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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.10

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 10

 

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific
 


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  Captain Warder sent the Wolf plunging forward with every ounce of power we could muster. Twenty-four hours later found us at the entrance of the Lombok Straits, struggling in some of the most dangerous and unpredictable water currents in the world. We dove at daylight, and through the long hours the Wolf fought to maintain her course submerged. Depth control and navigation were extremely difficult. Every inch was a battle. The waters were shallow, and vicious cross currents made them treacherous. Sometimes we moved for six hours in one direction, only to learn that we had not gained a foot, actually, but had even been forced backward. The crew was tense. No matter how dangerous surface waters may be, there are always guides—sun, stars, shore points—by which you can set your course. But under the sea everything must depend upon the navigator and his estimate of the ship's position, and upon what sound tells him: how far, how fast, and in what direction the underwater currents may be taking the ship off her course.

  As we laboriously maneuvered with Bali on our left and Lombok on our right, we heard more news. None of it was good.

  Now the Japs were bringing their offensive to pinpoint focus. They were concentrating a tremendous force on one assault, to take the Bali airfield. They might even attempt a landing on Bali, under our nose. Captain Warder picked the most logical place for the Nips to attempt such a landing, and we kept that under close observation. A British submarine, we learned, was posted at the northern entrance of the straits. One of our older S submarines was assigned to the central area; and we were given the southern entrance. We patrolled carefully, day and night, awaiting the Japs. Then came a message from the High Command: urgent orders must pull the S boat elsewhere and we'd have to take over her area. Now our job was doubled. We lengthened our patrol. During the day the Wolf was alert within the straits, covering every point she could; at dusk she stole out through the southern entrance, surfaced, charged batteries, and ran the patrol back and forth in front of the entrance.

  On the seventh night came another urgent message: the Jap force had been sighted. An armada of Jap men-of-war and transports was racing full speed for the Lombok Straits. The Seawolf was ordered to meet it head on. We halted our battery charge and at terrific speed knifed our way on the surface northward for the straits, plunged into them, and did not ease our Diesels until the dull mass of Nusa Besar, a small island in the middle of the channel, came into sight. We waited, watched, waited ...

  "Something one point on the starboard bow, sir!" It was the bow lookout. The time was 2 a.m.

  "Clear the bridge! Stand by to dive!"

  Wang! went the klaxon horn signal. Men tumbled down the ladder, the hatch was swiggled tight, we crash dived and leveled off.

  Now, on sound, I heard pinging all around. We'd gotten into a hornet's nest, all right. We didn't realize it then, but we had penetrated through the outer screen of Japanese destroyers—their first defense, specifically set up to intercept any enemy force—and were in the middle of the Jap task force.

  Captain Warder upped his periscope carefully. "It's pitch black up here," he said. "I can't see a damn thing ... not a damn thing."

  But in the sound shack, phones pressed against my ears, I heard the chorus of beating screws. Maley, who'd been dozing just before the diving alarm sounded, joined me. His long nose seemed even longer.

  "Jesus," he said soberly, "I hear we're really in it."

  "You're not kidding," I said. "We've got a whole nest of them up there."

  He pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit it. "I understand from the talk that we're heading right in," he said, staring at the red tip of his cigarette. "The old man's waiting until it comes light so he can see what he's doing. He's not interested in these destroyers, anyway. He wants the troop ships."

  Overhead the Jap screws churned the sea. Their sound came down through the water and penetrated the ship's hull. Everyone heard it.

  Maley inhaled deeply. The subdued light of the radio shack etched the hollows under his cheekbones. "It's going to be a long day," he said.

  I said, "Yes, it looks like we're going to have quite a time."

  Maley puffed again, suddenly ground out his cigarette, stood up impatiently, pulled at his ear, and wanted to know if I didn't want coffee. "I'll take over for a while," he said.

  I looked at my watch: 5 a.m. I still had three hours to go. I recognized Paul's symptoms. He wanted to sit down and hear for himself. He wanted to size things up himself.

  "Okay," I said. I gave him the phones and ambled aft into the mess hall. Half a dozen men were there, sipping coffee and complaining about it. The coffee was the first made from a batch of Javanese coffee we'd taken on at Surabaya, and though we knew it was supposed to be the best coffee in the world, we didn't like it. We thought it reeked.

  "What we got up there?" someone asked. "Does it look like we're going to get it, Eck?"

  I shrugged my shoulders. No use kidding ourselves. "The way I get it," I said, "we're in a whole damn swarm of ships. We got four or five Nip destroyers rushing around up there."

  I was certain that eight or ten more were patrolling the entrance of the straits. We were in here tight, all right. I took my coffee back into the sound shack.

  Maley gave me the phones with a tired smile. "They don't sound like they'd want to play games up there," he said. Then he went off to finish sleeping. At dawn the Skipper brought us up to periscope depth. He scanned the sea. "Well, I'll be damned," he said. "What do you think of that? Down periscope." Then, to Ensign Mercer: "Jim, there's nothing up there now. Nothing at all. Let me see those charts." It was evident that the destroyers had spread out and were running an entrance patrol, completely unaware that we were already inside. I was right. We were locked in the straits.

  Silence for a moment, then Captain Warder's voice again: "We dove at this point, didn't we? We've been making one-third. That means we should be in here somewhere."

  "That's right, sir," came Mercer's voice.

  "Up periscope," said the Captain. "Dammit ... dammit if I don't think I'm lost. I can't spot Nusa Besar. I see some land over there, but I don't know where it is on the chart. Do you suppose this current has thrown us off again? ... Hmmmmm ... Well, we're bound to run into them if we continue up the straits. We certainly can't miss them. There's too many."

  We moved on slowly, hour after hour. We were moving north in the straits, but we did not know our exact position. The Skipper took frequent periscope observations.

  "Aha," he said, some minutes later. "I see the masts of several big ships. They're close to the beach. They're probably where we thought they were, over near that Bali airfield. They look as if they're at anchor. Now, Jim ... if that's the airfield, mark my bearing." He estimated the distance. "Range, 16,000 yards." Then: "Now we ought to get an idea where we are. Don't sound battle stations yet. I want to get this navigational problem fixed up before I attack. I've got to make sure of what I'm getting into here, and I've got to find a way out."

  Minutes passed. The Skipper and Mercer were working at the plotting table. This was a damn important operation for the Wolf. If we could stop the Japs from landing on Bali, we could throw them off their timetable and delay their entire East Indies invasion. At this very moment the United Nations were pouring troops and munitions into the vital ports of Moresby and Darwin, building them up as supply bases. Every hour counted.

  "All right!" Captain Warder sounded satisfied. "We'll get on the course to close with them. Tell the crew to stand easy. It'll be quite a while yet before we get in to where I'm going to fire."

  We maneuvered slowly. We knew we were in treacherous waters and going into still more dangerous ones. Over my phones I heard the roar of shallow water eddying and swirling around the high coral shoals. The Wolf was weaving her way with infinite care through a subterranean maze of jagged, razor-sharp reefs, any one of which could rip her hull from stern to stern. The slightest error in navigation would be fatal for all of us. My watch showed a few minutes after 7 a.m. Gus Wright, battle
telephones on his ears, was in the after-battery compartment, ready to pass on all orders from the conning tower. We were ready to leap into action. We glided forward smoothly. Suddenly the Wolf lurched. The lights flickered. I was thrown off my stool. There was a grinding, grating noise.

  "We're aground!" someone shouted.

  It echoed thinly through the ship.

  Captain Warder's voice said: "All back emergency!"

  The Wolf shuddered. We heard the grating noise again forward on the keel. Suddenly we were free. Down below we began breathing again.

  "Well, Jim," said Captain Warder conversationally, "I guess we just won't go in that way. We'll have to find some other way in here."

  We reversed our course. We inched backward. Suddenly, another lurch, a jar, and the Wolf was stuck again, this time at periscope depth. Ten full minutes the Skipper made use of all the tactics he knew for such an emergency. No one did much talking. We were in a hell of a spot. We were trapped, we were lost, and above us prowled Jap warships loaded with depth charges.

  Captain Warder, at the control-room periscope, scanned the sea. The sun was shining, the day was bright. He could see the ships he wanted to attack, and he couldn't get at them. "I can't keep this up," he said. "I'll hurt her. She's going to get damaged. There are ships in there, and I've got to get them." He stepped back from the periscope. "Surface!" he snapped, and shinnied up the control-room ladder like a monkey.

  Sitting in the sound shack, I felt my stomach turn over. I went ice cold. For the first time in my life I think I knew absolute, craven fear. Here it was bright daylight, and Captain Warder was bringing us up in the middle of a Jap task force that could blow us to bits with a single salvo.

  The Wolf broke water. The hatch sprang open. The Captain raced to the bridge. I waited instinctively for the first shells to scream over.

  Captain Warder's voice came down evenly: "Put two main engines on propulsion. Put two on quick battery charge." Then: "Send raincoats to the bridge."

  Nothing made sense any more, and then all at once it did. As we surfaced, a tropical squall had struck us, as though in the Wolf’s extremity someone had cast a huge gray blanket over us, shielding us from the Japs. "An act of God," Captain Warder called it later. Dangerous as the surfacing appeared to us below, the Skipper was correct in his analysis of what had to be done. If we continued underwater, we might be caught on the coral reefs. Far better to risk getting out of these dangerous waters, with the chance of fighting it out on the surface, than to be set up like a sitting duck on a rock for the Japs.

  We ran toward deeper water on the two engines, full speed, for about half an hour, and then we dove. It was our eleventh night out of Surabaya. As soon as we leveled off, I began searching for ships. Something was wrong. The familiar background of water noises was missing. The number two projector was dead. It must have snapped off the end of the second sound shaft when we ran aground. Now the Wolf was crippled in sound, badly crippled. There was nothing we could do to fix it. Now sound had only one projector with which to search and find the enemy, look out for other ships, and trace the trail of our torpedoes. I reported it to the Captain.

  "Carry on the best you can, Eckberg," he said.

  We moved in toward the beach. It was now 11 a.m. Captain Warder upped periscope. He saw three big transports jammed with Jap troops. He kept up a running report: "A destroyer over there ... That bastard is firing ... He's firing his main batteries. There they go—I can see the burst and flame and smoke .... Is he firing at me? He's firing in this direction, all right .... Hell, he can't see this periscope! ... Ohhhh. They're firing their anti-aircraft! There's something up there .... Well, that's fine!" He chuckled. "That takes the pressure right off us. Now we can really sneak in." Pause. "There's some Jap Zeros there, too, dammit."

  We closed with the transports. We reached a point where the water was so shallow we could go no farther at periscope depth. Captain Warder ordered the Wolf swung about so that he could fire from the stern tubes and be headed out at the same time for a swift escape.

  "Stand by!" came from the conning tower. Captain Warder coached Rudy at the helm. "Right a little ... Left a little ... Steady ... steady ... steady ... steady ..." This was a long-range shot. It had to be right. "Fire six!" A pause. "Fire seven!" A pause. "Fire eight!"

  I picked up the torpedoes as they went.

  "They're running hot, Captain," I reported. "I can hear them—"

  "Yes, they're running straight, too, Eckberg," came Captain Warder's soft voice. "I'm watching them."

  A minute later: "Oh, hell! Down periscope. Rig for depth-charge attack!"

  This was the first time the Skipper had uttered those words.

  My first reaction was simple curiosity. My pulses were beating at my temples, but through my mind ran the thought, Here they come. I’m really going to get it this time. I wonder how I’m going to act. Am I going to be the screaming, raving type? Or am I going to be just another guy getting depth-charged? Was I—

  Captain Warder, slow and deliberate, broke in: "Now, Eckberg, here comes a destroyer. We are going to get hell. I want you to pick up those propellers, and I want you to give me bearings. Give me all the information you can in regard to this ship."

  Under his words I heard three distant muffled explosions. Our fish had hit home. I answered him, surprised at my calm voice: "I sure will, Captain. I've got him now. I've got his screws. They're bearing one six zero, they're fast, and they're getting louder." The whish-sh ... whish-sh ... whish-sh of the destroyers' screws was clear in my phones.

  "Good!" said the Captain.

  "He's coming portside, Captain, he's coming fast."

  "Very well, Eckberg. Keep talking."

  "Aye, aye, sir."

  Now every moving thing in the Wolf—every bit of machinery, every source of sound—was turned off. The air-conditioning machinery was switched off, lest its sound betray us. The whir of the fans ceased. The blowers stopped. The hydraulic pump jarred to a halt. The whine of the electric generators died away. The men took off their sandals lest a footfall betray us. In the galley the mess cooks silently shifted pots and pans from the stove to the floor, lest an accidental push send them clattering down.

  Throughout the ship the buzz of conversation stopped. We waited. The heat began to increase. The Wolf was as silent as a tomb save for the low grind of my sound controls as I spun dials, worked my wheels frantically to keep the Jap clear in my phones. Now he was 5,000 yards away. I must know where he was every second and where he would be. The perspiration began to roll off me. It seemed as though someone was pouring water down my back. Four thousand yards ... three thousand ... two thousand ... one thousand ... The temperature within the Wolf was at least 110 degrees ... five hundred yards... I began to say, "Bearing two five five," but I never pronounced the second five. The first depth charge exploded. Everything suddenly turned upside down. It was the loudest sound I had yet heard. It was as solid as a blow on the skull, it was like a thunderclap between my ears. I found myself on the floor, my stool upturned. Maley was on the floor beside me, scrambling to his feet. We were in a snowstorm—paint chippings and cork from the bulkheads filled the air. The photographs of Marjorie and Spike tumbled down on me. The books on the shelf fell to the floor. Paint flew off corners. Overhead, electric bulbs shattered in their sockets. The lights flickered off, then on again. The wall opposite me billowed in toward me; the force of the concussion was so great it had contracted the Wolf’s hull like a rubber ball. It was as though a gigantic hand had reached under the sea, grabbed the Wolf about the middle, and shaken her.

  I was sitting in a puddle of my own perspiration, one hand flung back to break my fall. I tried to get up. I reached forward to grab my bearing-control lever, and an electric shock jarred me from head to toe. I was grounded in my own sweat. I tingled to my fingertips. And all the time from that terrific explosion it seemed that somewhere, deep in my skull, behind my eyes, my brain pan jangled like a struck bell.

&n
bsp; All this could have taken only a few seconds. As from a great distance I heard Captain Warder's voice, asking insistently, "Where is he now, Eckberg? Where is he now?"

 
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