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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.2

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 2


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

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  I meet Chief Yeoman John Edward Sullivan, thirty-two, from New Jersey, a big, blond, ruddy-faced Irishman who is to be the Wolf’s chief clerk, keeping the files, the war diary, and all necessary data. Edward ("Pop") Mocarsky—forty-three, with a few wisps of gray hair on top of his head, a sober, silent Pole from East Hartford, Connecticut, an old-school electrician whose "Mocarsky circuits" baffle any other electrician. Chief Torpedoman Edward Sousa, chief petty officer of the boat, who could rouse the dead with his booming voice; and Electrician's Mate Hank Brengelman, a roly-poly German with pale blue eyes and a love for books; and Chief Machinist's Mate Otis C. Dishman, at thirty-eight a legendary figure in the submarine service, a powerfully built man who looks vaguely like Orson Welles made up for a terrifying part, and whose tattoo designs—flowers, pretty girls, and rushing railroad trains speeding about his body—are equally famous among sub men.

  These are the men of the Seawolf. We consider ourselves a damn fine crew. We know we're different from other services of the armed forces. We differ from the crew of a Flying Fortress, for example, or a company of Marines, because we have no identity outside our submarines. We were not salesmen, clerks, factory employees, white-collar workers, transformed overnight into fighting men. Most of us have had no private life. Most of us went into the Navy as soon as we were old enough—seventeen, eighteen, nineteen. With all due modesty we know we're picked men, paid 50 percent more in our jobs than men in any other branch of the service, and that few of us will be in it actively after we're forty—because it's so tough. Most of us have been in submarine service for at least ten years. Most of us are married, with families. Submarines are our lives and our careers. We've never been interviewed by newspaper writers. We've never talked about what we've done.

  We'd never thought there was much to talk about. But, then, we hadn't been on the Seawolf. We hadn't become part of a boat that was glory itself.

  My first trip through the Wolf was unforgettable. I thought I knew submarines. I'd been on the boats for twelve years, since I was eighteen, when my brother Paul, quartermaster first class on a submarine, felt my biceps, punched me in the shoulder, and said, "Kid, why don't you come into this outfit? We could use you."

  In twelve years I'd seen a lot of submarines, but the Wolf topped them all. More than 308 feet long, weighing 1,480 tons, built to make over 20 knots surface speed, air-conditioned and equipped with every modern device, she combined the best we knew in submarine construction.

  I ducked into her conning tower and let myself down the narrow perpendicular steel ladder leading to the control room directly under it. I turned around—and whistled. I'd never seen so many instruments—dials, valves, gauges, controls—in one control room. The room was white, glistening white, and the instruments shone and gleamed. I almost swelled with pride as I stood there and drank it all in. Here was the glittering "Christmas Tree," a small panel of green and red lights which gave the legend on every hatch of the Wolf, and whether it was open or closed. Here was the depth gauge, here the two tremendous wheels which operated the bow and stern planes, the fin-like projections on either side of the Wolf controlling her balance underwater; the high-pressure manifolds, which drive thousands of gallons of water out of her tanks to send her to the surface, or suck in a small flood to weight her down and send her deep; the helmsman's wheel—all the magic-working buttons, wheels and levers of a modern submarine. In one corner was a head, or toilet, in its tiny compartment, one of the four on the ship; and in the opposite corner of the control room, set off in a compartment by itself, was the radio and sound room—my shack.

  Here was my station. It was about six by eight feet, just enough room for three men, and dominated by my radio gear—sets of intricate apparatus that looked like the control board of a radio station, with a panel six feet high and four feet wide rising from the back of a glass-topped table. Behind me, as huge and fully as intricate, my sound gear. Above, and to the left, a shelf for reference books. Overhead, the wires and rows of cables and tubing that mark almost every inch of ceiling space in a submarine.

  Seated at this table—my desk—I had before and behind me the last word in submarine radio and sound gear, an instrument of electrical echo-ranging and sonic devices so sensitive that when the Wolf was submerged I would be able to detect the beating of a ship's screws when she was still far away. On the surface I'd switch from sound to radio, and send and receive with antenna strung topside.

  I explored further. I squeezed through the oval bulkhead doorway—if you were over six feet tall you had to bend almost double to go through—and found myself in the narrow passageway leading to the forward torpedo room, in the bow. It was hardly wide enough for two men to squeeze by each other. As I went forward, here on the left was the chief petty officer's stateroom; then the captain's stateroom, with desk, depth gauge fitted into the wall, gyrocompass repeater, night-bell to call his messboys.

  Next, the officers' wardroom, where they ate, held conferences, played cards, lounged—scarcely as large as the dinette of a small apartment; and then a tiny pantry with a serving shelf opening into the wardroom. There'd always be a messboy here to turn out sandwiches and coffee for the officers, day and night.

  On the opposite side of the passageway was the yeoman's or ship's office, with typewriter, stainless steel file, and cabinets; this would be Sully's domain. Then came the engineering officer's stateroom, to be shared by Holden and Mercer. Like a pullman compartment, it had two settees which could be turned into bunks at night. Then the executive officer's stateroom—and then another head and a shower room. After this, the forward torpedo room. Directly ahead of me were the round brass doors of the four bow torpedo tubes. This forward torpedo room was a large room, at least fifty feet long by fifteen feet wide. Suspended on heavy chains from the ceiling, at least seven feet from the floor, were six bunks, three on either side. Under them were the torpedo racks, now empty, but later to be filled with the burnished bronze-steel torpedoes, two tons each, lying side by side in tiers.

  In the center of the room four "jump" bunks—so called because men could jump out of them, dismantle them, and pull them out of the way in a minute or less. I looked this room over carefully.

  A face bowl and a towel rack came out of the wall. Here were blowers, ventilators leading from our air-conditioning plant. Large, too. If the size of the blower pipes meant anything, there'd be a lot of air in this room. Well, I thought, I'll try to get me a bunk here.

  I retraced my steps. I ducked back down the passageway, through the control room again, and found myself in the afterpart of the Wolf. First, the after-battery compartment. Here most of the crew would live. The metal clothing lockers were already installed. I pushed on, through a doorway, and was in the mess hall.

  Three tables were set, across the width of the boat, each with a rim to keep dishes from sliding off when the Wolf pitched. A bulletin board was already in place on one wall. I opened a door on my left. This was a small provisions room. I passed the refrigerator.

  The next doorway I found on one side turned out to be the door to the galley. Four-coil electric stove, with two ovens; a huge coffee urn; a sink; a Mixmaster for pastries; pots and pans neatly packed into shelves; bins for coffee, flour, sugar—the whole thing no larger than a kitchenette, compact and efficient enough! I'd never know how sixty-five men could be served three meals a day, sandwiches and snacks and hot coffee and hot soup day and night—all from this little room.

  Next to the galley was the scullery, where the mess cooks would grumble about their low station while doing dishes by the carload. Opposite the scullery, a wash and shower room—two showers, four face bowls, mirrors, lockers for soap and toothpaste. So far, so good. I ducked back further. Now I was in the forward engine room, then the aft engine room, both with their powerful Diesels, like some endless-cylindered motor of some thirtieth-century racing machine; then the after-torpedo room in the stern, a replica of the forward torpedo room. Toilet on the port side of the after engine r
oom, shower on the starboard side. Compactness, utility, efficiency—that was the Seawolf.

  For weeks we grew with the Wolf. Captain Warder, his knee better, joined us in Building 150 as we pored over blueprints. With the crew and workmen he crawled all over the Wolf as well. We were proud of our skipper; not every submarine crew could boast that their captain was also a submarine engineer who knew his boat from the keel up. Sometimes, at the end of the day, he came into Building 150 looking like a grease-pit mechanic, but there'd be the light of discovery in his eyes. He'd ask for a cup of coffee. There'd be a silence. He'd stir his coffee slowly. "Well," he'd say, "I found out something new today."

  "What was that, Captain?" someone would ask.

  "You know that fuel line running along the port side of the forward engine room?" he'd say. "It has a flange right at Number 105 bulkhead. I didn't know that." He'd sip his coffee thoughtfully. "That might come in useful someday."

  We thrashed over every pipe and line, every induction coil and bulkhead. Afternoons we spent studying the Wolf herself. We went into the ship, and we underwent "dry dives." The lights would suddenly go out, leaving us in complete blackness; the command would ring out for each of us to take a new station. I might find myself at the Christmas Tree, in the radio shack, at a torpedo tube—anywhere. Each of us had to know as much as possible about every other man's job. Every submarine man is a specialist, but he must be prepared to take over any other post at a moment's notice, whether it be frying eggs or firing torpedoes.

  We learned to take apart and put together practically everything but the hull of the Wolf. We had to draw thirty-four blueprints of her principal systems. By the time we completed our schoolwork we knew the anatomy of the Wolf as a surgeon knows the muscles and their insertions, the bones and their functions, the arteries and their positions.

  We began to move into the submarine. The first thing I did was to paste a photograph of Marjorie on the panel of my sound gear, and fix another above my bunk, which turned out to be No.1 bunk, in the forward torpedo room—just where I wanted it. My locker was built into the bulkhead next to my bunk, and I packed away my clothing: four suits of blue dungarees; four changes of underwear, one set of gray wool, one heavy all-wool with double back and chest; a dozen pair of socks, six wool, six cotton; two pairs of black shoes; dress and undress blues; sandals; six hats (blue and white, and one warm blue knitted watch cap for cold nights on deck).

  Throughout the ship my shipmates began to move in, too. Squeaky Langford came aboard with a miniature Chinese carved teakwood chest he'd picked up in Sing Tow. It was a good-luck charm, and in it he had his good conduct medal, a couple of old rings minus stones, and a broken watch. Men came aboard with their St. Christopher's medals and crucifixes. There was a Bible or two. They came with their pipes and tobacco, their favorite magazines, batches of letters they wanted to show off, photographs, acey-deucy sets, dice, decks of cards. We married men pasted up snapshots of our families inside our locker doors. Neat green curtains were hung in the doorways of the officers' staterooms. Life jackets and Momsen lungs were stowed into place in the bulkheads. Dishman showed up with a portable phonograph which he gave a place of honor on a workbench in the engine room. Books—Jack London's sea stories, biographies, Zane Grey's stories—began to fill the double bookshelf in the mess hall, which for no reason at all suddenly became "Kelly's Pool Room." Henry ("Short Pants") Hershey—"Short Pants" because he was five feet four—a machinist's mate and a wizard softball player, came in lugging a sackful of bats, balls, and mitts. We were making the Wolf our home.

  On a cold February 15, with a chill wind blowing the waters of the bay white and black, Marjorie drove me into the yard and down to the dock. The Wolf was to go out on her first sea dive. Marjorie was to drive me down, then return. From our window she would look out on the entrance channel and lower harbor, and watch the Wolf go out, and go down. We rounded a turn, and the submarine came into sight. Black, shining black, in the cold morning sun, long, sleek, and black—a magnificent engine of destruction. She rode heavy in the water alongside the slate-colored drydock. There was tremendous activity topside, and a crowd of navy yard workmen and navy wives waiting to see us off. The deck force was scampering about, chopping the ice clear from our lines, and even in the distance the orders echoed crisp and clear. I made out Lieutenant Holden at once. He was standing well up on the bow, the wind whipping his heavy submarine coat. The flag was blowing at the stern. I got out of the car.

  "Well, here goes, honey," I said.

  "Oh, Mel," she said. I leaned down and kissed her. She turned the wheel sharply and drove off. I came aboard the Wolf as a voice boomed through a megaphone from the bridge: "Preparations for getting under way!"

  There was a terrific roar from deep within the Wolf; then a series of sharp, ear-splitting reports, like a 20-mm. gun firing. Her powerful Diesels were turning over.

  From the bridge, the same booming voice: "Stations for getting under way!"

  The gangway was hauled in; the crew sprang to action.

  "Take in No. 4!" came from the bridge. "Take in No. 4!" another voice echoed. The heavy two-inch lines were hauled in swiftly. They were brittle with ice, and they snapped and bit at the air as they were pulled in and fed hand over hand through a hatch into the after-torpedo room.

  "Take in No. 3!" came the order, and "Take in No. 3!" came the echo.

  The crew worked as one man; the Captain took his place on the bridge. As Line No. 1 was loosened and pulled in, the stationary colors were brought down, the running colors climbed up the mast. The Wolf was free of everything that held her to the land.

  Her engines purred. Thick black smoke poured from the exhausts along the waterline.

  The familiar odor of burned fuel oil came to me, and the old excitement swept over me. I hurried into the radio shack; I put on my earphones; the intercommunication system was switched on, and all through the Wolf’s compartments little grilled loud-speakers awoke and chattered. When the Captain went into the conning tower, not a whisper of his but echoed through the ship. We were all one family, all wrapped together in that extraordinary intimacy of men who go down to the sea in the sealed steel chambers of a submarine.

  The good-byes rang out in the crisp air. The Wolf’s engines raced into a deafening roar. Slowly, stern first, streams of white water pouring from her sides and into the darker waters of the bay, she slid away from the dock and into the channel.

  Engines thundering now, we cleared the outer harbor. We neared the Isle of Shoals, where the Squalus met her doom.

  "Rig for dive." Captain Warder's order was almost casual.

  "Rig for dive" ran tinnily through the boat. From stern to bow men leaped to their stations, spinning wheels, pulling controls, bracing themselves against valves. For a full ten minutes men investigated, inspected, tested, readying the Wolf for her dive.

  Lieutenant Holden's deep bass voice echoed through the intercommunications. "Main induction has been tested, bow and stern planes tested, safety flooded, sir."

  "Very well," came Captain Warder's voice. "Stand by to dive."

  "Stand by to dive," echoed back.

  Two sharp blasts of the diving alarm. Slowly, like some prehistoric aquatic monster, the Seawolf buried her nose in the water, and, moving ever forward, nudged her way deeper, deeper, until the waters closed over her and she vanished from sight.

  We wasted no time putting the Wolf through her paces. Drill followed drill, dive followed dive. We had to anticipate every emergency. We assumed the Wolf was in a collision; that she had caught on fire; that she was being shelled; that her hull had been stove in; that she was being depth charged. In a practice dive off the Isle of Shoals, the drill order came: "Power gone on the bow and stern planes. Shift to hand." We were assuming that our electrical power had suddenly gone, and that the boat had to be taken down by manual power alone. The bow- and stern-planes men instantly shifted to hand operation, maneuvering the planes by means of the huge wheels, each as wi
de as two men abreast. But within thirty seconds Dishman, on the bowplanes, shouted, "I can't hold her!" Strongest man on the boat, his tremendous back muscles stood out and perspiration poured down his sides as he struggled with the wheel. The Wolf was knifing her way downward so swiftly that the water pressure made it impossible for him to shift the planes back. Two men leaped to his assistance. They couldn't budge it. We were taking a terrific angle on the bow; the bowplanes were jammed at "hard dive," and my chair began sliding forward. I clung to my desk. Captain Warder rushed down the control-room ladder.

  "Blow No.1!" he ordered. The high-pressure air screamed into the tank, emptying it of water. Our eyes were glued to the depth gauge—90 ... 100 ... 150 ... 170 feet ... We braced ourselves. We had only 230 feet of water here. The Squalus flashed through my mind. If we were to strike a rock ledge on the bottom ...

  Captain Warder, his eyes darting from the gauge to the men straining frantically at the wheel and back again, snapped: "Blow everything!"

  We were emptying every tank we had!

  Still the Wolf went down. 180 feet ... 200 feet ...

  "All back, emergency!"

  It was the order to reverse propellers—the last resort of a submarine captain. "All back, emergency!" echoed over the phones from the maneuvering space.

  The Seawolf shuddered. Slowly she checked her descent. Slowly, as her propellers bit into the water and pulled the stern down, she came to an even keel. My chair began sliding back. But now the Wolf began to rise, faster and faster, until with terrific speed she popped out on the surface of the sea like a cork in a dishpan. Our eardrums clicked. Fog set in through the ship as the water in the air expanded in the lowered pressure. We peered hazily at each other.

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