A DOZEN SUBMARINE STORIES
Reprinted, with permission, from the book:
"The Blind Fight" by C. M. (Stew) Stewart
Reference his website at:
After nearly fifty years, many of the treasured memories of my World War II experience have been washed away like so much water under the bridge. However, here is a dozen I have lived with, casting periodic aspersions through the years of both good and bad times. It is my desire to both inform and entertain you as you read this section of the book. I find satisfaction in believing that the recorded past just might have a place in the future.
C. M. Stewart
"KNOWN ONLY TO ME"
Claustrophobia has never been a problem for me, or I never would have found myself on a submarine, but deep down in my subconscious there is a spark of fear about being trapped in some sort of an enclosure without control of the situation. I mean, like a nightmare, where you are rolled up tight in a rug or a blanket with your hands tied behind you. One can become panic-stricken if a quick awakening doesn't cause you to sit right up in bed.
It was with this calm understanding of my faculties and confidence that I was "in control" when I was introduced to the Fresh Water Tank! As I look back, I can thoroughly accept the thinking and whole-heartedly agree that the subject of discussing or even barely mentioning the dreaded chore of scraping the fresh water tank should never be brought up.
During the relief crew's time of getting the ship ready to go back to sea on her next war patrol, there were many jobs to be accomplished. Most were fairly routine, in nature and pretty well expected by the entire relief crew, except one! No one even mentioned the water tank. There were a couple of reasons for this. One is that the element of surprise is essential to prevent prospective candidates from expressing opposition or just flat refusing to obey the order: "enter in". You must understand that in 1944 and during World War II, it would have been unheard of for anyone to refuse to obey an order in the U. S. Navy. Secondly, the physical confines of the job prohibited it from being shared by more than one member of the crew. There was an officer assigned to stand watch from outside the tank to provide whatever comfort at least with conversation while I hurriedly scraped and polished the entire surface of the interior of the fresh water tank.
The Lieutenant JG led me to the galley just forward of the crew's quarters and bent down to look into an uncovered hole in the top of the fresh water tank. If I had heard of anything like this, I probably would have gone into shock right there, but the surprise of it actually shielded me from panic. He was very understanding as he explained that the tank had to be scraped and polished to a clean metal finish before it could be used again. I still didn't know the rules of the game as I squeezed through the drawer space and into the manhole with a flashlight in my hand.
Rule No.1: Don't tell the flunky the rest of the rules until he's in the tank.
Rule No 2: Tools and lunch will be provided, from above, because you are not getting out until the job is finished. It was a pretty good bet that no one would go back a second time. I spent seven hours on the walls, floor and ceiling of that fresh water tank. It measured approximately four feet by four feet and seven feet deep.
Rule No 3: You only have to do it once. Anything this great should be shared with other newcomers and I was immune from a second dose of this experience. Although I was under close supervision, I don't know what that officer would have done had I passed out down there.
Rule No. 4: Keep your mouth shut. It was a dirty job but somebody had to do it. Why make it any harder on the next slob or Lieutenant JG, as far as that goes.
The capacity of the Fresh Water Tank was not sufficient for a twelve to sixteen week patrol. Fresh water replacement was a daily duty for each watch (on 4 hrs - off 8). We had capability to make fresh water from seawater but it was more expedient from accumulated condensation gathered inside the boat. Submarines, sometimes called "pig boats" because being made of pig iron, were subject to considerable condensation due to temperature variation inside and out the ship. This was readily available for making fresh drinking water. After each war patrol, there would be a film of incrustation about a quarter of an inch thick all over the inside of the fresh water tank.
"THE CLOTHESLINE WATCH"
One of the first tasks facing us when we were issued our clothes was to mark them for identification, which the Navy handled by issuing each of us a stencil that had our name and company number on it. We lined up at tables equipped with stencil brushes and black ink where we put our names on all the clothes given us. Dungarees were stenciled on the back of the shirt just below the yoke and across the back of the jeans just below the belt loops. Skivvies were to be treated in like manner but I saw lots of misinterpreted versions around the barracks and on the good ole "Sea-Going Clothesline".
Clothing care and maintenance was designed to be the most efficient for living aboard ship. Ironing was out, so rolling clothes became an art form for personal appearance. Folding was important so that a tight roll would give appearance of pressing with an iron. Of course, seams were backwards as clothes were rolled inside out and tied tight with little cords of cotton rope called "Clothes Ties".
Clothes ties were also used in place of clothespins when hanging out to dry on the ship's clothesline. There was a right way and a wrong way to tie off the clothes tie. Only a square knot would pass inspection and was guaranteed to hold. Reverse overlay between the first and second loop produces the square knot. Anything else was a "granny knot", heaven forbid! It took two ties to hang pants by the two outside belt loops and two ties to hang the shirt by the two inside corners of the tail. Skivvies were pretty much the same but you had to tie off a pinch at the toe of the sox to hang them.
At first, washing and hanging out as well as rolling up clothes was a drag but soon we began to notice the really sharp guys were the ones whose dungarees were faded and didn't have that dark, new denim look. This could only come from many washings, as bleach was not allowed. So, scrub brush and tables were vigorously used whenever time was available for washing clothes.
The boot camp training was geared to take civilians from all backgrounds and situations and turn them into well organized and disciplined parts of a huge machine known as Uncle Sam's Navy. Discipline was the toughest for both the organized and the unorganized. One exercise in discipline was standing the "Clothesline Watch". The most ridiculous thing I'd ever heard of, I had to stand the two to four a.m. watch to be sure no one heisted the clothes from off the line. A line with block and tackle held the clothesline high above anyone's reach and the whole camp would have been awakened if it were lowered. At the time, I knew the whole idea was just to keep me from getting a good night's sleep. Up at 1:45 a.m. and off at 4:00 a.m. was like letting you have four hours sleep every night. This lasted four weeks at Camp Faragot, San Diego Navel Training Station in the summer of 1943.
"MATINEE BACK HOME"
I remember this experience because of the "Shock-Treatment" kind of impact it had on me, having had no taste of homesickness in my short life of seventeen years. I had only been away from home, over night, once in my whole life and that was on my senior trip to the Wichita Mountains of Southwest Oklahoma. This was only a few weeks before entering the Navy.
The first three weeks of detention, which was part of "boot camp training" at San Diego Navel Training Station, was pretty rough on a small town boy with very limited knowledge of the outside world away from mother's influence.
After the detention period, company 315 moved from camp Decator to camp Faragot and we began to enjoy such goodies as were afforded us on the base. This meant shopping at the base exchange and movies at the base theaters on Sunday afternoons. Prices were cheap and my twenty-one dollars a month was a lot of money. I soon signed up to buy a liberty bond every third month. The smallest denomination was twenty-five dollar bonds, which cost eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents. I had them sent home for mom to save for me or use if it became necessary. The latter became very important for the family back home during the rest of my Navy career.
The first Sunday at camp Faragot, I got to go to a matinee movie. I can't remember which one of the "Patriotic Musicals" of the era it was, but I'll never forget the sickness I felt deep down in my stomach when I came out of that darkened theater into the sunlight and a sea of undress whites (uniform of the day for Sunday afternoons). For that short hour and a half, I had gotten back into my teen-age, civilian life and was exiting the good ole Rook Theater back home on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and WHAM! Boot camp started all over again! I think I grew-up that day at San Diego, California.
You take a seventeen year old boy from rural Oklahoma in the year of nineteen hundred forty-three and expose him to the U. S. Navy films on the results of venereal diseases and if he survives, he will refuse liberty for the rest of boot camp. The terrible exhibits of VD patients were a great incentive to promote abstinence in that time. To me, it was equal to the "AIDS SCARE" of later years. The scuttlebutt among the recruits was that salt peter was a steady ingredient in Navy diet. They were making fighting men out of us.
During the ten weeks of boot camp there were several "Short-Arm" inspections to make sure we were going to be combat ready when the time came. It was during one of these embarrassing moments that crabs and scabies entered the world of company 315. The whole company of one hundred and twenty of us had to be de-loused. The doctors of dentistry got a real workout during my stay in San Diego, even my fillings got fillings and the salt air, sunshine and reflections from white uniforms while marching on the grinder, kept my face blistered. My nose peeled and scabbed continuously until I left San Diego for the east coast and New London Submarine School.
"WHAT'S IN THE TANK?"
When I stepped off the Navy bus and set foot on the New London Submarine Base and looked at the well-kept buildings and manicured landscapes, even though there was several inches of snow on all the winter grass yards, I couldn't help but let my attention settle on the tall tower that stood high above everything else. I don't remember if I was talking to someone else or just myself but I remember asking" "WHAT'S IN THE TOWER?"
Little did I know that tower was going to be a once in a lifetime experience for me and the end of the line for some of the other sailors on that bus. You see, as training for underwater escape, which we were about to experience, it was an eliminator for some that could not handle the physical requirement of the ordeal. Talk about pressure, and that was the problem. We had to be able to stand enough of it to enter the bottom of that tank filled with water and fifty (Ed's note: actually the tank was 100 feet tall) feet tall, then make an escape to the top. This simulated the like act from a submarine in trouble.
At the bottom of the tower, we entered a pressure chamber where we experienced air pressure sufficient to hold back the water allowing us an air bubble to secure the Momsen lung for breathing under water as we exited the chamber. There was a hatch for entering the chamber and another for exiting. Both were located low enough in the end walls to allow the pressurized air to accumulate in the upper part of the chamber, when we opened the escape hatch and the water rushed in. Of course, there was an instructor with us` in the chamber.
Pressure under water multiplies as depth is gained. At a depth of ten feet there is ten pounds of external pressure on the body. At a depth of fifty feet, which was the depth of the water in the tank, the pressure was fifty pounds per cubic inch. It was the kind of pressure that causes problems for some who can't get their ears to pop, like on an airplane, only more severe. When one or more couldn't handle it, we would have to let the pressure slowly out and let them out so we could start all over again. If you failed, you got a second chance but that was all.
After leaving the pressure chamber, we found a rope anchored to the bottom of the tower with a buoy at the top, keeping it in a vertical position. There was a knot every ten feet, as a place to stop, count to ten and then proceed slowly up the rope. We had to keep the rope between our feet and hands to maintain a "heads-up" vertical position for the Momsen lung to work properly.
The exit from the tower was a spiral stairway wrapped around the tower and completely exposed to the freezing January weather at New London. The exit was a lot faster than the escape! The escape was successful both in training and in reality, as many submarine sailors were able to accomplish it from reasonable depths. I am glad I never had to do it "for real" although I am confident, I could have made it.
"RIDING THE RAIL"
Ships used for carrying troops overseas during World War II were, for the most part, cargo ships converted to troop movement use. There were some luxury liners that were used for carrying troops, also. Most of the U. S. Ships were from the first category as was the Mormacwren, which I rode from San Francisco to New Guinea. The carrying capacity was usually packed to the limit or beyond. The conversions were of a temporary nature and pretty crude. Bunks were hung in passageways and space was used right up to the rail, sometimes only laced with canvas tarps to hold out the sea spray, wind and rain.
I was one of sixteen submarine sailors Uncle Sam transported from New London, Connecticut to Fremantle, Australia by about every means of surface transportation available in the year of 1944. When we sailed out of the harbor at San Francisco, there were seven thousand troops on the Mormacwren. We had barely cleared the Golden Gate Bridge when a voice on the speaker system called for the sixteen submarine sailors; we had drawn mess cook scullery duty. Warm pacific air, first time at sea, below deck hot kitchen duty, steaming dirty food trays for seven thousand troops and it took thirty days to get to New Caldonia. You should have seen my expression of relief when those seven thousand American soldiers marched down the gang plank and off the ship, there at New Caldonia only to see seven thousand French troops come on board the next morning! Anyway, we were relieved from scullery and I got to spend some time on deck for the next few days.
When we crossed the equator, guys were running around with freshly shaven heads and silly looks on their faces. They called it "shell-back initiation" and they issued a certificate stating that I was a member of the Ancient Order of the Deep, as recorded and sealed in Davey Jones Locker.
Back to the conversion facilities on cargo ships to accommodate troops. The most unusual of all was the toilet facilities. In order to handle large gatherings, two, ten or even twenty "hole'ers" wouldn't do, so a long trough approximately thirty feet long was constructed with a two by four wooden rail on the top edge of the front side. You could either hang over, lean against or sit on the rail as the ship rocked to and fro. At night the effervescence caused by phosphorus in the sea water, rushing through the trough, sparkled like a swarm of lightening bugs, to add to the excitement of "riding the rail".
"QUARTERMASTER OR TORPEDOMAN?"
One could have come out of boot camp believing the right arm rated were the real sailors and the left arm rated were the second team, of course, it depended upon whether the instructor was right or left. Right arm rates were of the seaman lineage and in the event of equal rank, the right arm person out ranks the left arm rated one. Right arm rates included Boatswain's Mate, Gunner's Mate, Torpedoman's Mate, Quartermaster and Signalman while left arm rates included more technical professions such as Electrician's Mate and others. A seaman or a fireman working toward a rate was called a striker for whatever profession he was pursuing. For instance, I was a seaman first class and a torpedoman striker when I came on board the Cobia and this presented a problem for some, including me!
I was working in relief crew scraping and painting the superstructure of Cobia when my crew chief asked if I wanted to go to sea on this boat. I was quick to answer yes as I had been in relief crew longer than any other seaman, waiting to go out on a submarine. The reason was; there were too many torpedoman strikers already on the boats and more in the relief crews. It was normal policy to transfer off about one third of the crew after each patrol and take replacements from the relief crew working on the boat. The deal offered me was; Cobia wanted a Quartermaster Striker but my relief crew didn't have one so the chief offered me a chance to prove myself in a job I had not been specially trained for. I was ready to give it a try and he assured me if I could bluff my way until the submarine had gone out to sea on it's war patrol, they wouldn't bring me back and I could make a place for myself as a member of the crew. I'll never forget the look on the executive officer's face when I told him; something's wrong, I'm a torpedoman. He said, you're a quartermaster for the rest of this patrol and when we get in, you'll get off. I guess he knew this would bring out the best in me. I was determined to be the best at whatever job they gave me. On my first chance at look out, I was spotting sea gulls floating on logs twenty miles away. Needless to say, I was a look out for the last four war patrols Cobia made.
Every crew member was given opportunity to "qualify" during the first six months or two war patrols. This earned the dolphins patch on the right lower sleeve of the uniform and meant you had passed the test of being able to stand any enlisted man's watch in the submarine. That was everything from making fresh water to cranking up the engines. I passed. There were times when just about everyone knowing what to do really paid off as well as being able to substitute when needed.
On my second war patrol they recognized me as a torpedoman and I earned my third class petty officer's stripe.
After riding across the U. S. A. on the Pennsylvania Line and the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe, I was surprised when we boarded the train in Sydney, Australia going across the continent. They called it narrow-gauge which meant the tracks were closer together than our American trains run on. The cars were narrow too, with no isles to allow passage from one compartment to another. You were in your own small room until the train stopped. There were no diners on the train and we were on it for three days and nights. When it came time to eat, they stopped the train, got off, built a bon fire and cooked the food (always lamb stew).
The trip from Sidney to Perth by way of Adelaide took us through the "out back country". It was like a great desert of red shale soil with a lot of shiny or mesquite type brush and every time we stopped for a meal, a group of aborigines would come up making a circle around the whole train hoping we would leave food behind for them. Some of them carried boomerangs and some had rabbits to cook and we always left a fire and left over food.
After a couple of days, we arrived at Adelaide and I, like the others in my group, was starved for almost any food except that lamb stew. During our brief stop, one of the guys spotted a stack of sacked potatoes on the ramp next to our car. That night we had roasted potatoes on the train. The train carried fire wood and we used some of it. There were no sleeping facilities, that is beds or pullman coaches, so we welcomed the meal stops which gave us opportunity to get off and move around. Each compartment had a bench type seat facing the other and a small toilet. There was room to seat six and of course, all on board were service men, our sixteen submarine sailors and a lot of Aussies. I never doubted that I would pass that way but once. I was confident that my trip back home would be on a boat.
My mother was not the most religious person I have met, but she regularly attended church and insisted that her kids go whether she could or not. She had more influence on my life than dad, who was gone a lot and became an alcoholic in later life. His inability to handle his drinking problem caused mom to be dead set against any us children ever thinking about using it, in any form. According to her, three-two beer, the only legal alcoholic drink available, was the very worst.
With mom's good influence and never having been anywhere for it to be available, I entered this man's navy, not knowing the taste nor the effect of alcoholic drink. I experienced boot camp, torpedo school, submarine school and travelled halfway around the world without tasting beer or any other hard drink. I did start smoking at the age of sixteen as did practically everyone else I knew and on one occasion, stood in line for hours to receive a chit which was good for two cans of warm beer, which I didn't drink, I traded it for a carton of cigarettes.
After having worked in relief crew on several submarines without liberty or even a day off, I finally got transferred to another crew whose schedule was a little less busy and I was given my first liberty in Australia. A crew member buddy and I rode up from Fremantle Sub Base to Perth in a taxi that was powered by the gases of a coal burning stove. The pot-bellied stove was mounted on the front bumper and every so often the driver would pull over, stop and get out with a poker in hand and stoke up the fire in the stove and on we'd go. To add to this strange way of doing things, he was driving on the wrong side of the road. Right then I valued obtaining an Aussie drivers license as a worthwhile souvenir, a goal which I did accomplish.
I had heard lots of talk about the good times had by all who visited the beer garden at the Scarbrough Hotel on Scarbrough Beach, so my buddy and I decided to make that our quest. I had my first drink of beer there. The glasses we were served were about a foot tall. I don't know how many ounces they held but they were big. The price was one shilling, which was about a quarter American and the alcohol content was sixteen percent. After two "schooners" the deck kept coming up and hitting me in the face. Someone helped me outside and I remember walking, as fast as I could, for miles down and back up the beach front in the loose white sands of Scarbrough Beach.
It took a couple of hours to get back from that trip and when I found my companion, he had passed out and was lying on a bench there on the beach. I tried without success to revive him but finally had to leave him to catch my ride back to the base. He made it back on time, too. They called it "EMU-BITTER" Australia's best.
When the Mormacwren pulled into Gamadodo Bay, New Guinea the steam was rising up out of the jungle like a fog lifts from a low lying pond back on grandfather's farm. The difference was, the closer we came, the more encompassed we were until completely surrounded, as we were taken inland to a seabee camp to await another ship going our way (toward Australia).
For several weeks, we tried to help with equipment movement and storage as the seabees were supporting our marines while they ran the Japs further into the jungle. One day I heard they wanted a driver for the mail truck making daily trips down to the dock picking up and bringing the mail back to our camp. I jumped at the job, at least I could keep dry. The monsoon season was dumping lots of rain on us, every day. Mosquitos were thick and malaria was a real threat. We had to sleep under a mosquito bar covering our bunks and take lots of adabrin tablets.
The ten or more mile trip in the mail truck afforded me the opportunity to bump the coconut trees with my truck bumper and pick them up for the guys back at camp. Fresh coconut introduced into the diet had a great laxative effect until we got used to eating them. I didn't stay in New Guinea that long. The milk was good, too. As with almost everything, with the good comes the bad! Those coconuts fresh from the tree, come with a cocoon covering the shell, about an inch thick and made from mother nature's toughest plastic, which was way before it's time. For us sailors, the effort was almost too much for the prize, until we discovered how much the natives wanted clorox or any form of peroxide. They used it to bleach their hair and the whiter the better. They stacked it high with bones sticking through to hold it up. They were pygmies and wanted to be tall. They had bolo knives and with a few whacks, off came the cocoon. Needless to say, we traded all the clorox we could get our hands on -- for coconut whacks!
Australia, called the "LAND DOWN UNDER" was also known as the land of the Kangaroo which was a very strange animal to a young Oklahoma boy who roamed the banks of Cooper Creek hunting skunk, opossum and mink. Animal pelts was a free lance way for making a little money back in the dirty thirty's. From a rural setting, the cow, horse and pig were common to me, but the kangaroo that sat up on it's tail and hopped along on it's two back legs at forty miles an hour! It also carried it's young in a tummy pouch!
It seemed to me that the kangaroo should be in a zoo for people to observe and not an animal to hunt and kill for the pelt but I found out different. We had just finished my first war patrol and had checked into the Windsor Hotel in South Perth when one of my shipmates approached me with plans to go on a kangaroo hunt. I wasn't interested enough to ask how and where he was going to do this. I didn't think he would be able to pull it off, so I dismissed the idea and set about seeing the sights and enjoying the food of West Australia.
Two days later, I was standing by the window looking down two floors at the street when up drives this taxi with a big kangaroo laying across the hood. The driver was honking his horn and there stood my shipmate with his trophy and he wanted the whole crew to see what he'd done. I rushed down to congratulate him, along with three or four other shipmates. The driver recommended we take it to a tannery and have something worthwhile made from the skin. He knew just the place and so off we went and left the animal to have the hide tanned. The cabby then took us to see a cobbler who agreed to get the leather and make boots, shoes and belts for us. I was fitted for a pair of black dress boots that contained pockets large enough to carry a carton of American cigarettes and conceal them beneath my bell bottoms. Yankee sailors always took cigarettes ashore on liberty; they were better than money to trade with. The filter tips were not in yet, so the small pack of Camels, Luckies and Chesterfields were the thing. I ended up with a pair of dress slippers also when we found there was plenty of leather. We had to pay in advance, not knowing we would return to Fremantle and Perth after the next war patrol, but luck was good to us and we came back. I enjoyed two of my three rest periods in good old Perth, Australia and I never talked with another sailor that killed a kangaroo and had a pair of boots made.
"TIED TO THE SCOPES"
The size and shape of a submarine made it vulnerable to roll and pitch in a rough sea. I'm sure that some of the small surface craft would toss about more than we did, but they were never caught as far out to sea, and we were only limited by fuel and food supply. The Cobia was three hundred and seven feet long and less than twenty feet wide, which in a rough sea made for lots of motion.
We experienced many days of rough surface water traveling to and from station between Fremantle, Australia and the China Sea where most of our station assignments were located. This meant traveling through the Indian Ocean, which I believe to be the roughest body of water on planet earth. I've seen two and three day stretches when the cook would have to tie his pots and pans down while trying to cook food; many times change his menu to cold cuts when he couldn't keep pans on the stove.
My bunk being located in the rear of the boat, where a lot of action took place as the ship rolled and rocked, was in position to experience a magnified charge of circular motion as it would rear up over a swell and settle down getting ready for the next one. It took a real sailor to get used to that kind of a "rock-a-bye" movement and be able to sleep.
One of the things I was most thankful for was getting to stand look-out watch. This meant going topside where we could see the sky and scanning the horizon was a constant duty. It also meant fresh air and sunshine as well as moonlit nights and white capped waves and all the other elements, which the weather produced, but the foulest of weather did not produce the excitement that a rough sea did when on look-out watch.
Three look-outs, sharing one third of the horizon each were the eyes of the ship when on surface. They were positioned at the highest point encompassing the periscopes and faced an obstacle course when clearing the bridge for a crash dive. There were times when a gentle surface movement lulled you into a drowsy condition and you could miss the call to "DIVE - DIVE". I looked around one time and no one was on the bridge but me - but I caught up with them!
Relieving the watch was quite an experience when we were under way in a rough sea. I'll long remember the time I climbed up to relieve a mate and found him lashed to the periscope. I had to loose him and allow him to tie me to the scopes for my watch!