Storied World War II Sub Discovered Off Russian Coast

One of World War II's most deadly submarines was recently spotted near Russia, sparking new interest in an old warship.

The USS Wahoo isn't exactly a household name when it comes to World War II-era history. But the sub's storied history and ferocious captain struck fear in the hearts of its enemies, even if it lives on in obscurity for most Americans.

When the sub finally sunk in October 1943, it was believed lost forever, destined to spend eternity on the bottom of the sea floor -- until recently, when researchers spotted wreckage of the old warship.

The Russian ITAR-Tass news agency reported that a diving team from the Far Eastern State Technological University came upon the remains of the Wahoo in the La Perouse Strait, off the eastern coast of Russia, near the northernmost point of Japan.

"When I heard yesterday, I immediately called all of my family," said Ken Githens, whose uncle, Eugene T. Kirk, died on the Wahoo. "I was thrilled. I always knew someone would find it. I'm surprised it wasn't sooner."

"The ship delivered a toll of punishment on the Japanese. It did the job it was supposed to do. It made the enemy afraid to leave port," said Michael Cardin, a historian at the U.S. War College in Newport, RI. "It was the highlight of the submarine program, based on its ferocity and the number of ships it brought down."

The USS Wahoo came off the assembly line in the early 1940s at a time when the Navy was quickly building subs for the war effort. Many of the Wahoo's contemporaries were in sore need of repairs.

"A lot of subs at the time were plagued with equipment problems. What made the ship so effective was definitely the captain," said Cardin.

The Wahoo was under the command of the ambitious Dudley "Mush" Morton, who, according to Cardin, promised to sink as many Japanese ships as possible or die trying. The Wahoo destroyed 19 vessels during World War II, while mostly under Morton's command.

"He was one of the most diehard commanders in the Pacific," said Cardin. "He put his crew at risk, and that's what made him so successful. He's an American hero."

The Wahoo's luck finally ran out after it left Hawaii in September 1943. The details are unclear, but Japanese documents state that a patrol craft, passing La Perouse Strait near northern Japan, spotted the sub and dropped two rounds of depth charges on top of it, killing all 80 crew members onboard, including Morton.

There's no word yet on when or if an attempt will be made to bring the USS Wahoo to the surface.