FRANK D. LATTA, CDR, USN

From USNA Virtual Memorial Hall

Frank Latta '32

Date of birth: January 10, 1909

Date of death: May 4, 1945

Age: 36

Lucky Bag

From the 1932 Lucky Bag:


Loss

1932 Latta 1.jpg

Frank was lost when USS Lagarto (SS 371) was sunk by a Japanese surface ship on May 4, 1945 in the Gulf of Siam. He was the commanding officer.

His wife was listed as next of kin.

Career

"Commander Frank D. Latta (right) with his Executive Officer, LT William H. Mendenhall (on left), at the commissioning of the USS Lagarto (SS-371) on 14 October 1944, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of US Navy Archives."

From Fleet Organization:

  • Duty with Submarine Escape Tank Submarine Base Pearl Harbor 1 Jul 1939 - 1 Nov 1940
  • Captain USS Ortolan (ASR-5) 31 Jul 1941 - 8 Apr 1942
  • Executive Officer USS Narwhal (SS-167) 2 Jul 1942 - 16 Oct 1942
  • Captain USS Narwhal (SS-167) 16 Oct 1942 - 26 Mar 1944
  • Captain USS Lagarto (SS-371) 14 Oct 1944 - May 1945
  • Lieutenant (j.g.) 2 Jun 1935
  • Lieutenant 1 Nov 1939
  • Lieutenant Commander (T) 15 Jun 1942??
  • Commander (T) 18 Nov 1942

Wartime Service

From Warfare History Network:

And so it was, on October 23, 1943, USS Narwhal, Lt. Cmdr. Frank D. Latta commanding, departed Australia bound for Mindoro and Mindanao. For this inaugural Spyron trip she was transporting two Army radio intelligence teams, 92 tons of cargo, and Chick Parsons. The supplies ran the gamut from rifles, pistols, machine guns, ammunition, grenades, radio sets, medicines, cigarettes, lubricating oil, uniforms, and typewriter ribbons and carbon paper (the rebels had a well-organized bureaucracy of their own), to communion wafers, propaganda, and chocolate bars wrapped in labels emblazoned with “I Shall Return, MacArthur.”

The voyage was routine, at least until November 10, when, at 10:35 pm, lookouts spotted a Japanese tanker escorted by three warships, range 12,000 yards. Latta decided to attack, waiting until the range dropped to 3,100 yards before firing four torpedoes at the target. All missed.

Less than three hours later two of those escorts spotted the old girl and took off in pursuit, one of them opening fire. Latta screamed for more power. The engine men gave him enough to push the boat through the Bohol Sea at an astonishing 19 knots (she was built to top out at 17). In time, Narwhal pulled ahead. When the ordeal was over, Latta christened the diesels that had saved his boat, “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

Two days later the sub reached Paluan Bay on the northwest coast of Mindoro, where half the cargo was unloaded along with one of the Army teams.

Narwhal then sailed down to Nasipit in northern Mindanao. While maneuvering into the tiny port, the sub ran aground on a shoal. Though it took less than an hour to back her free, those were tense moments for the crew in waters alive with Japanese patrols. When the boat finally reached the dock an enthusiastic Filipino band, resplendent in neatly pressed uniforms, struck up a warm welcome with a rousing rendition of “Anchors Aweigh.”

It took just a few hours to get the remaining supplies ashore. That accomplished, 32 evacuees boarded the boat for the trip back to Australia. Chick Parsons stayed behind with the guerrillas.

Narwhal arrived at Darwin on November 22, 1943, did a three-day turnaround, and headed back to the Philippines with another 90 tons of materiel and 11 men. The trip up was uneventful. The supplies were quickly unloaded, seven evacuees and Commander Parsons embarked, and the boat was steaming back toward Australia by December 2. The voyage was not without some excitement. Latta attacked and sank a Japanese freighter.

Frank is mentioned several times in a more in-depth recounting of his special operations delivery with Narwhal at Assemble in Agusan Valley: World War-II in Mindanao by Ray L. Burdeos.

From Naval Heritage and History Command:

Every patrol made by this officer was designated successful for the award of combat insignia, a record surpassed by no commanding officer in the Submarine Force.

Navy Cross

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Commander Frank DeVere Latta (NSN: 0-71545), United States Navy, for conspicuous heroism and skill in the completion of a series of secret missions as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. NARWHAL (SS-167), performed during six successive and successful War Patrols (4th through 9th inclusive, from 30 April 19i43 through 7 February 1944, each of which has been attended by great difficulty and invested with great danger. As Commanding Officer of the NARWAHL he supplied the foresight in preparation, the ever-painstaking attention to detail and unflinching courage in performance which have made these missions outstanding and successful. In addition to these missions he sank 8,500 tons of enemy shipping. His actions and conduct have been a striking example of invincible determination and bold courage, and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander 7th Fleet: Serial 00526 (March 11, 1944)
Action Date: April 30, 1943 - February 7, 1944
Service: Navy
Rank: Commander
Company: Commanding Officer
Division: U.S.S. Narwhal (SS-167)

Silver Star

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Commander Frank DeVere Latta (NSN: 0-71545), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action in the performance of his duties in the U.S.S. NARWHAL (SS-1678) during the THIRD War Patrol of that Submarine in the northern Honshu and Hokkaido areas from 8 July 1942 to 26 August 1942. As Executive Officer and Navigator, his outstanding skill and efficiency resulted in the sinking of 14,500 tons of enemy shipping and in the damaging of 4,000 tons. His coolness and high devotion to duty contributed directly to the success of his vessel in evading severe enemy countermeasures. His conduct throughout was an inspiration to the officers and men in his ship and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

General Orders: Commander in Chief Pacific: Serial 0767 (March 1, 1946)
Action Date: July 8 - August 26, 1942
Service: Navy
Rank: Lieutenant Commander
Company: Executive Officer
Division: U.S.S. Narwhal (SS-167)

Legion of Merit

From Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Legion of Merit with Combat "V" (Posthumously) to Commander Frank DeVere Latta (NSN: 0-71545), United States Navy, for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the Government of the United States in the performance of his duties as Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. LAGARTO, during that vessel's first War Patrol, off the Bonin Islands and off Bungo Suido, from 24 January to 20 March 1945. His skill and efficient leadership of a coordinated attack group, consisting of HADDOCK, SENNET, and LAGARTO, resulted in two brilliant gun actions. The first gun attack, at dawn on 12 February, accounted for the sinking of two enemy patrol vessels. Again, on the following day, Commander Latta led his submarines in another gun attack. Lack of ammunition precluded total destruction of two more patrol boats, which were severely damaged. The Commanding Officer once again distinguished himself by sinking a Japanese submarine, on 24 February, in a skillful submerged attack. His conduct throughout this splendid patrol was an inspiration to his officers and men and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. (Commander Latta is authorized the Combat "V".)

General Orders: Board Serial 870 (March 7, 1947)
Action Date: January 24 - March 20, 1945
Service: Navy
Rank: Commander
Company: Commanding Officer
Division: U.S.S. Lagarto


Class of 1932

Frank is one of 52 members of the Class of 1932 in Memorial Hall.