The Galloping Ghost 1

I’M THE GALLOPING GHOST OF THE JAPANESE COAST

By Constantine Guiness, MOMM 1/C, USN

I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast.
You don’t hear of me and my crew
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan.
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.

I look sleek and slender alongside my tender.
With others like me at my side,
But we’ll tell you a story of battle and glory,
As enemy waters we ride.

I’ve been stuck on a rock, felt the depth charge’s shock,
Been north to a place called Attu,
and I’ve sunk me two freighters atop the equator
Hot work, but the sea was cold blue.

I’ve cruised close inshore and carried the war
to the Empire Island Honshu,
While they wire Yokahama I could see Fujiyama,
So I stayed, to admire the view.

When we rigged to run silently, deeply I dived,
And within me the heat was terrific.
My men pouring sweat, silent and yet
Cursed me and the whole damned Pacific.

Then destroyers came sounding and depth charges pounding
My submarine crew took the test.
Far in that far off land there are no friends on hand,
To answer a call of distress.

I was blasted and shaken (some damage I be taken),
my hull bleeds and pipe lines do, too
I’ve come in from out there for machinery repair,
And a rest for me and my crew.

I got by on cool nerve and in silence I served,
Though I took some hard knocks in return,
One propeller shaft sprung and my battery’s done,
But the enemy ships I saw burn.

I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast,
You don’t hear of me and my crew.
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan,
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.

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

Happy Birthday Bubblehead 1

One of the things you learn quickly about the military is the endless stream of nicknames attached to the people, equipment and all manner of things unique to the recipient of the toast. The Navy is not unique but it certainly has no shortages of slang and identifiers.  These all help to separate the various groups within its ranks. If you ride a surface ship, there is a good chance that you have been called a skimmer at some point in your life. The boys and girls associated with the air wings are mostly called “airdales”

But a unique name exists for our submariners: Bubblehead. I have been around submariners for over forty years and have heard a million different explanations for the term. Like most sea stories, the origin is somewhat questionable. I have never really found a place that says that it was born on a specific day or linked to a specific event. Some of the many descriptions can be found at a blog of a similar name:

http://bubbleheads.blogspot.com/2010/04/origin-of-species.html

If you look up the term in the dictionary, its not at all complimentary : A stupid person, esp one who is frivolous and flighty.

Now I have been around these strange creatures for most of my adult life and I can assure you that there are a few who might fit the description. But the few tiumes that I have observed that phenomena is when they were just back from a liberty port and I am quite certain alcohol was involved.

American submarine history started a long time ago but the official start date coincides with the purchase of the submarine Holland on April 11, 1900. The start of the journey was slow and filled with all kinds of obstacles and enemies. But it was a joy ride from one of the least Bubbleheaded men of his day that helped to strengthen the future for submarines. President Theodore Roosevelt himself took a ride on an early version and as a result recognized the unique possibilities of the fledgling service. He assured a tradition of support through his backing of their credible service for sea time and a bonus for taking rhe risk to serve on them.

I will admit that the extra money was a nice incentive. But dead men can’t spend it and there are many who rode their boats to an early grave that are proof of that fact. April 10, 1963 stands out as a perfect example of what the cost of riding a boat can be. The sea is unforgiving in its ways. Submariners are the best of the best but even they sometimes will be overcome by the power of the deep.

On this day, we celebrate all things submarine. The incredible adventures we remember and the incredible boredom we overcame. The ports and the people, the sights and the sounds, the brave and the bold. But mostly the bubbleheads we knew. I am honored to be among one of the few that ever earned the title.

Happy Birthday Bubbleheads.

defying the sea

Mister Mac

Denizens of the Deep – the bond between submarines and their crews 3

failure is not an option

From the very beginning of submarines, the vessels have been compared to a steel coffin or a sewer pipe closed on both ends. But to the men who have sailed on them and especially to the men (and now women) who built them and then drove them below the waves into a sea of uncertainty, they gain an almost mystical property. These underwater “denizens of the deep” become an all-encompassing force that changes a person forever. There is a bond that builds between crew and boat that lasts well beyond most other bonds.

Not all who sail on them love them. From the moment you come aboard the boat it presents a challenge to the physical and mental capabilities of the sailors who operate them. You are the newbie, the non-qual. All of the school and learning you have done to date means nothing to the boat or to the men who have been there before. You will only become part of the crew by giving up a part of you and becoming a part of the force that makes the boat operate at her best. There is nothing less than perfection expected form each sailor in the qualification and many hours of sleep will be sacrificed along the way to earning your “fish”. But it’s not even that simple. While you are learning, you must also contribute.

Endless days and nights beneath the darkness of the deep sea, you find yourself pushed and pulled at the same time. Pushed to contribute in achieving the mission and pulled in your own testing. There simply is no place for second best and you learn to hate the challenge while clinging on to every small victory. Line by line, you complete each level of achievement only to be given a newer and harder task. Respect is rare for a newbie and privileges even rarer. The pressure can be relentless but that pressure ensures that you will be ready to respond when called upon.

Each person must be stretched to the limit because in the end, the sea and the enemy beyond the edge of the horizon are unforgiving of mistakes. A missed valve could cause a catastrophe just as easily as an unseen mountain. Everything inside the hull has a risk of one kind or another and everything outside the hull presents a danger to the unprepared. No detail is too small and no amount of preparation is too much. There are no second chances when you are driving relatively blind in an ocean filled with the great unknowns.

The mission can be great or small but it is always faced with the same consequences if you fail. Unlike a normal job where missing a goal or schedule might mean an admonishment or a chance to do it over, the submarine only allows you the chance to get it right the first time,

One day, you reach the end of your checklist. You sit across the table from other men who have been tested and you reach down inside to remember every detail of every system and schematic you learned. You rattle off details about tank capacities, frequencies, weapons characteristics and hundreds of other details. After a long time they send you out into the passageway so that they can discuss your fate. Sometimes there will be a look up for some small detail that you missed. Sometimes you are judged not ready at all with a list of things to relearn. But on one special day, the leader of the board sys, “Congratulations. You have earned your dolphins.”

From that day you belong to a unique group of people. You become the teacher for the next person in line. You grow a unique bond with the boat that tested you and allowed you to meet the challenge. The boat becomes a part of your life in a way that will last as long as you live.

Now the test really begins. Will you be able to use that knowledge and skill under any circumstances? Will you discover that while you have learned much, there is still much more to learn? The sea learns too and so does your enemy. Both continue to probe for weaknesses every single day. This is a mighty warship after all and the war is never fully defined. You can talk about what you will do in a storm but until you ride the storm, you cannot predict how you and the boat will respond. You can practice countering an enemy but he has the ability and the skills to do the unexpected. Your survival is based on all of the crew responding with everything they have and the boat with all that is has. There is no second place in this undersea war.

A million miles and a thousand dives later, it’s time for the boat to come home. Like the grey haired old men who built her so long ago, she is tired and deserves a rest. The smooth lines of many years ago are slightly puckered with age. Driving to test depth and back again will do that to the old girl. She creaks a bit more when she dives but she still manages to put on a head of steam when she needs it for that last big run. But up ahead, she sees the pier waiting. There are men there with ropes ready to tie her down for the last time. Other people are waiting with wrenches and torches standing by to cut her apart and prepare her for the end. The bunks will all be stripped, the galley will close down forever and the power will come from long black lines attached to the shore that gave her birth. The periscope will soon be taken out and the memory of all the things she has seen will disappear into the mists of time. The phones and communications circuits will growl nor more. Slowly, the watch standers will rotate off, never to be replaced

On the saddest day ever, a band will play and her remaining crew will gather for a ceremony that all knew would come someday. There is no more somber a day than the day when the flag of the country she defended so well for all of those decades comes down for the last time. She has flown that flag at sea and in foreign ports all over the world reminding them of her mighty power and the power of the nation whose symbol she represents. She has lent that flag to the family members of shipmates who have gone before. Now it is her turn.

It’s hard to escape death. You can delay it, but in the end, the life that she represented is finally ended. The memories will last as long as there is a crewman alive who sailed her. But she will never again feel the salt air blowing waves across her bow. The angles and dangles she once performed will be nothing but a fading sea story. The rushing speed that you feel below your feet as the hull pierces the dark depths of the ocean will only live in the imaginations of those who have felt it. Her best stories will never be told out of respect for the boats and crews that take her place. But the grey old men know. They look at each other with faded eyesight and see a group of twenty something year olds who once mastered the ocean in a highly unconventional way.

As the USS San Francisco transitions to her new role preparing another generation for the challenges to come, I will always stand with pride when her name is called. I hope that any man or woman who has ever been a submariner can say the same about the boats they rode. It was my greatest honor to sail on board her and it was an even greater honor to sail with you all.

Mister Mac

USS San Francisco SSN 711 Alumni Association

alumni-association-1

 

I won’t be there, but my heart will Reply

News about the inactivation of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) has finally been released. It appears that it is coming in the next few months. The ship will be refitted and used as a Moored Training Ship (MTS). It had been a goal of mine to see her one last time while she was still a warship but that seems to be out of the question.

God Bless the men who have sailed her through good times and bad for the past 36 years.

 

cropped-c-_-711-fleet-week-1981.jpg

I won’t be there.

I remember the first time I saw you. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but you surely weren’t it. You were disheveled, ragged and covered with dirt and dust from the rough environment you were in. You were like a new child that hadn’t even taken its first steps yet. I watched you grow. Day after day through winter storms and a summer hotter than I could remember, you took shape. Soon enough, it was time to break free and become the part of most of our lives that would change us forever. I still see you with twenty six year old eyes and I still get goose bumps when I see you where you were always meant to be. Gliding through the water on your way to the dive point. The day you hit 1000 dives must have been very special. I remember your first. I remember praying that the men and women who built you did so with all of the care in the world. When you broke free from the surface and started showing your real gifts, it was the greatest adventure of my life. Looking around at the others who were with us, I could see the looks on their faces. Screaming through the water, diving up and down, turning so fast, it pulled men to the edge of their seats. It wasn’t my first time, but it is the one that I cherish the most.

You’ve logged a lot of miles. You’ve seen so many places. You’ve had challenges that would have broken others. And now your journey is almost over.

I always felt like you were my mistress. I married my Debbie the same year we met and so many times you pulled me back. I dream about you and I dream about the brave men who kept you safe even in the worst of times. I am grateful for their service every day and I thank each and every one of them. So many are not here anymore and in our old age, the list keeps getting longer.

They tell me you will be a school. That seems appropriate. You have already taught a few generations how to be submariners. It’s something you do well.

I wanted to come and see you one last time but I won’t be there. The thirty six years since we met has been hard on me too. I always say I left my heart on the San Francisco but the truth is that my heart is wearing out faster than you did. I pray that the surgeon’s hands will be as true and steady as the hands that built and rebuilt you.

I will be there in spirit though. I’ll be carrying a clipboard as I make my rounds throughout the boat. I’ll smell the cooking in your galley and feel the boat rising beneath my feet. As I enter a darkened control room, the boat will glide to periscope depth, rocking back and forth in the open sea. Somewhere in the night, the Dive is keeping the planesmen focused and the Chief of the Watch moves his hands like a maestro across the ballast control panel making adjustments. Everything will be performed flawlessly and the mission will be completed well. This is how I will remember you old friend.

Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra

“Big Mac” SSN 711 Plankowner

 

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

Cold War 2 – Russia Rising Reply

Headline:

Russian military plans buildup from West to Pacific

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is to beef up its military forces all the way from its western border to the Pacific islands amid ongoing strains with the West, the military said Friday.

Perhaps Putin and his Comrades should remember the last time they tried to use coercive measures to blackmail the world into submission.

Here’s a little reminder:

#blackhullsmatter

 

Stand by for action, its going to heat up all over again.

Mister Mac