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A young man raised on an Iowa farm wants a little more action in his life. He grows up rather quickly after joining the submarine navy during the Vietnam War.
In the mid-nineteen-sixties some conventional fleet submarines were refitted to carry small teams of combat swimmers (Underwater Demolition Teams [UDT] and Sea, Land and Air teams [SEALs]) for a variety of combat operations. Their primary mission was beach reconnaissance. Subic Bay provided the main base for operations and was known as Detachment Alpha. Det Charlie operated from the USS Perch APSS 313, and later the USS Grayback LPSS 574, and USS Tunny LPSS 282.
All three submarines were left over from World War II, but all were still plenty spirited.
Many of the Perch’s (the Perch and her crew form the basis of this fictional novel) operations consisted of Search and Rescue, and training—besides UDT and SEALs—U.S. Marine’s Amphibious Recon Battalion, Army Special Forces, also British commando forces and ROK Republic of Korea, Philippine, and Nationalist Chinese Special Forces. She participated in the operations Jungle Drum III, Dagger Thrust, Double Eagle, Deck House II, and Deck House IV.
Brice Wesley Moser needed to get away from the farm for awhile, sow some wild oats as his dad and uncles called it. So he joined the navy. Just a few days from saying ‘I do’ he was on his way to San Diego, California, boot camp, then weapons school, then shore duty. Well, shore duty wasn’t a lot more exciting then throwing bales and milking cows back in Iowa, so he volunteered for submarines. With the Vietnam War heating up, things would soon get a bit more interesting.
This absolute neophyte to the ways of the navy—and especially to the ways of the submarine navy—would need a mentor:
Second Class Electronics Technician Richards, hailing from Texas, had already been in the navy for five years, and his boat, as boat-sailors fondly referred to their home submarines, had just gotten orders to steam from Pearl Harbor, into the western Pacific and their new home port of Subic Bay, the Philippine Islands. There they would take on Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and Sea, Land and Air teams (SEALs) for beach reconnaissance and other special operations.
At 1149 hours Moser made his way up first the Control Room ladder, then the Conning Tower ladder leading to the Bridge, “Permission to come on the bridge, sir.” Luckily, some compassionate soul had thought to tell him to ‘ask for permission’ first, before he stumbled up there without asking and got in more trouble. He would find out later that the Officer of the Deck (OOD) needed to know who was on the bridge in case there would ever be need for a crash dive, which, in peace time wasn’t likely. Although some would call the expanding Vietnam War not exactly ‘peace time.’ Plus, the farther west they got the more ships they saw of the Soviet navy, especially the electronics-laden so-called Russian fishing trawlers.
Moser finished the climb up, saw the officer, Lieutenant Junior Grade Bostwick, “I’m here to relieve the port lookout, sir.”
“Very well.” The officer nodded to the port lookout, of all people…Bonnet….
“About time you’re gettin’ up here, Moser.”
Moser bit his tongue. He was still early and was not going to let this jerk get to him. Bonnet stayed in the puka—in navy terms Moser had just learned—meant hole, or cubbyhole,
“Watch closely, nonqual, we’re going to be diving in about ten or fifteen minutes.” He glanced at the OOD and got a positive nod. “And I’m going to show you this just once, and then you are going to do it and do it right the first time. Remember what I said, you’re a danger to every man on this ship until you’re qualified, and even then some guys remain not qualified, but that’s not up to me to decide who is and who isn’t, so watch and learn!”
Bonnet took his binoculars and slipped his arm in so that the binoculars now lay under his arm and against his left rib cage, then he ducked down, made a turn to his left, grabbed the handlebars of the Conning Tower ladder and jumped, placing his feet on the outside of the bars and sliding down, then turned to his left again and did the same maneuver on the control room ladder, then returned topside and handed over the binoculars, “I guess you’re not going to get a chance to practice, Moser. Our dive has been upped. Just stand in the puka there, and when the OOD clears the bridge just do the best you can. I’ll be waitin’ for ya down below.” Then Moser got the surprise of his life, or at least the biggest surprise since he had been aboard the USS Hagfish, Bonnet took hold of his shoulder, squeezed, then patted, “Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.” Then he performed the same acrobatic maneuvers getting back below decks. Once below Bonnet called back up, “One more thing, Moser. You’ll be coming down first, and the starboard lookout will be about a second and a half behind ya.”
Moser sent a salute, then ducked down and moved into the port puka, glanced at the OOD, then did a sweep of the horizon with his binoculars from the bow, 360 degrees or 000 degrees, all the way back to 180 degrees and dead astern, then looked for a few seconds, then began a sweep back…just passing about 270 degrees—what the hell! He swept back about five degrees, “Contact, sir! Looks like a ship just about amidships, just over the horizon.”
The OOD used his own binoculars in that area, “Very well, Moser. Good job.”
About two more minutes passed, then, “Clear the bridge! Clear the bridge!”
Moser grabbed his binoculars and slipped his arm under the strap, made the left turn, grabbed the ladder and jumped! Amazingly, his feet clutched the outside of the ladder and he slid down and hit the Conning Tower deck! Then he heard the diving alarm, ARRUUGA! ARRUUGA! About one second later, “Dive! Dive!”
Moser knew his mind was still up on the bridge, but somehow he made the other left turn, did the same with that ladder and hit the Control Room deck, then saw Bonnet.
“Hit that switch, Moser!” Bonnet pointed. Moser hit it. “Now hit that one!” Bonnet pointed again. Moser hit it and stood up straight, and realized he was shaking, and facing the stern planes wheel. It was the first time he had seen it. He heard the starboard lookout hit the floor behind him, then felt Bonnet’s hands on his upper arms, “Take it easy, Moser. Just take hold of your planes wheel and turn left.”
Moser did it, then heard the OOD hit the floor, “Full dive! Both planes! Periscope depth!”
Bonnet pointed to a gauge that showed two arrows. The one on the left was pointing slightly toward down, “That shows the stern planes in the ‘dive’ position.” Then Bonnet pointed to a tube about six inches long fashioned into a pouty-mouth, “And that shows you where your bubble is. You’re not quite at full dive, so turn your wheel a little harder….”
Moser did it. The bubble went clear to the bottom!
“OK!” Bonnet said, “Ease off a little.”
Moser did it—or thought he did! But the bubble went streaking back in the other direction.
“Bonnet!” the OOD said, “Take over. Get us to depth and angle and then give it back to Moser.”
Moser stepped back. Bonnet moved in, “Now watch, Moser. You have to move this wheel not like you’re driving a car. It’s hydraulics. Every time you move the wheel it sends a message by oil back to the pistons that actually move the stern planes. Whatever you do up here is instantaneous back there, so you usually have to do it gently—“
“Ten rise,” said the other planesman.
“OK, Moser, the other planesman is the bow planesman. He just said ‘Ten rise.’ That means to us to go to five dive, meaning to compensate for what he’s doing. He controls the depth. We control the angle. And the Officer of the Deck up there is the Diving Officer down here. So, you want to get back on here?”
“Yes, sir.” Bonnet stepped back. Moser again grasped the stern planes wheel.
A full half hour passed as the Diving Officer gave orders that pertained to getting their ship in trim, meaning fully balanced, as going into rough seas they better be balanced to face sometimes huge waves.
From the Conning Tower and the captain of the ship, “Take us up!”
From the Diving Officer, “Full rise both planes!”
From…somewhere, “Surface! Surface! Surface!”
From Bonnet, “Wheel to the right, Moser!”
From…limbo, ARRUUGA! ARRUUGA! ARRUUGA!
From the Diving Officer, “Blow bow buoyancy!”
Came a distinct up-angle—
From the Diving Officer, “Blow main ballasts! Secure the planes!” The Diving Officer moved to the ladder leading to the Conning Tower.
Moser glanced at Bonnet and knew his eyes were wide.
“The starboard lookout will go up after the OOD,” Bonnet said, “Then you, just get up there and start scanning the horizon, and report anything you see, including sea bats and whales.” Bonnet smiled, “You did good, Moser.”
Moser gave a half-smile back, “Thanks for your help, Bonnet.”
“You’re welcome. That’s how you get qualified so that you won’t be a danger to every man on the ship. You get out there and learn!”
From the Chief of the Watch, “Red light on the Conning Tower hatch, sir.”
“Very well.” The lieutenant j.g. started up the ladder. The starboard lookout started up right behind him, then Moser.
Once back on the bridge Moser did as Bonnet had told him. He looked far and wide with the naked eye first then scanned with the binoculars, and saw nothing, “No contacts, sir.”
“Very well, Moser.”
So, it appeared Bonnet had a shred of decency inside him too, or was he just taking his job seriously and doing it? Moser didn’t know. He guessed he would wait for the next confrontation—or meeting. He hoped it would be just a meeting, and not a confrontation. Time would tell. In the meantime he would begin his qualification process, but of course he had no idea where even to start. ****