Dudley W. Morton

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Dudley Walker Morton
Commander Dudley "Mush" Morton
Born(1907-07-17)July 17, 1907
Owensboro, Kentucky
DiedOctober 11, 1943(1943-10-11) (aged 36)
La Pérouse Strait
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Navy
Years of service1927–1943
Commands heldUSS Wahoo (SS-238)
USS Dolphin (SS-169)
USS R-5 (SS-82)
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsNavy Cross (4)
Distinguished Service Cross
Purple Heart

Dudley Walker Morton (July 17, 1907 – October 11, 1943), nicknamed "Mushmouth" or "Mush", was a submarine commander of the United States Navy during World War II. He was commander of the USS Wahoo (SS-238) during its third through seventh patrols. Wahoo was one of the most-celebrated submarines of World War II, as it sank at least 19 Japanese ships, more than any other submarine of the time.[1] Morton and Wahoo disappeared in 1943 during a transit of La Pérouse Strait. He was legally declared deceased three years later.

Early life[edit]

Morton was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, on July 17, 1907. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1930. There he received the nickname "Mushmouth", after a character in the cartoon strip Moon Mullins whose large square jaw and prominent mouth resembled Morton's. The nickname was shortened to "Mush", by which he was known for much of his life.[2] One of his classmates was Lance Edward Massey.

Naval career[edit]

Prior to the outbreak of World War II, Morton served on the USS Saratoga (CV-3), USS Chicago (CA-29), USS Canopus (AS-9), USS Fairfax (DD-93), and the submarines USS S-37 (SS-142) and USS R-5 (SS-82), which he commanded from August 19, 1940, to April 23, 1942.[3] Morton was promoted to lieutenant commander on October 15, 1942, and was in nominal command of USS Dolphin (SS-169) while it underwent extended repairs at Pearl Harbor. He was relieved to make a war patrol in USS Wahoo (SS-238) between November 8 and December 26 as prospective commanding officer, a supernumerary position to prepare him for command of a fleet boat. Morton took command of Wahoo on December 31 in Brisbane, Australia. Between January 26, 1943, and October 11, he carried out four offensive patrols, during which Wahoo was responsible for sinking 19 cargo and transport ships for a combined total of 55,000 tons.

Buyo Maru incident[edit]

During Wahoo's third war patrol, Morton was responsible for an incident which resulted in shipwrecked soldiers in about twenty lifeboats of sunken Japanese transport Buyo Maru being fired on while in the water. The transport was torpedoed by Wahoo on 26 January 1943. Morton was responsible for ordering the machine gunning of the shipwrecked survivors in the water.[4][5][6] Morton and his executive officer, Richard O'Kane, had misidentified the survivors as solely Japanese. In fact, they were mainly Indian POWs of 2nd Battalion, 16th Punjab Regiment, plus escorting forces from the Japanese 26th Field Ordnance Depot.[7]

Morton (right) speaks with his executive officer, Richard O'Kane on the bridge of the Wahoo ca. February 7, 1943

O'Kane's account describes Morton explaining that he should prevent enemy troops from getting ashore to fight again - as each one of them could cost an American life.[6] However, the Hague Convention of 1907 bans the killing of shipwreck survivors under any circumstances.[8] O'Kane further explained that the fire from Wahoo was intended to force the troops to abandon their boats and no troops were deliberately targeted.[9] Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, the Commander of the Submarine Force for the U.S. Pacific Fleet (COMSUBPAC) asserted that the survivors were army troops and turned machinegun and rifle fire on Wahoo while she maneuvered on the surface. He further stated that such resistance was common in submarine warfare. In 1975, historian Clay Blair claimed Morton opened fire first and the shipwrecked returned fire with handguns.[10]


After three arduous war patrols, Morton was given the highly dangerous assignment of penetrating the Sea of Japan for the second time, in October 1943. Morton was reported missing in action that December, when his submarine was presumed lost. After the war, it was determined from Japanese records that, on October 11, in the time frame in which the Wahoo was expected to exit through La Pérouse Strait, an antisubmarine aircraft found a surfaced submarine and attacked, dropping three depth charges.[11]

Declared deceased on January 7, 1946, Morton's decorations included the Navy Cross with three gold stars in lieu of a second, third, and fourth awards, and the Army Distinguished Service Cross. O'Kane believed the Buyo Maru POW shootings prevented Morton from being awarded the Medal of Honor.[12] The destroyer USS Morton (DD-948) was named in his honor.

Summary of war patrols[edit]

With six war patrols, Morton ranked third among the Navy's top skippers, credited with 19 ships and 54,683 tons sunk, per JANAC[13] (alternatively recorded as 17 ships/100,400 tons, per Blair[14])

Summary of CDR Dudley W. Morton's USS R-5 (SS-82) and USS Wahoo (SS-238) War Patrols
  Departing From Date Days Wartime Credit
JANAC[15] Credit
Patrol Area
R-5-1 Atlantic 1942 ? zero/zero[16] zero/zero Atlantic
Wahoo-3 Brisbane, Australia January 1943 23 5/31,900[17] 3/11,348[13] -->Pearl Harbor
Wahoo-4 Pearl Harbor, TH February 1943 42 8/36,700[18] 9/19,530[13] East China Sea
Wahoo-5 Pearl Harbor, TH April 1943 26 3/24,700[19] 3/10,376[13] Empire
Wahoo-6 Pearl Harbor, TH August 1943 27 zero/zero[20] zero/zero[13] Empire
Wahoo-7 Pearl Harbor, TH September 1943 lost 1/7,100[21] 4/13,429[13] Empire

In popular culture[edit]

In 1960, Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, Jr., ComSubPac during World War II, was asked to write the foreword for former Wahoo crewmember Forest Sterling's book, Wake of the Wahoo. He wrote about Morton: "When a natural leader and born daredevil such as Mush Morton is given command of a submarine, the result can only be a fighting ship of the highest order, with officers and men who would follow their skipper to the Gates of Hell... And they did." Added Lockwood: "Morton lined up an impressive number of 'firsts' during the short ten months that he commanded Wahoo: first to penetrate an enemy harbor and sink a ship therein; first to use successfully a down the throat shot; and first to wipe out an entire convoy single-handed."

In Herman Wouk's novel War and Remembrance, and the mini-series based on it, the Buyo Maru incident is prominently fictionalized as a scene for a major character's development.

Awards and decorations[edit]

Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Bronze star
Silver star
Submarine Warfare insignia
Navy Cross
w/ three 516" Gold Stars
Distinguished Service Cross
Purple Heart Navy Presidential Unit Citation American Defense Service Medal
w/ Fleet Clasp (316" Bronze Star)
American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
w/ one 316" Silver Star
World War II Victory Medal
Submarine Combat Patrol insignia


  1. ^ "A WWII Submarine Finally Comes Home". abcnews.go.com.
  2. ^ Toll, Ian W. (2015). The Conquering Tide. Norton. p. 260.
  3. ^ "subcommanders". fleetorganization.com/.
  4. ^ Bridgland p115-129.
  5. ^ Holwitt, Joel I. "Execute Against Japan", Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 2005, p.287.
  6. ^ a b O'Kane. Wahoo: The Patrols of America's Most famous WWII Submarine. pp. 153–154.
  7. ^ Holwitt, p.288; DeRose, James F. Unrestricted Warfare (John Wiley & Sons, 2000), pp.287–288.
  8. ^ Convention for the Adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the Principles of the Geneva Convention, Article 16
  9. ^ O'Kane, Richard (1987). Wahoo: The Patrols of America's Most Famous WWII Submarine. Presidio Press.
  10. ^ Blair, pp.384–386.
  11. ^ "United States Submarine Losses, World War II – Wahoo (SS 238)". history.navy.mil. Archived from the original on April 9, 2010.
  12. ^ DeRose, James F. (2000). Unrestricted Warfare: How a New Breed of Officers Led the Submarine Force to Victory in World War II. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  13. ^ a b c d e f Roscoe (1949) p. 563
  14. ^ Blair (1995) pp. 984–987
  15. ^ Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee. Blair rounded entries in his tables (see Blair p. 900, bottom) while Roscoe's tables are an accurate transcription of the JANAC report.
  16. ^ Blair (1975) p. 895
  17. ^ Blair (1975) p. 923
  18. ^ Blair (1975) p. 926
  19. ^ Blair (1975) p. 930
  20. ^ Blair (1975) p. 933
  21. ^ Blair (1975) p. 939


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