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A SUBMARINE COMMANDER TELLS WHY WE ALMOST LOST THE PACIFIC WAR
December 1980 | Volume 32, Issue 1
She is doomed, if the torpedoes work right. So is the ship next astern, also in clear view. Three fish to each. Then we’ll swing hard right, so as to maintain maximum distance from that astern tin can coming up to port, and let fly with stern tubes at the third ship. Radar is now reporting ranges steadily. Bearings have been going in from the bridge target bearing transmitter, the TBT. No indication anywhere that we’ve been spotted. Open outer doors forward! In the older subs these had to be cranked open by hand. With us, in our rugged, just-built death weapon, they’re opened hydraulically, the work of an instant. Range is twelve hundred, torpedo run a thousand. Angle on the bow, starboard sixty-five. Gyros five right, increasing. Outer doors are open forward! Stand by forward! Standing by, bridge! Final TBT bearing, mark! Set, bridge! Shoot!
Three electric fish are away, running unseen in the dark water. The target is bigger than ever, looming above us. It is unbelievable that he can’t see us. He’s gone now, but he doesn’t know it yet. That is, if the fish work right. They’ll work. Quit worrying about them. Shift targets! TBT bearing, mark! Mark the radar range to the second ship! Angle on the bow, starboard sixty. Set! Range, fifteen-twenty! Gyros eight left, decreasing! Final TBT bearing and— mark! Shoot!
All torpedoes away forward, bridge! All ahead flank! Right full rudder! Six fish in the water, but nothing has happened yet. We think we can hear the machinery of our targets, the swish of water under their bows. Our own engines are roaring again. Our bow is swinging right, and we’re closer than ever to the convoy. It will take about a minute for the first torpedo to get there. What’s the astern tin can doing? He’s closer, bridge, but still no sign of speeding up— BLAM ! A flash of light, stunning! A column of white water, right amidships! BLAM ! Again! Another hit, aft. Must be the third fish; the second must have missed forward. Still a chance for it; it had been spread forward to allow for last-minute maneuvers or errors in our solution and, running on, it may hit something in the second column. Our speed has begun to pick up, and we’re approaching the stricken ship as we swing to starboard. She’s listing toward us—you can tell because her silhouette now shows the curve of her deck on the far side—clouds of smoke are pouring out of her stack. She’s badly wounded. There’s the bustle of much movement about her decks, humanity, disorganized, seeking to save itself. The ship must have been crowded with people. Almost certainly a troop transport. Well, these particular troops won’t be campaigning anywhere for a while … BLAM ! A hit in the second ship! Forward, and she goes down immediately by the bow! There should be another hit in her, at least one more—there it is, well aft! Another troop transport, and she’s done for, too! Our stern is sliding across the greedy waves, which will soon claim two more ships, lining up for the third. There has not yet been enough time for the convoy to disintegrate, or the ships to maneuver, but the third ship in the column certainly will throw his rudder one way or the other. A quick adjustment to TDC will take care of him.
Range to stern escort is closing fast! The yell from the conning tower means that the tin can on the convoy’s starboard quarter, the one from whom we expected most trouble, has speeded up, and has probably stopped station patrolling. He’s coming over to investigate and no doubt calling his crew to general quarters at the same time. We are practically dead ahead of him. A quick look: will there be time to get off the fish aft as originally planned? He is close, lean and ugly, headed straight for us. No doubt he’s seen us at last. Funny that I don’t hate him for wanting to kill me. Four thousand yards to astern escort, bridge! A fast decision; our torpedoes in the four stern tubes may be needed for a desperate defensive shot. The boys in the forward torpedo room have not had time to reload—difficult anyway with the motion of the ship on the surface. If we have to dive they’ll have to be given warning well in advance, so as not to be caught with a down angle and a two-thousand-pound torpedo in midair. What’s the ahead escort doing? Swivel around to steady the TBT on him. This is the lad we passed at high speed only a few minutes ago. While radar and the plots are hurriedly evaluating the range and bearing, we can see clearly enough what he’s doing. He’s already broadside to us, obviously turning around. Range to ahead escort, four five double oh! We think he’s closing slightly! Both of these destroyers will be on us soon. Forward torpedo room, secure the reload! Rig for depth charge! We have opened out slightly from the convoy, our rudder still at right full, our engines complaining somewhat less as our speed builds up. If there was time, now would be the moment to slow down again and shoot the four stern fish at the third ship. But he, too, has waked up, has evidently put his rudder right, and is sheering out of column toward us. Maybe he’s trying to ram; more likely he is simply trying to avoid his sinking fellows.