Two true submarine stories…
Once on the USS Piper back in 1962, we were operating with a group of navy SEALS. The SEALS had just been formed as a special forces group a year earlier from the navy Underwater Demolition Team or UDT. Usually the UDT teams were culled from the navy seabees or construction battalions. Now, they were in the process of honing their skills in covert insertions using submarines. Our mission was to secure their raft to our periscope fairing and then submerge and transit into a coastal shore line as close as we could under cover of darkness. When we reached the insertion point, the seals were supposed to exit the boat through our forward escape hatch, swim to the surface, get in their raft and paddle to the shore. All went according to plan except when the SEALS detached their raft, and got into it, it started to sink. There was no communication with the team once they left the boat, so we had no idea what was going on. Because the raft was sinking, they did not detach it from the scope.
Since our part of the mission was seemingly over, at least until we were supposed to rendezvous to retrieve the team, we started heading back out to sea. Just by accident, our quartermaster wanted to see the shoreline before we got too far out and snuck a quick look out the scope before lowering it. Had it not been for a curious shipmate, we probably would have dragged the SEAL team back out into the deeper ocean waters where we would have gone a lot deeper than periscope depth.
Then on the USS Croaker two years later, while transiting the Atlantic ocean for our four month Mediterranean cruise, we received a message that one of our planes had gone down and we were ordered to search for the pilot who had successfully bailed out. You never realize how vast the Atlantic is until you have to look for one lone human being.
So, we stayed on the surface and searched and searched well into the night with no success. At around midnight, I got up and made it back to the after engine room to start my six hour watch.
Even with both diesel engines running as well as the two in the forward engine room, I never wore hearing protection. That’s probably why I could enjoy the music at Woodstock. Well, about an hour into my watch, I thought I heard the faint sound of something tapping on the hull, but instantly dismissed it. A few minutes later the tapping was back, so I reported it to the chief of the watch in control, but no one seemed to believe me. Being rather peeved, the next time I called the chief, I used some rather profane language (something I rarely did). The chief notified the lookouts on the bridge to look aft towards the engine rooms. However, old diesel boat engines exhausted sea water coolant and exhaust smoke (we called it “efficiency haze” from the sides of the boat, making it hard to see anything further back from there.
Just by luck, as we were making a maneuver, one of the lookouts noticed something white behind the boat. Several crew members were dispatched topside to investigate. Now all this is happening in total darkness, in the North Atlantic is lightly rough seas.
When the crew walked back to the engine room hatch, they found the airman clinging onto the superstructure yelling his lungs out and frantically banging on the hull. The old diesel submarines were equipped with screw guards and it seems that our screw guard had snagged this poor guy’s parachute and we had actually been dragging him around for over an hour until he could pull himself up close enough to grab part of the superstructure and pull himself close to the engine room where I heard him banging on the hull with his sidearm. Once inside the boat, he was given some medicinal brandy, steak and fresh lobster for a meal.
Fredric Durrette served one tour in Vietnam, retired as E8 in the navy submarine service after 23 years. Major hobbies are collecting old stuff from the 20s and restoring old racing bicycles. Worked as a commercial photographer at JL Hudsons in Detroit and continue photography as a hobby. Love Sade, sixties soul, seventies rock, and all jazz. Attended Woodstock in 69!