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At the Norfolk Sub Vets of WWII reunion there was a noticeable friendliness, great respect for each other, and close bonding between the men who had shared the same war patrol experiences. Having just written about my own submarine war, I reflected on what my crews had actually been like. As illustrated in my book, War in the Boats, they proved to be fine warriors and a unique breed of men with high esprit de corps.

These diesel-boat men were most importantly TOUGH-and a lot tougher than the Japanese expected them to be. (In fact, the Japanese had predicated their Grand Strategy for winning the Pacific War on the belief that U.S. men had gone soft and wouldn’t put up a long, hard fight in a war at sea.) But as a result of the submariners’ toughness and aggressive spirit, although they didn’t single-handedly win the war, they certain were instrumental in eliminating any Japanese chance to win.

Almost all were volunteers-even while recognizing that the British had lost 44 of their Mediterranean boats in 1941. The men in the boats accepted the good possibility that their subs might be lost. But like fine warriors-in the Samurai sense-they were resolute in their acceptance of death as part of their job. It was an all or nothing affair-few Purple Hearts were awarded to them. And few wanted off the boat because they thought their time was up. (A last letter to mother before going on patrol was treated with derision.)

They fought their boats in a normally quiet, business-like way. There was no screaming at each other; no bawling-outs and no crying for anything. Afraid-talk was so rare that I carefully recorded each instance. (A stewardsmate’s “Me all-time scared” was duly noted.) Moreover, crewmen under stress showed little emotion or fear. (Only one man during a depth charging went stone white and passed out.) They were a phlegmatic lot.

The men in submarines were unusually competent technically and so ingenious that they could repair almost anything while at sea-to either stay on patrol or make it back to port. (On a CREVALLE patrol, a special wrench was fabricated to tighten bolts which the building yard had not been able to get at with their wrenches. And later, the jury-rigging of flooded-out things was almost miraculous.)

The crews of the boats liked action. (There was no foot dragging when the General Quarters “bong, bong, bong .. sounded.) Inaction, even though it made for safe operations, was disdained. All were seemingly eager to go on each patrol. (A draft of 15 men for new construction in the U.S. got only 5 volunteers.) And submariners arrogantly believed that a sub with only a small crew was equal to or better than the largest of surface warships-having 10 to 20 times more men and fire power. This was so because submarines attacked with total surprise and evaded under a safety blanket of water. They used their power in a different way.

The Sub Vets, it can be concluded, were unquestionably an elite corps of the WWII U.S. Navy!


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