Torpedoes Away! details US Navy submarine operations during the first 18 months of World War Two. Author Maxwell Hawkins breathlessly covers the tense, dangerous missions of submarines USS Trout, Sea Raven, Pollack, Skipjack, Cuttlefish, and others. Between these first-hand reports stitched-together from interviews with crewmen, the author describes the mechanical workings of submarines, as well as the history of submersibles beginning in the 17th Century.
Hawkins spent over a year sifting through the archives of the Navy Department and conducted extensive interviews with many veteran submariners about their experiences in the Pacific during World War Two. The result is a classic study of underwater warfare, a must read for military historians and World War 2 buffs.
LATE IN NOVEMBER 1941, a tall, well-built lieutenant commander moved along a dock at Pearl Harbor in the direction of the Flag Office of Rear Admiral Thomas Withers, Commander of Submarines, Pacific Fleet. His officer's cap rested at a suitable seagoing angle over his sandy hair - hair that was thinning slightly on top and touched with gray at the temples. He walked with a barely perceptible rolling gait, bent forward a little at the waist; the indelible mark of a man to whom a tilting deck is level and only the land unsteady.
At the Flag Office, he was greeted by Captain C [Charles]. W. Styer, Chief of Staff to Admiral [Thomas] Withers, who handed him his orders. Then Captain Styer delivered verbally a message from the Admiral.
"Admiral Withers was sorry he couldn't be here when you called," the Chief of Staff said, "but he was detained elsewhere. He wanted me to impress on you, however, that in his opinion we will be at war before you return from this patrol."
With this unequivocal warning in mind, the sandy-haired officer retraced his steps from the Flag Office to the ship he commanded-more than three hundred feet of deadly modern submarine. Lines were cast off, and shortly one of our newer and larger submarines, the USS Trout, was slipping through the channel toward the entrance of Pearl Harbor. Once outside, she headed west. Her nose dipped into the long Pacific swells; rising and falling with it on either side were twin rows of huge torpedoes, several of them destined for Japanese hulls.
The captain of the Trout was Lieutenant Commander Frank W. Fenno. In the months ahead, his ship was to write some of the most amazing pages in the history of submarine warfare.
Following image: Frank Wesley Fenno, Jr. (1902-1973), Annapolis class of 1925, born in Westminster, Massachusetts.
THE SUBMARINE Trout was at sea dumping garbage. This would appear to be menial work for an undersea fighting craft that cost around six million dollars, but it was an accommodation to the inhabitants of Midway Islands. In no way was the big gray submarine compromising her dignity or slipping into the category of a garbage scow.
Midway* was only a group of empty atolls in the Pacific Ocean until Pan American Airways picked the spot in 1935 for a principal clipper way station and fueling depot on its transpacific air route. From this, Midway developed into an important outpost of our national defense; how important was brought home to the American people on June 4, 1942, when the pride and might of Japan's navy was sent reeling back toward Tokyo in the battle to which Midway gave its name. In the opinion of some authorities, this battle marked the turning point of the war and saved Hawaii, and possibly our West Coast, from a Japanese invasion attempt.
*Midway is a Hawaiian island (or atoll), but is not part of the state of Hawaii, and is officially an unincorporated territory of the US. Its name derives from its geographical position, which is roughly equidistant between Asia and North America. The 2.4 square mile rock would become famous as the setting for the turning point in the war - the Battle of Midway 4-7 June 1942 - which was coincidentally 'midway' through the war. See map, following page, for the atoll's precise location.
BY DECEMBER 1941, MIDWAY was bustling with activity; Marines, Army and Navy personnel, and construction workers swarmed over the limited area. Sanitation was one of the problems, and to keep the beaches clean, refuse was hauled well out to sea and dumped where the currents wouldn't sweep it back in. Some of the ships that put in there, customarily performed this chore. On this occasion Fenno's immaculate submarine, built to scourge her foes, had volunteered to scavenge for her friends. She pulled out of Midway on December 6, over a calm sea and beneath a peaceful sky, and cruised to a point some twenty miles southwest on her garbage mission. Having dumped the Midway refuse overboard, she continued about her principal business, which was a routine patrol.
Following image: Aerial shot of Midway in preparation for the battle to come. Midway's two atolls are Eastern Island (foreground, with airstrips) and the larger Sand Island to the west.
THAT NIGHT, THE AMERICAN submarine cruised on the surface, charging her "can," as submariners call the huge storage batteries which supply electric power to operate an undersea craft when it is submerged [as well as being navy slang for a submarine; a shortened version of 'tin can']. Her can fully charged, Fenno's submarine dove at dawn, in accordance with wartime procedure, even though we were not yet at war. In the control room below the conning tower, Lieutenant Albert Clark was in charge of the diving. The control room is the mechanical brain of the submarine, the place from which all its maneuvers are directed. From this central location the communication system reaches out to all parts of the ship; the maze of glistening levers, buttons, valves and other gadgets controls the progress of a submarine in its three-dimensional element.
In a surface ship, the matter of trim is a minor source of concern. Operating in a flat two-dimensional range, the surface vessel offers only the problems of fore and aft and lateral trim, factors which are provided for in construction and loading. Once fixed, only under unusual circumstances are they disturbed. A submarine, however, not only must be trimmed fore and aft and laterally, but also vertically-her depth controlled-and all these factors are inseparably bound together. The depth control of a submarine depends on her various water ballast tanks and valves, and it is maintained by flooding or blowing out these tanks as conditions demand. Trim is of supreme importance in a submarine's operations, once she has slipped beneath the surface of the sea. Loss of trim is likely to cause loss of depth control; loss of depth control is likely to result in the craft broaching, breaking through the surface. Consequences of this may be merely embarrassing to the diving officer, or they may be fatal to both submarine and crew if the enemy happens to be attacking at the time.
The officer in charge of the diving is performing just about the most important job in a submarine. With Lieutenant Clark that Sunday morning was the Trout's captain, Lieutenant Commander Fenno, known as Mike throughout the Submarine Service. The enlisted men on watch were standing at their stations with the quiet alertness that submarine duty demands. Farther aft in his cubbyhole adjacent to the control room, the radioman, headphones clamped to his ears, was taking down a message coming over the airwaves.
There was nothing unusual about that scene down under the waters of the Pacific. It had been like that hundreds of times before. Nothing indicated that this Sunday morning would be any different from the many others spent diving the big American submarine.
Suddenly the radioman slipped the headphones off, eased out of his seat and emerged from his nest of dials and tubes. He came directly to Fenno, as if he were making a routine report.
"A message just came for you, Cap'n," the radioman said.
Fenno broke off his conversation with Clark and walked aft to the radio room with [radioman] Sparks. Nobody paid much attention to them, since there was nothing out of the ordinary in their actions. But in the radio room, Sparks handed the submarine's skipper the most important message ever flashed to American warships. It was Admiral Kimmel's war dispatch to the Pacific Fleet: The Japanese have raided Pearl Harbor...
Fenno studied the message. Finally he glanced at the radioman and said:
"Looks like the real thing."
"Yes, Cap'n, it does," Sparks replied.
Still pondering over the dispatch, Mike Fenno returned to the control room. He moved to Clark's side. "Well, Al," he said, "we're at war with Japan! The Japs have just raided Pearl Harbor!"
Clark was from Saco, Maine, and had more than a touch of Yankee skepticism in his makeup. He took his gaze from the depth gauges and gave Fenno a faint grin.
"They have one of those raid tests there every Sunday morning," he said dryly. Mike Fenno shook his head. The warning he had received at the Flag Office of Admiral Withers only a couple of weeks before never had been far from his thoughts. Besides, the dispatch in his hand permitted no misinterpretation. He held it out so Clark could look at it. "See for yourself," he said. "It's plain enough in this message. As far as I'm concerned, we're at war!"
The American submarine had been on a war footing for months. She was ready for it. There was little to do beyond informing the crew of what had happened. Let them know that the practice days were over. The marbles game was for keeps. No more water-filled exercise heads on their torpedoes. It was warheads, crammed with high explosives, from then on.
Fenno walked aft to the galley, between the control room and the crew's quarters. The cook was busy getting breakfast in his kitchenette.
"As the crew come in for breakfast," the...