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Submarine Veterans' Perspectives

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  • Paul R. SCHRATZ (Captain, USN, Retired)
    • Submarines: MACKEREL (SS-204), SCORPION (SS-278), STERLET (SS-392), ATULE (SS-403), BURRFISH (SSR-312), PICKEREL (SS-524)
    • Period of Service: 1939 - 1960's
    • Duties Onboard: Commanding Officer (USS BURRFISH, USS PICKEREL)

STRIKING MEMORIES: (describing being depth-charged)

Interviewer: "Were you being depth-charged during that time you were on board?"

Captain Schratz: "Frequently. That's part of the price of admission."

Interviewer: "Describe what that's like."

Captain Schratz: "Well it's unpleasant. You're very happy when they quit."

Interviewer: "There must be more to it than unpleasant."

Captain Schratz: "Above all, submarine war is almost wholly unique. Battlefield or surface combat brings to mind confusion, stress, activity, violent action, chaos. In a submarine attack and evasion thereafter, none of that. Nothing pumps adrenaline. The handful who are active try to work in dead silence. Few can divert the punishment of one's own thoughts. The urge to urinate comes quickly after sounding general quarters. Then the only thing active is the imagination. The silence reverses the whole psychological idea of warfare. One is prey to his own secret fears; every sound takes on a special, eerie significance. Sounds through the hull, dropping a depth charge, the click of the exploder if they're close enough, tend to put a knot in the stomach. The time between the click and the boom gives a split second to think about your past and possible future. It can be emotionally shattering. The sound is magnified many times in seawater, especially in shallow water. Before the war, it was commonly believed that a depth charge anywhere within half a mile may be fatal. We found that even as close as 15, 20, 30 feet, we were surviving. But you can imagine the racket when they go off that close, light bulbs burst, loose gear flies into space, the pressure hull may dish inward. It doesn't seem possible that the ship can survive such treatment; many survived some God-awful punishment. In that heavy depth-charging STERLET received, one was so close that a piece of the casing on the charge gouged out the teak decking a half inch deep and a foot and a half long. That really was close to have 300 or 500 pounds of explosive detonate. If one were inclined to offer a silent prayer to Andy McKee and those superb yard craftsman, it was generally deferred until later. If the evasion tactics didn't succeed, it might be time to try something else. Meanwhile, the tension builds for the next attack. As the minutes or hours drag on, the air gets stale, the battery gets low. If a decision is made to bleed oxygen into the boat to help breathing, there's no way it can be replaced, and the next crisis may be worse. It takes a certain psychological attitude to be a good submariner."

All Submarine Veterans' Perspectives are provided courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute, Oral History Collection.

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