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H-Gram 083: "Hit 'em Harder!"—Commander Samuel D. Dealey and USS Harder (SS-257)

31 May 2024

Photo #: 80-G-81925 Commander Samuel D. Dealey, USN

Commander Samuel D. Dealey shortly after being awarded his first Navy Cross by Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., USN, Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet, in ceremonies at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, 19 October 1943. The award was made for extraordinary heroism as commanding officer of USS Harder (SS-257) (80-G-81925). 

Download a PDF of H-Gram 083 (11 KB).

Memorial Day was a good time to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by Commander Samuel D. Dealey, USN, and all 78 other members of the crew of USS Harder (SS-257), lost in action off the coast of Luzon, Philippines, on 24 August 1944. Before her loss, Harder had already achieved legendary status in the U.S. Navy submarine force. During the war, Dealey and Harder were credited with sinking six Japanese destroyers, two frigates, and 20.5 freighters/tankers. Post-war analysis revised this to a confirmed four destroyers and two frigates, which is still the most warships sunk by a single submarine commander/submarine in U.S. Navy history, and quite likely the most of any submarine commander in any nation. Dealey was known for making particularly audacious attacks, but also for astute judgment in being cautious depending on the tactical situation. Harder’s fifth war patrol was described as “epochal” by famed submariner and author Captain Ned Beach.

During its six war patrols, Harder would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Dealey would be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor, four Navy Crosses, an Army Distinguished Service Cross, a posthumous Silver Star, a posthumous Purple Heart, and multiple campaign medals. Like many combat awards written when enemy records were not available, Dealey’s Medal of Honor citation is historically inaccurate, listing five destroyers sunk on his fifth war patrol rather than three. The valor above and beyond the call of duty of the entire crew is, however, highly accurate. Read more about Dealey, his crew, and Harder in attachment H-083-1.

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) maintains collaborative relationships with several reputable ocean exploration organizations engaged in locating sunken ships. One of these is the Lost 52 Project led by Mr. Tim Taylor of Tiburon Subsea, which searches for the 52 U.S. submarines lost in World War II. To date, Lost 52 has located and documented the condition of six U.S. Navy submarines: USS Grayback (SS-208), USS Stickleback (SS-415, lost after World War II), USS R-12 (SS-89), USS S-26 (SS-131), USS S-28 (SS-133), and USS Grunion (SS-216). Mr. Taylor was awarded a Navy Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2021 for his efforts in honoring lost U.S. Navy submarines and the more than 3,506 officers and enlisted crewmen lost with them.

Last month, Lost 52 informed NHHC that they believed they had found Harder in more than 3,000 feet of water off Dasol Bay on the west coast of Luzon, Philippines. After reviewing the extensive video, photographs, and other data provided by Lost 52, NHHC’s Underwater Archaeology Branch concurred with Lost 52’s analysis that this was the wreck of the storied “Hit ‘em Harder” and announced its confirmation on 23 May. The submarine is sitting upright in relatively intact condition except for damage from a depth charge just aft of the conning tower that was obviously mortal. As such, Harder is a hallowed war grave, deserving of as much respect as Arlington National Cemetery. The last resting place of her entire crew is protected by customary maritime law, which holds warships to be sovereign property in perpetuity, as well as the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention (with which the United States has not ratified, but abides) and the U.S. Sunken Military Craft Act (now under constitutional challenge by treasure hunters). This protection, however, is only as good as other entities choose to respect it, which is why Harder’s exact coordinates will not be disclosed, given previous depredations in the South China and Java Seas. 

During her war patrols, Harder sank some of the most modern and capable destroyers in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and survived numerous depth charge and aerial bomb attacks. But, in the end, Harder was lost to a relatively minor coastal defense escort ship (CD-22), whose Japanese captain, however, knew his business and was just as courageous. Two of Harder's torpedoes passed down CD-22's port side and one down her starboard side—a few feet either way and CD-22 would have gone the same way as the destroyers, but the ship’s subsequent depth charge pattern proved lethal to the submarine. The moral of the story is that against a highly determined and capable adversary, the line between victory and defeat can be very narrow indeed. Harder was lost in the course of victory, and victory has a price, often steep, as does freedom.

As always, H-grams can be disseminated widely, and back issues may be found here.

Published: Wed Jun 12 17:13:30 EDT 2024