The passing of Admiral Benson led me to recall an amusing true story he told at a time when humor was in short supply. In July 1949, just days out of Submarine School, I was in USS TUSK (SS 426) which was in the newly formed Submarine Development Group II along with COCHINO, CORSAIR, and TORO. The group headed across the Atlantic under the command of Captain Benson, the boats leapfrogging most of each day to develop anti-submarine capabilities and tactics. After visits to Londonderry, Rothesay in Scotland, and Portsmouth, England, the group headed north before splitting into two groups-the two Guppies (TUSK and COCHINO) under Captain Benson bound for the Barents Sea, the fleet boats for Greenland.
About noon on a day in late August north of Norway, COCHINO was running as a snorkeling target for TUSK, when she announced over the underwater telephone that she had a problem and -was surfacing. The events of the next 14 hours are recounted in the book The Last Cruise by William I. Lederer, an expansion of his two part article in The Saturday Evening Post. In short, COCHINO was racked by a series of battery explosions, subsequently determined to have been due to water getting into the after battery series-parallel switch, which culminated in her sinking moments after TUSK had rescued everyone on board.
During the afternoon TUSK had managed, with difficulty in the heavy seas, to take on board a COCHINO officer, accompanied by a civilian technical representative, sent to apprise us of the situation just before two mammoth waves plunged over the deck in quick succession. Our jury-rigged 21 thread life lines snapped and about 12 TUSK crewmen and the tech rep were washed over the side. Most were about 100 yards away when they could first be seen after the second wave subsided. Over the next three hours TUSK was able to recover those still alive and verify that the six others were beyond rescue. This experience led to the adoption of the deck safety tracks still in use today. Meanwhile COCHINO had managed to regain diesel propulsion and a limited jury-rig steering capability. I assume that the adoption of a means of effective jury-rig steering as a result of this experience likewise continues. So with TUSK as guide for course and COCHINO as
guide for speed, we headed for Hammerfest, Norway.
Shortly after midnight COCHINO was again racked by explosions and signalled with a battle lantern to come quick. After jettisoning several loaded torpedoes TUSK put her port bow alongside COCHINO’s starboard bow. Using the brow secured to COCHINO, and tended on TUSK to prevent its being crushed when the boats rolled together, the entire COCHINO crew, including the badly burned personnel, left their sinking ship quickly, but necessarily one by one. Captain Benitez, as the last to leave, bad his moment of hesitation terminated by Captain Worthington’s admonition to be quick as it was obvious the ship would sink. Its deck aft was already awash. Chopping all lines and casting off the brow, TUSK backed away as COCHINO sank no more than 100 yards away.
The hours after arrival in Hammerfest were occupied in getting immediate medical attention for the badly burned personnel and trying to explain to the harbormaster, a friendly Royal Norwegian Navy commander, how people had been so severely burned on a ship that did not appear to have suffered any damage. Luckily, because the Navy Department soon publicly announced the loss of COCHINO, Captain Benson did not have to continue the charade for long. It did last long enough for the harbormaster to learn that Captain Benson was of Swedish descent and could understand some Swedish. Once we learned that we would have to wait for several hours for the arrival of a Navy doctor being flown in before we could depart down the fjords for Tromso, the essentials had been taken care of.
The harbormaster then suggested to Captain Benson that it would be appropriate to observe the amenities and call first upon the mayor and then chief of police. This they did and shortly thereafter, with the arrival of the Navy doctor, we were underway for Tromso. The Navy doctor confirmed that the two corpsmen, Doc Riley of TUSK and Doc Eason of COCHINO, bad done everything possible until the patients could be hospitalized in Tromso.
Enroute I heard Captain Benson recount the story of his formal visits in Hammerfest. The call on the mayor was routine and uneventful. The call on the police chief was something else again! As soon as the harbormaster and Captain Benson entered his office the chief launched into a tirade in Norwegian, a language not all that different from Swedish, directed at tlie harbormaster for being 100 so tardy in arranging the call (and perhaps for some other shortcomings as well). The harbonnaster remained silent until the chief finished. At that point he told the chief that Captain Benson spoke Swedish and could thus understand everything that had been said. Thereupon the face of the police chief turned a very bright red! If I heard any other details about the call and how it ended I have long since forgotten them.
The Dolphin Scholarship is sponsored by the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Force and was established in 1961 with one scholarship in the amount of $350.00. Since that time the scholarship has grown, through generous donations and support, to its present level of 100 scholars, with an annual grant of $2,000.00 per student. The scholarship is open only to high school or college dependent sons and daughters (unmarried, under the age of 24) of officer or enlisted members or former members of the Submarine Force and Navy members who have served in submarine support activities.
Please note the deadline is April 15 of each year. If necessary, students may send information to the FAX number, but all information must be received by the deadline date.
Director, Dolphin Scholarship Foundation
405 Dillingham Boulevard
Norfolk Naval Station
Norfolk, VA 23511
FAX (804) 489-8578