USS Plunger SSN-595 Sea Stories

Golf in Alongapo

This is one of my favorites which brings back memories of submarine comradery, I was a Commander in 1965 and Skipper of U.S.S. Plunger (SSN 595). We were visiting Alongapo in the Philipines. Upon arriving at the port I made my duty call on the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Naval Base there. He was a Captain who said he hadn’t had much contact with submarines and would like to come down for a visit. I invited him to do that and to meet some of my officers and crew who were a great bunch. After touring the boat the next day, he asked me if I played golf to which I responded, “yes, but not a very good scorer”. He asked me to join him on his Base golf course and bring along a couple of my junior officers to make up a foursome.

Later I asked if any of my officers wanted to join us and found no takers. I obviously needed the support of my crew! So I called for the Chief of the Boat and asked him to find the best two golfers in the crew to volunteer for a day of fun on the links. He brought in my Chief Radioman and my Leading Seaman, both of whom were forerunners on ComSubPac’s Championship Golf Team. I explained to them my plan which was not to embarrass the Base Captain, but to only have a little fun at his expense. On the links they were both to address us as “Captain”, obviously a normal courtesy for both junior officers and enlisted men. I introduced them both to the Captain by their first names, which was stretching the protocol only a little. We played eighteen holes of golf, with me and the Captain paired off against these two “junior officers”.

My shipmates completely wasted us with very low scores, winning the game hands down. Then came the difficult part. The Base Captain who obviously enjoyed himself and was impressed with these two men, invited us all up to the Officers Club for a drink. I then introduced my Chief and Leading Seaman, suggesting that they might rather invite us to the Enlisted Club for a drink. This they did, and our Base Captain was delighted by our leg pulling, and we all enjoyed a pleasant round of drinks on the Base Commander.

Encounter with an Innovative ASW Admiral.

One of the most impressive Admirals in the ASW business I ever worked with was a man I will always remember for his far reaching innovative thinking. I’m ashamed to say I cannot recall his name. Some one reading this probably shall.

In 1965 I was Commanding Officer of U.S.S. Plunger (SSN-595), sister ship of the ill fated U.S.S. Thresher (SSN 593) lost at sea in 1966. Again I was fortunate to be involved with another submarine first. This was my first Command and it was, at that time, considered one of the most highly advanced in ASW technology with not only the high speed deep diving capability of Skipjack, but also out-fitted with cutting edge sonar system of the day, equipment that not only frustrated surface ship and aircraft anti-submarine platforms, but was also was considered a significant advantage in hunting other submarines.

I found my self in port in the Philippines prior to joining the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the western Pacific. I received a dispatch from the Senior ASW Commander commanding the Sixth Fleet armada of an aircraft carrier accompanied by numerous destroyers and aircraft ASW assets. It was an invitation to fly to Hong Kong where the carrier was visiting to “meet with the Admiral and have discussions with some of his Staff” regarding my ASW capabilities. I had no idea what I was expected to do, but in a few days flew to Hong Kong, and found that I was the impromptu guest speaker to a hugh wardroom on the carrier full of more surface ship and aircraft skippers than I had ever seen. After a brief “Hello” in the Admiral’s cabin, I was told to give this group a few off-the-cuff thoughts on how to fight my submarine in near future scheduled exercises. He wanted me to tell them all about my capabilities so that they could “kill” me in training exercises! After my time at the podium, which was lengthy with my attempt to track all the questions, I realized that this Admiral was ultra-smart. He knew that his people may have some faulted concepts about what they might be up against with a modern/state of-the-art submarine. Many questions I was asked confIrmed his concern in my mind. In my opinion some were thinking tactics which would be very effective against a modern diesel submarine. In this classified briefing, I gave them all the information I thought might be helpful.

Later, I met the Admiral several times in Japan, and he always faced me with concepts that seemed to be off-the-wall, but always made sense to me. Once he suggested that I run a few miles ahead of his fleet and advise him of any “enemy” submarines that may be trying to penetrate his screen of destroyers and helicopters. I asked him how I would communicate with him in the event I had a report to make. His solution was simple. He had his people devise a sonar buoy which would pick up our underwater telephone signals and transmit them to the carrier. I had a few brief conversations with the Admiral while doing deep escort duty.

I could go on and on, but I must end with my final game with this Admiral. I had been informed by my Seventh Fleet Squadron Commander that this gentleman had depth charge racks installed on the stern of his carrier. He also had a huge sign hanging from the stern that read “Submariner, if you can read this you’re dead!” I now had another reason to understand why during my exercises with this carrier I was never allowed to come near... everything was always set up so I was always fully submerged or over the horizon playing games with his escorts and aircraft. I finally figured out how to get a picture of this sign which my Commodore dearly wanted to frame in his office.

One day the Admiral made a very sensible suggestion to me over lunch that it would benefit both sides of the ASW training scenario if the destroyers and I swapped sonarmen for a day or two. It made good sense to me and I sent four of my sonarmen to four different destroyers and got in return four fine destroyer sailors one day before we got underway. Now the sneaky part. I gave a ship’s camera to one of my sonarmen with instructions visit the bridge some day when his temporary home got within photo range of the stern of the carrier. My ploy paid off. When my shipmate returned we developed the pictures and placed periscope cross hairs neatly on the best ones. I then dispatched the best photos to my friend the Admiral and my Commodore. I suspect both figured out the ruse but neither called me on it.