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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.6

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 6

 

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


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  The Skipper took every precaution. While he scanned his charts in the control room, the four men who were to take over the bridge lookouts when we surfaced lounged in the mess hall reading magazines through infrared glasses, preparing their eyes for the darkness above. Captain Warder finally decided to surface in the lee of a small island. The brassy, harsh surface horn jangled. The Wolf slowly rose.

  "Open the hatch," the Skipper ordered.

  The toggle-bolts were whirled loose, the hatch was pushed open. There was a rush of air like a small gale sweeping past us.

  The Seawolf bobbed gently on the surface of the sea.

  Word came from topside that a radio insulator—one of the two on which my antenna was strung—was smashed. I asked permission to go topside and fix it.

  "I don't know, Eckberg," Captain Warder said dubiously, rubbing his chin. "We're not in a healthy place. They can ram us or shell us before we can get down. The less people I have on the bridge, the better I like it."

  But our antenna might snap, I said, and I could fix it in a couple of minutes. Okay, he said, go ahead—but fast. I climbed up the ladder and out into God's fresh air. The clouds had vanished, and now the night was perfect. The full moon, bright as a new penny, flooded the ocean with its light. The high seas had died down; the water was calm, with only the gentlest swell running. I took a deep breath and tasted the heavy salt air. It was so heavy I felt dizzy. I could see the thin outline of a small island less than half a mile away. I breathed deeply again. I couldn't get enough fresh air into my lungs. This was the first time since Manila that I had been topside, under the sky. It seemed a long time then, but I was to learn that it was nothing compared to what was in store for us later.

  The insulator was easily fixed, and when I climbed down again, half a dozen of the crew were crowded about the foot of the ladder trying to get as near the fresh air as they could.

  "It had to be you who went up, didn't it?" complained Maley. "Goddammit, I'd give my right arm to be able to take a ten-minute walk in a park now."

  I slapped him on the back. "Nothing like fresh air to put pep into a man," I said. I made it back into the sound room with a string of catcalls following me.

  We finished relocating torpedoes and our battery charging. Now that we were on the surface, I set the radio to intercept instructions from the High Command. Messages began to pour into my phones. As fast as I copied them down, a messenger took them up to the Skipper to decode in the wardroom. We learned then that we were the first submarine to come out of the Philippines, and that our attack on the seaplane tender had been the first U.S. submarine attack of World War II.

  All that night we remained in the open sea. Before dawn we dove and started back to the beach where we had made our first attack. The Skipper wanted to look for ships. We went in the same entrance and arrived at the same point where we had fired our torpedoes. I heard the Skipper at the periscope:

  "I'll never find out if I sunk that bastard or not. After the war is over I'll come up here again and investigate."

  The sea turned rough and dirty. Waves as big as housetops were breaking on the surface, and I heard their steady rumbling on sound. That night we again returned to the open sea and recharged batteries. Two nights later we received a radio report of the War Department's announcement: a flotilla of transports estimated to include many thousands of Japanese soldiers was moving into the Lingayen Gulf, escorted by planes and destroyers. And that night Wake Island fell. We knew Wake couldn't hold out indefinitely, but were encouraged to think how long a handful of Marines could tell the Japs to go to hell.

  We received orders to return to Cavite. The Japs had thrown a cordon of warships around the entire Philippine area. Japanese warships were working with Japanese reconnaissance planes, and Tokyo had actually set up a chain of ships from Corregidor to Zamboanga, on the southern tip of the Philippines, ships so spaced that no surface unit could penetrate without being seen. Two out of every three Allied ships that tried to run the blockade were sunk before they reached Manila Bay. We had to proceed with utmost caution. We turned homeward and began running south as we had run north—surfaced at night, submerged at day. The Japs were working fast. They'd moved close to Manila now, and everything that could be, had been moved to Corregidor.

  Meanwhile, life had been going on as usual within the Wolf.

  We had our jobs to do, and we did them. Off duty, there were long bull-sessions and games of cribbage in Kelly's Pool Room. We discussed everything from religion to Walter Winchell. Most of us admired his courage in coming out with what he thought, but what got our fancy was how he predicted blessed events. "That guy must walk around with a keyhole," Zerk claimed. Men lay in their bunks reading magazines. Nearly all of us subscribed to the popular ones—the Reader's Digest, Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Liberty—and to half a dozen colored comic magazines, and we got them regularly at Manila.

  There wasn't much we could do about celebrating Christmas, but we had our little surprise, anyway. The first inkling I had was when I strolled into the mess hall after my afternoon watch on December 24 and began reading an article on air power by Alexander de Seversky. At that moment Sully, who'd seemed pretty busy the last few days, walked in. His red face was beaming. He rubbed his hands. He looked at me reading my magazine, at Sousa, who was flipping through a deck of cards, at Zerk, thumbing moodily through an old Esquire, and he said: "Well, boys, she's finished. Want to take a look at her?"

  "What's finished?" I asked. Now, if it was something special in a cake he'd been laboring on ...

  "Why, my Christmas tree," said Sully. "Want to see it?"

  Sousa looked up from his cards. "By God, it is Christmas Eve, come to think of it!"

  Zerk hitched up his trousers. "That's right," he said, as though this was the first time he had thought about it, too.

  Sully was annoyed. "Do you or don't you want to see the damn thing?" he demanded.

  We followed Sully into the forward battery and into the yeoman's office, and there on nice green monk's-cloth he'd set it up—his Christmas tree. It was a beautiful job. Coming down from Aparri he'd begun it. He'd started with a broom handle, drilled holes in it, then borrowed a handful of applicator sticks from Loaiza and inserted them into the holes. They became the branches. Then he'd got some red and blue flag bunting from Frank Franz. He'd made tinsel by gluing tinfoil from cigarette packages to strips of paper, and decorated the branches with that. He'd painted half a dozen flashlight bulbs green and red and silver and strung them about on a dry-battery circuit, and so his Christmas tree gleamed green, red, and silver—a work of art two feet high.

  For the next twenty minutes a steady stream of men came to see and admire. Even Zerk admired it. "But it needs presents," he said.

  "Yeah," admitted Sully, and his face fell. "I couldn't bum those, though I bummed everything else."

  Captain Warder looked in from his stateroom a few feet away.

  "What's the excitement?" he asked.

  "Take a look in here, Captain, if you want to see something pretty," I said. Everyone moved aside so he could see the tree.

  "My, my," he said. He cocked his head to one side. "That certainly looks like the real thing. Who made it?"

  Everyone looked at Sully. The red began to creep up his solid Irish face. "Aw," he said finally, "four or five of us made it, Captain. I did the constructing, but I bummed stuff all over the boat."

  Then, suddenly encouraged: "Captain, is it all right if I take a picture of it?"

  "Sure," said Captain Warder, grinning. "We don't want to miss that. Make some good ones while you're at it."

  For the next ten minutes Sully perspired. He spread cotton batting about the base of the tree for snow. He made a little fireplace out of cardboard and stuck that behind the tree. He dashed to his bunk and came back with flood lights and camera, shouting directions. I had to hold a spot here; Zerk had to hold another there.

  "For Christ sakes, Eck, keep your face out of this," he shoute
d. "This is going to be pretty."

  He was standing up, crouching, sighting along his nose—the perfect picture of the demon stage director. Even Captain Warder got into the picture, sitting down at one side of the table, smiling, his hair neatly brushed to one side. Then half a dozen other fellows posed with the tree.

  We liked that little Christmas tree. The men would look at it, and someone would say, "Jeez, isn't that a pretty little thing," and then you'd hear someone else's voice, "Sure wish I was home tonight."

  Zerk and I walked back slowly to the control room. On the way we met John Street, laughing like a madman.

  "What's tickling you?" Zerk asked.

  Street pointed to the after-engine room. We went in there. The noise of the Diesels was terrific, but everybody was standing around with pleased smiles. I went up to the nearest man standing at the throttle of No. 3 engine. I got right up to his ear.

  "What tickled John Street so?" I yelled.

  He pointed, too. I turned around, and there were two immense socks, four feet long. The foot alone was eighteen inches. One was bright red, the other white. They were made of bunting, and in those socks was the wildest collection of junk I'd ever seen in my life. A bunch of garlic; a twelve-inch Stilsen wrench; a can of oil; a pair of pink silk panties someone had got on some expedition of conquest; and on the socks were two Christmas tags.

  One read, "From Mac to Snyder: Merry Christmas, I love you."

  The other read: "From Snyder to McCoy: Best Wishes for Continued Prosperity and Good Luck in the Coming Year. Be glad when you're dead, you rascal, you."

  We got a kick out of that. When we finally got into the control room, for no reason at all Manila jumped into my head, and I said, "I wonder how many of the boats got out of Manila."

  Zerk, the supreme pessimist, sucked his pipe. "Damn few," he said.

  I bristled. Perhaps it was homesickness after the Christmas tree, or impatience, but I stood up and snapped at him. "For Christ sakes, you're such a crepe-hanger somebody ought to punch you right in the face."

  Zerk looked up and grinned. "Well, that's the way I see it," he said.

  I stomped out. I felt low. I went into the galley and poured myself a big mug of hot coffee. I sat over it and began thinking. We were doing all right. This first mission of ours was damn important from more than one point of view. Here were the Japs, oozing confidence out of every pore, completely sold on the plans of their High Command, converging on a dozen different points; and where they found opposition they swiftly overwhelmed it.

  They were coming down, step by step, clutching at everything within reach, eager for the petroleum-rich lands below them. The Wolf’s first attack served notice to the Jap fleet that the United States wasn't entirely caught off guard. Some units of the Asiatic Submarine fleet were still operating. The Japs simply couldn't cruise into any cove or harbor and think themselves completely safe from us. We were around. And because we were around, and because they now knew we were around, they dared not send unescorted merchant shipping over unprotected sea lanes. They'd have to pull warships off important jobs and assign them to convoy duty. We were doing fine. What was I glum about?

  It was nearly midnight now, and I should have hit the sack, but I still didn't feel like sleep. Men were dropping into the galley, into Kelly's Pool Room, and everybody I passed on the way out was saying, "Merry Christmas." That warmed me up still more. I looked in on the radio shack. Snyder and Maley were in there, Snyder with the phones on, Maley bent over a book. Snyder saw me. He pushed his phones off his ears and said, "It's sure noisy around here. I don't know if I got anything here or not."

  "Why don't you go aft and get some coffee?" I said. "I'll take over." He went out, and I slipped on the phones. Maley looked up, grunted, and went back to his reading.

  It was noisy. We were close to shore, and I could hear the soft roar of the surf rolling up the beach. I listened hard. A distant, continuous echoing roar, like a seashell at your ear: that was the sound from the minute animal life clinging to the Seawolf’s keel. And then a backyard-like chattering—the merged sound of fish whistling, croaking, sighing. All these were the familiar sounds of the sea. I heard nothing suspicious.

  I pushed off one earphone and turned to Maley. "Merry Christmas, kid," I said. He looked up and smiled. "Merry Christmas, Eck," he said, and went back to his reading.

  Outside I heard the voice of Swede Enslin, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Deragon," and then our exec's mild, "Same to you, Swede."

  There was a lump in my throat. I had to swallow a few times, sitting there, thinking, Here it is Christmas, and Marjorie and Spike alone at home, not knowing if I’m dead or alive, and we're off Corregidor, and men are dying in Bataan, and we don't know if we're going to be dead or alive ourselves twenty-four hours from now ...

  Maley started to whistle softly. He had a gift for whistling. I sat there listening with one ear, my other tuned to the familiar sounds of the water, and all at once I felt better. Maley whistled pretty notes; he trilled like a bird. Well, it was Christmas. Marjorie and the little fellow were O.K. They were in a good home; they had enough food and heat. I wondered what they were doing this very minute. I'd sent her some beautiful things I'd picked up—raw silk, bolts of cloth, even a Mohammedan kriss, to decorate our home. Did the ship carrying those gifts ever get through?

  I heard a man's heavy tread. It was Snyder.

  "Okay, Eck," he said. "I'm ready to take over."

  I took off the earphones. "Nothing to worry about on the gear, Snyder," I said, and I went forward and went to sleep.

  There was a surprise Christmas Day. Gus Wright came into the mess hall and announced what we'd have for dinner that night—mince pies. He'd been up all night baking them, twenty of them. Gus was the hero of the boat that day. He was a thin fellow, about twenty-eight, with buck teeth and a pleasant way about him; and the fuss the crew made over his surprise made him so happy that his eyes got watery, and he went back into the galley and banged his pans around until he got it out of him. A Christmas tree, mince pies—well, it was a better Christmas than the boys had on Bataan and Corregidor, we thought.

  All went smoothly aboard the Wolf until we approached south of Subic Bay, around 11 p.m. the night of the twenty-sixth. I began hearing pings. Captain Warder scoured the sea and horizon with his binoculars. Visibility was practically unlimited. A bright moon shone.

  "I don't see a damn thing," he said.

  But these pings could come from a Jap sub concealed under water, and we'd be silhouetted against the moon. We dove. When the moon set, we surfaced with infinite care and inched our way forward. At a point several miles off Corregidor, we picked up a small signal light. It was pointed toward us, blinking on and off, somewhere on the pitch-black shore. Someone was sending to us.

  Frank Franz raced to the bridge and replied with our blinker gun, a tube-like instrument with a powerful light in it which can be aimed directly at a point miles away and can't be seen at the right or left of the point. We established contact with the shore.

  The message came through. A pilot was coming out in a FT boat to escort us through the heavily mined harbor.

  A few minutes before midnight the PT boat suddenly emerged out of the darkness and unloaded a soft-spoken young man. He joined the Skipper on the bridge. The motors began to hum. I knew by the feel of the boat answering the rudder that we were going through the mine field, moving with infinite care toward the harbor. Then the Wolf halted; we had Mariveles Harbor on our port beam. The pilot left us.

  Just before dawn, we pushed on again, heading farther into Manila Bay. The Skipper had orders to submerge there at a specified point. We finally found it and went down.

  We marked time. Now and then a faint pounding came to our ears, as though someone were hammering on the hull of the Wolf. You couldn't mistake that sound. The Japs were bombing Manila. These were the explosions of their bombs coming down to us through the water. We listened, frustrated and impotent. We had little or no air supp
ort left in the Philippines then, and it wasn't pleasant knowing that our own men were being bombed on the surface and that we couldn't help them.

  We surfaced at dusk and ran awash. We made a small target, difficult to observe. At 7 p.m. a message came over my radio ordering us into Corregidor. Captain Warder looked around.

  "There's a ship out there," he said slowly. "She's burning."

  We finally glided alongside the dock. We tied up. I received permission to secure the sound gear and some topside. I scrambled up the ladder and out the hatch. A shadowy figure grabbed my arm. It was the deck watch.

  "Don't wander off too far," he warned me. "They're expecting an air raid."

  I walked over the gangplank and stepped upon the dock of Corregidor.

  CHAPTER III

  We Take the High Command

  IT WAS a perfect tropical night, with just a touch of chill in the air. The sky hung far above, strangely blue in the velvet darkness. The air seemed perfumed after the days and nights below. Off to my right was a dark blob of hilly land. That was Corregidor. Not a light shone. The shore was completely blacked out. Somewhere back there were General Douglas MacArthur and his ranking officers, mapping their defense against the Japs. The center of things had become Corregidor now: Manila was no longer in the picture. Standing there, breathing deeply, thinking about all the historic things that were being done all around me, I suddenly became conscious of a steady drone. For a moment I thought the enemy planes had come.

  Then I realized that heavy trucks were plying back and forth on a sandy road which wound by the dock. A huge black shape low in the water caught my eye. I hadn't even seen it before: it was another submarine, the Swordfish. I recognized her large periscope shear braces. On her shakedown cruise, her assembly periscopes and radio masts vibrated so badly they had to build the braces to support them.

  I lit a cigarette, cupping my hands to shield the flare, and walked slowly back and forth, breathing deeply. If only there were a way for me to get word to Marjorie that I was all right!

 
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