U.S. TV Movie Explores MV Trident’s Discovery of USS Lagarto in Gulf of Thailand

Posted on 05/22/09 No Comments

lagarto-movieAmerican public television this weekend will debut a documentary about the mission, sinking and — 60 years later — discovery of the USS Lagarto, a U.S. submarine sunk by the Japanese during World War II in the Gulf of Thailand and found by Jamie Macleod and the crew of Koh Tao’s MV Trident.

“Lost and Found: The Legacy of the USS Lagarto” will air on Public Broadcasting System channels in Chicago, Milwaukee, Wisc.; and Indianapolis, Ind. to mark the annual Memorial Day holiday.  Airing times can be found here. The one-hour film was made by Chicago filmmakers Harvey Moshman and Chuck Coppola, who produced the Emmy Award-winning local documentary “The Eastland Disaster.”

The Lagarto was one of 28 submarines built by the Wisconsin’s Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. during World War II. Weeks before the end of the war in May 1945, it sank in the Gulf of Thailand. The sub was lost for more than sixty years, until May 2005, when it was discovered  sitting upright in 225 ft. of water.

In a story this week in Milwaukee’s Pioneer Press newspaper, the producers talk about the genesis of the film and the challenges and thrills of making it.

“For 60 years, families of the Lagarto never knew what happened,” Coppola said.

“Everybody had the same interesting story that had no ending,” Moshman said. “Now we have an ending.” …

…Moshman and Coppola, writers and producers, hired technical divers John Chatterton and Ritchie Kohler, hosts of History Channel’s “Deep Sea Detectives” to survey the sub and film it. …

…An interview with Ben Jarvis, a commander on another submarine, reveals he was one of the last people to speak with Frank Latta, commander of the USS Lagarto, when the two subs pulled up next to each other so Jarvis could tell Latta about the convoy of Japanese ships in the shallow Gulf of Thailand.

The Lagarto set off in pursuit of the ships and never came back.

It wasn’t seen again until 60 years later, by another generation that included divers Jamie MacLeod and Stewart Oehl. They learned that fisherman had been losing nets there to someting big 250 feet below the surface.

Divers found the Lagarto covered in layers of those lost nets. Some mystery surrounds what exactly caused the sinking of the submarine.

A depth-charge attack from the Japanese ships almost certainly played a role, but divers could not find a crack in the sub’s hull. If the sub could be raised or entered, more clues might reveal what caused it to sink. But, it’s a memorial now, and law prohibits it from being raised or entered. However, “Lost and Found” explores some intriguing theories, which include an empty torpedo chute and the risk of diving a sub in such shallow waters.

Kenney would like to know more and is in favor of entering the sub, if it were possible.

“I think I’m in the minority, though,” he said, adding he respects the U.S. law and the wishes of the other families connected to the Lagarto crew.

Indeed, as the film documents the ultimately successful efforts of family members to have the Lagarto designated a grave site. According to a story today in the Chicago Tribune:

Nancy Mabin Kenney of LaGrange was one of the leaders of the effort to get the Navy to recognize the Lagarto crew’s service. Her father, William Mabin, was a signalman on the sub, and Moshman and Coppola followed her to a remembrance ceremony celebrating the crew’s contributions. The tribute was held on the same part of the Manitowoc River that had been used for the launching of submarines decades earlier.

As the documentary airs in the U.S., Macleod and the Trident will again be diving the Lagarto. Thailand’s premier wreck hunters are, in fact, the only dive outfit allowed by the U.S. to do so. Macleod says he takes that responsibility seriously and forbids Trident passengers to take GPS fixes of the wreck site and not to disclose its location, which he says on the Trident staff know.

Content Protected Using Blog Protector By: PcDrome.