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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.4

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 4


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

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  Around the corner of the restaurant we could pick up a bus for Cavite, twelve miles away.

  We sat down at the counter. The Filipino boy looked as though he was going to bawl. "Hell, boy, what's the matter with you?" Jim demanded. He looked around. "What in hell is the matter with everybody? They're jumping around like a bunch of jitterbugs."

  He was right. The place seemed to be seething with excitement.

  The boy looked at us, startled. "You no hear Japs bomb Pearl Harbor?"

  Pearl Harbor? U.S. soil? Jim and I stared at each other.

  "You crazy?" I asked, turning to the Filipino. We glanced out the Plaza's big plate-glass window. People were hurrying by.

  And suddenly we felt the tension, too. We dashed outside. A cab screeched to a stop. The driver poked his head out. "Going to the docks, sailor?" he asked.

  "You hear anything about a bombing?" I demanded.

  "Sure," said the driver. "You boys better wake up. I've been carrying Marines back to Cavite all morning."

  "Well, hell!" I said. "Let's get going!" We piled into the cab. When we got to the dock everyone was rushing about. My heart leaped when I saw the Wolf. I caught a ship's boat out to her. On the way I saw the aircraft tender Langley, her helmeted gun crews manning anti-aircraft guns on her flight deck. Most of the Wolf’s crew was below when I finally got there. We were all a little punch drunk by the suddenness of it. Captain Warder, looking preoccupied, was already there. I was due topside for my watch, and I was pulling on my dungarees when Sousa walked through, his chin jutting out about an inch from where it should be.

  "Come on, you guys, there's a war on," he growled. "Get moving!"

  I climbed up the ladder fast. The air was mild, the sun shone.

  War seemed impossible. Suddenly, in toward Manila, a light began blinking. It was our tender ship, the Canopus, signaling with her searchlight. She was about three miles away. I read the flashes, and with each word my blood pressure shot up.

  "From ... Commander Asiatic Fleet ... To Asiatic Fleet...

  080820 ... Urgent... Break ... Japan ... has ... commenced

  ... hostilities ... Govern ... yourselves ... accordingly."

  There it was, officially. From Admiral Hart himself.

  Frank Franz, one of the signalmen, was on the bridge answering the Canopus, but I wanted to give the message to the Skipper immediately. I ran to the conning tower and shouted down, "Below!"

  "What do you want?" boomed back.

  "Tell the Captain urgent message came in from the Admiral. Japan has commenced hostilities."

  The Canopus's searchlight was blinking again. All sub captains were to come aboard at once for a conference. The Skipper hurried off. Lieutenant Deragon's high-pitched voice ran through the boat: "Preparations for getting under way."

  I kept the watch on deck. I thought: Those yellow sons of bitches. They're going to rate everything I can give them. Why haven't they shown up here? Those sons of bitches, those sons of bitches ... and then a surge of rage so strong I felt myself tremble:

  "What are we waiting for?"

  I sensed the tension below. Everything depended on the orders Captain Warder brought back. Most of the men came up on deck.

  We crowded the deck waiting for him. A few minutes after 9 a.m., a launch sped out toward us. The Skipper was in it. He carried a large white official-looking envelope in his hand, and I saw him limp slightly as he climbed over the rail. His knee was still bothering him. He turned to the coxswain who had helped him over. "Thank you," he said quietly, and went below. The officers followed him. I trailed behind. "Willie," I heard Captain Warder say, "what I want ..." And then: "We're going to take on more fish."

  A moment later Sousa boomed the order to load stores and ammunition. We set to work. Another launch roared up from the Canopus. She carried torpedoes. We rigged our booms. The huge warheads began to swing over. More launches raced out to us from the Canopus, loaded to the gunwales with dry stores and fresh provisions. A hand-to-hand brigade was set up on deck, and as boxes were hauled up we passed them along and down into the hatches. Launches scurried back and forth over the waters of the bay, their wakes crisscrossing each other, supplying torpedoes to the submarines, food for their men. The entire crew of the Wolf worked like beavers. We stocked up on milk, canned ham, canned chicken, sacks of beans, sacks of coffee, sacks of rice. We had no room for fresh vegetables now. We began throwing overboard cans of paint, bright-work polish, and useless tools—everything not essential to the business of war. The Wolf’s spit-and-polish days were over.

  We took lunch on the run—sandwiches, and coffee. Gus Wright, the cook, and our three Filipino messboys were all over the boat. As I stopped for a moment topside to gulp down my coffee, I could see Cavite's three giant radio towers piercing the blue sky. How long would they be standing there, I wondered? What messages were going out from them to the world right now? Just after lunch an oil lighter drew alongside. We loaded to capacity with fuel. Supper came at 7 p.m. Thick steak, french fried potatoes, asparagus, and ice cream. The crew was almost light-hearted now. "Let's get going!" you'd hear, and then a burst of swearing, and someone saying, "What are we waiting for? Time's awastin', ducks on the pond, let's be away!"

  Thirty minutes later we were called to quarters. The skipper had a message for us. We lined up. Captain Warder, not much older than many of us, looked us over quietly. The smallest vestige of a smile was on his lips, but it was a grim smile. It was as though he were saying to us, without putting it into words, "Well, boys, here it is. You and I are going to be damn busy. It's serious as hell because it's war, but we're ready for it. We're the Seawolf and now we really begin the job we got to do."

  What he said, was: "Men, we're leaving here tonight. We are escorting a convoy made up of the Langley, the oil tanker Pecos, and the U.S.S. Black Hawk. The Sculpin and the Seawolf will escort these ships south."

  He paused. His left hand closed and opened and closed and opened again at his side—a habit of his when he was deeply moved. "Needless to say, you all know we're not playing any more. We're out after them now. Let's get them."

  The Wolf left Manila at 10 p.m. The words on Captain Warder's orders were clear and precise: "You will sink or destroy enemy shipping wherever encountered."

  We had no chance to cable our families that we were all right. We'd have to wait for that later—somewhere, somehow. We knew we had our work cut out. Philippine waters are dangerous for submarines. Coral reefs, treacherous rocks, shoals, and in many places little depth to maneuver in, all add up to trouble. And the waters themselves are so clear that planes can easily spot submarines. We moved swiftly, but carefully, through the mine fields in Manila Bay, and then opened up to the best speed the surface ships could maintain. We were constantly on the alert. The night lookouts kept their eyes glued to their binoculars. Any moment we expected a wave of Jap bombers overhead. We strained every sense watching and listening for Jap submarines. We knew they must be racing toward us. News bulletins sputtered over the radio. The Japs had bombed Davao on the island of Mindanao. They had bombed Zamboanga on the southern tip of the Philippines. They'd landed on the north coast of Luzon. They'd bombed the important airfield at Aparri, 250 miles from Manila on the northeast tip of Luzon. They'd seized the International Settlement in Shanghai, bombed Hong Kong and even Singapore. Huge invasion forces had been sighted headed for the Philippines. Don Bell, the Manila news commentator, an honest, straight-from-the-shoulder broadcaster, was on the air without rest, giving additional details of the bombing of Pearl. And after Pearl, Cavite was their logical target .... But we saw the surface ships safely through the narrow and dangerous Verde Island passage south of Corregidor, and left them at dawn the next morning. As the sun rose on the ninth of December, we made our first day-long dive. We were on our first mission of the war; and from now on, unless we found ourselves in the safety of our own ports, the Wolf would never show more than her periscope in daylight.

  My watches were 4 to 8
a.m. and 4 to 8 p.m., and at any other time of the day or night in emergency. As soon as my first watch was over, I stepped out into the control room. I wanted to know where we were headed. I asked the first man I saw—Chief Machinist's Mate Carl Enslin, a 200-pounder called "Swede," although he always insisted he was Pennsylvania Dutch. He was standing his watch as diving officer, his eye on the Christmas Tree.

  "Don't you know?" he asked, surprised.

  "I just came off watch," I explained. "I haven't heard a damn thing."

  He pointed to the chart table. "It's all plotted out there," he said.

  I squeezed past him to the small desk covered with charts of the Pacific waters. A thin red line had been drawn from Manila south through the San Bernardino Straits, up around the east coast of Luzon, up to the northeast point—to Aparri itself. We were going straight into the heart of hell. Aparri was under fire, the area was swarming with Jap ships, and it was the nearest point to Formosa.

  "Oh, oh," I said. "We ought to see some business up there."

  "We'll probably be in the thick of it in a couple of days," said Swede, keeping the Christmas Tree in view in the corner of his eye. As long as all the lights were green, all was well. A red light meant a hatch open somewhere.

  I was due to get some sleep. I still wasn't altogether over my big head. I climbed up and threw myself in my bunk. We dressed for comfort on the Wolf—sandals, shorts, and undershirt—and I kicked off my sandals and lay down as I was and tried to sleep. But I was too geared up. The Wolf’s powerful electric motors kept up a steady, high-pitched whine, and I thought of Marjorie and Spike, and how worried Marjorie must be, and how I could get word to her that I was all right. I finally dozed off.

  My second watch was nearly over that night when Don Bell's voice came in again. He said he was standing on the roof of the Manila Hotel.

  "I have been here most of the day watching the methodical destruction of Cavite," he said. He sounded tired. "Right now Cavite is a mass of smoke and flame. The Japs have been very accurate today. There has been no opposition in the air. I have seen wave after wave of heavy bombers and dive bombers concentrate on Cavite. The destruction is complete. God knows how many men have been lost. The Japs haven't left the water front untouched, either. They have continuously bombed piers and water-front installations. So far they are leaving the ships in the harbor alone. They are probably waiting, knowing they will have plenty of time for that." And then a brief halt in his words. "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know when I shall be back on the air, but I shall be back, God willing."

  We had missed being caught by less than forty-eight hours. Later we learned that the Dragon got away safely, but the Lion was so badly damaged she had to be destroyed to prevent her falling into the enemy's hands.

  My second watch over, I tried to sleep again. All at once someone was shaking me. "Eck! Eck! They want you in sound."

  I jumped out of my bunk, ducked through the hatch and down the passageway to the sound shack. Maley was there, hands pressed over his phones. He shook his finger for silence and listened for ten seconds more. His face was strained.

  "Here," he said, and pulled off the phones. "I can't figure it out, Eck. I got something here, and I don't know what in hell it is."

  I sat down and took over. Maley stood by.

  There was a soft chatter in the phones. Two detectors transmitting to each other, conversing with each other? Jap submarines? Our first contact of the war? I listened intently. I adjusted my dials to hair-like accuracy. I turned on the intercom system after a minute and reported:

  "Captain, I have something on the sound gear that sounds like two Jap subs talking to each other."

  "Give me a bearing, Eckberg," came back Captain Warder's voice.

  I turned my wheel carefully, trying to find the point on 360-degree dial where the chatter was the loudest. I tried to pin it down to a definite spot in a definite direction from the Wolf, but I couldn't.

  "They're all over the dial," I said. "I get them everywhere."

  "Does it sound like the Japs?" he asked.

  "Yes, sir."

  Silence for a moment. Then the Skipper's voice, very calm: "Well, keep giving me information, Eckberg. Keep it up."

  "Yes, sir," I said. I didn't like it. Submarines can ram each other underwater, and if one locates the other by sound, it can even send a torpedo after it. If two Jap subs were closing in on us from either side ... But if the sound did come from another submarine, the bearings must show a change over a period of time, and these did not. Since it was impossible for another submarine to be gliding alongside of us, at the same speed, at the same distance, never varying in angle, the noise must come from something else.

  It might be caused by the water striking the coral reefs. That produces a whistling sound. Or by porpoises breaking the surface of the water. Yet, as I listened, Maley beside me, I knew it was none of these. I racked my brains. What were the peculiarities of these waters ... Suddenly I had it. Reef fish! Small, green-bellied "croakers" which emit a blubbering, bullfrog-like grunting under water that can deceive the most expert ear. I told it to Maley, and he grinned. I reported to the Captain, feeling a little sheepish.

  "Fish, Eckberg?" Over the intercom came a chuckle. "Better go back and finish your sleep. You need it."

  We surfaced as darkness fell. As soon as the hatch was opened, we started our Diesels to recharge batteries. Captain Warder, always the first man on the bridge when we surfaced, climbed up, and after him the Officer of the Deck, a duty taken in rotation by the officers. Then came the night lookouts; then the signalmen; later the mess cooks with the garbage of the last twenty-four hours, which they cast overboard. Of the sixty-five men in the Wolf, these were the only ones who went topside day or night without special permission. If more were permitted, a crash dive would catch them like rats. Groups of the men below crowded about the ladder, breathing deep gulps of the fresh air coming down from the bridge and sucked aft by the Diesels. The smell of baking bread came to me as I lay in my bunk. The cooks had begun their "hot cooking"—meats and fish and baking—because the odors could escape now, and the blowers were wafting these tantalizing smells into every compartment.

  Maley took over the radio watch to receive and transcribe messages now that we could use our antenna. The sea was choppy and the Wolf rolled considerably. I was alternately asleep and awake, and finally gave up altogether, wandering into Kelly's Pool Room in time to hear a tinny jazz band playing "It's Three O'Clock in the Morning." It was Radio Tokyo, and Tokyo Rose was on. She was a female Lord Haw Haw who had sold out to the Japs, and she opened her program with old-fashioned sentimental songs. The idea, I suppose, was to make us homesick. She was taunting us now about Japanese victories and Allied defeats. She sunk the U.S. fleet as we listened, night after night. "Where is the great United States fleet?" she began in her phony Oxford accent. "I'll tell you where it is! It's lying at the bottom of Pearl Harbor." She went on to tell us all the details. Her voice rose hysterically:

  "Why don't you give up, you fools out there? You can't stand up against the power of the Imperial Fleet!"

  Some of the men were playing cards on the mess tables, two of the mess cooks were peeling potatoes, and our retorts were unprintable.

  There were all sorts of stories about Tokyo Rose. One was that she was an Englishwoman who'd married a Jap. We listened; amazed at the statistics she reeled off to prove we were being licked. She gave names and tonnage of the ships she said we had lost, and the dates and the places. This might have worked on us after a while, if it weren't for John Street, a slow-spoken, casual, six-foot Machinist's Mate from Colorado. John loved figures. He liked to read them, write them, and add them up. A crack accountant was lost when he went into the Navy to take charge of No. 2 engine on the Wolf. He was always armed with the "book"—a combination dictionary and encyclopedia—and under his bunk he'd packed away Jane's Fighting Ships, the latest edition of the World Almanac, and a Universal History in one volume. Street would
take out a carefully sharpened pencil, wet the point between his lips, and as Tokyo Rose cited the destruction of the American fleet, he took down the names of the ships. Then he looked them up. "She's all wrong," he'd say, mildly. "We didn't have that many ships in the fleet in the first place."

  After she signed off we tuned in Station KGEI, the short-wave station in San Francisco. Now we heard the list of Jap ships the U.S. had sunk. John listened to this as carefully, and as methodically looked up the record. He said sadly, "Hell, there's no more navies left in the world." We knew the Frisco radio was broadcasting for Jap consumption.

  Now the Wolf was moving cautiously. We were cruising off the northeastern coast of Luzon, off Aparri itself. The Japs had landed here within the last twenty-four hours. This was the spearhead of their attack, their toughest job. Luzon was more heavily protected than any other Philippine island, and the Japs had to take Luzon if they wanted a base for planes. They'd hit Aparri hard, roaring up to the beach in armored barges and streaming ashore by the thousands, falling in front of withering fire, yet pouring in until by sheer weight of numbers they gained a foothold. If we could get a crack at one of those transports ... If we could send a fish into the guts of one of those big babies ...

  These were very dangerous waters. We dove at 4:30 a.m. I completed my morning watch at 8 a.m. and fell asleep in my bunk, in shorts and sandals this time. About an hour later I was awakened by a shout. Something on sound again! It looked as if I'd never catch up on sleep. I took over the sound shack. I searched. I sent up my message to the conning tower: "Sound has something, sir."

  Lieut. Holden's deep voice came back: "Very well. Control, what's your depth?"

  "Eighty-five feet, sir," came from the man at the depth gauge.

  "Bring her up to periscope depth, and we'll have a look."

  "Aye, aye, sir." The word was relayed to the bowplanesman:

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