Happy Birthday to my Navy Family – 242 Years Strong 5

This speech was delivered to the Pittsburgh Area Navy Ball on October 20, 2017. The Ball was sponsored by the Pittsburgh Council of the Navy League of the United States and the McKeesport Pittsburgh Chief Petty Officer’s Association

Happy Birthday to my Family

Life is full of celebrations. Births, graduations, achievements, weddings, anniversaries. October is a month of celebrations for the Navy family and Navy League members as we celebrate the Navy’s 242nd birthday, Oct.13, Navy Day and Theodore Roosevelt’s birthday, Oct. 27.

For the Navy League, We use these occasions to remember and rededicate ourselves to our missions in support of our sea service personnel and their families and to educate the public and Congress on the importance of our sea services in defending our nation and its prosperity.

Some of us were also blessed to be part of something which helped to define us as individuals while serving the greatest nation the world has ever known. Some of us have had the honor and privilege of wearing a uniform of the United States Navy.

I had a pretty good life growing up in the Mon Valley. From my earliest memories, I had been surrounded by the call of the sea and service in the Navy. A faded black and white picture of my Grandfather in his Dress Blues from World War 1 hung on the wall. I inherited the picture and that uniform along with my Dad’s and it is striking how similar they are to my first uniform. The sturdy wool has endured for over a hundred years and the infamous thirteen buttons are still standing guard. The piping of white is a bit faded now but the stars still stand out on that collar. Stars that represent a country and a family,

From the minute I entered Boot Camp, I knew that I was a part of a much larger family. We learned skills and traditions and came to understand that this new family had a purpose. We were there to protect America and her allies from those who want to harm us. President Theodore Roosevelt, who we honor tonight for his support of a strong Navy stated in his second annual message to Congress on 2 December 1902:

“A good Navy is not a provocation to war. It is the surest guaranty of peace.”

In the one hundred and fifteen years since he declared those words, we have seen that come true time and time again. When America has been best prepared to defend ourselves, we have enjoyed the fruits of that peace. But when America has lost its way and allowed its Navy family to shrink and not have the resources needed to be at the ready we have suffered setbacks.

One only has to look at Pearl Harbor to see the cost of underestimating the enemy. The loss of life and the ships that were sunk is a constant reminder to all Americans. As a member of the Navy family, I have openly cried when I heard taps played at the Arizona Memorial. The names on that wall are more than just etchings of a stone cutter. They are members of my Navy Family who gave their all.

75 Years ago, in a far off place called Guadalcanal, Marines, Army soldiers, Coast Guardsmen and Navy Men did the unexpected and pushed the Japanese back after a horrendous struggle. The Naval Battle of Guadalcanal will be remembered on November 12-13 as one of the greatest displays of heroism in our proud family history. An out gunned and out matched American fleet took enormous punishment and endured horrific losses, but in the end emerged victorious. From that night on, the Japanese forces were slowly but surely pushed all the way back to their homeland resulting in ultimate defeat.

Our Navy family played a critical role in that victory.

Yet even in the afterglow of victory, danger still existed. Admiral Chester Nimitz wrote in 1948

“Sir Walter Raleigh declared in the early 17th century that “whoever commands the sea, commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself.” This principle is as true today as when uttered, and its effect will continue as long as ships traverse the seas.

The United States possesses today control of the sea more absolute than was possessed by the British. Our interest in this control is not riches and power as such. It is first the assurance of our national security, and, second, the creation and perpetuation of that balance and stability among nations which will insure to each the right of self-determination under the framework of the United Nations Organization.”

All of this was tested in the Cold War. Korea, Vietnam, and a growing Soviet Fleet challenged our family to be able to respond. But respond they did, bringing the Soviet Union to its knees. That recognition for a strong Navy has never ended. Admiral Carlisle A. H. Trost wrote

“When a crisis confronts the nation, the first question often asked by policymakers is: ‘What naval forces are available and how fast can they be on station?’

In the most recent conflicts, it has been a combination of all of the Armed Services that have served so well in defending this country against new enemies. But the Navy has been there. You only need to look at the ribbons of many in this room tonight to see the ongoing sacrifice that many have made to ensure our freedom.

Yes, these are the members of my family. These are the men and women whom I have been proud to stand together with in both good times and bad. We are forever united in our shared sacrifices. We celebrate not just an organization, we celebrate the people who have been bonded together for a greater purpose. I can never forget that our family includes the wives and husbands and children who wait for them to return from their missions. Their sacrifices are a large part of why we are able to serve the nation so well.

My uniform long ago joined my Grandfathers and my Dad’s in that old trunk. The sword my men presented on the day of my commissioning hangs on the wall near a case of emblems that reflect my passage through the ordeals that made me a Navy family member. But when I look out and see the young faces of those who are about to enter their own journey and become part of my Navy family, I can almost feel the years slipping away. I can feel the deck shifting below my feet and smell the salt in the wind swept air. The chance for one last adventure makes my heart beat a little stronger.

The reality comes back when I remember that my ship has sailed. I know my time now will be spent doing what I can to support my family that will man the watch. For those of us who are now standing on the shore watching you sail into your own history, we rededicate ourselves to making sure you have the support you need. The right ships, the right equipment, the right training, and all that you need to make sure America stays strong in the face of relentless enemies around the globe. Doing less ensures our own failure. That is not acceptable. That is not America.

We must also remember those who have suffered in body, mind and spirit in the fight. As a family we must still offer them comfort, hope and support. That is a sacred trust. That is what real families do.

The world has turned over 88,330 times since Congress realized the need for a naval service. From a small band of patched together frigates to the mightiest force the world has ever seen, the United States Navy has one continuous thread: Brave men and women who were willing to face any challenge and challenge any foe.

This is the United States Navy.

I hope you will share with me today and every day the importance of our outstanding naval family, and remember always what the United States Navy stands for through its resonant motto:

“Not for Self but for Country”

Thank you for the honor of being allowed to share my family story.

Bob MacPherson

President, US Navy League Pittsburgh Council (AKA Mister Mac)

I grew into it 4

I grew into it.

When you are seventeen and the whole world is just outside of you front door, you can be a little anxious to get started. Some kids will go off to college, some will go to work in a factory or mill, and some kids find themselves drawn to something more adventurous. In my case, that was the military and more specifically, the Navy.

I convinced my parents to sign the permission slip and without much real thought on my part (other than the foreign ports I would hopefully see) I raised my right hand and said a bunch of words. At seventeen, I honestly had very little idea what the words meant or what I was obligating myself for. As we were lining up to say them at the Navy office, I seem to remember a serious feeling coming over the whole proceeding. Up until that moment, the kids that were in the room with me had been typical kids just kind of joking and being “brave”. Then we all said the words together…

“I… (state your name) do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the Officers appointed over me according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

Yep. Seventeen years old and I just took an oath to support and defend a document I had barely read in school and understood even less. I was supposed to defend it against all enemies both foreign and domestic (whatever that meant) and I was going to obey the orders of a guy I have never met in person and a bunch of men and women who I had not yet met.

What was I thinking? I was only seventeen. I had only shot a gun a few times before and certainly had never shot at another human being. And orders? Holy cow, my Dad and I used to fight like two prize fighters over the stupidest stuff. Now I had to willingly follow the orders of some guy I hardly knew?

But I grew into it.

The Navy very wisely sent me off to boot camp where I met a large number of other bewildered young men. We marched, we got up at a certain time every day, and we learned about Navy stuff while starting to become men. We learned to look out for each other and give up some of our self. We learned about teamwork and sacrifice. We learned that there are consequences for bad behavior and we learned about authority.

On graduation day from Boot Camp, our parents and girlfriends came to see us march one last time. I was in the band and I still can’t remember a group of guys performing those songs with any more pride or talent. When the last note was finished and the announced that we were now US Navy sailors, there was a sense of completion and a sense of fear of the unknown ahead. What kind of sailor would I be? Would the task be more than I was able to complete? We had heard all the stories about brave men and ships being attacked by the enemy and to be honest I was not certain I would measure up.

But I grew into it.

The challenges would come faster and faster over the years. Technical schools, submarine school, the first of my five boats leading to becoming a Chief Petty Officer. But through it all, we learned our new roles and we were ready to do what we had agreed to do those many years ago in a small town Recruiters office someplace in America. We became the teachers and the mentors and the leaders who served this great nation in times of peace and war. Then the day came when our time was up and we had to relinquish the watch. A new generation would fill our billets and have to carry on the traditions. The nation would have to depend on them for protection. I wondered how they would do.

But you know what? They grew into it too. As the earth continues to turn and as freedom loving peoples still desire freedom, a strong Navy will always be needed. There will never be a shortage of enemies who would take that freedom away if they had the means.

I just pray as I look around the country now that enough young people will still be willing to raise their right hands and give themselves and the country a chance to grow into an even better place than when my generation were in charge. This modern Antifa movement is kind of frightening to me. Many of these kids are seventeen too and maybe aren’t sure what it means to attack your own country. There is a word for that: Treason

Mister Mac

 

Still serving – More resources for veterans and their families 1

Once in a while, I get emails from people who have checked out the web site and found one of the pages meaningful. I recently got this email and wanted to share it with my readers.

Our veteran population is growing day by day and the issues and concerns they will have to face do not stop when they hang up their uniforms. We think of them sometimes but the problems they face are real and exist every day. Overcoming a long term health issue can be challenging when facing it alone so any additional resources mean making the difference between success and failure.

The Leansubmariner will continue to do its best to bring connections to people still fighting the country’s battles, even the ones they sometimes have to fight in silence.

Mister Mac

 

Hi,

I’m writing to thank you for the resources here you’ve put together to help those who serve. My father-in-law is a disabled vet and lung cancer survivor, and it has meant the world to be able to find resources to help him pay for everything he needs. You’re really doing a great service for people like him – I cannot thank you enough.

I’m happy to pass on some other pages we’ve found useful, in case you or your viewers might think so too:

Aging Vets – How to Plan Wisely for Your Future
Residential Leases and the Military – Your Rights
Resources for Vets & Families Living with Cancer
Military Veterans Resource Center
Assistive Tech for Veterans and Military
Guide to Military Moves
Behavioral Health for Veterans
Mental Health Needs of Vets & Families
Justice for Vets

Thanks,

Meagan C.

What are you willing to risk to celebrate Independence Day? 1

Happy Independence Day

God Bless America

Like most people, I think of Independence Day as a wonderful way to celebrate all things America and have some great food.

Fireworks and festivities crowd out the fact that over the years, many Americans have been unable to actually celebrate the day. Those are the men and women of the armed services who are engaged with the countries business.

While we in the homeland enjoy our barbeques and baseball, somewhere today a young man or woman is manning a post in a hostile environment. As we swim in our pools, another sailor relieves the watch under the threat of an unseen missile attack from a rogue state. As we watch the rockets sailing into the dark night, a pilot provides close in air support to one of our ground troops in danger from being overrun by radical terrorists.

The spirit has been there since the very beginning

Countless sacrifices have been given through the years to make sure that everyday ordinary Americans can celebrate our freedom in relative peace.  One such sacrifice happened over seventy five years ago in a little know event in the Philippines after the Japanese invaded and brutally punished the American and local defenders. Because of many factors, large numbers of Americans had become prisoners of war. They would be  over three years of brutal treatment at the hands of the Japanese captors.

These men had been stationed in the Philippine Islands with the intent of defending the vital country from aggression. As America slept and dithered on and on about not becoming entangled in a foreign war, they had prepared for the worst. When the worst came, we were not prepared and they were sacrificed to buy time to actually build up our forces and beat back the Japanese invaders. While America geared up to answer the call, they suffered unspeakable horrors.

But on July 4th, 1942,  75 years ago, a group of very brave men who had recently been captured showed the true spirit of America while held capture by the Japanese Army.

American prisoners of war celebrated American Independence Day in Casisange prison camp at Malaybalay, Mindanao, against Japanese regulations, 4 Jul 1942

Most of the men in this picture would never make it home. But they never forgot who they were and what country they served. The penalty if they had been caught would have been death.

It was against Japanese regulations and discovery would have meant death, but the men celebrated the occasion anyway.

The Visayan-Mindanao Force under US Army Brigadier General William F. Sharp was composed of the 61st, 81st, and 101st Infantry Divisions of the Philippine Army. Major General Jonathan M. Wainwright, in nominal command of all the Allied Forces in the Philippines, ordered Sharp to surrender on May 9. Sharp complied and most of his men entered captivity at Camp Casisang, Malaybalay, on May 10. Camp Casisang had been a training ground for the Philippine Constabulary. The barracks were of crude construction, some with corrugated steel roofs but most were made of either thatched wood or nipa palm fronds. Water was a scarce commodity and the prisoners were limited to one canteen of water per day for all purposes. One pump was the sole source of water for about 1,000 Americans and 11,000 Filipinos.

On August 15, 1942, All Generals, Full Colonels and their orderlies left Camp Casisang. There had been a large number of full Colonels plus five Generals at the camp. One of them was Philippine General Manuel Roxas, who after the war became the President of the Philippines in 1946. The Japanese gathered 268 men and marched them to Bugo where they boarded the Tamahoko Maru on October 3, 1942 for a 3-day voyage to Manila. At Manila they were marched to Bilibid Prison to wait for transportation to Japan. Many did not survive the war. On October 15, 1942 Camp Casisang was closed. All remaining prisoners were moved on the Japanese frieghter Maru 760 to Davao.

When you celebrate Independence Day this year, please remember all of those who paid a price for your freedom and pray for those who are still out on patrol.

God Bless each and every one of them and God Bless America

Mister Mac

USS TRIGGER SS 237 – The First Patrol June 26, 1942 (75 Years ago) Reply

USS Trigger SS 237 Departed on her first war patrol on June 26, 1942.

The United States Navy had not planned on using the submarines at its disposal in the way they found themselves forced to in the spring of 1942. The Japanese Navy had crushed the battle fleet in a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 but failed to do much damage to the submarines or their base. This fatal error would cause them damage of amazing proportions in the four years to come.

The USS TRIGGER was a Gato-class submarine, the first ship of the United States Navy to be named for the triggerfish.

The Gato-class were a class of submarines built for the United States Navy and launched in 1941–1943; they were the first mass-production US submarine class of World War II. Together with their near-sisters the Balao and Tench classes, their design formed the majority of the United States Navy’s World War II submarine fleet.

The Gato-class boats were “Fleet Submarines”. The original operational intent behind their design was that they would operate as support units for the main battle fleet, based on the way battleships were operated and had been since World War I. The submarines would scout out ahead of the fleet and report on the enemy fleet’s composition, speed, and course, then they were to attack and whittle down the enemy in preparation for the main fleet action, a large gun battle between battleships and cruisers. This operational concept had developed from experiences gained during the First World War

A remarkable ship

From the Official Naval Records:

“A fantastically colored and dangerous fish is the trigger, and like the fish after which she was named, USS TRIGGER had a fantastically colorful career and a dangerous for the Japanese. Her brilliant record was not made without danger to herself and her last patrol proved that heroes are often lost but heroic achievements will never die.

The twisted plating of many Japanese vessels went to the bottom of the ocean from the daring attacks of TRIGGER. Battered and pounded time and a in by the merciless depth charges of the Japanese, TRIGGER returned time after time from the deep, dark shadows of an ocean grave to fight on. Former TRIGGER men throughout the submarine service fought on with new resolve when they learned of her loss.

From the very beginning TRIGGER had a spirit of go-ahead built into her trim lines. She was completed several months before schedule at the Navy Yard, Mare Island, and the keel for the next submarine was laid in the same spot four months ahead of schedule. Her keel was laid on 1 February 1941 and by 22 October of the same year, Mrs. Walter Newhall Vernon, wife of Rear Admiral Vernon, senior member of the Board of Inspection and Survey, Pacific Coast Section, served as the sponsor for this ship at the launching.

TRIGGER joined the United States Navy on 30 November 1942, the date of her commissioning with Lieutenant Commander J.H. Lewis, as the first commanding officer. It took weeks and months of arduous training before she was ready to meet the enemy. The officers and crew had to learn the multiplicity of complicated mechanisms before they knew their ship well — their ship— their home— their destiny! It was in the early days of rugged training that TRIGGER acquired that last intangible installation called soul.

As TRIGGER nosed into the submarine base at Pearl Harbor before her first war patrol, she was a neophyte, a trifle self-conscious and perhaps apologetic to slip her trim form into the berth of her illustrious sisters. Little was she to know that before very long any submarine of the fleet would be proud to tie-up alongside her.

Off to a slow start on her first war patrol, TRIGGER departed Pearl Harbor on 26 June 1942, bound for the area around Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. During her first war patrol, six enemy contacts were made but bad weather and unfavorable approach conditions precluded any successful attacks. Considerable time was spent on special tasks in connection with the bombardment of Kiska Harbor and in searching various harbors and bays. Pickings were mighty slim and the patrol terminated with TRIGGER’s arrival at Dutch Harbor on 10 August.”

USS TRIGGER would go on to win eleven Battle Stars. On her twelfth patrol, she left port with the USS TIRANTE, A radio call was sent out from TIRANTE calling TRIGGER. From the official report:

“Silence was the only answer — a silence that has never been broken; a silence that told a wordless story. The call for the TRIGGER is still echoing through the ocean depths; echoing through the hearts that knew her for the gallant ship she was. The spirit of the TRIGGER lives on. It will never die.”

USS TRIGGER Lost with all hands
Struck from the record 11 July 1945

Mister Mac

It was never easy 3

It was never easy

On the day I retired from the Navy, my crew presented me with a shadow box. That box sits on my desk and I look at it from time to time when I am not typing stories or checking out the latest on the Internet. It’s a nice box with beveled edges, a glass cover that has kept the dirt at bay for many years and a deep blue velvet background. The display is a chronology of my service from the time I enlisted until the day I retired. All of the achievements of my career are visible and each remind me about the one thing that all military people know and understand. It was never easy.

The Oath

I took my first oath at the age of seventeen with my proud parents standing by. Like my father before me and his father too, I chose the Navy. I wanted adventure and travel and the recruiter had promised me that and much more. The Navy would give me the chance to grow and learn many things. I would get to travel to exotic parts around the world and experience so many things that I would never find in the Monongahela Valley where I grew up. He said that many sailors found time to achieve a college degree and if they worked hard, they could someday be a leader and maybe even an officer. But he was an honest man and added this stern warning: “It won’t be easy”.

Taking the oath of enlistment at such an early age was actually very easy. I guess in retrospect, the oath was just a step you had to take on the journey to where you wanted to be. Up until the moment I took it, I will confess that I did not think about what I was doing too much. But in the moments leading up to raising my hand and repeating it, the gravity of it came over me. For the next six years, I was going to be committed to doing whatever it was the Officers and Chiefs appointed over me would tell me to do. There were no half measures in making that commitment. If I failed, I would disappoint my parents, my friends, and myself. I remember a small moment of panic as I realize that I didn’t really know what was ahead. What seemed like such a simple step became a really big thing in that moment.

They lined us up in that room in the Federal Building in Pittsburgh. Stand at attention and raise your right hand.

“I, (state your name), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

And just like that, I took an oath that would change my life forever.

On either side of the shadow box are little brass plaques that say when and where I was stationed. Looking at them now, they seem pretty cold and sterile. There are twelve of them that represent the twenty plus years of active and reserve service. Interestingly enough, one of my commands is missing. When I look at them, I see something more than just brass. I see the sacrifices, the endless days at sea, the loneliness and the danger that many of them represented. A number of training commands, five submarines, one drydock and one submarine tender. They all have one thing in common: none of them ended up being very easy.

The ranks and awards make up the middle section of the box. Candidly, some took longer to achieve than I would have liked. For the longest time, I was convinced that the Navy would come to its senses and do things my way. Then, after a series of faltering steps, a wise Chief let me know in no uncertain terms that the Navy had done quite well for over two hundred years and if I really learned to accept that, I might make progress a little faster.

Starting over is never easy

I am lucky that I was able to completely reboot my career but as I have probably already indicated, it wasn’t easy. I learned that the oath really meant what it said. I also learned that in addition to the oath, there needed to be a strong willingness to sacrifice. I looked at those around me and saw many people who were giving their all to the service they chose. Don’t get me wrong. There were others who bitched, moaned and whined (BMW) every field day and duty day. The difference was, I decided not to be one of them. I took ever collateral duty I could, worked more hours than ever before in my life, learned new skills and polished up the old ones. No challenge was too great and I humbled myself as much as I could to achieve them.

During all of that time and ever since, I learned something about the men and women I served with. They all took the same oath. They learned what sacrifice was and learned to work together to achieve common goals. These are my brothers and sisters who share a devotion to their country and to the promises they made. Some fell along the way and some could not live up to their pledge. But on the whole, the people who I look back on now in my life with the most respect are the ones who discovered that even though it was not easy, you lived up to your oath. Even when the storms at sea knocked you about, you stayed the course. Even when it meant a ton of self-sacrifice, you honored your promise.

It is fitting that shadow box reflects the ranks in an ascending order to show the progression of growth. The ribbons are not as plentiful as some I have seen on current sailors and officers chests. But each one is a testament to the teamwork and shared sacrifices of my many shipmates. The dolphins represent membership in a unique brotherhood (that now includes a sisterhood).

The most dominant feature is the folded flag at the base.

This particular flag flew on a summer’s day over my last ship, the USS Hunley. If any of my previous commands had ever given me a hope that this one would be easy, that hope was dashed immediately. But with the help of my many shipmates (Chiefs, Officers and Sailors), we overcame some very large challenges together.

The flag at the base is a constant reminder that when you take that oath, there is something much bigger at stake than the temporary loss of some of your personal freedoms. It is the flag we all sailed under, protected with our service, and still honor today. I see the world around me now and worry that many people do not understand what it means to be counted upon. I see people too easily taking oaths or promises and just walking away with little to no remorse. I watch people who don’t get their way rioting in the street and refusing to commit any form of self-sacrifice.

But there is still time. We as a country can still turn the ship around. There are still many young men and women who have already raised their hands and taken that same oath. They need our prayers and our support. If you are not already a member of one of the many organizations that veterans have open to them, time to step up and do so.

I would just offer one word of advice:

It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.

Mister Mac

There are no routine days at sea on a submarine 4

Thresher

 

It was just another day at sea. Routine in many ways but in others it became an eternal reminder of the dangers associated with operating a submarine. The sea is unforgiving and the impact of any small failure becomes magnified beyond control within moments. I have sat in a chair, strapped in holding the yoke that controls the planes. I have stared at the numbers on the darkened panel a few feet in front of me as the numbers clicked off the change of depth. You can feel the pull of gravity as the boat descends deeper and faster with each passing moment. On another day on another boat, we were too heavy and the surface had just released it’s grip on us. Bow heavy, we were going deeper and deeper when we lost propulsion. The fairwater planes were jammed in a rise position and I pulled back as hard as I could on the stern planes to try and slow the dive. Test depth came and went. The boat creaked and men quietly prayed. “Conn, maneuvering, propulsion has been restored”. We slowly climbed back to a safer place between the ocean’s floor and the typhoon that still raged above us. I still have waking nightmares about that night. I clutch my pillow to my chest like it was the outboard yoke, straining with all of my might to will the boat back from the deep.

I often imagine what it was like on the 10th of April 1963 for the planesmen as Thresher made that last dive.
I salute my brothers still on eternal patrol.

Mister Mac

In memory of those we have lost

Failure is not an option Reply

failure is not an option

The nature of submarine warfare has always been filled with an equal mix of adventure, bravery and precision. The adventure starts the minute the boat becomes free from the pier. Gliding along on the surface of any of the rivers and bodies of waters they sail from is only the first part of the journey. In the early days, the noise of the gasoline or diesel engines coupled with the ever present smoke seemed to push the little craft towards her destiny. Later nuclear submarines were quieter but the wake of a passing sub was still enough of an indication that an adventure was about to begin.

As the submarine cleared the channel and reached the dive point, all hands felt the tension as the boat was rigged for its dive. Preliminary preparations were in place and the final actions just needed to be completed as the submarine transformed from a clumsy surface dweller to a steely eyed killer of the deep.  One thing that was the constant throughout the entire evolution though… failure is not an option. The equipment, the men, the boat itself must perform as flawlessly as possible in order for the mission to be complete. Failure in any one of these could be catastrophic for the crew.

The level of detail in planning and preparation before the boat even hits the water starts a life long journey of excellence that is the hallmark for a modern submarine. After all, this boat will be operating independently for most of its life with only the skills of the builders and the operators separating the crew from certain death. The qualification program is hard and the ongoing training is comprehensive. But it is the steel inside each and every qualified submariner that defines the toughness of the submarine service. They must train their minds to live in a confined space with others and think at least two steps ahead at all times. They anticipate the problems they hope will never come and even in their sleep they remain vigilant for the sounds that indicate a change… ventilation shifts, motors changing ion intensity, even the 400 cycle hum. All of these could indicate a problem that will need answering as quickly as possible.

Submariners of all generations share one thing in common whether they served on an old S boat, Fleet Boat, Guppy, Fast Attack or Boomer. They all understand that at any given moment, the only thing that stands between failure and success is a qualified submariner who has made the ultimate promise to themselves and their shipmates; Failure is not an option. Not on my watch.

Mister Mac

theleansubmariner

Ohio at Bangor 2

Gunfighters on the Java Sea – May 28 1945 2

Japara MapI have been chronicling the actions of the US Forces in the Pacific fleet for a number of months and in doing so have found some really great stories with a lot of detail about how the war was progressing in mid 1945. One of those stories started with a small footnote about a wolf pack operation in the Java Sea conducted by the submarines USS Blueback (SS-326) (Balao-class submarine – commissioned 1944) and USS Lamprey (SS-372) (Balao-class submarine – commissioned 1944) as they battled the Japanese submarine chaser Ch.1 in a surface gunnery action off Japara, N.E.I., 06°28’S, 110°37’E.

 

 

Sub chaser

 

What I like most about these stories is the human face they put on the war’s prosecution. The Blueback’s war patrol records and deck logs have been preserved and I was able to trace the action in the words and sometimes very interesting thoughts of her skipper M.K. Clementson Cdr. USN. one small example came in his final report where he spoke about crewmembers who were departing before the mission began. While reading the original report, I was a bit confused for a few moments about the upcoming re-assignment of Lt. James Mercer who had completed 13 war patrols.

Lt. James Mercer departing

By this time in the war, many of the submarine skippers were modifying their deck guns to suit the missions they would be conducting. During his refit in Perth AU prior to commencing the third war patrol, Clementson and his crew rearranged the location and firing support devices for much of his topside weaponry. The hope was that with an increased capacity to conduct surface operations, they would be able to have more flexibility in attacking the dwindling enemy surface fleet and merchant fleet. During the third war patrol, Blueback would get credit for sinking one patrol boat using surface tactics.

Night Action – Java Sea

This story occurs on May 28th in the Java Sea. While the world and most of the military was still focused on the continuing battle of Okinawa, patrols by the US Submarine force continued all across the pacific. The boats that had been rushed into service during the previous few years had finally started overcoming the torpedo problems of the early years. Success after success had started piling up and even though submarine losses also took their toll, new fleet boats were adding to the overall efforts in ways never before imagined. At 0355 on the morning of the 28th, Blueback had just completed a secret mission and was beginning her patrol. She sighted what she thought was a Jap destroyer at 0510 and sent a report to the Wolf Pack she was operating with.

From that moment on, she would join with the Lamprey in a running torpedo and gun battle in the Java Sea.

The Balao  submarine classs was made up of 120 boats and those were typically armed with the following weapons:

10 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
(six forward, four aft)
24 torpedoes
1 × 5-inch (127 mm) / 25 caliber deck gun (which replaced the 4-inch 102mm gun installed at the beginning of their service)
Bofors 40 mm and Oerlikon 20 mm cannon

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During her overhaul prior to WP 3, the guns on the Blueback were modified as follows: the twin 20 MM was moved from the cigarette deck to the main deck forward and a second 40mm was installed on the cigarette deck. They also installed specially braced mountings for twin 50 caliber machine guns and twin 30 caliber machine guns on the bridge. In short, the Blueback was loaded for bear and was ready to take on any targets she would encounter on the surface.

Wolf Pack – American Style

German submarines are well known for Wolf Pack tactics that resulted in horrific losses. Not as well known are the Wolf Packs that the US Forces operated in during the Pacific campaign. Starting with the coordinated attacks of the USS Cero, many combined operations were mounted. At first, there was a reluctance among the individual skippers to advocate for this type of operation. But some, including Captain Swede Momsen saw the need for new tactics in this war . USS Cero cleared New London 17 August 1943 for Pacific waters, and on 26 September sailed from Pearl Harbor, bound for the East China and Yellow Seas on her first war patrol. This patrol was also the first American wolfpack, comprising Cero, Shad (SS-235), and Grayback (SS-208), commanded from Cero by Captain Swede” Momsen.

Torpedo Attack

At 0843, the Blueback submerged and began a day long track and search pattern looking for the contact the had sighted at 0520 and at 1910 sighted a submarine that was identified as the USS Lamprey. At 1954, she surfaced and  communicated with Lamprey using blinker lights. At that time Blueback was informed about the three targets in the Japara anchorage. Plans were then exchanged for the hunt. At 2010, there was a radar contact which the skipper verified was not a submarine. The contact was at approximately 12,000 yards and zig zagging.

From the action report:

“Can just barely get in a night tracking surface approach before the just rising full moon gets too high. Tracking 10 knots, base course 090 true. Am convinced this is our OOD. Will have enough moon before shooting to make certain it is not a submarine.”

One of the greatest fears of submarine commanders concerning the Wolf Pack approach was in not shooting a fellow American submariner in the heat of the battle. Our technology in weapons firing and ship identification was pretty basic during that war so this was a real concern.

At 2033, confident of his target, Blueback headed in at flank speed.

At 2102, Blueback slowed to 2/3 speed. He received a message from the HMS THOROUGH giving his position and stating that a patrol craft has been patrolling in the area all day. Target was not THOROUGH. Target definitely not submarine. (Note: HMS Thorough was a British T class submarine that served in the Far East for much of her wartime career, where she sank twenty seven Japanese sailing vessels, seven coasters, a small Japanese vessel, a Japanese barge, a small Japanese gunboat, a Japanese trawler, and the Malaysian sailing vessel Palange)

At 2107, with confidence that the vessel was not a submarine, Blueback fired five MK 18-2 torpedoes forward. Torpedo run was 3000 yards.  At 2109, the skipper turned the boat and fired 2 MK-14-3A torpedoes aft, torpedo run 2200 yards. All missed and as a good close broadside view of the target was obtained, it was discovered that this was not a destroyer but a patrol boat.  Blueback headed away at 19 knots. The patrol boat headed away from a torpedo that broached just ahead of him.

Blueback’s skipper made a note in the log:

“Made mental note to always use binocular formula hereafter in an attempt to avoid such costly errors in the future. Even with grim visions of my income tax soaring to the stratosphere. Won’t be able to look a taxpayer in the eye.”

At this point he slows the ship and manned the 5″ and two 40mm gins and informed Lamprey who was 9-10,000 yards to the northwest.

Open Fire

At 2135, Blueback opened fire and immediately got some hits. These hits resulted in a small fire being started on the patrol ship’s forward action station. He commenced returning fire , too accurately according to reports with 25mm explosive shells.

at 2140, Blueback laid a smoke screen and opened range. The moon was brilliant by that time and very low. Blueback was heading into the moon and was weaving to each side trying to distribute the smoke in any direction but true west. The target’s gunfire was on them every time they emerges from either side of the narrow screen.

At 2143, Lamprey opened fire with her 5′ gun but in the words of the Blueback CO “The silly target didn’t know enough to shoot at him.” Then Blueback opened range to 6500 yards and headed to join the Lamprey. The target was making radical maneuvers and returning fire on both Lamprey and Blueback by this time with four guns. The Lamprey skipper reported that “his aim was not very good”. Lamprey expended 40 rounds of 5″ ammunition and recorded two sure hits.

At 2200, Blueback fired a few more rounds of 5″ at his gun flashes but when he ceased firing, there was no more point of aim. Blueback decided to call it a draw (except that Blueback was not hit thanks to the smoke screen.) Lamprey made the same decision at 2209 and the engagement was completed. Blueback’s skipper records in his log that better night sights and star shells would have helped considerable to eliminate “this boil on the heel”.

Lessons learned from the action that night:

1. Get and keep the TARGET up moon,

2. Concentrate forces on initial attack.

At 2207, Blueback set course for new area, 3 engines… At 2339, Lamprey departed for her new patrol area in the Karimata Strait.

The CH-1 would survive the rest of the war but had one more brush with the American submarine fleet.  On the 16th of July 1945: West of Surabaya, Java, she was escorting gunboat NANKAI (ex-Dutch minelayer REGULUS) when they were attacked by LCDR William H. Hazzard’s  USS BLENNY (SS-324). Hazzard fires a total of 12 torpedoes in a night surface radar attack and claims four hits that sink NANKAI at 05-26S, 110-33E. At about 0700, Hazzard finds and shells CH-1 with his 5-inch deck gun. BLENNY gets two hits that set CH-1 on fire at 05-16S, 110-17E.

http://www.combinedfleet.com/CH-1_t.htm

Despite two attacks, CH-1 survives the war and is finally scuttled by the Royal Navy in Singapore in 1946.

Both Blueback and Lamprey also survive the war. Guns would be removed from the decks of post war submarines for a host of reasons. Submarines evolved through technology to be more effective under the water during all modes of warfare and a deck gun was no longer needed or practical. One of the many enemies a submarine fought was the airplane and post war development of antisubmarine air forces increased the danger of being on the surface for any period of time. But having those guns on board WW2 boats was a critical factor during the early months and years where the unreliable torpedo corrupted the ultimate mission of a submarine. The other factor of not wasting a torpedo on smaller craft played a key role as well

Seventy years has passed since that night action on the Java Sea. The bravery of those men on both sides under some very difficult conditions is a testament to the strength found in men who are committed to a cause.

Mister Mac

By the way, come to Pittsburgh this September 7-13 and celebrate the heroes of the US Navy submarine forces.

USSVU National Convention web site:     http://www.ussviconventionsteelcity2015.org/

1 USSVI-Pittsburgh Convention-Large

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Stealth Submarine Reply

With shrinking budgets and caps on military spending, its important to remember that submarines represent one of the most survivable elements in modern sea warfare. The increasing flexibility to meet emerging threats as well as long established threats adds value to this resource.

Make no mistake: the threats from external forces will not go away anytime soon. In many cases, it is increasing. Desiring peace without the will to preserve it ensures that there will be no peace at all. These platforms provide us with the way to preserve that peace and ensure our freedoms for a long time to come.

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Enjoy!

Mister Mac