Engineer's Pride

by Mike Hemming

Snipes have pride. Our clothes may be greasy rags, but our engines will run.

Lt. N.K. Schilling on Requin said once,

"This boat goes out and comes back with smoke coming from all four holes."

We didn’t call them smokeboats back then. They were just submarines and most of them were diesel-powered.

'Jimmys' or 'Fairbanks', they made smoke and it was a point of pride to have all running coming back from a cruise. Snipes get little or no help from officers. Torpedomen can do everything right but if the officers in the conn screw up, then the fish misses. Not so in a 'Domain of the Diesel'... The rag hats are king and it's all on us. If we have a breakdown, the gang fixes it or it doesn’t get fixed. Officers and chiefs can stand around and watch, but whether they are there or not, it doesn’t make any difference at all. Matter of fact, by standing around, all they are is a hindrance to progress. Asking things like,

"Do you need more help?"

"Can you put more men on the job?"

There is a class in the Navel Academy called Work Theory 101, which teaches that if it takes two men one hour to do a job, then four men can do it in ½ hour. Expanding this idea beyond all common sense, a non-qual Ensign or JG will figure that 128 men will do the job in under 7 seconds.

Requin never came home on less than four in my entire time aboard her. Once though, it was a close call. About two days out, we spun a vertical drive on #3. In port, it’s figured to be a 48-hour job. Bill, the first class in charge of the AER, asked for Stew and I to be taken off the watch bill and the three of us would work straight through until it was fixed. Mr. Schilling agreed, then stepped back and we started in. A vertical drive unit connects the upper and lower crankshafts in a Fairbanks Morse engine. Two cones inside are forced together as a slip clutch arrangement for safety, any slippage however creates enormous amounts of heat that welds the two cones together. This results in an engine out of time. To get them apart for replacement, holes are drilled in the outer cone, using every drill bit on board. Then the holes are connected by cold chiseling the metal left between the holes. Hours are consumed drilling and chiseling in a tight space that provides little room for such maneuvers. After breaking only to eat for 36 hours, we completed the job. Two hours before maneuvering watch was stationed, #3 engine was lit off and tested. Our reward when we pulled in was the other boat’s snipes seeing Requin with smoke coming from all four holes.

No sitting in Bells that night listening to Torsk snipes saying,

"What’s the matter 481, can’t you keep your stuff running?"

Or far worse, a Jimmy boat snipe yelling,

" We may leak some oil, but we run all day and all night."

"You guys can’t pack the freight."

Fights started over less.

Heaven forbid, some other boat took your ops because you had engines down. Boats would leave port on two engines, with snipes busting butt down below, instead of another boat having to take your ops. It may have been the crappiest ops imaginable and you might hate going on it, but you didn’t want to hear the shit if another boat had to do the operation. Runner once singled up with only one engine - running a second one wasn’t started until they passed the coal piers. I give the Runner snipes credit. Five days later, they came in with smoke coming from all four holes. Snipes with pride they were, bad luck is one thing but limping home is another. Nothing would make engine room snipes come topside faster than the yell down the engine room hatch,

"Mudfish is coming in on one engine."

The only time Carp came home on three engines, I was on leave. A cold snorkel start on #1 and water being incompressible, conn rods and the crankshaft were bent.

Walking down the pier coming off leave, a Requin snipe hollered out,

"Hey Hemming, can't you Carp snipes keep your Jimmy’s running?"

"Your boat limped in last night in the dark trying to hide in shame."

Other gangs on board could have breakdowns and screw-ups, but if a boat limped up to the pier wheezing and belching white or black smoke, then the whole base knew the snipes had messed up. The rule of thumb was, if you have the spare parts you should fix it. If you don't have the spares and can't make them, hang your head in shame. All the well-fired torpedoes are useless until the engines put the boat where it belonged in firing range of the enemy.

If diesel smoke is the elixir of life to a snipe’s nose we all wanted 4 roses in our bouquets during maneuvering watch. If one rock crusher makes music to our ears, four of them are a symphony that we all wanted to hear.

Just one more time, yeah, just one more time.