About 30 years ago I was Executive Officer of USS PICKEREL (SS-524) operating in the Hawaiian area. We were involved in a lengthy ASW exercise as part of the U.S. ASW team, coordinating with ASW aircraft and surface ships. The opposition was three TANG-class fast attacks, masquerading as Soviet submarines for exercise purposes. Commander Hawaiian Sea Frontier (CTF 32) was the tactical commander for the exercise forces. The concept of operations called for the “U.S. subs” to get in a full battery charge during the day, then submerge about sunset and maintain a careful listening watch for enemy snorkelers. Any snorkeler during darkness was immediately classifiable as an enemy.
We were moved around from location to location during the exercise and wound up off Kauai during the final phase. One morning an Immediate message came in from COMSUBPAC directing PICKEREL to depart the exercise, make best speed to Pearl Harbor, meet our Division Commander at the sea buoy, embark him and proceed to Subic Bay in the Philippines. There was no explanation or details about the deployment.
Needless to say the message got our instant attention. The CO called a brief meeting of all officers and the Chief of the Boat, read it to us and told us to quickly ascertain whether there was anything in our storeroom ashore that we would need for the voyage. I was navigator as well as XO and I proceeded to the conning tower to lay out a track to the Pearl Harbor sea buoy. In five minutes we were on the surface, making full speed on four engines across the Kauai Channel, with everyone speculating about the orders and the radiomen scanning all the local radio stations trying to determine what had happened in the world to cause an immediate deployment of submarines. We sent a message to Commander Hawaiian Sea Frontier, info COMSUBPAC, referencing COMSUBPAC’s message and informed him that we were departing the exercise pursuant to other orders. We also sent a message to our division commander requesting that his engineer bring a number of items from our storeroom out in the boat with the division commander.
We then got a nasty message from CFT 32 telling us in no uncertain words to get back in the exercise and stop fooling around. We readdressed that to COMSUBPAC and asked him to get CTF 32 off our backs since we were “riding to the sound of the guns,” and kept on our way back to Pearl Harbor.
During all this activity I had reverted to my XO role, and was besieged with my wife .she, my dog it reasons why individual sailors should be sent ashore in the boat when we reached the sea buoy. Needless to say there was no room for that and before long all hands were speculating on a liberty call in Subic Bay. Exaggerated stories of fabled liberties in Olongapo City began to circulate. Morale, that had plummeted when the deployment order arrived, went sky high. We were going to West Pac.
Half way back to Pearl Harbor a message from COMSUBPAC came in to solve the mystery. There had been, unbeknownst to us, a high level command post exercise in progress. It extended from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, to the theater commanders and Pacific Fleet operational commanders, of which COMSUBPAC was one. All the messages connected with the command post exercise carried a special exercise heading to identify them as exercise related. Our message, that triggered us to immediate action, was one of those. Unfortunate I y, the drafter and checkers le ft off the ex ere i se identifier. It went down to the communications center and was put on the submarine broadcast in error.
We took that aboard, turned and headed back to the exercise. The CO got on the IMC circuit and explained the situation to the crew. However, I can still remember the forlorn face of one of the lookouts, as he turned to me on the bridge and said, “XO, you mean we aren’t going to get liberty in Subic?”