In March 2001, Smithsonian Magazine published an account, only recently declassified, of an underwater game of cat and mouse. The twist: the mouse didn’t know it was playing. What follows is Thomas B. Allen’s article, “Run Silent, Run Deep.”
Submarine Force Museum Home of Historic Ship Nautilus
Archive for January, 2014
On 17 June 1945, PCU [Pre-Commissioning Unit] CUBERA (SS-347) was launched at Electric Boat Company in Groton, CT. Although she joined the fleet too late to take part in World War II, she made her mark on the silver screen in Ray Harryhausen’s 1955 science-fiction film It Came from Beneath the Sea. Much of the movie was shot at San Francisco Naval Shipyard, so several real Sailors played supporting roles. But CUBERA was a central character, portraying an atomic sub (which, in reality, she was not) that tangles with a giant octopus (which, in reality, had only six arms because of budget constraints). What follows is a brief summary of the plot of the movie that made an unassuming diesel-powered sub into a Hollywood star.
About 30 minutes before sunset on 11 May 1944, USS CREVALLE (SS-291) surfaced off Negros Island in the Philippines. Her mission: to bring supplies to guerillas fighting the Japanese and pick up refugees. CREVALLE’s commanding officer, Frank Walker, remembers, “My orders stated that we would bring out twenty five passengers and no baggage,” and that the refugees would be delivered to the sub on a canoe. The second canoe, carrying sixteen more refugees, was a total surprise. “He [Colonel Abcede, the guerilla commander] said the he had done this in hopes to persuade us to carry more than the twenty-five. …Many of the second group…were women, children, and also included four American and Filipino soldiers who had survived the Bataan Death March, had made their escape and desperately needed medical treatment.” Walker could not turn them away—CREVALLE took everyone aboard. Among the refugees was American missionary Paul Lindholm and his wife and four children. Lindholm made sure his family was safe aboard the boat and then, in Walker’s words, “returned ashore at the last minute to continue his ministry among the guerillas—much to the astonishment of his wife who expected him to accompany them to safety.” The entire family would survive to be reunited at war’s end.
Over the course of her World-War-II service, USS CREVALLE (SS-291) completed seven war patrols, won five battle stars and four Navy Unit Commendations, and sank close to 52,000 tons of shipping. During her first two war patrols, CREVALLE was commanded by Lieutenant Commander H.G. Munson, a 1932 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who won two of his three Navy Crosses during his time aboard.
From the second war patrol report of USS DEVILFISH (SS-292).
As night fell on Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, on 24 January 1942, USS S-26 (SS-131) set out for a war patrol in the company of three other submarines—USS S-21 (SS-126), USS S-29 (SS-134), and USS S-44 (SS-155). A sub chaser, USS STURDY (PC-460), was assigned to escort them out of the harbor. In order to avoid the watchful eyes of any passing enemy vessels, the convoy sailed without lights.
The hours just after midnight on the morning of 14 April 1945 found USS TIRANTE (SS-420), commanded by Lieutenant Commander George Street, in the waters off the northwestern coast of Quelpart (also known as Cheju) Island in the East China Sea. A short while before, Street had received an intelligence report alerting him to the presence of a Japanese transport ship in the island’s main port; he took TIRANTE in, on the surface, to have a look. To avoid detection, TIRANTE hugged the coast, working her way through mine- and shoal-infested waters that were often less than ten fathoms (60 feet) deep. By 0340, Street had grown tired of simply looking—“decided to get in closer and have this over with,” he wrote in his patrol report—but he was aware that the situation was not ideal. At least one patrol boat had grown suspicious and was pinging for targets, although clutter from the land behind her kept TIRANTE from being detected. “Land loomed close aboard on both sides,” Street noted. “Since it is too shallow to dive, we will have to shoot our way out if boxed in.”
Commissioned on 4 April 1923, USS S-36 (SS-141) spent most of the first eighteen years of her life operating on what was referred to as the “Asiatic Station,” wintering in the Philippines and spending the summer and fall in Chinese waters. The latter cruises grew shorter as the threat of war increased; the boat conducted her last Chinese patrol in the summer of 1940 and then stuck to the Philippines until the situation began to spiral out of control. “Some thirty minutes before the high noon of 2 December 1941, a dispatch was received on board S-36 directing her commanding officer to report on board the flagship,” a history of the boat recalls. S-36 had begun an overhaul period the day before, but it soon became clear that it could not continue. After the C.O., Lieutenant John R. McKnight, Jr., received “verbal orders” to “carry out a secret mission,” the crew scrambled to get their sub ready to go to sea. “All machinery was in commission by 2000 and torpedomen toiled for thirteen hours without rest in making preliminary adjustments and loading torpedoes.” By 0100 the following morning, S-36 had slipped away. Her mission: conceal herself in Cape Bolinao Harbor on the Philippine island of Luzon in order “to deal with any hostile force which might enter Lingayen Gulf for a surprise landing on Philippine shores.” She remained “on ceaseless vigil” until the morning of 7 December when she “received a plain language dispatch that Japan had started hostilities.”
Fifty-nine years ago today, USS NAUTILUS (SSN-571) became the first submarine to get “underway on nuclear power.” On the fiftieth anniversary of the event, Wilkinson gave a speech in which he described the lead-up to the transmission of those now-famous words.
Lawson Paterson Ramage, nicknamed “Red” because of the color of his hair, was born in Monroe Bridge, Massachusetts, on 19 January 1909. He attended the Naval Academy, where he injured his right eye in a wrestling match. Nevertheless, he was commissioned as an ensign shortly after he graduated in 1931 and served four years aboard surface ships. He requested a transfer to the submarine fleet but was denied because of his eye injury. Ramage would not be deterred. “I took the opportunity to memorize the eye chart,” he recalled later, “so that when I returned [to retake the vision test] I had no problem reading off the eye chart.” The next time he took the test he “just exchang[ed] the card before my right eye and [read] with my left eye in both instances.” Apparently the examiner did not notice. He passed.