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New - 21 April 2006


Paint Out the Numbers

Chapter Three



Dark clouds drifted overhead, keeping the sun hidden behind their curtain. The dark waves lapped against the black tank tops of the submarine as the world seemed to mourn our imminent departure from the safe harbor of Yokosuka. Certainly there was no great cause of celebration; Number three engine was still questionable; the leading engineman in a lover's agony over his ailing mistress. The LORAN also remained out of commission, a situation which yielded for me a continual growling from the Captain.

In some respects I could agree with my Commanding Officer's viewpoint that the electronics gear had to be maintained in top shape. But since his insistence of not allowing expert help from the squadron was inexcusable, I had long since reached my limit of Captain Brawner.

Perhaps the most difficult load I had to bear was the reaction of my Electronics Technicians to their cancelled liberty. For this alone I could develop an undying hatred for my Captain. Perhaps it was this that scared me. Hate (like love) can never be singular or directional. It cannot be aimed at a particular target. Once it establishes itself, it touches everyone and everything within range. An all encompassing hate for a single individual is like dueling with tear gas; the hate fills the space, afflicting everyone.

On a submarine this is deadly, for there are no places to go where the winds of the world can dilute the effects. The stench remains. And with it, the threat of disorder.

The Gildafish is an old boat, over 21 years old. It was built during World War II and only a concentrated effort to keep it up to date had even kept it operational. But it was old and, despite countless modifications, it had a lot of worn and weary parts. Any of the parts could give way and anything but an immediate and proper response could cost men's lives. What I didn't know was whether the crew's reaction to this "poison gas” would affect their response or the quickness of their actions.

"Good morning, Mr. Marks."

I jerked around from reverie, to see Ford swinging up to the bridge. Hanging about his neck and across his shoulders like bandoliers were three pair of binoculars. In his shirt several charts protruded.

"Morning Ford.”

"Three pair of binoculars, your harbor and entrance channel charts, the Getting Underway check off sheet, are all right here. The searchlight has been tested and works satisfactorily. Periscopes have been raised, tested, boots removed, working okay. Lansing is on the second level below you with the Quartermaster's log. We're ready to get underway with the exception that Lieutenant Lawrence, our renowned Navigator, is not yet in the Conn.” He then handed the binoculars to the lookouts and myself and put the charts by the bridge phone.

"Thank you , Ford."

"Yes sir. Permission to lay below.”

"Lay below.”

I watched him turn and hop sprightly to the ladder. He at least showed no signs of being unhappy. Carefree, unconcerned, Ford had maintained his usual countenance throughout it all. I think that his ability to dismiss other people's inhumanity to him gave him an effective shield to their unhappiness.

“Mr. Marks. I have a pier bearing two seven zero degrees, close aboard.”

“Yes Rudinak, I know. We're still tied up to it.”

“Oh, yes. So we are.” The sarcastic look of surprise on my leading ET's face didn't really take my mind off my problems, but it helped. I suppose it was Rudinak's major contribution to the boat's morale. He could get laughs during almost any crisis.

“Rudinak, why did they ever put you as a bridge lookout for Maneuvering Watch?"

“Well, don't tell anybody, but Peterson is supposed to be here. Only he didn't quit trying on the LORAN ‘til six this morning. Thought I'd let him sleep. Okay with you?”

“Yeah, it's okay. I just hope you can hack it.”

"Oh yes sir. I've got eyes like an eagle. And speaking of contacts, I note that there's a large brown canvas covering something on the bow."

"Well, it's certainly good that you noticed it. I'm sure it would be difficult for the untrained eye to spot.” He laughed slightly.

The bow did, of course, have the canvas, but it was bigger than I had originally thought it was going to be. It was an ungamely, bulky, square shaped structure with heavy brown canvas lashed around it. There was an obvious release mechanism on the deck for removing the canvas once we were at sea and out of sight of land.

But the whole thing looked just a little ridiculous. All the secrecy and cloak and dagger action had done little more than call attention to us. I frankly suspected that a Russian trawler would be lying off the coast waiting to escort us wherever we decided to go.

Then the thought of getting underway reminded me to get back to my job. Turning to the bridge intercom, I ordered, "Maneuvering, Bridge. Warm up three main engines; Secure with shut down air."

Why the Flotilla had picked a three engine boat for an important mission was beyond me. In case one of them went out, our best speed would drop from 15 or 16 knots to 12, on the surface. It wouldn't make any difference submerged since we can't snorkel with more than two diesel engines on the line at a time anyway; but the necessity of keeping on a schedule for this particular patrol raised doubts in my mind. With four engines there would be no problem. Ultimately, I had to assume that none were available.

Certainly it was easier to understand why they couldn't use a nuclear submarine. All that was needed was for the mission to take us into shallow and uncertain waters, where the single screw (propeller) of a teardrop shaped Nuke would make it too risky. With our second screw, we could always beat a hasty and discrete retreat. But with one of three engines acting sick it seemed overly risky.

But then again maybe we were considered more expendable than a shiny new nuclear attack class submarine.

Of course, the Flotilla didn't know about our ailing third engine, so they couldn't be blamed entirely. The Captain wouldn't allow the Engineer to mention it and take a chance of losing the mission. So now we would go to sea with potential trouble; and the Commanding Officer constantly bugging the Engineer to keep three engines on the line.

Number one engine lit off first. It was the only engine in the Forward Engine Room and generally took less time to light off, since the engineman back aft would prepare three and four to light off roughly together. As usual it roared to life with a thick, dense, black cloud of smoke which momentarily covered a portion of the after deck. The wind took the smoke and pushed the cloud across the deck and into the pier where line handlers moved to avoid it. Then as if its power had been spent, the smoke cleared with only a light haze emanating from the exhaust. Cooling water began pouring out the exhaust pipe with it, signifying to the bridge that everything was just dunky in forward engine land.

The sound of one of the diesel engines lighting off has always been particularly pleasing to me. Whether its success at just starting was the thrill or not, I don't know. But the high pressure air first forcing the crankshaft to turn over and then build speed, the fuel racks crashing in, and then the roaring crescendo as the rpm's mounted... This combination always had the effect of music on me. It was a feeling of sheer power emanating from the exhaust as the crankshaft's rpm's dampened into the governor's control. The roar of the exhaust sounded to me like a minor deity clearing his throat before he commenced his train of oration.

Someone once suggested that I associate the sound with surfacing and starting for port. Certainly it is a confident and familiar sound to me. But then I heard number three engine start to light off and then shut down. It had started like one, only with less smoke; then the rpm's wavered, never reaching the other's pinnacle. Apparently the doubt in the first stages had caused the Engineman to kick out the fuel racks and shut it down.

"Tell me, Mr. Marks," Rudinak had watched the happening and then turned to me, "did they keep all the enginemen aboard until they fixed number three engine?"

"Don't be bitter, Rudinak. They just haven't admitted that there's anything wrong with it yet."

"All I know is that the LORAN is still out and I haven't seen the world like the Navy promised me."

"The LORAN will probably be a very important piece of gear on this trip."

"So why couldn't we get technical help from the Flotilla?”

“Just keep on it, Rudinak. Bitching isn't going to help any."

"Who's bitching? Not me, l'd never bitch aboard this, my home away from home."

I heard the roar of a starting engine again and looked back to see the exhaust of number three as she came on the line properly. It sounded as good as new.

"Fix the LORAN, Rudinak.” After a pause he made a short comment, but the roar of number four engine lighting off drowned him out. When I turned to look at him, he had his usual cynical grin.

"Yeah, fix the LORAN, Rudinak," another voice said. I turned back to see; it was a Fireman by the name of Braels. He was striking for Interior Communicationsman and was wearing a set of headphones now.

Rudinak got the first word in,. "Back in your hole, snipe."

"You my phone talker, Braels?" I asked.

"Yes sir. Everybody's on the line except the after capstan."

"Tell the forward capstan to make the anchor ready for letting go. And tell them to be careful of the bow mount when handling lines."

Braels was relaying the order when Rudinak commented to his fellow lookout, "It's funny how we always make the anchor ready for letting go and then never drop it."

"Safety precautions, Rudinak."

"Yes sir, I know it's supposed to be. But do you think we'd ever have time to use it?"

The engines shut down simultaneously with shut down air, and with the outboard exhausts automatically shutting with a loud bang, I chose to ignore Rudinak's question. It's hard to explain traditional safety precautions which almost certainly would never be used. I was not completely in accord with the Navy's policy that decreed that all precautions would be taken to avert the most improbable incident, no matter the complexity or the time and effort expended in the process. Consequently I had no desire to defend a rule with which I could never agree.

"Bridge, Maneuvering. Three main engines warmed up. Secured with shut down air."

"Bridge, aye, Maneuvering. Control, Bridge, test the main induction."

Now some of the tests on getting underway I did agree with. Testing the engines' shut down air helped to insure that all engines would shut down quickly and obediently when we dove the submarine. Since the main induction would be closed, the engine's famished hunger for air would have pulled on the atmosphere of the boat's interior. Thus the boat's pressure would fast approach a vacuum; a rather unpleasant experience. I know, because l had pulled a seven inch vacuum once before, when I lost depth control while snorkeling.

And, of course, a faulty closing of the main induction valve would mean a 36" diameter hole in the submarine for water to enter upon submergence. There were many good reasons for some of the tests and safety precautions.

I heard the main induction slam shut by hydraulic power and then open again. After the third time, control reported, "Main induction cycled three times, left in the open position, tests satisfactorily. All compartments report ready to get underway. LORAN is out of commission. Sounding is 25 feet beneath the keel."

"Bridge aye, Control. Notify the Executive Officer."

After I had told Maneuvering to answer bells on two engines and test shafts, I looked up and saw Jim Milikan, our Supply and Commissary Officer, coming toward the gangway with two large boxes under his arms. Behind him trudged his less than competent Storekeeper with three large boxes; rank does indeed have its privileges.

Sea stores. I thought. Here they come with dozens of cartons of cheap (at $1 per carton) sea store cigarettes and I don't smoke. Somehow I had always felt that I had been cheated out of this fringe benefit and should have been reimbursed in some sort of equitable basis. No one ever agreed with me. Of course Jim didn't smoke either, but he never seemed to complain. As he and his Storekeeper carried the boxes one at a time over the gangway, I hoped he'd be the last and the gangway could be pulled in. I was ready to go to sea and a moment's delay might change my mind.

“Do the ETs get their sea store cigarettes since the LORAN is still out of commission?”

“Of course not, Rudinak. What do you think this place is… a giveaway show?”

Rudinak grumped as I watched Jim and the SK pass the cigarettes down the Forward Torpedo Room hatch, with all the eyes in sight carefully watching the operation, lest a carton get loose. They would store them in the officer's shower, which could be locked, until we were out beyond the three mile limit.

“Bridge, Maneuvering. Shafts tested satisfactorily. Answering bells, two engines.”

I had hardly noticed the engines lighting off, but now I noticed that they were using number one and number four instead of the normal practice of answering bells on three and four. The cowards obviously weren't going to trust number three while still under the eyes of the Flotilla Commander.

Incidentally, did I mention that we don't have a number two engine? It was removed on one of the earlier modifications. Just in case you were wondering.

“Bridge, Conn. Captain's in the Conn.”

Time to get moving. To the phone talker, "Single one to the capstan, single four.” Then leaning over the edge of the bridge I shouted to the men on deck, “Single two, single three.” When I turned back forward, I saw Bill directing the operation of converting the three lines connecting each line to the pier, leaving only one remaining for a quick cast off. He was giving innumerable orders and discussing exactly how the job was to be done.

I recognized the man running the capstan. Since he knew exactly what he was doing and always maintained his tact with officers, I didn't worry about Bill. I don't think Bill realized that they were not really listening to his orders, for he seemed pleased enough. Certainly they bore him no ill will.

As I watched, the Executive Officer came topside through the Forward Torpedo Room hatch. He glanced back at Bill, turned and said a quick prayer to the sky gods, and went toward the gangway where his yeoman awaited him. He took a quick look at the yeoman's sailing list, then looked up at me and gave me a thumb's up signal. I acknowledged as the yeoman dashed across to deliver the list to a Lieutenant on the pier and then come back aboard.

The Lieutenant was the sole Flotilla representative sent to see us off. I think he was here only because he had the Staff Duty Officer watch. Big heart, that Flotilla. Of course, they might have been downplaying the importance of our departure for security reasons. But who knows? Oh, what a tangled web we weave…

With our yeoman back on board, I ordered the gangway brought aboard.

"Mr. Communicator, I notice that the LORAN is still out of commission."

I jerked around to see the Commanding Officer straightening back up, as he stepped off the ladder (one has to duck to avoid hitting one's head as one comes up the ladder to the bridge). He had this very perturbed but official look on his face. Then, as if scolding a child, "That's not good, not good at all."

I managed to hold myself to a simple yes sir. Then he turned to jump up on the top of the sail, just aft of the bridge itself. This was a common practice of Commanding Officers, since it gave them an excellent vantage point from which to watch the entire submarine. The disadvantage was a lack of extra communications from that point, but this he would never need unless he was forced to relieve the Officer of the Deck (me) in an extreme emergency.

But today as he turned, he saw Rudinak, coldly staring back at him. I detected what might have been a sudden fright on the Captain's part. He certainly hadn't expected to meet head on with the one man he had been indirectly criticizing for the LORAN's malfunctioning.

Actually the fact that Rudinak was an enlisted man was in his favor and had more effect on modifying the Captain's sternness than had it been me. I had sensed that the Captain was a little more unsure of himself with an enlisted man than with an officer. This is not uncommon; I suspect I'm the same way.

As a Lieutenant Commander the Captain had had most of the jobs I presently had and was familiar by his own experience with what my responsibilities and capabilities were supposed to be. But an enlisted man he'd never been, and he had no real feel of when an enlisted man was doing his job. Certain qualities and standards are automatically expected from an officer. This limited the range of expectations of the individual.

However, with an enlisted man you can have everything from an idiot to a college graduate. There is no limitation to what he can or cannot do and so it becomes more difficult to demand from an enlisted man. At least, make intelligent demands.

The Captain consequently avoided Rudinak's stare and, getting atop the sail, tried to vindicate himself. “If it's necessary that we work night and day, we will!” I could see Rudinak mouthing the word, 'We'? The Captain wasn't watching him. “The LORAN is of the utmost importance on this patrol."

Then suddenly he went on the offensive, "Rudinak. What are you doing up here? Why aren't you down below working on the LORAN?"

His answer was beautiful if not exactly subtle. "Racks is much more experienced on the LORAN than I am, so I took his place as the maneuvering watch lookout. Experience and technical ability are very important when trying to fix a piece of electronic gear. One should always put the best qualified men available on the job."

I think it was the emphasis on the word, available, that made me turn away to avoid the Captain's stare. But he ignored it all with a moment of silence.

Then, "Let's go Mr. Officer of the Deck. I'd like to get backed out before nightfall."

Dropping into an automatic response I said, "Yes sir." To the phone talker, "Slack four. Heave around on one." The boat moved slowly around the curved belly of the ballast tank tops, the bow swinging in and the stern drifting out. When I felt the screws back aft were well clear of the pier, I ordered, "Take in four; take in three; take in one." Number two line remained on. It was a spring line and extended from just forward of the sail, back to a cleat twenty yards aft. This was a safety feature in case of a wrong bell and we moved forward instead of backing down as expected. When all the other lines were aboard, I backed at one third speed. As soon as we had sternway, I ordered, "Take in two", and went to all back two thirds and right full rudder.

We slid out of the berth, the bow maintaining a steady distance of about two feet from the pier, the engines bellowed smoke when the load was placed on them, but it quickly cleared.

Once the bow was clear of the pier, I went ahead on my starboard screw. As it began killing our sternway, we twisted; the bow swinging past the pier and beyond, seeking the harbor entrance. The ahead screw was at full, so that it soon overcame the sternway. Since the bow was almost around, I went to all ahead two thirds and from then on relied on my rudder for course changes.

I had used very few bells or changes in engine direction and/or speed, and felt a bit of pride in the fact. It is an indication of good ship handling when one uses the smaller numbers of bells; it indicates you're giving just the right orders at just the right time. Of course, not colliding with another ship or making kindling wood out of the pier are important signs too.

I was about to smile at my accomplishment, as the boat began cruising easily out of the channel, when the Captain jumped down to the bridge deck and muttered, "One thing about Yokosuka, it's designed for easy underways."

I angered, blushed, and glared incredulously at the Captain in quick succession. I heard Rudinak with a stifled guffawing, but the Captain was observing the men still on deck and missed both our unspoken comments. I turned back to watch the bow slicing the incoming waves aside, while my mind reacted to the comment.

I could not fathom the reasoning behind it, the purpose, nor the mind that had framed and voiced it. I leaned against the bridge railing, watching forward. As I observed Bill and a Chief checking the forward hatch, Ed Wales came up from aft where he had already checked everything on the deck behind the sail. He then told Bill the fact that his portion was now rigged for dive, all the time using elaborate gestures to get the point across.

Ed wasn't Italian but rather wanted to ensure his Commanding Officer saw him in this responsible and considerate light. Coming back aft to the sail, he entered the hatchway and went down the conning tower hatch, the latter hatchway being the only one that could be opened without the Commanding Officer's express approval. We were now Rigged for Dive.

This "Rigged for Dive" condition specified the open or shut condition of all valves, hatches, etc. There could be no changes without a direct order from the Commanding Officer. This was the essential feature in maintaining the absolute watertight integrity of the ship so that we could submerge at a moment's notice.

Bill had fallen back in line with his anchor detail. He seemed very poised and sure of himself. And proud. Then I noticed that he was getting a little spray as the sea became progressively choppier. The man in the hole where the anchor mechanism was had already climbed out and was now sitting at its edge, ready to jump back down if need be. The area below the deck was free flooding, and he had apparently got his fill of salt water.

"Shall I secure the anchor detail, sir? They're getting quite a bit of spray, and I don't think we're going to be needing it now."

"Not yet, Mr. Marks. Our Ensign needs a bit of salt on his gold braid yet.”

Within a few moments the soundings had dropped off to where an anchor would be almost useless. The Captain gave the order and it was passed down to secure the anchor detail. The man sitting on the edge of the hole was quickly down inside to secure it. Then he was back up and the entire detail came back to the sail. As they entered the sail door, I secured the Maneuvering Watch (the Special Sea and Anchor Detail on surface ships), and set the regular underway watch. I had the remaining engine, number three, lit off. It put out its usual quota of smoke, but soon settled down to running properly.

We were now at all ahead standard on two engines (with the third still warming up), when Bill called up from the conning tower hatch through the voice tube to report the anchor's securing. He was only halfway through when the Captain interrupted him.

"Mr. Balence. If it's not too much trouble, you can make your report on the bridge."

The Assistant Engineer said, "Yes sir" and began climbing the first of the two ladders leading to the bridge.

I avoided the Captain's eyes, since I was sure he would be giving me his secretive, winking nod. When he harassed the Ensign, he liked to think of himself as doing it for all the officers. He was Comrade Leader, just one of the boys, but also, lest someone forget, the supreme boss.

Bill arrived and gave his report of topside rigged for dive and the anchor secured to his Captain, who fought vainly to stifle a fake yawn. The Captain had so many ways to put a man in his place. I don't think it entirely worked on Bill, as he seemed to miss the point and laid below after giving me a smile.

"Bridge, Maneuvering. Answering bells, three engines."

I took the report, only to have the Captain order all ahead full. For a moment, I turned to look at him questioningly.

He explained, "We're in a hurry, Mr. Marks."

"Yes sir.” I quickly complied with the appropriate orders.

"Bridge, Navigator. Recommend course one eight zero to clear the mainland.”

"Go ahead, Mr. Marks, and change course. I'm going below for some hot coffee. Let me know when you change course back to the east."

“Aye, aye, sir.”

It was a small course change and I let the helmsman make it on his own, rather than give a specific rudder order. When I had finished, a seaman requested permission to come to the bridge.

This latter request is mandatory at sea, since it allows the Officer of the Deck to always know exactly who's topside in case the submarine has to dive suddenly. The officer also gives permission to return below. It applies to everyone aboard except possibly the Captain. But he normally announces his presence instead of requesting permission to come up to the bridge.

I gave permission to the seaman and he came up. He quickly relieved Rudinak as my port lookout.

"Rudinak. When you lay below, how about fixing the LORAN?"

"Yes sir, Mr. Marks. And you keep working on your underways. You'll get a good one, yet."

"Lay below, Rudinak."

"Aye, aye, sir."


Chapter Two -- The Secret Mission

Forward to:

Chapter Four -- At Sea (Literally)


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