The Wake of the Wahoo



A gentleman on one of my tours suggested that I read this book.  He said since I like re-telling submarine stories that this would be a great choice for me, and it was !  He also told me what happened to the submarine, but promised he wasn’t spoiling it because the dust jacket would say the same thing.  The Wahoo was sunk by the Japanese.

Navy Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, retired,  wrote in the foreword that, “Postwar examination of enemy records reveals a report that, on Oct. 11, 1943, in La Perouse Strait, ‘Our plane found a floating sub and attacked it with three depth charges.’ That may be the epitaph of the Wahoo and 80 American fighting men,”

I started reading the book in late May and finished it a few days prior to this review.  I guess I read it so slow because I didn’t want the men to die.  I liked this book so much because the author, Forest J. Sterling incorporated dialogue into the book as if he were recording the events verbatim as they happened.  It made the book feel more lifelike as opposed to the books that read like a war log or an ultra technical how to manual.  He began writing the book 15 years after WWII ended.  So although he probably didn’t recall word for the word the conversations, he most likely remembered what could have been said.  I don’t dwell too much on the absolute accuracy of the conversations.  I take them for what they are because the enhance the story.

Sterling was the Yeoman of the boat.  Reviews also say this is unique as most sub stories are written by the Officers and their point of view.  In my opinion, who better to write the story than the Yeoman who is so apt at keeping records?  (I may be biased because that would be the job I would want on the submarine).  The majority of the crew stayed the same and Sterling made sure to introduce the crew members to the reader as they appeared by giving their full name, rank and hometown.

The majority of the story tells of the men on the boat, what it was like on the submarine, the intensity involved in being attacked and how scared the brave men actually were, as well as the skill and patience it took to attack and sink the enemy.  He also added details about their shore leaves in Australia, Midway, and Pearl Harbor.  They were given a special commendation party in Australia.

Sterling served on the Wahoo for 5 of the 6 war patrols in the Pacific theater.  That should give you an indication of Sterling’s fate compared to the submarine.

He had applied for Stenography school, and never expected to be accepted, but he was.  In fact, it seemed like he applied to spite and taunt his shipmates who begged him not to go.  Several men on board began to see Sterling as somewhat of a good luck charm.  Sterling was older than the other enlisted men as his Navy career began in 1930 when he was 19 years old.  As Yeoman, sometimes he was assigned to look out duty and would help the Captain and Executive Officer identify enemy ships and planes out of a book thus he had an important part in the sinking of the record number of enemy vessels.  Some men also began to feel that their luck was running out, and felt that the Wahoo minus Sterling would lock in bad luck.  The Captain asked Sterling if he would please serve out the rest of the war patrol before going back to the States.  Because Sterling was so close to the crew, he agreed.   Mid war patrol the Wahoo had to return to Midway to have the defective torpedoes looked at.

For some reason that even Sterling doesn’t know, the Captain changed his mind about how soon Sterling could leave. He let him off on Midway island before the end of the patrol and told him to head out to the school.

I can imagine the amount of survivor’s guilt that Sterling was left to deal with.  In the epilogue he stated, “…Sorry, fellows, I should have been with you. I can never understand why Captain Morton changed his mind and transferred me at the last moment. My spirit has been with you all these years!”

It was really sad for me and I cried when I finished reading the book even though I knew exactly what was going to happen.  Sterling made these submariners real to me and not just a list of names.  That’s what attracts me to history so much is the knowing and feeling that the people we study WERE REAL and that was part of his motivation for writing the book.  He wanted people to see how these men lived and who they were.  It is the way that Sterling wrote this book that the Wahoo has become my second favorite submarine. (Cobia has to be 1st favorite).  

Sterling passed away in 2002 and is buried in Biloxi National Cemetery.


Click on Sterling’s photo to read an extensive article from the website.

As an update, and not included in the book The Wake of the Wahoo:

July 2006, the Wahoo has been found !  Russian divers find the Wahoo sitting upright on the bottom of the La Perouse Strait in 185 feet of water.  You can read about it on the link above.  




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