USS Dogfish (SS-350)

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The Cruisewear the Crews Wear [1964]

Submitted By: Tam Graham

While on a Med cruise in early 1964, after more than a week at sea operating with elements of the 6th Fleet, Dogfish entered Genoa, Italy, for a one week upkeep period. As we steamed into the harbor entrance, a large new Soviet cargo ship came into view. It was moored at a cargo pier and we would pass it to starboard. The sleek new ship sparkled with its fresh green and white paint and its red ensign, with hammer and sickle, flew above its bridge. Our skipper ordered the Ops Officer to shoot photos of the vessel using the fancy Nikon 35 mm camera attachment on our expensive new Kollmorgen number one periscope. As we passed abeam of the freighter, the camera snapped away rapid-fire recording this rather tame (by today's standards) cold-war encounter for posterity. Shortly before we moored, the rather embarrassed Ops Officer reported to the skipper that, during the commotion, after sighting the freighter, he had neglected to put any film in the camera. I didn't observe that conversation, but the story made the rounds through the boat within minutes of securing the maneuvering watch, and drew a good laugh at each retelling.

Sixth Fleet orders required all Navy ships in the Med to moor stern-to and secure themselves to the pier with stern lines only. This "Med Moor" practice enabled ships to get underway rapidly without the need for tugs or line handlers ashore in the event of a rapid deployment. As the mooring ship approached the pier traveling astern, the anchor was dropped and anchor chain played out. This served to hold the otherwise unsecured bow from swinging either left or right after the stern was secured to the pier.

In the afternoon of our second day in Genoa, the crew was hard at work performing various maintenance duties. Deck gang sailors, taking advantage of a warm sunny day, were painting topside and, accordingly, were dressed rather un-uniformly in an assortment of coveralls, chambray shirts without sleeves, T-shirts, etc. In other words, in their best, albeit very un-regulation, steamers. Of course the submarine Navy prided itself on being rather unconventional in such matters, placing more emphasis upon performance rather than esthetics. Combat readiness was job one. Spit and polish simply wasn't high priority aboard diesel boats.

I was working on the hydraulics of our periscopes in the conn and had just raised the observation scope for a quick peek at what was going on around the harbor. A large white Italian cruise ship, the Leonardo DiVinci, was moored to an adjacent pier off to our starboard side. The high power optics of the scope made for great detailed study of all harbor activity. I soon noticed a large Navy ship being turned around in the harbor by tug boats directly ahead of us. I was soon to learn that this was the USS Albany, a heavy cruiser, and flagship for Commander Sixth Fleet (COMSIXFLT).

As the large ship slowly approached, traveling astern, it was evident that she intended to Med moor directly next to us on our port side. From my vantage point, it was obvious that her course would soon have to be corrected by the tugs, for she was proceeding at an odd angle and seemed to be heading right toward the Dogfish. Presumably, tugs on her port side, out of my line of sight, would soon pull her bow around and allow her to slip in beside us. I left the periscope and ascended to our bridge for a better view. I was immediately awed by the size of this big warship which loomed above us. I could see its various radar antennas rotating and occasional short bursts of smoke puff from her stack as she answered bells while performing her awkward berthing maneuver. Sailors, dressed in starched and pressed dress white uniforms stood at parade rest, manning the rails. This was truly an impressive sight from my perspective. As I stared up at this surface Navy spectacle, I could hear a bosun's whistle piping all hands to something and word being passed over the ship's 1MC. Higher up, from the starboard wing of Albany's bridge, I could see officers gesturing wildly in our direction and shouting something unintelligible. A signalman on an upper deck was frantically signaling in my direction with semaphore flags. He evidently thought I was in a position to do something because of my location on Dogfish's bridge. I gave him my best blank stare, and raised my palms to indicate that I had no clue as to what he was signaling. As more officers gathered to stare down upon us, I was aware that most had scrambled eggs on the visors of their hats, indicating they were commanders or higher. One officer, who I presumed was the ship's captain, was particularly animated, his face getting progressively redder by the second. I even caught a glimpse of his Marine orderly in the background; all decked out in his blue pants and white duty belt.

Our deck gang guys were also riveted to this evolution, and at about the same instant it suddenly dawned on all of us that this massive ship was coming dangerously close to our port bow. Albany had not been perpendicular to the mooring pier (or completely parallel to us) when she dropped her anchor, and as a result, her bow was now being pulled toward us by the anchor's strain. Time seemed to stand still as the distance narrowed. Boson's mates were shouting and frantically trying to lower fenders over the side toward us, but because of the great disparity in height were having no luck. Before anyone from our deck gang could react and get a fender over the side, the Albany brushed up against our port bow plane. The force of the impact from a vessel of such comparatively larger mass probably went unnoticed by anyone below decks aboard Albany, but sent a shudder throughout Dogfish.

A shrill whistle sounded, signaling the shifting of colors and the quarterdeck from the bridge to the main deck aboard Albany. They were now officially moored. I could hardly believe my eyes as I stared up at the officer-of-the-deck holding a telescoping brass spyglass under his arm with his white-gloved hand. This guy had to be a lineal descendant of John Paul Jones.

The force of the collision was certainly felt aboard Dogfish. Our officers, clad in whatever they had on, and generally in varying states of undress, emptied out of the wardroom and immerged though the forward torpedo room hatch. By this time, the Albany had moved away, apparently being assisted by tugs on her port side. Last up the forward room hatch was our skipper, Commander Robert Weatherly. The skipper was dressed in his dress blues, complete with hat, and looked immaculate, as he usually did. Fenders had by this time been placed over the side in the area of our bow plane to protect against a second impact. Although the bow planes were rigged in at the time of impact, there was obvious concern that damage may have been done to them. As it turned out, they only lost a little paint.

After quickly assessing the damage, the skipper stared up at the Albany's bridge. An officer, with gold shoulder epaulets, I was later to learn was COMSIXFLT himself, hollered down through a megaphone and asked "Are you the captain of that ship?" The skipper acknowledged that he was. "Well, why didn't you have line handlers topside with fenders over the side?" inquired the admiral. "I wasn't expecting to be rammed, Admiral!" the skipper coolly hollered back up at the admiral. That got the skipper a command appearance before COMSIXFLT.

Of course, it was precisely this marvelous command presence and steady nerve which made Weatherly the great submarine commanding officer he was. It is no exaggeration to described him as being a skipper the crew would have gladly followed into war, should that occasion ever have arisen. He never shrank from adversity or a challenge. He was a real leader, worthy of his title and the respect his crew had for him.

No sooner had Albany secured a brow to the pier than a Marine orderly, in blue pants and white duty belt, came scurrying over to advise our duty officer of the Admiral's formal invitation. We were also advised that COMSIXFLT did not want to see another single Dogfish sailor as much as peek out of a hatch topside unless he was wearing the appropriate uniform of the day. That order also included the deck gang painting topside. In retrospect, I now believe it was this sort of unenlightened leadership which was partially responsible for, and surely hastened, the onset of the Zumwalt era.

That evening, it just so happened that we were due for a battery charge. When the charge commenced at 1800 hours, it started out at the normal four-engine rate. After less than a half hour, the Marine orderly again scurried over to advise our OD that the Albany's skipper desired that the charge be secured as it interfered with their showing of the evening movie on the fantail. They had been at sea for a full week and were deserving of some consideration from us for their R & R. We would be permitted to conduct a battery charge the following evening. This initiated several communications between Dogfish and COMSUBLANT, all to no avail. COMSIXFLT was SOPA, and we answered to him, and that was that.

The next evening, our duty officer made it perfectly clear that we were not to start the charge until so directed by him. He wanted to assure that prevailing wind conditions were optimal and that we commence the charge at the four-engine rate, simultaneously started, and with as smokey a start as the throttlemen could possibly generate. This was accomplished by holding each engine's outboard exhaust valve closed until the back pressure was as high as could be safely tolerated by the engines. Although this procedure was certainly hard on those big Jimmy 278A's, and definitely not recommended by their manufacturer, it did have the effect of generating a substantial cloud of fuel rich, oily black smoke.

That evening, exactly on the duty officer's signal, all four engines cranked up for their momentous start. I again positioned myself in the conn, at number one periscope, to observe this evolution. The scene was a thing of beauty as the extremely large and black smoke cloud slowly wafted across the stern of Albany, completely enveloping her quarter deck and caused a great deal of excitement. Pay-backs are hell.


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This page last updated: April 7, 2007