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The Med Run - Psychosis Sets In

[IMAGE] 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 shoreduty.

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. Goddamned Navy.

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 northern coast.

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 periscope depth.

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 to FIRE.

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.

"Very well."

"Sonar reports unit slowing. Solution is tracking."

"Very well."

"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.

terminalrun.com
Michael DiMercurio
Princeton, New Jersey
E-mail:
readermail@terminalrun.com

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