It wasn’t for the glory… life as a Submarine Auxiliaryman

theleansubmariner

Imagine having this conversation with your nephew who had never been around the Navy.

He saw your uniform with the dolphins and heard you saying something about winning the Cold War.

This is how the conversation went:

“So you were on submarines. What did you do in the war Uncle Bob?”

“I kept the air clean.”

“You mean you were on nuclear submarines that had all kinds of electronic stuff and exotic weapons and systems and your main job was keeping the air clean?”

“Well, that and some other stuff. But mainly I was an Air Regen Ranger. Some called us Auxiliarymen, some called us A-Gangers, and anything that wasn’t radioactive or filled with electrons probably fell under our watch. “

“Sounds kind of boring Uncle B.”

“Yep. But so is dying. If you want to live under the water in a steel tube that’s closed on both ends for…

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USS Liberty (AGTR-5)

USS Liberty (AGTR-5)

USS Liberty was originally the 7,725 long tons (7,849 t) (light) civilian cargo vessel Simmons Victory, a mass-produced, standard-design Victory Ship, the follow-on series to the famous Liberty Ships that supplied the Allies with cargo during World War II. It was acquired by the United States Navy and converted to an auxiliary technical research ship (AGTR), a cover name for National Security Agency (NSA) “spy ships” carrying out signals intelligence missions. It began its first deployment in 1965, in waters off the west coast of Africa. It carried out several further operations during the next two years.

Attack on the Liberty

Events leading to the attack

During the Six-Day War between Israel and several Arab nations, the United States of America maintained a neutral country status. Several days before the war began, the USS Liberty was ordered to proceed to the eastern Mediterranean area to perform a signals intelligence collection mission in international waters near the north coast of Sinai, Egypt. After the war erupted, due to concerns about its safety as it approached its patrol area, several messages were sent to Liberty to increase its allowable closest point of approach (CPA) to Egypt’s and Israel’s coasts from 12.5 and 6.5 nautical miles (14.4 and 7.5 mi; 23.2 and 12.0 km), respectively, to 20 and 15 nautical miles (23 and 17 mi; 37 and 28 km), and then later to 100 nautical miles (120 mi; 190 km) for both countries. Unfortunately, due to ineffective message handling and routing, these messages were not received until after the attack.

According to Israeli sources, at the start of the war on 5 June, General Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief of staff informed Commander Ernest Carl Castle, the American naval attaché in Tel Aviv, that Israel would defend its coast with every means at its disposal, including sinking unidentified ships. He asked the U.S. to keep its ships away from Israel’s shore or at least inform Israel of their exact positions.

American sources said that no inquiry about ships in the area was made until after the attack on Liberty. In a message sent from U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk to U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour in Tel Aviv, Israel, Rusk asked for “urgent confirmation” of Israel’s statement. Barbour responded: “No request for info on U.S. ships operating off Sinai was made until after Liberty incident.” Further, Barbour stated: “Had Israelis made such an inquiry it would have been forwarded immediately to the chief of naval operations and other high naval commands and repeated to Department of State. With the outbreak of war, Captain William L. McGonagle of Liberty immediately asked Vice Admiral William I. Martin at the United States Sixth Fleet headquarters to send a destroyer to accompany Liberty and serve as its armed escort and as an auxiliary communications center. The following day, Admiral Martin replied: “Liberty is a clearly marked United States ship in international waters, not a participant in the conflict and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation. Request denied.] He promised, however, that in the unlikely event of an inadvertent attack, jet fighters from the Sixth Fleet would be overhead in ten minutes.

Meanwhile, on 6 June, at the United Nations, in response to United Arab Republic complaints that the United States was supporting Israel in the conflict, U.S. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg told the Security Council that vessels of the Sixth Fleet were several hundred miles from the conflict. When the statement was made this was the case, since Liberty, now assigned to the Sixth Fleet, was in the central Mediterranean Sea, passing between Libya and Crete. It would ultimately steam to about 13 nm (15 mi; 24 km) north of the Sinai Peninsula.

On the night of 7 June Washington time, early morning on 8 June, 01:10Z or 3:10 am local time, the Pentagon issued an order to Sixth Fleet headquarters to tell Liberty to come no closer than 100 nautical miles (120 mi; 190 km) to Israel, Syria, or the Sinai coast. According to the Naval Court of Inquiry and the National Security Agency official history, the order to withdraw was not sent on the radio frequency that Liberty monitored for her orders until 15:25 Zulu, several hours after the attack, due to a long series of administrative and message routing problems. The Navy said a large volume of unrelated high-precedence traffic, including intelligence intercepts related to the conflict, were being handled at the time; and that this combined with a shortage of qualified radiomen contributed to the delayed transmission of the withdrawal message.

Visual contact

Official testimony combined with Liberty ’s deck log establishes that throughout the morning of the attack, 8 June, the ship was overflown, at various times and locations, by IAF aircraft. The primary aircraft type was the Nord Noratlas; there were also two unidentified delta-wing jets at about 9:00 am Sinai time (GMT+2). Liberty crewmembers say that one of the Noratlas aircraft flew so close to Liberty that noise from its propellers rattled the ship’s deck plating, and that the pilots and crewmembers waved to each other. It was later reported, based on information from IDF sources, that the over-flights were coincidental, and that the aircraft was hunting for Egyptian submarines that had been spotted near the coast.

At about 5:45 am Sinai time, a ship-sighting report was received at Israeli Central Coastal Command (CCC) in respect of Liberty, identified by an aerial naval observer as “apparently a destroyer, sailing 70 miles [110 km] west of Gaza”.The vessel’s location was marked on a CCC control table, using a red marker, indicating an unidentified vessel. At about 6:00 am, the aerial naval observer, Major Uri Meretz, reported that the ship appeared to be a U.S. Navy supply ship; at about 9:00 am the red marker was replaced with a green marker to indicate a neutral vessel. About the same time, an Israeli jet fighter pilot reported that a ship 20 miles (32 km) north of Arish had fired at his aircraft after he tried to identify the vessel. Israeli naval command dispatched two destroyers to investigate, but they were returned to their previous positions at 9:40 am after doubts emerged during the pilot’s debriefing] After the naval observer’s Noratlas landed and he was debriefed, the ship he saw was further identified as the USS Liberty, based on its “GTR-5” hull markings.[25] USS Liberty’s marker was removed from CCC’s Control Table at 11:00 am, due to its positional information being considered out of date.

At 11:24 am, the Israeli chief of naval operations received a report that Arish was being shelled from the sea. An inquiry into the source of the report was ordered to determine its validity. The report came from an air support officer in Arish. Additionally, at 11:27 am the Israeli Supreme Command head of operations received a report stating that a ship had been shelling Arish, but the shells had fallen short. (The investigative journalist James Bamford points out that Liberty had only four .50 caliber machine guns mounted on her decks and, thus, could not have shelled the coast.) The Head of Operations ordered that the report be verified and that it be determined whether or not Israeli Navy vessels were off the coast of Arish. At 11:45 am, another report arrived at Supreme Command saying two ships were approaching the Arish coast.

Israeli Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) in formation, c. 1967. These were the MTBs that attacked USS Liberty.

The shelling and ship reports were passed from Supreme Command to Fleet Operations control center.[27] The Chief of Naval Operations took them seriously, and at 12:05 pm torpedo boat Division 914 was ordered to patrol in the direction of Arish. Division 914, codenamed “Pagoda”, was under the command of Commander Moshe Oren. It consisted of three torpedo boats numbered: T-203, T-204, and T-206. At 12:15 pm, Division 914 received orders to patrol a position 20 miles (32 km) north of Arish.[27] As Commander Oren headed toward Arish, he was informed by Naval Operations of the reported shelling of Arish and told that IAF aircraft would be dispatched to the area after the target had been detected. Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin was concerned that the supposed Egyptian shelling was the prelude to an amphibious landing that could outflank Israeli forces. Rabin reiterated the standing order to sink any unidentified ships in the area, but advised caution, as Soviet vessels were reportedly operating nearby.

At 1:41 pm, the torpedo boats detected an unknown vessel 20 miles northwest of Arish and 14 miles (23 km) off the coast of Bardawil. The ship’s speed was estimated on their radars. The combat information center officer on T-204, Ensign Aharon Yifrah, reported to the boat’s captain, Commander Moshe Oren, that the target had been detected at a range of 22 miles (35 km), that her speed had been tracked for a few minutes, after which he had determined that the target was moving westward at a speed of 30 knots (56 km/h; 35 mph). These data were forwarded to the Fleet Operations control center.

The speed of the target was significant because it indicated that the target was a combat vessel. Moreover, Israeli forces had standing orders to fire on any unknown vessels sailing in the area at over 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph), a speed which, at the time, could only be attained by warships. The Chief of Naval Operations asked the torpedo boats to double-check their calculations. Yifrah twice recalculated and confirmed his assessment.A few minutes later, Commander Oren reported that the target, now 17 miles (27 km) from his position, was moving at a speed of 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph) on a different heading Bamford, however, points out that Liberty‘s top speed was far below 28 knots. His sources say that at the time of the attack Liberty was following her signal-intercept mission course along the northern Sinai coast, at about 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) speed.

The data on the ship’s speed, together with its direction, gave the impression that it was an Egyptian destroyer fleeing toward port after shelling Arish. The torpedo boats gave chase but did not expect to overtake their target before it reached Egypt. Commander Oren requested that the Israeli Air Force dispatch aircraft to intercept. At 1:48 pm, the Chief of Naval Operations requested dispatch of fighter aircraft to the ship’s location.

The IAF dispatched two Mirage III fighter jets that arrived at Liberty at about 2:00 pm. The formation leader, Captain Iftach Spector, attempted to identify the ship. He radioed to one of the torpedo boats his observation that the ship looked like a military ship with one smokestack and one mast. He also communicated, in effect, that the ship appeared to him like a destroyer or another type of small ship. In a post-attack statement, the pilots said they saw no distinguishable markings or flag on the ship.

At this point, a recorded exchange took place between a command headquarters weapons systems officer, one of the air controllers, and the chief air controller questioning a possible American presence. Immediately after the exchange, at 1:57 pm, the chief air controller, Lieutenant-Colonel Shmuel Kislev, cleared the Mirages to attack.

Air and sea attacks

After being cleared to attack, the Mirages dove on the ship and attacked with 30-mm cannons and rockets. The attack came a few minutes after the crew completed a chemical attack drill, with Captain McGonagle on the command bridge. The crew was in “stand-down mode”, with their helmets and life jackets removed. Battle readiness “modified condition three” was set, which meant that the ship’s four .50 caliber machine guns were manned and ammunition was ready for loading and firing. Eight crewmen were either killed immediately or received fatal injuries and died later, and 75 were wounded. Among the wounded was McGonagle, who was hit in the right thigh and arm. During the attack, antennas were severed, gas drums caught fire, and the ship’s flag was knocked down. McGonagle sent an urgent request for help to the Sixth Fleet, “Under attack by unidentified jet aircraft, require immediate assistance”.

The Mirages left after expending their ammunition and were replaced by two Dassault Mysteres armed with napalm bombs, flown by Captain Yossi Zuk and his wingman, Yaakov Hamermesh. The Mysteres released their payloads over the ship and strafed it with their cannons. Much of the ship’s superstructure caught fire.] The Mysteres were readying to attack again when the Israeli Navy, alerted by the absence of return fire, warned Kislev that the target could be Israeli. Kislev told the pilots not to attack if there was any doubt about identification, and the Israeli Navy quickly contacted all of its vessels in the area. The Israeli Navy found that none of its vessels were under fire, and the aircraft were cleared to attack. However, Kislev was still disturbed by a lack of return fire and requested one last attempt to identify the ship. Captain Zuk made an attempt at identification while strafing the ship. He reported seeing no flag but saw the ship’s GTR-5 marking. Kislev immediately ordered the attack stopped. Kislev guessed that the ship was American.

The fact that the ship had Latin alphabet markings led Chief of Staff Rabin to fear that the ship was Soviet. Though Egyptian warships were known to disguise their identities with Western markings, they usually displayed Arabic letters and numbers only. Rabin ordered the torpedo boats to remain at a safe distance from the ship and sent in two Hornet (Aérospatiale Super Frelon) helicopters to search for survivors. These radio communications were recorded by Israel. The order was also recorded in the torpedo boat’s log, although Commander Oren claimed not to have received it. The order to cease fire was given at 2:20 pm, twenty-four minutes before the torpedo boats arrived at the Liberty‘s position.

During the interval, crewmen aboard Liberty hoisted a large American flag. During the early part of the air attack and before the torpedo boats were sighted, Liberty sent a distress message that was received by Sixth Fleet aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Aircraft carrier USS America dispatched eight aircraft. The carrier had been in the middle of strategic exercises. Vice-Admiral William I. Martin recalled the aircraft minutes later.

McGonagle testified at the naval court of inquiry that during

the latter moments of the air attack, it was noted that three high-speed boats were approaching the ship from the northeast on a relative bearing of approximately 135 [degrees] at a distance of about 15 [nautical] miles. The ship at the time was still on [westward] course 283 [degrees] true, speed unknown, but believed to be in excess of five knots.[19]:38

McGonagle testified that he “believed that the time of the initial sighting of the torpedo boats … was about 14:20”, and that the “boats appeared to be in a wedge type formation with the center boat the lead point of the wedge. Estimated speed of the boats was about 27 to 30 knots [50 to 56 km/h]”, and that it “appeared that they were approaching the ship in a torpedo launch attitude”.

When the torpedo boats arrived, Commander Oren could see that the ship could not be the destroyer that had supposedly shelled Arish or any ship capable of 30 knots (56 km/h) speed. According to Michael Limor, an Israeli naval reservist serving on one of the torpedo boats, they attempted to contact the ship by heliograph and radio but received no response. At 6,000 meters (20,000 ft), T-204 paused and signalled “AA”, which means “identify yourself”. Due to damaged equipment, McGonagle could only reply using a handheld Aldis lamp. Oren recalled receiving a similar response from the Ibrahim el Awal, an Egyptian destroyer captured by Israel during the Suez Crisis, and was convinced that he was facing an enemy ship. He consulted an Israeli identification guide to Arab fleets and concluded the ship was the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir, based on observing its deck line, midship bridge and smokestack. The captain of boat T-203 reached the same conclusion independently. The boats moved into battle formation but did not attack.

Liberty turns to evade Israeli torpedo boats

As the torpedo boats rapidly approached, Captain McGonagle ordered a sailor to proceed to machine gun Mount 51 and open fire.[19]:38 However, he then noticed that the boats appeared to be flying an Israeli flag, and “realized that there was a possibility of the aircraft having been Israeli and the attack had been conducted in error”.[19]:39 Captain McGonagle ordered the man at gun mount 51 to hold fire, but a short burst was fired at the torpedo boats before the man understood the order.[19]:39

McGonagle observed that machine gun Mount 53 began firing at the center torpedo boat at about the same time gun mount 51 fired and that its fire was “extremely effective and blanketed the area and the center torpedo boat”. Machine gun mount 53 was located on the starboard amidships side, behind the pilot house. McGonagle could not see or “get to mount 53 from the starboard wing of the bridge”. So, he “sent Mr. Lucas around the port side of the bridge, around to the skylights, to see if he could tell [Seaman] Quintero, whom [he] believed to be the gunner on Machine gun 53, to hold fire”. Ensign Lucas “reported back in a few minutes in effect that he saw no one at mount 53.” Lucas, who had left the command bridge during the air attack and returned to assist Captain McGonagle, believed that the sound of gunfire was likely from ammunition cooking off, due to a nearby fire. Previously, Lucas had granted a request from Quintero to fire at the torpedo boats, before heat from a nearby fire chased him from gun mount 53. McGonagle later testified, at the Court of Inquiry, that this was likely the “extremely effective” firing event he had observed.

After coming under fire, the torpedo boats returned fire with their cannons, killing Liberty’s helmsman. The torpedo boats then launched five torpedoes at the Liberty. At 1235Z (2:35 local time) a torpedo hit Liberty on the starboard side forward of the superstructure, creating a 40 ft (12 m) wide hole in what had been a cargo hold converted to the ship’s research spaces and killing 25 servicemen, almost all of them from the intelligence section, and wounding dozens. It has been said the torpedo hit a major hull frame that absorbed much of the energy; crew members reported that if the torpedo had missed the frame the Liberty would have split in two. The other four torpedoes missed the ship.

The torpedo boats then closed in and strafed the ship’s hull with their cannons and machine guns. According to some crewmen, the torpedo boats fired at damage control parties and sailors preparing life rafts for launch. (See disputed details below.) A life raft which floated from the ship was picked up by T-203 and found to bear US Navy markings. T-204 then circled Liberty, and Oren spotted the designation GTR-5 but saw no flag. It took until 3:30 pm to establish the ship’s identity. Shortly before the Liberty‘s identity was confirmed, the Saratoga launched eight aircraft armed with conventional weapons towards Liberty. After the ship’s identity was confirmed, the General Staff was notified and an apology was sent to naval attaché Castle. The aircraft approaching Liberty were recalled to the Saratoga.

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Our Greatest Generation

Our Greatest Generation

Jim Barton, Captain USN (Ret)

Our recent visit to the Normandy beaches and the impact it had on me caused me to pause and think; to try to imagine; to try to put myself in the place of a soldier awaiting the ramp door to open; to think how it must have been for the coxswain of the Mike Boat as he returned to pick up another load of men; for those pinned down on the beach all under withering fire from unsilenced guns untouched by allied bombs.

As a combat veteran myself, I think we all asked ourselves the following question:

Would the fear of combat compel me to run or to fight?

Thank God they chose to fight because they changed the course, not only of the war; but they changed the course of humanity against a regime so inhumane and brutal.

At Omaha Beach, it was horrific with its steep hills and cliffs just behind the beach. I walked that beach a few days ago taking in the difficulty of the task. German machine-gunners mowed down hundreds of Allied soldiers before they ever got off the landing boats onto the Normandy beaches.

But sheer willpower and large numbers of troops landing overwhelmed the German positions with 160,000 assault troops, 12,000 aircraft and 200,000 sailors manning 7,000 sea vessels. And the resupply was massive in the days and weeks which followed. In less than a year, the European war was over. Hitler and his despicable regime were gone or soon to be.

This is a day to be remembered. It is a day so significant it cannot possibly be overstated.

Young brave men, many of whom were teenagers, sacrificed and suffered the horrors of war so that we would know peace.

These were our fathers and uncles, supported by our mothers and aunts at home and for some at war who really were and are the greatest generation. Their numbers are few now and growing fewer every day. If you have the honor of seeing them, thank them not only for their service but for what they gave to us. Their legacy and sacrifice cannot be measured, so vast that it is.

And for them, all gave some and some gave all. And for those who remain, a part of them still can be found on those bloody beaches of June 6, 1944.

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D-Day

D-Day

When in England at a fairly large conference, Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of empire building.

General Powell answered by saying,

“Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great peril to fight for freedom beyond our borders. The only amount of land we have ever asked for in return is enough to bury those that did not return.”

It became very quiet in the room. You could have heard a pin drop.

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Visiting the Pit

Visiting the Pit

Michael McGrorty

I was A PC and had the habit of visiting friends around the ship. Once I went into the fire room and saw a pal standing watch. He was at a station keeping a log. The space must have been over 125 degrees. The station was beneath a vent that blasted AC down, but it only cooled to about a hundred degrees, if that.

I never saw anybody in the machinery spaces that wasn’t saturated with sweat. I used to tell the BTs and MMs not to carry postage in their shirt pockets because you couldn’t get a refund on ruined stamps.

Noisy? Not at all. There was just a continual background scream as if a very dull cutting tool was shaving hard steel on a lathe.

When the door to the main spaces opened into the main deck passageway, a blast of heat shot out like the lid came off a blast furnace.

They had an ice machine down there in hell, whose purpose was to provide a bit of cold for satan’s assistants. They would guzzle ice water from three-pound coffee cans.

Despite all this, the snipes would come up for chow looking like they’d been pulled through a keyhole. They got a very pale fish-belly appearance after a while. I did not envy them, no matter that their exam multiple was far below mine.

I wonder if most of them knew what the job would entail when they went in.

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USS Frank E, Evans ·DD-754

USS Frank E, Evans ·DD-754

David Forrest

Written by a shipmate and shared by me.

Z 030312z Jun 69

It was 50 years ago today that I assumed the mid watch, mid – 0800 on 3rd Jun 69 in radio. My ship was the USS Schofield (DEG-3). My ship was in Desron 23 along with the USS James E. Kyes, USS Bronstein, USS Walke, USS Everett F. Larson, and the USS Frank E. Evans. We were on a SEATO exercise in the South China Sea and in company with the HMAS Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier. The Evans was in front of the carrier and told to assume plane guard duty 500 yards behind the carrier.

Approximated 0313 we received a flash message from the Melbourne. That flash message was and has to be the most shocking message I ever received. The message said that the Evans was in a collision with the Melbourne and the front half of the ship was on its side. I put the message on the message board and hauled my behind to the captain’s cabin and pounded on his door. I told him the Evans was in a collision and showed him the message. He signed it and said to keep him informed.

A few minutes later we received another message from the Melbourne indicating that the Evans sank. I hauled my behind back up to the captain’s cabin and didn’t knock this time but rushed through the door, opened of course, and shook the captain and told him about it. He signed the message and went to the bridge.

The exercise was canceled as well as our port visit to Thailand. We were on a search and rescue mission for the next 5 days looking for bodies and/or survivors. Unfortunately, we found nothing.

On that morning of 3 June 1969, 74 men lost their lives and are in a watery grave at the bottom of the South China Sea. Today we should remember those brave men who lost their lives in such a horrific way.

May they rest in peace!

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The Pope & a US Navy Chief

The Pope & a US Navy Chief

Pope John Paul dies of old age and finds himself at the gates of Heaven at 0300. He knocks on the gate and a very sleepy-eyed watchman opens the gate and asks, “Waddyah want?”

“I’m the recently deceased Pope and have done 68 years of godly works and thought I should check in here.”

The watchman checks his clipboard and says, “I ain’t got no orders for you here. Just bring your stuff in and we’ll sort this out in the morning.”

They go to an old WWII barracks, 3rd floor, open bay.

All the bottom racks are taken and all empty lockers have no doors. The Pope stows his gear under a rack and climbs into an upper bunk.

The next morning he awakens to sounds of cheering and clapping. He goes to the window and sees a flashy Jaguar convertible parading down the clouds from the golden headquarters building.

The cloud walks are lined with saints and angels cheering and tossing confetti. In the back seat sits a Navy Chief; his EAWS Wings glistening on his chest, a cigar in his mouth, a bottle of San Miguel beer in one hand, and his other arm around a voluptuous Pinay Angel with magnificent halos.

This sight disturbs the Pope and he runs downstairs to the Master-at-Arms shack and says, “Hey, what gives? You put me, the Pope with 68 years of godly deeds, in an open bay barracks, while this Navy Chief, who must’ve committed every sin known and unknown to man is staying in a mansion on the hill and getting a hero’s welcome. How can this be?”

The Master at Arms calmly looks up and says, “Hey, we get a Pope up here every 20 or 30 years, but we’ve never had a Navy Chief before.

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