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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.14

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 14

 

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


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  Deragon smiled. "Yes, sir, we are expecting the paymaster any minute." We all grinned. "Liberty will start immediately following pay day," Lieutenant Deragon went on. "It will expire at 7:30 a.m. aboard."

  The paymaster came. We got our money. And as soon as we had the chance, we went over the side and made for a train that would take us into town, about four hours distant. We wanted to relax, take baths, take things easy, do everything we hadn't been able to do for so long, and to forget depth charges and heat and lack of sun.

  Not all of us went off; the Wolf had to undergo extensive repair. The projector at the end of the No. 2 sound shaft had to be repaired. The entire area of the officers' staterooms, the starboard side and aft batteries, the galley and the scullery, had to be fixed up. But I was among those who went over first.

  Among my first assignments to myself was a haircut and shave. I had a good two-inch beard. To my dismay I discovered that in Australia I'd be taken care of, not by a barber, but by a "hair-dresser." I went in and lay peacefully relaxed, while I was shaved and made presentable again. Suddenly I was slapped in the face with something icy cold. I almost jumped out of the chair. Then I learned that in Australia after a man is shaved a young boy comes about with a contraption which is a cross between an old-fashioned bellows and a fizz bottle. He stands off about four feet from you as you lie there expecting the barber to pat tingling after-shave lotion on your face, draws a bead—and shoots. This, it was explained to me, was a disinfectant.

  From the beginning the crew of the Wolf was bath-crazy. Some of the men took three baths in a row. We ate, and washed, and showered and bathed. We couldn't get clean enough. Our feet pained at first; we had been so accustomed to sandals aboard the Wolf that even loose shoes pinched. The shoes led to a night's skylarking that almost had some embarrassing consequences. About a dozen of us were in a hotel in Perth one night and, according to custom, left our shoes outside our doors to be shined. The next morning I found a nicely shined pair of shoes outside my door—but instead of my size 12's, they were 8's. Then it developed that everyone had someone else's shoes outside his door. We were due back to the boat: we had to get back there. We dashed about, cursing, trying to match our shoes, and finally we all met in the lobby. Sully took charge, stood up on a desk, and auctioned off shoes according to size. As we were leaving, Sousa, looking pleased with himself, came down the stairs. He was wearing his own shoes. We didn't have time to cross-examine him then, but later, aboard the Wolf, he admitted all.

  We dashed back to the boat. We poured over the gangplank, down into the Wolf, and, following orders, got on our dress blues. We hurried topside wondering what was up. Now it became even more puzzling. Word was passed through the ship that the High Command, headed by Rear Admiral Arthur S. Carpender, COMSUBSSOUWESTPAC—Commander of Submarines in the Southwest Pacific—was coming aboard with his staff. We thought he was coming to look the Wolf over, and we were mortified. She looked like a wreck. Sousa mustered us in forward of the conning tower, for the after-portion of the deck was so ripped up we couldn't stand there. We lined up, port and starboard side, Captain Warder and his officers directly in front of the conning tower, and in a few minutes the High Command boarded the ship. There was Admiral Carpender, a gray-haired, gimlet-eyed Navy veteran; Captain James Fife, Jr., whom we'd evacuated from Corregidor, now Chief of Staff, Submarines, Asiatic Fleet; Captain S. S. Murray; and other high officers.

  Everyone was stiffly at attention.

  Admiral Carpender looked us over. "I congratulate you men on your magnificent achievement," he said. "You are the envy of every submarine in the Fleet. You've done a splendid and a memorable job, and we are proud of you. The cruise you have just completed has set a record for every other submarine to aim at."

  We all stood there, glowing.

  Then he turned to the Skipper. "Captain Warder," he said, crisply.

  The Skipper took two paces forward.

  Admiral Carpender was holding a small leather case in his hand. Suddenly we all got it. They were going to decorate the Skipper! "Captain Warder," the Admiral was saying, slowly and distinctly, "you have been awarded the Navy Cross"—He paused. In the ranks we had to fight to keep from nudging each other and letting out a yell—"for heroism and especially meritorious conduct in combat with the enemy as Commanding Officer of this submarine in three separate engagements with heavy enemy Japanese Naval forces. Despite the extremely shallow and narrow waters, and the strong currents existing, you successfully attacked a large enemy screened force sinking one transport and one destroyer. Later you made repeated attacks upon heavily screened enemy light cruisers, sinking one cruiser and damaging two others."

  He opened the case, took out the blue and white ribbon with its bronze Navy Cross, and, leaning over, pinned it over the Skipper's heart.

  "I congratulate you, Captain," he said, and extended his hand. They shook hands warmly.

  The crew of the Wolf was as thrilled as their Skipper. After all the congratulations were over and the High Command were gone, the Skipper turned to us.

  "This cross is as much yours as it is mine, boys," he said earnestly. "You have contributed as much as, if not more than I to the earning of it. I'm proud of you all, and I'm proud of the Wolf."

  We stood about deck after he and the officers left, gazing at the torn-up Wolf. We were proud of her, too. She was a damn good boat. We'd a bone to pick with the High Command, though, about crediting us with those few ships. We'd done better than that, but we knew how conservative the Skipper was. Even Zerk, the pessimist, was burned up about that. As he went by the conning tower, he knocked on it with his knuckles three times. "They don't make 'em better than this baby," he said. And he said it for all of us.

  Before we left there on our next mission of the war, the Wolf threw a party. Everyone was there, the High Command, the High Bishop of that area, who later visited the Wolf and gave the Captain, the ship, and her crew his blessing, and distinguished British, Australian, and American figures.

  Then, a brief two-day stay at another Australian port, and the Wolf was off again. She'd only begun to fight!

  CHAPTER VIII

  Jinxed

  WE LEFT port and headed north. A few nights later we pulled into a secret advance base where we fueled to capacity and filled our fresh-water tanks.

  We had a guest aboard, a lieutenant commander. As part of his indoctrination period before taking over his own submarine, he was assigned to the Seawolf as an observer. He was pleasant, about thirty-five, kept to the wardroom, and was in no one's way. Yet a few of the old-timers grumbled. Some submarine men are convinced that strangers jinx a voyage.

  This mission was clearly defined: unrestricted submarine warfare to destroy enemy shipping wherever encountered.

  We caught our first target just below the port of Koepang, on the coast of Timor. We were heading up toward Dili, Timor, not far from the shore, when suddenly a night lookout spotted a coal-burning tramp steamer, a single-stacker, about 250 feet long, lumbering along at six knots. It was a perfect setup, so perfect we'd make a surface attack. There was a moon out, and the steamer was beautifully silhouetted against it. The sea was smooth. We were almost invisible, the Seawolf’s dark hulk blending into the background of beach, so that the small portion of her above water was almost impossible to detect.

  I picked up the tramp's screws on sound. Now, very carefully, Captain Warder inched the Wolf into a position to fire. The orders came ... "Fire!"

  I picked up their high whine. I watched the hand of my stopwatch tick away the seconds, waiting for the familiar ka-rumphf of the fish going home, or the muffled blast of the boilers exploding.

  Nothing. We'd missed her. Slow and unhurried, the pulse of the tramp's screws beat steadily on my phones.

  "Hear anything on sound?" Captain Warder demanded. "Is she increasing speed?"

  "No, Captain. No change at all," I reported.

  We maneuvered for a second attack. Suddenly the diving alarm sounded. "Clear
the bridge! Stand by to dive! Take her down!"

  The night lookouts scrambled down the conning tower, the hatch slammed shut, the bolts wheeled into place, and the Wolf knifed down into the sea at a terrific angle. I hung onto my seat.

  What had gone wrong up there? Had we been strafed by planes?

  We leveled off. Now I heard the screws of the tramp grow louder.

  "She's coming in closer, Captain, much clos—"

  Captain Warder broke in. "Let's go deep!" he shouted. The Wolf plunged down, down ...

  The first charge came. It was far to our port side, and the boat shook as if a chill were running down her spine. More followed, fifteen seconds apart. They were still far from the target. Paul took off his earphones and wiggled his finger in his ear.

  "Looks like they're arming all those tramps with charges," he said, annoyed. "What the hell won't they think of next!"

  Gus Wright ducked into the shack for a minute. He had his apron on, and his hands were white with flour. "Think it's a decoy?" he asked. "Get busy there, boys." He grinned and vanished.

  Several more charges went off. From her screws I knew she was zigzagging all over the place. Finally her screws died out.

  She had vanished, most probably into Dili Harbor which the Japs were using. What had happened up there? What sent us down so fast? I left Paul on sound and stepped out into the control room to investigate. Gunner Bennett, who had the watch at the Christmas Tree, waved me over.

  "Hear what happened?" he asked. "That sure was a close one."

  "Close one?" I didn't get it. From the sound gear, she hadn't sounded that dangerous. "What do you mean?" I asked.

  "Well," he said, "there we were up, on the bridge, watching this damn tramp, when all of a sudden there's a big flash and something goes singing over my head."

  "You mean they were shooting at us?" I asked, astonished.

  Gunner rubbed his knee and looked at me. "It wasn't the ship's cook throwing potatoes," he said dryly. "The shrapnel pock-marked the conning tower."

  It was the first time Jap bullets ever hit the Wolf. When we thought of the Wolf being marked up like that—the finest sub in the Navy—we were burned up.

  Whatever the case, we had to move fast now. That Jap tramp certainly must have sent out the alarm. The Japs knew we were around here now. Captain Warder pushed on. We were on the offensive now. We reached a point outside the harbor, and maneuvered in close to the beach, taking the utmost care in the mined entrance. The water was shallow. The crew waited tensely.

  Captain Warder upped his periscope and gave us a running account.

  "See several masts in the harbor—all sailing schooners. Here's the town. White steeple, church ... Wonder if the Dutch are still fighting. Here's the airport. No activity. Seems to be a radio station here—I see the radio tower. I could shell this place at night ... yet the Japs may have shore artillery."

  We set a new course. About halfway to our destination, Ensign Mercer, at the periscope, spoke up. "Here's some smoke," he said. "Zero one zero. Down periscope. Tell the Captain we've sighted smoke."

  From his stateroom Captain Warder sent word, "Keep your eye on the smoke, Jim."

  After two or three five-minute observations, Ensign Mercer upped the periscope again. "Mark the bearing ... He's coming this way. Call the Captain!"

  Captain Warder hurried up into the conning tower and took over.

  "I can't make out any part of her yet, she's too far away," he said. Then there was a silence for nearly five minutes. "I can make out her mast ... Bearing 008 ... Range 10,000. Set a course to intercept. Down periscope." Three minutes later he stole another look. "Hmmmm, this is a beautiful ship," he said slowly. "Looks like one of those silk carriers."

  You knew he was eager to get her. I had her screws in my phones.

  "Battle stations!" he ordered. "Tell the boys we have a big ship up here all alone, unescorted. At least I don't see any escorts. Sound, pick him up yet?"

  "I got him, Captain," I reported. "Sounds like a Diesel job."

  "Looks like Diesel, Eckberg," he said. "Modern ship ... four-goal poster. Looks like a fast freighter. Length about 450 feet. Two masts. Raked funnel. Two passenger decks. Number on stack, can't make it out. Speed, about twelve knots. Straight course. Probably bound for Dili. Loaded, probably. Down periscope. Normal approach course."

  Before he fired, Captain Warder made sure of everything. His commands were crisp and precise. He was determined to get this ship, and he and Ensign Mercer checked and double checked every figure.

  Finally, "Fire!"

  His eyes on their wake, Captain Warder followed the progress of the torpedoes through the water. I heard them run to the target.

  Suddenly, an angry exclamation: "What the hell is this?"

  Captain Warder's voice echoed through the boat. "They missed the target. Dammit to hell, what is wrong? One fish climbed right up her side. What's wrong here? Here she comes heading for us. Let's get out of here!"

  We went down. Captain Warder took his favorite seat outside the radio room. The depth charges came. Luckily, they were mild. Captain Warder sat there resting his chin in the palm of one hand, the perspiration dripping from him, impervious to the crash and trembling of the Wolf as the charges exploded.

  He sent word down for Langford, and Squeaky hurried up, looking miserable. With him came Lieutenant Syverson, equally unhappy.

  "When did we service those torpedoes?" Captain Warder asked quietly.

  "Only last night, sir," said Langford. Lieutenant Syverson added, "I checked them myself last night, Captain. Those fish were perfect."

  "I don't understand it," said the Skipper. "Two perfect attacks, and two complete misses. This must stop."

  He rose. He was the picture of dejection as he went forward to his room.

  All of us felt the same. The supreme disappointment for a submarine crew is to line up a perfect target, aim the fish correctly, and have them miss—and then be followed by your target, all full of vim and vigor and dropping depth charges all around you.

  In the control room half a dozen fellows were sitting around the conning-tower ladder. Nobody said anything for a moment. Squeaky leaned against the ladder and growled.

  "Jinx, that's what it is—a damn no-good son-of-a-bitch of a jinx."

  No one contradicted him. We weren't too superstitious, but this wasn't funny anymore.

  We reversed our course and overhauled the ship. We kept her in position that night. The Skipper was determined to get her.

  We surfaced in late afternoon. There was no sleeping now. Every man was alert. We stalked our prey all night. We wanted to attack at dawn. The Skipper upped his periscope at 4 a.m. and studied the sea for a long time.

  "Well, now ... I should have expected something like this. That's a blinker light off there on the portside. The alarm's out for us, all right. Down periscope."

  At 4:10 a.m., I caught the beat of screws. We were in for it. Every Jap ship within a hundred miles was on the alert for us. And, one ship or ten, at false dawn we attacked.

  The Wolf practically tiptoed in for this one. Not a sound in the ship as we waited the order to fire. Overhead the Jap was calmly steaming along. Finally the order came:

  "Stand by to fire ... Fire!"

  I could picture the excitement in the torpedo room. Be jerk, his blue eyes alight, his face flushed, slamming the firing knob, slapping the first torpedo-tube door, and yelling as the fish left the Wolf: "Go get him, baby! Head for that bastard's belly."

  I caught the whine of the fish as they tore through the water.

  Squeaky Langford must be nearly berserk now, screaming, cautioning, everywhere at once: "Watch this ... Take it easy, dammit. Get going, you guys ... Move that son-of-a-bitch, will you!"

  If ever a sub wanted to sink an enemy ship, this was it. But nothing helped. The Captain's voice came over the intercom.

  "All missed aft." Then, a moment later, "Missed completely. Take her down."

  His words s
ilenced the entire ship.

  I could sit at sound no longer. "I'm going to grab some coffee, Paul," I told Maley.

  In the control room some of the crew were talking to Dishman, who was leaning on the sternplanes control. He looked like a mad bull.

  Hershey was telling Dishman: "That's the whole answer to it—that observer. That dodo bird we got on board. Hell, nine torpedoes and not a hit! The Seawolf never missed that many in her life!"

  There was silence. Zerk said dryly: "What the hell, he didn't push the target away, did he?"

  "He wasn't here last time, was he?" demanded Hershey. "No. So what happened? We didn't have any misses. We made a score. This run is different. There's a stranger aboard, and the Wolf doesn't like it."

  I went through to the galley and drew some coffee. Gus Wright was leaning on a shelf of the tiny alcove, working on the menu for the next day.

  "Tough luck," I said.

  "Plenty tough," he said. "I don't know why the hell I'm worrying about food. I'm not hungry now."

  I swallowed the scalding black coffee and went back to my vigil on sound.

  Word from the conning tower the next morning was that we were heading for the north. We moved on. For days we recharged at night and dove at dawn. Then near the Celebes, a message came through:

  "Patrol for convoy headed toward position Y."

  No use crying over spilled milk now. We raced on and took a patrol position at the northeast entrance of Macassar Straits.

  Now we found ourselves in a strange and dangerous company. The area was crowded with sampans, some of them carrying big 20-mm. guns. Every time the Skipper upped his periscope he ran into a group of them. We were under constant strain. A sampan with a radio could easily give away our position to corvettes or planes. We scared hell out of some of them when our long black periscope popped up in front of them. They scattered like a flock of wild ducks and headed for shore. We didn't like that either. It might rouse the Jap command.

 
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