Cavalla Crew Interview

Robert M. Jones

Robert M. Jones
Fredericksburg, VA
Served: 1955 - 59
rating:  SO1(SS)-SOC(SS)

                My tour as a CAVALLA crew-member represents the Hallmark of a successful and memorable 25 year Navy career. The experiences and memories of my days aboard CAVALLA set the standard from which all other future navy experiences were measured. Subsequent to reporting aboard CAVALLA in 1955 an overhaul at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard ensued. An overhaul scheduled conducted during the height of a summer heat wave and mosquito infestation. An assignment as a fire-watch was cherished. The welder’s smoke chased the mosquitoes away. The overhaul was capped off by a shake-down cruise to Nassau with an assigned mooring adjacent to many luxury hotels. The highlight of this island paradise port-of-call was a visit from an envoy from the American Consulate in the middle of the night to request that CAVALLA cease its battery charge.  Hotel guests were having difficulty sleeping.

The return to NLON from Nassau reinitiated a series of continuous and frequent barrier patrols in the Iceland/Faroe Island gap in concert with other barrier submarines and elements of U.S. Naval Air (P2Vs) operating out of Iceland. These deployments to the “gap” represented one of the key elements to understand and develop tactics and equipment to establish the submarine as the platform of choice to hunt and kill enemy submarines.

These activities were a sonarman’s dream from which the many experiences and memories were fostered. Each patrol commenced with intense effort to assure the efficacy of the  sonar suite remain throughout the patrol. The development of the technique to listen beyond the ambient.  The experience gained in the ability to differentiate between shrimp, whales, trawlers of all sizes, submarines on batteries, and/or snorkeling submarines.  

Of vivid memory is the exasperating evolution to locate/coordinate/communicate and vector P2Vs to the target. It was apparent that CAVALLA and the P2V were knowledgeable of their respective geographic locations. However, the ability to locate each other was often difficult or impossible especially in North Atlantic darkness and mountainous seas.  This location element was critical to the successful coordination and the ability to  vector P2Vs to prosecute the transiting submarine sonar contact.

The inspiration of Chief Lewis (DevGru 2 Staff) to install a rotating red beacon on a spare CAVALLA mast. The “Red-Eye” revolutionized the SSK/P2V localization/coordination process long before the era of GPS.

The pleasant experience of familiarizing P2V flight crews embarked underway on CAVALLA to observe SSK operations and limitations.  The objective of this familiarization effort was to facilitate the SSK/P2V communication/coordination process in the adverse conditions prevalent in the North Atlantic.

These adverse conditions certainly contributed to the  anticipated failure of the snorkel mast intake valve electrodes. This event set a dreaded sonarmen/ET watch station in the conning tower while snorkeling. Watch standers faced aft peering through the #2 scope, while sitting on a life ring/waste basket(s-can), attempting to observe the 1” diameter ball attached to the intake valve. When observed; a report of “Open the head valve” was directed to the diving officer. When not observed; vice versa. This observation was difficult, at best, especially in North Atlantic sea conditions and darkness even though the ball was alleged to sport luminescent paint. When in doubt, “Shut the head valve”. Lots of extreme and pressure cycles during this evolution.

Periodic visits to St Johns, Newfoundland enroute to the barrier op-area for purpose of picking up “Navy Spooks” and their experimental narrow-band analysis equipment. Also, the experience of mooring alongside the UK submarine tender, HMS ADAMANT in Reykjavik, Iceland and then again in Rothesay, Scotland on the Firth of Forth many years before the origin of the FBM base at Holy Loch.

The visit to Dieppe, France, in company with the SSK 240 and SSK 246, for a little R&R in the middle of an extended and intense barrier patrol was memorable.  This visit included a train trip, with an overnight stay in Paris where we got to view and visit all the famous landmarks. Riding Paris taxis was a near life-ending and scary experience.

Our return to NLON subsequent to this extended patrol presented a specific challenge; be home by Xmas day. This challenge required extraordinary engineering department efforts to produce sufficient turns to allow CAVALLA to proceed at warp-speed (18+ Knots) across the Atlantic,  over the Grand Banks and on to NLON. We made it with a day to spare.

The raid on to the SSK 246( scheduled for an overhaul) to capture/remove the one-of-a-kind “sonar graphic recorder”, the RO7, used in conjunction with the BQR-4A. The RO7 was the prototype/precursor of the graphic recorders now prevalent in all modern sonar rooms. The outstanding performance of the RO7 was subsequently observed at sea by a rider from USS SEA WOLF (Yogi Kaufman). As a result, with apparent pulling of rank and alleged priorities of the nuclear navy, a raiding party from SEAWOLF removed the RO7 from CAVALLA. Turn about is fair play, however. When SEAWOLF returned to Electric Boat after a short period for decommissioning to change nuclear reactor types, a DEVGRU-2/SSK244 raiding party was quickly assembled. The RO7 was removed, without opposition from the SSN 575 crew with CDR Yogi Kaufman as OIC.  The RO7 was reinstalled aboard CAVALLA, where I assume it resides today.

Another innovation/prototype/precursor was the wire-guided system installed aboard CAVALLA for evaluation.  Evaluation exercises in/around the Long Island Sound proved to be a challenge, especially in attempting to locate expended torpedoes.  A deployment to Key West was then deemed necessary to evaluate this experimental system in the clear Florida waters. Off duty time allowed for many beach, snorkeling and fishing activities. Participation in such past-times required the purchase of a plethora of applicable equipment. Subsequent to a successful evaluation  period the return to NLON was interrupted with a one night R&R visit to Pre-Castro, Havana, Cuba. An unforgettable experience, especially for one assigned shore patrol duties. Six months later a return to Key West was on the schedule to continue the evaluation. A welcome return to Key West for a few weeks of sunshine in the middle of a NLON winter. Arriving on-board CAVALLA that wintry Monday morning with our clean laundry and previously purchased equipment it was quickly apparent that gloom was pervasive throughout the boat. Circumstances occurring during the previous nights battery charge caused flooding of a main motor. Attempts to dry out the motor(s) with blowers borrowed from Quonset Naval Air Station were unsuccessful. It was then determined that an RAV in the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was in order. So much for a Florida vacation; a sojourn to cold and wintry Kittery, Maine was now our destiny. I suspect that a close inspection today would reveal the presence of fishing/swimming/snorkeling equipment still residing under some mattresses aboard CAVALLA.

During RAVs at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard conducted during the summer months the CAVALLA softball team was very active. Participation in the shipyard softball league was an enjoyable post-work routine. We competed with all the forces afloat and new construction units with much success. One unique unit we played, a couple of times, was the inmates at the Portsmouth Naval Prison. The CAVALLA team offered no competition. Each game was a blow-out with no or few hits produced by the CAVALLA. We played in the prison yard and it was a bizarre, memorable and very uncomfortable experience.

Periodic R&R trips (Whiskey Runs) to the Island of Bermuda was an occasional experience.  In Bermuda, liberty was essentially restricted to the Enlisted Men’s Club at the Naval Station. There the presence of submarine sailors, destroyermen, airdales, Marines et, al, fueled with Bermuda Rum, created the inevitable friction leading to a World Wrestling Federation (WWF) atmosphere. I consider myself a survivor from my many assignments as a Shore Patrol in that maelstrom.

Fond memories of Frank Feeley the CAVALLA cook of renown  remain. He referred to his shipmates as “kiddies”.  He would position himself outside the galley facing his hungry shipmates challenging their satisfaction. With each request, he would direct the mess-cooks to get the “Kiddies” more steak, milk, etc., depending on the request. His standard response to the request for more napkins was always the same; “You are wearing them”.

When Walt Dolbow, Torpedoman Extraordinaire, passed through the Control Room while CAVALLA was submerged, his destination was requested by the Diving Officer. If the response was either Fwd of Aft Torpedo Room, the Diving Officer would direct the Trim Pump operator to move 250# of water fwd or aft as appropriate to maintain trim.

I was fortunate to be promoted to Chief Petty Officer during one of the many trips to the Iceland/Faroe Island  Gap. At that time there was already a Chief Jones aboard with a moniker; ‘three finger Jones’. Accordingly, I became ‘five finger Jones’.

The above only represents a microcosm of my CAVALLA memories, however the memory below overshadows all.

 The professionalism of two fine CAVALLA officers, LT/LCDR Zeb Alford and Ltjg/LT Dave Hinckle who provided the encouragement and interest in the furtherance of my naval career. Specifically, they provided the encouragement for me to apply for the new Navy Enlisted Scientific Education Program (NESEP). Notwithstanding the fact that my GCT/ARI scores did not qualify me to apply for NESEP they took the necessary action to craft a CAVALLA letter to BUPERS to request a retake of the test to improve my GCT/ARI scores.  Against all odds BUPERS granted this request. Subsequent to much studying I was able to significantly increase my GCT/ARI. Now qualified to apply for NESEP this dynamic duo  sprung in to further action to develop and craft the CAVALLA recommendation and request for me to take the NESEP exams. The rest is history, off to Purdue University in 1959. Graduated and Commissioned in 1962; then on to 40 years in the FBM/SLBM Program; 12 years commissioned, 15 years as a Navy civil servant followed by 13 years as a Navy contractor. A sincere Thank You to these fine gentlemen is provided and is long overdue.


 February 2004

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