George Levick Street,
by Edward Whitman
One of seven submariners to receive the Medal of
Honor in World War II, George Levick Street, III earned that distinction for the
extraordinary success of his first war patrol in USS Tirante (SS-420), and particularly
for his daring attack on Japanese shipping in a harbor at Quelpart Island, south of Korea,
in April 1945. Moreover, he then repeated that exploit in a raid on the port of Ha Shima
near Nagasaki only two months later.
Street was born in Richmond, Virginia on 27 July 1913 and entered the Navy between
the wars. By the time he reported aboard as Tirante's first Commanding Officer in November
1944, Street had already made nine war patrols on USS Gar (SS-206). Moreover, his
Executive Officer, then-LT Edward L. "Ned" Beach, later to become well known as
the author of Run Silent, Run Deep and many other books of naval literature, was himself a
veteran of ten patrols on USS Trigger (SS-237). After shakedown training in Long Island
Sound and off Panama and Oahu, Tirante departed Pearl Harbor on 3 March 1945 for her first
war patrol and headed via Saipan for the approaches to Nagasaki west of Kyushu, athwart
Japanese communication lines from Shanghai, Dairen, and Tsingtao. On 25 March, she claimed
her first victim, the 700-ton tanker Fuji Maru off Kagoshima and three days later sank the
1,200-ton freighter Nase Maru. The ensuing counter-attack by Japanese escorts kept Tirante
down for seven hours, but she managed to slip away without damage and sank a 100-ton
lugger on 31 March.
Upon the U.S. invasion of Okinawa on 1 April, Tirante was ordered to guard the
western exit of the Japanese Inland Sea against a possible sortie of enemy heavy units in
response. When relieved of those guard duties, Street moved Tirante north to the southern
coast of Korea in hopes of finding a target or two among the increasingly few at sea that
late in the war. On 6 April, however, word arrived that the Japanese super-battleship
Yamato and its escorts had indeed sortied from the Inland Sea, and Street moved south
again to position Tirante for an attack in case the Japanese were heading for Sasebo.
Yamato, however, was sunk on the 7th by aircraft from Task Force 58, and Street lost no
time in returning northward to sink a small freighter that same day, which unfortunately
could not be confirmed by postwar records.
With information derived from broken Japanese naval codes, Tirante was then
vectored to intercept a small convoy from Shanghai bringing Japanese soldiers and sailors
back to the homeland. Street maneuvered into position for an ambush and fired six
torpedoes at two different ships, succeeding in sinking the Nikko Maru, a 5,500-ton
transport. As the Japanese escorts turned to attack, Tirante countered with a homing
torpedo at one of them, and although "breaking-up" noises were heard, the
sinking could never be confirmed after the war.
Tirante had resumed patrolling the East China Sea between Shanghai and Quelpart
Island south of Korea when new intelligence arrived reporting that an important transport
had anchored with its escorts in a confined harbor on the northern coast of the island.
With Japanese shipping virtually driven from the seas, Street realized that he would have
to take the fight into the harbor to score a kill. On the night of 13 April, Tirante put
the ten-fathom curve behind her and headed in on the surface, through several miles of
shallow water guarded by patrol vessels, shore-based radar, and minefields. Inside the
harbor, with Ned Beach manning the bridge, Street fired three torpedoes at the transport,
Juzan Maru, 4,000 tons, which disintegrated in a blinding explosion that lit up the whole
scene. With Tirante illuminated by the burning transport, the Japanese frigate, Nomi, and
a small coastal defense vessel turned to the attack as Street maneuvered to make good his
escape. Pausing only long enough to launch three torpedoes at his pursuers, Street headed
back out to sea at flank speed as the two Japanese escorts became his second and third
victims that night and blew up. Her torpedoes expended, Tirante headed for home via
Midway, but managed to capture two downed Japanese airmen before ending her patrol on 26
For his relentless initiative and remarkable courage in the action at Quelpart, and
with six ships of nearly 13,000 tons credited to Tirante's first patrol, then-CDR Street
was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in October 1945, while Ned Beach received the
Navy Cross and went on to his own command. The ship herself was awarded the Presidential
The "rest of the story" is almost more incredible. In June 1945, on
Tirante's second war patrol, Street carried off a near repetition of his Quelpart attack
in making a long submerged approach in the shallow waters off Nagasaki to torpedo the
2,200-ton Hakuju Maru moored alongside a colliery on the island of Ha Shima. The gun crew
of the wounded Japanese ship took Tirante's protruding radar mast under fire, and Street
had to expend two more torpedoes to finish the job. Tirante then surfaced to clear the
area at high speed amid a hail of gunfire from Japanese shore batteries on the surrounding
headlands. The ship and her crew lived to tell the tale, and only the end of the war in
mid-August 1945 cut short her third patrol.
Dr. Whitman is a Technical
Director at the Center for Security Strategies and Operations (CSSO) at the Techmatics
Division of Anteon Corporation in Arlington, Virginia.
USS Tirante (SS-420)
was launched on 9 August 1944 at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Navy Yard and commissioned
on 6 November that same year. Then-LCDR George L. Street, III was her first commanding
officer. Tirante was a late member of the USS Balao (SS-285)-class, of which approximately
135 were commissioned between early 1943 and the end of World War II. They were followed
in series construction by the Tench (SS-417) class, which first appeared in mid-1944.
After the war, Tirante was decommissioned and placed in reserve, but she was later
upgraded to the so-called GUPPY configuration (for Greater Underwater Propulsive Power)
and returned to service in late 1952. Tirante spent the next two decades as an active unit
of the Atlantic Fleet until her final decommissioning in October 1973. Her principal
characteristics (during World War II) are listed here:
Length: ...................... 311' 8"
Beam: ........................ 27' 2"
Draft: .......................... 15' 3"
Speed: ....................... Surfaced: 20.25 knots
Submerged: 8.75 knots
Complement: ............. 66 men
Armament: ................. 10 21" torpedo tubes
forward, 4 aft)
5"/50 deck gun
40 mm gun
20 mm anti-aircraft gun
.50 cal. machine guns