Frank DeVere Latta, captain of USS Lagarto (SS 371), had a passion for motorcycles. So much so that he would bring his bike with him on his patrols during World War II, even though it was against Navy policy. According to his son Mike, Latta would disassemble his Harley-Davidson and stow it on board the submarine. Whenever Lagarto made port for shore leave or supplies, Latta and a crewman would reassemble the bike and Latta would take off down the dock.
On May 3, 1945, Lagarto was sunk by the Japanese minelayer Hatsutaka. For 60 years, Lagarto’s final resting place was unknown. In May 2005, divers found the remains of Lagarto, intact and sitting upright at a depth of 200 feet in the Gulf of Thailand. If, as believed, the Harley-Davidson was aboard when Lagarto went down with Latta and her crew, the bike is certainly still there. Latta’s bike is thought to be a late 1942 EL or CL civilian model.
Shipbuilding has long been a predominant industry in Manitowoc; in the middle of the 19th century the banks of the Manitowoc River were lined with boat yards. By 1940 there were only two left: Burger Boat Company and Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company. It was then that the Navy Department contacted the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company and asked them to build submarines.
Celebrate the 28 Manitowoc-built submarines with this unique collectors pin.
The creation of battle insignia is a long standing tradition of the American armed forces. In 1940, Walt Disney studios in California began designing insignia using animal caricatures. Eighteen Manitowoc submarines are Disney designs. The battle insignia were thought to be a good omen and the insignia is placed on letterheads, worn on backs of jackets, and were painted on conning towers when submarines were not on patrol.
Many of the submarines were named after the “denizens of the deep,” with fierce names and fierce insignia. Their patches depicted fierce fighting fish, mermaids ridding or holding a torpedo, or exploding torpedoes and Japanese flags. The designs were meant to send a “don’t mess with us” warning to the enemy. The tougher the creatures looked, the more the submariners liked them.
On June 13, 1923, Captain Ernest J. King, Commander Submarine Division Three, suggested to the Secretary of the Navy that a distinguishing emblem for qualified submariners be adopted. The Bureau of Navigation spent the next several months soliciting designs from several sources for a badge. A Philadelphia firm submitted two concepts. These were merged into a single design showing a bow view of a submarine flanked by dolphins in a horizontal position with their heads resting on the upper edges of the submarine’s bow planes. This design became known as “dolphins” and in March 1924, Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. authorized the “dolphins” badge. The design symbolizes a calm sea and the mythical dolphins that are the traditional attendants of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea.
As other countries began creating or revising the design of their submarine pins, many based their designs on the United States dolphins badge. Approximately 13 countries have incorporated dolphins in their submarine qualification badges. Today’s dolphins depict a modern conning tower in place of a diesel submarine bow.