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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.7

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 7

 

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


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  Of course, there was a radio here on Corregidor, but it could be used for military purposes only. Personal matters, no matter how urgent, had to wait. We had no idea where the Wolf was going after Corregidor. We might be out to sea for weeks on a patrol, and never once touch a point from which we could send a message to the States. How long would Marjorie have to undergo the ordeal of uncertainty?

  The Wolf’s patrols, her comings and goings, were absolutely secret. Nothing could have been printed in the newspapers in the States, I knew. I pictured Marjorie telephoning the submarine base at New London, at Portsmouth, sending frantic wires to Washington. Months later, as a matter of fact, I learned that she did everything she could to learn about me. She told me she telephoned Washington and pleaded, "Just tell me if the Seawolf is safe. That's all I want to know. I want to know if my husband is alive."

  They told her, "We're sorry, Mrs. Eckberg. Frankly, we don't even know where the Seawolf is. Things are breaking so fast I don't think anyone but President Roosevelt or Secretary Knox could tell you where any submarine is at any given moment now. You'll just have to wait."

  The trucks were still going by, raising a slow dust which hung in the air like fog. The Seawolf was recharging her batteries. The heavy, nauseous fumes, blue-gray in the darkness, poured out of her exhaust pipes.

  Suddenly, someone hit me a terrific blow on the back. I wheeled around. A giant of a man was standing there. In the darkness I peered up into his face.

  "Eck, you red-headed son-of-a-gun, how in hell are you!"

  Then I recognized him. It was Bull Kiser from 'Frisco, a radioman on the Swordfish. I'd gotten drunk with him in different parts of the world more times than I could remember. He was one of the strongest men I knew. His fingers were so large that when he'd punch a typewriter key, two letters jumped up.

  So there, on the wooden dock at Corregidor, we thumped each other on the back and shook hands and talked over things. The Swordfish had been doing all right, he said.

  "But we can't ever stick around to see whether they go down," he complained.

  Like the Wolf, she had been attacking Jap men-of-war, and it was unhealthy to hang around after an attack to check up.

  "We had plenty of close calls," he said.

  He was not underrating the Japs, either. They were strong, they were treacherous, they weren't anything to laugh off too quickly. But we both agreed that the fact that we'd been able to re-enter Manila Harbor would prove to the Japs that their surface blockade couldn't keep us from coming in and going out as we liked. That would be bad medicine for those hissers to swallow.

  By this time we had to get back to our boats. We shook hands. I never saw him again.

  Quite a talkfest was filling the air in Kelly's Pool Room when I climbed down. Maurice ("Red") Jenkins, Chief Machinist's Mate, who came from Ohio and could make dice turn somersaults, wanted to know what in the name of Mary were we going to do now. Pop Rosario, the Filipino messboy, whose wife and children were, as far as he knew, dead at the hands of the Japs, would have been happy to climb out on the dock and meet the Japs hand to hand when they finally closed in. Where were we going now? Everyone guessed and nobody knew. Why had they brought us into Corregidor again? What was our next job?

  That night we heard Tokyo Rose call for the surrender of the men on Bataan. "You are encircled," she cried. "You can give up now without dishonor."

  "_____,________," someone said precisely and profanely. We laughed.

  At dawn the Wolf went out to sea again and submerged. Once more we heard the dull rap! rap! of Jap planes dive-bombing our shipping in Manila Harbor. We thought, "Well, hell, General MacArthur isn't going to let them get away with that too long! He'll get even, all right. We don't have to worry about that."

  At dusk we surfaced and came into the same dock as before. Now we set to work in earnest. There were stores to load, and we worked without rest. Apparently we were going out that same day, and we weren't going out on a picnic. The sun rises in that latitude about 5 a.m., and we had to work fast if we wanted to get outside the mine, field while it was still dark, and remain on the surface and still be fairly well hidden from the Japs. By midnight oil lines had been hooked up to the Wolf, and hundreds of gallons were flowing into our tanks. We worked like stevedores bringing the endless stores aboard. The highly secret and confidential papers and other invaluable data were stowed in a safe position. I helped with the fuel line, and I carried boxes aboard. I looked over my radio gear, checking and rechecking it.

  About an hour before midnight, as I was working in the sound room, Gunner Bennett stuck his head in. He had four yellow rectangular cans in his hands. I thought they were candy, at first—cans of hard candy.

  "You know what these are, Eck?" said Gunner. "Dynamite." And before I was able to bounce back from that news, he said, "Here's the dope. Plant these. If we have to, before this ship is captured or abandoned, we got to destroy all gear that might help the Nips. That includes your radio and sound gear."

  He gave me the cans, and I took them gingerly. Then he stuck his hand in his pocket and brought out four fuses, about five feet long. "These are slow-burning," he said. "But if you have to set them"—he grinned—"it won't matter if you get out of here fast or not. You won't be going nowhere."

  We both laughed. I didn't think it was a very funny joke, and neither did Gunner. I stowed the dynamite into one of the lockers in the sound room and forgot about it.

  At midnight the intercom coughed and announced "Deck force on deck. Others remain below. We are pulling out in a few minutes."

  As I crossed through the control room on my way to the radio shack, I saw a man's legs coming down the conning tower ladder.

  Life on a sub is so intimate that you instantly recognize your crewmates from any angle of vision you see them, and whether they are nude or fully dressed, walking away from you or coming toward you. These legs were strangers. And whoever it was, he was wearing big brown Army regulation shoes—something none of us wore on the Wolf. Then a pair of khaki trousers; and finally the rest of the stranger. He wore a tan field jacket; he turned, and I glimpsed a staggering amount of gold braid on the visor of his cap. Then I recognized him from photographs I'd seen. It was Captain James Fife, Jr., one of the highest submarine command officers in the United States Navy. Later he became Chief of Staff, Submarines, Asiatic Fleet, and received the Distinguished Service Medal. A broad-shouldered, rugged sea veteran, he looked around, his practiced eye taking in the Seawolf’s control room in one approving glance, nodded a courteous "good day" to me, and strode to the charts and began studying them.

  More legs—strange legs—began to come down the ladder. This pair was the skinniest pair of shanks I had ever seen. Then bare knees; then a pair of shorts, and then the entire figure came into view, crowned with a white pith helmet. This, I learned later, was Major Wilkinson, aide to General Wavell.

  All sorts of scuttlebutt ran through the boat now. It seemed we were taking the U.S. Submarine High Command out from Corregidor. The Swordfish would take out other members of the staff. Among those who left Corregidor at that time, we learned later, were Admiral Hart, Rear Admiral William Glassford, and other ranking U.S. officers.

  With our visitors came two radiomen, Don Irish and Duke Woodard. Don, a tall, red-headed fellow about thirty, was gaunt and emaciated after his ordeal on the Rock. It took him days to fill out and regain his vitality. Woodard was thin, too, and suffered intensely from an ulcerated leg wound. Loaiza took him over, and I didn't see much of him until later. Don told me how they fought to keep their radio going on Corregidor, and gave me another picture of the doggedness and determination of the men who held out so long and so bravely against the Japs.

  When they were ready to transmit, he said, four volunteers dashed out with a reel of wire, strung it over scrub brush, and rushed back to send their messages. Seconds later, Jap bombers roared over and blew the antenna to shreds. Undaunted, the Americans watched their chance, raced out again from
their tunnel, and strung up a new antenna. And again the Japs rained fire and death from the air to destroy it. Yet, in the midst of that furious and ceaseless barrage, the boys strung up their antenna, sent their messages out, and kept the world informed of what they were doing. Food was a real problem, Don said. They ate only two meals a day, and most of each meal was rice. Their water supply was low. Their ammunition supply was low. Don couldn't give enough credit to the anti-aircraft batteries, who ran up records for shooting Jap planes out of the sky. The Americans had a delaying job to do, and they did it.

  Captain Fife, having gone to the charts, virtually lived with them. He rarely came through the boat. The wardroom was crowded twenty-four hours a day. The messboys had to set up three eating shifts to accommodate everyone: three breakfasts, three lunches, three dinners—the cooks worked marvels preparing meals for more than eighty men on their tiny stove. They and the Filipino boys were real soldiers on the trip out. They never grumbled, yet they were continuously preparing food, serving food, removing food, setting dishes, washing dishes—and, in between, filling and refilling the ten-gallon coffee urn. An average submarine crew can drink thirty gallons of coffee every twenty-four hours—and more when it's under tension.

  Bit by bit the word had been going through the boat that we were heading for Australia, taking the High Command there. That was a short trip—we'd be there in a few days.

  Australia meant cable facilities and our first chance to let our folks back home know we were safe. The first moment I had I sat down at my desk and began composing one cable after another to Marjorie, trying to find words to explain all I wanted to say: how I felt when I couldn't reach her, how I knew she must have worried, how much I missed her and Spike, how I had their photographs right here in front of me when I worked and above my bunk when I slept, so that I saw them the last minute before I fell asleep and the first moment I awoke every morning. At last I settled on: "Feeling fine don't worry love to all." I had it neatly typed, with address and signature, and folded in my pocket days before we reached Australia.

  Some of the crew asked Paul and me to help them with their cables. They crowded into the shack—it held only two persons besides us—and stood outside it and joked about what they'd send. We all felt a little embarrassed at showing our feelings. Zerk, sarcastic as always, would wander in and listen, and wander out again, but we took his ribbing without getting angry. He never received mail. He didn't know whether his wife and children were alive. When we used to reach port, before Pearl Harbor, and the mail pouch was thrown from the barge and the letters distributed, he'd find himself a stool somewhere and read a detective story.

  On the way in both officers and crew of the Wolf were pretty satisfied with themselves. We'd have preferred action to evacuating personnel, but we realized that this was a mission comparable in importance to sinking enemy ships. After all, ships can be replaced, but submarine officers with the training of our passengers could not. And we were proving again that a surface blockade couldn't stop the Wolf. We were proving that the submarine has an advantage over all other craft because she could disappear from sight. No matter how well-spaced enemy units were, no matter how expertly set up to intercept submarines, the submarines could still be sailed through at fairly high speeds, covering great distances without undue strain on any member of the crew, its officers, or its passengers.

  We were less than twenty-four hours out of Australia when the bridge lookout, about 1,500 hours, shouted: "Seaplane above the port bow!"

  The alarm sounded. We rushed to battle stations. We flashed our recognition signals to the plane. The pilot flashed his—and for the next few minutes we had a bad time of it. Our signals didn't jibe.

  If a pilot doesn't receive the correct signal, he drops his bombs first and investigates later. We could try to shoot him down. It would be a smaller loss to knock out one plane than to let a plane sink a submarine. But if we ordered the crew to their guns, the pilot might take that as a hostile act, and bomb us. All submarines look alike. If we did nothing, he might bomb us anyway.

  It was a ticklish situation. Captain Warder thought it through—and did nothing. The pilot might be a Jap, but more likely he was an Aussie. The port hadn't been bombed yet from the air. The pilot must see that we were white men. Our very lack of activity topside would show we weren't enemies.

  There was a tense minute or so, and then the plane made a wide sweep, dipped one wing in salute, and soared off into the distance. It had been a bad scare.

  As we neared the port, we saw a familiar shape anchored in the bay—"Ma" Holland, our tender. We moored alongside. It was late afternoon early in 1942.

  As we lay there, the U.S.S. Tarpon limped in. She looked as if she had weathered a terrific storm. And she had. We learned that she surfaced in a typhoon and nearly foundered. The Tarpon had no choice in the matter. Her batteries were down, and she had to surface. A giant wave came over after the hatch was opened, poured down the conning tower hatch, short-circuited radio and generators, and nearly flooded them out. The Tarpon couldn't dive after that; she was helpless to do anything but ride it out for three full days. For the first time in their lives nearly every man on the Tarpon was seasick.

  The Tarpon was sent home later. She gave a good account of herself, though. She sank a pair of them on the way in.

  But the Tarpon was soon forgotten. We wanted to get our cables off to our families, and when we finally did that, even though we couldn't say where we were, we were satisfied. Marjorie told me later that there was a knock on the door, a Western Union messenger delivered the telegram, and that it bore only my message and my signature. For all she knew, I might have sent it from Iceland or Timbuktu.

  CHAPTER IV

  Revenge for the Rock

  WE FOUND the port a ghost town. When we got there most of the civilians had fled to the interior. The Japs were threatening the whole of Australia. They had bombed Rabaul in New Britain, they'd gained a foothold in New Guinea, and in the Solomons they'd bombed Tulagi and Kieta. The port was on the alert. The streets were deserted. Homes and stores were boarded up. It looked like a town in the tropics waiting for the hurricane to strike. The heat was terrific—the mercury simmered at no degrees.

  Captain Warder said, "Go out and relax." He kept a skeleton crew aboard—only enough men to carry out essential work—overhauling engines, checking gear, refitting, adjusting. The rest of us broke out our whites, polished our shoes, and, spic and span, jumped into a liberty boat and chugged into dock, more than a mile away. The center of town was about a mile from the dock over a dry, dusty red-clay road. By the time we hiked there we were hot and perspiring and covered with dust. Our feet, accustomed so long to loose sandals, burned and ached. First we wanted ice-cold beer, and then we wanted new faces to see, new voices to hear. We wanted to hear a girl laugh and giggle, and watch the swing of her dress as she walked, and know how wonderful the world could be after days and nights in the cramped, prison-like confines of a submarine.

  But we were out of luck. We couldn't get any beer; apparently the Aussies' thirst was for milkshakes, ice cream sodas, and similar sickening combinations. We explored for nearly an hour, growing more disgusted with every step. As for companionship, the only white woman we saw and spoke to was a hard-bitten, middle-aged waitress who had troubles of her own.

  We took a vote and decided to return to the boat. At least, the Wolf had ice water and coffee. As we neared the ship again on the liberty boat, there was Lieutenant Deragon leaning in the shade of the conning tower, smoking a cigarette and watching a United States transport at anchor not far away.

  We bobbed up and down alongside the rounded black sides of the Wolf. Deragon walked to the side and leaned over the heavy cable which serves as a rail. "What are you doing back here?" he demanded.

  "Lieutenant," said Maley, in a hopeless voice, "there's nothing in port—no beer, no girls, no nothing."

  "No beer?" Deragon said. He thought hard. "Well, I think we ought to be able to
do something about that. You boys wait here," he said. He flipped his cigarette over the rail and hurried off.

  We sat around smoking and comparing notes on things. They weren't complimentary. The sun came down, blazing hot. Not a breath of air anywhere. At the end of that dusty road, the port lay stewing in her own juice—a blistering hot town. Deragon showed up, perspiration rolling down his face.

  "O.K.," he said. "I found a dozen cases of beer. They're on that transport. They're sending them over." He spoke so casually you might have thought he was giving us the time of day instead of a miracle. And while we sat there, our tongues hanging out, a launch came cutting through the water toward the Seawolf, carrying cases of cold beer under a tarpaulin. Beer—so far as the Wolf crew was concerned—meant baseball, and Gunner Bennett dashed down to the gun locker and came back with a seabag full of equipment—half a dozen bats, about a dozen balls and mitts. We found an empty lot, not far from the dock, unpacked our beer and equipment, and it was the engineers against the deck crew, the "Winton Wizards" vs. the "Deck Apes," with time out between innings to refresh ourselves. At the end of the fourth inning the score was 34 to 31, and no one knew who was leading.

  "Aw, nuts," somebody said, and we called it a day. We finished the beer, packed up our softball equipment, and ambled happily back to the liberty boat and the Wolf.

  We were in port several days. Quite a few uniforms paraded up and down the main avenue—Indian, Dutch, American, British. At night a gloom of its own settled upon the whitestone buildings and the hodgepodge of weather-beaten shacks. The Salvation Army had established one of their famous huts on the outskirts, a one-story green frame building. We munched free doughnuts, gulped what the Australians call coffee, and lounged in easy chairs. A middle-aged Australian couple were the staff.

  But most of the time we had work to do aboard the Wolf.

  Before supper of the last day, Sousa came bellowing through the ship. "All right, sailors, take it easy for a while and eat a good chow. Tonight we're really going to labor."

 
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