The USS Irex SS-482: Family-Gram No. 5

Care of Fleet Post Office
New York, N.Y.

12 October 1961


Dear Wives, Mothers, Sweethearts, Children and Fathers:

IREX entered Athens late in the afternoon of the 18th of September and moored alongside the oiler MISSISSINEWA. Shortly after arrival in port, the SHARK came in and moored outboard of IREX. We are now moored in Phaleron Bay about a mile off the beach. The city of Athens is spread in a long crescent around us and the lights of the city trail off in the distance. Athens is one of the oldest cities we will visit and we will have several tours of the local area.

Wednesday, 20 September 1961.

Although the men went over on liberty last night, today will be their first real chance to see this old city. The oiler has taken our laundry and will give us clean clothes. They also can give us lube oil and fresh water so we will now be back to capacity. The last of the fleet sailed in today and we now are anchored in the midst of destroyers, cruisers and the carrier INDEPENDENCE. Athens has been taken over by the U.S. Fleet.

Thursday, 21 September 1961

Today part of the crew made the first formal trip around Athens. A tour company took 20 men around the area to see all the ancient sights. A lot of photographic film was expended. Many of the men have spent the day visiting the carrier and other ships to pick up spare parts we have needed. Mail from New London is taking 2 days to reach us.

Friday, 22 September 1961 to Monday, 25 September 1961

The ship has remained in port during this period relaxing. We are now over half way through the trip and it has been a peaceful, warm in port period. Most of the crew have now visited the historic sights and are ready to move on. The highlight of the visit has been the discovery of a wine festival at a nearby small town.

For the price of ($1.00) you are permitted to wander around a large fair grounds and taste all the different wines that are made in Greece. The crew swarmed to this festival and certainly enjoyed the native Greek folk dancing and general carnival spirit of the fair. l watched most of our men during this period quite closely and it was quite refreshing to note that we had no problems. l know that on several occasions that men felt they had been kicked by a mule the “morning after” but for 73 young men to have all the wine they wanted and still not have one get sick is quite a favorable commentary on their conduct.

Early Monday morning the fleet put to sea less the KITTIWAKE, SHARK and IREX. We are all somewhat happy to see the rest of the fleet leave. The three small ships are now anchored off the Royal Yacht Harbor. At night you can stand on a high point in Athens and see these three ships for miles. All Sixth Fleet ships show strings of white lights along the water edge and over the top of the mast. These lights have a very refreshing effect on the local population as they can look to sea and see our fleet moored nearby ready to protect their freedom Many of the men have been stopped by local Greeks and told that their country appreciates what the United States has done for them.

Greece has received several naval ships from the united states. These include destroyers, submarines and smaller units. All these ships are in excellent material condition and manned by very well trained crews. All young men in Greece must do two years military service. There are no exemptions and this two years does not include the basic training period.

Greece, like England is a democratic monarchy, but unlike England, the king does have very definite powers. The royal family is very pro-western in their beliefs and as a result are very well liked by their people. The young Greek Prince is following his father's lead and is a naval officer. During the submarines visit to Greece, the royal family visited SHARK and were very friendly to all the officers and men. Greece is a very strong NATO ally and very anti-Communist.

Tuesday, 26 September 1961

IREX will be underway tomorrow and move to northern Greece. Many of the men have completed touring Athens and it is time to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, 27 September 1961

Underway for Thessaloniki (Salonia), Greece. IREX steamed northeast and then entered the Aegean Sea to move north towards the Dardanelles. During the trip we passed through the man island chains off the coast. These islands are very rugged, rising vertically from the sea with sheer cliffs. The sea was alive with turtles, sawfish and rays. During the afternoon we again hunted turtles but could not seem to catch one of the giant reptiles.

Thursday, 28 September 1961

Entered Thessaloniki shortly after 0800 and moored alongside a quay wall very near the center of town. This city is again very old and was originally surrounded by walls. The Greeks used this northern site as a fortress to stop the barbarian hordes from entering southern Greece from Asia. The old walls still are partially standing and in many places are 15 feet thick. Again, we have found the people friendly and enjoyed sight seeing.

Friday, 29 September 1961

The ship hired a bus and a guide today and thirty men made a tour of the local area. The city is built on a low plain at the foot of mountains. From the foothills you can look down on a huge harbor and the ancient town. The weather has remained surprisingly warm and pleasant.

Saturday, 30 September 1961

Underway to rejoin the fleet. Again we are zigzagging through the islands and finally find the carrier off the mouth of the Dardanelles. During the day we have moved south in flat calm seas and beautiful weather. The sea seemed so fine that we swam after lunch and enjoyed the day.

Sunday, 1 October 1961

We are now two months out of New London. The day started quite early as we attacked the Sixth Fleet and conducted extensive exercises. At noon the fleet moved away and we surfaced and enjoyed a swim. About 1400 (2:00 P.M.) the submarine SHARK came into the area and also joined us in swim call. The day passed quickly and late in the afternoon we moved south and once again weaved and dodged through the island chains.

Monday, 2 October 1961

Back into the fleet again. SHARK and IREX are again teamed up to conduct exercises with the big ships. After lunch the fleet moves off and we surface to await the SHARK. During our long stay here the hull has picked up a lot of sea weed. After lunch, we heeled the ship way over on her side and everyone went over the side scraping the barnacles and grass away. This evolution is called careening ship and was normally done by old sailing ships to remove sea growth. A submarine is one of the few ships left that can accomplish this evolution. All other naval vessels are dry docked and cleaned. This is hard work as the grass and the barnacles cling very tightly to the hull. It is however a lot better to accomplish this task when the air temperature is 72³ than when we return to New London and dry dock with the air temperature this winter of 30 to 40 degrees. After a good swim we moved west. We are now headed out of the Mediterranean and have this date completed our deepest penetration into this sea. Although we will zig-zag around a lot our general progress will be west. During the evening IREX and SHARK moved northwest back toward Athens.

Tuesday, 3 October 1961

At 0300, IREX was 50 miles south of Athens submerged waiting for other naval units to move into position. Shortly before dawn the fleet came steaming north and we conducted exercises until almost 0700. We then surfaced and headed south to join the Royal Hellenic Navy in exercises. During the remainder of the day we remained submerged on station and exercised with the Greek ships.

Wednesday, 4 October 1961

IREX surfaced at 0700 and moved north to the island of ldhra to anchor. We reached the anchorage about noon and spent the afternoon in conferences with the Greek Navy. At 1830 (6:30 P.M.) we left the anchorage to steam south and then almost due west for Sardinia. This will be a 785 mile trip and we should make the town of Cagliari on the morning of 7 October 1961.

Thursday, 5 October 1961

We are now speeding west headed for Sardinia. IREX will pass about ten miles south of Sicily tonight. The weather has been fine with calm seas and a warm, sunny day. Today no activities are planned and tomorrow we will clean the ship from stem to stern prior to entering port.

Friday, 6 October 1961

Today we are due south of Sicily and still moving west out of the Mediterranean and towards Sardinia. The sea has gone flat calm and once again we see dolphins and flying fish playing. Every hour or so we see a large merchant ship passing by. A new Texaco tanker sailed by at lunch time probably headed east for oil. These monsters make 15 to 20 knots and appear huge as they come over the horizon. The Sixth Fleet has advised us that our mail will be delivered to Cagliari. Most stateside mail (airmail) letters reach the ship only two or three days after being mailed. Mail going to home however, may take considerably longer. We delivered all our mail to SHARK at ldhra and hopefully they will deliver it to the Air Force at Athens who in turn fly it to Paris for further transfer to McGuire Air Force Base near Philadelphia. This constant shifting of mail of course delays it. At 1600 (4:00 PM.) this afternoon we were able to stop for over an hour and once again take a swim and a shower. At that time we were about 10 miles south of the western tip of Sicily. The water temperature remains a mild 72 degrees but the sea had picked up so that there were waves. Most of the men now swim regularly. All but four of them are quite proficient. Tonight we are pushing west at a good speed. The barometer has started to drop and by midnight the sea may be very rough. Fortunately we will make harbor shortly after noon tomorrow and may therefore miss the worst of the blow.

Saturday, 7 October 1961

Arrived Cagliari, Sardinia at noon today. As expected the barometer kept moving downward and the wind howled up a storm. By early morning the sea was very rough and life very miserable. At ten o'clock we were directly south of Cagliari but due to heavy seas could not see the harbor to go in.

After mooring at the Italian Naval Base, several of us explored the town. Very old, very expensive and very dead. The crew stayed aboard from boredom. No outgoing mail although we do receive letters via Air ltalia.

Sunday, 8 October 1961

Many of the people attended church this morning. Fortunately, we have made contact with a group of Canadians who are based north of here. They have a small club and the crew will be able to enjoy themselves there. The ship chandler in Cagliari was able to provide fresh vegetables and very fine Italian bread. The cheese he had was supposed to be good but was not as tasty as what you buy at the corner supermarket.

Monday, 9 October 1961

The crew all are off to play baseball against the Canadian Air Force. Those with the duty are somewhat upset as this will probably be the highlight of the trip. During the evening several of the officers attended a dance for a visiting Admiral. Tomorrow will not be a very efficient day as there will be some very tired men. During the afternoon all 6 Air Force aircraft stopped at Sardinia and the pilot took our mail on to Paris. This will put the mail home about a week early. Today we received the list of men who have passed their advancement examination and to be advanced in rate effective 16 November 1961. These men are to be commended for their efforts and no little part should go to the many wives who have encouraged their studies. The men to be advanced are;

Alteri, R. to EN3Lewis, K. to EM3
Anderson, J.P. to EN3 Mack, P.W. to TM3
Chadwick, G.E. to SOS2 Matzelle, J.L. to EN2
Forrester, C.G. to MM3 Newton, E. to CS1
Fuller, J.P. to TM3 Ryel, J.E. to IC3
Healy, W.M. to TM3 Souden, R.B. to QM3
Huggins, W.B. to EM3 Ryan, A.M. to SK3
Huntress, D.E. to MM2 Ramsey, R.W. to QM1
Hurlburt, L.D. to IC3

Tuesday, 10 October 1961

Underway from Cagliari for operations games at 0800 A.M. The weather has now markedly improved and we again have fine sailing. About 30 miles south of Sardinia we stopped and had a real fine swim. The weather has stayed good. During the remainder of the day we conducted training near the Sardinian coast.

Wednesday & Thursday, October 11 & 12 1961

Training exercises near Sardinia continue. We will depart for Malta during Thursday evening. The weather has been excellent with smooth calm seas and very warm days. During the last week Fritz and Adams have both qualified in submarines and were duly initiated. Several other men are very near qualification and should complete before the ship arrives in New London.

Friday, 13 October 1961

Underway from southern Sardinia to Malta via the Straits of Sicily. During this trip we will swing south much nearer the African coast than on our other transits of the area. Most people realize how close France and England are across the Straits of Dover but few realize that the island of Sicily and Africa are only 72 miles apart at the Straits of Sicily. This is a relatively narrow body of water and in most spots fairly shallow. Shortly after noon today we will cross Skeri Bank just north of Tunis and will move over shoal water until almost 2000 (8:00 P.M.) tonight when we will be north of the Italian island of Pantelleria. From this point on it will be a straight run to Malta.

The sea has remained very calm and we have been able to make good speed towards Valletta, Malta. The rescue vessel KITTIWAKE and the submarine SHARK are also waiting there for us to join. We plan to enter Malta early in the morning.

General: We are now approaching the end of our Mediterranean trip. Each time I have been here, there are two questions which never get properly answered.

First—When do we leave the Mediterranean? This I cannot answer but it is fairly good information that you should not mail any letter in New London area after the evening of 4 November and expect it to reach the ship before return to CONUS. Any letter mailed after 29 October 1961 in the States may not reach us. Therefore, please do not send anything important to the ship on or after 29 October. It is however very important that the men do get mail delivery the waning days of the trip, therefore any special effort on your part to see that this is done would be appreciated.

Second—How do we know when you arrive? About 24 to 36 hours out of New London, the ship will file a message reporting the estimated time of arrival at the Submarine Base. This means that starting the night of 20 November there should be accurate data on the telephone answering number at the base. This number is 449–3976. Just pick up your in-town telephone and dial 449 pause and then 3976. A tape will be played to you which will give you lREX's data. We expect to be home either late on the 21st of November or on the 22nd. About 4 hours out of New London we will again report our arrival time. Therefore, on the day we are to arrive, check the tape again and it will give you our pier and the accurate time at base. The last family-gram will be mailed about 2 weeks from now.


GRANT B. APTHORP LCDR, U.S. Navy Commanding Officer

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