The Smokeboat Roach

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Up on my submarine wall I have a small, framed print of a cockroach. The other night my blue eyed Scandinavian behavior monitor was standing there in her bare feet and cotton nightie… Jacked up to her fully-rigged, five foot-two and said,

"Why don't you get rid of that nasty looking thing? It has nothing to do with your submarine stuff."

"Nothing to do!! Are you serious? Darling, by the end of their careers, the only thing that kept diesel boats from just falling apart was that all the cockroaches were holding hands."

Submarines and roaches; a marriage made in Heaven. Can you visualize a smokeboat without the little bastards?

They came in damn near everything you got via the Naval Supply chain. They were the hidden prizes that crawled out of every box of Post Toasties. Life could be long and lonely if you didn't make friends with the little devils.

Before going to sea, we always drew stores from Mother Onion. The AS-18 was the world's largest stud farm for roaches… The little bastards were having sex and building us a never ending supply of future generations at a rate rivaling nuclear chain reaction. Frequently, we found roach sex to be the most organized activity on the Orion.

When we loaded canned goods we stacked the cases two-deep in the passageways… Requiring an obstetrician to remove guys from the lower racks. All of the boxes were conveyances for at least twenty over-sexed, multi-legged critters.

They came in a variety of sizes from,

"Jumpin Jeezus, did you get a load of that big sonuvabitch?"


"You CAN'T see that one?"

We painted a couple of them white so they could stand night topside watch. Some boats made little saddles so the little ones could ride the big ones.

One thing was certain, there sure was a helluva lot of them.

Once our trim pump crapped out… Being innovative smokeboat bluejackets, we solved the problem by having an E-3 walk fore and aft with a box of Krispie-Creme Doughnuts causing mass cockroach migration in his direction of travel. This produced the desired shift in weight effecting the necessary 'Rise' and 'Dive'.

At one point we used to pack them into tennis ball cans and shoot them out the signal ejector on intelligence gathering missions off Mainland China. Once the mission was complete they would return inside fortune cookies.

At night, we used to turn off the after battery lights and hunt up the ones that glowed in the dark… We would pack them in a Band-Aid can and mail them back to General Dynamics with a note reading, 'WRONG BOAT… SEND TO NUKES'.

The really big ones usually hung out in the Forward or After Engineroom. According to a very scientific study conducted by Johns Hopkins in Baltimore it was found that roaches gravitated to diesel boat engine rooms because Enginemen and Machinist Mates had an intellect on par with a large roach and that facilitated communication.

We never laughed at the roaches. Who were we to laugh?…They were the only folks on the boat who were getting laid regularly after we hauled our lines aboard.

The little bastards were very active at night… I don't know if they are nocturnal creatures, but they sure owned the night on the old 481.

"Jeezus H. Christ!"

"What's wrong, Dex?"

"Hell, I was damn near dead to the world and some little roach sonuvabitch moved into my gahdam nose and started building himself a spare bedroom."

"The other night I had a visit from the little sonuvabitch who'd gone into the earwax-mining business."

The little rapscallions covered a lot of territory at night. When somebody hauled off and crushed one of the little bastards, the entire population of the compartment would immediately go into a moaning and groaning lamentation.

"You killed Alfonzo… After all the money we spent on his college education."

"It wasn't Alfonzo… It was Herman, the one that played the piano."

"Herman Hell, it was Mickey The Messcook… Look for his little Qual Card… Two more weeks and he would have been qualified."

On a really dull run, you could stretch out the mourning period for a cockroach death and get at least two days of laughs out of it.

Everyone who rode Diesel Boats knows that the Emperor of every smokeboats roach population lived in your bread locker. Remember the old line…

"if you don't like raisin bread just shake it and all the raisins will get up and run away."

Diesel Boat etiquette required that any member of ships company passing the bread locker to knock… You also knocked before you opened the door to the bread locker and gave the little boogers enough time to go hide so the bright light wouldn't hurt their little eyes.

On one boat, when they had 'Repel Boarders' drill… Six really big roaches would come topside wearing bottle caps for helmets and carrying razor blades.

In SUBRON SIX… If a roach lived an honorable career… Never looked up at the skipper while he was flat on his back in the Old Man's mashed potatoes… Never crawled out of the Chief of the Boat's pocket in the middle of a dress inspection… Never tap-danced across the Exec's wife's fanny when she sneaked into the officers head for a tinkle on a visit… If they were good little smokeboat roaches when they died, they got to spend eternity in Thelma's lingerie drawer.

Submarine roaches reproduce at a rate that exceeds that of the increase in population of Northern China. There is no such thing as birth control in the cockroach world. So it never takes the little sonuvabitches long to damn near take over a boat.

When they started standing on top of each other… Formed bands and started holding close order drill at the regimental level, the corpsman lowered the boom.

We buttoned up the boat and fumigated it… In other words, we gassed the bastards.

When they completed the process, ventilated and cleared the air, we returned. The decks looked like the floor of a titty bar where folks eat roasted peanuts and toss the empty hulls on the deck… Only we were crunching around in a half-inch of dead bugs.

The Squadron Commander of SUBRON SIX should have worn silver roaches instead of eagles… They were the natural common denominator of the old boats.

So, my little Norwegian, that roach picture up on the wall makes me feel at home. For years, they were my shipmates.

By they way, anyone remember the fun we had watching mites doing back flips in your breakfast cereal?