Chronicles of the allied submarine service
Manila, December 8th 1941.
Lcdr. Ginder, called Jack by his friends was not too happy. Not that he disliked his posting; Manila was a nice, friendly place, with a nice officer’s club and many friendly Filipinas. What he disliked intensely was the submarine he was assigned to command. S-41. A pig boat, not much different of those boats he trained in. Slow, dirty, cramped, older than he, with no range to speak of, which was a good thing since no one wanted to be inside one of those tubs for a long patrol.
Not that he expected any of the new construction boats, but there were newer, better boats in Manila. Someone in the Bureau of Naval Personnel had it in for him.
Still, his submarine was ready for service and a final inspection yesterday with WC Spech his XO everything was shipshape. Considering the age of the boat, that was bound to last until they left harbor, which he intended to do today for a shakedown cruise down to Panay.
The dull explosions over the airfield caught him by surprise. He thought at first that a fuel truck exploded, until he saw the first fighters, flying low over the Manila skies, and he saw meatballs on their wings. He ran towards his boat, and was halfway there when he decided that his shakedown cruise was probably off and he’d better seek new orders. He turned around and sprinted to Far East Fleet Headquarters.
Nobody seemed to know anything. After what seemed an eternity he caught sight of his admiral, standing, with other brass, at a desk covered by dust from near misses.
“Lcdr Ginder, S-41 sir,” he said, “My ship is ready, I need orders sir.”
The fleet admiral looked down at the eager officer. He had no orders to give, not in the chaos of the unexpected attack, still, he wasn’t going to admit that.
“It seems that a Japanese invasion fleet has been seen off Legaspi. Go and intercept them.”
“Aye aye sir.”
He arrived to the pier where S-41 was moored. He was glad to see that the 4 .30 cal machine guns were manned and firing uselessly at aircraft that were, of course, out of range. He ran up the gangway and found WC his XO waiting at the conning tower.
“Get us out, let’s go,” he ordered.
The submarine made its way into the roadway, ignored by the enemy aircraft that attacked, with pinpoint precision, their assigned targets, ignoring everything else.
“Dive as soon as there’s enough depth WC.”
“Aye aye sir.”
The young skipper looked up at the sky, criss crossed by a plethora of enemy planes.
“We will surface when we get out of this mess and try to transit on the surface.”
The XO slid down the ladder to the control room. An enlisted man came out and handed a steel helmet to the captain who donned it against the multiple fragments of spent flak that rained on the conning tower. It seemed like all the flak guns in the harbor were firing at the same time, more of a danger to the men on the ground than to the enemy aircraft.
“Cease firing you two,” he ordered the two sailors at the machine gun stations, "Fire only if something gets near.”
S-41 made its way around Corregidor island and, as soon as she cleared the minefield she slid beneath the waves.
Pearl Harbor. December 7th
Columns of smoke rose all over the city. The airfield, cratered, full of destroyed aircraft, many of its buildings on fire, was useless. Fires on the harbor installations were being contained but, on battleship row, only 5 battleships, Tennessee, California, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Nevada remained afloat. Oklahoma and Arizona had both blown apart in massive explosions when their magazines exploded. Judging by how low she sat in the water, California might not make it either despite the frantic efforts of the shipyard’s men. Tennessee and West Virginia, also heavy with flooding should survive.
As soon as the first wave of Japanese aircraft left the skies, a single Tambor class submarine slipped its moorings and headed out of the harbor, on the surface, unescorted, at full speed. Thresher was dispatched to the position where radio intercepts placed the enemy task force. Not that anyone expected the enemy carriers to stay there, but you never know.
At naval headquarters, the few submarine captains listened to the briefing, and all the bad news. All the newer submarines were sent off on different patrols, to take positions against expected enemy invasions where they were bound to arrive too late to do anything useful. Each captain acknowledged his orders and left, grim determination on his face.
Last one in the room, a new lieutenant commander, Robert James Moore, SS Cachalot received his orders. Rear Admiral Tomas Withers Jr, ComSubPac handed him the sealed envelope and shook his hand.
“Are you a gambler, lieutenant commander?”
“A little sir.”
“Good, for I am taking a gamble with you,” the admiral said, “everyone else is going to important, defensive stations. Their ships cannot be risked, not at this time. Cachalot is old, but she can still fight.”
“Yes sir, Cachalot is ready in all aspects, sir.”
“I am sending you; I am ordering you to take the fight to the enemy, Commander Moore. Take Cachalot into enemy waters. Lay off Yokohama and sink everything you find. Who knows, you might find their Kido Butai,” he spat those two last words, “when they return to their lair.”
“Yes sir,” Commander Moore saluted and left.
One hour later, escorted by two minesweepers, Cachalot made its way out of the smoking ruin that was Pearl Harbor.
Appear at places to which he must hasten; move swiftly where he does not expect you.