Cavalla Crew Interview

James F. Rankin

Summer 2001 Update:

Jim Rankin is recovering well from the double amputation surgery and is taking therapy to build the strength and to train the muscles to let him use his new artificial legs.  With the aid of a walker for balance, Jim has done a 40 foot dash and is working on the 100.  Last week his motorized wheelchair took Jim around Epcot while Ruth kept pace with her motorized scooter.  Beverly Friedman and Zeke Zellmer walked and tried to keep up.  The photo shows the old sea dog with Neptune looking over his shoulder. 

           --All ahead full,  Jim!

    Zeke Zellmer

Jim Rankin's Cavalla Crews Interview

Early Morning Rain Shower

One cool, windy day we had returned to Electric Boat Company (hereafter known as EB) to change or repair something on a five or six hour stop, some of the crew were granted short liberty while the rest of us remained aboard and cleaned up, which was called field day.

Upon getting ready to get underway in the early afternoon, one of the Quartermasters, having imbibed rather too well, was assigned to the roof, the space above the bridge, ostensibly to be a visual signalman. The wind was blowing from aft to forward, over the bridge. The Captain, Navigator, who was the maneuvering O.O.D., and another officer were on the bridge.

The QM, caught in physical necessity, did not want to betray his inebriated condition by asking to be relieved, finally resorted to relieving himself right where he stood. The wind caught the stream and blew it over the bridge, chilling it enroute and expanding it to a fine spray.

The Captain turned to the O.O.D. and said, "Hey Jug, it's starting to rain." Jug, an ex-chief Quartermaster himself, happened to look up and astern and saw the urinating QM just as he finished up. "I don't think it'll last," he replied.

"We're Paid For"

After successfully torpedoing the Japanese aircraft carrier Shokaku, being almost immediately depth-charged by one of her escort destroyers and, inopportunely taking on some thirty tons of seawater via the engine air induction valve and forward torpedo room poppet valve, we sank far below our test depth. We were running at flank speed in order to prevent further sinking, and this was much too fast for our remaining batteries to last long. We had about thirty minutes of efficient battery left when the skipper decided to pump our excess water tonnage under cover of the noises of our being depth-charged. We were at silent running, our situation was very critical.

One of our, then junior, officers doffed his shoes, went below and retrieved a box of candy bars from his locker. Understand, from the moment we left port there was no re-supply, no chance to obtain anything what-so-ever that you may wish for. Everyone brought some sort of tidbit on board and hoarded it, sampling it when the need came or in moments of delight or extreme stress. NO ONE gave away these tidbits. The junior officer in question came back up into the conning tower and offered them around. I believe that his thoughts were that he wouldn't have much use for them in the immediate future.

When he offered me a candy bar, he said, "Do you think we'll make it?" I remember replying, "What's the difference? We're paid for." I was referring to the balance between one aircraft carrier and one submarine put us in the heavy black plus column. He seemed very satisfied with the thought and kept the candy. No one else had taken any anyway.

Let's Hear It For The German Navy!

During our exhausting and stressful "builder's trials" in Long Island Sound, we had General Quarters, Collision Drills, Fire Drills, etc. day and night for many days. One day we got a message from one of the escorts, which acted as target and communication relay, telling us to clear the Sound and return to port. It seems that there was a German submarine reported in the area. We came about and proceeded to EB at full speed. Would you believe we were cheering for the German Navy? What a great time to relax!

Bearing Down

In the Karamata Straits, it was our good fortune to "run into" a Japanese Destroyer Leader and an accompanying destroyer.

It was decided that this would be a surface, night-time attack.

Turning into the contact, keeping our visual aspect at a minimum, we made the approach undetected. At a range beginning at about 1200 yards, we fired four torpedoes at the major target. A satisfying number of explosions proved the death of the target. The accompanying vessel began shooting in all directions, totally unaware of where we were. The skipper, on the bridge for the entire time, saw the larger target explode and die. He started jumping up and down shouting, "I got a cruiser! I got a cruiser!" No course change was ordered. The range closed rather quickly. At something less than 800 yards it started to get too scary for me. The skipper was still exulting but I was getting too nervous. I put the helm over to full left and went to reverse course. Nobody ever said anything about it and the skipper, once we were clear of the situation, came down from the bridge still mumbling to himself, "I got a cruiser." He gave the conn to one of the officers on the bridge and things quieted down. We went on our way to Perth, Australia.

End of report. I'll bet the skipper didn't know how we left the area or anything else till the day he died. Oh yes, it wasn't a cruiser. Intelligence gave us a destroyer leader at a future time.

Where It Hurts

We battle surfaced on a Japanese sampan about 80 miles off the Philippine Islands on July 19, 1944. The 5" gun reduced much of the sampan’s offensive power and it was finally sunk. We had a Korean (?) sailor aboard who was instructed to offer sanctuary to the one Japanese sailor who had approached, but he changed his mind. Since no one else spoke Korean or Japanese, we never did know what our sailor said to him.

One thing that made this incident memorable was that we took a large sea over the bow that nearly washed the gun crew from the deck. One man, Tom McGuirk, nearly went overboard but was saved by being impaled (in the large buttock muscle) by one of the small boat cleats on the edge of the deck. I don’t think he ever applied for the Purple Heart but he should have done so. After all, he was wounded while engaging the enemy in action—right?

Fish Story

We were commanded between our fifth and sixth patrols to transport a number of short fat torpedoes that were used against surface craft. I think we took 105 of them in racks in the forward and after torpedo rooms. They weren’t for our use, we were just to transport them. It explains why we left one port after our fifth patrol, and left a different port to start our sixth patrol.

We took those fat, little fish out of Perth and went north around the northern tip of Australia and through just about the whole damn Bismarck Archipelago. And almost always in shallow water, constricted by land, and under orders NOT to engage in attacks unless necessary. It was a trial on myself and the navigator, "Jughead" Casler (Lt. Casler). We had also developed a squealing propeller shaft just to make it interesting. When they were loading those (very secret) little torpedoes, they brought them to us wrapped in covers. They restricted everyone from the area except those handling the little things and made the whole affair hush-hush. Naturally, as soon as they left everyone went into the torpedo room and admired what we hoped would be our next weapon.

The torpedomen showed that if you patted one side of the head, the rudder responded. Same thing on the other side. Acoustic or sonar-equipped fish. Great! When do we get them? We never did. I guess they got bypassed when the war ended by better technology at a later date.

When we got to Guam and offloaded those little fish, they put us in drydock and tried to fix the shaft but didn’t really get the noise completely out. We spent about twenty-five days in that drydock. They connected our saltwater, freshwater, and electrical connections so we were livable but it still got pretty hot inside when the midday sun hit us. When we left on our sixth patrol the war was, to all intents, over and we spent our time watching OUR planes fly over.

After the Armistice was declared on August 14, we were just cruising along on the surface, enjoying the feel of "peace" when a plane came over and dropped a bomb. We dove and stayed down a while then surfaced and complained to the boss. He said, "If you have to defend yourself, do so in a gentlemanly manner".

Serious Business

Before we left on our first patrol run we had to undergo a "training period" at Pearl Harbor to see if we were ready to go into a war. During one of our periods at sea the klaxon sounded and we were doing our usual "crash dive", trying to get under in as little time as we could. Unfortunately, one of our diesels had a "runaway" and kept running even after the main induction valve was closed. We were pulling a vacuum in the boat and it was getting serious. It was far worse in the engine rooms than it was for the rest of the boat as the engine room hatch was closed – on the latch. Chief Motor Machinist Mate Hildebrand was in the after battery and realized the problem. He went to the engine room hatch and, knowing there would be a tremendous pull into the engine room, opened the hatch.

Needless to say, Hildebrand was sucked right through that hatch and the upper edge caught him squarely on the forehead.

We ceased operations and rushed back to Pearl. The chief’s forehead was moved back a full inch or more. We really didn’t think he had a chance to live or come through the injury and return to normal. Before we finally left Pearl to go on our first patrol, we got the word that Hildebrand was doing well, speaking and walking. Not until we got back to Pearl after the Armistice did we see "Hildy" and realize the only result of the injury was a complete change of personality. He had been a normal drinker, smoker, chaser; and now he was a soft-spoken and pleasant personality. The few of us who were still aboard Cavalla since her first patrol were overjoyed to see him and to realize he was in such great shape.

How I made First Class Quartermaster

I was Second Class QM when I came aboard Cavalla and there wasn’t any chance to improve until we went out on patrol. I did demonstrate my qualities as a superior helmsman several times but that doesn’t make a 1/c.

Our First Class Signalman was the senior man in our gang and we had three watch-standing quartermasters to fill the bill. Two 3/c men rounded out our group. The senior man had made a run on another submarine before transferring to Cavalla, and when we were getting ready to put Cavalla in commission, word filtered back that his former boat was overdue and presumed lost at sea.

About two weeks into our first patrol run, he suddenly stopped talking to anyone, sat on a little box just forward of the landing area from the bridge all the time. He would go to chow but only ate what he could reach; in other words, he was clearly disturbed. I was shifted to the 4 to 8 watches, did some rapid learning in navigation and became the senior man of the group. When we got into Majuro for our R&R in the Marshall Islands the skipper told me that I was (and had been for a month) First Class.

When we started our second run and almost every run thereafter, we began with four quartermasters and I was just Assistant Navigator with sleeping time. Each run something happened to make us short of one QM and I was on 4 to 8 watches also. Oh well, it didn’t hurt me except that I lost a hell of a lot of sleep. I got to where, if I had 15 minutes with nothing to do, I slept. Wherever, whenever it happened to occur. I had a nook in the back of the conning tower that just fit my 137 pound frame.

I wonder what happened to me--that 137 pound frame now fits into a 190 pound shell!

June - July 1997

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