Practice! Practice! Practice!
Practice! Practice! Practice!
Two incidents involving USS Odax and USS Trutta taught me that all our practice, our drills, and our discipline were worthwhile. The first, involving an actual collision, occurred when Odax was tied up outboard USS Howard W. Gilmore, which was tied to the quay wall at the Naval Station, Key West, Florida. We were loading torpedoes from the Gilmore, which was our submarine tender. We had a fish (as we called the torpedo) resting on the angled cradle to slide it down into the boat, when Trutta came in past the breakwater. There was a strong ebb current just outside the mole at the end of the breakwater, and the channel is narrow and angled. The only safe way to enter the harbor under those conditions is to put the main motors full ahead just as you put the rudder over full. As soon as the stern clears the entrance, thus putting the boat out of the current, reverse the main motors to back full. It gets a bit dicey. On this day, Trutta did not get it quite right.
The collision was quite modest in impact, as Trutta broadsided Odax, but we were in a precarious position, with the 3,000 pound weapon loose in its cradle. Everyone sprang to his station, did his job, and there were no injuries. Inspection later showed significant damage to our saddle tanks, and we were significantly delayed in sailing with our full weapons load. The training had paid off, otherwise we would have seriously damaged a very dangerous weapon.
When I saw that the boat was in no danger of sinking, and that there were no injuries on Odax, and that we were not in a position to offer assistance to Trutta, I went to tell our skipper about the incident. I knew that he was meeting with the Commodore and with most of the other skippers in the wardroom of the tender. The meeting had just broken up, and I ran up and said, "Captain Moore, Trutta just collided with Odax." I was treated to the scene of all these commanding officers, and the Commodore, running for the rail to take a look. The scene showed nothing but a scurry of backsides and elbows, and all of it senior officers.
The second incident occurred when Odax and Trutta were taking turns playing surface target for the other's torpedoes. On one particular run, Trutta was making a periscope approach, and I was the Officer of the Deck on Odax, running a predetermined course. In such a situation, the submerged submarine is in charge of the exercise, since we could not see where he was and he could see us. The practice is, after the torpedo has passed the target, both ships will turn to the same heading and proceed at five knots. This minimizes the probability of collision between the surfaced ship, and the submarine which is surfacing.
On this day, Trutta's skipper made three mistakes. First, when we told him on the underwater telephone that the torpedo had passed under us, as intended, he told us to take safety course east. He meant to say west. Second, he had ordered his torpedo room crew start loading another torpedo into the tube right away, when the previous exercise was still in progress. Then he decided to watch me and my two lookouts, to see how long it would take us to spot the head of his attack periscope through our binoculars.
We were heading west when Trutta told us to take safety course east. I ordered right full rudder, all (motors) ahead standard. Just as the helmsman told me that the rudder was right full, the starboard lookout pointed forward and down and exclaimed, "There's the m*****-******g Trutta!" Our sharp turn to reverse course, which Trutta did not expect,was going to run us right over him.
I saw the periscope immediately, and I went through the procedure that I could perform in my sleep, having practiced it so often. I yelled, "All back emergency! Shift your rudder to left hard!" We cleared Trutta's periscope by thirty yards, which ain't much. It is damned little space, in fact, to have between two 300-foot submarines that are flailing around in the water.
At this point, the skipper of the Trutta discovered his third mistake. His periscope magnification was set on the lowest power. He thought it was set on the highest power. He thought we were several times as far away as we really were.
After my initial fascination with all the drills, I had begun to find them tedious. This incident renewed my respect for practice, practice, practice.