THE CAPTAINS COLUMN
By:
R. C. LATHAM, Capt. USN (Ret
)
This article was first published in the Tinosa Blatt, August 1983

In addition to the TINOSA, I had command of the WW I sub that was brought out of retirement and recommissioned about 1942 for duty as a school submarine at the Subase, New London, CT.

The 0-7 (SS 68) was my first command and I loved her dearly. Her personnel were not as stable as out in the Pacific. I guess in many cases she was used as a receiving ship. But she was an operating unit and her work in training officers and men in submarine duty was important, so there was the element of satisfaction for a job well done.

Although operating the 0-7 had its inherent dangers of submarine duty, it did not have the glamour of fighting the enemy. In fact, I think we all considered that duty in a school boat during the war, although not exactly shirking the war effort, was something that you didn't boast about. Yet the pride of command was present and the personal pride of a submarine sailor in his ship and his work aboard that ship was also present.

And now, if you will bear with me, I'll recount some of the fun Incidents of that great ship, USS 0-7, and her crew.

For one thing, It was COLD, in the winter running up and down the Thames River enroute to making four dives In the A.M. and four more in the P.M., every day except Sunday. So we all wore those padded foul weather jackets and many of us had a logo on the back showing two big dice with sides of 3 and 4, 6 and 1, and 5 and 2 or however such of those numbers could be shown in one view. They were pretty classy jackets hinting at the good fortune which accompanied the 0-7 and her crew.

And speaking of cold, we went up through the Cape Cod Canal to Casco Bay, Maine to render services to ASW forces one winter and it seems to me that the temperature never got up to zero. On the bridge we wore all the clothing we could get on, plus face masks with just a slit for mouth and eyes. I smoked cigarettes In those days, also a pipe and cigars, and one morning going out the narrow swept channel in rough weather I somehow managed to get a half-smoked, lighted cigarette inside my face mask. The only way I could get it extinguished was to crush it against the underside of my chin, there was no way I could get at it with all the mittens and gear I was wearing.

Sketch #9 by Wagner
Art work by Chuck Wagner

Maybe that was the day when the battleship MASSACHUSETTS, on trials, I think, passed us in the narrow channel as we were both outbound in the early morning. It was real rough and our bridge personnel were getting wet with sheets of spray which rapidly became ice. The MASSACHUSETTS signaled with two short blasts of her whistle, requesting permission to pass on the port side; 0-7 could only make about five knots In those seas, and I answered with two blasts, meaning permission granted. After she passed, her searchlight started blinking at us, so we had to pass up our signal light to answer. She sent, "Thank you for allowing us to pass." It made us feel pretty important. You can imagine what the guys on the battleship were thinking as they watched us creeping along and taking water over the bridge frequently.

We had to knock the sheets of ice off the personnel and the hatch area before we could dive, after reaching the area. The Canadian Frigate soon canceled the day's exorcises because her keel-mounted sound dome wasn't In the water often enough.

The USS 0-7 got a lot of accolades and well dones from her stint in Casco Bay, but we ware happy to head back to New London.

We had some great officers in the 0-7. Howie Bissel was Exec when I took over, but he soon left. Then Samuel J. Robinson, Jr. (Robbie Robinson) was Exec. and Navigator. Robbie was single then and dated some nifty looking ladies, in fact & messenger, who was much impressed with the beauty of the visitor, came to the wardroom one late afternoon and announced, "There's a lady topside to see you, Mr. Robinson, and J___ C____ !!!!".

Our young crew had many things to learn.

We had a lookout one day, named Sweeney, whose method of reporting something sighted was, Unh oh, onh oh". "Do you at something, Sweeney?". "Yeh, garbage in the water, over there (pointing)."

It may not have happened in the 0-7, but then again, maybe It did, the messenger from the control room came to the wardroom and announced, "The Officer of the Deck says to tell you there's a sailor dead in the head." Meaning, of course, "There is a sailboat dead ahead."

We used to practice anchoring near Ocean Beach sometimes, when it was too foggy further out. I remember one young officer who had let go the anchor on the proper bearings and was doing OK backing down to pay out chain, except that we were gaining sternway rapidly and the chain was really rattling out. I said to him, "You've got to do something soon." He looked kind of panicky and finally hollered out "Whoa!"

Another, In a similar moment of crisis, was making the landing at the Subase and was approaching the pier at too great an angle and with too much speed. It was time for "All back emergency" so I said, "You've got to say something." He, too, looked panicky and, cupping his hands to his mouth, hollered, '"T I M B E R-r-r ! !"

Sketch Docking  by Wagner
Art work by Chuck Wagner

Besides working six days a week, we all had watch and watch type duty, or day on day off. That was a bit tiresome and frequently one or two of our boys would relax too much ashore and be late for the daily 0730 muster or even miss the eight A.M. underway time. I tried to impress on all hands that if I knew they were going to be a little late, I could even grant them special liberty to cover their tardiness, but if they were just absent, they had to be placed on report. That helped a lot. We had very few mast cases, but it did give rise to a memorable incident. I received a telegram one morning from Ensign Chuck Bishop (who had a long and great career In subs), "Dear Slanteyes, due to intoxication's, I find myself in New York and will miss the ship this morning."

Sketch #11 by Wagner
Art work by Chuck Wagner

My home was at Pleasure Beach in Waterford, CT and I had grown up sailing the waters around New London. Since we had half the crew there every Sunday doing nothing, I asked the crew if they would like to take 0-7 on a picnic. The answer was affirmative, so I got permission to get underway for training on a Sunday. We went out around Two Tree Island towards Niantic and then came back inside Millstone Point and anchored off Pleasure Beach. All hands went swimming and as far as I know it was a joyful day for everyone, with me doing some sailing in my dad's sailing dinghy. We came back inside Bartlett's Reef and around Ocean Beach to the Thames River, some close navigating, but deep enough water.

Robby Robinson, the navigator, nearly died of fright one day when I took 0-7 between the Bartlett Reef buoy and the reef while submerged and then turned the conn over to him. To say he was alarmed when he saw the buoy close aboard, but on the wrong side, was putting It mildly. I know, however, that there was enough water for us to safety go through there. Robbie went on to great things with Clarey in Pintado. Charlie Sanders was another great 0-7 officer and I was able to get him ordered to TINOSA (SS 283) where we finished the war together.

It seemed to me that some of the crews were afraid of those old WW I subs and so we took 0-7 to 180 foot just about every week. We had confidence in that old sub and Charlie Sanders could dive her backwards, forwards or straight up and down. Many times we obtained a stop trim and maintained depth by raising or lowering the scope a couple of feet.

One day we took her to 180' in the 300' hole off Little Gull Island. We were positioned precisely and we had a three knot current headed out through the Race, so we could dive into it and maintain slow headway without moving out of position. Upon coming up from 180' while passing 120', there was a crunch up forward and It was obvious we had run into something. It was not a violent crunch, however, and we surfaced without further incident. I must confess that I was scared momentarily at the time of the crunch. It didn't do anything to 0-7. Our position upon surfacing was exactly the same as upon diving, so something other than 300' foot of water was in the charted location. I reported the incident and requested a resurvey of that location, but all that ever happened was a new order prohibiting school subs from diving deeper than 100 foot without special orders.

On another occasion, we hauled a dead porpoise up on deck near the open forward escape hatch in order to inspect it carefully. (It was rather ripe, especially after opening it). When I started the engines and they took a suction through that open forward hatch, the rest of the crew came up on deck rapidly through all openings and contributed their cookies to the briny, or How To make An Entire Ship's Company Violently Ill In One Minute.

Today (August 1983) I skipper a 550 passenger motor vessel, ADVENTURE V, with tourists from Kewalo Basin, near Honolulu Harbor, Into Pearl Harbor, around Ford Island and the Arizona Memorial and return. I also skipper a glass bottom boat, the 73', ANI ANI, along the Waikiki shore and reef. Both of these are on a part time basis. The training I received In making landings with the USS 0-7 during strong ebb tides at the Submarine Base, New London, CT makes anything a breeze and stands so in good stead even today.

And so here's to the USS 0-7 and all my old shipmates

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