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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.19

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 19


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

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  The current was strong. In a few minutes the Jap who wouldn't be rescued was out of sight and on his way to the open sea.

  At that he was given more than the men on the Perch, and the Sea Lion, and the Shark. They didn't even get a life jacket or a bottle of whisky.

  We were on the double alert all night. When you sink a ship and then return to the same area, you're inviting trouble. The Skipper decided to patrol outside the harbor for a period of watchful waiting. We were on the alert, too, for mine fields. We saw hostile aircraft and ignored them. After surfacing that night the Captain decided to go into the Gulf again. We sneaked into the Gulf before diving, and at this point we were less than twenty miles from a beehive of Jap activity. We pushed on silently, nearer and nearer to the Jap center. We upped a cautious periscope.

  "I can see a church steeple, some houses," the Skipper reported. "Looks like a lot of shipping in there. I see several masts ... Can't go in there, boys, that's mined. Let's take a look over here.... Hmmmm, could be at that ... What a wonderful camouflage job ... Left full rudder, Rudy ... I think there's a ship over there, but I'm not sure. If it is, it's a big one. Battle stations! Sure that's a ship ... She's a beauty ... Motor ship, with a cruiser stern ... Heavy guns aft ... looks brand new to me ... What a camouflage job! ... I can see them loading her, probably hemp. This ship is tied up to a wharf or anchored right off one. She's a beauty. This should be an easy attack if we can avoid detection. Down periscope."

  Silence. Then: "What course are we steering, Jim? Where are we? Let me have a look here. This is a ticklish spot to get out of in case they send somebody out here looking for us, as I expect them to ... So that's where we are ... Well, I want to work up to this point and take a zero angle shot. How about the tides and the current drift?"

  Captain Warder was thorough as usual. We worked our way slowly in. The water was shallow, but the possibility of mines kept us even more tense. This place surely must have a mine field.

  I could almost sense Maley's thoughts. Again, up periscope.

  "Just as I thought," observed the Skipper. "Down periscope. Make ready the bow tubes. Sound, I won't need you on this attack, but I want you to track these fish. I want to know especially if any of them run erratic ... Bow tubes ready? O.K., open the outer doors. Rudy, this is going to be ticklish, and I'm going to have to coach you on. Up periscope. We will fire this time if everything is the same up here."

  The periscope hit its upper level, and the Captain was on it like a leech.

  "Okay, they haven't seen us. They're loading hemp, all right. Boy, she's a beauty! Henry, I'm going to fire. Are you ready? ... Rudy, come left more, come left a hair, steady, hold her steady ... Fire! ... Eckberg, are they running?"

  "They're running, Captain—hot and straight."

  "Yes, I see 'em now, number two is going to miss, number three is going to hit."

  Boom! I heard her go. What an explosion!

  The whole ship seethed with excitement.

  Captain Warder watched intently. "She's listing heavily to port. Seems to be settling heavily. The guns are manned and firing wildly—in all directions. They don't know what hit them. We must have caught them flat-footed ... Now, what is this? ... Boy, what damage control they must have! They have righted the ship and taken off the list ... Oh, no, my friends! ... Not that easy! ... Make ready the aftertubes ... Rudy, swing her around!"

  The Wolf swung completely around, attacked again—from the stern. More of our torpedoes crashed into her. Captain Warder waited impatiently until the smoke cleared away.

  "We blew their aft guns to bits. The forward gun is manned, but the crew is standing there. They're probably dazed. Wait, there's a fire breaking out in the bow. They're abandoning ship ... There she goes settling in the water. Wait a minute! What have we here? Here come some Zeros! They're peppering my periscope."

  We heard the rat-tat-tat of the machine guns. But Captain Warder was determined to see this large Jap vessel sink, Zeros or no Zeros.

  "Dammit," he exploded, "that ship must be honeycombed with watertight compartments. It won't do any good to put any more fish into her now, unless I can place it ... Hmmmm. Damn those planes! Damn them! Well, I'm going to throw one more at her and see what happens. Up periscope. Rudy, come right, now. Steady. Are you ready, Hank? Okay—Fire!" Pause. "Well, there she goes, boys. She's going up in smoke. Fires are breaking out all over her. I believe she's sitting on the bottom in very shallow water. Come on, I'm satisfied. Take a couple of snaps, Jim, and then let's get the hell out of here."

  I heard the sound of many screws. The anti-sub boats were still hunting for us. I gave the Captain their bearings.

  "We'll have to get out of here," he said.

  The Japs were coming closer, throwing depth charges right and left. They were missing completely. The Wolf headed out for the mouth of the Gulf. We had to get out of here fast. We knew the Japs would immediately take protective measures. It would be suicide to stay.

  It was now late afternoon. We raced under a flat sea, with a bright sun in the sky. It was risky periscope weather. Seventy miles should take us—Just then the Captain's voice broke in. "Oh, here's another one. Looks like—yes, it is a big Maru ... We'll take her. Sound, this will have to be your approach."

  I heard the freighter zigzagging, seeking frantically to escape. She knew we were stalking her. This Maru was doing about 120 degrees zigs. I told the Captain, and he called back:

  "Eckberg, I'm getting ready to fire. She should be on the port bow now. Got her?"

  The Captain upped the periscope and took a look. He said, "Oh, Christ! Down periscope! Take 'er deep!"

  We went down fast. I heard the screws of this Maru coming at us. Then she was over us. It was like standing under a trestle while a freight train rumbled overhead. She was still zigzagging and had no idea where we were.

  The Captain again put the Seawolf on the course to the Gulf's mouth. He left the conning tower and went to his room. For the next four hours I listened intently for the freighter, but she was gone. The Wolf was moving south at a rapid pace. My eyes were tired. I took off the earphones. Maley was absent-mindedly doodling on a scratch pad.

  "I'm going to hit the sack," I told him.

  He nodded. "O.K., Eck."

  Lamberson was asleep in his bunk next to mine. He woke up as I got in. "Where the hell are we, Eck?" he asked drowsily.

  "On the way out of this damn gulf," I told him.

  He yawned loudly and turned on his other side. "I don't want to be on the next sub that pokes her nose into this gulf," he said. Then, after a minute, he sat up restlessly and began rubbing his eyes. "Guess I'll play a little solitaire."

  He climbed down, got a deck of cards, and sat on an overturned water bucket. He used a chair for a table.

  "Hope we go east, Eck," he said. "That means home, and will I be glad to see it!"

  I had closed my eyes, trying to force myself to sleep. My nerves were still tingling from the long stretch I had just completed.

  I fell into uneasy sleep. It seemed as if I had closed my eyes for only a few minutes when the alarm went. When I hit the deck seven feet below my bunk, it jarred me awake. I raced up the three steps through the watertight hatch to the officers' quarters, squirmed down the narrow passageway. It was like a subway rush. Crew members were pushing each other along. I had to buck this human tide. Finally I reached the after end of the forward battery, then the control room. There wasn't any talking. Each man had a job to do and we didn't waste time in talking. I took over sound.

  The Captain's voice broke the silence. "This ship has something on the forward deck that I can't make out. He apparently doesn't see us, he's not zigging at all. This will be a big day if we can get him. Sound, can we pick him up yet?"

  I said: "Yes, Captain, I have him now."

  "Very well!" said the Captain. "This is a 5,000- to 7,000-ton freighter, two goal posts, stack amidships, looks like coal-burner, estimated speed nine knots, course, three five zero. T
he decks are loaded with what looks like invasion barges... The crew is in white uniforms, well disciplined. This is probably a Jap naval reserve ship. We'll plunk him."

  I gave sound bearings, and in a few minutes the approach party gave him the bearings for firing. "All right, Willie," he said, "stand by to fire. Ready, Henry?" Bringelman was at the Captain's right shoulder with his hands on the solenoid controls ready to push the firing buttons.

  Henry answered: "All set, Captain."

  Then the order came, "Fire!"

  I caught the fish as they left the Wolf, The Captain said, "I can see them. One's going to hit ...!"

  I heard the terrific blast.

  "There's no running around," the Skipper said. "They don't seem to be panicky. Everybody seems to have a destination. She's listing to starboard. There's a group of them forward, trying to clear the invasion barges, trying to save them. They won't have time. They are going to go too fast. Yes, they have abandoned the idea. These people are cool, calm, and collected. Right now they are throwing everything that will float over the side. There's no time to launch any lifeboats."

  I interrupted. "Ship coming up the starboard quarter, sir." Her laboring screws sounded like a minesweeper.

  "O.K., Eck, we'll have a look," the Captain said. "Hell, it's those anti-sub vessels again. Converted minesweepers." He paused. "Is that all they can get out here?" he asked. "That's an insult to my ship and crew."

  There was a distant boom: the Jap was clumsily dropping depth charges.

  We went deep. I could hear the ship breaking up, and finally her boilers exploded.

  We stayed down the rest of that day. Everybody was exhausted. The torpedomen, who had been reloading and reloading, were asleep on their feet. Gus Wright had made sandwiches all day long. He was carrying coffee to me every half-hour or so.

  We surfaced that night with normal routine. We were still in the Gulf. Again I slept badly. The day's excitement was too much. I woke about 3 a.m. Swede was on watch in the control room.

  "What are you doing up, Eck?" he asked.

  "Not sleepy, I guess," I said, and downed some of his coffee.

  "Sleepy, hell," he said. "What's worrying you is worrying me and everybody on this boat. We are inside the Gulf, that's all, and we'll feel better when we get way outside." He was right.

  It could not have been three minutes later that Franz yelled from the conning tower: "Stand by to dive!"

  Swede jumped to his controls. For a huge man, he was as quick as a cat. I took off for the sound room. I couldn't find a thing.

  Ensign Casler was the officer of the deck, and had picked up a smell of smoke. He couldn't see anything, but didn't take a chance and ordered a crash dive. Diving and cruising submerged upset our schedule, since we couldn't make the speed submerged that we could on the surface. We'd hoped to reach the entrance by dawn, then submerge. But it was only an hour until daylight now, and so we continued submerged. About an hour after my morning watch was over, I was back in the engine room, playing my favorite Froggy Bottom record.

  Suddenly there was the cry of "Battle Stations." I grabbed at the machine to stop it and shattered the record. I ran to the sound room ready to kill every Jap in Japan. My favorite record lying in a thousand pieces! I got in the sound shack.

  "Another target," Paul said. "Too damn far away to tell what it is."

  Captain Warder had his periscope up. "Well, boy," he said, "I rather wish we weren't on a time schedule. This is like a picnic. I can't tell yet, but this looks like an old freighter. Might not be worth a fish."

  Then I caught her screws. She was a coal-burning freighter, making slow speed.

  A few minutes later Captain Warder caught sight of her. "She's not so small, at that. About four thousand tons. Loaded to the gunwales. We'll plunk this baby, too."

  We went in for the kill. I caught the screws of anti-sub vessels again. They were about three to five miles away. We came to the firing point. "Fire!" I heard the dull thud of the first explosion.

  "We really cracked her this time, men. I can't see anything for smoke," came the Captain's voice.

  We headed out toward the open sea. We moved out of the Gulf and could relax at last.

  I grabbed a nap that afternoon. Then I went back in the sound shack working on "Begin the Beguine." I must have been loud.

  Zerk stuck his head out of the after-battery hatch.

  "For Christ sake, knock off the goddamn noise, damn it!" he yelled.

  I yelled back: "Go on back in your hole, you ant-faced baboon!"

  Before I knew it the whole battery was shouting, "Shut up, can it, keep it quiet." They accused Zerk of making noise. I kept quiet. Zerk explained hotly that he was only telling me to keep quiet. "I wasn't making the noise, it was Eckberg!" He came out into the passageway. They shouted him down. "Shut up, damn it, Zerk." He went back mumbling.

  I started copying code, and after about half an hour I realized we were headed in an easterly course. It suddenly dawned on me: home was in that direction. I got so excited I left my station for the first time in my navy career and rushed out into the control room. The first man I saw was Lieutenant Deragon.

  "Where are we going, Mr. Deragon?" I asked him.

  "You're overdue, Eck," he said with a grin. "I knew as soon as we changed course you'd be out here. We expect to go home. How's that?"

  That was all right with me. At last we were headed home. We still had Palau to go by, and that was tough, but we were headed home.

  The next three days were uneventful. We spotted nothing.

  Near dusk of the fourth day, the periscope officer picked up an island. We closed in to run a patrol in front of it. Conditions were in our favor. We had a nice chop, it was a cloudy day, and just enough rain was falling to make our periscope almost invisible to the enemy and yet permit us to look around.

  We moved in carefully and spotted a patrol boat. He was too far away to be dangerous. Captain Warder, scanning with the utmost care, picked up the masts of a ship coming in our general direction. The Jap—it turned out to be a destroyer—was making tremendous speed. The Skipper sounded battle stations. But as we maneuvered, we realized that from her speed and the angle on our bow it would be impossible to launch an attack. The weather conditions had turned bad. The rain, which had aided us at first, now poured down in sheets, making our visibility almost nil. We were in the midst of a typical tropical squall. The Captain peered through and saw two more destroyers come charging by.

  "Well, we have to let that first baby go by," he said ... "But these two— What in the hell is their hurry? Maybe they are heading for the Gulf, to clean us out of there. I think I'm going to tackle this one." He studied the sea. "This will be a terrific shot if I can make it," he said, almost under his breath. "He's really making speed." He ordered: "All ahead, full right rudder. We have to go like hell to get this fellow."

  The Wolf quivered with the speed. We veered to our left to get into position. We were on this course for about five minutes, the Skipper taking sweeps with his periscope, when he exclaimed:

  "Well, I'll be goddamned! At my age, too! To think I would fall for a trick like that! Here is an aircraft carrier, and I'm out of position! I've been sucked in by this goddamned destroyer, and now it's impossible to make the attack. Look at that big beautiful bastard! She's really spinning! Looks new to me. The length of that flight deck looks to be about six hundred feet." I think he could have bawled.

  None of us believe that the Captain was at fault. We had been closing to run our patrol, and it wasn't his fault if the Jap ships chose this time to make their appearance. We were not out of position because we had not left our original course long enough to make any difference. Had we stayed on a course that would have brought us up to the patrol point, we still would have missed the carrier because she was traveling at such high speed. Captain Warder was too cagey to be sucked in by anyone.

  We surfaced. It was near dusk. By this time the carrier was out of sight. It seemed apparent
that the destroyers and the carrier were rushing to a rendezvous. Captain Warder wanted to find that rendezvous.

  The Japs were probably meeting there preparing for an attack on the Solomons. We could be of damn good use if we walked in on them.

  The Wolf was put on 100 percent power—to go as fast as she could. The speed indicator in the control room spun around like mad. It vibrated all the way up to a point that we hadn't seen in eight months. We swept that surrounding ocean like a broom.

  Suddenly, as I sat in sound, I realized something had changed.

  Something was missing. Then I had it. The high-pitched endless whine of our electric motors was gone. I peered into the control room. There were Captain Warder and Lieutenant Deragon, looking glumly at a chart.

  "Hell," said the Skipper, disgusted, and vanished in the direction of his stateroom, Deragon with him.

  I hurried out and looked at the chart. The Wolf had a new course laid out, taking her to Pearl Harbor. I went back to my shack, wondering what this all meant, and a moment later Captain Warder came in. His face was expressionless. He had a message to send. I turned the transmitter up and contacted an Allied Command.

  Our message was brief. We had sighted the carrier. This was her course and her apparent destination. And something I had not known—the Seawolf was having serious electrical trouble. That's why we were going to Pearl Harbor. It was the main motor generator cables which had gone bad. They grew so hot we feared a fire. A bad fire in the batteries would cripple us. We'd be unable to dive. And in these Jap-infested waters, it would mean the finish for all of us.

  By morning the electricians had fixed things well enough for us to resume our patrol. Captain Warder now set our course for another island. This was next on our schedule, and the Skipper felt the Wolf was in good enough shape to make it before going into Pearl Harbor for complete repairs. It was a small island boasting an airfield, bristling with gun emplacements. We reached it before dawn.

  Captain Warder studied the island through the periscope. "Nice beach here. Wouldn't mind going in for a swim," he commented. "This is a pretty little place. I see barracks, lots of them, on top of hills. I can see what looks like gun emplacements. I can see radio-antenna towers. There is a ship in the harbor. She's only a sailing vessel, though. This is a typical South Pacific island."

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