Torpedo Recovery

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

If you weren't a Torpedoman, skip this one. You probably wouldn't understand most of it... Or give a rat's ass if you did. This is a sort of term paper for 'Olgoat' Stone. Proof that even though it has been damn near forty years, I still remember. The funny thing about old submarine sailors... We remember. After all these years, I wouldn't hesitate for a second if somebody rounded up what's left of Frothingham's boys and told us to light off the old Fairbanks and single up.

When I first met Ray Stone, I did all the things required of members of the Torpedo Pusher Fraternity... I gave the secret handshake... Hopped around on one foot... Did the chicken dance and rooster strut... Barked at the moon and pissed against the wind. But then again, true torpedomen never stop testing each other. So here goes, Stone, you old stove-up, barnacle-laden sonuvabitch... Dex is about to pull a rabbit out of an old hydraulic, oil-soaked raghat.

Punching torpedoes out of submarines is a helluva way to make a living. In the old days, a damn torpedo was as heavy as a bridge girder and about half a block long. After you fired one of those practice rascals, you had to go find it and poke the damn thing back into your boat.

Finding them wasn't that hard... They painted the warheads a raucus orange. You could see them bobbing around a couple of thousand yards away... Looked like a damn snorkeling Mardi Gras float... Or one of Stone's ties.

But well before you hit the surface, the recovery drill began. The idiots in the forward room dropped the overhead racks called the bridal suite... The elevated pair of rat's nests that belonged exclusively to the stewards. Once you got them down and stowed, you dropped the collapsable frame that allowed access to the watertight torpedo loading hatch... You opened that when you heard the bow planes rigged in... That meant you were fully surfaced.

The deck force went topside and pulled the loading boom components out of their 'rig for sea' brackets in the superstructure, and rigged 'em. This could be a real pain-in-the-ass adventure if the boat was riding the swells and water was sloshing through the gahdam limber holes. It was like trying to assemble a tricycle in a washing machine.

While all this was going on, torpedomen went topside to fold back a section of deck whose underside was a wooden angled trough upon which a torpedo could be lowered to guide the damn thing into the room. Rigging the stupid thing was hell on fingers... Not that any of us planned a future as a concert pianist, but we figured all of what we had, made operating thirteen-button blues a lot easier than it would be if you left a couple of 'em snorkeling around in the North Atlantic.

A lot of very original cussing and swearing went on during a torpedo recovery. 'Dumb bastard' and 'Stupid sonuvabitch' were favorites, followed by 'Move your worthless ass', 'How many gahdam times do I have to tell you frigging idiots?', and 'If it was up your butt you'd know where it was...'

In the forward room, the monkeys were centering a skid and elevating it with chain falls to match the angle of the deck skid already in place. By this time, the clowns on the bridge had located the torpedo... 'Fish' to the initiated... It was usually bobbing around like a wallowing steel rhino.

The OD would lay the boat alongside and the beast would bounce off the saddle tanks making a sound like someone pounding the side of an empty oil truck with a twenty-pound sledgehammer.

By this time, the duty swimmer arrived topside and handed something known as a 'nose cap' to one of the two lads manning the snubbing lines that would be 'figure-eighted' to the skid cleats, to lower the fish onto the elevated skid in the forward room.

Any bastard who ever went over the side into the icy water of the North Atlantic, to wrestle a two-ton torpedo and get a belly band in place on one of the stupid sonuvabitches, will get a fifty-yard line, front row seat in hell. If there's such a thing as a peacetime hero, they are mine. If you are ever given a choice between putting silk stockings and a garter belt on a starved crocadile, or going over the side to slip a belly band on a Mark 14... Go for the croc.

So, the poor devil (who is now covered in petroleum jelly, thanks to the corpsman) hits the water... He gets the band in place and attaches the hoisting cable and fore and aft vang lines used to guide the damn thing and position it when the boom elevates it to deck level. The lads on the vang lines align the fish over the angled skid and the fellows on the boom lower it.

Once the nose cap and snubbing lines were in place to check the descent, the fish was returned to the skid in the forward room.

And that senor Stone, was what it looked like to an E-3 who couldn't find his ass with both hands and a flashlight on a dark night.

Will you now sign my qual card and buy me a Saint Pauli Girl? You big, ugly sonuvabitch...