U s s seawolf submarine.., p.9
U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 9
"We got passengers aboard," I said. "Now all I'm asking is that they keep out of my way and out of this shack."
"Aw, take it easy, Eck," Maley said. "They're fliers. They've been shot down, and a lot of them are pretty goddamn heroes, too." He was topside when they all came on, twenty-six of them, he said, and he heard an Army officer give them a little pep talk. It ran something like this, said Maley:
"Men, we're fortunate to leave the Rock on this submarine. We're more than fortunate because this ship has a good crew and it is clean. I want everyone here to remember that he is a passenger, and that the crew has work to do. Stay out of their way. They aren't too eager for this hauling duty, anyway. There will be plenty of food, but frankly, I don't know what you're going to do about sleep. There may be an empty bunk once in a while. If you're sure that some crew member isn't due to use it, then you can lie down. Remember that we're depending upon these people to get us where we're going. We're leaving in a few minutes now; so go below, get in a corner, and be quiet."
I had to admit they were quiet, too, and that they made the best of things. There was scarcely any room on the Wolf for them.
We shoved off that night, but before we left, we loaded many more boxes of valuable material, and this took every cubic foot of space left. At midnight we started out of the harbor to run the Jap blockade once more. If space was at a premium on our trip in, now there wasn't room to move anywhere.
Finally an arrangement of hot bunks was worked out. The Wolf’s crew and the aviators slept in relays, and during the eight-day trip every bunk on the boat had someone sleeping in it every hour of the day. Even that was not sufficient; and going through the boat, now and then you'd see an aviator sleeping on his feet—leaning against a bulkhead catching forty winks. Some fell asleep while they were eating.
The Japs were looking high and low for us as we sneaked out of Manila Harbor. Two or three times in the darkness it seemed as though their planes might have discovered us, but the Wolf outsmarted them, and by dawn we were far enough out to be comparatively safe.
I had my hands full on sound as we went through the blockade, and had little chance to stroll around and get a good glance at our passengers. But at 8 a.m., after my morning watch, I went forward to the forward torpedo room and saw two of them near my bunk. They were just youngsters, and they looked worn out. They were discarding some of their personal gear—gas masks, knives, and belts—and I couldn't help overhearing their conversation.
"D'you know," one of them, a young kid with a scar on his face, was saying, "you can get hot coffee anytime you want on this ship? They got sandwiches, fruit—why, it's like being on a goddamn luxury liner."
I began to cool down. Hot coffee ... sandwiches ... why, we were always griping because the meat was too rare or too well done.
The other aviator spoke up. "All I got to say is I'm sure glad to get on. As far as I'm concerned, I'll stand right here until we hit port and won't say a damned thing."
My conversation with the sentry on the dock came back to me. These men must have gone through hell like all the rest of the boys on the Rock.
"If I just took my cleaning gear and stowed it here, do you think anybody'd get sore?" the fellow with the scar said.
His gear was a canvas dressing kit with toothbrush, tooth paste, soap, and comb. Rolled up, it was no larger than a man's fist. I'd heard enough. All my antagonism vanished.
I stepped up. "Bud, you're sharing my cleaning-gear locker," I said. "I haven't got much in there, and there's plenty of room."
I don't think he could have been twenty-two. He was so grateful, I felt like a skunk. As the days went on and I learned his story, I knew that we should have been damn proud to carry such passengers. He had been shot down twice by Jap Zeros. He had been flying a PBY—the old Navy flying boat, which could do only about 140 knots with everything bent on it.
The others had been through the mill, too. One had been shot down three times. Some had been forced to make their way for miles through semi-jungles and swamps before they reached the safety of the American lines. The Seawolf’s crew stopped griping about ferrying passengers and we filled those boys full of good submarine food, warmed them up with good hot coffee, and couldn't do too much for them. They were amazed at the good food, the variety of it—steak, ham, lamb and pork chops, the pies and pastries we served. They grinned when they came in for breakfast and saw Doc Loaiza going through his daily routine of placing two vitamin pills at each plate.
We learned of the problems they faced fighting the Japs. Principally, they needed faster planes. "Those Zeros against what we had made it just like the old turtle and hare story," we were told. "Those Jap ships are going to be mighty tough to get around, even with our new pursuits, because they're so fast and maneuverable." The youngster who was sharing my locker had been sent up "without definite orders," he said. "Everybody could see the finale was coming, so we just went up with the idea of taking a smack at them whenever we spotted anything. I got in several good smacks, but I got smacked in return—twice by Zeros and once by the heaviest curtain of flak I've ever seen. I was lucky. I managed to bail out every time. Some of the boys didn't. I know I wouldn't have given much for my chances going down in a 'chute. The Japs butcher a man in the silk just like they do everything else. But I managed to get back every time, and now I guess the big boys have decided I've had enough." He grinned. "They tell me I'm a little punchy. Maybe so. I'm inclined to believe them myself. All I want now is a good plane and a good crew, and then let me at 'em!"
The crew adopted the men. We showed them how we made our leisure time go by in Kelly's Pool Room—cribbage, hearts, dice, acey-deucy. We let them wash their clothes in Baby, and they got a kick out of watching us in the evening, sitting on our bunks and darning socks or sewing buttons.
We loosened up and had fun with them. I sent some of them here and there for oxygen pumps and nitrogen needles and other tools that didn't exist. One fellow, a boy from New York City, wandered into the sound shack.
"Come in," I said. "Make yourself at home. I've got something to show you."
"Thanks," he said, "I was kind of looking for a place to park in."
"Well, as long as you're here, I might as well explain some of these gadgets to you," I told him. "See that thing right over your head?" It was the direction finder loop antenna. "That's what we call an oxometer."
"Never heard of it," he said. "What did you say it was?"
"Oxometer." I spelled it out to him. "O-x-o-m-e-t-e-r. It's a pretty complicated piece of gear, but it's damned important, especially now that we have you people aboard."
He looked surprised. "Is that so? Say, let me know about it, will you? Maybe I'd be able to give you a hand one of these days."
"Oh," I said, "the operation is quite simple. You merely stand over here and vary this control"—I pointed to the handle on the direction finder loop— "and watch that meter over there." This was the sensitivity meter on the direction-finder receiver.
"And what does that do?"
"I'm telling you," I said. "When that needle passes this point, that's the danger signal. Then you bend down and roll up your trousers right to the knee."
His mouth almost fell open. "My God, you mean water is coming in?"
"No," I said. "Not water. This oxometer measures the flow of bull going fore and aft, and we have to prepare to walk through it. It's been near the danger point ever since you fellows came aboard."
"Why, you red-headed bastard!" he began, and then broke down laughing.
Now and then in the course of a routine test, we'd let a little air hiss out of a valve, and some wisecracker would whisper, loud enough for our passengers to hear, "Jeez, the Skipper's taking her down to 1,000 feet." The faces of the aviators would be a sight.
The thought of going down 1,000 feet under the water didn't make them any too happy. Of course, no submarine can go that deep. This kind of tomfoolery went on all the way south. As we plowed on, we came into warmer water
At night, when we surfaced, we caught up with the progress of the war. American and Dutch destroyers and planes had gone into the Macassar Straits and practically wiped out a Jap convoy.
That was our first knowledge of the great Macassar Straits battle, in which more than 50 Jap transports were sunk and perhaps as many as 25,000 Jap soldiers lost. This mass sinking was the best news we had heard for a long time. We knew it was all a surface affair and we were amazed that our old destroyers could do so well. About the fifth night out, with sea and sky black as pitch, we thought we might get a little action of our own. Over on our starboard bow a shape gloomed up just on the edge of visibility. A Jap submarine running awash? The battle alarm jangled through the boat. Our aviators squeezed into corners, fascinated, as the Wolf’s men clicked into position. We started to ease up for a shot. Then from the conning tower came a disgusted exclamation: "Oh, nuts! It's a log with a branch on it!"
Two nights later the lookout saw what appeared to be a ship with mast and smokestack. We made a crash dive and deployed for a target very cautiously. I was at sound and absolutely miserable. I could hear nothing; no screws, no pings, nothing—only the ceaseless crackle of the water. Each time the Skipper asked, "Do you have anything?" I had to report, "Nothing on sound, sir."
"Up periscope," came from the Captain. Then—"Damn it!"—sharp and clear. "It's a little island."
If there are sea gremlins, they were certainly having a time with us.
We surfaced and continued on our course. We entered Macassar Straits, and finally we reached the great naval base of Surabaya, Java.
For weeks the Japs had been aiming for this chief base of operations for the United Nations in the Dutch East Indies, and when we arrived, Surabaya had already been dive-bombed three times in as many days.
We drew up to dock midafternoon. The sun shone like a brass plate. We had been going steadily since December 8—almost two months—and for most of that time most of us never saw daylight.
We tied up at Holland Pier. Less than 100 yards away we saw the evidence of Jap bombing—huge ten-foot craters in the road-way, where at least a dozen 500-pounders had landed. They struck several barracks—gray wood frame structures—and the roofs were smashed and splintered. Elsewhere fire-blackened charred walls pointed to the Japs' fury.
Our twenty-six aviators looked much better when they stepped out on dock than when they came aboard. They were surprised to find themselves in Surabaya; they thought they were being taken to Australia. We shook hands all around. We really enjoyed having them aboard. For some reason the average submarine man and the average aviator aren't too friendly. When a submarine begins a mission, it has no friends. Everyone must be considered an enemy, for a submarine flies no flags and from the distance all subs look alike—particularly to aviators. We were always wary of aircraft. Medal-hungry fliers will bomb anything resembling a submarine. Only the airplane could see us below the surface. It was our natural enemy. It was as though a natural antagonism exists between these two services whose medium is so different—one air, the other water.
When we arrived in Surabaya, it was under almost its first concerted bombing of the war. The very first raid had come only four days ago, when nearly eighty Jap bombers, with a tremendous fighter escort, raided the harbor, and aimed many of their bombs on the large hotels in town, thinking the Dutch and U.S. High Command was there.
We waited until a tall, gangling Navy lieutenant came aboard, a .45 at his hip, and a satchel in his hand. He was the paymaster, and he was escorted by two sailors both sporting .45's. He gave us a week's pay in Dutch guilders. Then there was more excitement. Gus Wright came into the mess hall with a five-gallon can.
"Milk," someone shouted, and we went for it.
Gus pulled off the cover, stuck a dipper in it, and we gathered around and gulped down fresh milk until we were bloated.
Then we went ashore. The town was so busy we could hardly believe our eyes. We hadn't seen anything like it for a long time. But, after all, this was the third greatest naval base in the East, second only to Singapore and Hong Kong. A jetty more than a half-mile long lay along the harbor's entrance, and here thousands of barrels of oil were daily piped into tankers for the vessels of the Allied nations. One glance, and I knew the Japs weren't having much trouble finding this base from the air. Two rivers outlined it clearly.
In the town, trolleys jammed with people—whites, blacks, turban-crowned Orientals, and slim, brown-skinned Javanese—rattled through the busy streets. Most of the large buildings were painted a sickly green—part of a camouflage plan. The streets were colorful. Brilliant-saronged natives brushed elbows with army and navy men dressed in almost every uniform of the Allied nations. Rawboned Australians, looking more like Texans than Texans themselves, strode along wearing their traditional up-swept hats. The city was dotted with large onion-shaped air-raid shelters, about thirty feet high, camouflaged green to blend in with Surabaya's vegetation. Dutch soldiers walked through the streets with huge eighteen-inch Luger pistols in their holsters.
The crew of the Wolf wandered about town, gorging themselves on fresh fruit piled up in the open markets, visiting the bars with their half-size swinging doors, and catching up on air and light and sunshine.
Our second day in town Captain John Wilkes, U.S. Submarine Squadron Commander, told Captain Warder that a rest camp had been established at Malang, a tiny town high in the mountains about fifty miles south of Surabaya. The crew was divided into two sections, one to stay and repair the ship, the other to go to Malang for three days; then the crew sections alternated, and the second group was to have its three days' rest. We were to be guests of the local Dutch naval garrison.
I was in the first group. We started for the railway station in town the morning of our third day and got there just as the air-raid sirens began to wail. We were all in whites and conspicuous from the air. We'd been told the Japs kept an eye out for white uniforms. The Javanese natives milled about, panic-stricken; we tried to reassure them by moving casually through the crowd. Lieutenant Holden suggested that we better get out of the station. One of the first objectives of bombers is a railway station. We climbed a twenty-foot embankment and found ourselves in a rice field, with about six inches of water in it. Water or no water, we crouched in the field and waited.
The planes came over a minute later, twenty-seven in formations of V's, flying high and straight. They paid no attention to the railway station, however; they continued toward the water front and dropped their bombs there. We heard the explosions. Then, a minute later, they were roaring back—only one plane missing. Surabaya's aircraft defenses were pretty bad then.
We enjoyed ourselves at Malang. We met a radio operator there from a Dutch submarine, who was in a pitiful state. He was one of two survivors; his boat had been sunk by Jap depth charges near Java, in very shallow water, and it sank with an angle at the bow. The two escaped through torpedo tubes. He was still shaky, and as he talked about it a muscle in his jaw pulsed and twitched. He had lost all his teeth during the ordeal. And he'd come to Malang to get himself a brand-new set of store teeth.
Jap bombing planes came over Malang daily, but they didn't bother with the little resort. They were hunting a large bomber airfield a couple of miles away, but so cleverly camouflaged by the Dutch that the Japs never located it—at least, not while we were there. We'd watch our own B-17's take off each morning, and then a few hours later the Japs would sail by, probably cursing as they searched in vain for the field.
We were called back to the Wolf at the end of our third day. In Surabaya we learned the Wolf had been forced to go through her regular hide-and-seek routine. The air-raids never let up; the Japs were methodical, roaring over the water front between 9 and 10 a.m. The Wolf would nose out into the bay before 9 a.m., s
We wondered why new orders hadn't arrived. We were ready to register a loud protest if they meant ferry duty again. But at last Captain Warder came briskly aboard after a conference, and his first order was to take on a full allowance of warhead torpedoes.
That meant action. Our freighting days were over. And we got action—far more than we ever bargained for.
Fire One! . . . Fire Two!
"TAKE IN all lines." Captain Warder's voice rang out in the darkness. The great Dutch port of Surabaya lay about us in a half-circle, blacked out against the enemy.
"All back one-third!"
The U.S.S. Seawolf trembled as she backed into the harbor.
We turned around until we were headed due north. Heavy with fuel and food and torpedoes, we began snaking our way through the mine-filled waters on our fifth mission of the war, once again charged with unrestricted submarine warfare—to sink and destroy enemy shipping wherever encountered. It was still early in 1942; the Japanese juggernaut, triumphantly crushing all resistance, was roaring southward with growing fury; and the Seawolf, done at last with assignments as transport and ferry, was on her way to glory. We had aboard a Dutch pilot who knew every inch of these waters, the position of every mine. By his side on the bridge stood Captain Warder, and together they peered through the darkness as we moved forward, gliding past the dark shapes of wharves and jetties with their cranes grotesque against the purple sky. Above the steady purring of the Wolf’s Diesels came the sharp chug! chug! of a motor. The Wolf came to a halt, riding in a mirror-smooth sea; a flurry of conversation on the bridge, and the pilot, with a wave of his hand, climbed over. The Wolf moved on, alone.
Our bow was pointed for Macassar Straits, between Borneo and the Celebes. The Dutch were fighting a desperate delaying action, aided by Flying Fortresses operating from secret bases in Java, against the Japs who had to cross Macassar Straits to get to the rich oil wells of Borneo. At midnight of the second day I received a short coded dispatch which was rushed to the Skipper. A few minutes later the Wolf veered sharply to the right, reversed her course, and, working up to full power, raced back the way she came. The news spread swiftly. We were going to Lombok Straits, a narrow passage between Lombok and the island of Bali, 120 miles southeast of Surabaya. The Japs' southward push to gain that great semicircular chain of islands, Java, Bali, Lombok, Flores, and Timor, which alone stood between the Japs and Australia, had gained such momentum that they had already overrun the Celebes Sea area, our original destination. Now our job was to get to the Lombok Straits and impede that southward avalanche. At any other time we might have been excited about skirting the coast of romantic Bali, but now the Wolf’s crew was all business. The Japs were cleaning up; no one could stop them. How swiftly they were coming down we learned with shocking suddenness that night when radio frequency told us Singapore had fallen. The Japs had taken it the very day we left Surabaya. There were grim faces aboard the Wolf. Singapore gone? That had been a symbol of might and resistance before any of us had been born. The picture of Japanese strategy—hedgehopping island by island—became clearer, and so did the part we were to play. The Japs wanted Java; their aim was to smash the Dutch defenses protecting Bali which would be one of their stepping-stones to Surabaya. From Sumatra they would cross the Sunda Straits eastward; from Bali they would cross westward, and from Borneo and the Celebes southward; and with an endless supply of men and matériel, they would launch a triumphant blow against Java, heart of the barrier. Once Java was theirs, Surabaya with its invaluable harbor, its magnificent naval installations, its inexhaustible riches, would be in their hands.
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