The following is dedicated to my Dad and all of his shipmates who sacrificed their lives in United States Navy submarines during World War II.
They were volunteers in Spritz’s Navy during World War II-an average of 9 out of every 207 applicants were accepted for two weeks of preliminary testing at the Navy’s National Submarine Training School in New London, Connecticut .1
Of that select group of nine, 25 to 35 percent were rejected before the program began, based upon tests given to determine who was physically and mentally fit for submarine duty.2 Vision tests (night vision being crucial) were first to be passed. Finally, there were many physically demanding tests. One was enduring 55 pounds of pressure (three times that of sea level) in a tiny chamber designed to simulate a submarine, at a depth of 110 feet, amid a sizzling 130 degrees. Glistening with sweat, the men would swallow hard, popping their ears. The heat made breathing difficult, increasing the psychological strain. Any sign of panic or undue stress led to failure. The last, and one of the most rigorously stressful, of the physical tests was a 110 foot ascent from the bottom of the submarine escape tower, (where two volunteers had died) involving the disciplined and proper use of the Momsen Lung. The water works tests caused many not to be selected when they exhibited signs of panic or lack of discipline. Before the war, only 200 were enrolled at the Submarine School at any given time.
The training school master was Chief Torpedoman Charles Spritz, a former Bronx policeman, a veteran master diver and the Navy’s version of the marine master sergeant. Spritz expected impeccable grooming and regulation clothing at all times. In addition to universal military disciplines, while on assignment, no smoking or talking were allowed. There was no standing, sitting, or walking anywhere on base. Every move was in quick time, and in the words of one of the instructors, “The way he ran that place was like a concentration camp.”2
He never married, didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and he devoted his life to governing the daily routines of the trainees and other CPO instructors-themselves mostly 20 year veterans of deep sea diving and submarines. Many were convinced that he’d gone a little crazy after a deep sea diving accident in the 1930s, and it seems he was universally hated for his constant haranguing and punishments dealt for the slightest infractions of rules. Spritz would blare axioms until they were fixed in the subconscious: “Around here there’s only daily prayer-you ‘II commit it to memory: ‘O Lord, help us to keep our big mouths shut until we know what we are talking about!’ … “There is room for anything on a submarine-except a mistake.1” Leaming to use all the complicated equipment is extremely difficult, as is learning to work together, so it is the captain’s task of welding his 75 man crew into a fighting unit. The successful submarine is one in which team-work is perfect, and only practice creates this teamwork.1
Although most graduated from New London detesting Spritz, the teamwork he achieved was a major factor in the success of submarines in days to come. Said one veteran, “He molded into us the discipline needed”, and another, “He instilled fear into those he commanded, but only that fear of making a mistake that could cost not only your life but all the lives of your shipmates.”3
This rather small pool of volunteers who passed the preliminary tests and made it into the program had to meet exceedingly tough criteria. They had to possess a certain work ethic and 1Q. One submariner said, “Two-thirds of my company were college grads or had gone to college for two or three years. The Navy was looking for someone who would study and who was devoted to duty.”3 Each enlistee had to be studious and capable of committing to memory every one of the thousands of valves, gears, pipes, switches, and hatches inside the complex underseas warships. Lectures and assignments kept lights burning into the night, as the men devoured such 200 page tomes as Submarine Operations, Diesel Engines, Electricity, Submarine Tactical Instructions, Storage Batteries, and Torpeiloes. In school laboratories, every man spent exhaustive hours tearing down and putting together practically every item making up a submarine. Each had to draw from memory accurate diagrams of more than 30 electrical, mechanical, and pneumatic systems in the boats. Each also had to train unerringly to perform not only his own specialty aboard but that to every other crewman, with precision. Thus, even the sub’s cook had to be able to fire a torpedo, to start an engine, and to dive the submarine. That ability at times could spell the difference between disaster and safety for the vessel. Every Monday morning, each trainee took written tests: any who failed two exams, or showed an inability to learn rapidly enough, were quietly returned to the surface fleet. Every week someone else would be missing. This mechanical aptitude was only one characteristic of the typical submarine being sought by the Navy.3
Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, a WWII submariner who rose to Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific sub fleet during World War II, said, “The tasks of diving, attack, and surfacing take scores of interlocking motions by dozens of crewmen with split-second timing, but more is required of submariners. They must be alert without being brittle, interested in their shipmates without being nosey, respect privacy without being seclusive, talk without being gabby, and be friendly without being tail-waggers-in short, round pegs for very closely machined round holes. The wrong kind of man aboard a sub can be an insufferable thorn in the sides of shipmates. He can, emotionally, cause almost as much damage as an enemy depth bomb … In no other branch of military service are men required to remain away from normal human contacts as long as submariners assigned to lengthy patrols that demand long hours-sometimes days-at depths far below the least glimmer of sunlight, and far away from the natural feel and smell of natural air. Moreover, these conditions must be endured with good cheer in overcrowded, sometimes ill-smelling, dew-dripping, steel compartments. Those whose tempers or temperaments cannot stand the strain are soon eliminated.” Teamwork was paramount, and a unique camaraderie normally existed within sub crews, as well as a mystique about this elite cadre of men on secret missions, sailors who under no circumstances could discuss their operational orders.3
So rigorous was the selection and training process for Submarine School, during the course of World War II, only 2000 officers and 22,000 enlisted volunteers, highly qualified men, .graduated from Spritz’s Navy, out of over 250, 000 men who had applied for entry into the Navy’s Silent Service.2-3
Just as mysterious as their service were most of their deaths. Most of the underseas sailors who never came back vanished completely. For the years since WWII, the nation has known little of the sacrifice of these gallant submariners, including the living and those still MIA. Much of their work remained classified until only a few years ago. From a percentage point of view, six submariners died for every non-submariner killed in action, and only a handful of survivors lived to tell about our submariners lost in battle.3
In the annals of United States military history, few were more courageous, none took more risk, none suffered a higher casualty rate and none had the devastating effect on the enemy’s morale as did the U.S. Navy’s Silent Service in World War II. These men were unlike the crews of any other naval vessels. No naval career was as dangerous. For years after the war, the nation knew little of the sacrifice of these men, but they never objected and never claimed to be owed anything. Rather, they remained within the code of their service long after the war3-in silent tribute to their lost shipmates after fighting the greatest undersea war in history.
Lloyd Charles McKenzie, a veteran of USS STEW ART (DD 224) in the Asiatic Fleet, graduated third in his class of 18 men, from Chief Spritz’s Submarine School in New London, April 15, 1940. He was assigned to USS TRITON, a new class of U.S. submarine with many innovations, becoming a member of her initial crew. After her commissioning in August 1940, TRITON was transferred to the Pacific to be in the forefront of the Navy’s defense efforts before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He remained with TRITON, part of her battle-wise crew, until she fell to depth charges in combat with three Japanese destroyers on her sixth war patrol, March 15, 1943. TRITON and crew rest at a depth of 18,000 feet, in the Pacific, in the Caroline Basin, north of the island of New Guinea.
USS TRITON is credited with having destroyed 18 ships of the Japanese Empire and damaging six others before her loss.6 TRITON is also credited as being the first United States submarine to sink a Japanese ship by deck gun in World War II; Lloyd McKenzie was first loader of that deck gun crew. According to a living surviving TRITON shipmate who was not assigned to TRITON’s final war patrol, Lloyd McKenzie was promoted to Chief Torpedoman, and thrown into the Brisbane River as part of his initiation to TMC, two days before the departure for that fatal sixth war patrol. No official U.S. Navy record of his promotion to TMC has ever been found.
Lloyd McKenzie is one of 3617 submarine shipmates, on 52 U.S . submarines, from World War II, who remain on eternal patrol. They are in the unending line of patriots that have defended our nation with their lives so that we might live in a free country. Americans must always remember that our freedom has not been established without an extremely high cost.
Their resting places are known only co the Almighty.
1. Torpedoman. Ron Smich, USS SEAL SS 183, 1990.
2. United States Submarine Memorial and Library, Groton, Connecticut, 1995.
3. Back From the Deep, Carl LaVO, U.S. Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland, p. viii,. pps. 11-24, 1994
4 . Victory at Sea-The Submarine, The Ridge Press, Incorporated, New York, New York, p. 23, pps. 57-58, 1959.
5. Navy & Marine Corps World War II Commemorative Committee Report, Summer 1995, p. 13
6. U.S. Submarine Attacks During World War II, John D. Alden, United States Naval Institute Press, 1989.