George Levick Street III graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1937. After initial service aboard the elderly light cruiser Concord (CL-10) and the even more elderly battleship Arkansas (BB-33), he requested transfer to submarine duty. Following submarine training, he reported as part of the commissioning crew of the modified Tambor-class submarine Gar (SS-206), commissioned 14 April 1941. Transiting from the Atlantic, Gar arrived at Pearl Harbor three days after the Japanese surprise attack. Of the six subs in the class, only Gar survived the war.
Street served for three years on Gar, for her first ten war patrols. He initially served as the gunnery and torpedo officer, then as torpedo data computer operator, and finally as executive officer and navigator. He would be awarded a Silver Star on Gar’s first war patrol and another Silver Star for her tenth war patrol.
Gar’s first war patrol took place from 2 February to 28 March 1942, mostly off Nagoya, Japan, and met with limited success, sinking the 1,520-ton cargo ship Chichiubu on 13 March. Street’s first Silver Star was awarded to him in his position as the assistant approach officer for the successful attack. This was one of the earliest successes for the U.S. submarine force, which had been plagued by defective torpedoes, it was later determined. The next three war patrols were completely fruitless, and Gar’s commanding officer was relieved of command for excessive timidity.
Gar’s next three war patrols met with some success. On her fifth war patrol, Gar fired six torpedoes at the freighter Heinan Maru, forcing her to run aground. On the seventh war patrol, Gar sank several small craft, the 703-ton freighter (converted gunboat) Aso Maru, the 3,197-ton passenger-cargo ship Moikai Maru, and the 4,361-ton cargo ship Indus Maru. On her ninth war patrol, Gar sank an unidentified 4,000-ton cargo ship, which was reassessed at only 1,000 tons after the war.
Street earned his second Silver Star while serving as executive officer on Gar for her tenth war patrol, conducted off Palau in the Western Caroline Islands from 16 December 1943 to 9 February 1944. On 20 January 1944, Gar sank the 5,325-ton Koyu Maru and then damaged two cargo ships. During an attack on a third convoy, Gar sank the 3,670-ton Taian Maru. At war’s end, Gar had survived 15 war patrols.
On 6 July 1944, Lieutenant Commander Street arrived at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to fit out the new-construction, Tench-class submarine Tirante (SS-420) and, in November 1944, became her first commanding officer. Tirante’s executive officer was Lieutenant Edward L. Beach Jr., who had come off the submarine Trigger (SS-237) following patrols that had earned her a Presidential Unit Citation and Navy Unit Commendation––patrols for which Beach himself had been awarded two Silver Stars. (Trigger was lost with all hands on her twelfth war patrol, on 28 March 1945.) Beach would get his own boat just as the war ended.
Tirante commenced her first war patrol on 3 March 1945, operating southwest of the Japanese home island of Kyushu. By this point in the war, pickings were very slim, as the U.S. submarine force had mostly cleared the Japanese merchant fleet from the seas between late 1943 and the end of 1944 (thanks to effective and timely Ultra code-breaking intelligence support, which told commanders where to find targets, and thanks to torpedoes that actually worked). Lieutenant Street aggressively pursued Japanese shipping hugging the coast in shallow water near the entrance to Nagasaki.
On 25 March, Tirante sank the 703-ton freighter Fuji Maru and, on 28 March, sank the 1,218-ton freighter Nase Maru. Patrolling by Japanese escorts then kept Tirante under for seven hours. Tirante next sank a 70-ton lugger (sailing vessel) with surface gunfire on 30 March. On 1 April, Tirante fired a spread of three torpedoes at an LST-type vessel, but all three torpedoes missed.
Tirante then shifted her operating area to the coast of Korea, near the Tsushima Strait. On 6 April, she sank a small fishing vessel and took three Japanese aboard as prisoners for questioning. The next day, she torpedoed a 2,800-ton freighter with a deck cargo of oil drums. Although Tirante crewmen witnessed the ship sink, and although Tirante directed a Korean fishing vessel to pick up two survivors, the sinking could not be confirmed in postwar analysis of Japanese records, so no credit was given in the end.
Based on timely intelligence reports, Tirante set an ambush for convoy Tamo-53 on 9 April. Tirante fired two spreads of three Mk. 18 electric torpedoes at two targets. One spread missed. The other spread hit the 5,500-ton transport Nikko Maru with at least two torpedoes. Hit in the bow and engine room, Nikko Maru sank, with the loss of 563 passengers (mostly survivors of previous sunken convoys, including a number of women and children evacuees from Formosa) and 105 crewmen, including gunners, guard force, and signalmen. Japanese escorts counterattacked, and Tirante fired one Mk. 27 “Cutie” anti-escort homing torpedo to shake off her pursuers. (The Mk. 27 was a modification of the Mk. 24 “Fido” air-dropped anti-submarine homing torpedo, which was referred to as a “mine” at the time for security. Wooden attachments enabled the 19-inch weapon to be fired from 21-inch torpedo tubes. “Cutie” was the nickname for the submarine-launched version.)
The homing torpedo hit Japanese escort ship Kaibokan (CD-102) in the stern, blowing seven men into the water. Tirante reported “breaking-up” noises and claimed a kill, but Kaikoban (CD-102) survived and was towed to Pusan, Korea, and repaired. (The Kaibokan ships were relatively new and similar in concept to U.S. destroyer escorts: small, cheap, and optimized for antisubmarine warfare with two or three 4.7-inch guns and 120 depth charges. In the case of the Japanese, these ships were a belated attempt to give their convoys some hope of survival—mostly in vain.)
Tirante subsequently received intelligence reports on the movement of convoy Moshi-02 (one transport and three escort ships) from Moji, Japan, to Shanghai, China, which anchored in Hiyo inlet at the Korean island of Jeju Do (also spelled Cheju and Saishu). Before dawn on 14 April, Lieutenant Commander Street took Tirante into the harbor for a night surface attack. The boat sighted the auxiliary transport Juzan Maru (which had 400 passengers aboard) and two of the three escorts. Tirante fired a spread of torpedoes, which hit and caused the 3,943-ton Juzan Maru to sink, with the loss of 33 personnel.
The flash of the torpedo explosion illuminated Tirante, and she was spotted by lookouts on escort ship Nomi, the flagship of Captain Ikeda, Commander of the First Surface Escort Division. Nomi and escort ship Kaibokan No. 31 (CD-31) immediately commenced aggressive pursuit as shore batteries opened up on Tirante. She fired two torpedoes at the on-rushing Nomi that hit under her bridge and detonated a magazine, blowing the ship in two. Nomi quickly sank, with the loss of 134 men, including Captain Ikeda and Nomi’s skipper, Lieutenant Commander Hera. Kaibokan No. 31 kept coming, so Tirante fired another torpedo (her second to last), which hit. The torpedo was a dud, but caused a fire in the after magazine. Kaobokan No. 31 subsequently capsized and sank with the loss of 39 of 160 crewmen. Tirante made good her escape without being hit by shore fire. Boats from the island rescued many survivors of Juzan Maru, while arriving Japanese escorts rescued 417 survivors from the other sunken ships.
On Tirante’s return transit to Midway Island, she picked up two downed Japanese airmen, bringing the total prisoners on board to five. Lieutenant Commander Street would receive a Medal of Honor and Lieutenant Beach a Navy Cross for Tirante’s first war patrol. Tirante was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
Tirante departed Midway Island on 20 May 1945 for her second war patrol, with Lieutenant Commander Street as the commander of a nine-submarine wolfpack designated “Street’s Sweepers” and operating in the Yellow and East China seas. On 11 June 1945, Tirante located a four-ship convoy (one cargo ship and three escorts) off Nagasaki. She evaded the three escorts and torpedoed an 800-ton cargo ship, which could not be confirmed in postwar analysis by the Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee (JANAC). On 10 June 1945, Tirante fired two torpedoes at a surfaced Japanese submarine, which missed. This was I-36, with six Kaiten manned torpedoes embarked, which was part of the Todoroki Group of Kaiten mother submarines that had left Japan on 4 June.
On 12 June, Street again took Tirante into a Japanese harbor for a night surface attack, this time in Hashima harbor, only seven miles from Nagasaki. Tirante located the 2,200-ton merchant ship Hakuju Maru alongside a coal pier and fired three torpedoes in a bow-on-bow shot. The first torpedo hit and caused a large explosion. The second torpedo was a dud, but the third completed the job, sinking the ship. Despite coming under fire from shore batteries, Tirante escaped unscathed once again.
With Japanese convoys all but stopped and most of Japan’s merchant fleet on the bottom, Tirante and other boats in Street’s Sweepers were left with only small junks as targets. The junks were carrying supplies from Korea to Japan. Tirante interdicted about a dozen of these vessels by using boarding parties to take the vessels’ masters for questioning and then putting the crews in life rafts and setting fire to the junks to sink them.
Tirante departed Guam on 12 August for her third war patrol, but was ordered to return when the cease-fire was declared on 15 August. She arrived at Midway on 23 August and would go on to serve after the war. In 1952, she was converted to Guppy configuration (i.e., given greater underwater propulsive power) and would mostly operate in the Atlantic (with six Mediterranean deployments). The boat was decommissioned in 1973.
During the war, Tirante was credited with sinking eight ships totaling 28,300 tons on her first war patrol and three ships totaling 7,400 tons on her second. Postwar JANAC analysis reduced these counts to six ships totaling 12,621 tons on her first war patrol and two ships totaling 3,265 tons on her second patrol.
Lieutenant Commander Street’s record of sinking 11 ships totaling 37,000 tons in two patrols (reduced after the war to eight ships totaling 15,886 tons) puts him 48th on the list of successful U.S. submarine commanders, although few could match him for sheer audacity. Street would continue to serve after the war, retiring as a captain in 1966 as the Commander, Submarine Group San Francisco Bay Area.
Street was the last of seven submarine commanding officers awarded the Medal of Honor in World War II (and the last in the U.S. submarine service to receive the Medal of Honor) The other six were:
- Captain John P. Cromwell, who received a posthumous award as commander of the submarine coordinated attack group embarked on Sculpin (SS-191) when she was lost on her ninth war patrol, on 19 November 1943 (see H-Gram 025 and H-025-1)
- Commander Samuel D. Dealey, as commanding officer of Harder (SS-257) on her fifth war patrol, and who was lost with Harder on her sixth war patrol, on 24 August 1944 (see H-Gram 032 and H-032-1)
- Commander Eugene B. Flukey, as commanding officer of Barb (SS-220) on her 11th war patrol, on 23 January 1945 (see H-Gram 041 and H-041-2)
- Commander Howard W. Gilmore, who received a posthumous award as commanding officer of Growler (SS-215) on her fourth war patrol, on 7 February 43 (see H-Gram 015 and H-015-1)
- Commander Richard H. O’Kane, as commanding officer of Tang (SS-306) on her fifth war patrol, on 23 and 24 October 1944 (see H-Gram 038)
- Commander Lawson P. Ramage, as Commanding officer of Parche (SS-384) on her second war patrol, on 31 July 1944 (see H-Gram 033 and H-033-2)
Medal of Honor Citation for Commander George L. Street, 14 April 1945:
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Commander (then Lieutenant Commander) George Levick Street III, United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the USS Tirante (SS-420) during the First War Patrol of the vessel against enemy Japanese surface forces in the harbor of Quelpart Island, off the coast of Korea, on 14 April 1945. With the crew at surface battle stations, Commander Street approached the hostile anchorage from the south within 1,200 yards of the coast to complete a reconnoitering sweep of the island. Leaving the 10-fathom curve far behind, he penetrated the mined and shoal-obstructed waters of the restricted harbor despite numerous patrolling vessels and in defiance of five shore-based radar stations and menacing aircraft. Preparing to fight it out on the surface if attacked, Commander Street went into action, sending two torpedoes with deadly accuracy into a large Japanese ammunition ship and exploding the target in a mountainous and blinding glare of white flames. With Tirante instantly spotted by the enemy as she stood out plainly in the flare of the light, he ordered the torpedo data computer set up while retiring and fired his last two torpedoes to disintegrate in quick succession the leading frigate and a similar flanking vessel. Clearing the gutted harbor at emergency full speed ahead, he slipped undetected along the shoreline, diving deep as a pursuing vessel dropped a pattern of depth charges at the point of submergence. His illustrious record of combat achievement during the First War Patrol of the Tirante characterizes Commander Street as a daring and skilled leader and reflects the highest credit upon himself, his valiant command, and the United States Naval Service.
Navy Cross Citation for Lieutenant Commander George L. Street, May–July 1945:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Commander George Levick Street III, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his professions as Commanding Officer of USS Tirante (SS-420) on the Second War Patrol of that submarine during the period 20 May 1945 to 19 July 1945, in enemy controlled waters of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. Tracking his targets relentlessly in comprehensive coverage of perilous waters bordering the Japanese Empire, Lieutenant Commander Street launched his smashing torpedo and gunfire attacks against hostile freighters, junks and picket boats, sinking over 7,000 tons of shipping vital to Japanese supply. Defying all hazards, he then penetrated the restricted waters of Ha Shima, seven miles inside the entrance to Nagasaki Harbor, to launch daring attacks in the center of the harbor and destroy a Japanese collier and important docking facilities, retiring on the surface amidst the fury of gunfire from numerous small craft and shore batteries and returning the Tirante safe to port. His daring incursion in Japanese waters, his aggressive combat tactics and his skill in evading fierce hostile countermeasures resulted in a substantial weakening of the enemy’s shipping strength and reflect the highest credit upon Lieutenant Commander Street, his valiant command and the United States Naval Service.