The setting for this story is aboard USS CAIMAN (SS 323) operating off a foreign coast on a “mission of great importance to the government of the United States” in the winter of 1958. Commander Jack Hawkins, CO, at the conn, was conducting surveillance ops at periscope depth with about 60 feet under the keel. An ASW training exercise is in progress with several ODs and one diesel sub target.
CAIMAN, operating with the Fire Control Tracking party, was making visual observations and correlating sonar information to maintain the picture of fast moving ODs at ranges of less than 4000 yards. Tension ran high in the Conning Tower, but Captain Hawkins displaying a calm demeanor and a confident manner, conned the ship with great tactical skill. #2 Attack Scope which broke the surface at keel depth of 64 feet, was being used for a round of observations for the tracking team, when one of the targets turned toward us and the Captain ordered, “Down scope”. The scope dipped promptly as the FC party began to hear screw noises through the hull. Sonar reported that a high bearing rate DD was passing down the starboard side at a range of 1000 yards.
We all were acutely aware that going deep was not an evasive option in our situation. No one said a word, but all of us showed our concern by the wide-eyed expressions on our faces, which clearly indicated that this was a hairy spot to be in. In the mean-time, the Hawk had positioned himself in front of# 1 periscope, and ordered ”up scope”. The tracking party returned to reality and readied for a round of bearings and observations. The Captain placed his eye to the scope as it rose from the well, then immediately ordered, “down scope”, with not a word about target bearing or angle on the bow. Puzzlement was added to the tension permeating the Conning Tower.
The Captain, his face showing deep concern and surprise, announced, “Men, they are closer than I thought! It seems they have put a bag over the periscope!” Suddenly, the Diving Officer shout-ed up that his depth was 64 feet, and we all realized that #I scope which the Captain had inadvertently used was at least two feet underwater when he made the observation. Laughter replaced fear and tension in an instant. The Captain had made a mistake and rather than kick butt and blame others, had instead turned the error into a humorous situation. The tracking party, now relaxed and focused was ready to roll when Captain Hawkins ordered, “Raise #2 periscope.”