17 March 1944 -- The day started with a bright
sun and smooth sea, much as it had been the day before. No one had gotten
much sleep since the sub was reported the previous afternoon. After steaming
out to the point where she had crash dived at all available speed, we
commenced a systematic search. This is essentially a circular path, but
using ever increasing radii from the point of last sighting. This allows for
the movement of the sub, but is designed to intersect her track at some
point. It really works.
We made contact during the early evening, and harassed them all night with
depth charges. The combination of sporadic attacks and the sheer excitement
of having a real live target after more than a year of drills and make-
believe, denied the green crew any possibility of sleep.
I remember vividly the various vignettes that came to mind during the night
between moments of action. First, those relating to my own safety. Would we
be attacked, damaged, maybe even sunk? After all, these U boats had
acoustical torpedoes which could follow a target, if they could be launched.
In the midst of an attack we would be too busy for evasive action, our job
was to sink the sub, no matter what. Fear created nausea, tension, a feeling
of having to go to the bathroom (head, in Navy lingo), a desire to run (no
place to go) and a combination of all the above. Finally, putting those
thoughts aside, I double checked my life belt and went on to other concerns.
I reviewed possible scenarios relating to a sinking. Along the way I even
wondered how our adversaries were doing. Had we damaged them, had they
enough air, what were they planning for us? Were they frightened too? Fifty
years later at a reunion, I learned that they had fired three torpedoes at
us, all set too deep.
Before the sun rose, we saw the fiery exhausts of the planes warming up on
the carrier flight deck. They would take off in the dark just before dawn to
insure there were no more surprises. Also, sometimes a shadow underwater can
be seen in first light.
My sonar man commented, more as a question than a fact,"Bet we'll get an
echo early, Mr. Rubin, don't you think?"
"Could well be. Watch for those false echoes in the layers!"
"Bet I will, sure like to go home with a kill painted on the bridge."
"I guess we would all like that, we've sure put enough into it."
As the sun rose the two search planes circled the ship at bridge height,
just 40 feet over the water, waving good luck to us. "Some flying, not many
Airedales can do that and watch out for subs at the same time."
Moments later the voice radio came alive," Shadow below, she's all yours, go
get 'em!" With that he dipped his wings and threw a smoke bomb over the side
to mark the spot. The alarm went off calling the crew to "Sound attack, man
your stations." The skipper took over the conn, the ship lurched to the
right in response to the plane's report. "Here we go again."
Strangely enough, the adrenalin didn't go off the scale. After a night of
this, it was merely a renewal of the game, some game. We dropped two
patterns of charges, eight each time with no results. Then as we positioned
ourselves for a third run, "Periscope, no, a conning tower on the starboard
quarter, Jeez, it's real, it's like a movie."
I stepped out on the narrow deck facing aft in time to see the black hull of
our enemy rise slowly. Immediately, the two ready guns opened up, dotting
the sea with their splashes near the target. No splash that time, a solid
hit. Up to then the gunners couldn't seem to hit a barn door, now, right on
the button. Suddenly, the guns went quiet, and the ship swung towards the
sub. "Stand by for a ram", came the skipper's voice over the squawk box.
"What the Hell's going on, why ram, it'll hurt us more than him" I said to
no one in particular. The guns had been ordered to Cease Fire when the
Officer-of-the-Deck saw men jumping into the ocean, abandoning ship. In his
eagerness to insure the kill, the skipper had intended to ram our adversary,
but happily, as we closed the range, the bow of the boat rose in a final
salute, amidst the foaming sea, paused for an eternity, and then slid to its
watery grave. Several of us murmured in unison," Good bye U-801",
reading the numbers off the sinking conning tower. "Whale boat over the
side, pick up survivors", came the order. In due time, 48 men were brought
aboard, wet, apprehensive, and just as vulnerable as we would have been
under similar circumstances.
March 17, 1944 recalls a vivid scenario even after 48 years!