On the night of 8-9 August 1942 (just one day after the the 1st Marines landed on Guadalcanal), a Japanese force of seven cruisers and one destroyer under Vice Admiral Mikawa Gunichi, inflicted one of the worst defeats ever suffered by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Savo Island. Fearing an air attack at daybreak, however, Mikawa withdrew from the waters off Guadalcanal, leaving the vulnerable U.S. transports unmolested.
As the victors returned to their bases, however, USS S-44 (SS-155), commissioned in 1925, commanded by 36-year old Lt. Comdr. John R. “Dinty” Moore, lurked in their path. Considered by his USNA classmates “a student [and] a realist,” Moore diligently studied submarine warfare; his war diary reflected his dedicated pursuit of honing his, and his boat’s, warfighting skills. He and his willing and industrious crew, toiling amidst the arduous tropical conditions on board an old boat, had sunk a Japanese repair ship on her first war patrol, a gunboat in the second.
On 10 August 1942,18 days into S-44’s third patrol, Moore sighted four Japanese heavy cruisers at 0750 steaming through the calm seas in bright sunshine: four of the victors of Savo. Picking the rearmost ship, Kako, as his target, Moore fired the first torpedo from his bow tubes at 0808:45; three more followed in quick succession at a range of less than 700 yards. “Having heard torpedo explosions at close range before,” Moore later wrote, “there was no doubt about these.” Three of S-44’s torpedoes punched into Kako’s starboard side. The enemy ship capsized and sank in five minutes, taking 70 men of her 639-man complement with her. S-44 survived the ensuing 32 depth charges.
Dinty Moore received the Navy Cross for his leadership of S-44 in three war patrols. He went on to command Sailfish (SS-192) and ultimately retired in 1958. He died at age 79 in 1985.