Don Lichty of Lemon Bay Isles mobile home park in Englewood was a torpedoman aboard the USS Torsk in World War II. Her claim to fame was she was the only submarine in the U.S. Navy to sink a train. She also sent the last two Japanese ships to bottom hours before the end of the Second World War.
Lichty grew up in Concord, N.H. and went to sea in 1945 aboard the sub built in Portsmouth, N.H. Even before the Torsk reached the war zone the ship’s crew suffered a tragedy when one of the seamen was accidentally swept off the sub’s conning tower during a practice dive off Portsmouth.
“Bill Snow was my best friend aboard the Torsk. He came up to relieve me on watch and I never saw him again,” the 85-year-old former torpedoman said. “The theory is he didn’t hear the command to clear the bridge just before the sub went down for a practice dive.”
The Torsk went on its first combat patrol off the coast of Japan in June 1945.
“We were on lifeguard duty off the northern coast. We were there to pick up B-29 bomber crews that might have to ditch in the sea,” Lichty said. “We never picked up anyone but we did go searching for Japanese ships to sink.
“It was June 2, 1945, we found a ship unloading oil at dockside. We fired a couple of torpedoes, but they apparently went under the ship, and hit a train trestle behind the tanker. At that moment a freight train filled with ammunition was crossing the trestle. A huge explosion erupted destroying the train, the military supplies and the trestle,” the former sailor explained.
On that first combat patrol, Lichty and the other sailors aboard the Torsk got to go topside and check out Mount Fuji from the deck of their submarine.
“Our skipper, Cmdr. Lou Lewellen, allowed us go up on the conning tower and see Mount Fuji,” he said. “I never landed in Japan, but I did get to see Mount Fuji”
The other unusual happening aboard the Torsk on that first combat cruise, one of their sailors developed appendicitis and had to be rushed to surgery back in Guam. Instead of sailing back to port, the Torsk rendezvoused with another U.S. submarine heading to port, off the coast of Japan, and gave the sick sailor to the returning sub crew,” he explained.
It was on their second combat cruise into enemy waters that the Torsk intercepted a Japanese radio message that told them precisely where the four mine fields were entering the Sea of Japan.
“With the new sonar we had just installed on the Torsk we could detect underwater mines. It took us 16 hours to negotiate our way through the four mine fields at the entrance to the Sea of Japan,” Lichty said. “I was on the bow plane going through the mine fields. We kept the boat at a 2-percent angle so our sonar would reach further ahead of us.
“There was a lot of kelp in the water that gave us false readings. After the third mine field we were going very slowly when a sonar guy yelled out, ‘Mine 200 yards ahead!’ There was absolutely nothing we could do to stop the sub,” he said. “It turned out a large fish had suddenly turned and gone in a different direction. When it turned it gave us a false reading. Moments later the fish swam off.”
It wasn’t long after that the Torsk negotiated the last mine field and entered the Sea of Japan that separated Japan from China and served as an inland sea for enemy shipping of all kinds.
The sub’s log takes the story from there:
Aug 12, 1945, 1:40 a.m. Picked up a contact 6,000 yards and began to close. Object identified as raft. We picked up six Japanese merchant seamen. They were the survivors of a Japanese freighter sunk four days earlier by U.S. Fighter planes. Picked up one additional survivor from same ship floating on wreckage. Survivors in good physical condition.
Aug. 13, 1945, 7:52 a.m. Sighted mast and stack of small freighter, bearing 326 degrees, range 12,000 yards. Freighter moving southwest along east coast of Pogo Island. Went to battle stations, fired two torpedoes aft and one hit, freighter sunk. A number of survivors seen on wreckage after target had gone down.
Aug. 13, 1945, 2 p.m. Sighted small freighter, bearing 183 degrees. Went to battle stations, commenced closing on target. Target hugging shore. Fired three torpedoes from bow tubes, one hit, target sunk.
Aug. 15, 1945, 9:50 a.m. Received CEASE FIRE ORDER—WAR OVER!
“On the way back home we dropped off our seven prisoners with the Marines at Guam. These Japanese were happy guys aboard our boat. We had three in the forward torpedo room, three in the aft torpedo room and one in the kitchen who knew how to cook,” Lichty said.
“Off Guam we ran into a typhoon and had to submerge,” he recalled. “We went down 150 feet and got out of the storm without any trouble.”
By the time the Torsk reached New London, Conn. it was October 1945. He got home to Portsmouth his wife, Lyn was there with their first born, Terry, born when his dad was starting on his second combat cruise into the Sea of Japan.
Lichty went to work for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of New Hampshire, a position he held for 40 years. He and Lyn retired to Lemon Bay Isles in Englewood in 1989. They celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary March 12, 2010. The couple has three children: Terry, Scott and Kevin.
Hometown: Traverse City, Mich.
Current: Englewood, Fla.
D.O.B.: 16 April 1925
Entered Service: 25 January 1943
Discharged: 28 December 1945
Rank: Torpedoman 3rd Class
Unit: USS Torsk
Commendations: Torpedo man 3rd Class Don Lichty received the following commendations: American Theatre Ribbon, Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Ribbon with one Battle Star, World War II Victory Medal, Submarine Combat Pin.
Battles/Campaigns: Pacific Theatre
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, May 5, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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Donald C. Lichty
Mar. 16, 1925 – Jun. 1, 2012
Donald C. Lichty, 87, of Englewood, FL, formerly of Concord, NH, died on Jun. 1, 2012. Services will be held at 11:00 am on Fri., at Englewood United Methodist Church in Englewood, FL. Funeral arrangements by: Englewood Community Funeral Home with Private Crematory.
Survivors include his devoted wife of sixty-eight years: Marilyn of Englewood, FL; three sons: Terry (Susan) of Brewster, MA; Scott (Linda) of Apple Valley, MN; Kevin of Concord, NH; eight grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
Memorial contributions may be made to the EUMC Methodist Men’s Scholarship Fund (2012-13 year,) 700 East Dearborn Street, Englewood, FL 34223 or the charity of your choice in memory of Donald Lichty.
You may share a memory with the Lichty family at Englewood Community Funeral Home web page.