During 1957 I served in USS CAIMAN (SS 323) with Lieutenant Commander Jack Hawkins as CO. Jack was a wonderful man to work for if you didn’t mind being held to very high professional standards. We had a very good boat, and as I recall we won the E that year. However, Jack became concerned about the fire control party’s lack of precision at the firing point. So we retired to the conning tower one afternoon during the final week of upkeep before a week of type training and we practiced and practiced and practiced. We responded to a dummy target introduced from sonar, solved for target motion and honed our skills at the firing point procedures. “Set, Shoot, Fire!” rang out time after time as we simulated firing torpedoes. This seemed to go on for hours. Jack never yelled at us but he was adept at Chinese water torture methods and he never let up for a minute. ‘Set, Shoot, Fire!” again and again, ad nauseam. Finally we quit, having honed ourselves to a very fine edge, with Jack confident that he had the best firing point fire control team in the Pacific Submarine Force.
On Monday we went to sea and started an approach on the target. I was fire control coordinator and Ray Heimbach, our XO, was assistant approach officer. John Shilling manned the TDC and Joe Smith was ATDC officer. We did a nice job of target motion analysis as I recall and were getting close to the point where we could fire a Mk 14-5 steam torpedo with a high hit probability. Ray checked on all the details: torpedo ready, tube flooded, and muzzle door open, as the range closed.
Then he made a fatal mistake. He turned to John Shilling at the TDC and asked John “Are you set?” Immediately Joe Smith, having heard the magic word “Set” and having already computed the spread, yelled “Shoot”, the fire control man on the firing key hit the button and yelled “Fire” and away went the exercise torpedo with poor Ray yelling “Noooooo” and trying to pull it back into tube with body English.
I can still remember Jack Hawkins’ look of disgust at his highly trained and finely tuned fire control party as the torpedo went out and missed the target.
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