Thank you, Admiral Reynolds, for that kind introduction. It’s something that doesn’t happen often these days-so I’ll relish it while I can.
Congressman Bartlett, Admiral Bowman, distinguished guests, fellow submariners active and retired, enlisted and officer, Naval Submarine League supporters, and ladies:
The Naval Submarine League, just like every ship, has its plank owners, and I am one of them. I clearly recall meeting in the old sail loft in the gun factory in 1982 with about 100 young retired submariners. We, with considerable dialogue, established the league. I took the floor to offer a name that was unlike “The Navy League but my distinguished classmate Vice Admiral Phil Beshany won the day, and so was born the Naval Submarine League.
I have attended all but one of these symposium and had the honor of speaking at the 1OOth anniversary. My topic that day was A Ce111ury of U.S. Navy Submarines for which I was allotted 30 minutes. Later that year I was asked to write the chapter on World War II operations for the big blue cocktail table book United States Submarines. There I was constrained to 5000 words. Tonight I am representing The Submarine Family without any constraints. Never fear, however, I shall mind the clock.
By my unscientific count, there were 465 submariner commanding officers in World War II. A recent, perhaps less scientific tally, reveals that there are but 36 of us left-primarily from Naval Academy classes 1930 through 1939, and perhaps one or two of the reserves. So I thought that, before it is truly too late, you would enjoy hearing what it was like as I was growing up in the Force.
I was in the first Submarine School class in July 1940 that was shortened from six to three months, and included reserve officers We learned on diving trainers that were crude mechanical gadgets, practiced making approaches on an attack teacher in which the staff moved small ship models on an upper deck by hand, made escapes in the long gone l 00-foot diving tower, and went to sea in R-boats, relics from World War I. Yet, we prospered and I qualified in September 1941. (Viewing the new training devices at the Submarine school a couple of weeks ago can only be called a revelation).
Little did I know that my reporting to DRUM on what then was Armistice day 1941, three weeks prior to Pearl Harbor Day, would shape my entire career, and that I would never forget my experience in her.
Today a frequently asked question is “Where were you on 9-11 ?” In my generation, the question was “Where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked?
My wife and I were at the town dump in Kittery, Maine on that fateful Sunday morning when she heard the radio reports of the Japanese attack. DRUM’s 3″/50 caliber gun became the air defense of the Portsmouth Naval shipyard. Which expected German bombers overhead any moment. I spent the next four days with my torpedo gang readying DRUM’s MK XIV torpedoes as war shots and installing the secret but unpredictable exploder MK VI, an evolution never experienced by any of us. My wife’s primary concern was that I was gone all that time without a change of skivvies.
Three months later DRUM reached Pearl Harbor, the first new construction ship of any kind to arrive after the attack, to mourn the many sunken ships and black oil everywhere. We were eager and ready to do battle with the enemy, but preparations for our first war patrol were interrupted by orders from COMINCH (in Washington) directing us to remove our torpedo reloads and load to capacity medical supplies and vitamin pills for the beleaguered Garrison at Corregidor. At Midway we were to join SS THOMAS JEFFERSON, an elderly merchantman, carrying ammunition, for the long voyage to Manila. Sadly, as task group 7.5.1 prepared to depart Midway, Corregidor fell and the Bataan death march followed. Our mission was cancelled and we returned to Pearl for our torpedoes.
Then, just prior to getting underway for that first patrol, we were ordered to remove our lifelines and stanchions because returning boats reported that Japanese Sampans were using grapnels to attempt to catch a submarine. After transiting 3,800 miles to the Japanese empire, DRUM experienced a memorable first night in the area south of Toyko. Then we made our maiden night surface attack, without radar, resulting in the destruction of MIZUHO, a 9,000 ton seaplane tender, the largest ship sunk to that point in the war. But it was not easy. Several of our torpedoes failed to explode on point blank shots at a stopped escort (but more about that later). Close depth charges, in which the click of the exploder could clearly be heard before the main explosion, plagued us for 22 hours to the point that our battery approached exhaustion. Lieutenant Commander Bob Rice, our stellar commanding officer, bemoaned the possible loss of this new ship before it had exacted its full pound of flesh. Fortunately, we escaped to fight for more than three long years. And the ships cooks celebrated with midnight ham and eggs for all hands, but no brandy.
We did not realize until we returned to Pearl Harbor that we had been the subject of a radio broadcast to the allied troops by the infamous To/..yo Rose. A few hours before our attack on the MIZUHO, we had been forced down by a small plane overhead. Our skipper had decided to sleep on the bridge in area to ensure his being night adapted and available in an emergency. Unfortunately, the mattress on his bunk behind the bridge floated off when we dove-and it was clearly stenciled USS DRUM, that was the basis for Tokyo Rose’s report and that was the skipper’s last nap on the bridge.
I remember receiving messages with an ultra heading because they contained information from decoded Japanese traffic which led to the sinking of more than one ship.
That lets me tell one of my favorite sea stories. When I decrypted the first of those messages, I donned a yellow aloha shirt after which DRUM sank the advertised ship. On our next patrol, after refit at Pearl Harbor, a similar scenario unfolded except that on this attack every crew member donned his yellow Aloha shirt. That convinced me that leadership by example was the way to go. I used this story more than once when I was Officer in Charge of the Submarine School. Thus, it did not surprise me that even though the uniform for my farewell party was Coat and Tie, all hands were in yellow Aloha shirts-and they had one for me and my father.
Talking just once more about the unreliable MK XN torpedo to an audience with experience in firing Tomahawk missiles which can be programmed to enter the left hand second floor window of the target at 500 miles, may seem incongruous. But, as author Clay Blair wrote in 1975, “Inadequate torpedoes lengthened the war by at least a year. I think I am qualified to talk on this subject because I fired 125 torpedoes as torpedo data computer operator or Commanding Officer. DRUM was on the firing line before anyone knew we had a problem, and was still there when it was finally corrected. However, in that sad 18 months, we experienced premature explosions when the torpedo armed at about 300 yards; torpedoes which broached and were sighted; torpedoes which actually bounced off a target, broke in half and sank without exploding; and unnumerable torpedoes which ran so deep that the magnetic trigger in the exploder failed to perform.
In spite of that litany of failure, one incident south of the Japanese Empire in October 1942 is worthy of some detail. This was an attack upon a medium unescorted merchantman, close in shore, where one of the two torpedoes fired at about 1,200 yards prematured, causing the target to turn away from the explosion. This gave DRUM a chance for an up-the-kilt shot of one more torpedo which blew off the target’s stern at 3,000 yards.
I remember, too, during the time we spent operating out of Brisbane, Australia, in 1943 learning that our submarine losses were mounting, especially in the southwest Pacific. This brought home clearly that submarining was a dangerous business. It meant that every officer and man had to perform at the highest level if we were to survive but I saw no lessening of the fighting morale in DRUM, and survive we did; and here I am 60 years later, the last surviving officer in the commissioning wardroom, and her last surviving wartime skipper.
Of DRUM’s original five officers, the third, Lieutenant Commander Manning Kimmel, the Admiral’s eldest son, and the fifth officer, Lieutenant Commander John Harper, were later lost in ROBALO and SHARK II, respectively. I was number four, and fortunate, I guess, that I remained in DRUM. They, along with the 3,613 other submarine heroes, including 11 of my classmates, are memorialized on the Groton monument before which Sylvia and I paid our respects a month ago.
My part at sea in the Cold War was brief but significant. In January 1949, the Chief of Naval Operations decreed that the primary mission of the Submarine Force would shift to antisubmarine warfare-submarine versus submarine. He directed both fleet commanders to assign one division primary responsibility in the development of tactics against another submarine. In that letter, he mentioned that Submarine Squadron Six in Panama had already reported progress. I had command of SEACAT there from 194 7 until late 1949. We learned that making approaches on a submerged submarine was a real challenge considering the rudimentary sonar equipment, the inability to communicate effectively and securely submerged, and marginally capable torpedoes in our inventory. CINCLANTFLEET responded to the CNO by establishing Submarine Development Group Two in New London. After 50 years, that command has evolved into Submarine Development Squadron Twelve which has developed and sea-tested tactics not only in ASW but in every aspect of individual and joint submarine operations.
Many of you fought the Cold War against the Soviet Union, an enemy which would not admit that it could be outgunned by the United States in the quality of the nuclear submarines and missiles that it put to sea. You spent months at sea watching what the Soviets were doing in their bastion close to their homeland, and trailing them for days, even weeks, as they roamed the deep oceans. In spite of many serious incidents, never was a weapon fired in anger. By 1990, when the Berlin wall fell, that era had also passed and we realized that a blue water war was never to be repeated. But, in 1991, the Submarine Force became an instant offensive star by firing the first of many Tomahawk missiles into Iraq, where results are measured in hours rather than timed by a stopwatch. That stellar performance has continued as submarines contribute mightily to the war against terror.
Now, we welcome VIRGINIA and her sisters into the Force, they are designed to fight in the shallow littoral areas of the world, they are quieter, easily reconfigurable to alternative missions, more technically sophisticated, and more automated than any of their predecessors. They will confront and defeat the new quiet diesels in the order of battle of too many countries. They will benefit from the collection efforts of JIMMY CARTER, launched within a week, unique amongst a long line of superb undersea craft.
But wait! The story is not complete without full recognition of what our loved ones at home have done in our behalf and in support of a grateful nation. In World War II, my wife waited about sixty days no fewer than 10 times for a packet of letters carefully sequenced. They were delivered by a postman who rang her doorbell, usually in his second delivery of the day. She has often told of the support the Armed Forces got from an entire nation; and how her male friends in New London would apologize for not being at sea by describing a physical disability which had them working at the Electric Boat company on the midnight shift.
During the Cold War and on to the present day, our submarine wives still man the home front with their children under conditions different from the dangers of World War II, but no less stressful. Yes, they now have email and I am sure even the five-year olds get on the computer regularly. Unlike World War II when there was no command support for the families, the Submarine Force today looks out for its own. I salute every submarine family here tonight and around the world. Bravo Zulu/Well/ Done.