Back in WWII, the United States submarine force made
up about three percent of our naval forces, and yet was responsible for over half of the enemy
shipping sunk. This did not come without a cost though. Casualty
rates in the submarine service were up around 21%. Russian Roulette,
with one chance in six of getting killed, gives you better odds than
those enjoyed by a WWII submariner. In addition, submarines were cramped, hot humid, bad smelling,
noisy, uncomfortable, and just plain unpleasant. Submarine patrols
lasted an average of 10 weeks, with no mail or other communications.
Except for certain of the officers, and those on lookout, crew
members might spend the entire patrol below decks, in what was
essentially a twelve foot wide metal tube.
To somewhat make up for this,
hazardous duty pay was given, as well as the best food in the
service, and quick promotion. A submariner might find himself in
command of his own ship, in his early thirties, or even his
twenties. In addition, this was an entirely volunteer service. You
were not assigned to submarine service, it was something you had to
request. I have read numerous accounts of the submarine service, and
have a number of books written by former officers and enlisted crew,
who had served on subs in WWII. If you are interested in such
things, two of the better accoutns are Wake Of The Wahoo, By Forest
Sterling, and War Fish, by George Grider. There are no doubt others
which are as good or better; but these are two that I have read and
enjoyed myself. To a certain extent, these accounts
can convey some of the tension, and tedium of service on these
boats; but until you actually tour one, you can have no idea the
discomfort and oppressive closeness of these boats.
In most situations, the submarine was
at a great disadvantage in combat. These boats were slow, with
underwater speeds of 2 - 8 knots (with the 8 knot speed reducing
endurance to just a couple of hours). They had a mere 24 torpedoes,
which were slow to aim, slow to hit their targets, often
undependable, and painfully slow to reload. Other weapons were a
three inch gun (some had a 5 inch gun), 2omm AA gun, and various 50
and 30 caliber machine guns. Even on the surface, a submarine was
very slow, compared to any other warship, having a top speed of
perhaps 20 knots, but cruising at around 10. In addition to all of
this, these were exceptionally thin skinned boats, and were easily
damaged. These boats were also hated and hunted. Where a cruiser, or
other surface ship might have defensive duties, protecting convoys
or land installation, a submarine was a purely offensive boat, with
no pretense of being anything else.
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||One of the ships AA machine guns, mounted
towards the front of the conning tower.
||A look at the ship's bell, as well as the
conning tower, and aft facing AA gun. The bell was generally
only put in place when the sub was at base, and was stowed during
patrol. It would not do to have the bell ringing underwater,
while the sub was attempting to evade destroyers.
||Left and Above:
The three inch deck gun. This was used for finishing off damaged
ships or for destroying lighter, or more poorly armed ships.
This was a standard three inch gun, which was exposed to the
elements, and to being submerged in salt water. Its only
protection was a very heavy layer of grease.
||This is the hydrophone, a very sensitive
listening device, which was quite directional, and could be
rotated to get a fix on a sound.
||The business end of the three inch gun. On
guns of this type, one man adjusted traverse, another elevation,
and a third loaded the shells. There were also several men who
hefted shells, from a loading hatch, to the loader.
||A look at the front of the conning tower,
from the approximate position of the deck gun. The two circular
hatches near the deck are for passing up shells for the gun.
||Another look at the conning tower, and down
the side of the boat, showing where visitors come on deck.
||We descend a staircase, which was cut into
the hull. There is one at either end of the ship. Otherwise, the
only way to enter would be through the ladders and narrow
hatches of the conning tower, or perhaps one of the torpedo
||A look forward at the sharp end of the ship.
This is the forward torpedo room. Above the tubes can be seen
the countless wheels for controlling the valves which determine
the flow of the water and compressed air by which the tubes are
controlled. Between the tubes is the station where gyros are
set, and torpedoes are aimed.
A close up of a pair of tubes. The forward torpedo room of a
Gato class boat will generally have six tubes. 24 torpedoes are
carried all together, each with 750 pounds of TNT. They are
powered by engines which used grain alcohol as fuel. Mixed with
soda, juice, or whatever happened to be around, the resulting
Torpedo juice was potent.
||A look aft, from the front of the forward
torpedo room. Note the close quarters, and the bunks lining the
||Torpdoemen slept with their torpedoes. The
lower bunks actually did slide out, making the room even more
cramped. Note the big black torpedo strapped down between two
rows of bunks.
A view forward, from the back of the forward torpedo room.
||Note the raised sink to the right of the
photo. This is the officer's head, and all of the valves and
controls in the center of the photo were used for flushing the
head. Just kidding - the valves were for the ventilation and
buoyancy systems and were located throughout the boat. These
tended to give the inside of the boat the look of a plumber's
version of hell. Actually, this is the radio shack. The
head is across the very narrow passage, making it essentially
the same room.
||Another shot of the radio room. Subs were
generally under radio silence, while on patrol or in enemy
waters; but could listen for coded orders.
||Well, not so bad as the photo above; but I
still count five controls here. The proportion of heads to men
was something like ten to one. Between this, and the restricted
showering, due to the water rationing, you got to know your
fellow crew members better than you liked,.
||One of the galley areas, which I believe
served the wardroom, and held the ship's silver.
||Officers quarters - only four men to a room.
This is tiny and cramped, but is the lap of luxury, compared to
the way the enlisted men slept.
||The other end of the officers bunk room,
showing the desk and the safe.
||This is the wardroom, where the officers ate.
Though they ate the same food, they did not eat with the
||The captain's cabin. This was the only
private space in the ship. I have closets in my house that are
larger than this (and probably more comfortable), but on a sub,
this is an extravagant and palatial place to sleep.
||The petty officer's sleeping accommodations.
||This is the tiny office in which the yeoman
did all of the ships clerical work. All records, pay matters,
personal files, and official paperwork were handled here. A good
yeoman, like a good cook, was a treasure that could help
smooth the operation of the ship, and make it merely unbearable,
instead of impossible.