USS COBBLER SS 344
I reported aboard the USS Cobbler in the fall of 1955. At that time, the boat was in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, undergoing a major overhaul. I worked in the engine room, my boss at that time was a 1st class Engineman named Eiban. Some of the others on board at that time that I remember were Kosey, Tyson, Meredith, Hayes, Mullins, Lavender and Thurtell. I have memories of several others, but I can't remember their names. We left the shipyard in early 1956 and went to Havana, Cuba. That was the first foreign port for me. Havana was a beautiful place at that time. We came back to our homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, which was the homeport for the entire 6 years I was on board.
We made several trips which included Havana, Cuba, Gitmo, Cuba, San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, an overseas trip to the Mediterranean, which included stops at the Rock of Gibraltar Palma, Spain, Naples, Italy, and Monte Carlo. Other trips included Quebec, Canada and Richmond,Virginia. The Richmond trip was a first for a submarine to visit that city and as far as I know the only one.
Some of the highlights during my time aboard were:
1) We rode out a hurricane off Cape Hatteras, NC. We were running on the surface on four main engines. We had to bypass our snorkel safety shutdown systems to allow the engines to draw air through the snorkel induction system, this was necessary because of the extremely rough seas. I was on watch in the engine room when we took a large roll of almost 45 degrees, that caused salt water to hit the electrodes on the snorkel induction valve, causing the valve to go shut. The four main engines were still running, drawing air out of the after part of the boat, creating a vacuum. Before we could shut down the engines, we had drawn almost 22 inches of vacuum. During that time everything got extremely quiet and cold. You could not hear anything. You knew people were yelling, because of the expression on their faces. While the engines were running they were drawing everything towards the engine intakes. We finally got things under control, equalized pressure with the forward part of the ship and continued to ride out the hurricane. No one was really hurt during the incident.
2) We were headed to Port Au Prince, Haiti. We were snorkeling while traveling in the Florida Straits. We received orders to secure snorkeling. The routine was to secure snorkeling and shift propulsion power to the main batteries. While this was being done, something happened in the maneuvering room that caused a huge fireball and fire in the cubicle. I was on watch in the after engine room, which was located next to the maneuvering room. I noticed the whole maneuvering room light up like a Christmas tree. Smoke started filling the after part of the boat. The smoke got so thick that you could not see your hand against your face. We were able to breathe air from the internal salvage air system. All the personnel in the after part of the ship, gathered in the torpedo room after the fire was put out. We were still submerged at about 100 ft. People began to panic, because of the darkness and the heavy smoke. One sailor tried to open the after torpedo hatch to get out. He did not get the hatch open and was pulled back into the room. We finally surfaced in the rough seas and opened the hatch and climbed out onto the top deck. We were not too far from Gitmo, Cuba and limped into port. About 30 of us were taken to the hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.
3) We were off the coast of Egypt, running at periscope depth. We lost our hydraulic systems for some reason. When this happened we lost control of Bow Planes, Stern Planes and Rudder. In the meantime we started taking on some water in the pump room. I was on watch in the after engine room. All at once we started taking a large up angle of about 35 degrees. I figured we were surfacing because of the problems we were experiencing. I glanced at one of the sea pressure gauges and saw that the pressure was increasing instead of decreasing. The increasing pressure meant we were going down. We continued to sink lower. The pressure gauge I was watching reached the upper end of the gauge, which had a range of 250 psi. We continued going down, all kinds of weird noises were going on probably due to the extreme pressure. I felt a jolt as we finally hit bottom. It was figured that we were at a depth of over 700 feet. At that time we were restricted to a depth of 212 feet. We slid down backwards. When we hit muddy bottom, our rudder got stuck in the mud. After we restored our hydraulic system and stopped the flooding in the pump room, we were able to wiggle the rudder and break free. We finally surfaced. Some how the boat held together and no one was hurt.
4) We were performing some torpedo exercises with another submarine (don't remember the name) off the coast of Long Island, NY. Were snorkeling and were at snorkel depth. The other submarine was approaching us at a slight angle. Apparently, he was not deep enough, as the upper part of the conning tower hit our bow planes as he was passing us. This caused both submarines to bounce apart causing severe rolls. When we rolled back the other way we hit again about midships. We bounced apart again and hit a third time at our main propeller shaft. We were not too deep and were able to surface. We had considerable damage to the boat, also the other submarine was damaged. We were not too far from Groton, Conn. And was able to limp into the Electric Boat Shipyard for repairs.
I cannot place dates or times with above incidences as I do not remember them, but they all occurred between late 1955 and early 1961.
I am enclosing some pictures (all I have) of the Cobbler, showing the ship and some of the personnel. I enjoyed my tour of duty aboard the USS Cobbler. I left in early 1961 and went into the nuclear submarine program. I served aboard the USS Henry Clay, USS Hawkbill, and USS James Madison. I retired from the Navy in Feb. 1975 after 20 years of service, all of which was in the submarine program.
I hope you find this useful and please let me know how to get onto your web page when you get it up.
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Served in Cobbler from spring 63 thru fall 64. Qualified in submarines, then was sent to Nuclear Power school. It seemed to us that our major job was qualifying officers and enlisted for service on other boats. Many went to nuclear power or Polaris missile billets. At that time she was a Guppy III. Have a picture of Cobbler entering Valetta harbor, Malta in the spring of 63. Will scan and send to you via Email.
Supply and Asst Eng 63-64
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Subject: Cobbler stories
You forgot to include our stop in Genoa, Italy on the Med cruise.
I remember the day of the fire in Manuevering. I had the watch on the trim manifold. After we finally got to the surface, the old man asked for a volunteer to go topside and open and shut the ATR hatch to help ventilate the compartment. Since he was staring directly at me (and I was too stupid not to volunteer) I went. The first time I opened the hatch, TM1 Merideth came screaming up that I was going to flood the compartment due to the rough seas. Just as he got to the top of the ladder, a wave started breaking over the deck. I slammed the hatch shut right on his head. If you remember, he didn't have a lot of hair to cushion the blow.
It was also a good idea that they had me hooked with a lifeline to the deck rail. A few minutes later a big one rolled over the deck and washed me over the side. All I could think of while suspended there was that it would sure be a lousy time to have a shark come along.
I also remember being in Gitmo after the incident, and having a Key West boat outboard us. Our guys confiscated a "greyhound type" bus to get back from the Barrel Club one night. The officers from the Key West crew stole a saluting cannon from the Ordinance Shop and wanted to take it back with them. I think the people in Gitmo were glad to see us leave.
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I was aboard more than 35 years ago, but I remember people and events as if
it were yesterday.
I remember my last cigarette. We were doing a Med moor in Naples in 1970 and it was flat calm as we approached the harbor. All lines were
flaked out on deck and the anchor was read to be dropped. As we entered the harbor and started a turn to commence backing to the quay
wall, a following sea swept the deck and washed the lines overboard. I sent the junior men to the sail and Sr. Chief McGregor, Chief Sauer
and I pulled everything back on deck while we hung onto the long wire antenna. McGregor gave me a cigarette that tasted like a breathe of
life itself. I didn't smoke before and I haven't since, but that cigarette hit the spot that morning.
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Roger (Roger RamJet) Burleigh
USS Cobbler SS-344
Med. Cruise 1967 Palermo, Sicily
The Med. was a wonderful place of myth and legend to have as your first overseas cruise and that is how it was for me in 1967. To visit Greece and see all the wonderful and ancient sights, to pass the island of Stromboli and know it was an active volcano! To see the smoke at it's peak and to find small floating pumice stones on deck after surfacing! Passing through the Straits of Messina which separates Sicily from Italy and see your first hydrofoil ship. (I remember tracking something on the radar that was moving so fast, I asked permission to look through the scope to see it!) Later I made my way to the bridge to watch these fast passenger vessels. Power cables crossed the straits overhead in those days and may today for all I know, but I was dumbfounded that wire could run so far and not break! These are some of the wondrous sites available to a youngster on their first Med. cruise but by no means, ALL the sights!! We Med. Moored in Palermo, in a protected dock, which was shaped like the inside of the letter "U". We were about mid-way between the arms and dropped the anchor as we backed into position. Carefully letting out scope in the chain and eventually taking it up until we were suspended between lines ashore astern and our anchor rode forward. The bow was positioned from the turtle back to the pier itself, which was no simple feat as the Cobbler was a PUFFS boat and the aft dome presented a problem. Now any sailor who has sailed the Med. And visited these ports is familiar with "rat guards" and the rigging of same. A rat-guard is a conical shaped metal funnel sans spout. It needs not be water proof so is slit up one side which allows the seaman gang to slip it over the shore lines and then lash it close again. It is positioned as to impede the progress of rope climbing rats. Now I wouldn't say that Palermo's or Sicily's rats were smarter rats, but they damn sure were bold bastards !! They never even tried to cross the lines and contend with rat-guards. Why bother??? There is a fine gangway laid shore to ship…let's board!!! Therefore we found it necessary to arm the after deck watch, (we had two deck watches everywhere in the Med. one forward and the other aft.) with a broom. Now one of the sailors aboard Cobbler was an EM3 named Springer. Springer is a story all by himself, but today we will only tell the part of it that applies to the here and now. Our first night ashore, Springer was making his way through some alley when he happened upon a bicycle leaning against a wall. The bicycle had a box mounted over the rear tire which was loaded with bottles of wine. As the evening was young and Springer hadn't taken on a snoot full of some other alcoholic beverage he recognized the value of what the Mediterranean Gods had presented him with and saddled up!! Later he came riding down the street to the pier proud as punch and in true submarine spirit, willing to share his find with the boys aboard, one of which happened to be me. We untied the box from the bike and brought it aboard. It was a wonderful spring evening and we sat around the deck drinking what turned out to be a rather horrid red wine with a body like a dump truck and a flavor to match. (Neither attribute deterred us in the least as far as consumption was concerned.) As the evening's shadows lengthened the infamous Sicillian rats came from their daytime hiding places and the after deck watch took up a defensive position near the bow, broom in hand. The first boarder took it hard as the watch wanted his shipmates to note his prowess at driving the vermin from our boat. Unfortunately, not only was the rat fired ashore like from a cannon, but so was the end of the broom which had come up against one of the bows stanchions, snapping it from the handle like a toothpick. The much smaller weapon made accuracy important, but success much more satisfying! A solid body hit would now knock the average rat a hundred feet or more!! Now this was FUN!! (I might have to point out at this juncture, that there was no shortage of rats in Palermo then and may not be now, although we certainly did our collective best to reduce the herd!!) Soon there wasn't a broom or mop to be found aboard or ashore with it's business end still attached!! Guys were stalking the pier in search of rats and found that firing them out to sea was even greater FUN as you got to hear them splash when they hit, plus survivors (rats ARE tough) might try to regain the shore via the tank tops, allowing the poor deck watch some of the sport they had invented, but were now cut out of, as all rats were intercepted while still on the beach. The peaceful Scillian nights were the scene of sailors stalking the pier front, sticks in hand, then the cry of "BAT-a-RAT!! would rend the silence, followed by a soft "thwack" sometimes a squeal and then a resounding "splash". A cheer would erupt and the hunting would resume. So that is how the Mediteranean game Bat-a-Rat began. All thanks to Springer, a few bottles of wine and a broken broom. Remember, this is only the first evening and we were in for at least a weekend, so there is more to come, much more…
Roger (Roger RamJet) Burleigh
USS Cobbler SS-344
Med. Cruise 1967 Palermo, Sicily
The Capture of Her Majesties Frigate.
On one side of the "U" shaped dock the USS Cobbler SS-344 was Med. moored in, was an English Frigate. Quite impressive in size when you're that close and in a 312 foot submarine. For reasons no longer recalled, Rick Canada, Stacy and I decided to "capture" this Frigate. It was early Saturday evening, our second night in the port of Palermo, Sicily and I guess we were restless. Knowing how prone to officialism the Limeys are, we realized that we couldn't simply board their ship and declare it captured, (not without exploring the reported English preference for fisticuffs over fornication) so we formulated a plan. First we "borrowed" a fine linen napkin from the wardroom. To two of it's corners, we attached what amounted to clothes stops (oh, suffer on, non-Naval personnel) and using a black marker, we very carefully wrote the following message: THIS SHIP has been CAPTURED by the USS COBBLER SS-344. Our "official flag" was carefully rolled up and stowed in a pocket. We then went calling on Her Majesties Frigate. Our ruse was that we wanted to borrow a movie. (I believe at that time Rick and Stacy were our projectionists and in fact taught me how to operate the contraption, but that's another story.) We climbed the gangway, rendered all the honors we could imagine so as not to excite our prospective captives and approached the deck watch. The explanation of needing a movie brought out a fellow who was assigned to us as our "guide". Evening had slipped over the harbor (or mayhaps I should say "harbour" in this instance) and under the cover of darkness, Rick Canada slipped away as Stacy and I questioned the English sailor about the "hedgehog" mount and it's operation. Rick found his way to the "flag-deck", located the halyard to the tallest mast and using the clothes stops securely attached our "flag". It was three-quarters of the way raised when a voice behind him querried, "What'cher about mate? Rick said later he damn near ruined his dungarees, but regaining a little composure, he managed to reply, "Oh your flag fell down and I'm putting it back up!" With a final yank on the halyard our "flag" reached the top pulley, he expertly tied it off on the cleat, turned smartly and never looking back, beat feet for where he'd left Stacy and me. We were still there, being lectured in the absolute killing power of the English hedgehog. Rick came up, apprised us quietly of the urgency to abandon ship and we excused ourselves. "But what of your movie?" we heard as we retreated. "We'll come back for it later, gotta go!" We literally ran once we reached the pier. Safely aboard the Cobbler, we stood on deck and watched. Several minutes passed, then two men appeared on the flag deck and our flag was unceremoniously lowered. We expected some sort of reaction and waited. Suddenly a bright light pierced the darkness between the ships and quickly went out, then "ON" and "OFF". They were sending flashing light signals to us! Now I don't know if this is true today, or even if it was true of all submarines during this time period, but we had almost no one who could read flashing light. (I could get into another story here, about entering a torpedo unloading area and being challenged by a DD via flashing light, the meaning of which was utterly lost on us and damn near got us blown out of the water, but I won't) suffice it to say, we hadn't a clue what they were trying to convey to us. The after-topside watch had an idea. "Percy can read flashing light!" That was brilliant!!! Percy was probably the only rated Skivie Waver in the entire submarine service! He was trying to become a QM, but hadn't quite made it yet. (Percy is also a story into himself, one of which we shall save until later.) Someone ran below decks and rousted Perc', who finally made his way to the deck. After studying the flashes for a few minutes, (flashing light is S-L-O-W), he announced, ""They are saying," "WE WILL KEEP YOUR FLAG, YOU CAN HAVE OUR SHIP", and that shipmates, was the beginning of a short but wild relationship between the USS Cobbler and the first English Frigate captured by the US Navy in well over a hundred years!!
Roger (Roger RamJet) Burleigh
USS Cobbler SS-344
Med Cruise 1967 Palermo, Sicily
As Saturday night wore on and the evenings Bat-a-Rat watch began to form up on the pier, some crew members were elated at the recent "capture" of the English Frigate, others were only inclined to try and achieve greater accomplishments! An after deck drinking party ensued and as the wine flowed so did the daring-do and crazy ideas. One of which involved yours truly. Someone had said, "Wouldn't it be great if we could fly a white hat off their Jack-Staff!" To which I replied, "Yeah, I could climb up their bow line and do it easily!" (At this juncture, it is important to point out that the Frigate was NOT Med. moored! She had pulled into her berth bow first and tied her port side to the far left of the docking area. She also had a bowline run out of the bull-nose to a bollard.) All hands thought this was a great idea and a white hat appeared. We tied a short piece of line, like a clothes stop, through the inside loop in the hat and rolled it up so as to fit in my dungaree pocket. Eight or so Cobbler sailors walked innocently along the pier coming at last to the bowline of the Frigate. There was enough slack in the line so that it ran from the ships bull-nose down towards the water in an arc and up over the edge of the pier to the bollard. Seven of the crew hauled out the slack and held it tight. I grabbed the rope and began climbing. Once I was well up the line they carefully let the slack out and returned to the Cobbler so as not to create a scene that might give the plan away. I was a skinny monkey in 1967----odd what 33 years will do to a man!! Anyway, those of you who had to climb ropes in gym class already know that the effort became greater as time passes, simply because you grow tired! Well, not only did I tire of my efforts, but the Cobbler crew evidently tired of the endeavor and forgot about me!! It was a long HARD climb and when I finally reached the bull-nose I was about ready to drop into the water. (At some point during the climb, it occurred to me that a topside watch might find me hanging there and simply shoot me as a spy! But either surface ships don't post a walking deck watch, or else he never came forward because no one spotted me!) Getting through the huge bull-nose wasn't easy either! As I pulled with my arms, I'd get wedged inside and have to work my hands up the line a little to pull again. It was long and laborious, but once my back was more or less supported inside the opening, I was finally able to rest and relax somewhat. (If anyone can truly relax while thinking of being shot as a spy!) When at last I could sit up in what amounted to the after end of the bull-nose, I was able to look around on the forward deck of the Frigate and could see no watch in view. By wiggling up through, my location was right at the Jack-Staff and I didn't really need to move anywhere. The line on the staff was tied on a small cleat mounted on the lower end of the pole and I untied it. Two brass flag clips were connected together and raking out the white hat I tied the line through the clips and hoisted away!! When the hat was safely flying at its mast head, I tied the line off and lay down in the bull-nose to stop shaking!! (I've never been real ballsy when the possibility of being shot was fairly high. At the time, I was wishing I had thought of that BEFORE I'd started the climb!) Finally I began the relative easy slide down the rope, (only you really have to climb backwards, you can't actually slide.) When I reached the lower end of the bowline, the slack let the rope dip well below the top of the pier. I tried to reach a foot up to the pier, no way, could not make it!! I tried everything else that I could think of, nothing worked. There were my shipmates, sitting on the after deck only a few short hundred feet away, oblivious to my plight. (Lets face it, the bastards had completely forgotten about me and hadn't even looked in my direction since God knows when!!!) I tried to call out, without raising a watch on the Frigate. Finally a loud, "Hey COBBLER!! Did it. (Note: :Hey COBBLER" was a signal used by anyone off the Cobbler who was on the beach, in the s**-s and within earshot of any crew members . It brought as many as heard on the dead run, or at least a decent stagger to their assistance. Some like "Little Big Mouth Mike" abused this availability of manpower. (But that's another story.) Several guys came over and hauled me up as they took out the slack in the line and I climbed ashore, my arms shaking like a dog sh*t**n peach pits! I was damn near carried back to the boat once everyone realized that I had accomplished my mission!! We went back aboard the Cobbler and watched the white hat swing every now and then in the gentle Mediterranean breezes…….Recently there was a discussion on this board about the ceremony surrounding morning colors. If you have never seen flags raised on one of Her Majesties Ships, you have never experienced the pomp and circumstance the English adore!! Most of you as submariners, know full well, however patriotic you may be, that unless we were directly involved in the flag raising, we stayed below during colors. Well, that wasn't the case the next morning. All hands were on deck!! It was the most stirring out-pouring of patriotism I have ever witnessed. Guys were all over the deck, officers too!! My white hat flew stiffly at the peak of the frigates jack-staff, still unnoticed. As 0800 approached, two English sailors showed up in "full battle array" about mid-ships. Each was presented with a flag and they turned, standing back to back. Drums rolled, music started and each man marched either forward or aft towards their respective flag staff. Cobbler crew "lined the rail" so's to speak and watched. When the fellow headed to the jack-staff, arrived on station, with his flag clasped to his chest under his crossed arms, (I told you it was colorful pageantry), he stared at the cleat on the staff and realized that some twit had not left the little brass flag clips at the lower end of the mast as they were suppose to! His eyes automatically rose to the mast top. There hanging by its bit of line was a U.S. Navy white hat!! A loud cheer went up aboard Cobbler! (Remember all this was preparatory for colors, colors hadn't sounded yet!) Our English mate never varied from what he had to do. He untied the line at the cleat, lowered the offending white hat and untied it. All amidst a great cheering from the submarine next door. His flag was fastened to the brass clips……Colors sounded…..Every man on Cobbler rendered a smart hand salute!!! Music from what seemed like half the nations on the face of the earth played and a sharp "TWO" signaled the completion of the event!!! All hands were elated….Even the Old Man was on deck ..;.and now that I've said that, I just realized that I've told this part of the story out of its true time frame….It was Sunday night I'd hung the hat and now it's Monday morning and we were going to be getting underway….However, I have too much time invested in this thing to wipe it out and I have to go to work so I haven't the time to write Sundays story now….Therefore, you'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about the events that occurred on Sunday (and believe me, it wasn't Sunday School!!!) and then I'll be getting back to getting underway on Monday morning….Sorry about that….the actual timing of the occurrence of events is often the hardest part of a story to recall. SO-Tomorrows chapter will deal with Sunday and the last chapter will conclude Mondays getting underway!! The old gray matter is slowly turning white I think!
"Til next time,
Roger (Roger RamJet) Burleigh
USS Cobbler SS-344
Med. Cruise 1967 Palermo, Sicily
Well, since I got my time line totally screwed up, we now have to fall back to Sunday morning. I actually remember having pancakes that morning! Chief Bubba, who always wore shoes with no heels and was our cook, must have been in a festive mood to have gone to such lengths. Real Navy syrup right outta the can and everything…..Yum-Yum. While sitting in the AB following my delightful repast, someone came below decks and said the Limeys were all dressed as pirates and were motoring around in a launch. I decided to see for myself and headed for the bridge. Once again, it was a fine spring morning with the sun shining. Sure enough there was a motor launch, flying a string of colorful flags from stem to stern and a large "Jolly Roger" that flew from the masthead. This gaily trimmed craft was manned by six or eight "pirates"! (These guys were performing for the locals. It seemed that they had visiting ship that morning and their deck was crawling with Scilians.) Each "pirate" had a bandanna 'round his head and a complete pirate costume, right down to silver masonite swords! Mounted forward in the bow of the launch was what looked like a large brass shell casing. Every now and then, one of the pirates would light a fuse on something and throw it into the open end of the casing. Suddenly, a large "BOOM" would erupt with billows of white smoke! It was a fake cannon and an impressive one too! I stood watching, thinking about going below to get my camera, when the pirate ship came along side. Suddenly all but one of the pirates clamored over the tank-tops and were on the deck!! They grabbed both topside watches and before I knew what was happening a pirate was in full sail with me standing on the bridge waving a huge English flag!! Without a second thought, I leaned forward to the 1MC speaker, pushed down the lever and bellowed, "ALL HANDS LAY TOPSIDE TO REPEL BOARDER, WITHOUT ARMS!" (I don't remember saying it twice. I didn't have to!) Suddenly every hatch on the boat opened and submarine sailors poured out like yellow-jackets when you kick their nest. In two minutes all of the boarding party was swimming, 'cause we threw them over the side! The motor launch helped as many as possible, others made their way back to shore as best they could. Once the launch had deposited their wet passengers, they continued to putt around. Rick Canada stepped to the edge of the deck and waved a watch at the launch. (It was his, but the boat operator thought it was one of theirs and Rick had saved it from a briny submersion), he came alongside and six Cobbler sailors jumped into the boat and threw him overboard! That was a mistake, because they didn't know how to operate the damn thing and drove wildly around the anchorage, often bumping into either our tanks or the side of the frigate! The Limeys rigged fire hoses and every time the launch came within range, they drowned them with water. Following several excursions out to the entrance of the anchorage, (which we didn't think they would return from. Due to p**s poor helmsmanship,) they finally returned the launch and came back to the boat, heroes………Jim Tschroner, ETC/SS reminded me about this event and I wish he'd offer his memories of it. It was such a wild time, that I must have missed something with only one perspective. I have enjoyed steaming with all British sailors from that weekend forward. (Although, I soon learned not to try to out drink them!!! I also learned that there is indeed a fine line between "fun and fight" and you really shouldn't say derogatory things about the Queen! Especially if you aren't interested in crossing over the "fight line!) So there was the chapter of Piracy and English treachery, more or less where it belongs…Chapter V will finish up Monday mornings events as Cobbler lit off her engines to get underway.
Respectfully submitted by
Ill been Roger (Roger RamJet) Burleigh
USS Cobbler SS-344
Med. Cruise 1967 Palermo, Sicily
The Final Salute!
OK, so now it's Monday morning (again),,, "TWO" has just indicated all hands are to secure from Morning Colors. The white hat that was flying from the jack staff of Her Majesties Frigate is in some English sailors vest pocket and the deck of the USS Cobbler SS-344 is alive with elated Submarine Sailors. A few enginemen and controllermen filtered below and a blossom of smoke poured first from the starboard side and then the port as engines were lit off in preparation of getting underway. The activity aboard the Frigate far surpassed that allowed by our narrow decks. Sailors ran back and forth, officers gathered on the upper most deck of the bridge and someone set that cannon up, right out through the bulwarks, pointed in our direction!! Something serious was brewing and no one on board Cobbler wanted to miss it! Those not required for the maneuvering watch hung around on deck, the Jimmy's finally settled down into a nearly harmonious rumble, the stern lines were singled-up and a strain taken with the capstan on the anchor chain. As number four was cast off, a speaker aboard the Frigate crackled loudly above the dim. A new song by the Beatles blared forth: "WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE." We all live in a yellow submarine….And we live a life of ease….Every one of us….The anchor broke free of Palermo's primordial ooze in the anchorage and white smoke poured from the fake cannon protruding from the side of the frigate. THAT, commanded the attention of all who were in the immediate area!!…..Now I must step back a bit and mention something that I hadn't figured where I'd fit into the story, but now we're there and you need to know what was on the opposite side of the dock from Cobblers anchorage. We were between the frigate on our starboard side and a sand barge on our port. The sand barge was tied against the far wall of the dock, just like the frigate, opposite. Why Palermo needs to import sand by the barge full, I have no idea. But barges came full and went empty. The sand was shoveled off by HAND! Men stood and sweated in their underwear in the hold of the barge shoveling sand on to a conveyer belt that fed up over the wall of the dock and into waiting dump trucks. It looked to be hard work…….Just as a swirl developed aft from our screws, an officer, who by all appearances, was the Captain of the Frigate, drew a large pistol and took aim at Captain Anderson on our bridge!! A puff of white smoke…and a green flare tore across the sky, arcing over our bridge fizzling into the water beyond. He reloaded!! "YELLOW SUBMARINE" played loudly….Another huge "BOOM" and a cloud of smoke. A puff from their bridge…this time a red flare arched higher, crossed over us and dropped straight into the hold of the sand barge…landed in the sand, still burning brightly. Sicilians dropped their shovels and ran up the conveyor belt. When the second flare thudded into the bilge one or two jumped over-board!! As witnesses to this desertion, we all laughed our asses off and continued out toward the channel under a barrage of "cannon" fire, signal flares and English rock and roll!! It was a fitting tribute by the English to the American Submarine that captured their ship and flown a dirty rag-hat from their jack-staff…….
That my friends, is the conclusion (and a most fitting ending) of our stay in the dazzling Liberty port of Palermo, Sicily.
"Sam Tirante Fish"
(As remembered by Roger Ramjet)
When the USS Cobbler SS-344 was in the yards in Philly for a battery job her crew earned the reputation of the greatest hell raisers currently stationed there and this story will give you some idea why...
The USS Tirante SS-420 also pulled into Philly for some sort of work and she had her 'mascot', "Sam Tirante Fish" (a brass casting of some sea serpent) bolted on a plate that was mounted just above bow buoyancy vent...
I don't recall who was our XO at the time (being as I was in the sh*ts more often than not, I tried to avoid ALL XO's, irregardless of what fine officers they might be!) However, this XO had a proclivity for pilfered military (and not so military) items! A proficient thief - (that's such a 'hard' word), we never meant anyone any harm and never really 'stole' anything, we just 'relocated' it for the enjoyment of others - in this case our XO's, who would bestow "Basket Leave" on the lucky pillager!
The Tirante hadn't been tied up for long before the word was out that the XO wanted "Sam" for our 'collection' and that two-weeks basket leave was the prize!
At the time we had unloaded much of the movable stuff aboard the Cobbler and stowed it in 'cages' aboard the barge we were living on. The Sonar Shack shared a cage with the Quartermasters and that was to be my down fall, not of my plan, which you will see worked to perfection, but instead to my possibly earning even five minutes of extra liberty.
I had the duty the day I formulated the plan so I couldn't implement it, but I was young and enthusiastic, so I had to share it with someone and I chose Robert Stanley McIntyre my leading P.O. (Not that 'Mac' would have had anything to do with such a sordid adventure, but he was there and he'd listen...)
"Mac, I've figured out how to 'liberate' Sam Tirante Fish! All I gotta do is borrow a yard workers coveralls, tool-bag and helmet from Romeo (remember Romeo? He was the Navy-civilian-liaison / expediter / cumshaw king at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard) and simply walk aboard the Tirante, walk forward and start unbolting Sam! If anyone says anything to me I'll tell them that I'm doing a cumshaw job for the COB and Sam is going to be chromed so someone doesn't have to polish his brass ass anymore!"
Even Mac had to agree the idea sounded like it would work! I couldn't wait until tomorrow!
Well, a certain QM3 named Phiffer aka "Fife" was lurking around in the Quartermasters section of the cage and overheard my every word! NEVER FORGET! Loose Lips Sink Ships! Fife didn't have duty that day and was every bit as sneaky as I was if not more so! He immediately set about collecting the necessary equipment and at a time that coincided with the noon meal he swaggered up the Tirante's brow, resplendent in his dirty coveralls, with a tool-bag hanging from his belt and a grungy helmet covering his conniving head!
Now this part is told just as "Fife" related it to me (after I'd calmed down enough not to electrocute the b*st*rd!)
"Fife says he walked straight up the brow and went directly forward towards the bow. When he reached Sam he dug around in his tool-bag and took out a socket set and quickly found the correct size socket. (Sam was bolted down to a plate that sat on three legs several inches above bow buoyancy vent.) He snapped the socket onto the ratchet and began unbolting Sam. Naturally he hadn't been at this part of the project long when the topside watch showed up and asked what he was up to... He gave my speech nearly word for word, but added anger to his voice at having to do cumshaw work on his lunch hour, (See, I TOLD you he was a sneaky b*st*rd!) and sounded so convincing that the topside watch quickly left him alone. In fact, according to "Fife", an officer started to come forward but was intercepted by the watch who informed him as to the "yard workers" mission and cautioned him to steer clear of the surly bugger. That was just what the officer did!
Once Sam un-mounted from his sturdy base, "Fife" simply tucked him under one arm and strode off the boat like he owned the world!
As I understand it, our hero (as it were) went from there straight to the upper deck office on the barge and set Sam on the XO's desk... (I get green with envy just thinking of him basking in the XO's praise!)
I'm sure everyone in the crew will recall the eight foot pole we had welded on our bow that stuck straight up in the air with Sam in gleaming Naval Bronze mounted at its very top.
Several boats tried to "get even' with us for other pranks (like repainting the hull numbers on the sail of my first boat the Tigrone AGSS-419 to 418) before we left the yards, but our diligence made such reprisals nearly impossible. Their best effort was a white paint 'bomb' that was hurled over the battery boxes on the pier that splattered on our deck. We had the mess cleaned up in three minutes and posted a watch on the pier as well as the ones we had on deck!
The Tirante had already left Philly by the time we got out of the yards, but they had been sent to New London for 'tank training' and were to still be there when we pulled in... (Now you're beginning to see why Sam was mounted on that pole up forward, aren't you?)
I recall the Captain requesting any pier UP RIVER of the Tirante's location. It was late on a brilliant afternoon when we steamed up the Thames, and Sam shone brightly in the setting sun, the Captain ordered "All Ahead 1/3", making just enough turns to maintain steerage way as we slowly, oh ever-so-slowly passed the pier where Tirante was tied up, making certain that someone on deck would see... oh yes! They've noticed alright, guys are coming up out of the hatches, running to the turtle back, standing in ragged rows, pointing... There, there is SAM their stolen mascot, sitting high above the bow of that pirate submarine... we waved back, using all of our fingers as opposed to the single one they seemed to favor...
Liberty call went down at 1600 as usual, but it wasn't yet dark when an uninvited contingent of Tirante sailors rushed our brow and ran forward. They grabbed a hold of the pole and tried to break the weld on the deck plate, but Romeo had supplied us with one of their best welders and it held. The pole bent back and forth until our topside watch was able to get forward and rack the slide back on his .45!
I wasn't aboard for this so maybe one of you guys can fill the rest of us in on the actual details, but as I understand it, the topside watch held this unruly gang of Sam liberators at bay until the Duty Officer came topside and recorded every name, rank and serial number...
What followed after that was an "official" return of Sam to his rightful owners, another evolution I wasn't first party to, but evidently it was a somber event attended to with all the pomp and circumstance such a performance required.
Not many years ago I had the good fortune of meeting one Roy Ator of Texas, a member of Tirante's crew during the above noted story. So I have been able to hear how things went from both sides!
I'll look forward to hearing anyone else's version!
From the recollections of Bill Stutzer as told to Ramjet
In August 1960 your humble XO reported aboard USS Tirante (SS420) as nearly new Ensign and was assigned duties as Assistant Engineer. About 6 months later Tirante entered a scheduled yard overhaul. One of the jobs of AENG was to monitor and make sure the CO's discretionary fund projects were taken care of.
Let me backup a bit. Our CO was LCDR W. D. Benson. He was a model ship builder extraordinaire. For recreation during underway operations he would build models in his stateroom. However, prior to my reporting he had undertaken a new pursuit - to make a replica of the "Tirante" fish. He carved it out of two pieces of mahogany so that when completed it would separate and could be used as a mold for either a solid figure or in two pieces that could be used as a wall mount or fireplace andirons.
Back to the story. It fell to good ol Bill to get bronze castings made of both the solid figure (referred to at that time as Tirante Fish) and 2 sets of andirons. This required expending the CO's discretionary funds and judicious distributions of hams, three-way beef, etc. to obtain the bronze to make the castings. Everything got done and the Captain Benson decided, being something of a self taught naval historian, that Tirante should returnto the days of sailing ships and become the only ship in the Navy with a "figure head." Thus Tirante Fish (later sometime after my departure in late 1963 becoming named "Sam Tirante") was born and assumed the duties of figure head atop Bow Buoyancy vent. As a side note - I am still amazed that somewhere along the line we weren't told by a DivCom or Squadron Commander to get that thing off the bow as being unauthorized. Be that as it may it never happened even though it was featured in pictures in the official Navy PAO publication (can't remember it's name) and was widely known to all levels of Sublant commands.
We went through a couple of "capture" attempts while I was still aboard. The only "successful" one was pulled off during the period of the Cuban crisis. Tfish was successfully detached late one night and stowed inside one of the main ballast tanks for a short time. The deed was carried off by a FN (now retired as a Master Chief) named Barby from our crew. He was lucky that he wasn't killed because we were moored outboard of the tender in Key West - one of the lookouts on the tender saw a swimmer in the water. Standard procedures were followed and hand grenades were dropped in the water and active sonar was set to pinging. However, the only injure I recall was the kid got into it with some jelly fish. For the life of me I don't recall the events that transpired to find out the culprit and location of Tfish. Little Bobby Barby ended up at Captains Mast with a small slap on the hand. Now, after that we took to putting spot welds on the studs after the stainless bolts were tightened. Someone must have become tired of replacing the welds between that time and your liberation of the trophy. I left Tirante in 1963 after 3 1/2 years.
Ok, now for the rest of the story.
Fast forward to early 1973 and your humble XO is again ordered to USS Tirante - this time as CO. And yes the Tirante Fish (Sam) is still in place. In late 1974 it became my dubious honor to be the decommissioning CO of the good ship Tirante. Sad, yes. But on the other hand after a total of almost 5 1/2 years duty on board I felt kinda fortunate to be the one to "put her down." One benefit was that I had the opportunity to talk and correspond with George W. Street - her first CO who one the Medal of Honor.
The gift from the officers and crew upon decommissioning was - the ships figure head - Tirante Fish. And she now resides - as shown in the attached picture on my fireplace hearth. She is not polished as often as in her early life. I often wonder how many hundred troops worked out extra duty as polishers. It was the favorite task by the COBs while I was aboard. And now you know - the rest of the story! If you ever come west to San Diego you must come see us and do a little polishing - however, you will be searched as you leave!
Now, with regard to the first part of your e-mail. I guess we all have our "favorite" boat and that comes about by the one that has the most fun memories. Mine, believe it or not was not Tirante although I loved her deeply, but was USS Barbel (SS580) out of Pearl Harbor. Many, many antics and hijinx and great crew. Barbel was the original source of design and manufacture of the DBF pin for example. We made a ton of money for Welfare and Rec by selling them to guys on the Nucs in Pearl.
Sailfish was a tough time when you were first aboard. Not only having a big turnover from yard overhaul but the process of being ripped out of Lantfleet and being sent to Pearl. Being an outsider so to speak from "the other fleet" Sailfish was under a lot of peoples microscope looking for faults. I think that's human nature to view the outsider with skepticism until you prove you are one of the guys. And on top of that heading off to WESTPAC relatively shortly after arriving in Pearl. My predecessor, Pete Boyne, had pretty much taken most of the heat in having to put together a "volunteer" crew to make the interfleet transfer. I know he had to say no to a lot of the crew. Understandably, a lot of the guys grew up in New London boats or, at least, on East coast boats. So, Sailfish didn't have many what you would call "old timers" with a history of wild stories like Cobbler - there just wasn't that continuity. I hope you would agree with me that we did have a damned good CO in Joe Gleason. Except for the engine casualty at the end of the deployment her first WESTPAC the deployment was a success by any standard. Specifically, the powers that be rated the specop as far asinformation gathered as well above average for that area where we worked.
On the other hand the era of the of "fun" was coming to an end with the advent of the ascension to senior position of nuclear trained officers who had never been a part of the good old days of diesel submarines. They are by and large a bit of a different breed - a lot of work and not much play. Not all certainly - but a goodly portion. It is a shame that we lost a lotof good guys like you because of the changing times. Oh, for the "good old days."
As I mentioned in the forward of Mr. Emerson's email there had been a previous incident when "Repel Boarders" had been passed on the 1MC of the USS Cobbler SS-344, at least while I was aboard... It is part, but only a small part of my all time favorite Cobbler story.
I say small part, because this incident went on and on and on... Just one insane occurrence after another. The entire story has been archived at the Submarine Library in New London, CT under the title "Bat-A-Rat". I wrote it over a long period of time for a group of boat sailors that used to congregate on Ron Martini's Submarine BBS. "Rontini's" BBS has suffered various set backs in the ensuing years, but it was brand new then and diesel boat sailors reveled in "finding" each other these many decades after serving together, if not on the same boat, then in the same "Navy". We were amazed to discover that we were still brothers, just as we had been in that previous life. John Wynn was instrumental in having my scribbling's archived at the Museum Library.
How many of you remember back to Palermo, Sicily? Well, that was the scene of this incident as well as many more...
If I recall correctly it was a Sunday morning and Bubba made pancakes for breakfast... Someone dropped into the After Battery and said that the 'Limeys' (the crew of an English Frigate tied up 'next' to us) were dressed up as Pirates and some of them, complete with swords were motoring up and down the docking area in a life boat rigged with flags! Now that I had to see! So after sopping up the last of that canned 'maple-flavored-syrup' (a crime against Nature - to a New England boy) with my final bits of pancake, I bolted up into the Conn and then to the Bridge. Sure enough, there were Pirates in a small boat, flying the Jolly Roger along with other colorful flags, all to impress the local Natives who were enjoying a "Visit Ship" tour aboard the Frigate.
Suddenly the small craft came alongside our tanktops and all but two of the 'Pirates' climbed aboard! Just as quickly one of them appeared next to me on the Bridge waving his Jolly Roger flag in an obviously victorious manner! Now I'll freely admit that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer - I mean their coming aboard never raised the slightest bit of concern in my mind - at first, but that flag waving bit was so blatant I slowly came to the conclusion that we had just been "captured" by a British Frigate!
The 1MC was right in front of me and I pressed the rocker down, put my mouth to the speaker and announced "Repel Boarders, Topside Without Arms!" (Just like I knew what I was doing!) Twice!
The results of my rather uncommon announcement were dramatic and nearly immediate! Men came pouring out of every deck hatch, it was like I'd kicked a Yellow Jacket's nest! The Brit Sailor next to me had dropped down the ladder to the Nav-level and I could no longer see him, but when he popped out the Sail door he was met by several Cobbler Sailors who unceremoniously threw him over board!
His crew members met the same fate and all of them were soon swimming for safety.... The life boat picked up a couple of them and the Frigate dropped a landing boat net over their side for the rest to climb up on.
I believe it was Rick Canada who undid his wrist watch and waved it at the life's boat crew, indicating that the watch had belonged to one of their members and Rick had taken it to save it, as watches were rarely waterproof in those days. The two remaining crew members (the wet ones had climbed the netting) came along side and as I watched from above, several Cobbler Sailors jumped into the small boat and then threw the Brit's into the water... It took several minutes and awkward tries before our guys were able to master the life boats operation but sooner or later they were plying the waters of the harbor with - (I was going to say "gay abandon", but that's hardly P.C., now, is it?) - the confidence of local pilots, (there, that sounds better) - but by now the Frigate had rigged fire hoses along their Port side and would spray great streams of water at the boat whenever it passed within range.
Eventually our troops returned the small craft to it's rightful owners and for the time being everything along the water front turned quiet... But this was not the first incident we had had with that Frigate, nor was it to be the last... but I'll save those stories for later...
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This is a story of an event that happened at the New London Submarine Base in 1970. In early December, there was a Christmas Party at the Officer's Club, our Cobbler wardroom table was right next to that of the Jallao. The Jallao's table that night displayed a wonderful centerpiece, it was a cast figure of a magnificent black fish. I asked them what is was, and they responded proudly it was "Joe Jallao Fish", and it had been cast for them during a recent overhaul at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. My next question was "what do you exactly do with it?" Somewhat offended, they replied they proudly displayed "Joe" from their capstain whenever inport. I asked weren't they afraid of someone taking it, to which they replied loudly that their security for "Joe" was totally ironclad.
Fast forward a couple of weeks, I was walking down the pier on a cold Saturday morining to relieve as Duty Officer, and who was across the pier from us....Jallao. Shortly after relieving, I called for a Duty Section meeting in the Crew's Mess. Purpose of the meeting: devise a way to get "Joe Jallao Fish". As we were struggling to come up with a successful strategy, a member of the Base Police came down the After Battery ladder to ask if he could borrow a movie. Well, we quickly sat him down and offered him a canned ham, a case of tuna fish in addition to a movie if he could help us out. The plan we came up with on the fly required him to come back shortly after sunset in his police truck with its siren ( he later said he couldn't use the siren) and lights flashing and drive down the pier to our brow. He was to arrest one of our duty section members, FT3 Dave Sachs, and lead him off the ship in handcuffs. Sachs would cross the brow with him, but then breakaway and race toward the seaward end of the pier vowing "You'll never take me alive, I'll kill myself first". Naturally the Base Policeman followed him on the run as did the topside watch on Jallao. At that point, three other members of Cobbler's duty section crossed Jallao's brow and put a heavy securing line onto dear old "Joe". After a mighty heave on the line, "Joe" came off his perch and we had him. "Joe" was then taken to a party that was in session at the Skipper's (Bud Alexander) house. After getting "Joe", the Duty Section was instructed to remove every removeable topside object while we awaited a frantic call from Jallao. The call eventually came, but we denied everything.
A couple of weeks later, "Joe" was returned by Skipper Bud Alexander to Jallao's Skipper Hal Lewis, where upon Jallao provided Cobbler with a mounted brass plaque honoring Joe's return from the Cobbler crew. The plaque was proudly mounted and displayed in the Crew's Mess.
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