Book by Edward L Beach
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Chapter One: Trigger
My story begins on January 1, 1942. Two and a half years out of the Naval Academy, and fresh out of Submarine School, I reported to Mare Island Navy Yard for "duty in connection with fitting out USS Trigger (SS237), and on board when commissioned." Before presenting myself at the office of the commandant I drove down to the submarine outfitting docks looking for my future home. There she was, a great black conning tower sticking up over the edge of the dock, with a huge white 237 painted on her side. A swarm of dusty nondescript men were buzzing around her, and wood scaffolding, welding lines, hoses, temporary ventilation lines, and other miscellaneous gear hung haphazardly about.
"There's my new home," I thought, "wonder if I'm looking at my coffin." To me, she certainly wasn't impressive, beautiful, or anything at all but an ugly chunk of steel. "No life, no spirit, no character," I thought.
I remembered my old "four piper" destroyer, which I had left three months before after two years of steaming up and down and across the Atlantic on Neutrality Patrol. She was old -- launched within a week of the day I was born -- and ungainly, but she was a lovely thing to me. I knew and loved every part of her. I'd cussed at, slaved over, and stolen for her, and when orders arrived for me to report to Submarine School I'd sent back a dispatch saying I wished to remain where I was. But the Bureau of Navigation had insufficient applications for Submarine School and had decided to draft a few. One of the draftees was Ensign Beach, and here I was.
As I turned my back on number 237, I did not know that two and a half of the most crowded and thrilling years of my life were to be spent with her. She was to become the ruler of my life, and the most beautiful and responsive creature I had ever known; a hard, exacting mistress, but loyal, generous, and courageous. All ships have souls, and all sailors know it, but it takes a while to learn to commune with one. It took me a long time, for Trigger had to find her own soul, too, but in the end she was my ship, and nobody else's. I never became her skipper, but I spent nearly a year as her exec, and when finally I left her I was the last "plank owner" left -- except for Wilson, the colored mess attendant. Having three times failed to cajole Wilson into taking a transfer and a rest, I finally booted him off ahead of me, with the remark that nobody was going to be able to say he'd been aboard longer than I. Five hours after I left, good old competent Wilson was back aboard. He is the only man alive who can say he served with Trigger from her birth to just before her death.
On January 30, 1942, Lieutenant Commander J. H. Lewis read his orders, and put submarine number 237 in commission. From that moment Trigger was a member of the United States Fleet. In no other type of ship is it so vital that all hands know their jobs and be constantly alert. A submarine operates in three dimensions, and her very ability to float, submerge, or surface is an expression of the will and effort of her personnel. Neptune is her medium, her friend, her protector, and she embraces the sea eagerly at every opportunity -- carefully, with wholesome respect. You never hear a submariner speak of the sea as his enemy, for subconsciously he recognizes this peculiar relationship. He uses the sea and knows its properties. The effect of bright warm sunlight on it, for example, interests him greatly. The type of bottom, far down though it may be, affects him and what he does. The temperature of the water, the depth, and the amount of marine life -- all are of consuming importance. All sailors -- submarine or surface -- know one great experience in common. They have a certain feeling of identity with their ships, and in extreme cases may even be said to be possessed by them. In analyzing the submariner you are invariably struck by these two traits: the sense of loyalty to his ship, and an indefinable oneness with, and deep understanding of, the sea.
Naturally, this temperament is rare. The men who have it are hard-working, thorough, and idealistic. The submariner is always aware that an error during underwater operations jeopardizes everyone's life. Always present, too, is the realization that any slip, any mistake, is unworthy.
Because a ship, no matter how modern and fine, is only as good as her crew, the United States Navy concentrates on its men as the most important factor affecting over all efficiency. If they lack judgment and initiative, so does the ship. If they lack the indomitable spirit, the absolute determination to succeed, so will the inanimate steel. But if they possess these attributes, they and their ship are unbeatable.
The embodiment and personification of this perspective is the captain. His men and his ship reflect his will, and a properly organized crew operates with the unity of purpose of an ant colony. Whatever the state of the individual and of internal affairs, the composite exterior is smooth, unruffled; it acts under a single directive force -- a single brain -- the captain's. It is in tacit recognition of this basic understanding that a sailor, in speaking of a ship other than his own, frequently will use the pronoun "he" instead of "she."
Weeks and months of strenuous training and organization go into a new submarine before she is considered ready to venture against the enemy. All our crews are organized into three sections, each able to dive and surface the ship, fire torpedoes, and run all machinery -- in fact, operate the entire mechanism of the vessel. On patrol each section customarily stands watch for a period of four hours in rotation. While off watch the members of a section eat, sleep, make necessary repairs, and, if there is nothing else to do, read magazines, play cards, or write letters.
The progress of Trigger from building yard to Pearl Harbor is slow. First come the builders' trials, including the testing of all machinery to be sure that it operates as designed; then the first few dives, slowly and carefully; then more dives, gradually increasing the tempo of the operations. Finally, when the crew becomes quite expert in diving against time, try to catch them by surprise! Eleven seconds for all bridge personnel to get below and shut the hatch! By this time the vents are opened, and water is pouring into the tanks. Also by this time the engines are shut off; inboard and outboard exhaust valves are closed; motors are disconnected from the engines and connected to the batteries; the bow planes are rigged out; and the ship is half under water. In twenty seconds water pours around the bridge plating and covers the hatch, now tightly shut, through which, just a moment before, eight men had scrambled. Fifty seconds, and all that may be seen of the submarine is the top of the tall towerlike periscope support structure. Sixty seconds, and the ship is completely out of sight, cruising under water with possibly a little foam to mark the place where she disappeared. If you look hard enough you might notice a thin rod the size of a broom handle project vertically out of a wave for a moment and then disappear. Sixty seconds, and a ship displacing 1,800 tons, more than 300 feet long, rushing across the waves at a speed of 20 knots, has completely submerged. No time for error, no time to wait for the flash of genius to tell you what to do. Only by constant repetition of each tiny operation leading to accomplishment of the great operation is it possible to perform this tremendous feat.
Trigger's first test dive was in San Francisco Bay. After the first few weeks of tests in the shallow waters of the Bay, she left for San Diego, where she remained for a month completing her training. Then back to Mare Island for final loading for war.
Fill her up with torpedoes, diesel oil, food, and spare parts. Make any necessary repairs and take care of the many last-minute items which always come up. Then, one May afternoon about two o'clock, good-bye -- this is it! The admiral comes down to the dock, shakes hands with the skipper, wishes him good luck and good hunting. The ship backs into the Mare Island Slough, twists gracefully, and is gone, through Carquinez Straits, past Alcatraz, and under the Golden Gate Bridge. Trigger probably had a soul already, but we were too new to each other, too much taken up with the details of operating her complicated mechanism, to appreciate it.
No one who saw it will ever forget the awful vista of Pearl Harbor. Although we had been prepared for it, the sight of four of our great battleships lying crushed into the mud staggered us. That day I first sensed a more purposeful note in the gentle throb of the Trigger's diesels, but she was only a neophyte, just joining up, and almost apologetically nosed her way into her berth at the Submarine Base.
We expected to get additional training and indoctrination at Pearl Harbor -- such, we understood, was the normal routine for a new arrival. But all we received was an additional officer -- another ensign, Dick Garvey -- and next day Trigger was at sea again, bound for Midway to join a group of boats on station off that island. Things were tense in Pearl Harbor, and "strategic planning" was in an uproar -- although it seemed to know fairly well what it was doing. The Jap fleet was coming, that we knew, and maybe -- maybe -- we'd get a shot at it!
Our chance came suddenly. A dispatch addressed for action Trigger said: MAIN JAP LANDING EFFORTEXPECTED JUNE SIXTH X CLOSE MIDWAY AND PATROLSUBMERGED TWO MILESOFF SHORE BEARING ZERO SIX ZERO. All night long we raced through the darkness, and shortly before dawn sighted the lights of Midway, dead ahead. With just an hour to go before daylight would force us to submerge, we had to cut the eastern reef much too close for comfort, and suddenly, catastrophically, with a horrible, shattering smash, Trigger ran head- on into a submerged coral wall! Her bow shot skyward. Her sturdy hull screamed with pain as she crashed and pounded to a stop.
When all forward movement had ceased we hurriedly took soundings. Plenty of water aft, but only six feet or so under our bow, with zero feet a few yards ahead, where the malevolent coral mass alternately glistened in the starlit blackness and gurgled as a wave washed over it. Apparently this reef had very steep sides; that was a break -- maybe we could get her off. We backed emergency -- no luck. We were much too firmly aground. Only one thing to do: lighten ship, and this task we feverishly began. We also sent a message to ComSubPac telling him of our trouble, and one to Midway, asking for help.
And then came dawn -- the day the Japs were to land -- and here poor Trigger lay, bruised, battered, and hors de combat. At any moment we expected to see the enemy fleet, and high and dry as we were, our complete destruction was inevitable.
As it grew light a pint-sized tug steamed out of the channel from Midway lagoon, put a hawser on our stern, and nonchalantly began to pull. We backed with everything we had -- no luck. We didn't budge. Then, to our dismay, the hawser broke. Surely this was the end!
But as the tug maneuvers to get the remains of the hawser to us again, Gunner's Mate Third Class Howard Spence, one of the lookouts, suddenly shouts, "She's moving!" Incredulously we look over the bow at the reef, and if you look hard enough, the slightest movement is discernible. No time to figure it out. All back emergency! Maneuvering, make maximum power! The four faithful diesels roar. Clouds of smoke pour out of the exhaust trunks. The reduction gears whine in a rising crescendo, and the propellers throw a boiling flood of white foam over our nearly submerged stern. Line up your eye with the bow and the reef. She trembles. The water foams along her sides and up past her bow. Her stern is now completely submerged. She feels alive! Is that a slight change? Yes -- yes -- she moves! She bounces once and is off the reef. She is free! Thank God!
For the second time I sensed a quick, live spirit in the Trigger. It seemed as though she responded just a little more when the chips were down.
It wasn't until several days later that we learned the Japs had been thoroughly beaten the day before, and what was left of their fleet had been in headlong flight.
Although we knew Trigger had a gaping hole in number one ballast tank, we remained on patrol for a few days, in case some Jap ships might still be around. Finally we returned to Pearl for repairs, and after dry-docking we started the training period we should have had when we first arrived.
The Grunion had just arrived from New London, and she and Trigger went through their training together. My classmate and close friend, Willy Kornahrens, whose wedding I had attended in New London a few months before, was aboard Grunion. And when Trigger set forth on her first patrol, bound for Attu, Grunion followed a few days later. When she reached Attu, we were shifted to Kiska, and then after about a week Grunion and Trigger exchanged areas.
As we were heading back to Attu, we sighted a submarine and instantly submerged. The other submarine must have dived also; Captain Lewis couldn't see her through our periscope.
We could not be sure whether it was a Jap submarine or Grunion, and I made a mental note to ask Willy next time I saw him. It's one of the things I shall never find out. A week later we intercepted a message from Grunion, which I decoded out of curiosity:
FROM GRUNION X ATTACKED TWO DESTROYERS OFF KISKA HARBOR X NIGHT PERISCOPE SUBMERGED X RESULTS INDEFINITE BELIEVE ONE SANK ONE DAMAGED X MINOR DAMAGE FROM COUNTERATTACK TWO HOURS LATER X ALL TORPEDOES EXPENDED AFT...and then the message, which until that moment had decoded perfectly, turned into an unintelligible jumble.
GRUNION was never heard from again. For several days we intercepted messages addressed to her, but she never acknowledged any of them.
Years later I read an account of an interview with a Japanese submarine skipper, now master of an American-owned merchant ship operating out of Yokohama. As skipper of the I-25 he had made three patrols from Japan to California. On one return trip, when passing the Aleutians, he had torpedoed a surfaced submarine. The date he gave was July 30, 1942, which tallied exactly with our interception of Grunion's last transmission.
We sank no ships on this first patrol, and returned to Pearl Harbor for reassignment. Upon our arrival Captain Lewis was hospitalized with pneumonia, and Lieutenant Commander Roy Benson, irreverently known as "Pigboat Benny" during his days on the Naval Academy faculty, took command of Trigger.
It took Trigger a long time to develop her personality. I felt the impact of h...
The classic nonfiction World War II submarine combat thriller, written by a man who actually fought the battles.
The war beneath the waves.
For the World War II submariner, every day was a life-or-death trial: going to sea for months at a time; existing in dank, claustrophobic conditions; enduring long stretches of monotonous silence punctuated by adrenaline-spiked episodes of paralyzing fear and victorious elation. It was a duty few men could handle—and even fewer would survive.
This is the true story of those brave men who served and too often died under the ocean surface, written by a man who was there. Edward L. Beach masterfully weaves his gripping experiences aboard the USS Trigger with those of other boats fighting the war in the Pacific. Part action-packed combat chronicle, part testament to the courageous sacrifices made by those who never came back, this is a compelling eyewitness account of the war as few have seen it.
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Description du livre Naval Institute Press, 2003. État : New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: A compelling personal account of World War II beneath the sea. N° de réf. du libraire ABE_book_new_1591140587
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Description du livre Naval Institute Press, 2003. Paperback. État : New. book. N° de réf. du libraire 1591140587
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Description du livre Naval Institute Press, 2003. Paperback. État : New. N° de réf. du libraire P111591140587