Sunday, March 11, 2012

Subron 8: Liberty "Cancelled"

Another in the ongoing "Subron 8 Sea Stories" series.

Dockside, New London Submarine Base. Pughead and I are returning to the ship after a gedunk run when, as we turn onto the dockside street, we notice a Shore Patrol van parked at the head of the pier which contains our ship. We are, of course, basking in the glow of present virtue, but we both have a modest aversion to the Shore Patrol on general principles, so we decide that now is not the best time to return to the ship.

Diesel boats in port are assigned a barracks, so we beat feet there and inquire if anyone knows what the SP’s are up to. Someone says that it has to do with a complaint filed by the USS John Paul Jones, and Pughead and I are no longer basking in the glow of present virtue. We also know why the barracks is so empty, and we decide to make it even more so by depriving it of our presence. Maybe it’s time to go examine the fuel storage tanks on the far reaches of the base. We might well find the rest of last night’s liberty section there.

We had been doing anti-submarine warfare exercises just off of Long Island for three days against an ASW task force, serving (obviously) as their target. That is not our favorite pastime by any means, especially since they stack the deck against us by making a rule that at the start of each attack we had to let them spot us on the surface before we pulled the cork. No submarine would do that in actual combat, of course, and this rule tended to reinforce our impression that surface sailors are weenies.

Our maximum speed submerged is six knots, and in practicality we really top out at about four knots. That’s about how fast you normally walk if you’re in any kind of a hurry, so by letting them know where to start looking for us, our normal protection of being able to “hide in the ocean depths” was pretty seriously compromised. Our impression was that without the initial peek they wouldn’t be able to find us, and we were pretty sure that they couldn’t find their own asses if you gave them mirrors mounted on sticks.

So find us they did, and on a very regular basis. Dropping real depth charges on us when they found us would have been in poor taste, of course, since we were, after all, in the same Navy and on the same side. Sort of.

So to simulate depth charges, they dropped hand grenades on us. They would wrap toilet paper around the lever that controls the grenade, pull the pin, and throw it over the side. The seawater would dissolve the toilet paper, the lever would pop, and the grenade would explode. The more turns of toilet paper they wrapped, the deeper the grenade would sink before exploding. There wasn’t any real risk of damage, because shrapnel doesn’t travel any distance underwater. But sound does, and it travels very, very well.

One destroyer in particular was outstanding at getting their effing grenades close. The sonarmen could identify individual ships, and they would tell us when John Paul Jones was making a run; their effing grenades were always close, and that ship was really pissing us off. Over the three days of the exercise, we developed an abiding hatred for that ship.

First night back in port about thirty of us were on liberty in Boston. New London is not much of a town, and other than a short 12-hour liberty, everyone goes either to Boston or New York. So we’re in a bar in Boston and a largish group of sailors comes in, having a good time, and before long we spot a ship’s name on their shoulders. USS John Paul Jones.

We did not even start by calling them names or yelling at them, we just waded in with fists flying. (Do I need to say that we may not have been entirely sober at the time?) Three days of being hand grenaded just exploded, and they never really had a chance. By the time that the police and/or Shore Patrol arrived we had vanished like a bad dream, but our ship’s name had been seen, and thus the presence of the Shore Patrol in New London the following day.

Eventually the watch schedule demands our presence back at the ship, and when we return the Shore Patrol has left. For two days there is an “atmosphere” aboard, and no one says anything about liberty, SP’s or any form of misconduct. Finally it’s midmorning and the off duty section is hanging out in the barracks when the XO walks in.

The first person to see him calls, “Attention on deck,” and he does not respond with his usual, “As you were,” but leaves us standing at attention. For a lengthy minute he simply stands, glaring at us. Then, “I know you did it,” he says, “and you know you did it, and nobody else had better find out you did it.” Without putting us at ease, he turns on his heel and leaves.

We find out later from the yeoman that the SP's had been demanding a list of the crew members who had been on liberty that night and that the XO had told them that the ship had not granted any liberty that night. We had a really good XO. That's why I'm honoring his "nobody else better find out" by waiting fifty years to tell this story.

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