My Years on a World War II Attack Submarine
Reviewed by RADM M.H. Rindskopf, USN(Ret.)
Book reviews in THE SUBMARINE REVIEW can be written by (1) World War II submariners, (2) post-war submariners, (3) other Naval officers, (4) knowledgeable civilians, or (5) lay civilians.
In this review you will get (as they say in the Chinese restaurants) one from category (1) and one from category (5). I chose this route because I found myself reliving the War in DRUM (SS 228); and perhaps biased by nostalgia. I thought that comments from a senior member of the Administrative Staff of the Anne Arundel County, Maryland Public Library might give us an outsider’s viewpoint.
I have known Jim Calvert since he joined the Torpedo and Tactics Department of the Submarine School Staff in 1945 which consisted of Commander Chester Nimitz, Jr., Lieutenant Commander Mike Rindskopf, and Lieutenant Dennis Wilkinson-all under the Officer-in-Charge, the ubiquitous Captain Freddie Warder.
In a nutshell, Jim Calvert’s Silent Running is an exciting book written in down-to-earth language by a junior officer in JACK (SS 259). It takes JACK from Electric Boat in New London down the East Coast to the Pacific via the Panama Canal, through eight war patrols, three of which earned JACK the Presidential Unit Citation. There are simple charts showing JACK’s track on each key patrol and location of her actions. These assist those unfamiliar with geographic details of the Western Pacific. It concludes with an unbelievable tale while Jim Calvert was Executive Officer of HAD DO (SS 255) at the surrender ceremonies in Tokyo Bay.
The things which produce nostalgia for me provide you with a guide for reading the book, but they do not include all the interesting events about which Jim has written.
– He made the first eight runs in JACK, fleeting up from fifth officer to Executive Officer.
– He was the Torpedo Data Computer Operator (the key man in the Fire Control party) throughout his tour-even when Exec.
– He stood the 00-04 and 12-16 watches for a long time.
– He put his first skipper, Lieutenant Commander Tommy Dykers, Class of 1927, on a pedestal as the epitome of a leader, a skilled periscope handler, and a fearless, aggressive attacker.
– He was lavish in his praise for those officers and leading crew who made JACK the ship she was.
– He like depth charging no more than the rest of us submariners, and was not bashful in stating that there were times when he was “plain scared”.
– JACK encountered two German U-boats in her passage down the East Coast; played cat and mouse; and never saw them again.
– She had an exciting, rewarding first patrol off the Empire during which her survival was in the balance.
– She suffered from the miserable performance of the Torpedo Mk XIV and its installed Exploder Mk VI.
– She sank a sampan by gunfire and captured two prisoners.
– She refitted three times in Australia.
– She ended the war with 15 ships sunk and ranked ninth in tonnage.
JACK early on patrolled on the surface, expanding her search area by utilizing the high periscope. But, more importantly, she perfected the night surface attack using her surface search radar with superlative results. She made multiple attacks, often expended all her torpedoes and, after the torpedoes were made right, achieved a very high hit percentage.
Jim gives much credit for JACK’s success to the experience and continuing training support of her Division Commander, Commander Freddie Warder, the former skipper of SEAWOLF. As a Captain and Squadron Commander, Freddie would influence Jim Calvert’s career in most significant ways.
Jim relates many conversations with peers and seniors, recalling the gist when he could not remember the words exactly, but he is modest at the same time. After a casualty plagued second patrol which produced no sinkings, he quotes on page 103 from the War Patrol Report Endorsement which is critical of JACK’s actions. What Jim did not do was quote from Commander Warder’s Endorsement after the first highly successful patrol:
“The excellent performance of JACK on her first patrol reflects the great zeal and industry of the Commanding Officer during the fitting out and training of this new thorn in the side of the Japanese. The Division Commander congratulates the Commanding Officer, Officers and Crew for their splendid ship, their fighting spirit and the results achieved.” (Three ships sunk for 24,255 tons and one
The Squadron Commander and Commander Submarines Pacific concurred.
To iterate, Jim Calvert has done a great job in telling his and JACK’s story. I detected one technical error (missed by other experts). On page 66, he explains how torpedo depth was set at the TDC and transmitted electrically to the tube and torpedo. This is true, as he says elsewhere, of gyro angles. But NavPers 16164A, prepared by the Submarine School when I was the Officer-in-Charge in 1960, depicts how the depth is set manually at the tube, with interlocks preventing firing until the spindle is withdrawn.
I offer two comments, not criticisms. Because JACK concentrated on surface search and night surface attacks, there is some repetition in the telling of the exciting chases. Secondly, I know that romance sells books and the story of Kathie in Free mantle is true. Yet, perhaps because I knew the ever-smiling Nancy for so many years, I wish this aspect bad been played down.
Finally, Jim’s title suggests evasion after attacks, deep and quiet, until the Japanese ASW forces were discouraged by loss of contact and departed. In point of fact, that’s not what JACK did. My title would have been Right Full Rudder. All Ahead Flank.
Now read what my category (5) lay civilian thinks about Silent Running.
As a civilian, I found Admiral Calvert’s account of his experiences and that of his fellow officers and men aboard the submarine JACK to be both an engaging narrative that holds together like a novel and a retelling of patrols that forcefully drives home the realities of his boat, the sometimes faulty equipment and weapons, and the single-minded attention to sinking as much Japanese tonnage as possible.
Calvert was a junior officer on JACK from mid-1943 to near the end of the war when he was transferred to HADDO to be its Exec. There is very little humor in this book. Relief from the intensity of the hunt is provided by interesting commentary on the Navy’s bureaucracy, particularly the Bureau of Ships, the modernizing of the boats between patrols, and the contributions of reserve officers.
What clearly comes through is the submariners’ sense of purpose, discipline, leadership, and teamwork.
Admiral Calvert’s writing is easy to read and ideas flow smoothly throughout. I read the book in two sittings-it is too good just to nibble at.