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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.15

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 15

 

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


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  At one point the Captain, at the periscope, spoke up: "Here's something coming along ... A converted raider ... Well, well! She has a plane aft. Let's get her."

  He maneuvered the Wolf like a wizard in an attempt to get into proper firing position. If we sank one ship—just one—it would make new men of us. Once or twice it looked as if we were slipping into position, but dammit, no. She was just too fast, and there wasn't anything in the world that a submarine can do against a fast ship out of position.

  It was no use. She disappeared over the horizon.

  Slowly we moved north. We poked our nose into every cove and inlet, but they were deserted. Finally one night we entered a narrow, shallow channel and surfaced. Suddenly one of the lookouts sang out: "Object on port bow."

  We crash dived. My sound gear picked up the flutter of screws—a destroyer, I thought. Now, thinking over that night, a cold sweat still breaks out on me.

  The men sat on their stools; they lay in their bunks waiting. I could trace the enemy's course. He was taking his time, searching every inch of that passage. My heart was in my throat. Both Maley and I had our earphones pressed to our ears.

  We really were in a very bad spot. Now the Jap was overhead, his screws beating like a train clattering over a bridge. We knew he was using his sound gear, and that, coupled with the knowledge that we were practically trapped in this shallow, narrow channel, gave us one of the worst moments of our lives. We were afraid. We were damn afraid. We waited. His screws came nearer, then they were above us, right above our heads, thundering like doom—and then the thunder and clatter grew less and less, and he was on his way to parts unknown. Not until hours later, when we were certain he was well on his way south, did we straighten out and head north again.

  We surfaced at midnight, cruised slowly, and dove before dawn the next morning.

  Captain Warder upped his periscope. He gave a low whistle. "This place is heavy with guns," he said. "Let's see ... yes, batteries over here ... over here ... over here ... Big shore batteries on three sides of us. Well," he said, "I'd hate to be a surface ship right now ... Wait a minute, wait a minute! Here's something. Jap freighter ... He's a little baby ... riding high and dry. Probably empty. He's probably heading for the Indies to pick up loot. We have a nice chop up here. Oh, oh! I can see two men on the bridge. They're looking this way, too. Can they see this little bit of stick I've raised? I'd sure like to catch the fellow who said the Nips can't see well. Those babies have been picking us up right along." Pause. "Oh, well, there she goes. We couldn't have attacked her anyway. Well, let's take a look around this way. We won't go too far in—just far enough to see if there's anything worth our trouble."

  We poked around inside the bay entrance. We found nothing. After an hour of almost constant observation, we headed out again and kept going until we reached the spot we wanted.

  The place was literally swarming with Jap airplanes, and we dove long before dawn. We had a bad time of it, submerged. The sea was rough, we had trouble with our depth control, and we were constantly afraid that at any moment something might go wrong and we'd pop out on the surface. After darkness came, we surfaced. We began to charge batteries. The Captain was on the bridge with his usual deck crew.

  Snyder, on sound, suddenly spoke up. "I've got a set of screws here on the port bow," he said.

  I jumped. The alarm went like fire to the bridge. It was pitch black up there. We shouted the word up. Still we didn't dive. I took over sound. There were screws! A destroyer! Why weren't we diving? I was about to shout, "Captain, he's damn close—" when there was a shout from the bridge. The diving alarm jangled.

  There was a scramble and rush of feet, bodies virtually tumbling down the ladder, a bang as the conning tower hatch slammed shut, and we crash dived. The air hissed through the ship like something alive. The depth-gauge needle twisted in a frenzy. Our incline was so sharp I had to cling to my desk. We plummeted downward.

  The Jap ship came beating over us, dropping her depth charges. We expected her back, but she went on past us. Perhaps she was afraid, too.

  Not until everything quieted down and the beat of her screws had faded away did we head out from the beach. Then I turned the sound gear back to Snyder and looked up Franz, who'd been on the bridge. I wanted to find out what had happened up there. Why had we dived so late?

  Franz was huddled over a hot cup of coffee in the mess hall. He looked as though he'd been through a battle.

  "You can say that again," he said. "We had ourselves one hell of a time up there. Those goddamn seas were as high as your neck, that wind was whistling around your ears, I tell you, it was so damn noisy we didn't get the word fast enough. They were yelling to us from the conning tower about this Jap, but we didn't hear them. There we are minding our own business, and suddenly up comes the Captain and starts really looking. I guess he had the word from below. He couldn't have been up on the bridge more than a minute when, bingo! we find ourselves looking at each other. Jesus Christ, that Jap had got his searchlights trained square on us, and we were pinned there like flies on a wall.

  "Well," went on Franz, shaking his head, "we sure scrammed for the hatch. I rode Loaiza's shoulders down. But get this, Eck—the Captain is still up there worrying whether everybody is down O.K. We suddenly see he's alone, and then—did he travel! This Jap had us lit like day, and the old man didn't wait for nothing. He smacked the diving alarm as he came down the hatch. After the boat was down and leveled out, I noticed the Skipper leaning against the control-room ladder and laughing until he almost bawled.

  "'It's very funny,' he says. 'Here I am on the bridge, wondering if all hands have made the hatch, when it dawns on me that I'm standing there all alone. I'm standing there like a nitwit in that searchlight. My boys are fast, but even if I am older than most of them, I'd surely have passed them getting to that hatch tonight ..."' Franz chuckled.

  "'Lucky I had a clear hatch when I hit it,' the old man says. 'Did I feel like a hero standing up there all alone in the limelight!'"

  We remained down. Hours passed. Her screws were gone.

  We surfaced carefully and completed our battery charge.

  Toward noon the next day Captain Warder sighted a ship well in toward the beach. "This is definitely a patrol vessel," he announced. "About three hundred feet long. Looks like a converted yacht. She has the longest depth-charge racks I have ever seen. They extend from the break of the bridge down to the stern. Looks as if she might be loaded with oil drums. I'm going to plunk her if I can."

  Our approach continued with frequent observations. The weather was all against us. The waves were monstrous. We were constantly in fear of broaching. Suddenly Captain Warder, at the periscope, his voice surprised:

  "What's this? Down periscope! Secure battle stations. Come to course zero ... zero ... zero. She has a plane working with her. It came so close her pontoons splashed water on the periscope. We'll be having company in a few minutes."

  We did. A pattern of depth bombs dropped all around us, but they didn't come too close.

  Now, of course, we knew our value here was nullified. We had been detected twice, and the Japs were on the alert.

  We headed for a new location and arrived before very long.

  It was the hottest area we had ever been in. Jap planes, anti-sub vessels, and corvettes patrolled incessantly, guarding their supply lines. One slip meant death, and we knew it. The next four and a half days were to be the most exhausting and nerve-wracking any of us had ever undergone. We were at battle stations continually. We grabbed sleep when we could. We ate with one ear cocked to hear the alarm. Captain Warder virtually lived in the conning tower. He scanned the sea without rest. At dawn of the third day he reported: "Masts and ships on the horizon."

  Then he added: "I'm not going to try to mark all these ships; the traffic is exceptionally heavy ... their air coverage is exceptionally heavy. They have a lot of ships ... going in empty and coming out full ... Those babies coming out are loaded right down
to the waterline. Probably bound for Tokyo. They're really making hay while the sun shines. Let's go to work, now. Mark ... three five eight ... leading ship, destroyer ... three ships in line. No estimate on the range. Down periscope." He conferred with Deragon and Mercer. He studied his charts. He upped the periscope and looked again. "I have a new type destroyer here," he said. "Stubby mainmast; two turrets forward; lot of anti-aircraft guns; one turret aft. She's leading three big Maru's. They're probably coming out here to a rendezvous point. Down periscope."

  He spoke to Mercer: "Now, Jim, what I want to do is to fire at that destroyer and at the leading Maru. We've got good conditions. The water is a little flat, but I think we can get in."

  He called down to me: "Eckberg, is this man using his sound gear?"

  I'd heard no pinging. "No, sir," I said.

  "They probably think this place is invulnerable to submarines," said Captain Warder.

  We maneuvered into position and fired. We waited. Captain Warder's forehead was pressed against the periscope. Just then a terrific ka-boom! hit my ears through the phones.

  "There's a Jap officer in shorts walking up and down the fo'c'stle," came Captain Warder's voice. "They see the wakes ... He's not walking now! He's galloping for the bridge! There go our fish ... missed her! Hell, they missed her!"

  "Captain, there was an explosion," I sang out. This was quite unnecessary because everybody in the ship heard it.

  "Yes, she went off just the other side of her." He sounded disgusted. "Water shot up higher than her stacks." He watched. "They're panicky," he said. "The destroyer's picking up speed. He's leaning this way ... Down periscope!" Then: "Take her deep." And then: "Rig for depth charge."

  We went down and waited. I sat on my little stool, working the sound gear, earphones on my head. Maley was sitting at my left elbow, as busy as I. I could picture Sousa, walking back and forth throughout the ship, saying, "Now, boys, you all set in here? Goddammit, we missed ... I wonder what was wrong?"

  Dishman would be grunting as he maneuvered the bowplanes, wearing his cut-off shorts and sandals, his big hammy arms and chest glistening with sweat. At his right Gunner Bennett, intent on his bowplane wheel, glancing now and then at Holden to see if the latter wanted any change. Holden standing one arm behind his back, his legs astride, biting the nails of his right hand, his head turning from right to left as he watched the depth gauges.

  Squeaky Langford sitting down in the forward torpedo room, elbow on knee, chin on hand, worried about why the torpedoes missed, expecting to be bawled out. Be jerk standing, hands on hips, head down, watching the sound shafts to see that nothing went wrong. Gus Wright, walking about in the after-battery room testing valves above his head to see they were tight. Swede Enslin, legs apart, standing at hydraulic manifold, hands on two levers, looking at his Christmas Tree, then at Holden, his head swinging from one to another. At the air manifold, Red Jenkins, holding the big spin bar in his hands, looking at the air gauges, very calm. And, his head through the after-battery hatch, peering into the control room, Doc Loaiza, rubbing his face, muttering: "Dios, Dios, Dios!" ...

  Lieutenant Deragon would be at the fire-control unit, absolutely absorbed in the picture created before him; he'd probably not even heard "Rig for depth charge," because he'd missed; standing there as if to say, "What went wrong here? It looked perfectly good to me." Captain Warder, directly behind him, leaning against the control-room ladder, deep in thought, his right elbow cradled in his left palm, his right hand fingering his beard, thinking, thinking, thinking hard! ... The mess cooks washing the morning dishes, one man wiping; depth charges coming or no, dishes had to be taken care of. Sully putting on his battle telephones, wondering where his mess boys were, and if they'd closed all valves. Our observer sitting in the Captain's stateroom, reading a magazine, very bored, depth charges or not....

  But the depth charges never came.

  About 10 a.m. Captain Warder said, "Well, I guess they're not going to give us the rock and roll. Maybe we did hurt him. Maybe he can't depth charge us. I think I'll go up and take a look."

  As he was about to order, "Up periscope," I picked up enemy activity.

  "Captain, they're looking for us," I warned.

  Captain Warder demanded, "What does he seem to be doing?"

  I said, "He's pinging; I can't pick up his screws. He must be quite a ways off."

  We came up cautiously. The Skipper took a fast look. "Here's a little launch over here; he's just floating around; that's probably the fellow who's looking for us. My, he's a little thing!"

  We started up the hydraulic pump, and the Jap heard us and came toward us like a flash.

  "That won't do. Down periscope," snapped the Skipper. "This fellow seems pretty intent on what he's doing. He probably knows we're around here. Let's take it easy for a while and see if we can't shake him."

  That launch was a pest. He had sound equipment, and his sound man was an expert. Maley and I were both astounded by the methodical type of searching he employed. The afternoon wore on. We couldn't shake him. He may not have been equipped to depth-charge us, but he could easily have called his friends, and there were plenty of them around. Six o'clock. Seven o'clock. It was dark upstairs now, but we still dared not surface.

  This Jap was too good. We stayed down.

  Every little while Captain Warder was at the door of the radio shack. "What do you hear?"

  My report was always the same. "Captain, we just aren't shaking this guy."

  "Persistent cuss," the Captain said. "Let me know if there's any change."

  We stripped our running machinery to a minimum. The only motors kept operating were those necessary to keep the ship maneuverable, and the sound-gear apparatus. Maley and I never underestimated a Jap sound man again.

  Finally, about 1 a.m., with our batteries dangerously low, Captain Warder decided we'd surface and if necessary make a run for it. The Jap was now behind us, not too far away. We made ready for anything. Captain Warder was the first man on the bridge, and his eyes must have been glued to his night glasses a second after he hit the bridge. I was worried about aircraft. We were fresh meat for any plane that spotted us. It was a bad spot to be caught in. But we maneuvered and changed course to get rid of him, and finally lost him in the night.

  We dove again before dawn and came in from a different angle than before. We wanted to sink Jap shipping, and we wanted it bad. In the first hours of daylight a large convoy passed us. A minute's study, and we knew they knew we were there. They sailed by. Shortly after noon we sighted a large cargo ship, escorted by a bristling Japanese destroyer. It was an easy approach. We fired our fish. One hit with an ear-splitting blast that nearly shook our teeth loose. The destroyer came charging down at us, heaving depth charges right and left, but between the charges I heard the death rattle of the cargo ship over my earphones.

  I told the Captain: "She's sunk, Captain. I heard her go."

  Everyone cheered. There was no end of back-slapping and congratulations. The morale of the entire ship soared. We'd broken the jinx.

  Gus Wright celebrated by producing a platter of Spam sandwiches and mugs of steaming black coffee. But we didn't have much chance to enjoy them. The depth charges came. How they rained them down! They depth-charged to the right, to the left, ahead of us, and behind. The ocean churned with the explosions. We were rocked and shaken, but no damage was done. Maley and I sat through the attack with the phones on. Some of the blasts were so near our ears were paralyzed. We couldn't speak to each other, but at times I would look over at Maley and catch him with a big grin on his face. Both of us were as pleased as hell.

  The depth-charging continued intermittently. We steered a straight course out to sea, but the destroyer followed us out part of the way and pounded our tail.

  After a while, Captain Warder said over the intercom, "All right, Eck, take a good listen all around."

  I made a very careful search, for this was a dangerous place. I knew Captain Warder was preparing
to surface the Wolf. I listened intently, investigating every little sound, as I covered the dial, a fraction of a degree at a time.

  The Captain upped his periscope, looked about, and exclaimed: "Here's something! ... By God, it is a ship!

  "I think he heard us. Down periscope!" said the Captain slowly, deliberating each word. It looked as if we were to undergo another exhausting night session.

  Captain Warder was talking it over with Mercer. "Well, they probably know we're here, all right, but that fellow didn't look as though he could give me too much of a fight on the surface. We'll surface and run away from him. The crew's tired, I'm tired, and I want some fresh air in this ship. Stand by to surface."

  We held our breath as the Wolf climbed to the surface. If we came up within range of the enemy, he would blow us to bits.

  We broke the water. "Open the hatch!"

  A gust of fresh air swept through the ship. The lookouts rushed to the bridge. We heard the cry: "Ship on the port bow!"

  By a miracle we hadn't come up directly alongside of her.

  Then, listening intently, I heard the stealthy turning over of her screws. She had seen us.

  "She's coming after us, Captain," I warned.

  "I can see her, Eckberg," came his unperturbed voice from the bridge, "but she'll never catch us. We have too much of a head start."

  We raced through the darkness and lost her.

  The next day we again started our penetration. We worked against stiff odds. The Japs knew we were there, and they were employing every device they had to keep us from attacking. We were still out a way when Captain Warder picked up a ship. We raced to battle stations. We were pepped up. "It's a man-of-war," announced the Skipper, and we were really on our toes, then. Captain Warder went after him. We were about 6,000 yards away when he upped periscope for another look. He peered intently for a few seconds, then a loud, explosive "Dammit!" We knew that the target had zigged radically, or something new had entered the picture. We didn't have long to wait, though. We all heard Captain Warder clearly.

 
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