Any dive planned to a depth of 75meters
should be made using Heliox or Trimix breathing gases so as to avoid both
Oxygen Toxicity and Nitrogen Narcosis at this working depth. An actual
Lagarto dive plan is shown below.
From the dive plan printouts, it’s
interesting to note, that for only a 25minute bottom dive, the diver has to
spend 1hr 14mins carrying out very formal mixed gas
decompression. It took 4 dives of this type just to swim around all 4
quadrants of the wreck taking the notes and sketches that formed the basis
of the analysis in this article. In accordance with the US navy permission
for diving the LAGARTO, no penetration dives at all into the living quarters
of the submarine were made, and no part of the wreck was disturbed in any
Unbelievably during a whole day of diving, A
juvenile Whale Shark joined the dive team while waiting at their long
decompression stops. Divers already on the surface quickly re-entered the
water to snorkel with the gentle giant. For added fun and double-jeopardy a
poisonous sea snake also swam near the group until it bumped into the lens
of the (until then…) totally fearless video-grapher.
The pictures and dive sketches show the
311ft long 1,500ton USS LAGARTO upright and in one piece. The sinking
location lies in open ocean, and as would be expected for a dive so far out
to sea, the surface visibility is excellent at around 50 meters plus. During
this dive sequence, the tip of the LAGARTO’ s twin periscope tubes and
conning tower pierced a silty thermo-cline that began from 60 meters and
extended all the way down to the sea bed at 75 meters depth. Visibility
below the thermo-cline was much reduced from that near the surface, but the
wreck was still clearly visible as a submarine, even before divers reached
During the 1st dive on the
LAGARTO with over riding need to return to the ascent line so as to assure
that our dive team didn’t become a ‘lost-at-sea statistics(again!) , our
team ‘reeled out’ from the ascent line along the top surface of the wreck.
This gave an indication of the massive size of the LAGARTO, since by the
time we’d reached the bow, I’d used all of the 50meters of line on the
Natural light still penetrated through the
thermo-cline, but all divers were thankful of the high power technical
diving torches which each diver carried with them, that gave illumination to
the fine details of the wreck necessary when diving at these depths.
As Jamie’s Purple book of ‘net snag marks’
indicated, the LAGARTO has caused many fishing boats to loose their nets.
These large football pitch sized nets cost upwards of USD25,000 each, and
are not left on the bottom without a fight. All smaller sized items that
protruded through the hull have been pulled off during attempts to wrestle
free the nets, leaving only massive lumps of steel such as the conning
tower, bow & stern planes, props, plus the twin 5 inch guns intact.
After each dive, it was possible to add more
details to the dive sketch that would formally identify the USS LAGARTO.
Unlike many other Balao class submarines, the LAGARTO had two 5-inch guns
mounted in front of, and behind the conning tower. These were clearly
visible mounted in a stowed position, which together with the wrecks
location confirmed the identification.
A forward starboard torpedo door is open,
and it’s possible to peer inside and confirm that it is empty. This suggests
that the LAGARTO went down fighting and that a torpedo had been fired during
her last moments. The rubber seals of the torpedo tube muzzle door are still
in excellent condition even after 60 years underwater.
Sadly, also visible was the massive damage
caused to the port quarter forward of the conning tower. The LAGARTO had
plainly sustained a direct hit from a depth charge or other large explosive
ordinance. The destruction caused by this device had been sufficient to
entirely destroy the external steel plating that contained several large
buoyancy compartments and then penetrate much further into the sub to punch
a large hole through the 1 inch thick high tensile steel inner pressure bulk
head that contained the crew’s living spaces.
All crew in the compartment adjacent to the
damaged area would have perished instantly from the force of the explosion.
Tons of water per second from the 55meters of water pressure would have
rapidly entered these forward living spaces, throwing the sub off balance
and negatively buoyant, and causing it accelerate rapidly nose down towards
the sea bed. The subs external control planes are juxta-positioned; The
foreword planes are set to the ‘dive’ position whereas the stern planes were
set to ‘surface’. It may have been that with all the internal watertight
doors closed, the stern compartments crews survived the initial explosion
(as in the Russian Kursk submarine disaster on August 12th
2000), and that a desperate last ditch attempt was made to override the
steep descent by blowing emergency buoyancy tanks and moving the aft control
planes into the ‘ascend’ position from other emergency controls located aft.
However, the weight of the flooded forward living spaces compounded with the
destroyed forward buoyancy compartments was too much weight to overcome, and
the sub stayed on the bottom.
Extract of the
USS Lagarto's co-operation with the USS Hawkbill. Courstesy of the Wisconsin
Maritime Museum newsletter,
Diving the USS LAGARTO – A War Grave
The USS LAGARTO submarine is a restricted
war grave. 86 American servicemen lost their lives during the sinking, and
as such, she is being treated with the utmost respect which she deserves.
The Lagarto lies far out to sea, in very
deep water that would prove lethal if dived breathing air. Only a hand full
of people in the Far East (all known to each other) have the pre-requisite
skills and financing to execute a dive to the Lagarto breathing ultra
expensive Helium based Trimix… and come back alive. Thus mass tourism or
casual vandalism by recreational divers to the Lagarto’s final resting place
is highly un-likely.
Like all submarines, the USS Lagarto was
expensive to produce, utilizing 250 ton of lead batteries, tons of bronze,
copper and other non-ferrous materials for her weapons and propulsion
systems, meaning that although the salvage value of a submarine in current
monetary values could run to several hundred thousand dollars, her extreme
depth and the complexity of any Helium saturation diving techniques
necessary to facilitate any worthwhile salvage would make any commercial
recovery attempts unviable.
She is currently being researched and
documented by MV Trident’s team with the permission of the US Navy's Naval
Historical Center. The exact location of the Lagarto remains a closely
Veterans or SUBVETS are a special breed. ‘Pride runs deep’ within the
community of WWII SUBVET families, their children, and their grandchildren
that continues to this day. All submarines are very specialized pieces of
military hardware, but the origins of the LAGARTO are particularly
interesting. The Manitowoc shipyard that built the LAGARTO was located
hundreds of miles inland. That the US Navy department through its bureau of
ships contracted a small shipbuilding company, located on the shores of Lake
Michigan, about as far from the ocean by river as you could possibly
imagine, to build submarines, the most difficult shipbuilding construction
job known at that time is a story in itself. The Manitowoc shipbuilding
company ended up building 28 of these Balao class submarines in total. WWII
SUBVETS and their relatives still live in the area to this day.
Sub Crews in
WWII developed a battlefield humor when writing home about the very real
risks of falling victim to depth charge attacks. ‘Don’t’ worry if anything
happens to me. I’ll have a 6 Million Dollar Coffin with plenty of friends…”
was a common remark.
Prior to the
discovery of the LAGARTO, I’d received many requests for help from SUBVET
relatives and technical assistance from personnel at the Wisconsin Maritime
Museum in Manitowoc in the USA.
of the LAGARTO’s discovery, a Mrs. Nancy Mabin Kenney
(the daughter of LAGARTO Signalman First Class William T. Mabin),
established contact with the dive expedition group. Nancy contacted other
surviving relatives and during July 2005 two of Nancy’s children
(grandchildren of the LAGARTO crewman) traveled to Thailand to accompany the
wreck research vessel for the trip that would formally identify the
For Nancy Mabin Kenney of Lake Leelanau, Michigan USA.
and for the surviving relatives of the LAGARTO’ s crewmen, 2005 was a
special year that provided closure from knowing the exact location where
Husbands, fathers and grandfathers lay, and pride in the knowledge that the
LAGARTO went down fighting.
“All my life, I never really knew my father, but the
people who knew him well kept him alive in my memory,” Kenney said. “To
think of what my mother’s generation went through with all the uncertainty
during the war is just overwhelming. But now it’s up to my generation to
support these men and make sure they’re honored,” she said.
conclusion of the final dive sequence, a memorial service was held at the
LAGARTOS final resting place.
Special thanks to:-
Macleod, Stewart Oehl and the divers and crew of the M.V. Trident during the
USS Lagarto Memorial trip July 2005. MV Trident may be contacted at
Nancy Mabin Kenney, daughter of USS Lagarto
crewman William T Mabin, Wisconsin USA
Grandchildren of USS Lagarto crewman William T Mabin
References online & print:-
MV Trident Wreck Research vessel main web site.
For up to date information on the USS
The official web site for USS Lagarto news
http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08371a.htm For the
USS Lagarto’s home page on the authoritative 'navsource.org' web site
More Lagarto History
Veterans Day ceremony highlights newly found USS Lagarto
The Wisconsin Maritime Museum
Veterans Day Ceremony honors the USS Lagarto
Submarine veterans were honored in a Veterans Day ceremony held at Pearl
Harbor Naval Station
US Submarines Losses
Complete WWII Operating & Maintenance manuals for a 'Fleet Submarine'
Ships Log for the USS BAYA (the last vessel to contact the USS Lagarto)
Mr Fred Evans, Commercial Diver
The science & operation of a WWII submarine - The Virtual tour is great
Submarine battle reports, chronology of sinkings
‘Wisconsin Maritime Museum newsletter’
Jul-Sep 1998 & Oct-Dec 1998 issues.
‘Wisconsin WWII Stories-The home front’
Video cassette from the Wisconsin maritime Museum
Water Submarines the Manitowoc Story’
by Rear Admiral William T. Nelson, published
Heffner printing 1988