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

90 Days to nowhere… Submarine Documentary 1977 4

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Another great video from a bygone era. The 41 for Freedom Boats were still in their glory and the USS Ohio was going through its growing pains at the shipyard at Electric Boat. While the patrol cycle is sometimes given short shrift by non-boomer sailors, it had a unique purpose and involved a large number of men in both operations and support.  The operations tempo and the transition to the newer subs is very nicely described here:

http://fas.org/blogs/security/2009/03/usssbn/

But for a closer look at what it was like to be a seventies boomer sailor, click on this link:

 

As veterans day once more approaches, I am reminded how great a price was paid by so many men and women in my lifetime alone to preserve the peace. I salute you all.

Mister Mac

How the US Navy almost missed “The Boat” 1

Holland and Amphitrite

Prior to World War 1, the General Board of the United States Navy was the primary instrument used for directing the strategic future of the U. S. Navy. This General Board had been instituted in 1900 as a way to provide expert advice to the Secretary of the Navy and was made up of nine admirals nearing the end of their time in service. The Navy leadership had already discounted, “by doctrine and experience” the need or importance of building submarines. Even the emphasis on the future use of submarines was questioned. In a report to Secretary Josephus Daniels in 1915, the General Board stated:

“The deeds of submarines have been so spectacular that in default of engagements between the main fleets undue weight has been attached to them… To hastily formed public opinion, it seemed that the submarines were accomplishing great military results because little else of importance occurred in the maritime war to attract public attention. Yet at the present time, when the allies have learned in great measure to protect their commerce, as they learned a few months earlier to protect their cruisers from the submarine menace, it is apparent that the submarine is not an instrument fitted to dominate naval warfare…

The submarine is a most useful auxiliary whose importance will no doubt increase, but at the present there is no evidence that it will become supreme.”

In 1915, the Office of Chief of Naval Operations was created and the General Board’s influence started a slow but steady decline in influence. It was eventually dissolved in 1951. Coincidently, the USS Nautilus was first authorized in August of 1951.

Mister Mac

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

 

 

 

 

Happy 115th Birthday to the United States Navy Submarine Force 3

Of the things I have done in my life, being privileged to be a Submariner is the one thing that stands out the most.

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Looking back in the mirror of over forty years, what made being a submariner so special was a combination of men, machines, methods and materials (as well as the environment we lived in).

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The men were bold and adventurous. In order to surrender your personal freedom and commit part of your life to operating in a steel tube (often for months at a time), you had to have a great sense of boldness. These are the men that forty years later I still call brothers. The shared sacrifice we made cemented that bond. They were the embodiment of trust and loyalty. They still are.

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The machines were part of this experience too. The ones we rode on are all special to us since they took us into the unknown and brought us safely home in most cases. Whether they were named after fish, men, cities or states, they were our boats. Some rode to glory in a haze of diesel exhaust and some silently lurked beneath the surface on an invisible field of power. What made them common was the pressure that pushed against their hulls when they were sent into danger.

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The methods evolved with the technology. The little pigboats that felt almost tethered to the shore were replaced by sleek combat vessels. Despite the horrific loss of 52 of them during World War 2, they emerged with more enemy tonnage sunk per capita than any other combat vessels. Post war, they ran picket duty against the new threat and became platforms for exotic missiles with a powerful projection. These warriors were at the front line of the Cold and Gulf Wars and although their stories will never be fully known, influenced the shape of the world for decades.

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Since Holland’s little boat first broke the surface, the materials have adapted for each new mission. Stronger, quieter, more adaptable to depths unfathomable in the old days, these boats are powerful voices in a world of threats.

thresher  384051_2666288348226_1586561932_2423497_534551727_n

The environment continues to challenge our boats. Sea mountains, hurricanes, typhoons and classified threats to submarine operations will always be the wild cards that increase the risk. Any person who has ridden a submarine into the unknown without being able to see what is ahead knows what it feels like to commit your life to something greater than themselves. But our boats and our people continue to fight them and overcome the odds in the very face of the unknown.

 

Someday we will all stand and have to take account for our lives. On that day, I hope to still be wearing my dolphins. That is a sure way for St. Peter to know that I once did my time in hell and I am ready to come home.

Dolphins 2

 

To my Submariner comrades, I wish you all a Happy Birthday

Mister Mac

How to fight a war… or conquer the enemy in your life Reply

WarInst

FADM_Ernest_J__King Fleet-Admirals-US-Navy-22a-1024x662

I read a lot. Maybe too much according to my wife. I have been chronicling the events of March 1945 on my Facebook page “World War 2 in the Pacific

https://www.facebook.com/WarInThePacific19411946

Some of the reference materials are amazing in their accuracy for challenges we face today. I truly wish that the powers that be could read and understand these simple truths. Frankly they come right out of Sun Tzu’ works on fighting war. They come from the previously classified instructions from 1944 called War Instructions for the United States Navy under the direction of Admiral King.

How to fight a war

  1. The following specific tactical doctrine governs:

(a) Plan and train carefully. Execute rapidly. Simple plans are the best plans.

(b) Act quickly, even at the expense of a “perfect” decision. This is preferable to hesitation and possible loss of boldness and initiative.

(c) Never remain inactive in the vicinity of the enemy.

(d) Make the most of the few chances that arise to damage the enemy or destroy his ships without waiting for a better target, unless required by orders to do so.

(e) Endeavor to bring a superior force to bear upon that portion of the enemy force which for the time being cannot be supported.

(f) Go into action with your entire force and keep tactically concentrated until the enemy has become disorganized.

(g) Deliver the attack from such direction as to gain the advantages of favorable wind, sea, and light conditions, if possible without delaying the engagement.

(h) Sink enemy ships. It is usually better to sink one than to damage two.

(i) Never surrender a vessel or aircraft to the enemy. Sink or destroy it if there is no other way to prevent its capture.

(j) Use all weapons in effective range, with the maximum intensity, and continue the action until the enemy is annihilated.

Personally, I will be reviewing the recommendations for the next two weeks as God works his way with my life. I am grateful as always for the men who followed these instructions well and won the Second World War. I hope the men who fight the third will be as wise and committed.

 

Mister Mac