Captain Robert C. Gillette

14 March 1997 and 18 April 1997

 

 

 

WEED: You graduated from the Naval Academy in 1939. I was curious what was your motivation for attending Annapolis and for choosing a career as a naval officer?

 

GILLETTE:  Well, my father spent 35 years in the Navy and retired as a commodore and went through WWII. During his career, he had many tours of duty in Washington. Often we visited Annapolis, and I became very much interested in a Navy career and in going to Annapolis. I had an older brother who was an aviator that went to Annapolis and graduated in 1936, so the motivation was sort of built in.

 

WEED: In what branch of the Service was he?

 

GILLETTE: My brother was a rear admiral aviator in the Navy. My father was a commodore in the line. He commanded cruisers, destroyers, and was an ordnance expert.

 

WEED: Captain Gillette, talk about your life prior to entering the Naval Academy.

 

GILLETTE: I was born in Chicago. My parents were both born and raised in Chicago. My father went to the Naval Academy from Chicago. He graduated in 1913 and went on up the line and retired as a commodore. He had command of several surface ships, one of which, the Tuscaloosa, made about four runs to Murmansk. I was always a great admirer of him for having weathered those harrowing escort duties up in the North Sea to Russia during WWII. He served during WWI on a old battleship. He always told me that the battleship was the backbone of the Navy and that I should go that way. Strangely enough, my brother, who was older–he graduated from the Academy in 1936–he became an aviator, despite my father’s advice, and I became a submarine officer.

Most of my high school and grammar school days were spent in Washington, where my father had duty. He was an ordinance expert. We stayed there when he went to sea: During that period of time, we had many Navy friends. I suppose that we were exposed to the Academy, my brother and myself. We went to the Academy quite often for athletic events. As such, I guess we were recruited over a number of years because we really enjoyed going down there. Though we never stated it, this was what we were going to be and do. After graduating from high school in Washington, I went to one year at American University, prior to the Naval Academy. This was a great time for me. I was pretty small and not very mature. While there as a freshman, I made the basketball team and did very well. I must say, in that one year, I grew up quite a bit. It stood me in good stead because when I went to the Naval Academy, I wasn’t the outstanding student, but that one year of college enabled me to stay in the Academy and graduate. I also made my mark on the basketball team, making the team as a freshman. As a sophomore, and the remaining three years, I was on the varsity. Even though I was the smallest one, I did very well. It was that kind of experience that taught me a thing or two. When I was at American U., I got knocked out once. I got shaken up and was laying there looking for sympathy. The coach said “you have to learn things boy. A small boy has got to get up. You never get hurt. When you get knocked down you get up. You keep going and they won’t know what to do with you.” I did that all my way up through the Navy. It was good advice.

Another aspect of Academy life, I went out to become a cheerleader, and made the cheerleading squad. That was quite an experience. There were four of us. We had fancy uniforms, and we were in the middle of things. I got to be pretty well known. The cheerleaders also, and this was one of the incentives, got to go to the big games that the regiment went to the day before to make sure everything was ready. We always got to have a night on the town the night before the game and that was always a lot of fun. Fortunately, we didn’t get into any serious trouble, although we were trying our best to get into trouble! Cheerleading had a good impact on me. I got to know a lot of people over on the officers staff, my fellow class mates, and other midshipmen. I look back on it with quite a bit of satisfaction.

In my four years at the Academy, I ran into some trouble with the executive department now and again; nothing serious–but amusing. As a plebe, I was in charge of the battalion office on the weekend, Sunday during Plebe summer. There were lots of visitors. My duties consisted of getting phone calls from the main office for a midshipman having a visitor. We used a voice tube up to the deck, telling them that the visitor was at the main office. In the process of doing this, the senior watch officer came by with his retinue with sword, etc. Under the regs, you would sound off. You would give him your name and your rate and you would stand at attention. Well, I leaped up and just as I was sounding off, the phone rang. I answered the phone and went over and passed the word to the appropriate deck for the midshipman. I came back and came to attention. Then the phone rang. So I answered the phone again, then came back and stood at attention. Then it rang again. At this point, the LCDR said, “midshipman, don’t answer that phone unless it is important.” Well, I looked at him, but I didn’t answer the phone. This was typical of the kinds of things that you are faced with, and you’re not quite sure what to do. But I came out of that pretty well. I look back and think, they talk about hazing as if it was a crime. In the mean I found it to be amusing and in some cases very valuable. I developed a vast collection of trivia and non-essential information.

Here’s another one. On Saturday, we played a pretty good game of basketball and had won it. I had done well. On Sunday, the word came that I was to go down to the officer of the deck. As a sophomore, such a call usually didn’t mean that they were going to congratulate you, so you would go down with a certain amount of fear. I went to the main office and stood at attention and reported who I was. The Lieutenant Commander opened up with “You are a disgrace to the Navy!” Well, this was pretty rough. I was thinking back to what I had been doing that might warrant such a comment, but I couldn’t think of anything. Well, he had been watching me play basketball and said that my hair had bounced around terribly, and looked very unmilitary. He also said that during the times-out when the coach was giving advice, I had sat on the deck, and that that was very unmilitary. He did not want to see me doing that. Then he said, “do you use any hair oil?” I said “no, sir.”  He reached in his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Vitalis, and said I should get some. I noticed that his hair was pretty slick. So I went back to my room in a fit of pique, really, and thought I better do something. On Monday, I went to the barber shop and asked for the shortest military haircut they could cut, which the barber did and he did a good job. At the game we had on Wednesday, instead of sitting down, I trotted around and showed off my new haircut and thought I was all right. This ended up with the executive officer calling me down and asking me where did I get the hair cut. Well, when you get a one-on-one with the executive officer, that’s a fearsome kind of thing, because it is generally something disciplinary. I told him that I got it in the barbershop.  He asked me to identify the barber. Well, they were all the same color, and wore white coats, and I didn’t think I could. I didn’t want to, of course. I told him I couldn’t identify him because they all looked alike. Where upon he asked me if I knew the penalty for a falsehood. I said I did, and this was getting scary. He said, I’m going to ask you again, and you think about it and your answer. I told him again, I couldn’t identify the barber. After a pause he said, “All right, I’ll accept that. But from now on, you come in here every time you get a haircut, and I’ll inspect it.” I did that for about a month when he decided to cease and desist. But these are the kind of things you ran into with the executive department. You had to be right on your toes or you could get into some real deep trouble.

 

WEED: Your earlier service was on Lexington  (CV 2). It must have been an interesting time to serve on a war ship, both before and after December 7th [1941]. What were the nature of Lexington ‘s prewar operations?

 

GILLETTE:  The basic mission of the Lexington was to train and qualify aviators in carrier operations. As such, as a young deck officer, I was very much interested in the flight operations. The Lexington trained many aviators that later went on in the war to quite successful careers, such as O’Hare, Flatley, and many others. I met a lot of fine people on it. Did you want to know some of the operations that we did?

 

WEED: Yes, sir.

 

GILLETTE: Training operations were primarily geared to aviation operations. We did have four turrets of eight-inch guns and four anti-aircraft batteries of 5” 25 caliber guns. It was well armed. I was in the gunnery department in the anti-aircraft division. We had dual-purpose guns. They were new ones. There’s an interesting comment on that. The 5 inch 25 dual-purpose gun was designed in BuOrd under the direction of my father. At the completion of the design, it was determined to have the first ones built at the Washington Navy Yard. So, he was ordered to the Navy Yard to supervise the building of the guns in accordance with the design he had supervised. Upon the completion of the building of the guns at the Navy Yard, he was ordered to the Lexington as the gunnery officer, which was the first ship that these guns were installed on. On the brass plate on the guns on the Lexington, which I joined later, sure enough, were his initials for the design, the building and the firing installation. He told me that if any thing went wrong with them, they didn’t have far to go to get the one who was involved with any phase of the development of the gun!

The routine training program on the Lex was primarily in response to aviation, other kinds of naval operations were not very well scheduled for the Lexington. I must say that in looking back on it, the training was basic. As in other types of things, we had gunnery exercises, landing craft exercises, and a few other things. I think what we got out of it was a good education in what not to do. As a result, all of those exercises we conducted, though they were supposed to be realistic, were pretty bad in terms of what really occurred when the war broke. However, they kept the young officers damn busy to do well under the artificial constraints that were imposed in those peacetime exercises.

I recall one in particular, where I was in charge of an amphibious landing party in Hawaii. The landing craft was a 50-foot motor launch, which had been rigged for landing through the surf. The rigging consisted of canvas stretched over the stern sheets, also an anchor with about 30 or 40 fathoms of line attached. You threw the anchor over the stern, and then used it to hold up the stern as you came to the beach. The first time I ran the exercise we made the mistake of throwing the anchor over too soon, whereupon, when the restraint on the stern was lost, the boat broached. All hands went scrambling. Fortunately, nobody was killed. Our armament was all lost but it wasn’t much. It consisted of 30/30 rifles, handguns and one Browning automatic rifle. Such was the total kind of weapons that we had landing in the face of the enemy on the beaches of Hawaii. However, I do feel that our report of the exercise probably had a lot to do with the redesign of and the design of amphibious beaching craft. They bypassed the 50-foot motor launch.

We had some very interesting gunnery exercises. We were commended for our ability in the Anti Aircraft business. One of the early drones was a 90-knot biplane that was flown through the disposition of battle ships, cruisers, destroyers, carriers and the plane went right through it all without any damage. As a carrier, we were one of the last ones to fire at it. I was the AA control  spotter, and used an altimeter. As soon as the first blast went, the altimeter optics fell apart. I had to resort to binoculars and fed these to the mark 19 directors with ups and downs and rights and lefts so that the nice salvos disintegrated into a bunch of wild shots. This disturbed the gunnery officer and the skipper and everybody else. However, suddenly the word came that the drone was out of control. It started circling around and finally came right down towards the Lexington. At this point, we passed the word to take cover. The result was that everybody came topside to see what we were taking cover from. The plane landed in the drink, close aboard. We salvaged it and found that a piece of shrapnel had fortuitously severed the radio link. Despite the lack of any real damage, the admiral-in-charge sent us congratulatory messages being the only ship that had an AA crew that could shot down drones, and he congratulated us.

I could go on with other types of exercises. One of the interesting things we had was the first experimental search radar, the CXAM, which was installed just prior to World War II. The equipment was very good as it picked up a lot of things. However, it was difficult to keep in tune, but it was a great aid to the junior officer on deck, which I was in keeping station. The captain thought it was a gadget and not to be trusted. So the normal station keeping–as far as range was concerned–was by a hand-held stadimeter, which at night, was pretty difficult. I found that we could work with the radar operator, with “sotto” voice so that the officer of the deck didn’t hear it, and we would get the range to the ship ahead by radar and report it as our stadimeter range. This helped a lot. This went on for three or four months until the captain finally decided that the radar was not gadgetry, and trusted it.

I could go on with other similar types of things. The training on the Lexington, and I suppose was comparable to other major ships, but particularly on the Lexington, as far as navigation, gunnery, engineering, was purely secondary to the flight operations. But it was a good way to learn how to do things, because as a JO on there, you did a lot of things, which on other large ships you had to be a lieutenant or something. That’s about the extent of it.

 

WEED: How did the peacetime exercises and peacetime operations fail, in retrospect, as you got in the other phase of the war?

 

GILLETTE: Well, the peacetime operations that I worked with, both the gunnery and the other types, engineering, were not too realistic in terms of the extent of the kind of operations that you were required to do on a continuing basis during the war. The amphibious thing that I just talked about, certainly was not going to be part of our carrier operations. Looking back, and again, I say they were not realistic, but they weren’t worthless by a long shot.

 

WEED: When was your father CO of Lexington?

 

GILLETTE: My father wasn’t CO. He was the gunnery officer, he was the first gunnery officer. This was in 1927, when it was commissioned up at Quincy, Bethlehem Ship Building. He stayed with the Lexington for about two years, then went on elsewhere. He ended up the war in command of the USS Tuscaloosca, and made about four or five Murmansk runs, which made an old man out of him real quick.

 

WEED: Did the Lex have any turrets?

 

GILLETTE: She had four eight-inch gun turrets.

 

WEED: Were they employed at all in an AA capacity, or primarily anti-surface?

 

GILLETTE: They were used once in an AA role when I was aboard, then they took them off. This was after the war started. The Lex went into attack Rabaul. As we approached Rabaul, a big Kawanisi bomber, seaplane type, appeared and located us. The CAP shot it down, but not before our location had been reported. As a result it was decided that it would be too dangerous to attack an alerted Rabaul inasmuch as they had land based bombers. The target was shifted to Lae and Solomon on the North Coast of New Guinea. Message intercepts had indicated that Japanese landings were in progress. Our task force diverted to the South coast of New Guinea.

This was quite an event, because the Owen-Stanley mountain range was so high that the planes that we had, the SBD’s and TBDs, couldn’t get over the top. They had to go through a pass. The weather in the pass was always foggy until later in the day. It was decided that they would put a plane in the pass and when the weather cleared, he would radio to come on in and that’s what they did. It resulted in a pretty good exercise as the Japanese were caught completely by surprise. Despite many misses, several ships were sunk.

During that event, we were attacked by the Betty Bombers that came in on the deck. The after turrets fired into the water ahead of these planes. It didn’t appear to be very effective; as they couldn’t keep up with the attackers. In one of those planes you could see the pilot in the plane as  he was boring in right on the deck. We were throwing everything we could, including the eight-inchers. The planes on deck were trying to jump out of their chocks and pull clear, he finally fell off. One of his engines was out and he fell off into the wake. He exploded and blew a whole lot of water in the air and on the after deck, but missed us, that’s how close he was.

 

WEED: What other operations was the Lexington involved with in the early phase of the war?

 

GILLETTE: The first operation was on the Friday before December 7th [1941]. The Lex was with a task group of a couple of cruisers and destroyers. The purpose was to take a detachment of Marine aviators and planes, to go out and reinforce Midway. We left Pearl Friday morning. the 5th of December, and went out to the northwest.

The event I am about to describe was not wartime, but just about. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, they were very disappointed in not finding any aircraft carriers in port. Both the Lexington  (CV 2) and the Enterprise (CV 6) were at sea: The Lexington was en route to Midway and the Enterprise was returning from Wake. Both were in the process of reinforcing the islands. This is an account of how the Lexington might have discovered the Japanese task force on the morning of Saturday, December 6th, 1941. At that time, the Navy, from some accounts, was supposedly not on the alert, and were not ready for any surprise attacks by the Japanese. Well, as far as the Lex and the Enterprise and their air groups were concerned, they were very much on the alert. They went to general quarters an hour before and after sunrise and sunset, and buttoned up ship. Following general quarters, we shifted to readiness condition watch three. The skipper of the Lexington, Captain F.C. Sherman, was thoroughly convinced that relations with Japan had reached the critical stage as evidenced by the fact that all of the combat air patrols and the ASW patrol aircraft were fully armed and ready for launch. The same was true for the Enterprise.

As far as this incident is concerned, the Lex left Pearl on Friday, December 5th, headed for Midway as part of Task Group 11. The task group, under the command of Rear Admiral Newton, consisted of two heavy cruisers, accompanied by assorted destroyers. The Lexington  had embarked a squadron of Marine aviators and planes to reinforce those on Midway. On board also was a group of Naval aviators not yet qualified for carrier operations. The intent was to conduct carrier pilot quals for this group when on the way back. On Saturday morning, December 6th, the Lexington was zigzagging with the task group about 400 miles northwest of Pearl. The ship was at routine general quarters with anti-aircraft batteries fully manned. Ammunition train, fire-control parties and lookouts were all on station, in the AA control stations at 140 feet above the water line. The newly acquired experimental CXAM search radar was operating. The AA defense officer, Lt. Jerry O’Donnell, was satisfied that all the systems were checked out and functioning properly. “The what might have been incident” was kicked off by a lookout reporting an aircraft on the horizon off the starboard bow. After considerable coaching by the lookout, Lt. O’Donnell, along with another lookout and officer, confirmed the sighting by the first lookout. The lookout, who made that initial sighting, had consistently made the visual sightings of aircraft and other objects during the frequent drills. The sighting was then reported to the CO on the bridge as an unidentified aircraft. This report was amplified when the target was identified as a single engine plane and was passed to the bridge with a recommendation by Lt. O’Donnell that aircraft be launched to investigate the contact. In as much as the Lexington was some 400 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, it was clear that the single engine plane must be carrier based.

At about this time, the CXAM radar reported an intermittent target in the vicinity of the reported aircraft. Both the visual and radar sighting lasted about 10 minutes. Report of the sighting and the request to launch were passed to the task group commander on Portland. No reply was received concerning the sighting for about an hour, at which time general quarters was about to be relaxed. At this time, a message was sent to the OTC requesting what action was proposed to be taken on the reported sighting? The response stated that the contact had been classified as a PBY two-engine patrol plane. To Lt. O’Donnell, the forward AA control crew, and myself, the identification was ridiculous. However, despite our protests, no further action was taken.

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and the name of the game was to find the Japanese task force. The first reaction to the message announcing the bombing was disbelief. This message was followed by numerous additional messages indicating confusion as to the location of the attacking force. At this time, a message was sent to the task group commander, recommending that in view of the attack, that he review the identification of our Saturday morning contact. The reply was negative, as the location of the enemy force had now been established to be southwest toward Johnson Island.  As a result, the task group headed southwest at full speed.

The Lexington immediately prepared an air search plan out to the Southwest at the maximum range possible. The results of the air search were negative as far as the Japanese task force was concerned. The search, however, was not without results, both fatal and, in a sense, humorous. The fatal aspect was the loss of several unqualified carrier pilots who were pressed into service for the search. Their loss was primarily due to navigational errors causing the planes to run out of fuel and crash. The humorous aspect resulted in the report of the pilot of one of the search planes that he had sighted an aircraft carrier with one escort. The pilot further reported that there were no planes on deck, and he was attacking. The Lexington immediately prepared to launch an attack group. Also, the ship made preparation to fend off an attack from an enemy carrier, planes, as it was assumed the enemy planes were en route. The pilot of the attacking plane reported near misses. At this time the situation was clarified by receiving emergency messages from an angry tug skipper whose barge had been bombed. He advised that the barge was loaded with dynamite bound for Johnson Island, and if hit, would probably bring down any plane that hit it. Fortunately for our intrepid aviator, his mistake was submerged in the confusion existing in the post-bombing days when his services were in great demand.

I have often pondered on what might have happened if the Lexington ’s aircraft sighting had been verified and the recommendation to launch had been implemented. To some extent, I followed up on it by visiting with now deceased, RADM O’Donnell, in Pebble Beach, CA, in the 1980’s. He remembered the incident vividly and verified the validity of the sighting with the lookouts well after he retired. I have come to the conclusion that if the message recommending the launch of the aircraft had been implemented, the result of the entire Pearl Harbor disaster would have been radically changed. The Lexington would have found the task force to the northwest, as it was within range. The Lexington would have fought valiantly against six carriers and would have been sunk. A similar fate would have most probably occurred to the Enterprise. Most of her planes were unarmed as they were returning home. The Japanese would have pressed home their attack on Pearl Harbor and on many of the ships exiting the harbor. Our opposition would have been completely disorganized with the result that many of the ships that managed to clear Peal Harbor would have been sunk at sea, never to fight again. Such was not the case of those sunk at their moorings in the actual attack. Many of these ships rose to fight again. In my opinion, the inexcusable lack of command responses to the Lexington ’s messages were most fortunate blunders. The lack of response enabled the Navy to fight another day.

 

WEED: What was your attitude regarding war with Japan after December 7th, and how would you characterize the attitude of your colleagues regarding war with Japan prior to December 7th?

 

GILLETTE:  Looking back at it, I’m hard pressed to say that we thought there was any possibility that we were going to be attacked by Japan. Between my fellow officers and others on the Lex, there was not much concern that we were going to be attacked. There was a lot of conversation that if Japan would attack, our airplanes would give’em hell. The general attitude was the Japanese weren’t much of anything. We thought that our aviators and our ships would make short shrift of them. That was pretty well accepted by everyone. We felt that our aircraft were far superior. There wasn’t much conversation as to the possibility of the Japanese attacking us. As I look back at it, maybe we were very shortsighted. But, as a younger officer on those ships out there you were too busy to consider such possibilities! At sea, it was quite active, and ashore, you had too many social obligations as young men, to worry about the Japanese. I can tell you that we operated some pretty nice establishments on the beach. The Japanese were the farthest thing from our thoughts.

 

WEED: That was a time in the Navy, over two years after commissioning, you were obligated to remain a bachelor.

 

GILLETTE: Yes. When I graduated in ‘39, we were under the constraint that we could not get married for two years. That made us really sort of a band of brothers. We didn’t have any strong ties at home, and few got married, and when they did, they got a court-martial, or they had to resign. Some of them did. However, one of my classmates got married as a midshipman, got divorced, remarried, and went through the war, and nobody knew about it. He lived happily ever after as a captain. But at the time, the younger officers were not worried at all by the possibility of going to war until all of a sudden, there it was! At which time, all of the activities on the beach were immediately turned off. You spent all of your time fighting the Japanese, and paying attention so you could survive.

 

WEED: How did your duties on board Lexington change after December 7th, if at all?

 

GILLETTE:  I don’t think there was any change in the types of operations that we had aboard ship other than to be very cognizant of water-tight integrity and enforcing and following the letter of the law on various degrees of alertness. Certainly, after the war broke, there was a tremendous amount of tension among the aviators because they were flying night and day when we were out on various missions. The Lexington was under way most of the time, when I was on board. Flying night and day was a hazardous business. People were either doing that, drilling. or sleeping.

 

WEED: The Lexington was not involved in the Wake Island rescue mission, but how did you feel about that at the time.

 

GILLETTE:  No. At the time, I think it was the Enterprise task forces with Admiral Halsey that went out there. We would have to verify that. The Enterprise went out with the reinforced squadrons to Wake about a week before the Lex was on its way to Midway. They were returning at the same time the Lex was 400 miles northwest of Pearl. I think the attack on Wake came several days later. There was a move to turn the Enterprise around and add other ships to go back and take Wake. This was aborted. We on the Lexington were not aware of all this so we had little feel as to whether it was a proper thing or not. My opinion now is that we had so few ships out there, if we had sent them out, most would have stayed there forever on the bottom, but I don’t have any knowledge of that.

 

WEED: Shortly after the war started, you were transferred to New London to the submarine school. What was your motivation for the transfer to the submarine forces?

 

GILLETTE:  It was a tenuous thing. I kind of backed into it. When I was on the Lex as the JO in the first division, one of my jobs was the crash-boat officer. When I reported to the Lex, I wanted to be a flying machine man, a fighter pilot. But as we operated I had to man the crash-boat, which was a 28-foot whaleboat, which would make about 5 knots. It would be lowered by hand down from the flight deck, about 100 feet and then retrieved. Every one of these operations was fraught with all kinds of memorable events. After having fished out half a dozen aviators, I decided that carrier aviation was not a good way to make a living. So, I decided I wanted to go to a smaller ship. I liked the Lex, but a smaller ship would give you more responsibility. I cast about to go to destroyers, but when I saw the way the aviators treated the small boys in formation–would tell them nothing and yell at them, I decided that wasn’t a good way to make a living in the Navy. If you were going to be a destroyer man, you were going to have to take a lot of unsatisfactory guidance. The main thing that happened that sent me to submarines occurred one night during a peace-time training operation with a submarine who came through a destroyer screen. He fired a green flare close aboard, indicating that he had fired a torpedo. Well, the green flare landed on the teak deck, right up in my division. I was up on the flight deck watching this exercise going  on. The flare started a fire, which we put out very quickly. I looked out in the dark, nobody knew where he was or what he was doing. Then all of a sudden, he had the attention of everybody in the task force. I thought, well that looks like a good way to make a living in the Navy so I put in my chit for submarines. Ultimately, just before the Lex was sunk at Coral Sea, my orders came in and I went back to sub school, and lived happily ever after. Actually, career planning was just a bunch of luck and circumstance. There was no planning to it.

 

WEED: What was the impact of the Lexington ’s loss on you?

 

GILLETTE: When I left Pearl, I was put on a patrol craft that was a peacetime yacht that belonged to Hiram Mannville and was being used as a convoy escort. He had given it to the Navy. You couldn’t use depth charges on it because it couldn’t go fast enough. So we took I don’t know how long to the get back to the States. I had lot of fun on that yacht. It had bathtubs and paneling–quite an experience. As a result of the long transit time, when I got to New London, the sub school class that I had been assigned to had already started. I was assigned to an “O” boat to wait for the next class. About the third day after I arrived, word came in that the Lexington had been lost. I was really shocked as I had many many friends aboard. The Lexington was a great ship with some very fine people aboard. I was really shocked by it and very much concerned with what had happened to most of my buddies. I did find out that the officer that relieved me, Maxi Price, took my job as the aft AA controller–the five inch 25 batteries aft, located in sky aft–had been hit by a bomb from a Jap plane which came in and wiped out the staff up there, including Maxi. That would have been me. That’s where I would have been. That was another reason that I became convinced that it’s not enough to be good, competent, and straight thinking, you have to be goddamn lucky. Otherwise, you better wear a life jacket and stay in your bunk.

 

WEED: How did you find the submarine school course of study?

 

GILLETTE: The sub school was well worth while for people like me who had never been aboard a submarine. You learned a lot about the various systems on the submarine: fire control, torpedoes, diving and ship handling. The school did a good job of that. However, at that time, the basic training on how to go to war in a submarine and sink ships, looking back on it, left a lot to be desired. We know now that the original doctrine and training at the school as far as tactics was concerned was unrealistic. Emphasis was placed upon remaining undetected and depending on submerged sonar attacks. There were some radical exponents on how to fight a submarine on the surface at night, which ultimately won out, but it took a couple of years. The sub school initially did nothing to help you get away from this very conservative use of the submarine in terms of being over cautious. For example, the capabilities of the sub on the surface in the day time. With your periscope up, as we found later in the war, you could track ships, which we did on the surface. With the high periscope, we’d keep their sticks in view, and work around them until night fall, and then attack them on the surface. Back at the sub school, nobody had thought about that at all. It took a year or two of people losing submarines and getting killed before the good men took over and developed the right tactics which ultimately proved very successful against the Japanese.  The potential of the submarine, when I was in sub school, was just being recognized as the way to fight. The mechanics of how to run a torpedo data computer, how to dive, all of these were well done. The engineering aspects were well done. The systems were great. The strategies involved in fighting with a submarine were very poorly done.

 

WEED: Whom would you regard as the leaders in developing new tactics? Who was at the forefront of tactical doctrine?

 

GILLETTE: There were several. They included Freddy Warder, Donk Donahue and Chuck Treibel. They developed surface tactics that were very successful. Treibel was head and shoulders up front in this, and made a great contribution, as an example to later skippers, — Gene Flucky, Slade Cutter and Dick O’Kane and George Street and several others. These being the young ones in the classes of  ’35 – ‘37, that stand out in using the submarine in the best way and they sank a lot of ships on the surface. They recognized that submerged, you had one crack at the ships. On the surface, you could come out and go in and fire, go out and go in again. You could take care of a whole convoy. I remember one time on the Lapon (SS 260), when I was the exec, we had a small convey of three ships, and we chased them all night, going in and out and firing 20 torpedoes. Some missed, but we sank all three of them. It was an all night thing. If we had gone after them when we first sighted them in daytime, we would have got one ship, maybe and that’s all. Those were the kinds of things that enabled the submarines to do a big job. It was the tactics and strategies that weren’t taught at the sub school in the early days because nobody had the experience of how to do it. It became a very much young man’s game. As I recall, when I got command of the Blackfish at the end of the war, and I really had quite a hard time getting it. It was an older boat, but I was 27 years old and I was the oldest man aboard. We made a patrol up in the Yellow Sea, and I made a profile of the crew and found the average age was barely 20. We had some 18 and 19 year olds on there. They were good Sailors. If they weren’t they got bounced out. A lot of esprit. It became a young man’s game.

 

WEED: You mentioned off-line several people who had served as execs , who learned how not to do things, that formulated their tactical thinking and went on to be quite successful.

 

GILLETTE: Yes. A group like Slade Cutter, Gene Flucky, the Wahoo under Sam Dealey–the Tang—under Dick O’Kane.

 

WEED: How did you transition from sub school to your first —

 

GILLETTE: Going from sub school, I was ordered to new construction at the EB [Electric Boat Company] at Groton, Connecticutt. Lapon was just a piece of metal in the building ways. I was the first officer there and had one enlisted man, Second Class Yeoman Reserve, Jim Henderson. He was quite a guy. He had been the administrative assistant to the president of Pacific something Wire Company, a big company. Henderson was a magnificent man. He helped me out a lot. He was older than I was. The name of the game then was to get all of the boats’ manuals that were ahead of you, read them, see what they said, and write one like them. This was my job when I first started out. Gradually, the officers came. One of the first was Eli Reich. He was a LCDR. Eli had been the engineer of a boat in the Philippines when the war broke. He was the assistant engineer on the Sea Lion I. It was sunk along side the dock at Cavite. He came out of the Philippines on another submarine and was ordered back to new construction. He ended up being the exec on the Lapon. Eli was very fierce. When he got command of Sea Lion II, he was the one that sank the Japanese battleship (Kongo). He did this at night on the surface. The Kongo was well screened by DDs. He took his submarine at night through the screen and sank the Kongo. This caused all kinds of indigestion with the Japs who didn’t know how he could do that, but he did.  He went out with the Sea Lion II and did many things. He was typical of the young exec’s that came up under commanding officers that were not too good. He learned how not to do it, and then found out how to do it.

 

WEED: You had worked through a variety of junior officer positions. You were the department head–

 

GILLETTE:  I didn’t serve in many capacities, actually I served in only one. At first I was the eighth officer and I was the assistant gunnery. Things went pretty fast. We left New London and went down through the Canal. On the way down, we were bombed twice by our friendly aviators. This taught us some pretty good lessons. When we ended up on our first patrol I was still the gunnery officer. I guess after about three months some younger officers had come in under me so I was a JG and became the gunnery officer. We went out on our first run. We were the first boat that went up into the Japan Sea, up through the Strait of La Perouse, and back out, along with some others, which was quite a feat.  On the day before transit we sat on the bottom of the La Perouse Strait and listened to the ships going through. We had to go all the way down the Sea of Japan near Tsushima and not attack anything until a prescribed time. It was foggy all the way. We didn’t sink anything. We came home. That was the first run and we didn’t sink any ships. The second patrol, Eli Reich had left as the exec to go back and fit out the Sea Lion II. They reconstituted the whole crew, and made him the skipper. He went back to New London and we had a new exec, and a new skipper. The first skipper decided he wanted no more. A nice guy. He had done all right, but it was not something he wanted to do again. He went back to the Bureau of Ordnance. We had a new skipper and a new exec. By the third run, I was the exec just because people were leaving and the transferring of officers. I became the exec. This caused some minor indigestion among the crew as I was young and because they were used to me asking how did this work and how did that work, and now I was the exec and was telling them what to do. Some of the younger officers wouldn’t admit that they didn’t know what the hell they were doing, and when they asked how to do it, would use a lot of bravado, which didn’t go over at all. So, the crew finally said “Okay, we’ll let Gillette be the exec, he seems to be all right.” In those days, more skippers were cashiered by the crew than by anything else. The crew members on a good submarine wanted a good record. If they got a skipper who was not aggressive or who wouldn’t handle the load right, they were going to get rid of him.  And they would. They would send the word up that they didn’t want to go to sea with this man and they would relieve him, or transfer him to another boat, in some cases to give him another chance. But the crew was very perceptive, and they knew a good man from a bad one.

 

WEED: Was that prevalent through out the Navy, or was it exclusive to the submarine force.

 

GILLETTE: I suppose some of it was prevalent in the rest of the Navy, I don’t know ‘cause I was never in it, but it certainly was prevalent in the submarine force, and it worked very well. This wasn’t any kind of a mutiny, or anything. Usually, the skipper that had the crew that was of this frame of mind, he knew it and he wanted out, and he would leave. There was a big turn over early on in the war of older skippers. By older, I mean in their 30’s. Those people couldn’t handle it for long.

 

WEED: What were some of your most memorable experiences.

 

GILLETTE: Some of them were humorous, some were being scared and wondering how the hell are we going to get out of this, and then fortunately getting out of it. I guess sinking our first ship was one. It was a tanker and that was a big thrill for everybody, and helped out. I suppose that if we hadn’t gotten that one, most of the crew would have said they wanted off, thinking that we didn’t know what to do.

Several times, several kinds of attacks that we made were memorable. On one occasion, it wasn’t an attack, we were given a life guard station off the northeast coast of Palawan. Planes were coming across the Philippines from carriers east of Luzon. The area was in the northeast Sulu Sea, very calm and not very deep and constricted. We would watch for planes. It turned out that they canceled the strike, but they didn’t tell us. So, we were sitting in there on the surface waiting and waiting, with nothing happening. We had to sit rather exposed. Finally, four patrol boats, PC-type, were sighted. They were in the north, and fortunately we were in the south. They made a scouting run and came right down on us. They obviously knew we were there as they had lookouts all over topside. Well, going south, there was no way to get out down there, except through a lot of reefs. In order to get out, you had to go between a couple of them that was going to be pretty hazardous because our navigation was not that good. Going back through the four patrol boats was not a viable course of action. The sea was flat calm, and on top of that, we had picked up a fisherman’s buoy and were towing it. It got to be pretty hairy as these guys came done on us. We decided to go down through the reefs and we did. You could hear the beach noises starboard and port. That’s when we knew that we were all right. If we hadn’t hit that hole, I don’t know what would have happened. We pulled on out and these four patrol craft came right on down, but they got to a point where they decided that nobody would be foolish enough to take a submarine down that way, and they turned around and went north. We came on out. When we found out that they didn’t have the strike, our people were really upset. But that was one of the things that I always recall as one of the tight squeezes. We had a lot of them.

Sinking ships on the surface at night was always memorable. We did that quite a bit. We sank about 14-15 ships, of which 10 or 11, we were on the surface, ranges anywhere from 700 yards to 3000 yards. You would go in and turn and come out, and sort of dodge the escorts. That was always a thrill at night.

 

WEED: Were these torpedo or gun action?

 

GILLETTE: Torpedoes. You might flood down a little bit; keep your silhouette down, to ease by the escort. You would try to get the target silhouetted by the moon if you could and try to come out in the dark of the moon, come in on radar until you could see him and then you shifted  to your target bearing transmitter on the bridge which you could put on your target and shoot, then swing and come out while you were getting your stern tubes ready. If you were lucky, you could hit another one with your stern tubes as you came out. But when you are running in a 12 knot convoy with destroyer escorts at night within 1500 yards, that gets to be pretty interesting. You had to be pretty lucky.

 

WEED: In any of these attacks, did you experience any defective torpedoes?

 

GILLETTE: Oh, yes. We had plenty of defective torpedoes. We were fortunate in that they didn’t cause us any critical problems, but they certainly cost us some ships. They were defective in many ways. When they were fired, they left this trail. You could be damn well be sure, in the daytime anyway, a destroyer or escort would come running down that track. If you didn’t have a ship that was in trouble from the torpedo, you had a hard time avoiding him. If you didn’t sink him, why he could work you over. A depth charge is something that you never get used to. The thing about the torpedoes was always in the back of the crew’s mind. You’d be all set and in your mind you’d think, “I hope this damn thing goes off.” That was just a worrisome thing. Fortunately, the problems were licked near the end, and the torpedoes did all right. On several attacks on early patrols we could hear the thud of a hit on the hull of a target and no explosion. We also saw torpedoes run under a target.

We had one occasion, when we were off the coast of Manila: At night we would run way out from the coast to see if we could catch any ships on the fast track. The slower ones were anchoring at night, but the fast ones would be out to sea: On this particular occasion, we went out there and sank a tanker. We turned around and came in while charging our batteries. During the night we would close the coast. In this case, we had word that there was a convoy up in Lingayen Gulf; that’s where they would anchor over night. In the morning we could see the smoke come up over the peninsula as they came around and came down the coast. We were between them and the coast, about 1000 yards off the beach. Down came the convoy. They had air, and destroyers, but they didn’t think anyone was between them and the beach. We were able to sink a couple of them, but there was all hell to pay with the destroyers.

We didn’t have any indication that they had sighted us when all of a sudden there was a tremendous number of explosions. I was the exec and the skipper said, “I think they’ve found us.” I said I didn’t see how they could have. The skipper took a look and said, “you know what’s happening, a carrier air group has flown over from the eastside of the Philippines and they’re attacking the convoy, and we’re in the middle of the convoy.” He was watching these planes come down dropping bombs all over. We said, “well, goddamn it, I hope they don’t bomb us!” Well, they really did a job on that convoy.

We kept trying to go after one that was hit or slowed down. But every time we would get close to one, the aviators would sink it. We weren’t able to sink anybody until late, when we found a cripple that a destroyer was circling. We ran over to it, but our batteries were pretty low, damn low and the air was foul. We were going to wait and get this can as he came around. We’d bag him, and then get the cripple. Everything was all set when all of a sudden, over the hill came three great big fleet destroyers. With our batteries near exhaustion and the foul air, we thought this was not a good thing to get caught in. So we pulled out, which I’m glad we did, because otherwise, somebody would have given us hell. They finally found us, though, and worked us over. We didn’t get clear, but all of a sudden, the sonar operator said that he could hear rain, “it must be raining like hell up there.” This was the first time that we had run into this. So we grabbed that straw and went up. We had been down for 50 hours, the oxygen content was way down to the point a match would not ignite. The whole crew was pretty tired. The radar had grounded out. So, we were on the surface and it was black as pitch. We had a good radar technician, O’Rilley. He was working on it and thought he could get it fixed. I said, ”before you light that off, you call me because I want to be standing here looking at it when you light that off.” It was about 0400 in the morning when he called me. He turned on the radar and there were 15 or 20 ships all around us, and we hadn’t known it! It was solid rain. We had to beat everybody to general quarters, they were so tired. We finally got it together. We made an attack and sank this tanker. The tanker blew up. It was like daylight. We could see all these ships—destroyers et al. We turned around and came running out. I told the skipper we better get the hell out of there. Our people were so tired. You’d tell them to do something, and they would try, but they would be slow. I told the skipper that we weren’t capable of doing anything more and he said “neither am I.” We went out to sea and rested up. Fortunately, when we came back in again, we sank a couple of ships. When the squadron commanders and all the endorsements were on the patrol report, all they’d say was, well, this wasn’t a very aggressive night that they had, in that they had other ships and they pulled out, but then we sank two or three more ships, so they said, however, we understand what was going on. 

 

 

WEED: Could you relate some of your significant experiences on the Lapon after submarine school, during the six war patrols, and the submarine you subsequently commanded.

 

GILLETTE:  I went to sub school in about June of 1943. It was a three-month course. Just prior to going to sub school, I was in New London, attached to a training boat, waiting for school to start. After three months, I was ordered to the Lapon, which was being built by Electric Boat Company, at Groton, Connecticut, New London. At the time I was ordered there, I was the first officer to be so ordered. I was the only officer there, along with an enlisted man–a yeoman–second class petty officer. He was an outstanding man, a friend, it developed later on, an outstanding yeoman. When I was at the building yard of Electric Boat, we were engaged in getting organized and putting manuals together, and receiving crewmembers and officers. One of the first officers that reported aboard was LCDR Eli Reich. Eli was the exec. He was later to become a vice-admiral, retired as such. When he had command of his submarine, the Sea Lion II, he sank the only Japanese battleship, sunk by a submarine, the Kongo. Eli was quite a man, an outstanding warrior, and a friend. The skipper was an older man, not older than other skippers at that time, but looking back, he was one of the old hands. He had been in command of an S-boat: a fine gentleman, an ordinance expert. He made the first run after our training period in New London. During this period we served a short period of time attached to the torpedo station at Newport, RI, using our submerged tubes. At that time, they didn’t have any so they would keep a submarine there for exercise firings. It was interesting because at that point, the electric torpedo was coming out. It was through the efforts of the Lapon, and LCDR Reich, that the electric torpedo really finally got out and the torpedo problems were solved. But that’s a long story.

Talking about New London, we had a short training period, and were then deployed to go to Pearl Harbor, via the Panama Canal. We left New London in June 1943, and on the way south, we got bombed by friendly aviators. Nobody got hurt. We went through the Canal, then headed for Pearl. On arrival we went through some more training. At that time, we were convinced that we were pretty good.

The first patrol we went out on was in August 1943. We had a unique patrol area assigned. It was in the Japan Sea. We had to go up north through the Kuriles, through the Sea of Okhotsk, the Strait of La Perouse which separated Hokkaido and Honshu. This strait was ultimately mined and we lost some submarines there. We laid on the bottom of the strait, at the entrance to the strait, during daytime. We got there during the night and got down on the bottom just before dawn and laid there. We could hear ships going over all day. In the dark of the next night, we surfaced and ran through on the surface. We were in company with two submarines–ourselves and two others, the Plunger, and I forget the name of the other one. Our area was all the way down in the south of the Japan Sea, near Tsushima: All the boats were coordinated by op. order so that they wouldn’t shoot any torpedoes until a particular date and time. Our patrol was in there for about two weeks and we never saw a ship. It was foggy–terrible fog. We ran around and did nothing. The two to the north were able to get a ship a piece. The whole thing was sort of a fiasco. Then we came out and ran through La Perouse at night. There were patrol boats. It was sort of a dicey affair, but we got out all right. We then went down the East Coast of Japan to an area near Tokyo for a month, and then came home with zero. We had a very unhappy crew. At this point, the skipper was relieved and the exec, LCDR Reich, was ordered back to the Sea Lion II building at Groton. He had been on the original Sea Lion when it was bombed. They had reconstituted the crew.

At the start of the second patrol, we had a new skipper who had made a patrol with a man named Treible,  who was given the credit for being the father of the night surface approach. Prior to this, the skippers of the S-boats and the older boats were trained in making approaches submerged, not to show anything–to be stealthy at all costs. Treible started doing the end around, and the night surface approaches. Our new skipper was Lowell Stone, his nickname was Steamie, he was senior, class of ‘27, had command of an ASR. Having made that one patrol run with Treble, he knew all about that. Immediately, he set that up on the Lapon. After that we did pretty well. The first run with Stone and the new exec whom was out of the class of ‘35, a very smart man. Stone didn’t have the class standing, if you will, of the exec’s, and we had some conflicts on how to do things. As a team, they didn’t do very well. We sank one ship. Plus, we had a terrible time with dud torpedoes, which later on, we found out why. When that run was over, we had sunk one ship. We had opportunities we either hit with duds, or we missed. But the one ship was great for the crew. They loved it. We came in and the exec was relieved to get command of a boat.

By this time–it was about March of ‘44–I became the exec. I had gone from the 8th officer, or maybe it was the 9th as gunnery officer, from June of ‘43 to March/April ‘44, I became the exec. This was all right with me. The crew, however, were a little upset because they knew me as the 8th or 9th officer who was always asking questions about how does this work and how does that work, and keeping me out of trouble. However, it was an attitude that was pretty good. Rather than telling them I knew everything, and pushing them around, they knew me as someone who wanted to learn, and did learn. We went to sea and gradually they came around. I didn’t get fired.

Fortunately on the next run, which was with Steamie Stone, as he was called, I was his exec. We got along very well. He was a real warrior, and he knew what he was doing. He didn’t care much about the science of it but he had a seaman’s eye, and he knew how to go about it. He was fearless. On the third run, we went to Pearl and went to the South China Sea: We sank three ships, and probably another one, which we didn’t get credit for. It was a very successful run. That was a high score at that time. Then we ended up down in Perth, Australia, for our refit and R&R. That was a magnificent place for the submarine people.

 

WEED: What sort of ships were they?

 

GILLETTE:  We sank three ships–two cargo ships and a passenger cargo, anywhere from 5000 to 8000 tons. These were all sunk on the surface at night. As far as the Lapon was concerned, that particular patrol developed esprit among the crew, because for a while there, that was the top patrol. They had suffered long enough for lack of bragging rights. This was a great time for them.

 

WEED: What was the advantage of a night surface attack as opposed to the other tactics which you might employ in tracking.

 

GILLETTE: The night surface attack, as compared to a day periscope attack or a submerged radar attack–these are the three kinds–a night surface attack, you run in stealthily on the surface, and make your attack and turn and depart at high speed. This enables you to get away. You sink some ships. It alerts the convoy and the escorts, but in the confusion you can get away at high speed and can come back and attack again.

 

WEED: What was high speed?

 

GILLETTE: We would go out about 19-20 knots on the surface, depending on the weather. But the night surface attack was developed later. It wasn’t used much in the initial part of the war and the results were pretty bad. Coupled with bad torpedoes, there weren’t many ships sunk until the 1943-44 period. Most of those were done by night surface attacks. You would acquire these ships while you were on the surface–particularly in the South China Sea–you would keep a watch with the periscope up on the surface in the daytime, which gave you a height of eye about 100 feet. There you could detect the masts of ships well over the horizon, and they couldn’t see you. By working your way ahead of them, you’d track them and come out with their course and speed. You would know what their base course was, their zigzag plan. You would take into account when night would fall, when the moon rose, and get them where you wanted them, as to where you wanted them silhouetted against the moon or if there wasn’t any, you would try to attack them in the black, in the night. You’d try to get them before moon rise or after moon set. Then you would work up ahead on their base course and as night fell, you would keep closing until you could pick them up with the radar. You would lose them with your eyeball. There might be a hiatus, maybe, but as you closed the range, you would be able to get your radar contact back. Then you would decide how you wanted to come in. You would determine the position of the escorts, their patrolling, how they were stationed. You would pick a place where you thought you had the best chance of getting in and out. Then you would come in, maybe even flooded down a little bit, quietly, to get the best shot at them you could. As soon as you fired, you’d start turning. For example, if you fired the bow tubes, you’d turn and bring your stern tubes on and get ready to fire those at other targets as you came out. You’d run out, and, depending on whether the escorts chased you or not, as soon as you were clear, you’d slow down, reload, and get ready to go in again. In many cases, the convoy might disintegrate, and they would all run in different directions. So you would pick out a ship and go after it.

 

WEED: The attack you were describing from the point of tracking the contact on the surface in daylight with the elevated periscope to positioning the boat in the evening for the surface attack, is that the “end around,” in effect?

 

GILLETTE: Well that’s a combination. The end around. Right. You would get around up ahead then close in to get them at night by radar and then visually for the night surface attack. The purpose of the strategy, if you want to call it that, or tactic, as contrasted to the training program early on in the war–to remain submerged and not get detected. Such an attack was limited to daytime because you couldn’t see at night. In a submerged approach, you usually got only one attack off as your speed was limited, the best you could do was 7 or 8 knots and that only for about a half hour. You wouldn’t want to be running at that speed for long. So, the net result was that if you attacked a convoy submerged, you got one crack at it. The convoy would then go off in another direction at high speed. You couldn’t surface because the escorts were there. Not only that, you would get a load of depth charges. Bear in mind, those torpedoes had a bubbly wake and where ever you fired would be a arrow pointing right to where it came from. You could count on these destroyers or escorts, if they had them, coming right down that track and the next thing you would be racked up with depth charges.

 

WEED: How close would you want to get to a contact before you fired?

 

GILLETTE: I don’t think we ever fired beyond 2300 yards. You could fire the torpedoes at one of two speeds–they had a high speed and a low speed. At high speed (45 knots) the range was 4500 yards. Then the torpedo would run out of fuel. At low speed, I don’t know that anybody ever fired them at low speed, you could get 10,000 yards, but firing a torpedo at 10,000 yards was a waste. I don’t think anyone ever hit anyone at that range. The tactic was to use a night surface attack whenever possible, this often involved tracking on the surface for 10 hours or longer. The next priority was what we called “radar submerged attack.” The radar that came in just as we were coming out was a darn good radar. The tactic that we used when the conditions were such that you couldn’t work in close because of the escorts, or the brightness of the moon, or whatever, was you would come in with just the radar head exposed. You would get radar range and periscope bearing and solutions. With that type of approach, it was our policy that as soon as you got a good solid solution, you might as well shoot, using the radar ranges and radar bearings that were good. Because you were getting in close, your chances were just about as good at 3,000 yards firing with a radar bearing.

 

WEED: By using radar you could stand off a little bit?

 

GILLETTE: Yes. We wouldn’t have to come all the way in. Of all of the ships we were credited with, and I’m sure there were three or four more that we weren’t credited, 90% were done on the surface at night. On only two occasions did we use a day periscope approach. One of these was right off the coast of Manila, on our sixth patrol where we were only about 1000 yards off the beach. We had word that there was a convoy at anchor in Lingayen Gulf. The Japanese at this time would sail their slow ships in the daytime. They would go into some sheltered port at night because we were killing them with these night surface attacks.

In this particular one, there was a whole convoy in Lingayen Gulf. We were lying there because we felt we were close enough ashore that they wouldn’t expect somebody to attack them from the beach. Sure enough, we could see in early morning the smoke rising up in Lingayen Gulf coming up over the hills as this convoy got underway. They steamed out to the north to clear Lingayen, and then south down the coast. They had a lot of escorts, and they had airplanes out in front. But we were in a position where they were not looking for us close to the beach. When they came down, we were able to sink a ship, submerged, and also an escort that ran in front of the torpedoes. This ship had a load of airplanes on deck as cargo, and he ended up on the beach. So we were never credited with the ship because the aviators bombed it on the beach and took credit for it, which caused us a great deal of indigestion.

This was a unique attack, because when we moved out to get into the convoy, we heard a tremendous number of explosions at which time the Captain indicated that we had been found. I didn’t see how we could because there was too much going on. They didn’t see us. Then he looked up and we found out that there was a carrier task force, our carrier task force, had come up on the east coast of Luzon, and had flown planes over Luzon. They had hit this convoy right over our heads! This was really quite a sight. We would go after one and the aviators would come in and sink them. In the end, we only got two ships, and I don’t think we got credit for them.

 

WEED: Were you ever in a position to use the deck gun?

 

GILLETTE: The deck gun is an interesting thing. The deck gun was the subject of emotional opinion by skippers. We had a deck gun. It was a new deck gun. The new deck gun was a wet mount. The old gun, you had to come upon on deck and drain the salt water from it. But the new 5 inch 25 caliber that most of the boats were getting, you didn’t have to do anything. It was all stainless steel. We practiced battle surfacing, coming up from say 200 feet and shooting at a target in 35 seconds. You would hold the submarine down, then go up to speed and then start blowing the ballast tanks and when you couldn’t hold it any more with speed, you would put the planes on hard rise, and bounce up out of the water. The men would open the hatch and come out and get a shot off. The gun was either forward or aft. That was a source of emotion. The skipper who had it forward, he was going to go in and chase them, while the skipper who had it aft, he was going to run away from them. One skipper I know, said he wasn’t going to use it. “They could stick it up their ass.” The deck gun was never a very viable means of attack. Inherently, it’s dangerous. Anybody with a 30/30 rifle could put a hole in you, then you had a problem. This would happen. I was never a proponent of it. The only time we used one was on our 4th patrol when we hadn’t seen anything. The skipper finally decided that we would exercise the gun crew on a small bauka in the Sulu Sea: We leaped on it and sank it. But it left a sour taste in the crew’s mouth. We didn’t know who they were, and they certainly weren’t going to hurt anybody. Maybe they could have got on the radio and said something. But the crew didn’t like it, and we didn’t like it, so we never used it again. I would say that was mostly the case. There were people who loved to use the gun, not many, but the general opinion was that it was a waste of time. The one exception was special missions. When I had the Blackfish, we used it in shore bombardment.

 

WEED: That was your command?

 

GILLETTE: Yes. That was my command. On the way home, we shelled a beach radar station and lighthouse.

 

WEED: Where was that?

 

GILLETTE:  That was right off the southern coast of Kyushu. We rescued some aviators and were coming home.

 

WEED: When was that?

 

GILLETTE: That was late 45. I guess the war was over in May, it was April of 45. We shot practically all of our 5 inch. The crew got a bit bang out of it. They could see the lighthouse go down. That was fine for morale. We hadn’t sunk any ships. We didn’t see any. We did rescue some aviators, though. There were special missions when the gun was important. But other than that, I don’t think it was worth using. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t worth the hazard.

 

WEED: Was the first use of the gun on the 4th patrol?

 

GILLETTE: Yes. From that patrol, which was very successful, we went back into Perth and refit. The next patrol, the fifth, we went back up into the South China Sea via Lombok Strait which has a mystique all its own to the submariners operating out of Perth, Australia, during World War II.

The strait lies between the islands of Bali to the West and Lombok to the East. To the North is the Java Sea, to the South the Indian Ocean. It is about 15 miles wide East to West and 50 miles long North to South. It is deep and its currents are strong – four to five knots. The direction of current flow is either North to South or reverse. Strangely, the North to South flow lasts for about 16 hours and the reverse about eight hours. How the water from the Java Sea to the North is returned from the Indian Ocean to the South was a real mystery. The current characteristics resulted in the submarines mainly transiting on the surface at night. One submarine attempted a submerged transit from south to north but ended up hours later several miles south of her diving point.

Using this strait for access to the convoy routes utilized by the Japanese, the submarines were able to interdict the routes and effectively cut off the supplies of oil and critical materials to Japan.

As mentioned before, to the submariners, Lombok had a unique aura of mystique unlike any of the many straits and bodies of water in which the submarines operated.

Transiting from either direction was always marked by a fundamental change in attitude of the ship’s company. When going north, it brought home to the crew that there was a real war going on, and if they were going to survive, they had to concentrate on their mission. When clearing to the south, all hands spend considerable time getting ready for liberty in Perth, four days away. The barber broke-out his tools and the crew their address books and phone numbers, which were studied carefully.

The Lapon made many transits of Lombok. As a result, we came to believe that there appeared to be a mutually accepted truce between the Japanese patrol craft and U.S. submarines, that “if you let us chase you around a bit and don’t shoot us up, we will return the complement by letting you clear the strait without critical interference.”

However, on many occasions, passage through Lombok Strait, could be a memorable experience. On one such trip, Lombok almost did the Lapon in. We had encountered the usual patrol boats and had paid our customary dues playing a grim form of tag at full power. Finally, when we had broken out of the Strait and were in the wide expanse of the northern throat, I went up to the bridge to relax a bit.

It was a beautiful night, with quite a lot of the usual phosphorescence in the water. Suddenly, the high lookout broke the silence as he bellowed, “Right Full Rudder!” Such action on the part of a lookout is a very unusual, and immediately gets one’s attention. My reaction was to look to port and was rewarded by seeing two phosphorescent torpedo tracks coming fast. There was no way of avoiding them as they were close aboard. The Pearly Gates were clanging loudly, as they either closed or opened depending on one’s background.

Suddenly, the torpedoes turned hard right and paralleled the Lapon and escorted us along our way. Instead of two torpedoes, two porpoises had decided to give us a thrill. I then told the rest of the bridge watch, that any of them requiring a change of “skivvies” could join me below.

The apparent truce in Lombok Strait came to an abrupt end when our friendly British submarine allies, who were short legged and had difficulty finding suitable torpedo targets decided to use their deck gun in Lombok. The British deck gun was designed so that it could be manned and made ready to fire without revealing that fact to an unsuspecting target. Further, the British submarine’s silhouette was not unlike a Japanese R-O class submarine. This gun capability was demonstrated rather unfortunately by a British submarine Skipper one sunny day when, while flying the Japanese flag, he approached one unsuspecting Japanese patrol craft and, at about 400 yards, blew it out of the water. This event cause considerable indigestion on the part of the Japanese high command. Shortly thereafter shore batteries and searchlights were installed on the beach, which abruptly terminated the mutual peace agreement. The event also brought down the wrath of Admiral Christie, the Force Commander, along with that of all the U.S. submarine Skippers. Fortunately the end of the war was fast approaching and only one submarine loss could possibly be attributed to the increased ASW attention given to Lomok by the Japanese.

 

WEED: What time period was that?

 

GILLETTE: This was May of 44, late April or early May. We went up through Lombok, Makassar Strait, the submarine’s classic route, through Palawan Passage. We saw nothing. We were patrolling on the west side of Palawan Island, this is north of Borneo in the South China Sea. To the west was what they called the “dangerous ground,” which is where the Darter ran aground. In fact, it’s still there. You can still see it. It ran up on Bombay Shoal. The “dangerous ground” was not well charted. The charts were not very good. The only survey we had, was that of the Pigeon (ASR), from way back about 1920. The ASR had gone through and plotted in some reefs. We had to be on guard all the time. The Japs had good charts in there. They could run through there at high speed and they would do that.

On this one occasion, I was sitting below in the wardroom on a bright sunny day, the officer of the deck yelled out “Rocks, dead astern.” Sure enough, we had been zig zagging and somehow passed a reef. On this particular run, we now were patrolling in the Palawan Passage. The next day we saw smoke way to the west and started chasing it. Then we saw some trash. We kept on going. Pretty soon, we could see two ships, and some escorts which we saw later. We ran an end around on them, and timed it so we could come in on them at dark. We fired 20 torpedoes on four different attacks. Six of them missed or more probably, a couple of them were duds. Then all of a sudden there was a big flash from the target. The bridge yelled out “We’ve got a hit,” about that time, you heard the shell go by! They said “no, that wasn’t a hit.”

 

WEED: Was this at night?

 

GILLETTE: Yes.

 

WEED: How many ships were you firing at?

 

GILLETTE: There were just three in the convoy, and about three escorts. So, then we went in and we fired. We sank one of them. Turned around, came back again, and sank another one. We passed the escorts. We had the thing pretty well planned. He didn’t see us. It was quite a relief to hear the depth charges when you are on the surface and five miles away. We attacked the third and got two hits and then were forced down. We thought the ship sank but we couldn’t prove it as dawn broke and the escorts were still around.

This is when a unique event occurred. We had reported to headquarters where we were, and the ships that were sunk, and we were proceeding to the west, although our intent, with only 4 torpedoes, all of them aft, was to go over to the west and hopefully find some more ships. This was over towards Hainan and then go home west of Borneo, using Karimata Strait, Java Sea and Lombok Strait. On the way over, we got a message that a Japanese submarine was leaving Singapore and was going up to Tokyo. It had a lot of technicians and critical material aboard. He was coming into our area. We ran over, it was quite a run on the surface to get to his hour-before-dawn diving position. We figured he would run on the surface at night but submerge during the day time. We figured out where he would dive and then we would dive about an hour down his surface track. We would patrol back and forth at periscope depth to catch him using radar in short sweeps.

About the estimated time, the periscope watch reported a sailboat. It was a submarine. At this time, the U.S. had come out with the new submarines that had what they called a cut-down bridge, we had not seen any of these new boats. The submarine we sighted looked like it had port holes because you could see though it. He was being silhouetted by the sun coming up. We got the after four torpedoes ready. The skipper came up and he verified that it was a Japanese submarine and started firing. He looked again and said, “I think its one of our own” and checked fire. Well, we had two torpedoes in the water! This was quite a shocker. Everything was dead quiet. Then we heard two big explosions. We thought, my god, we sank him! Well, it turned out we could hear his screws and he was gone. I’m sure now it was the end-of-run. However, it was the Raton who had come up his track in our area. I don’t think it was very smart, running up this guy’s track into our area:

 

WEED: Why did he do that?

 

GILLETTE: I never found out why he did that. I thought it was a bad deal. Well, he turned and ran. We tried to contact them by sonar and radar but he was gone. We were submerged at periscope depth. About an hour later, the periscope watch, all of a sudden, saw a periscope. But there was no way you could identify him submerged. We went deep. We started sending messages about what our skipper’s wife name was, and who was he? No reply. Finally we battle surfaced and ran away from there. Later on when the Raton got back to Perth he claimed they had been hit with a dud. They heard these explosions which were close aboard, and knocked a couple of them out of their bunks, and scared the bee-gesus out of them.

 

WEED: What do you attribute the explosions to?

 

GILLETTE: Well, the torpedoes were designed to blow up at the end of their run so nobody could salvage them. Sometimes they did, and sometimes they didn’t. I always thought it was curious as to what caused that. They would sink down and maybe the pressure would blow em.

 

WEED: When was that?

 

GILLETTE: This happened on the 27th of April 1944.

 

WEED: Other than a couple of crew fights, did the skipper suffer any consequences?

 

GILLETTE: Oh, no not at all. Nobody was hurt. Actually, the problem was with the headquarters staff, through their message receipt, the Raton felt that the Lapon had been pulled clear of the area. They had given the Raton that message too. So he made the assumption that we were on our way home, because we only had four torpedoes left. He assumed that. Ordinarily, the rules of the game required that if you were going into another area, you better get on the air and get clearance to be in there, or you may get seriously hurt!  He didn’t do that. He claimed that he was misled. But, my opinion was that it was his own fault. Also, I faulted him because I certainly wouldn’t run up an enemy’s track when he’s about to dive. I thought this is crazy. You’re asking for it. Fortunately, everything had a happy ending.

 

WEED: What was your next patrol? Did you go back to Pearl or the South China Sea?

 

GILLETTE: No. We went to Perth for R and R. Had an enjoyable period. And then after the fifth patrol, CAPT Stone was relieved by LCDR Baer, B-A-E-R, Don Baer. He was all together different than Stone. A very fine officer but not as relaxed as Stone was. But he was pretty smart. He was coming to a boat that had a good rep, and had sunk ships. He didn’t change anything. He could, but he didn’t. He was a small man. Actually, not a very prepossessing looking individual. The troops were a little bit dubious about him.

 

WEED: When was that, sir?

 

GILLETTE: This was our 6th patrol in September of 44 [sic]. As time went on, he made a real name for himself. The crew liked him. He was a tremendously competent technical man, and he had a lot of guts. They thought he was great, and I did too. We went out on this patrol. It was a good patrol. We sank three ships. Actually, we sank five, but we got credit for three. We sat at periscope depth off the coast near Manila: I think I already talked about that and the aviators, haven’t I.

 

WEED: Yes.

 

GILLETTE: At night we ran out to sea: We had been down for almost 50-some hours. The air was bad. During day light, we were running after cripples that the aviators had left. We got to a destroyer who was down by the stern, and we had another destroyer going around and patrolling, and that was all. We very carefully closed on him. The idea was, when the escort came around, to bag him, and then get the cripple. This took a little time ‘cause he was going slow. About that time, over the hill came three big fleet destroyers, to help out with the escorts. Well, we thought four escorts and a cripple were too much. We had been down for 50-some hours. The battery was low and we were well advised to get out. However, they found us and we were having a bad time. Fortunately, a big rain storm came up. How did we know? We were deep. The sonar operator detected what he thought was rain pounding the surface. I still don’t believe he could but there it was when we surfaced.

 

WEED: Is this the fifth patrol, or is this going back to the run off the Philippines off Lingayen?

 

GILLETTE:  No this is the 6th patrol.

 

WEED: This one in September of 44, the sixth patrol?

 

GILLETTE: This is the sixth patrol, which started on 4 September 1944.

 

WEED: That was your last patrol on the Lapon?

 

GILLETTE:  No, I made one more patrol ending in Mare Island. The Sonar man reported that it was raining topside. The air was so bad, and this had happened before, but not as bad as this, we would light the smoking lamp for 5 minutes say, and you couldn’t light the match. The match wouldn’t burn, the air was so bad. With the rain, we decided we would get up because we couldn’t stay down much longer without any air. We came up and sure enough, it was just solid rain and black. We started heading for open water to the west, and ventilating the boat. We had been down so long, the condensate had grounded out the radar and it was out of commission and a few other things. The skipper was tired. He was in his bunk. We just set everything on automatic to go west and rest up. I told the radar operator, he was a hell of a fine man, you work on this radar and when it’s ready, I want to be up here when you turn it on. You call me before you light it off. O’Rilley was the technician. He worked for a couple of hours; it was still black. He called me when it was ready to go. He lit it off, and we were in the middle of about 15 ships! Well, we didn’t want any ships because the crew was beat. But we went to GQ and beat everybody to stations and started in. It was still raining badly and we couldn’t see anything. Couldn’t see the ships but there were 15 you could count on the radar. So we picked one out and we got in about 700 yards and still we couldn’t see it.

 

GILLETTE: There we were, sitting up with the ships. We got to 700 yards, and I said we should go around again. I don’t know if that was the right thing to do or not, but we did. We made a complete circle to come in again, to see if we couldn’t see it from the bridge. We had the target bearing transmitter on, and I was up there looking through it. You couldn’t see a thing. So, the skipper decided to shoot anyway on radar. I guess that was the best thing. We steadied up and we shot six torpedoes at this one ship. The radar we had had a built-in two-degree error. Well, we were at 700 yards, about that time, and it took about a minute or less, and the next thing you knew, there was a tremendous explosion. The ship happened to be a tanker and it exploded! It lit up the place like daytime. You could see all these ships. Of course, we were turning away at full power, getting the stern tubes ready. But when we pulled clear, we couldn’t see targets because of smoke, we decided–as I said, when we went to general quarters this second time, people were not responding. They were dead tired. I told the skipper we better keep going and come back another day, which we did. Fortunately, later on we sank more ships. But I remember the endorsement that the decision to break off the attack with all those ships wasn’t too good. However, the Lapon had done very well sinking all these other ships under difficult conditions, so maybe that was the best thing. The horses asses. They weren’t there.

 

WEED: When did you return to Pearl?

 

GILLETTE:  That was the last ship we sank. We returned to Perth. We were out of torpedoes. We made a seventh run but found very few targets and heavy weather. We made one attack in heavy seas. The torpedoes broached or ran erratic. We departed the patrol area and ended up at Mare Island for overhaul.

 

WEED: Where did you do that?

 

GILLETTE: At Mare Island where I was relieved and went to Pearl to join the PCO pool–prospective command officer pool–for which there were about 20-25 waiting. This was quite an experience. The Lapon ran an 8th patrol and then went back to the States. The war was over.

 

WEED: During your tour on the Lapon, as I recall, you had received several combat decorations, the Silver Star, a letter of commendation. What were those decorations, and what were the circumstances under which they were received?

 

GILLETTE: The Silver Star was the result of  a patrol when I was exec with Captain Stone, when we sank the three ships on that patrol, which was some 19,000 tons. He received the Navy Cross and he recommended me for the Silver Star, for the overall patrol. These awards were based on the force commander’s opinion as to how many awards and for what.

 

WEED: That was the Third Patrol?

 

GILLETTE: Yes. On the 6th patrol that I was exec on the Lapon, we sank three ships, and as I say, I think we had more, Captain Baer recommended me for the Silver Star; same kind of rationale. I told him I already had one and perhaps he might want to give it to somebody else, since there were other people out there that did just as well as I did. But, he said no, he wanted me to have it. So I have two Silver Stars. You know, it’s not like you put your finger in the dike or something. It was the crew that was entitled to have it. As a matter of fact, we got the Navy Unit Citation for the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th runs. That was a nice thing to have.

 

WEED: Your PCO pool was in Pearl. This was the fall of 1944, the war was about a year from being over. Targets were getting slim. More boats were coming out into the fleet. Of the 20-25 of you, how were you slotted for command?

 

GILLETTE: The policy was, when you completed three patrols and you moved up in seniority for command as folks completed their patrols. By this time, having made three or four runs as exec, they told me I was ready for command, and would go to the PCO pool. That’s what happened. I went to Pearl and joined the PCO pool. My feelings were that the war was winding down, and if you wanted to make a combat war patrol in the Pacific, you better get going because things were going to be over soon. So I was pressing to get a command, as were others. They would take them in the line in which they arrived there. I didn’t expect to get one because there were quite a number ahead of me. However, a couple of things happened. One, there were several boats which came in from the Southwest Pacific with heavy damage and they had to go to Mare Island into overhaul and repairs. They had taken the skippers off and put new skippers on. Some of these went that way. I didn’t want that. I wanted command of a war patrol bound boat.

 

WEED: What happened to the skippers who were taken off of those boats. Were they put in the queue for subsequent boats, or did they go off in other duties?

 

GILLETTE: Usually the ones who were coming back were going off to other duties. They’d take them off in Pearl because other ships and other needs were there rather than the West Coast.

 

WEED: What was the rationale for the number of patrols, or was there a rationale for the number of patrols a skipper would have?

 

GILLETTE: There was no cut and dried one, but it was felt that probably four patrols in command was enough, maybe three. If you went on beyond that, people get burned out. That was one of the things, for instance, Sam Dealey asked to stay aboard after six patrols, and he was lost on it. Some people say that was because he was burned out, but I don’t know.

 

WEED: Did you observe that? Did you concur with that?

 

GILLETTE: Oh, yes: Same way with the enlisted, with the troops. You take four consecutive combat runs with two weeks in between, assuming that you were in combat (some boats were out and never saw anything), but if you were in combat, you found even the most experienced ones, they were looking around for more than two weeks. They would go back for new construction, which would take them back for longer periods of time. The policy with the officers and the crew was that you would relieve one-third of your crew each patrol. Those people would come off and either go into the refit crew or back to new construction. So there was quite a turn over with new people coming aboard. Nobody should have to make more runs if he didn’t feel up to it. In my case with getting the Blackfish, I kept pressing to get command. The Blackfish is the SS 221, an older boat. It had made 11 runs, some of them in the Atlantic, some in the Pacific. Unfortunately, in 11 runs they had only sunk one ship, which was rather unusual. It was an older boat–what they called a thin-skinned boat–312 feet vis-a-vis all of the new ones were 415 or such. It wasn’t a very desirable command from the point of view of the PCOs. But, I got a call to say I could have it and I said fine, I’ll take it. I went up to the personnel officer on the staff. They had relieved the skipper and three senior officers: the engineer, the gunner and the exec. As the new skipper, I had to get three new officers for this boat.

 

WEED: That was unusual?

 

GILLETTE: Yes it was. They didn’t give any reason. Maybe the people wanted to go. I think there was some of that aboard. I went up to the personnel officer, who was a commander–they used to keep cards on available officers–and he said the cards were all out of date. He said I  should go down to the waterfront and find some officers, he would try and get them for me. I thought that was a hell-of-a-note. I was in the officers’ club that night, trying to figure out how to do this, when I looked around. The bar was full of officers. So, I had another drink. On the bar they had a bell which they rang when they would open or close the bar. I thought, well, I’ll try this. I went up there, rang that bell and climbed up on the bar. I told them I was LCDR Gillette, and that I was going out on patrol as CO of the Blackfish in about two weeks. I said I needed three officers that wanted to go on a war patrol to the west. I had a pad of paper, and I told them I needed a gunner, an exec, and an engineer, and that I would be over in that corner with my pad of paper if they wanted to volunteer. I got 12 volunteers. I picked three of them. I got the three and off we went on a war patrol. It was successful. We didn’t sink any ships, but gave it a go, and we rescued aviators. We got a combat commendation out of it. We went up to the Yellow Sea and made a big run.

 

WEED: What was the period of time for that?

 

GILLETTE: Nineteen-forty five when we steamed into Guam at the end of the patrol, as we were coming up the channel to tie up to the tender, rockets started going off and shots and whistles and all kinds of things. I yelled down to the radioman to find out what was going on–rescuing six aviators didn’t entitle us to all this. He came back and said they just found out the war was over. That’s when we tied up along side the tender in Guam.

It was quite a run. Our evaporators had broken down the last week. Besides our six aviators rescued, we picked up 22 more aviators off other boats, including one critically ill guy. He survived. When we tied up, we hadn’t been able to do any laundry, and we hadn’t had any showers for about 10 days. I remember the squadron commander coming down to welcome us home. We had put all the dirty laundry in the forward torpedo room to get it up to the tender and the squadron commander came down into the forward torpedo room. He and his exec arrived. All of a sudden he stopped short and he said “I’ll tell what we’ll do, we’ll have the arrival conference on the tender and give you time to get rid of this stuff.” Well, we’d been living with it and didn’t realize that there was such an odor. But there sure as hell was! But, he was a nice guy about it.

 

WEED: Captain, what constituted a successful patrol?

 

GILLETTE: It was usually up to the squadron commander subject to the Force Commander review. Generally you had to sink a ship. But by this time, rescuing aviators was good for qualifying, if it was under conditions of combat. But not if you picked them up off the operating area. If you picked aviators in combat, like we did, we picked them up right off the beach, if we hadn’t gotten them they would have been gone birds. As a matter of fact, they were pretty good people. I told the exec to break out the medicinal whisky and give them a shot. By the time I got down to the wardroom, they had about sunk a whole quart of Old Overholt before I shut the valve off! I told them that we had control of the air and that we would pull out and get a PBM in and you can be back fighting the war again. They said, “no thank-you, we like it here.” So we took them all the way back to Guam. They stood watches, and navigated. They were good shipmates.

 

WEED: How did you and the Blackfish proceed from Guam at the end of the war?

 

GILLETTE: At Guam, we got our rest period out at the rest camp, and then we left to go to the States to a marshaling point for various ships–submarines. As I remember, you had a choice. We departed for the Panama Canal and when we were on our way, the word came out that we could go to Galveston, Texas, to New London, to Charleston, or you could go to Staten Island, and there were several other places. I was a bachelor so I didn’t much care where we went.

 

WEED: This was for Navy Day?

 

GILLETTE: Yes, that, but you would lay up there for at least 30 days and everybody would go on leave. In fact it was longer than that. You wouldn’t move and you could give the maximum amount of leave to various sections of the crew, about one-third at a time. As I said was a bachelor and didn’t much care where we went. I let the crew know that we would take a vote to see where a majority of the sailors wanted to go. They voted for Staten Island. I found out that most of my troops were from around Staten Island, New York, the Bronx, so that’s where we went. I spent a good time there. From there we went to New London, where we put the boat out of commission. That was a hell of a chore. You had to get everything overhauled, clean the bilges and paint them white and all the spare parts ordered, the chits made out. And you had the de-humidification gear to put aboard. You were put in a back channel and then de-humidify it. Well, in the midst of this, my orders came in to go to the Pentagon. The interesting thing was the de-humidification. The biggest job was to get all of those supply chits typed. You had to use the allowance list which was out of date, and which was never very good. You had to fill a chit out for everything that you needed. The biggest job was the typing. We had to have people typing all these damn chits, which I knew would never be used.

 

WEED: What was the purpose for that? They would be stored with the boat?

 

GILLETTE: Yes, stored with the boat, so that if the bell rang next week, all you had to do to  put it back in commission, everything was ready to run it. You had all these chits for the spare parts (you couldn’t buy them but there were the chits for them), you had been all de-humidified, but the thought was, in 30 days you could put that boat out on war patrol. But, it turned out that the war didn’t come and they didn’t use the boats. I forget, but it wasn’t too long, six months to a year, I went down to check out the routine inspection of the de-humidification (everything was in good shape), but all the chits we had typed out were dust. The de-humidifier had dried it all out–there was just nothing.

 

WEED: Where were the other boats laid up? Were they primarily in New London?

 

GILLETTE: No, they had them laid up in New London, and I think in Galveston, Charleston, and I forget where all. But most were in New London.

 

WEED: We have covered a great deal in our time together. We’ve spend 90% of that time on the war years. We talked about a lot of things. Is there anything that you have not talked about that you think is worth discussing?

 

GILLETTE: Well, the feeling that I have about those war years and those diesel boats was that the diesel sailors were a breed of their own, vis-a-vis, the nuclear sailors of today. They are a different kind of people. Those diesel sailors were really outstanding men. Patriots. Hard working–both ashore and at sea. Let me tell you a story about one of them. When I was the exec on the Lapon with the new skipper, I was the navigator and we were getting ready to go on patrol for our training period. A Second Class Quartermaster jumped ship. We only had two, maybe a Striker, so, we finally got back and he came aboard and was restricted. The morning we were to go on patrol, he turned up missing again. Somehow he had jumped ship again. I told the First Class Quartermaster, who was a real fine guy, you take the Striker and go out and get him. He’s on a snake ranch out there and you go get him. You go to the front door and send the Striker to the back door and you catch him. Sure enough, he knocked on the front door and out he came from the back door. They tackled him and got him. In the meantime, the staff was kissing us good-bye at the dock, the boat was ready to go. The admiral was down there, and the skipper was ready, and I’m down there–got no Quartermasters–stalling. Suddenly, up the dock comes this contingent, the First Class and the Striker, and they’ve got this guy, he’s mumbling in a loud voice that he didn’t want to go, his nerves were shot, he didn’t want to go. They hoisted him over the brow and stuffed him down the forward hatch and he’s still yelling this. We got underway in a hurry. As we cleared the dock, he popped out of the after torpedo room hatch yelling he didn’t want to go, and they dragged him down.

Well, we went on up to Exmouth Gulf, about a two, three-day trip–run–up the North West Cape where we would top off fuel. They had a fueling station with a small detachment. As we were going up, the word came up that this guy was trying to commit suicide–he had nicked his wrists. I looked at him and could see that it wasn’t much of an attempt. The skipper said to put him in irons. That meant restraints so we put him in his bunk. We got on our way. He was bemoaning, he couldn’t go, couldn’t go. I came up with an idea and went back to talk him. I told him “Ranney, I agree with you. You can’t go. You’re all shot. We’ll take you off at Exmouth Gulf for the remainder of the war. You can join the refueling detachment.”  Well, Exmouth Gulf was barren, the Coast Pilot stated that it took 50 square miles to feed one goat. It was barren, there was nothing. There were no women, there was very little whiskey. I told him that was where we would leave him. We had a relief that was flying up from Perth. You’ll be okay. You can stay there and settle your nerves. Well, we went along and the next day, he wanted to see me so I went down to see him. He said he was much better, he felt a lot better. He was in good shape. He wanted to go back on the watch bill. I told him that the decision would have to be by the skipper as he was very concerned about his condition. The skipper reduced him to third class and indicated if he would perform well, he might restore his rate at the end of the patrol. Ranney did well and had his rate restored. Such was counseling in the submarine community, not very scientific but proved to be very effective.

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