Determining the Navy’s top submarine patrol captains of World War II can be a simple matter if your list is confined to those who sank the most enemy tonnage, destroyed the most ships, earned the Medal of Honor, or received the most Navy Crosses. Measuring a commander’s leadership ability, however, brings a more subjective yardstick into play, not necessarily reflected in the wartime scorecard.
Contending with adversity can help define a leader, and some of the most courageous and skillful American sub commanders sailed into combat with notoriously defective weapons. During the first year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, many boat captains were unnerved by torpedo failures and relieved of command. Others followed orders to attack aggressively. Some never came back. Others returned, bristling with resentment over torpedoes that ran too deep, failed to go off on contact, or exploded before contact.