Peacetime War Patrol and Other Irex Events

By Gil Frydell, 1962

Following my reporting for duty with the blue crew's navigation group of the USS Robert E. Lee (SSB[N]601) in 1962, I found myself temporarily assigned to the COMSUBRON14REPNLON staff. This was after my having been informed the boomer had room for only one of two of us who had just completed SINS school at Dam Neck. Stan Romanowski won the quick lottery to decide who was going to sea on a nuclear underwater vessel for a few months. While I was serving the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine squadron staff a short time later, I intercepted a request from the USS Irex (SS482) for ET help. The boat was preparing for participation in some North Atlantic war games, to be followed by a visit to Limeyland. When I volunteered, it was primarily to get my submarine pay back. I had been in schools for too long a time. I should have investigated the situation at least a bit prior to my putting my neck in the noose. It turned out that—as an ETR2(SS)—I was in charge of the ETs for this outing.

First, one should realize a few things. I had just been through Nuclear Power School, Nuclear Power Prototype Training, and Ships Inertial Navigation Systems schools prior to my time on squadron staff, and I needed my submarine pay. All that time, I had virtually forgotten much about things like the SS2 radar and other diesel/electric boat equipments. Many times, when something would go on the fritz, I had to dig through the books before attacking the actual problem. I do not, however, remember experiencing any serious electronic problems on this voyage.

The game involved the hypothesis that Russia had just declared war on the States. It was believed their subs would be entering the North Atlantic from certain areas, so the Irex and other River Boats (home port on Connecticut's Thames River) conducted sonar searches for the Russians, based on the assumption they would have to surface or snorkel at times to charge batteries. The enemy comprised boats from Key West and/or Norfolk, as I recall, and they had already gone to the northern areas before we started the hunt.

Of course, my having never before served on the Irex nor operated their sonar equipment obviously had some of the other guys a mite doubtful more than once of my capabilities. I do remember specifically that one time, I tracked a contact for a while and eventually reported to the conn that it was a possible snorkeling sub. Not much longer after that, the identification moved to probable and about 12 miles out, even tho I was alone in my determination. We vectored aircraft and if memory is right, they spotted a snorkeler within a short distance of my reported range.

I was not trying to out smart the rest of the Irex sonarmen or ETs or to impress the officers, but I'm sure it built up the Irex image in the games. My sonar experiences were in completely different waters with completely different ocean characteristics, and surely that is why my contact evaluation had been questioned. Apparently they thought nobody could detect such a contact that far away.

Another occurrence that came up on that patrol was that a particular equipment in the conning tower was found to be inoperative—or at least not operating properly. As the leading ET, I was asked to see if I could effect repairs or at least make some improvements. In the first place, this was a device I knew virtually nothing about except that (if I now recall correctly) it was an electronic fire control system or tracking device. Upon opening the book, I found myself staring at some schematic diagrams covering some fairly strange circuitry. I recall having to do quite a bit of studying, but eventually, I was able to rectify the problems. The system was again operative before I hung up my hat and grabbed a cup of coffee in the crew's mess.

All that must have been accomplished between my more usual activities during that cruise. You see, although involuntarily, I believe I must have set an all-time sea-sickness record for any qualified submariner on the Irex. Although it may not have then been considered a very good reason, I am sure it mostly came from the fact I had been away from the boats for a year or so.

I think I was okay until we reached the Thames River sea buoy as the Irex ventured out into the big league briny to head for our assigned area to begin our quest for Russian subs. At any rate, it certainly was not very long into our trek that I first had to reach for a trash can. Had I been on the bridge, I am sure I would have been okay, for I recall having been on the open sea in small craft a few times; then, as long as I could see the horizon (even if it were rolling) and feel the salty breeze, I stayed alert and contented.

During the hunt, we spent hours and hours listening to the sonar or watching the green screen (radar). Most of the time submerged, I felt great, but after a while, it got to the point that just hearing something like “Prepare to surface, two main engines” on the 1MC was enough to perk up my stomach activities. There might have been at least one time that I was calling Mr. O'Rourke even before the upper conning tower hatch was cracked to put a red light on the Christmas tree. At any rate, if I were not on duty, I usually ran for my bunk and shortened the chains to keep me from rolling after I had crawled in. Even then, tho, I kept a trash can or equivalent nearby. On the return trip back to the River, I think I got sick only a couple times. I found myself truly longing for my future times aboard a Polaris submarine—submerged for most of three months. Unfortunately (?) I never actually got underway on any nuclear powered boat. In fact, my Irex time would prove to be the last of my Navy sea voyages. Perhaps that is why I have been able to recount these adventurous Irex comments.

Once a “friendly” sub successfully “killed” an “enemy” sub, the two could surface to charge batteries, exchange movies, and just generally take a long breather before returning to the war-time strategies. On one such occasion, I remember our completing a hi-line transfer. Now that is something to see with even the big floating cities, but with two round bottom boats, it is an entirely different sight. I recall the sea was a bit turbulent, and the man being sent to (or was it from?) the Irex got more than his feet wet. After that event was over, we traded some movies, and I vividly remember watching one load dip beneath the waves for more than just a few seconds. I think maybe one reel was permanently fouled up, but the rest came out without major problems.

On such patrols, it was normally permissible to carry one movie for each week your boat expected to be at sea. Something like that, anyway. Well, we got so tired of watching the same movies over and over, at one time, we just scrambled the reels, showing perhaps the second reel of one flick, followed by maybe the first reel of yet another. That broke the monotony a bit [Thinking back a bit farther, that movie reel swapping just might have taken place on the USS Sea Cat (SS399), the boat on which I had qualified and served over a year.]

After our war games drew to a close, the USS Irex headed toward England. I can still hear the news coming over the 1MC: “Prepare to surface, four main engines!” The signal for me to grab a trash can. Also the signal for hair cuts and personal primping for liberty, even tho it would be another day or two before the boat would pull into Her Majesty's Submarine Base across the bay from Portsmouth, England.

I could relate a few happenings there at the base and on liberty on the island, but some of those things went on at other liberty ports, regardless of the countries. I know I had great difficulty in trying to rent a car. Several guys told me I would not be able to because I was an enlisted man. After several attempts failed, I was about to see if I could find someone who would rent me his motorcycle, motor scooter, or maybe even roller skates. Then one car hiring agency—upon turning me down—suggested I call the Hertz agency in Southampton. They even provided me with the telephone number. When I called there, they asked me what kind of car I wanted. When I discovered they had no Austin Healeys or the like, I opted for a Ford Prefect two door sedan. I got my colour choice, however, and they told me which train to take, telling me to tell my cabby to take me to the Hertz office. Hertz paid my cab fare and offered me my white Prefect for a $20 deposit. I toured the southern countryside en route to London, but I never went that far. I so much enjoyed the people I met and activities I attended, that I lost interest in the big city. After two days of touring, visiting, shopping, etc., I turned the car in and got money back from the deposited twenty bucks! (Remember the good old days?)

I would like to tell you about some other special events, such as the time I ended up sitting on top of the Captain's head, but that wouldn't be fair. Most of those things happened when I was still aboard the USS Sea Cat. There were some truly funny things—along with numerous stories with more dramatic situations. If you are interested in those happenings, I would like to refer you to the Sea Cat website. Unfortunately, however, it hasn't even been started. Keep watching for a link on this Irex site. Eventually, I hope to have time to set it up.

One English product of such quality that might convince many travelers to take some home, is chocolate candy. Numerous types from various manufacturers were then—and surely are now—available for the purists͇ taste buds. Well, when the maneuvering watch was stationed to begin preparations for the westward trek across the big briny, there were numerous small boxes and packages of chocolates hiding within the confines of various air circulation ducts.

There might well have been some other items in some of those ducts, but I remembered where the candy was. I figured stateside arrival quality would be enhanced by the cooling effect of their storage locations. Still, most were easily reached in case of strong desire of some extra dessert after eating some of the best prepared food in any branch of military service anywhere in the world. A few bites of creamy milk chocolate would go well during long sonar listening assignments, too, and some of those boxes were about an arm's length into an air duct in the sonar room.

I don't remember how long the return trip took, but although I had been glad I had signed up to make the voyage on this boat, I was longing to spend some time driving my own Austin Healey and visiting friends. This time we passed the sea buoy and started up the Thames River, my stomach was as comfortable as if I were sitting in a recliner chair watching television. I never again had the opportunity to test my body's resistence to the rolling waves in a US Navy submarine—or any other military vessel. I later helped prepare the USS Woodrow Wilson (SSB(N)624) for her future underwater life, but I was discharged before she was commissioned.

After the Irex returned to its berth at the New London Submarine Base, I started collecting my chocolate stash, only to learn that I was certainly not the only man to have known they were riding high and cool in the pipes above our heads. I think only about half of what I had bought in England made it all the way across the Atlantic, but at least I knew for sure that nobody who got a sampling of the products was unhappy with his candy. After all, I received no complaints.

The Irex was the third submarine I served on during my active Navy service. Although I recall more about situations on the Sea Cat (I was on that boat over a year), the entire TAD assignment to the Irex was very meaningful. It gave me a touch of experience of minor command of a few really good men, provided testing of my knowledge of electronic theories and practices, allowed me to enjoy some time touring through a foreign country, put some life back into my life that had become a mite dreary due to so much time going to schools, and it reinstated my submarine pay, thus helping my billfold to stretch again before my reporting back for duty at the Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM) squadron headquarters.

It was once known as hazardous duty pay, but when I was getting mine, it was called submarine pay. If you ever served on a well managed and adequately staffed United States submarine—whether diesel/electric or nuclear—you probably agree with me that the men living in those ocean crossing cities and towns (aircraft carriers to destroyer escorts) were the ones in hazardous positions. Enemy aircraft and other ships could find them much more easily than they could our submarines.

Formerly ETR2(SS)

Documents index
History page