The Hammerhead pulled into la Spezia, Italy in 1984. Cloudy, dark and
raining. No reception committee, either.
Below are my diary entries from that time, from the workup for the Med Run
to the halfway point of the mission.
8 November 1983 Tuesday
After the last entry we set out for New London, parked the boat in a
floodable drydock there, and began a three week schedule of training at the
subschool. The weekdays were exhausting, with battlestations at attack
centers from eight to midnight, duty every few days, plus divisional work.
The weekends were depressing. I spent some time with my fellow officers in
the officers club and at my favorite bar, a raunchy shitkicking joint with
lots of girls.
Meanwhile of the drydock Hammerhead was busy discharging an ion
exchanger resin that was fiercely radioactive. Once it was finally
discharged, the purification system had to be refilled with resin. This
required sterile cleanliness precautions. At one point the resin beads are
mixed with water and poured down the funnel into the cylindrical ion
exchanger. Mike Loman, the main propulsion assistant, was in the reactor
compartment supervising. The engineer, Lieutenant Commander Charlie "FENG"
Hayden [not his real name] (FENG stood for "fucking engineer") climbed down
the reactor compartment ladder and found Loman stripped to a T-shirt,
shoveling resin into the funnel. The engineer started screaming at Loman
that he was a supervisor, not an operator, and to quit getting his hands
dirty. Half an hour later FENG was stripped to a T-shirt, shoveling resin
into the funnel. The crisis came when a glass beaker, an "impurity" in the
resin supply, was unwittingly shoveled into the vessel, putting broken glass
into a super clean system. It was about 11 p.m. The captain was called in,
Washington was informed, and the big flap started. I was in the wardroom
when the Eng explained the incident to the captain. The captain asked who
was supervising. The Eng stated he was personally overseeing the operation.
I suppressed a smirk, knowing that the Eng had personally broken the beaker.
To the weather and New London was beautiful. Even with less than four hours
of sleep that night I would've stayed on. We got underway from the Sub Base
about 19 August. The run was to be in the AUTEC run to shoot torpedoes and
play with an SSBN. An exceptionally ill-fated run. First the lithium
bromide air conditioner broke down completely, and was to be broken until a
pump could be rebuilt in Norfolk. No problem - we had to freon-11 air
conditioners as backup. Then one of these R-11 sets screwed us: not only
did it break down (giving us130 degree Fahrenheit engineroom temperatures at
100 percent humidity) it filled the atmosphere half with the toxic freon.
Not only were we nauseated from heat, we were sucking stale air from gas
masks. To make matters worse, the evaporator broke, making all drinking
water salty. There was now no water for showers or laundry. We were unable
to sleep, even if there was time to. For now there came constant
battlestations. But the sonar and firecontrol systems couldn't handle the
lack of air conditioning, so the ship could barely shoot at any target. For
the better part of two weeks I went without sleep, without showering,
without fresh clothes, working in a sauna sucking air from a gas mask or
standing at a plotting table as the boat floundered to shoot weapons. We
managed to hit three for five, but no one was elated. We looked home, and
when I left the ship for my apartment I was exhausted.
19 November 1983 to 21 November 1983
One weekend we had a Monday off. Labor Day. The movers came and soon my
apartment was empty too. I moved into a BOQ room. A few days later
Hammerhead got underway for another New London run.
I stood on the bridge as junior officer of the deck. I connned the black
pig out of Norfolk. I put the binoculars to my eyes so that we were lined
up perfectly in Thimble Shoals Channel. The buoys extended in two straight
lines, like a water runway, to the vanishing point. As usual the captain
was pinging on me for trivial things. I think he was trying to get me to
compensate exactly for set and drift. I just wanted to wing it. The bow
wave splashed the smoothly over the snout of Hammerhead as we sailed
out at all ahead full.
The run up to New London went fast. We spent most of our time in the attack
centers, and a few hours in classrooms. The attack center runs were dull
after a while. At the end of our time in New London we took off for POM
(planned overseas movement) workup. We played games with another U-boat and
some skimmers, did some interesting super secret stuff, got a briefing from
the squadron commander. I was six hours on - six hours off as EOOW (port
and starboard watches as it is called). I rarely slept, from drills, watch,
battlestations, divisional flaps. I was exhausted.
We pulled back into Norfolk. Then back out for POM certification run. Two
weeks before deployment. Once again, more EOOW watch. Early in our POM
cert run the Finback found that we had a screeching sound coming from
our shaft. We were ordered to pull into New London to drydock. The cert
run was aborted. After drydock repairs we put to sea, met the USS
Buffalo and had her verify we weren't screeching anymore. We pulled
into Norfolk on a Sunday.
18 November 1983
Friday morning. Cloudless and brilliantly sunny. XO gave his deployment
sermon. Before I walked into the hatch I looked at Norfolk one last time.
In control operating a contact coordinating computer, I heard the whistle
blow, showing we had cast off from the pier.
21 November 1983
We've been at sea three days now. I'm incredibly busy, but I had to set
aside time to write. The main items are relieving Parker as electrical
officer and getting qualified. And yet I'm sidetracked by engineering
drills, endless training lectures, and an insatiable desire to take a shower
every few hours. All for now. Back to the submerged routine.
23 November 1983
Midwatch. Trying to catch up on quals. Precious little sleep. Hopefully
Parker, electrical division officer, will soon relieve me as communications
officer and operations department. Work is getting to be utter bullshit.
My head feels like it's being pounded on by a rubber mallet. I got up
yesterday at 11:30 a.m. after crashing at 8:30 a.m. The afternoon watch was
ship drills - fire and battlestations and torpedo evasion. All evening I
attempted to get some qual sigs, showered, watched part of "The Boat."
Anyway, I think it's the sleep deprivation that gets to me the most.
Yesterday, the XO's plan of the day stated any officer delinquent in quals
must be aboard working from 0800 to 1700 every day in a foreign port. I'm
three months behind in quals now. Beautiful. This sucks. I can't wait for
24 November 1983
Thanksgiving. Midwatch. Yesterday Spock took EOOW drill section. We had
trained in the morning till 1100, so I wouldn't have slept if he hadn't
taken the watch. I got in about 10 hours - wonderful. Got up at 9:30 p.m.
to watch "Dr. Strangelove" in the wardroom - cheered me up. Then back on
watch. Feel like I'm drowning. Can't wait to get out of the sub navy.
Swear to God I'll never come back.
27 November 1983 Sunday
Tired, exhausted, frustrated by watch, drills, training. Just want to get
qualified. Thought I'd take an off-watch, blow off sleeping to talk to Cdr.
Napior about my navigation sigs. He was JOOD on the conn during a quiet
watch. He just said, "you've got to be kidding me." I walked out of the
control room, took off my submarine coveralls, and climbed into my rack.
28 November 1983 Monday
Midwatch. Yesterday was calm till we stationed the firecontrol tracking
party for four hours as we "deloused" a U.S. boomer to ensure no Russian was
hugging her tail. I got a few precious hours of sleep in the evening, which
is fortunate, as tomorrow is training all morning, drills all afternoon,
training in the evening. I'm not handling this well at all.
3 December 1983 Saturday
By the time we entered the Strait of Gibraltar I was near the edge of
insanity. I described it to friends as being suspended hundreds of feet in
the air by a trampoline of Saran Wrap - you feel like if you just poke your
finger through, you'll be instantly falling through space…
Finally the captain relented - Rich and I became 3-section JOODs, practicing
bringing the pig to periscope depth and getting sharp on sonar and
firecontrol. I loved it. The port visit in La Spezia was cancelled due to
firecontrol computer trouble - we were ordered to La Maddelana for the two
week refit. I was contact coordinator between southern Corsica and northern
Sardinia. It was gorgeous. Looked like the Wyoming Tetons except with the
Mediterranean blue licking the mountain base. But then the waves came up
and the clouds came down and the wind screamed - the radio message said
"unsafe to moor Hammerhead. Sixty knot winds and twenty foot seas.
Proceed to opareas C and D, submerge, and wait for weather to abate." No
weekend for us. On the run out everyone was sick. Finally dived the pig.
Bad news - the radiomen did a bad inventory of the medpubs - a critical one
is missing; an RM let an emergency action message (nuke 'em orders) rot in
radio for two hours before recognizing it as a communications emergency.
Got sent aft again - what a comedown. Can't stand EOOW watch anymore. Hope
the weather clears soon. Getting tired of being at sea.
4 December 1983 Sunday
Pulled into La Madd yesterday. Changed into civvies. XO rounded up the
wardroom, piled us into a mike boat to Palau, Sardinia, where we squeezed
into two cars. Drove about 10 km into the hills to a nice cabin called the
Rook House. Owned by Miss Murry Boynton, sort of a kind aunt. She has this
deal with the Navy. We keep her stocked. She entertains wardrooms. She
then can be surrounded by people, and we get a home-away-from-home. We even
burned a flick on the her projector after a huge dinner she'd made. I had
already fallen asleep in front of the hearth fire. I woke at 8 today, and
we ate breakfast and headed for the boat. Today, another duty day inport.
Especially sleepy since the captain, XO, Eng and rest of the wardroom are
off on liberty.
25 December 1983 Sunday
Christmas Day. Four days into a fifty day run. Back in La Maddelena -
hated the first week in. Inport as communicator sucks. XO was, as usual,
on his get-caught-up-on-admin kick. Flaps everywhere. The buildup was a
party Friday night at the Rook House, which was really rather slow. The
Saturday after the Rook House party I slept until late, then got a ride with
Spock to Olbia, Sardinia, where we rented a car with Parker and sped to
Sassari, on the northwestern side. Small but very urban city, beautiful
people, ate dinner in a cozy joint where the water took us back to show us
the food, since we couldn't read the menu. We stayed at the Jolly Hotel,
slept like rocks, woke up Sunday and drove back in brilliant sunshine on the
Monday, the 13th, was tense. XO had gotten the business from the captain
since I shipped out on Saturday delinquent study, and XO passed it on. That
week was also tense since it was our last chance for support from the tender
vessel Orion before the liberty call in La Spezia, Italy, and the
fifty day run. It was aggravating; we were all working late, stopping for a
half hour to grab a beer in the dreary bowling alley while the ship ran a
drill. Then back to work until midnight.
One evening Commander Napior packed his bags and left. He had been onboard
since the NATO run, and was easygoing, smart, practical and dynamic. The
wardroom and the crew had worshipped him. He was only to be onboard six
months. When the time came he was dressed in a sportcoat and tie. When he
walked off the brow the last time XO had passed over the 1MC general
announcing system, "Napior - departing." All the JOs had a last beer with
him. Finally he picked up his stuff and boarded the boat for Palau.
Thursday 16 December we got underway from the anchorage at La Maddalena en
route to La Spezia, on the northern Italian coast. We never made it. We
turned around to come back for parts for some of our broken gear. We
steamed up to the islands: I drove the boat in and moored us next to the
Whale again. We kept the reactor critical - four hours later we were
at sea again. I gave a brief on mooring in La Spezia - I drove her into La
Spezia also. Once in La Spezia - big break-watered port, hundreds of ships
moored or anchored, village situated in a deep valley, beautiful but for the
rainy weather - the captain rounded up the officers for trip to Florence. I
loved it - it got me out of delinquent study on Saturday.
Florence was not unlike other old cities I've seen - perhaps it seemed that
way because of the rain. But I loved it - all the shops, cobblestoned
streets, statues, chapels, all decorated for Christmas.
Tuesday we left La Spezia after Spock and I did the dive on the boat - in
spite of all the crap I had to do, I really wanted to don tanks and wetsuit
and see what she looked like underwater. She looked sharp…
When submerged and underway we barely avoided another stop at La Madd-we
thought we needed a new part, and it turned out to be onboard. I relieved
as electrical division officer. As electrical officer I'm now working for
the FENG. Unfortunately I haven't yet been relieved as communicator, so the
BS goes on. I began again standing junior officer of the deck, at least
until important things began happening. It was good to bring the boat to
22 December 1983 - I have the mid watch - we were flanking it to get ahead
of PIM (planned intended movement). I got the solution to a slow merchant
out ahead at 37,000 yards going five knots on our same course. It was easy
to get nailed down, I just asked the OOD for a right leg, a left leg, and
then the base course again. I was standing back, self satisfied, looking at
the display of the TV screen console on the firecontrol panel when I heard
the captain's voice behind me. "Well, Demo, you ready to shoot him?"
"Yes sir," I hope I sounded confident. I was to do approach an attack on him.
"Bearings only, captain?"
The captain nodded.
"Attention in control," the CO said. "Sierra Seven Four has just been
classified as a Delta class Soviet ballistic missile submarine. Our mission
is to shoot him. Well, Mr. DiMercurio?"
"Yessir. Chief of the Watch, man battlestations!"
"Man battlestations, aye, sir." Over the 1MC shipwide announcing system
crackled, "MAN BATTLESTATIONS!" Then the general alarm: Bong! Bong! Bong!
Then, "MAN BATTLESTATIONS!"
Control filled with people, shouldering each other aside, manning the plots
and attack consoles. The room grew hot as the ventilation fans were shut
down for the rig for general emergency. When everyone was there, I began.
"Attention in the firecontrol party - my intention is to get two legs on the
Delta - designate Master Four - make the weapon in tube 3 ready in all
respects, and when the Mark 48 is ready, launch a 48 at the Delta. If the
target evades I intend to continue tracking him and steer the unit as
necessary. If the target counterfires I will launch a countermeasure, go to
test depth and flank speed, after cutting the wire and shutting the door,
and clear datum. Carry on."
"Weapons Control," I continued. "Make the weapon in tube 3 ready in all
respects with the exception of opening the outer door."
"Wait," the captain said, "Why are you doing that? Go ahead and open the
outer door - in a hot war we'd run around with the outer doors open anyway."
"Yessir. Weapons, make the weapon in tube 3 ready in all respects."
We did two legs on the bastard. XO, the firecontrol coordinator, had the
target nailed to a shooting solution. I got on a lag leg. Finally, the
engineer - standing battlestations watch as weapons control coordinator -
said, "Weapon in tube 3 ready in all respects, sir."
"Very well, Weapons. Firing point procedures, tube 3, Master Four!" I called.
"I'm waiting for a report of 'plot ready,' Plot," the XO said.
"Plot ready," the plot coordinator said.
"Ship ready," the OOD, Tim Mulcare, reported.
"Solution ready," XO reported.
It was the wrong order of reports, but what the hell. "Match bearings and
shoot," I said.
"Wait!" the CO called. "Just shoot on generated bearing - matching bearings
takes too long."
"Yessir." I called out: "Shoot on generated bearing!"
"Standby," the panel operator said, taking his lever to STANDBY.
"Set," the firecontrol operator called.
"Shoot!" weapons control ordered.
"Fire," said the firing panel operator into his phones as he took his lever
A short hiss, then a rumbling bang resounded, popping the ears of everyone
in the control room.
"Tube 3 fired electrically sir!"
"Very well," I responded.
"Sonar reports unit running straight and normal," XO said.
"Very well, Fire Control," I replied.
I looked at the TV screen. It showed us, the target and a steadily moving
cone approaching the target.
"Computed enable," Weapons called.
"Sonar reports unit slowing. Solution is tracking."
"Ping interval two seconds ping interval one second. Unit has sped up." XO
again. "Acquire," he practically shouted.
C'mon baby, I prayed. Hit him.
"Sonar reports loud explosion in the water," XO said.
The captain grinned. He picked up the 1MC microphone. "This is the captain
speaking. Lieutenant DiMercurio is the first officer to shoot and sink a
Delta class submarine in the Med. Well done to him. We'll be doing these
approaches periodically this run for officer qualification. It took eight
minutes today to man battlestations - we need to be getting manned in half
that time. Other than that, well done." The microphone clicked.