My first command was as skipper of a war patrol-bound submarine. The initial challenges in taking over command were rather intimidating as the submarine had recently undergone a severe flooding casualty and an outstanding damage control effort was required to save the boat. The submarine did not have the greatest record having accounted for one ship sunk on 12 patrols. At the end of this patrol the first four officers-skipper, exec, engineer, and one other-were being rotated to various assignments.
The war was winding down and it was pretty obvious that as a member of the PCO pool of 20 or 30 candidates if I were to make a war patrol as CO, I bad better press hard. Consequently, I kept pressure on to get command of a submarine bound for a war patrol.
Several events occurred which helped bring my number up. Several newer boats appeared unexpectedly from Southwest Pacific with damage that required return to the West Coast for repair. This peeled off several on the waiting list and some others from the boondocks. Then my future command became available and was turned down by others on the waiting list. Suddenly I found that my squeaking wheel attitude plus the age of the submarine and so-so record put me number one on the command list. I quickly volunteered and checked in with the staff to get ready to go on patrol.
The first step was to find reliefs for the three officers being rotated. My visit to the personnel officer to review records was quite a surprise. I was informed that the records were pretty much out of date and that I should look around on the waterfront to find potential candidates. The staff would then endeavor to order them to the boat. That evening I was sitting dejectedly in the Officer’s Club trying to figure out a modus operand to utilize on the waterfront to come up with candidates in the short time available. I was pretty discouraged on the prospect but after the second drink I became aware of the crowd of officers in the bar. An idea surfaced when I saw a ship’s bell on the end of the bar which was used to announce the opening and closing of the bar. As a result of this observation, I had another drink, mounted the bar and rang the bell, announced that there was a submarine leaving on war patrol in about two weeks. I was the CO and needed three officer volunteers with various capabilities, if anyone was interested in signing on I would be at a table in the corner of the bar with a pad for them to sign up. As a result I got about 12 volunteers, picked three and with them aboard made a successful war patrol ending up in Guam the day the war ended.
I recall steaming up the channel to the tender when everything erupted-whistles, fireworks, etc. I called down to radio to see if they could find out what was going on, telling them that the rescue of six aviators didn’t merit such a reception. I was informed that the war was over and that the patrol was designated as successful. The crew, many of whom had not qualified for a combat pin previously, celebrated their new status.
Groups of students can have an overnight adventure on
USS BLUEBACK in Portland, Oregon. Contact Erik
Ortman at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
(OMSI) at (503) 797-4632 for specifics.