Hunting a Russian Submarine - My Excellent Christmas Adventure
USS Wasp (CVS 18) My Home Away From Home
A Cold War Tale - The Christmas that almost didn't happen
During the Cold War the United States Navy, among its other chores, hunted for Russian Submarines. The Russian Navy, among its other chores, hunted for us. From a crew member's point of view, it was all in good fun. Nobody wanted to get hurt; we just wanted to spy on each other. It was a job, ours and theirs.
I was assigned to the Navigation Department of the USS Wasp (CVS-18). It was my job to take electronic positions every half hour. The Wasp was an Essex Class aircraft carrier, a sister ship to the USS Intrepid in New York Harbor. She was the flagship of Atlantic ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare). We were accompanied by two destroyer escorts. It was in December of 1968 and we had just left Oslo, Norway and were headed across the ocean to our homeport at Quonset Point Rhode Island. Ask any sailor who has been at sea for a lengthy deployment and he will tell you that steaming for home is a great feeling.
The Grinch that Almost Stole Christmas
Surprise - We Found a Russian Submarine (or He Found Us)
Serving the plotting watch in C.O. Plot (commanding officer's plotting room), I was one of the first to realize that something was up. The officer of the deck called me on the squawk box and said to take a plot every five minutes rather than every half hour. "Uh Oh", I thought, "we found a Russian." Finding a Russian submarine was just fine by me; hey it was our job. But every crewmember on the Wasp had the same thought in mind: "We're going home for Christmas." Not so fast. My plots looked like a pen and ink drawing by someone on LSD. The sub would zig this way and so would we. He'd then zag and we followed suit. My main thought was that this was no way to get across the Atlantic in time for Christmas.
We had this Russian, or he had us. We were gathering useful data on the behavior of the sub, and he was getting the scoops on an American aircraft carrier. The sea turned rough, but that didn't stop the captain from launching aircraft. Our planes and helicopters would circle an area where they thought the submarine was and drop sonabuoys into the water to pick up the sounds of the sub. It was cold, it was rough, and I was happy that I wasn't a pilot. Landing on a pitching flight deck is no airman's idea of a good time. Even though an aircraft carrier is a large ship, that doesn't mean that it doesn't rock and roll in rough seas, especially when it is constantly making turns. Unlike a modern cruise ship, a World War II vintage carrier didn't have stabilizers to dampen the motion. Fortunately, I never get seasick, but a lot of my fellow crew members spent the time hugging the porcelain.
USS Wasp - The Video
A Happy Ending
After a few days zigging and zagging around the ocean, suddenly the game was over. To this day I don't know if the Russian gave up or we did, and my security clearance didn't give me the right to know. I resumed taking plots every half hour, and my seasick shipmates' green faces started to return to normal.
It was a long time ago, but I still remember those storm tossed days. The best memory of the adventure was this: we made it home for Christmas.
Copyright ©2012 by Russell F. Moran