Read an Excerpt
DUST on the SEA
By Edward L. Beach
Naval Institute PressCopyright © 1972 Edward L. Beach
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCommander "Rich" Richardson, commanding officer of the United States Ship Eel, was luxuriously soaping himself in the cramped officers' shower stall in the after starboard corner of the submarine's forward torpedo room. Two showers of more ample dimensions existed in the crew's washroom, three full compartments aft-about one hundred feet-but these were designated for use by the seventy-two enlisted members of Eel's complement. Not only was their use by officers inhibited by location and protocol, but especially today, with the return from Eel's first war patrol only hours away, they were doubtless in full use.
The submarine's designers had perhaps felt justified in making the officers' shower smaller than those for the crew, since her eight officers received, even so, far more bathing space per individual; but it might have occurred to them that officers surely must average the same size as their admittedly less privileged crew members. So had Richardson's reflections ranged three times a week during the two months' patrol now ending, as he wet himself down, turned off the water, soaped thoroughly over all his body, and then rinsed-in the water-saving bath routine demanded by the chronically inadequate fresh water evaporators in submarines. Even so, thenewer "evaps" were a tremendous improvement over the inefficient travesties of the name which had been installed in Richardson's first submarine, the old Octopus. And an objective observer might have pointed out that the skimpiness of the shower clearly had resulted from additional space required in that particular corner of the Eel for the larger and more powerful sonar equipment installed in the new submarines. Certainly, the Walrus, Richardson's previous command, had had older and less effective sonar, but a bigger shower, than Eel.
But logic or objectivity were far from Richardson's mind. The floor of the stall was a marginal twenty-three inches on a side, and apparently the designer had somehow determined that six feet one and a fraction inches was the maximum height that any submarine officer was likely to be. Its top had been capped accordingly, and Richardson had long made a habit of rising on his toes to touch his head against the top plate, as if to measure any possible change in his height. More-although this had not been the original designer's fault but instead that of a Pearl Harbor sheet metal butcher-the space above the spray nozzle had been reduced to about half of its original dimensions by a protrusion encasing the heating control panels for the new electric torpedoes which Eel had taken on patrol. The man had not even bothered to round the corners or smooth off the beading of his welds. To avoid painful scratches, one's head (granted, of a lesser diameter than the rest of the body) had therefore to be kept carefully cocked toward the torpedo tubes while rotating under the spray.
During the first part of the patrol, Richardson's three baths a week had been his sole recreation while the ship was in enemy waters. The beneficent combination of warm fresh water and his vulnerable nakedness soothed his brain and body. Weeks ago, relaxed after his bath, he would have amused the officers of Eel's wardroom over coffee or a meal with highly ingenious methods of vengeance upon the shower-bath designer, if he could ever be found. During the last three weeks, however, since the destruction of Bungo Pete-Captain Tateo Nakame of the Imperial Japanese Navy-the light-hearted fantasies, which used to come of their own accord, had stopped.
Once, in a transparent attempt to bring him back to his old mood, his executive officer, Keith Leone, had incautiously asked for a description of the latest scheme. The whole wardroom, including Rich, had been embarrassed by the abrupt refusal the query evoked.
Now, however, entrance into Pearl Harbor was only a short time away. Already the submarine was in the Pearl Harbor Defense Zone. Eel's two months of strenuous effort were nearly at an end. Ahead lay two weeks of complete freedom from responsibility, two glorious carefree weeks at the famous Royal Hawaiian Hotel, which, for the war, had been turned into a rest haven for submarine crews between patrols.
Richardson felt almost cheerful as he stood under the slowly dripping shower nozzle, cranium pressed against the overhead as was his custom, neck akimbo, torso contorted to avoid the uncomfortable edge of the boxlike, neck-high intrusion of the control panel, elbows braced against the sides of the stall because of the moderate roll of the ship. The black mood still lay there, not forgotten by the prospect of entering port, but put aside. He felt a touch of gratitude to the hapless shower stall designer, because, for the first time in three weeks, he had just thought of a new and really appropriate torture to inflict upon him.
The man would doubtless be fat, unpleasant-looking, and scared; but mercy would sternly be denied. He would be tied securely with a heaving line and suspended head downward from one of the periscopes. Then, slowly and remorselessly, the periscope would be lowered into its narrow steel well (it might be better for the designer to be a skinny fellow after all). Rich would stop the periscope before the designer got to the bottom of the well, but he would have a good fright, and it would serve him right. He would also receive an excellent appreciation of the inadequate space in the shower.
Richardson turned on the water for a deep and soothing rinse. There was no need to conserve water this day. The black mood was entirely gone. It was the second such complete relief he had felt, as though a long shut valve in his brain had suddenly opened to flood his being with confidence and euphoria. Two weeks ago it had lifted when Eel rescued the three downed aviators in their rubber boat, but this had lasted only a few hours, had slowly seeped away. A week ago it had closed down tight when the enthusiastic but noncommittal message from ComSubPac, welcoming Eel back from "an outstanding patrol"-stereo-typed phrase!-had arrived.
The idea of the villain being lowered into the periscope well to the fate he so richly deserved brought an unaccustomed grin to Rich's newly shaven, soapy face as, with eyes shut, he plunged it carefully-so as to avoid the metal edge of the boxed-in torpedo control panel-into the gentle spray of warm water. The shower, after all, was not much larger than the periscope well. The sides of the well would be slippery, too, with oil and salt water instead of soap; it was round instead of square; there would be no warm spray of fresh water....
The edge of the control panel protrusion dug into his neck. It was he, Rich, who should be in the periscope well! It was he who should plead for mercy, while Bungo Pete looked on impassively and refused it! He could see Bungo Pete's face. He had looked him squarely in the eyes as he had killed him. Nakame looked exactly like Sammy Sams of the Walrus' training days, indistinguishably mingled, also, with old Joe Blunt, his one-time skipper in the old Octopus, even with Admiral Small. The ever-changing face never ceased cursing him, beseeching him, condemning him. Everlastingly, it would live in his mind, always changing, taking on the characteristics of others, and yet always remaining the same.
At the base of the well was an inspection plate, and as he came down level with it, it would be removed. Again, the staring eyes of Tateo Nakame would sear into his own, even as they had that day so long ago and every night since. Again, and still, they would pronounce him a pariah among men, fit only for vileness and shame.
In place of the euphoria of a moment ago, black reaction returned. The despairing weight of a situation beyond remedy, for which there could never be a cure, or an expiation, clamped down. There could never have been a way out. He would have had to do it, would always have to do it, exactly as he had done it, given the same set of circumstances. He, the victor in combat, was now forever the victim of the man he had destroyed.
For two weeks Richardson had been unapproachable, virtually a recluse on the bridge, in the wardroom, in his stateroom. His officers-and the crew as well-had ceased to bring little things to his attention as they used to. Now, except for the most formal requirements, they took everything to Keith. This, of course, was probably an excuse to avoid his dour company. Not that he wanted company. Twice he had ordered his meals brought to him on a tray, but both times he had finally yielded to Leone's impassioned protests. But this had not made him any the more approachable, except to Keith, who all along was valiantly trying to pretend that there was nothing wrong.
Nearly three years had passed since that peacetime Sunday when an American battle fleet, beginning its traditional day of worship, was smashed under a surprise attack by Japan's naval air forces. Richardson was then skipper of the S-16, an old submarine which he, Jim Bledsoe, and Keith Leone had hauled out of a navy yard back channel in the summer of 1941. Jim, tall and tanned, a natural athlete and a natural submariner as well, was executive officer. Keith, more introspective than Jim and considerably younger, was fresh out of the New London submarine school. Richardson had been in submarines almost since his graduation from the Naval Academy at Annapolis six and a half years earlier. He was thinner, not quite as tall as Jim, about a year older; but his slim body was as fit, without the aura of physical power which Jim exuded. A bony forehead, topped with light brown hair verging on the sandy, surmounted a pair of deep-set eyes. They would have been counted widely spaced, had not the necessary readjustments of S-16's bridge binoculars, which they all used, proved Keith's eyes to be the farthest apart of them all. Beneath Richardson's straight, rather thin nose-marred by a horizontal line above the nostrils giving its tip the spurious appearance of being upturned-there was a set of thin lips defining a wider-than-average mouth, which of late had been compressed into a flat, straight line slashed above the strong chin and prominent jaws.
Keith Leone, executive officer of Eel, a veteran of seven patrols in Walrus, the first four under Richardson and three more with the redoubtable Jim Bledsoe at the helm, had more war experience than any other person aboard. More, even, than Richardson himself, who had been shunted aside to the hospital with a broken leg, courtesy of a shell from Bungo Pete's destroyer, at the conclusion of Walrus' fourth war patrol. Heavier than Richardson, Leone's square-built frame and massive head brought his steady eyes to a level only slightly under Richardson's own. There was an air of competence, of relaxed purposefulness, about everything he did.
The years of war had fired the basic clay of which Bledsoe, Leone, and Richardson were made. Jim was now dead, after a sunburst of glory, lost with all hands on his fourth patrol in command of Walrus. During those four patrols he had exploded into prominence as one of the most fiercely combative, supremely successful submarine commanders of all time. Keith, now a lieutenant, was no longer the unseasoned youth of the S-16 days. His graduation from a midwestern university had been right into the feverish prewar preparation of the summer of 1941, and he had known nothing but submarine warfare ever since. Pressure had formed him quickly, had distilled his youthful verve into mature resourcefulness. Long since, Richardson had recognized that Keith also, like Jim, was a born submariner. He lacked the impetuous violence that had characterized Jim, but in its place he possessed sensitivity, competence, and a cool nerve which bred respect in seniors and juniors alike.
After three years of wartime command, broken by his wound and convalescence, Richardson had, by his own estimation, changed the least of the three. The net effect on himself, the few times he tried to define it, was merely increased self-confidence. Daily inspection in his polished steel shaving mirror prevented him from noting the gradual accumulation of seams around his mouth and in his face, the progressive leanness of his jaw which revealed its musculature, the combination of weather-callus and wind-burn which ended dramatically at the line of his open-necked shirt. The most subtle change of all was not visible: a mellowing of his attitude toward the enemy, even while, simultaneously, his capacity to damage them increased.
Perhaps it could better be described as improved understanding. On the personal level, this was to a large degree because of Nakame; but more important, it was the product of a growing appreciation of the differing national drives which had impelled Japan to initiate the war.
The greatest mistake Japan could have made was the attack on Pearl Harbor: a despicable onslaught while negotiations aimed at resolving the differences between Japan and the United States were at their height. Its sneaky, underhanded execution justified any horror the resulting war might visit upon its perpetrator. It blocked any possible resolution other than calamity to Japan. It eliminated any conceivable terms except unconditional surrender. It would cost Japan her entire way of life before that account was closed.
Yet, in spite of the hatred, Richardson had begun to feel growing compassion for the people of Japan. They were the ones who would have to suffer the sure retribution for what their leaders had unleashed. Which he was helping to bring upon them.
When Eel entered the Pearl Harbor entrance channel, her first war patrol at an end, a coxcomb of eight tiny Japanese flags, four of them radially striped naval ensigns, the others the standard meatballs denoting merchant ships, would fly from her radar mast. Richardson had not wanted them, but he had permitted the crew's enthusiasm, as rendered by Keith, to control the decision. The prospect of entering port was, as usual, conjuring up the anticipation of mail, fruit, respectful admiration by the crews of other submarines who were already in port and had already had their moment of attention. Except for Rich. This was part of the bleakness. The patrol had had as its express purpose the destruction of Bungo Pete. He had been extraordinarily successful against U.S. submarines. Early in the war, before anyone had known who he was or what his real name was, Nakame had earned the sobriquet of "Bungo Pete" from those who had experienced his depth charges. He had sunk seven subs off the Bungo Suido, one of the entrances to the Inland Sea of Japan. The last two were the Nerka, commanded by Richardson's close friend, Stocker Kane, and the Walrus.
Excerpted from DUST on the SEA by Edward L. Beach Copyright © 1972 by Edward L. Beach. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.