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U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific, page 1

 

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


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


  U.S.S. SEAWOLF

  Submarine Raider of the Pacific

  By Gerold Frank, James D. Horan, J. M. Eckberg

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

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

  Foreword

  Prologue

  CHAPTER I | This is the Seawolf

  CHAPTER II | The Wolf Strikes Back

  CHAPTER III | We Take the High Command

  CHAPTER IV | Revenge for the Rock

  CHAPTER V | Rescue of the Bamboo Fleet

  CHAPTER VI | Fire One! . . . Fire Two!

  CHAPTER VII | "For Heroism ..."

  CHAPTER VIII | Jinxed

  CHAPTER IX | Anchored in Sick Bay

  CHAPTER X | Tons of Jap Shipping

  CHAPTER XI | The Wolf Comes Home

  Further Reading: Strategy Six Pack 14 - Mark Antony, Two Years Before the Mast, Daniel Boone, David Crockett, A Ride to Khiva and Six Years With the Texas Rangers 1875-1881 (Illustrated)

  U.S.S. Seawolf: Submarine Raider of the Pacific by Gerold Frank, James D. Horan, J. M. Eckberg. First published in 1945. This edition published 2017 by Military Classics. All rights reserved.

  ISBN: 978-1-387-12520-3.

  Foreword

  I FEEL mighty proud to be honored by an association with submarines even as remote as writing the foreword for this real human interest story which recounts the thrilling performances of the U.S.S. Seawolf—one of the outstanding submarines during the early stages of the war.

  I have always had a profound respect and unlimited admiration for our people who travel under the sea. They are a rough and hungry lot. They have played a major role in the war in the Pacific by severing the enemy's lifeline of shipping and destroying large units of Japan's Imperial Fleet.

  The incidents related in these pages bring out the traditions and superstitions of submariners, their comradeship and sociability, the making over of a group of men from various and sundry sources into an integral unit, and the give-and-take life they lead.

  The successes of the Seawolf bear testimony to the effectiveness of single-purposeness and teamwork. They bore in, were offensive-minded when targets were there, and they called on all their cunning and skill to evade when the Jap was hurt and mad.

  This book will impress you with something all Navy people accept as everyday truth. It is the way the captain carries his ship, how his personality and influence make themselves felt on every man-jack in his outfit.

  Freddie Warder and his crew can play on my team anytime, anywhere. The people of our country are indeed fortunate to have on their side killers like the Seawolf crowd who have done a magnificent job from the very beginning. Every American can feel intensely proud of our submarines.

  JONAS H. INGRAM,

  Admiral,

  U. S. Navy,

  Commander in Chief,

  U. S. Atlantic Fleet.

  Prologue

  THIS BOOK really began one sultry Sunday afternoon in August 1943, on a slow train between New York City and New London, Connecticut. We saw him first. He was big and brawny, his giant frame squeezed into a coach seat; he had the clear blue eyes, the hawk-like gaze of a Viking; and he was the most beribboned figure we had ever seen in a navy uniform. I think we spent all of five minutes in a vain attempt to read his personal history from those colorful decorations over his heart. He was a submarine man, and he'd been in combat—that much was clear from the silver submarine pin which led the collection of campaign ribbons. He had been decorated for gallantry—that was the coveted red, white, and blue ribbon of the Silver Star to the left. That orange and blue ribbon below meant action in the Asiatic-Pacific theater; here was the Good Conduct ribbon, the American theater; stars, numerals, one, two, three major battles—but it was too much of a job. On his left sleeve, near the shoulder, were the enclosed gold chevrons of a chief petty officer and the crossed bolts of lightning which indicated a radioman. Clear enough, so far: he was a chief radioman in the United States submarine service, and he had done things and been places.

  We were particularly interested in a submarine man at that time. We were bound for the U.S. Submarine Base in New London to take a training cruise in a submarine. As Navy-accredited correspondents, we had been given a pleasant newspaper assignment—to write a story on submarine training and to describe how it feels to descend fifty or a hundred feet under the sea.

  We engaged our submarine man in conversation. His name was Eckberg—Joseph Melvin Eckberg. Chief radioman. From what submarine? He rubbed his nose and gave us a slow grin.

  Well, anyway, we said—and we identified ourselves—if we obtained clearance from the Navy, would he tell us a little about his ship—where they'd been and what they'd done? Chief Radioman Eckberg, J.M., hemmed and hawed and looked uncomfortable. He wasn't one to talk, but if it would be all right with Washington ... he'd been on one of the greatest sea-raiders of all time, and Lord knows she made submarine history ...

  We followed through and learned in Washington that Eckberg's ship was none other than the U.S.S. Seawolf. The Seawolf? Why, her epic feats against the Japs had already made her almost legendary wherever Navy men gathered. Up to now the Navy had dared only hint at her exploits. She had been identified by name in less than half a dozen cautious news dispatches ... if her story could be told now, at last ... all of which explains how it happened that a week later we found ourselves in the cozy parlor of one of the snug little two-story houses the Navy has built for its personnel in Navy Heights, Groton, Connecticut, overlooking the spanking waters of the Thames River, with Eckberg thumbing through clippings of the Seawolf, Mrs. Eckberg busy with the dishes in the kitchen, and the littlest Eckberg—David, called Spike, three years old, a chubby, towheaded candidate for Annapolis, class of 1962—laying on the floor with a heavy paperweight made from the same iron-hard teakwood that went into the deck of the Seawolf.

  Here was a picture of the Wolf’s commissioning on Dec. 1, 1939, her crew stiffly at attention, the flag blowing from the mast, a gray sky overhead. Here was a snapshot of the crew, bearded and grinning, hanging their clothes up to dry on a rope strung from the conning tower to the bow of the Wolf, somewhere between fabled Bali and Borneo; here a photograph of Eckberg himself, thirty pounds thinner, a shadow of the man, as he looked when he returned from the Wolf’s most dangerous mission. Here was a clipping about the Seawolf:

  ... the daring raider ... the U.S. submarine that terrified the Japs in their own waters.

  Here was a second:

  The submarine U.S.S. Seawolf ... recent Pacific cruise that will go down in United States naval history as one of the epic stories of submarine warfare.

  Here, finally, was a third:

  Washington, D.C., April 13.—The Navy emblazoned the names of slight, unassuming Lt. Commander Frederick Burdett Warder and his submarine Seawolf today on its mounting roll of honor. It was the 1,450 ton Seawolf, sister ship of the ill-fated Squalus, the Navy disclosed, which sank a ...

  But Eckberg was shaking his head. "That doesn't tell the story," he said.

  "Why?" we asked.

  He slammed his fist down on the table.

  "Because, damn it, it doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't explain why the Seawolf is the best damn submarine in the United States Navy. Why, down in Lombok Straits one night ..."

  "Look," we said, "let's start from the beginning."

  "Okay," he said. "Right from the beginning."

  And this is the story.

  CHAPTER I

  This is the Seawolf

  LET'S TAKE the Wolf
the first time I saw her. She wasn't any beauty then. They were just completing her at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She was covered with black scaffolding, workmen were climbing over her sides, and I felt low. You see, they were building the Wolf at Flatiron Pier on the Piscataqua River; and in the drydock, less than three hundred yards away, they'd brought in the ill-fated Squalus. For ten bad minutes before I set eyes on the Wolf, I watched them take the dead from the Squalus. I saw them carrying off the bodies of men I knew, lifeless bodies hidden under gray tarpaulins, carrying them over the gangplank on stretchers; and at the same time I heard the pneumatic hammers working on the hull of the Wolf, just out of sight around the river's bend. I don't get shaky easy, but, standing there, you couldn't help think a little about life and death.

  The Squalus, which hadn't come up from a test dive, a floating tomb for so many men; and the Seawolf, all fresh and new and ready to go out and make a name for herself, as the Squalus had hoped to do ...

  When I finally got away from there and stood in front of the Wolf, I did my best to keep the Squalus out of my mind. Yard workmen were laying the Wolf’s teakwood decking, riveters were assembling her periscope shears, painters were daubing a thick black coat of paint on her sides, which swelled outward so gracefully at the waterline. Her heavy bronze bell was being rigged. Under the scaffolding I could make out her clean, trim lines. She was pretty.

  Watching, thinking about it all, I couldn't know then what lay before us—Cavite and the stench of Jap dead in the harbor of Manila; the looting of the Philippines; terror and split-second escapes from death in the shallow waters of the Lombok Straits; day and night raids on Jap shipping from Christmas Island to Corregidor; depth charges and depth charges and depth charges—many missions and 40,000 miles under the Pacific, and weeks on end without seeing the sun—well, nobody could have dreamed of anything like that, then. It was August 1939, and the newspapers that day were full of the threat of war.

  I'd come to Portsmouth that morning from San Diego, where I'd been advanced in rank to radioman, first class, and transferred from the U.S.S. Plunger. Months earlier, in Pearl Harbor, I'd put in for the Seawolf when I learned she was being built, and they had told me that if I was selected, I'd sail under Lieutenant Commander Frederick Warder, of Grafton, West Virginia. He'd been in charge of outfitting the Wolf from the beginning. I learned now that he was laid up with a bad knee. Less than an hour after I'd seen the Wolf, I knocked at his door on the second floor of the hospital in the Navy Yard.

  A soft voice with just the trace of a drawl said, "Come in," and I walked in. He was in bed. I introduced myself. He looked up at me with the steadiest blue eyes I've ever seen. "Eckberg, eh?" he said. "Radioman?"

  "Yes, sir," I said. "I got in today. They told me you had a bad knee. I've just been transferred from the Plunger."

  "Good!" said Captain Warder heartily. "I'm glad to see you."

  I was to learn that "Good!" was his favorite expression. Had we sunk a Jap man-of-war? Good! Were we winning or losing? Good! If the first, we'll do better still; if the second, we'll come back twice as hard.

  He struggled to sit up. I helped him. He was a small, trim man, almost schoolteacher-ish in appearance, but with authority in every gesture. He appeared to be four or five years older than I was—say about thirty-five. Firm lips, determined chin, piercing blue eyes under narrowed lids, smooth face. I'd learned about him. Graduate of Annapolis, 1925; graduate, M.S. in engineering, University of California, 1934; submarine engineer; married, father of four children—a competent citizen of the United States Navy.

  "This knee of mine," he began, and with an effort he swung about and sat on the edge of the bed. "It's been bothering me ever since I slipped on the ice last winter." He looked me up and down and suddenly began firing questions. "Have you seen the Wolf yet?"

  "Just a little while ago, Captain," I said.

  "How do you like her?"

  I told him. I liked her lines. She looked clean.

  "She's a damn fine boat!" he said, and that was that.

  As for me, why had I been transferred? Had I asked for a new boat? Why? What sort of radio gear did I have on the Plunger? Was I familiar with this type and that? His questions were direct. As head radio and sound man on the Wolf, I'd be her eyes and ears under water. A submarine is blind below periscope depth, and her only contact with the world is by sound. She feels and gropes her way along the bottom of the sea, between shoals, over reefs—all by sound. She recognizes the enemy's approach by sound and measures the success of her attacks by sound.

  I answered his questions.

  "Good!" he said finally, and gave me my first order. "Go down to the Seawolf and look around. Dig for information. You'll have plenty of time. Learn that boat. Go there after the yard workmen knock off, and they won't bother you. But learn that boat."

  "Aye, aye, Captain," I said. "I sure will."

  "Very well, Eckberg," he said. He smiled. "I'll be seeing you."

  In the Navy "Aye, aye" means "I have heard your order and will attend to it," and "Very well" means "I have heard what you have said and acknowledge it." We'd hit it off right, Captain Warder and I, at the very beginning.

  That night, as we had supper in the dinette of the small furnished house we'd taken in Portsmouth, I told my wife, Marjorie, about it. Marjorie is blonde and slender and good-natured and blessed with common sense. She grew up in Chicago, met me when I was still a third-class radioman, and, in spite of the gloomy warnings of her friends and my own irresponsibility, married me. She liked music and she liked the sea. She was proud to be a Navy wife. In the five years of our marriage she had never complained of the haphazard life we'd led. But I knew the Squalus tragedy had hit her hard. She listened silently as I talked about the Wolf, and told her how impressed I was with the calm sureness and friendliness of my new skipper. She poured the coffee. "Is he married?" she asked.

  I grinned. I knew Marjorie. Like all navy wives, she felt better if she knew her husband's skipper was married and had a family waiting at home for him. They like to think that tends to make a captain keep both feet on the ground and not take needless risks.

  "Yes," I said. "Married and with four children, too."

  Marjorie looked out the window. Through that window, on a clear day, you could see Portsmouth Harbor. You could see the Isle of Shoals; you could see the submarines as they went out to sea and took their first dives. It was off the Isle of Shoals that the Squalus dived.

  "Well," she said, "I suppose that will give me more peace of mind. I don't think I'll ever forget the men on the Squalus. I want a husband that's alive, Mel."

  The crew of the Wolf began to gather now—picked submarine men from all over the world, from San Diego and Mare Island, China and New London, Panama and Seattle—burly men, ham-fisted and barrel-chested; little wiry men who looked as though they'd jump at a noise but turned out to be made of cold-drawn steel; soft-looking men who could bake a cake or strangle a man; psalm-singers and book-lovers; swaggering lady-killers and men with ice-water in their veins; Jew and Gentile, Italian, Swede, Dane, German, Scotch, Irish, Pole—Americans who were to take over the Wolf with me and make her the great searaider she was, one of the greatest of all time. These are submarine men. They know how to keep their hands busy and their mouths shut. They're tough-muscled and tough-minded. They size each other up quickly. A hearty clasp of the hand, a swift appraisal, a grin. "I was on the S-41." —"Hell, no! Jesus, you must know my old buddy, Duke Briggs."—"Know him? Why ..." Hand clasps, old stories revived, new friendships made.

  Most of us meet in the Submarine Barracks, Building 150, assigned to the Seawolf’s crew. Here, eight hours a day, we study blueprints of the Wolf. A submarine such as the Wolf needs a crew of 65—three complete crews each on an eight-hour shift, and specialists all. Officers, electricians, machinists, radiomen, firemen, signalmen, torpedomen, fire-controlmen, cooks, mess boys. The Wolf has to be our home, a battleship on the surface, a raider under the surface, able to hold
her own against anything on the sea, below it or above it.

  The men come in, their white canvas seabags over their shoulders, their grips in their hands. They ask, "Is this where the Seawolf bunks?"

  We glance up from our blueprints. "This is it," we say. We look them over carefully. They throw their bags down.

  "Well, this is the place, then," one says. "Any empty bunks? How about a locker?"

  We're the crew of the Seawolf. We learn who our officers will be. Executive and Navigation Officer, second in command, is Lieutenant William Nolin Deragon of Albany, New York, Annapolis '34, a tall, rangy man with a long face etched with two sharp lines from nose to mouth, and deep-set eyes. He's just come off the S-42. He's completely nerveless, calm in the most dangerous situation. He will become "Willie" to Captain Warder. The phrase, "Now, Willie, what I want"—the Skipper's usual preface to an order, whether it be to attack a Jap destroyer or to find a case of iced beer for the crew in some desolate tropical outpost—is to become a familiar one to us all.

  Diving officer is Ensign, later Lieutenant, Richard Holden, of Rutland, Vermont, Annapolis '37, handsome, black-haired, energetic, with a deep bass voice. He's only twenty-four, but he already has the respect of his men. Communications Officer is Ensign James Mercer of White Plains, New York, a University of Michigan man, slim, aquiline-nosed, with thick black brows, retiring—everything a Navy officer should be. He's a model to the crew, absolutely fearless. As Communications Officer he's the Skipper's right hand during an attack.

  Day by day the rest of the crew gathers. Chief Torpedoman Robert ("Squeaky") Langford, a thirty-five-year-old lanky Iowan with a high-pitched voice and a complete knowledge of a torpedo's temperament; Ensign Burr Casler, Assistant Navigation Officer, whose jutting jaw and wiry thatch of hair make him look twice as pugnacious as he is; Chief Pharmacist's Mate Frank Loaiza, "doctor" of the Wolf, a dark, handsome, nervous Puerto Rican who talks with his hands and will be forever hurrying through the boat to his cabinet in the after-battery, getting medicine for us—saline tablets, aspirins, laxatives. He's "Pill-roller" and the "Quack" to us, but he takes our kidding good-naturedly.

 
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