crew of the ‘Hit ‘em Harder’ submarine,” the NHHC’s Cox said, in reference to the vessel’s motto.

The NHHC said the wreck is “the final resting place of Sailors that gave their life in defence of the nation and should be respected by all parties as a war grave.”

The Philippines was a U.S. territory attacked by Japan just after its strike on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. By the spring of 1942, U.S. and Philippine forces on Luzon surrendered to Tokyo’s forces and Japan used the captured archipelago to protect its supply lines from the East Indies and Southeast Asia.

But by mid-1944, the U.S. was rolling back Japanese gains across the Pacific, and was planning landings to do the same in the Philippines.

Harder, which had the motto of “Hit ‘em Harder,” was captained by Cmdr. Samuel Dealey, who would be posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the U.S. military’s highest decoration, for his actions in Harder’s fifth patrol, from March to July 1944.

During that time Harder sank three Japanese destroyers with another two likely destroyed or heavily damaged over the course of just four days, according to the National Medal of Honor Museum.

The museum’s page on Dealey described one particularly harrowing encounter.

Coming under attack from a Japanese destroyer, Dealey ordered a head-on torpedo shot at the bow of the charging enemy, known as a “down the throat” shot, according to the museum account.

“At 1,500 yards, Dealey fired three torpedoes and ordered the sub to dive.  As the Harder passed 80 feet underneath the destroyer, two of the torpedoes struck the ship, sending shock waves through the submarine.”

On its first four patrols after commissioning on Dec. 2, 1942, Harder sank 14 Japanese warships and merchant vessels, according to the Medal of Honor Museum.

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