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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.12

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 12


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

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  "They're probably coming in under cover of darkness," said the Skipper.

  At night we surfaced. At dawn we dove in front of Flying Fish Cove. The Japs had the same charts as we, and undoubtedly they'd set their course for the cove. With their heavier armaments they might bombard the island before attempting a landing, trying to knock out the shore batteries.

  Captain Warder tirelessly studied his charts. He analyzed the Jap strategy: "The cruisers will bombard the island, with the transports undoubtedly standing off, waiting for the bombardment to cease. In that case the destroyers will be used to guard against submarines. That means our most valuable targets are the cruisers. Very well, we'll ignore the destroyers. We'll attack the transports if conditions are favorable, and we'll really make a try for the cruisers."

  When we surfaced that night we found a brilliant moon flooding the sea. We dared not be silhouetted against it. We went out to sea and recharged batteries. Beginning at dawn, Captain Warder made periscope observations. Our intercom system was open. We waited tensely. At the 7:30 a.m. observation came Captain Warder's voice saying sharply:

  "Here they are! Ummmm. Four cruisers in a line. Bombarding formation. I believe they're going to shell the island. Stand by to mark these bearings down, Casler. First cruiser, mark ..."

  Rudy Gervais, at the helm, spoke up: "One seven two, sir," he said, giving the Wolf’s course, reading clockwise from true north.

  Captain Warder: "Three four two," giving the course of the first cruiser.

  Ensign Casler, thus having the cruiser's course and the Wolf’s course, could determine the angle between and use this to compute our approach.

  "Second cruiser, mark," came Captain Warder's voice. "Three three nine ... Third cruiser, mark ... three four seven ... Fourth cruiser, mark ... three five two."

  Casler meanwhile had been taking down not only the figures but the time each mark had been made. The Wolf now knew the courses of the four Jap cruisers in relation to our own course.

  "Well, now," said Captain Warder, still at the periscope, "put this down. These are light cruisers, probably with six-inch guns. They carry planes. Two turrets forward. Turret aft. Catapults. I believe torpedo tubes. Typical Jap bow. Raked stern. Fire control tower is typical Japanese. Pagoda style. Got all that, Casler?"

  "I have it all down, sir."

  "All right .... Lovely day for our side .... I've got a good chop up here .... Beautiful for periscope work. Here's an approximate range: 12,000 yards. Angle on the bow, I'd say about eighty starboard. Speed, about thirteen knots. Casler, let's see what we can do with that. Down periscope."

  A moment later: "I think I'll have another look at those babies. Up periscope." A pause of perhaps forty seconds. "Well, the transports are heading for Flying Fish Cove. Apparently the island has been abandoned. At least, they're not firing. I'd certainly like to get in an attack on those transports, but we're too far out. But these destroyers aren't too far off. Here's a bearing on that nearest one. Mark."

  Rudy's voice: "One seven two, sir."

  Captain: "Two eight four." This cruiser was just off our port beam. "Down periscope. Sound, do you have any of those propellers down there?"

  I was on the alert. "I have that last cruiser you mentioned, Captain."

  The Skipper set the Wolf’s course to intercept the four cruisers. During the next hour he took frequent bearings on the Jap men-of-war. Finally, "Up periscope." Then, "Mark!" His voice was several notes higher. He sounded like a hound near the rabbit. "Cruiser Natori class. Angle on the bow, five starboard. Range, 3,000. Seems to be making medium speed. Down periscope."

  "Zero zero three, Captain," announced Casler. The cruiser was coming toward us almost head-on—only three degrees away from a collision course.

  Suddenly, "Battle stations!" the aaaap! ... aaaap! blared through the boat. The crew moved swiftly and silently into place.

  "Battle stations are manned, sir," reported Lieutenant Holden, diving officer.

  "Good!" said Captain Warder. "Up periscope ... This ship is patrolling. His planes are still on the deck. Down periscope. Range, 2,300. Left full rudder. Ahead two-thirds. Come to course three four zero."

  We were all tense now. I gave the Skipper bearings every few minutes. We were using every device we had to get into position for the kill. "Up periscope," came the Captain's voice. "Ah!" he said. "I see a command pennant. The admiral of this little organization is aboard this baby. Down periscope." He added, "Tell the forward room to make ready the tubes."

  "Forward room. Make ready the tubes," came from the Captain's talker. Then: "Captain, forward room has the word, sir."

  "Very well." Captain Warder turned to Mercer. "This fellow doesn't know we're here," he said. "He's not zigging. If he keeps coming ... Sound, have you got him?"

  I had him. "Bearing three five two, Captain."

  "Yes, that's about where he should be," commented the Skipper. "Stay on him, Eckberg ... Now, let's take another look. Wait a minute ... Willie, are you all set down there? How does it look?"

  Lieutenant Deragon replied: "Everything checking so far, Captain."

  "Very well. Open the outer doors."

  Moments passed. The word came echoing back: "Outer doors open, sir."

  "Up periscope," ordered Captain Warder. "Now, the usual method of firing, Willie. All set?"

  "All set, Captain." Lieutenant Deragon's voice was steady.

  "All set, Henry?"

  "All set, Captain." Henry Bringelman, at the firing controls, spoke as calmly as though he were giving the weather report.

  "Okay," said the Captain. He put his eye to the periscope. "Here he is. Stand by ... stand by ... Fire one!"

  I caught the sound of the fish as she went. My ears clicked with the sudden increase in air pressure.

  "One fired, sir!"—this from Bringelman, below.

  "Stand by, two ... stand by ... Fire two!"

  And almost like an echo, Bringelman's deep voice: "Torpedoes fired, sir."

  I heard the high-pitched whines. "The fish are running, Captain," I sang out.

  "That's fine, Eckberg. They're hot, eh?"

  "Yes, sir. Straight and hot."

  A second's pause. "Number three hit," came the Skipper's voice. "She's slowing down. Her propellers are still turning over. There go the steam jets! ... There's panic on her! Men running all over the ship! Dammit, I'd sure like to see one of those babies sink just once! Oh, oh, here they come. Take her down!" His voice faded. "Let's get out of the conning tower," he said. "Eckberg, you're going to have four sets of screws coming at you. They're coming here like a bat out of hell." He raced down the ladder into the control room to take his place on the chair outside my shack. The conning tower was sealed off. We had only a few minutes to wait. I picked up the screws. They were coming up the starboard side very fast.

  Now the depth charges came. They were coming viciously, one every ten or fifteen seconds, beautifully spaced. They came nearer and nearer our starboard side, and it seemed impossible that one wouldn't get us. I thought we were lost. The ship shuddered and rocked. The radio shack was again filled with a blizzard of flying paint and cork. Locker doors swung open and clanged shut again. I managed to hold to my stool this time, and turned just in time to see the cans of dynamite tumbling across the deck. I stuck out my foot and held them under it. The breath was almost knocked out of me, but I gave the Skipper every bearing I could. I shouted at the top of my voice. Captain Warder wasn't seated now, he was standing, clinging and swinging with the heaving of the Wolf. Every time I shouted bearings, he shouted back, "Good! Good! Good! That's fine! Keep it up!"

  His eyes were glued to the depth gauge. We were bouncing up and down like a rubber ball. The first screws died out of my phones; another set came in. Oh, God, I thought, now it begins all over again! One destroyer had completed his run of depth charges, and a second was coming up the portside to repeat the depth charging on that side. They were out to get us. I stole a swift glance at Paul. He was holdi
ng on for dear life, but he had a pencil in his hand and a pad before him, and he was a tally sheet on the charges. Four vertical lines, and then one through, for every five ... Intermittently, all through that day, the Wolf was depth charged. The explosions churned the sea about us. Every man was alert at his station. There was no sleep. And somehow we escaped unhurt.

  Late that night we surfaced, and then all night we dodged the same brilliant moon that harassed us the night before. We had to remain approximately fifteen miles off shore. The crew was in fine fettle. We were doing all right. We actually skipped sleep to take turns crowding about the conning tower ladder to breathe the fresh air and gloat over the damage we'd done. In Kelly's Pool Room the men were tired but jubilant. Gus Wright was sitting at a table, a cup at his side, his brows knit, and I would have sworn he was rolling a cigarette. Where did he get the tobacco and paper? I looked closer. The paper was toilet tissue. The tobacco ...

  "Coffee grounds," said Gus seriously. "I've been drying them in the oven." He held the paper in his left hand, sprinkled the black grounds into it from the cup, smoothed them out with a practiced hand, rolled it, flicked it across his tongue—and he had a cigarette. He lit it up and began to smoke. "Had to do this once when I ran a sheep drive up to Oregon," he said, and winked.

  I like my cigarettes, but not that bad. I'd got my fresh air. I went forward and hit the sack for a fifteen-minute nap.

  When the moon went down that morning, the Wolf turned toward the island again. It was about 2 a.m. We were making slow speed. Slowly we drove toward the enemy. It would take us until dawn to get to the point at which the Captain wanted to be. At 4 a.m. we had reached a spot eleven miles from shore, when suddenly:

  "Clear the bridge! Stand by to dive!" It was Lieutenant Syverson on the bridge.

  Captain Warder, in his pajamas, raced into the control room. The diving alarm sounded. We were under in a matter of seconds. By the time we leveled off, I knew we had spotted a ship on the port quarter. We didn't think he'd seen us. I took over sound and located him in one minute. Through the intercom Captain Warder said, "They're really looking for us if they're this far out. What do you hear, sound?"

  "I've got him. Captain," I said. "He's over on the port beam now. Not making much speed."

  Captain Warder upped periscope. It was dawn. "I see him," he said a moment later. The Jap couldn't see our periscope. We were very careful now. We were running out of torpedoes. We had only a couple of attacks left in us. "I'll be damned!" came the Skipper's voice at the periscope. "This cruiser is similar to the one we hit yesterday." He peered again. "And damned if they haven't a command pennant flying." He chuckled. "Boys, did we shift that Admiral around, or are they trying to trick us?"

  Finally, we attacked. We fired at 5:13 a.m.

  "Can you hear them run, Eckberg?" came the familiar question.

  Their whine was clear under the steady beating of the Jap's screws. What I wanted to hear was that explosion, and the sudden silencing of those screws.

  "Yes, sir, I hear them. I hear them, all right."

  "I believe they're heading straight for the target," the Skipper said.

  Suddenly the Wolf jarred.

  "We smacked her!" exclaimed the Skipper. "Let's go."

  I heard the death rattle of the Jap ship in my phones. It is an unmistakable symphony of death you hear as a torpedoed ship slowly sinks at sea. First, a series of sharp reports, like a string of firecrackers set off—her ammunition exploding. Then two muffled explosions, almost simultaneously—the cold water has reached her steam boilers, and they have blown up. With that, the sudden halting of the steady whish—sh ... whish—sh ... whish—sh of the screws, broken off sharply, like a voice suddenly choked off. Now fugitive crackling, splintering little explosions—the ship's pipes breaking up, her plates buckling and twisting off, and all this time, a slow, hollow gurgling like a man dying ... A few seconds of complete silence. Then the final Whoomph!—the ship's hull caving in like an eggshell between pile drivers as she reaches a depth where the water pressure is overwhelming. In that final Whoomph! everything gives way at once.

  "She's gone, Captain," I said.

  "Good!" said the Skipper. He trained his periscope on the sea where the ship had been. "I don't see a damn thing," he said. "No debris. Nothing at all. Are you sure you heard the screws stop, Eckberg?"

  "Yes, sir. I heard her blow up, Captain."

  "You're probably right," he said. "I can't see a trace of her up here. I think we really smacked her in the right place. I don't think there are any survivors from this one."

  I glanced at my watch: 5:17 a.m.

  The ship with all hands had gone down in little more than three minutes flat.

  Captain Warder spoke directly to the torpedo room. "Thank you, boys. Nice work, after torpedo room. Nice work on those bearings, sound."

  Five minutes later I picked up a set of high-speed screws. I reported it.

  "Oh, yes," said the Captain. "Sure, they'll be along to see what happened to their buddies. They're going to be awfully baffled. Let's see ..." He looked through the periscope again. "Yes, here they are. I can see them using their searchlights. They won't find anything. Down periscope. I don't want those big searchlights to swing around and spot us."

  The Jap destroyers paid their respects with two mild depth charges. We scarcely noticed them. We secured battle stations and returned to Flying Fish Cove.

  As the morning went on, we spotted a few ships. The crew was still on the alert. Nothing happened. Toward noon, the Skipper took another periscope observation near the cove entrance.

  "Ah," he said. "They're getting ready to leave. Yes, the Nips are engaged in some very intense anti-submarine patrols. Here are destroyers patrolling ..." His voice rose. "Here is a cruiser launching a plane. Boy, they really are looking for us. Down periscope. Dammit, I'd like to get in that water right at the cove mouth, but it's as flat as a pancake, and they'd pick me up. There's no doubt they're getting ready to leave. I can see the transports moving around inside the cove. What they're probably doing is sweeping for us right now. Do you hear them pinging, Eckberg?"

  "Yes, sir," I sang out. "Three or four pingers, sir, all over the place."

  "That's what I thought," he said. "They're worried and want to get out. They're a bit scared about leading those transports out. That means the cruisers and cans will sweep this place thoroughly before any mass movement begins. I did see one cruiser angling over this way, though. ... If he would keep coming we might get in this last attack." His voice suddenly changed. "Thompson, have them make ready that last torpedo and let me know when that's done."

  "Aye, aye, sir," came Thompson's voice.

  "Sound, do you hear anything new?"

  "About the same, Captain," I reported. "That cruiser you spotted is still coming this way. Pretty steady bearing, too."

  "Is that so?" commented the Skipper. "Well, let's take a look. Thompson, as soon as that fish is ready, have them open the outer doors."

  "Aye, aye, sir," came Thompson's voice promptly.

  "Up periscope," said the Captain. "Ummmmm. Yes, here he is. We can't close with him, though. If he'd zig this way a little ... No, he's going to get by us, dammit! I certainly would like to take a crack at him. Wait a minute ... He is zigging—and this way, too! Put this down ... Bearing, mark!"

  "Two six five," came Rudy's voice.

  Captain Warder looked at his azimuth. "Three two zero," he said. "Estimated range, 3,000. Angle on the bow, ninety starboard. Give me a normal approach in a hurry. Is that fish ready, Thompson?"

  "Fish is ready and outer doors are open, Captain," responded Thompson.

  "Right full rudder," ordered the skipper. "What's that approach course, Casler?"

  "Three zero zero, Captain," said Casler, who'd been working it out on the plotting table.

  "That's fine," said the skipper, his eyes still at the periscope. "Rudy, come to three zero zero ... He's still coming this way. Down periscope." In a satisfied
voice, "We'll fire on the next observation. Sound, have you got him?"

  "I got him, Captain."

  "Good! Let me know if he changes course or speeds up. This baby has a pennant, too. Well. If we sink him, that Admiral will have to get on one of those destroyers."

  There was snickering audible all through the boat.

  "All right," said Captain Warder briskly. "Let's have a look. Up periscope." Pause. "My ... what a target! I can't wait. Stand by ... ready, Hank?"

  "Ready, sir," came Hank's deep voice.

  "Fire!" Captain Warder's order was sharp.

  Our last torpedo shot from the Wolf’s bow. I followed it right to the target. It was a perfect hit, but I knew we dare not stick around to see her sink.

  "Now," said Captain Warder dryly, "if we had a few more fish we could have this Admiral riding a canoe. He doesn't have many more cruisers left here. All right, now. Abandon conning tower. Rig for depth charges. They'll be coming around again."

  It was 4 p.m. We knew this was going to be a tough one. The Japs—partly in panic, partly in rage—would make us remember this. We were not wrong. Most of us had not had any sleep for nearly thirty-six hours. We had now been under for a long time, and the moment the air-conditioning was turned off we began to feel the heat and closeness. The humidity was very high. We waited for the worst, Captain Warder, wearing only shorts like the rest of us, sitting in his chair outside the sound shack.

  The next hours were hell. At the beginning I heard the Jap's screws coming toward us. I picked the loudest and ignored the others. I stuck to him. After the second hour, the heat, the closeness, the strain, the lack of sleep began to tell. We found it difficult to carry out routine orders. I found myself repeating Captain Warder's words to myself for fear I would forget the first words by the time I heard the last. It was difficult to concentrate. Our minds worked sluggishly. After the fourth hour, a fog of moisture and humidity settled in the compartments throughout the Wolf. We squinted at each other. Some of the men lay sprawled on their bunks, seeking to conserve their strength. Others slumped on stools, their shirts tied about their waists to keep perspiration from running down their naked bodies.

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