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U s s seawolf submarine.., p.8

U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 8


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

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  "What are you talking about?" someone asked him. "Work? Work on what?"

  "Never mind the comment," said Sousa. "Do like I'm telling you."

  That night two dim lights were rigged up on the conning tower, and about 8 p.m. a string of motor launches came out of the darkness. They were jammed with boxes of ammunition. We looked at them, swore, and set to work unloading them.

  "What the hell," someone said bitterly, "are we a sub or a transport? Now they're making a cargo carrier out of us."

  "Yeah," said Swede Enslin. "Put a smokestack and some lifeboats on us, and we'll go out disguised as a tramp steamer."

  Jap ships were everywhere, waiting to be sunk, and here we were again, wasting our time acting like a freighter. The crew felt indignant. I think we began to see the light when Captain Warder ordered a number of torpedoes taken out of the Wolf and put on the Holland to make more room for ammunition. If the Skipper went so far as to take off our warheads—well, this job we were doing must be important. We felt better when the word came around that we were carrying this ammunition—anti-aircraft and machine-gun ammunition—to Corregidor, to the Rock. We were going to take this ammunition for our boys right through the Jap blockade, right through every ship and subchaser and destroyer the Japs could put there, and we'd take it to the boys on the Rock so they could hold Corregidor as long as human heart and muscle and skill could hold it. And for the record, too, we'd settle once and for all one of the oldest arguments in sub circles—just how valuable a submarine could be as a cargo carrier. If we got this cargo into the Rock, there'd be practically nothing the Wolf couldn't do except fly over it.

  We packed ammunition until it almost oozed out. We thought the cases would never stop coming down. Ammunition piled higher and higher. It was in the forward torpedo room, the after-torpedo room. We stepped over it and we slept on it. The cases were above the level of my bunk, seven feet above the deck. That night I crawled over cases of shells to get to my bunk. Sleeping on that ammunition gave us a queer feeling. A heavy depth charge, with us packed in explosives like china in excelsior—"Well," said Maley, summing it up, "if they get us, they'll just blow us a little higher, that's all."

  When we finally pulled away, the only torpedoes the Wolf had were those in her tubes, but she carried tons of ammunition.

  We slid steadily through the waters north of Australia.

  We traveled submerged in daylight and surfaced at night as usual. We were running at periscope depth, taking observations every few minutes, when Sousa's voice boomed over the intercom: "Call the Captain!"

  Captain Warder went flying up into the conning tower. I heard Lieutenant Holden say: "Captain, I see something on the starboard bow. Can't make it out."

  "Let's take a look at it, Dick," said Captain Warder. A thirty-second pause as he peered through the periscope. "She's pretty far off yet." Thoughtfully he added: "It could be a ship, all right. Let's continue as we are. Down periscope."

  Three minutes later he upped the periscope again. He took his bearings, giving them to Lieutenant Holden: "Mark, three four six ..." Then, after a minute: "Mark three four seven ... That's pretty steady bearing. She's coming almost directly toward us, or she's going directly away from us." He waited, then: "Mark, three five two. That's a ship, all right. Coming this way, angle on the bow, five degrees starboard. It's a big one. Pretty far off yet, but looks like an aircraft carrier." Pause. "Battle stations!"

  Again the battle alarm. The approach party took over the conning tower and began computing the approach course, the distance of the target, the speed and direction. Ten slow minutes went by. It was "Up periscope" again. "Mark, three five seven," began the Captain. "Range ... wait a minute! Wait ... a ... minute!" Then, in a disgusted voice, "Secure battle stations." Pause. "Dick, come over here a minute and take a look at this ship you sighted."

  Then Holden's voice, crestfallen: "Well, I'll be damned. A seagull floating on a log!"

  The entire ship snickered. For days afterward, the crew greeted each other, "How we going to attack this here seagull? Shoot torpedoes at him or get up and fire a three-inch? Anybody got a slingshot?" And, "Baby, fresh meat—and we let him go!"

  Then, hour after hour, no excitement. I caught up on my mending. I sewed up every bit of torn clothing I had. We gave Baby, the washing machine, a good workout. We resorted to all the old time-killing arguments. For three days I called upon heaven to witness that "Give me two spoonsful of sugar," was correct, and for three days Sully stamped through the Seawolf shaking the bulkheads, roaring that "Give me two spoonfuls" was correct. We held spelling bees as we lay in our bunks, resting our heels on the cases of ammunition.

  "O.K., Eck, let's hear you spell separate," Lambertson, a husky fellow from Nebraska, his full beard making him look like a House of David baseball player, would sing out. Sometimes Sully broke the monotony by digging up one of his prized possessions, a dog-eared copy of an old Consumers' Guide. He swore by it. If Consumers' Guide failed to give a product a clean bill of health, Sully'd have none of it. We played blackjack, poker, and hearts in the mess hall, and we listened to Tokyo Rose and to 'Frisco. The news wasn't good. Tokyo Rose always told us we were being pushed back, and 'Frisco had a news commentator whose smooth voice got on our nerves. The only man on the boat who believed him was "Short Pants" Hershey. Hershey came from a farm in Wisconsin. He was thin-faced, slim, and wiry. He'd been wrestling champ of the Navy at 132 pounds, and he believed the best of everyone. Sitting back on a stool with his feet on a bulkhead pipe in the mess hall, he'd say, "You don't like the sound of his voice, that's all. That hasn't got anything to do with the truth of what he's saying. He's giving you the news."

  Zerk would snap back, "I don't like the sound of that news. If what he says is true, why are we rushing this flea powder up to the Rock? Why isn't the fleet steaming out here and brushing the Nips off like he says they're about to do?"

  "Well, Zerk, give them a little time," Hershey would say.

  "They've got to get organized. That takes a lot of planning."

  "Planning, hell!" retorted Zerk. "I'll tell you why—the Nips have so damned many ships out in this country that our fleet just can't stand up to them!"

  "Hey, Zerk!" I interrupted. "What Navy you in, anyhow?"

  That started him off. He pushed back from the table, slammed his fist down until the coffee cups jumped, and shouted: "Well, I'll be a son-of-a-bitch if that isn't the pay off! I was in this Navy when you all were just a glimmer in your old man's eye. I'm telling you what I think. I only hope there's enough land left the Nips haven't claimed yet so I can get a couple of beers."

  He walked over to Hershey, who sat, mild and uninterested, and stuck his finger almost into his face:

  "I'm not much of a flag-waver, squirt. I've been out in this country a hell of a lot longer than most of you, and I know those hissers. They're smart. They're the best little sneaks in the world. We'll be fighting these Japs a hell of a long time from now, and when it's over we'll know we've been in one hell of a fight."

  John Street pushed in. "I got the book here," he said mildly. "Let's look at the figures. We've sunk ..."

  "Oh, Jesus," someone groaned. "Street and his figures!"

  "We've sunk a hell of a lot of Jap ships," Street said, unruffled, but Zerk wasn't listening.

  "You know what the Japs sunk?" he demanded.

  Sousa, who hadn't taken any part so far, leaned over. "Hey, Zerk," he said in that voice of his that sounded like a foghorn, "is it true you put in for a transfer to a Japanese sub?"

  Zerk kicked his chair away. "Goddamn if I know why I waste my time talking to you dumb bastards," he exclaimed and stalked away.

  The Seawolf moved steadily north. We were on a time schedule with our valuable cargo. We dared not waste too much time snooping around for trouble. But one night when the periscope was upped for a look, the sudden cry came, "Down periscope. Call the Captain!" Enemy ships had been sighted.

  Captain Warder at the periscope de
scribed them. "One, two, three, four. It's a Jap task force: three or four big cruisers, a dozen destroyers, seven transports, a whole fleet of 'em! Here's a cruiser ... Seems to be head man here. He's using a searchlight. They're probably heading for a rendezvous ... Maybe I could get in and attack here. Must be another invasion force ... Well, now, what the hell am I supposed to do here? I'm carrying a whole load of stuff up to the Rock. My orders state that my prime mission is to deliver same. Here are some ships, and I've got only four fish forward and four fish aft, and that's all ..."

  In the sound room Maley and I looked at each other. If we attacked, a hundred to one we'd be depth-charged, and with these explosives ...

  Captain Warder finally decided the all-important thing was to get the ammunition through. We moved on. But a few minutes later he came into the sound shack.

  "Eck," he said, "here's the rough draft of an urgent dispatch. Send it as soon as we surface."

  It was a message to the American Submarine High Command, revealing where we'd seen the Jap ships, their estimated course, their estimated speed. I sent it the moment we surfaced, and felt better thinking that we'd set up a welcome party for the Japs farther down the line.

  We were gliding along on the surface that night when, about 2 a.m., off the port beam and not farther away than 1,000 yards, a huge dark shape loomed up making terrific speed. In a minute or two the lookouts yelled, "It's a Jap destroyer!" She was probably late for the rendezvous to which we saw the others racing. It seemed impossible that she hadn't seen us. We were already starting a crash dive. In almost less time than it takes to tell, we were down to a safe distance under the water. Only seconds later the destroyer's propellers roared overhead, but apparently she had not seen us, because nothing happened. After we heard her screws die away, we eased up, looked around, saw the sea was clear, and surfaced and continued on our way. It was one of our narrowest escapes, and we got out of it probably because the destroyer was concentrating so intently upon reaching the rendezvous that she completely overlooked us.

  I've often thought what would have happened had that destroyer suddenly veered hard left and headed for us. It would have been touch and go. With the ammunition aboard, that might have been the attack and the Seawolf’s end.

  Hour by hour we came nearer beleaguered Corregidor. The Jap blockade was heavier than ever. We left the Sulu Sea, and entered the South China Sea and set our course directly for the Rock. This time the Japs were everywhere. Their planes swarmed over the place. The Skipper saw them, and smiled grimly, and lowered his periscope, and the Wolf moved on, hour after hour, nursing her tons of hot lead waiting to be hurled against the Jap invaders.

  We made it into Corregidor without being detected. During the night we were again escorted in by a PT boat. Again we slowly passed through the heavy mine field. Our lines were no sooner fast to the dock than we were sweating away unloading our ammunition. It was impossible to unload so enormous a cargo in one night. We dared not remain tied to the dock during daylight. Before dawn we eased out into deep water, submerged, and lay on the bottom until nightfall. Dusk came, then darkness. We surfaced. We stole back into the dock, and finished unloading. Then, at last, some of us had an opportunity to go ashore and see what was going on.

  In the midst of a brilliant starlit night, I walked over the gangplank and stepped upon the same wooden dock I had been upon four weeks before. Our men now were making the bravest kind of a stand that a man can make: they were fighting off an enemy who grew stronger every hour. As I breathed slowly, grateful for the fresh air, I heard the distant thunder of the Jap guns on Bataan, twenty miles away. There was activity all around me, but it was weirdly silent. Soldiers hurried by, struggling with the ammunition we'd piled on the dock. Men were standing about in small groups. They watched and said nothing. As I stood there, the wind veered and the most nauseating stench I ever smelled hit me. I needed a cigarette bad. I dug into my pocket for one and was about to strike a match when a voice sounded at my elbow.

  "I wouldn't light that if I were you, buddy," it said.

  I turned. It was a soldier. The moonlight glinted off the Tommy gun he had slung over his shoulder. "No lights allowed anywhere," he said. "We're under blackout conditions." I threw my cigarette away. His face was hardly visible, but he looked young. "They pushing you around much up here?" I asked. His reply was typical of the 31st Infantry, and I think it represented what was in the minds of the men on Corregidor then. Yes, things were tough, but they were holding out. After all, this was the end of January; they did not capitulate until May. As for Jap successes—"Naw," he said, with contempt. "We're averaging better than fifty to one against those little bastards. Sure, we're having trouble, but the Japs aren't the cause of it."

  Food bothered them, he said. Rice, and more rice. They were sick of it. They were eating only twice a day now, and mostly rice. Typhoid was breaking out. About the only exercise they got was at noon when the Jap planes came over and the men ran for shelter. The Nip bombers, he said, came over every day. "You can set your watch by them. But we're knocking 'em out of the sky like clay pigeons. The other day one of our three-inch anti-aircraft set a world record. Knocked down eight planes in one day. We figure more than 80 percent of their bombs fall into the water."

  At that moment the wind veered again.

  "What is that?" I demanded. "Christ, what is that smell?"

  "Yeah," said the soldier, "I know. It's Japs. Those are dead Japs you're smelling. We got thousands of them laying around these hills. They're not burying them and—well, when the wind's right ..."

  That was it. The stench of death hung sickeningly over Corregidor. In these waters about us, in these hills vaguely etched against the horizon, lay bloated, mutilated bodies. During the day that fierce equatorial sun beat down on them, and at night the smell of death was overpowering. But the soldier was talking again. How long were we staying? I didn't know, I said. All I knew was, they needed ammunition and we brought it to them.

  Did I think help was on the way?

  I said I thought the fleet should be coming along pretty soon.

  "I wasn't wondering so much about the big fleet," he said. "But we sure could use some planes. Those damn Japs cavort around up there, and our pea-slingers can't always reach that high. We knocked down a few foolish ones, but that did the trick. Now they just go a little higher."

  The next night I was able to go into Corregidor itself. I wanted to see what it was like, and I wanted to pick up a few radio parts if they could spare them. In the darkness, wearing sandals and shorts and shirt, a heavy growth of beard on my face, I walked up the dusty road and got my first glimpse of the island fortress, 600 feet high, that splits the Bay of Manila, and was then known as the biggest and most impregnable fort in the world. None of its defenses could be seen from the sea or sky. The gun emplacements were beautifully hidden by trees planted to hide them. It was magnificent.

  As I looked at the Rock, there in the gloom, I thought, Corregidor may fall, but the Japs will pay for it.

  Finally I came to the mouth of a tunnel at the base of a cliff. I was amazed at the brilliance inside. It was as bright as day, and I had to shield my eyes at first against the hard white light. I saw men sleeping everywhere. They lay rolled up in blankets; dozed sitting on chairs and cases of ammunition. Here two men were lining a number of hospital cots against a wall. A little farther on, a group of soldiers were standing about a small cigar stand, chatting and exchanging gossip as men do around cigar stands anywhere in the world. Half a dozen soldiers hurried by me, carrying large galvanized cans. They stared at me. I guess I looked like a hermit come out of the hills.

  "What's in that can?" I asked.

  "Chlorinated drinking water," one soldier said.

  "Wait a minute," I called. "What tunnel is this?"

  He paused for a minute. "Malinta tunnel," he said. "You looking for anything in particular?"

  I told him I was looking for Communications.

  "Straight ahead,"
he said. "Keep going."

  I kept going. I passed massive steel doors on either side of the tunnel leading to smaller tunnels, and finally came to one door behind which I was told I'd find Communications. I put my hand on the knob.

  A navy ensign appeared from nowhere. "Just a minute, please," he said crisply. "Where are you going?"

  I identified myself and told him.

  "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't think we can permit you to go in there now. They're just too damn busy, and you wouldn't have a very good chance of finding what you want anyway."

  I decided the best thing for me to do was get out of the way.

  My place was on the Seawolf. I returned the way I came. Walking back to the dock, I could see searchlights playing up and down the shoreline of Mariveles, the naval base about a mile to the north, hunting the Japs along the mainland. Now and then, the rat-a-tat-tat of machine-gun fire came to my ears, and I could hear the dull thud of artillery fire from Bataan. Every few minutes brilliant white flares split the darkness off toward Mariveles. Searchlights continued to move their fingers across the sky.

  I went aboard the Seawolf and down where I belonged—in the sound room. That was the last picture I had of Corregidor.


  Rescue of the Bamboo Fleet

  IT WAS later that we surfaced and stole in to the dock again. We had not been there ten minutes when a military truck rumbled down to the dock, and out of it came more than a score of the most disreputable human beings in Army uniform I had seen. They looked as if they might have stepped by magic right off New York's Bowery. They were gaunt, and their fatigue uniforms were dirty and tattered. I caught one glimpse of them and then was called below. Our visitors came abroad. I wondered who they were.

  Then a message came down: "All passengers on deck."

  Passengers? I thought. What were we up to now? After acting as a transport all over the Far East, were they going to turn us into a ferry? Maley solved it for me when I took up my post next to him.

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