|Bang, Bang ... You're Dead!
|Bang,Bang ... You're Dead
by Mike Bailey
During a recent conversation I had on Facebook with a life long friend (we grew up together in
Sumter, SC), I discovered that our paths through life had unknowingly passed each other in what
some would call, “… a rather spectacular but frightening fashion.”
Without reveling several US Navy secrets I am still honor bound to respect and protect (even after
49 years), he and I realized that one day in late summer of 1965, we came within yards of each
other without ever knowing we had done so … that is, not until a few weeks ago.
My friend was also in the Navy and was stationed on the USS Enterprise (aircraft carrier) home
ported on the East Coast and after some major work at the Newport News shipyard in Virginia, was
headed down the coast of the US and headed for Gitmo (the US Navy base at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba) for her ORI (Operational Readiness Inspection). All navy ships went through these very rigid
inspections/comprehensive drills, etc, any time the ship had been out of service for an extended
period of time for repairs, refits, or just adding more “goodies” (like better weapons, etc.).
The Navy, never one to let a good opportunity go by, made use of the carrier’s travel southward
along the US coast line by conducting all sorts of drills that involved her not only as the aggressor
in some war games -- she went on the pursuit/attack, launched planes and went after “targets” to
actually shoot at and/or destroy by dropped bombs, rocket launches, etc. -- but also at other times,
she was the target of other aggressors.
Who were these other aggressors you might ask? They were like those of us in submarines looking
for prized targets and attempting various ways to breach the target’s defensive measures and
maneuvers by not only herself, but by the flotilla of support ships like destroyers, etc., that always
accompany a carrier at sea.
My sub started war games with the carrier as she sailed down pass Charleston and involved us trying
to breach the carrier’s defensive shield she had set up around her to protect her from ship attacks
and especially against attacks by submarines.
The rules were quite simple. If we could break through (read that sneak through) her defensive
shield and could get close enough to shoot a torpedo say at exactly 200 yards off her stern, the
“shoot” would be classified as a direct hit to her mid-section – hence, we could stop her dead in the
water or worst still, damage her enough to sink her.
Keep in mind that if it were a real, live shoot by us, it would not be just the firing of one torpedo
but most likely, a salvo of up to six fired within seconds of each other. The combined striking force
of six of our torpedoes would be enough to send any carrier to the bottom.
Our ability (my sub) to sneak around in the ocean was based on two things that other submarines
(old WWII diesel subs like mine or the new nuclear powered ones that were coming on line) did
First, they did not have a WWII submarine veteran as their Captain as we did – one that not only
had war time submarine duty experience under his belt but one that could literally out think the
Torpedo Data Computer we had onboard in the Conning Tower (where the periscopes were). The
TDC was a monstrous device that was both electronic and mechanical in nature that accepted
inputs by electronic insertions of data plus being able to allow for manually keyed in or “dialed
The information that I am referring to was courses, speeds, depths, etc., of not only our sub but
that of any possible target that we had decided to attack. The TDC would compute all the
facts and come up with a shoot solution, that is, what settings to be fed into our torpedoes to guide
them (course, speed, and depth), when we fired them, plus it told us what we (the sub) needed to be
doing at the time of the shoot (our own course and speed).
All this was needed to make sure (hopefully) that torpedoes fired from a moving vessel at another
moving vessel would arrive (hit) at the target as planned. Easier said than done. Bottom line, when all
was said and done, guidance information was fed into the torpedoes both electronically from the
TDC and manually in the Torpedo Rooms themselves and only awaited the signal from the captain to
“Fire 1, fire 2, etc.”. Our sub had six torpedo tubes in the Forward Torpedo Room and four in the
After Torpedo Room.
I have explained all this in somewhat detail to show how complicated a torpedo shot is on a
submarine. Of course what I described was the easy physical part – crank in some firing data and
hit the Fire Buttons. The hard part was the tremendous physical and skilled efforts required by the
crews in the Torpedo Rooms to manhandle these huge and heavy objects in a very confined space to
I also wanted to point out how good our Captain was – that is, he could do all the torpedo
calculations in his head, and then manually call out all the settings to the Torpedo Room for input
into the torpedoes faster than the officer at the TDC could key in the data and arrive at a
“computed shoot solution.”
To make a long story short, when our Captain was shooting from the hip, so to speak, we never and I
mean never missed a shot when he did his thing and shouted out, “Fire 1.”
The other thing our Captain possessed was the ability and guts to break all the rules, work outside
the box, and be inventive as the situation changed all around us on any operation we might have been
involved with. His ability to do that allowed him (us) to be sneaky in our solutions to situations and
to literally hide in plain sight. Every time we did one of his crazy schemes, I was reminded of a
training sergeant I had in one of my special ops schools whereas the sergeant told us the best place
to hide was smack dab in the middle of the dance floor, in plain sight -- and not off lurking around
in the shadows in the dark where everyone always looks for you.
Earlier, I said we had two things that allowed us to sneak around and basically hide in plain sight.
One was the skills of our Captain. The other was a secret weapon/device we had.
On April 10, 1963, I was celebrating my 21st birthday while in Submarine School at New London,
Connecticut when we were devastated to hear over the loudspeakers in class that the nuclear fast
attack submarine, the USS Thresher, SSN-593 had sunk off the coast of Boston and all hands
Talk about questioning if you had made the right choice in the Navy?
I am proud to say that I and all my classmates continued on with our career choice and all graduated
from Sub School with a fierce determination to succeed no matter which sub we ended up being
At the time (to the best of my knowledge), there were two subs in the Navy that had a secret (at
the time) device built into them that when operational, literally made the submarine all but
disappear from detection by sound or electronic devices. They could literally hide in the middle of
the dance floor (ocean, bay, harbor, river, whatever) so to speak and not be found. BTW, the system
was first designed for and used on surface warships to protect them from submarine detection. I
guess the Navy finally decided that turn-about use of the device by the subs was fair play!
Anyway -- one sub that had this device was the Thresher and the other -- you guessed it -- my
special WWII type diesel sub that had been outfitted to the hilt to be a specialized snoop (spy)
boat. BTW, boat is an endearing term for a submarine.
Meanwhile, back to the war games with the carrier.
We would conduct a track, approach, and attack -- shoot a live torpedo say at a point 200 yards
behind the carrier and announce on the “Gertrude” (an underwater communications device that
carried the human voice for miles), “Big E, Gray Ghost – Torpedo in the water.”
After that, we would break away for the carrier and surface maybe a mile away. The carrier would
then send over a motorized launch to pick up our Captain and one other officer and away they would
go back to the carrier for a debriefing of the day’s games.
On the first day when the Captain returned, you could see that he was not a happy camper. The
next day just before sunrise, we submerged to start the day’s war games. After we had conducted
another successful approach on the carrier, we repeated the final actions from the day before and
fired off our torpedo and announcing “Big E, Gray Ghost – Torpedo in the water” on the Gertrude.
As before, we surfaced about a mile away and watched the Captain leave when the launched arrived
and head back for the carrier.
Standing up on the bridge at the top of the sail (the tall part of the structure above the hull on a
submarine that hides, protects the periscopes, etc.), I asked the XO why the Captain was so angry
looking and so quiet when he returned yesterday.
“They basically didn’t believe him or the data he took to show/prove our shot.”
Well, things went from bad to worse – the Captain returned 2 hours later and this time was very
visibly fuming mad.
Our Communications Officer told me later that night that they (the carrier officers in charge of
the games) all but called the Captain a liar … saying that there was no way in hell could anyone, let
alone a broken down old WWII diesel submarine, travel through – undetected -- the destroyer
shield they had around them and then shoot a torpedo 200 yard past their stern.
The third and final day of the games started the same as the days before when we submerged at
sun up and began our day long track and eventual attack on the carrier.
BTW, after the conferences each day and our Captain was back onboard, we headed at full speed on
the surface further down the coast while the carrier slowed down during its night time journey
southward so as to give us enough time by morning to be well ahead of it and be able to use
whatever tactic we chose, like lay in wait, come morning.
Just as before, our gutsy maneuvering right in amongst the carrier’s screen of destroyers and
other support ships and our secret stealth devices in full stealth mode, we once again made our way
towards the carrier undetected. Only this time, the Captain had something else in mind.
When we reached optimum shooting range – maybe 1000-1200 yards away from the target – the
Captain remained silent about shooting another torpedo and then gave the order to continue on at
the fastest possible speed until we were 200 yards from the carrier and then turn and run
broadside with the carrier.
This meant we shifted the batteries from being connected in parallel to being connected in series
which gave us the absolute maximum underwater speed because of the huge increase in current
available to our electric propulsion motors. This gave us the speed we needed but did so at a high
price – we only had maybe 10-15 minutes running time before the batteries would give out. That
would force us to either surface and recharge or come up to snorkel depth and remain barely
submerged but able to run our diesel engines via taking in air through the snorkel induction mast
that rose up above the water like a periscope.
When we approached the 200 yard marker and turned hard to port and were now running
dangerously parallel to the carrier, the Captain called down to the Forward Torpedo Room and
gave the command, “Prepare to load and fire two green flares.”
“1st flare loaded in the signal ejector and 2nd one at the ready,” came the report back.
“After I give the command to fire, immediately reload and fire the 2nd flare without hesitation.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
The Captain was looking through the now raised attack periscope and holding the microphone to the
Gertrude underwater transmitter in his hand when issued the command, “Fire flares” to the
Forward Torpedo Room.
As he watched the first flare and moments later, the second flare break through the surface and
rise up high (maybe 400 feet up in the air) and started falling back down and glowing a brilliant
bright green, he pressed the transmit button on the Gertrude and shouted, “Big E, Gray Ghost.”
After a moment of silence, the speaker barked out, “Gray Ghost, Big E … go ahead.”
With that being said, the Captain looked around and smiled at all of us there in the Conning Tower
with him as he pressed the transmit button on the Gertrude and screamed, “Bang, Bang, Big E, you
Son of a bitch … you’re sunk!”
With two blazing green flares falling just under 200 years from her port beam, the Big E knew it
had been had and there was no way they could call our Captain a liar for breaching her defenses.
We immediately pulled away hard to port to head away from the carrier. The Gertrude was
squawking like crazy with several people yelling at our Captain as we headed for the surface to
allow us to run the engines so that we could begin an immediate recharge of all our batteries.
Two things happened after that. No one EVER called our Captain a liar again and we began an
immediate and hurried return trip to our home port in Charleston as it seemed like our Squadron
Command back home was a bit upset with our actions against the Big E. Even though we knew the
Captain was in for a huge butt chewing, we didn’t care --- we were going back home!
While all the outward voiced concerns about our little stunt were full of righteous indignation – it
was foolish, it was dangerous, flares could have landed on the flight deck, etc. -- I am sure
Squadron Command was smiling big time -- one of theirs had struck a mighty blow to the Big E!
Life aboard our boat after that trip was sad to say, almost boring -- except for the special black
ops excursions but those are another story.
I can’t end this story without describing another (on going at the time) story involving our illustrious
signal ejector we had onboard our sub.
It seemed like while we would be tied up in port at say Pier N in Charleston next to the huge
Howard Gilmore AS16 -- our submarine supply ship –- that they would be pestered with beer cans
that would end up strewn all about their boat deck. We heard that the topside gang (low ranked
seamen who do all the topside cleaning dirty work) over there caught living heck about every
weekend when the Duty Officer on watch would find all these beer cans strewn about his beautiful,
Anyway, it seemed like some enterprising (read that bored) sailor onboard our sub (do not ask me
how or who) discovered that a beer can was just about the exact same size (in diameter) as the
types of signal flares we had onboard. It also seemed like someone found out that with the ejector
launch air pressure greatly reduced, that it was a perfect launch trajectory from our ever faithful
ejector to the boat deck of the Gilmore!
To my knowledge, the Gilmore never discovered how or why it seemed like it rained beers cans on
Bang, Bang ... You're Dead!
Library Rules: All works/images are Copyright © 2012 by Michael T. Bailey Sr., Marietta, Georgia. All rights reserved. Reproduction, adaptation,
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Trumpetfish leaving Charleston, SC -- passing under old Cooper River Bridge (notice bridge shadow on the water).