MEMORABLE VISIT TO THE
Fall, l942, I was a young officer aboard the new US Submarine GUNNEL.
forces were engaged in Operation Torch a
major invasion of North Africa that would lead to the defeat of Axis
En route we experienced severe casualties with our four main diesel engines which were of a new untested and faulty design Consequently we were ordered to proceed to the seaport Falmouth on the Southern coast of England for emergency repairs.
Approaching Falmouth ,we
received orders via radio from the British Admiralty to rendezvous
morning before daylight with a British ship which would escort us the
miles into port, American submarines were a rare commodity on that side
Atlantic in those days and would be mistaken for a German U -Boat.
At the designated time and rendezvous the USS GUNNEL emerged from the depths while it was still dark and we immediately detected via radar an approaching ship just two miles away. We flashed via a small blinker light the secret three letter recognition signal provided earlier by the British Admiralty. After repeating it several times with no response our Commanding Officer Jack McCain ordered "torpedo tubes be ready for firing" assuming the approaching vessel was enemy. (Jack McCain, later a four star Admiral was known personally by several Arcadians when he was based here as CINCPAC 1968-72).
Suddenly a huge searchlight from the ship flashed a message, IS THAT YOU OLD CHAP, typical British humor. The jolly British sea captain then offered to send a boat and invited our skipper over for a HEARTY BREAKFAST AND SPOT OF GIN. This attractive offer was of course declined, so he immediately sent over a huge baked salmon which was enjoyed by everyone.
Continuing on to
GUNNEL moored to a pier used by the Royal British Navy to berth its famous motor torpedo boats which operated against enemy forces in the English Channel and
"God bless the Yanks"
Many townspeople as well British naval personnel were on hand to greet us. One of our sailors on the bridge of the submarine later recalled the scene. "Captain McCain turned to me and remarked, 'Look at all those skinny children on the dock. Isn't that awful? What can we do about it? ' I suggested we make cookies and hot chocolate and have the children aboard to tour the submarine and feed them. He thought this was a tremendous idea and called the Ships Cook to the bridge and directed this be done immediately. This brought great happiness to the kids as well as smiling faces and 'God bless the Yanks' from people on the dock"
welcomed our crew to
Several days later GUNNEL was ordered to proceed Roseneath under escort of the
En route we were warned to be
on the lookout for drifting mines dropped in shipping channels by
almost every night. For sure we spotted several of the beasts, round
feet in diameter floating in the currents, each with several horns
any of which when broken would explode the mine. Our expert sailor
exploded several, no doubt saving more than one merchant ship from an
"Don't you want your olive?"
New pinion gear assemblies for the four main engines had been flown from the States, and for the next few weeks, the engineering gang of GUNNEL worked unstintingly around the clock to expedite the repairs. Normally a job performed in a shipyard, in this case there wasn't much choice, and with the typical pride and can do spirit of the Submarine Force, our crew were determined to do it and we did.
Meanwhile an occasional visit to nearby
Simultaneously an air raid
was occurring over
Awakened by the submarine diving alarm and sensing an emergency from the shouting in the adjoining compartment, I literally flew into the Control Room to be of help. It was a scene I will never forget. Two men were struggling to climb the vertical ladder to close the lid of the lower hatch above leading into the conning tower, but ocean water pouring through the hatch washed them aside. Our skipper Jack McCain, drenched to the skin was shouting orders to "blow all ballast tanks (with high pressure air) for emergency surfacing". Fortuitously, I spotted the wooden handle of the hatch lanyard dangling on the edge of the incoming waterfall and grabbed it. Immediately I felt two set of arms around my waist and together we were able to slightly tilt the hatch lid away from the vertical position, Incoming sea water then slammed it shut.
The Conning Tower above was flooded but fortunately the six men there survived by breathing from overhead air pockets. The Pump Room below the Control Room had four feet of water and the sailor on duty there later told us he was literally swimming to stay afloat.
With the rush of high pressure air blowing sea water from the ballast tanks, the submarine shuddered and shook as if undecided whether to sink or rise. Breaking surface and heeled over 30 degrees from the flooded conning tower, we were lucky the German aircraft had departed.