A Stowaway On The USS POGY

A Stowaway On The USS POGY

By W.E. Battenfield

Published in POLARIS Feb. 1986

(Battenfield was at Pearl Harbor that fateful morning on December 7, 1941. Following the bombing, he requested submarine duty. He served throughout World War II. This story is about his sixth war patrol duty. It happened aboard the USS POGY under Skipper Lt. Cmdr. Ralph Metcalf. Following the war he and his wife, Juanita, and sons Gary and Glenn settled in Chouteau, Oklahoma. Years later his efforts contributed much to getting the USS BATFISH dry docked at Muskogee, Oklahoma.)

The USS POGY carried a stowaway rat as it left Pearl Harbor in 1944. I'm not referring to the 2-legged kind we sometimes meet in the human species. I'm talking about the 4-legged furry rodent.

"How can that happen?" I hear you ask knowing the customary fumigation procedure prior to every submarine patrol. The "Brass" know all too well dangers of epidemics breaking out in the close quarters of submarine life. They do a thorough job of making our quarters hospital clean. How could the tiniest germ survive, much less a rat?

I was on board the Pogy, also, as it left the security of Pearl Harbor April 7, 1944. It was my 6th war patrol. Unfortunately I was to be the sole submariner to catch sight of the furry creature until near the end of the tour in enemy waters.

Any submariner also knows the risk of ending up on a psychiatrist's couch. Danger and constant anxiety of being hit by an enemy's depth charge plus claustrophobia cause a percent to go over the brink of sanity. Too many men inhabiting too small a space, submerged at great depths for safety reasons take its toll. Only a fellow submariner can imagine the ribbing I took after announcing my first sighting. All agreed only borderline lunatics could sight rats on a submarine.

It was a hectic patrol for the Pogy. We left Pearl Harbor with the usual amount of fuel, torpedoes, and provisions plus tame rabbits and rabbit food to be delivered at Midway Island. Four days later the rabbits and food were unloaded for the officer in charge of the Hospital at Midway. He requested the rabbits to be used as a fresh meat supply source.

Two days later we were told we would be patrolling off the coast of Japan. We reached our station on April 21. The air was full of enemy Japanese planes. On the second day we were spotted while surfacing. I was on watch in the forward torpedo room when the diving alarm sounded. We dived, suddenly! I caught sight of movement under the inboard torpedo skid but couldn't tell what it was.

Five days later, after dark on April 28, we surfaced and caught sight of a Japanese submarine that was also surfaced. We ran ahead so we could get a battery charge. Soon after midnight on the 29th, we fired three torpedoes and sank the enemy submarine.

Later as we reloaded torpedoes, I again saw the big rat. I pointed and yelled, "There's that rat!" As luck would have it, no other person saw it.

About a week later we were patrolling off Kobie, Japan. We spied a Japanese merchant ship. We manned stations, submerged, and scored a hit. We were forced down deeper and deeper to avoid the 31 depth charges that followed. As depth charges rocked our submarine, the shock scared the rat from port side to starboard side and back again.

Despite being under orders for silent running, I yelled, "There he goes!" Again no one saw him. The crew began staring at me with strange looks. The after torpedo room called asking if my rat was brown or white and did he have long rabbit ears.

It was obvious my shipmates feared I was over the brink from battle fatigue. Statistically, 20% of submariners do have problems. Dangers from combat and claustrophobia are real threats to sanity. I resolved to catch that rat and prove at this point I still had all my marbles.

I reverted to the old bird trapping method of boyhood. I found a small square metal box, propped it up on a stick on one side and placed cheese bait underneath. I tied a cord to the stick. As I stood my 4-hour watches, I held the cord in my hand, eyes glued on the trap, ready to yank the cord and entrap my elusive rodent. No rat showed but plenty of the crew members came to the torpedo room door to watch my fruitless efforts. After three or four watches, I gave up the idea. Every time I met a shipmate I anticipated and usually heard some smart remark about my rat.

On May 9 we went to battle stations on a Japanese Tanker. As we were making our approach a plane dropped a couple of depth charges. Again I saw my rat. As the charges shook the submarine, the rat hurriedly changed his hiding place. Again I yelled, "There's the rat!" I should have known better. No one else saw it. Now everyone was sure I was pressure happy.

A week later we sank another Japanese ship and took five prisoners aboard. Three were placed in the forward torpedo room and two in the after torpedo room. We made bunks for them in the empty torpedo skids.

Our prisoners of war broke routine on the Pogy. At first the men refused to eat, probably fearing poisoning. I took a bite from the food being offered, smiled at them, indicating it was safe. They, too, ate and by the time we turned them over to the marines at Pearl Harbor, each had gained about ten pounds.

One Japanese lost his glasses and had difficulty seeing. I gave him my magnifying glass and a white hat. He followed me wherever I went. He went along when I stood watch. He used the magnifying glass and looked at magazines while I was on duty. One night the rat came in full view. I punched the Japanese companion and pointed. He, too, saw the rodent. I was happy until I learned our language barrier made it impossible for him to be a witness for me. I gave up. Meanwhile I put food and water out for the stowaway. I didn't want a dead rat stinking up the sleeping quarters where thirteen of us slept.

My Japanese friend admired his hat. He followed me everywhere. I taught him to salute and say, "Tojo barks at the moon." He saluted right and left as was convenient, repeating his English words. This lasted only until a fellow prisoner put a stop to it and my English lessons. The other prisoner had been in San Francisco and knew far more English than he pretended -

Chief Torpedoman Prinskie had problems with regularity. Every Monday morning while routining torpedoes he'd mix a little coffee and torpedo juice. (Torpedo juice is 180 proof alcohol mixed with pink lady and croton oil.) A Japanese watching asked, "Sake?" I nodded yes and repeated, "Sake." I fixed him a good drink. He wanted more. After four or five he was so happy he began singing. I made him get in his bunk bed fearing an officer might come forward and see him. After 30 or 45 minutes in bed he came out of it like a cat with turpentine on his tail. He ran screaming what I understood to be, "Bonzi, bonzi!", the Japanese word for "Charge!".

While standing watch in the forward torpedo room with prisoners aboard we were armed with a 45. I was standing by the wash basin when this screaming Japanese headed straight for me. Before I could get my 45 out, he ran right by me and out of the forward battery. I called to another torpedoman to follow him. He headed straight for the head (toilet). My shipmate said he would sit a while, then heave a while. He was really yelling, "Benjo!", Japanese word for "toilet." I now knew two words in Japanese.

When Chief Prinskie prepared his next coffee royal, I offered some to the Japanese. He didn't want any.

On May 19 we went to battle station and surfaced on a Japanese Patrol Boat. Torpedoman Carbonary and I were alone in the forward room with the prisoners. We ordered them into their bunks. The others were topside on the guns. Carbonary was armed with a 24 inch pipe wrench. I had the 45.

I was wearing the battle phone headset and was giving Carbonary a blow by blow description of topside action. Every time our 5" 25 fired, the rat would change hiding places. At last another crew member had seen the rat. When the battle station order was over, I had Carbonary inform the rest of the crew there really was a rat. We concluded he came aboard in the rabbit feed, escaped, and wasn't unloaded when the feed was left at Midway Island.

A few days later we headed for Pearl Harbor by way of Midway. At Pearl Harbor we turned the prisoners over to the marines. Some were reluctant to leave, wishing to stay with us.

Our new order was great news. We were going stateside, to Hunters Point, San Francisco for major overhaul. I didn't see the rat again. We turned the sub over to the yard workers. I was in the first leave party. I checked on the rat when I got back. Apparently he got ashore and was enjoying stateside duty after the harrowing experience on a fighting submarine. His descendants are probably still bragging about their famous ancestor's adventures on the Pogy.