MOMM3 Norman Jensen: Combat Cameraman in a Submarine Part I
Motor Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Norman Jensen served on submarines as an unofficial combat cameraman during WW2.
After attending diesel and submarine school, Norman Jensen served on the USS Proteus, which was stationed in Guam. Then, Jensen transferred to the USS Queenfish where he first started taking pictures. His photos grabbed the attention of some officers, and he was transferred to the USS Cod. There, he was a motor Machinist, but his unofficial duty was to serve as a combat photographer.
The Cod became famous after it rescued Dutch sailors aboard the O-19 which had gottens stuck in coral in the Ladd Reef. The Cod attempted to pull the O-19 free, but eventually the decision was made to welcome the Dutch sailors aboard the Cod and sink the O-19 to prevent it from being captured by the Japanese. Jensen documented the entire rescue.
Jensen continued to document on the Cod during several attacks, and once was nearly shot by a machine gun before he dove into the hatch to safety.
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Today, we’ll hear from Machinist Mate 3rd Class Norman Jensen. Jensen served on submarines as a motor machinist during WW2, but his unofficial job was that of a combat cameraman. In this first part of his interview, Jensen explains how he became a combat cameraman, and recounts the famous O-19 rescue.
I went through bootcamp. I was the number two man with a crow on my shoulder there in bootcamp. I had 125 guys under my belt for a while there and they call them... I don't even remember what they call them, but it doesn't matter.
Anyway, when I got all through, I'd put down where I wanted to go was to diesel training. About that time just before boot camp was over with my brother came, he was in the Marine Corps, big old master sergeant. I mean he was 225 pound. All man. And the chief petty officer who was in charge of our company 417, and my brother had been shipmates together on the Richardson, the General Richardson, overseas in peacetime. And my brother asked me, he says, "Norm," he says, "What do you want to do?" I said, "I want to go to diesel school." Obviously he must have told the chief there that what I wanted to go, because when I went from out of bootcamp into OGU, it's called Out Going Unit, son of a gun, I stayed from October clean through till the 20th of December there. ‘What's going on? Did they forget me, whatever, what's going on?’ Next thing I knew about the 21st of December of 43, I was on my way to Navy Pier in Chicago, diesel school, 410 guys in each one of those places. I went through, I had otitis media where I had my ear punctured. It healed, otherwise I wouldn't be in the sea as a submarine service. But I went into that diesel school. I came out number 10, third class petty officer. I felt pretty good about that. In fact, actually one of the chiefs there, it was interesting to note that one of the chiefs there at that particular time, they had knot tying school, ropes and tying knots and so forth like that. I taught him four or five things like from fisherman's knots and so forth like that. And he was tickled pink. But it was interesting.
So that's just an aside. I learned from there, the diesel school. Then, when I went to submarine school and went through all the preliminaries, got through sub school itself, I went to advanced diesel school in submarines on the diesels themselves from the schools running the actual diesels aboard submarines, at the school.
In the Navy there are different types of things with reference to glamor. There's different types of work to do and there's different actions and different activities going on at all times. One of the best places for diesel engineering is in submarines. I had been with my uncle and my own on his fishing boat, the Cuddie's Ark, and he had an old time diesel engine there. And as a kid at five and six years old, I had the opportunity of working with him, getting in his way most of the time. And as a result of it, I became interested in diesels. You don't find diesels on destroyers, you don't find them on anything else but basically submarines or the captain's gig or something like that on other surface vessels. I wanted to know more about them. I wanted to become an engineer and as a result of it, and also the fact that an individual can get 20% sea pay on top of everything, correction, 50% sea pay on top of everything. So I volunteered. And I volunteered basically when I was at diesel school in Navy Pier in Chicago. Fortunately I came out number 10 in a class of 410 and that didn't hurt. I came out as a third class motor machinist mate and then I volunteered and it was interesting.
I knew that these submarines were basically and fundamentally diesel electric. I didn't know too much about electricity. I do now a great deal about it because we're studying not only submarines but subsequently in my own business, but they're the only place that I know where you could get experience from A to Z with reference to working on diesels. And it's also a rather unique service that submarine service is.
Basically and fundamentally the romance with reference to submarines was downplayed surprisingly enough, and you were looked at askance in a way of ‘What do you want to go into those things for? You're going to get killed.’ I looked at it from the standpoint of, ‘Hey, they got the best machines, they got the best of everything. I want the best. And in order to get the best, you had to be the best.’ So it worked out quite well.
The submarine school in New London, Connecticut, also there was one in Pearl Harbor. I don't know if that got bombed or not, but whatever it was, there's one in Pearl and also in New London. I went to New London. When you first got there, you were shoved in with about 500 guys where 200 should be, and it was elimination rapidly, whether you could get along or not. And they had people in there who were spotters in essence, who could see whether you could or couldn't get along. They watched your interaction with other individuals. If you rubbed elbows with someone, did you have a bur on your shoulder or whatever you wanted to call it or did you get angry or something? And I know doggone well that they had people in there who went out of their way to do just exactly that to see how well you could take it. And let me tell you, when you get about 500 guys where 200 go, you can get pretty sore in a hurry if you're not careful, especially if someone's trying to provoke you. And there are ways of getting away from provoking.
We did not understand what was going on, mind you, until after you got all the way through the sub school, then you began to look back with and say, "Wow, I lucked out. At least I could hold my temper to a certain degree." And from there on out, the next thing you went through would be a pressure chamber to see if you could stand the pressure to learn how to get your ears so forth and to clear them. And then they would take you to the diving chamber.
In the tank, you have a line that goes up from the bottom to the top of a hundred feet, about 110 feet, actually. Every so often there's a knot. You put a Momsen lung on and then you turn right around and you go up to that spot, you take a couple of breaths, predetermined, you go to the next one, the next one, the next one. You're going to have to hold yourself from going up fast with that lung on you. It's a big old balloon, the thing out here. And as a result of it, you have to control yourself. Well, that helps equalize the pressure as you go up. Otherwise, wow, you're going to have the bends in a hurry.
At the time I went through, they were requiring you to go at 50 feet, but I volunteered at hundred, I went down to hundred. And the first two notches, I went up too fast. And this is what surprised me. A guy came out from the side, no lung on, nothing around him at all, went over there, grabbed a hold of me and says three times, "Slow down, bud." We learned that, and I did. No trouble after that. That could have eliminated me if I went ahead and did it the second time. You know what I mean? Going up. Because they were looking for things to eliminate you. They didn't care whether you made it or not because they knew once you got through all these other preliminary things of elimination and you made that you were smart enough or you wouldn't have got in there in the first place and selected in the first place to be able to continue on. And then you get in that pressure chamber. It was interesting, they'll have someone in there start screaming and they're yelling and squawking and they want to see how well you take it under pressure. I mean, compressed pressure. It's a different world. So there's no question about that.
Well, to be quite frank and honest about it, if you didn't know how to swim, you'd have never got to that point anyway. If you were going up into the tank, yeah, you'd have to learn how to swim. I guess in the question that they're going to teach you how to swim because if you don't know it by then, you're never going to get even selected in the first place. I don't recall if I ever checked off something, if I could swim or something like that. No, I didn't do that. But I do know that I can swim. I still like to swim with my backstroke, that's all.
In the situation in bootcamp, you usually used your hands at such a manner that you'd hold onto the life vest to keep it from busting your neck and jump off of, oh, 20, 30 foot, like you're going overboard. But in the submarine you don't have much use for those things. I think they've got a few of them, but I don't believe I've ever seen a life vest on a submarine. If you want the truth about it, you're either going to go or you're not going to go.
Charlie Spritz, chief torpedoman, I guess as I understand it, he was a single guy and he devoted himself strictly to New London Connecticut's submarine service, probably was the most toughest human being I've ever met. And I didn't get to know him too well. I didn't want to know him too well in the first place because then I'd probably would've been eliminated. But the fact remains that this man just pounded it into your head, ‘Keep quiet, listen to what's going on, learn.’ And let me tell you, if you didn't run between classes and if you weren't neat and clean all the time because there's no room for dirt on a submarine, although it gets pretty messy sometimes, but you know how to clean it up. If you turn right around and if you don't do what you're supposed to do to keep yourself clean and neat, because a clean and neat person also has a reasonable personality, you take care of yourself. And if he found anything like that, you didn't see that guy the next day. And as a result of it, he ran that thing for the enlisted men. There's no question about it. And I'll tell you one thing. He instilled within everybody's mind, the fear of God with reference to him from the standpoint that, listen, buster, your life and every other guy's life depends upon you. And we learned that. And when you got aboard the boats and you began to see what was going on, you knew darn well what you were doing was either the right thing or you found out in a hurry. There's no room for questions on a submarine when the action comes in, you better know it. And if you don't know it, they'll train you afterwards. You just step aside, wait until you can perform.
I believe that Charles Spritz, Chief Spritz, was not only his nature to a certain extent, he was a human being and he was really a nice guy. But by golly, he had a job to do and he did it. And he did it with forbearance. And let me tell you something, you listened to him and you did what he said. If not out you go, he put the fear in you from the standpoint that ‘We work together here, we're a team and you're going to do it my way while you're here because when you go in a submarine, you're going to do it the way it's supposed to be done.’ And let me tell you, when you got into the classroom, anybody could be eliminated from that, by ABCDs, you know their grades. But when it came to working with people, he was the one that was instrumental in putting the fear.
And even today, I think about him once in a while. I really do. Jensen, keep your mouth shut, when I stick my mouth open sometimes when I shouldn't. And it really, seriously, it wasn't a fear. I think if you want to call it something that's similar to Pavlov's Theory of Conditioning. He really conditioned us and it didn't hurt one bit. It was actually a big help to us.
My understanding, he was there throughout the whole war and he retired. He was ready to be retired just before the war started. But he stayed the whole time from what I understand. The officers at that school were smart enough to leave him alone because they knew some of those guys there were going through there knew that they were going to have to serve under these boys here, 18, 19-year-old kids. Remarkable what they could do at that age.
I had the opportunity of going to submarine division 201 on board the Proteus. We left Pearl Harbor, we went out to Guam. We were situated in Guam, at Pearl Harbor in fact. In fact, they were still shooting on the base, I mean on the beach in there and trying to mop up what was going on at Guam. It was still invaded. We were invading it as such, you might say. And in the process of doing that, why I turned right around and wound up getting the opportunity of working on the vessel. Now one has to understand that when a submarine comes alongside the tender, they're going to be there for 14 days. That boat is going to be there. It's called a refit. And I was part of what they call the refit crew. I was assigned to say the Queenfish in the first place. That's the first one I was assigned to. Okay. I stayed on that vessel for 14 solid days, working 8, 10, 12 hours. There's no limit on it. When I got tired, I had a regular watch quarter and station period. But we usually went over because we wanted to do pride and performance, you might say. The end result was, is that if anyone was going to be replaced, if there's a motor mack aboard the Queenfish that was being transferred, maybe there are 10 guys in the refit gang, one of those 10 from that group was going to be placed on it. In other words, you were going to be replaced on that vessel and you did your darnedest work because you didn't know what was going to happen. And it's just pride and performance. So that's where you got your opportunity to go.
Now in regards to learning the other parts of the vessel when you got to board the submarine, then you began to learn how to run the torpedoes. I mean, how to load torpedoes. That was mostly done on the beach in essence, before you were left out for war patrol. But how to load the torpedoes in the tubes, how to fire the torpedoes, how to work the forward and after bow planes, the kiln and everything else. And they're a little different than most vessels. There's no question about it, but that's where you learn the vessel. And let me tell you, every minute that you have any time off, you're studying… In order to qualify, not only did you have to show what you were doing, I was taken into a room. What are they? Compartments you might say, lights were out. All right, Jensen, where are you? They spun you around, they get you screwed up, they put you in there, you find out where you are in a hurry. Now find this valve. You had to know it that well. And let me tell you, it might be in the maneuvering room, might be in the forward engine room. And boy, I had to know everything about the forward and after engine room, everything. And then as a result of it, you really became quite well trained in it.
The beauty of it is every guy on there wants you to know their job. The reason for that is anything happens to him, you can take his place. That's the reason for it. And there's no question about it. From the standpoint of being able to learn, almost like a photographic memory it's that way. And you've got a copy of the vessel. You've got a big long blueprint of that vessel and everything in it. Not just everything in it, but enough of it that'll give you the idea of the systems and so forth. And you have to know what a negative tank and blow and so forth. And I was lucky. I was assigned to what they call the auxiliary gang. I went all over, I lucked out. Besides doing up in the shears with reference to lookout and so forth.
In working up in the conning tower and so forth like that, that was officer's work. We knew what it could do, just a general knowledge of it. And as far as working the periscope, everybody got a chance to see through it. But I was one of the few enlisted men because of working in photography and combat status although as a motor machinist mate, but working in excessive compliment as a combat photographer, I designed and developed one of those little pieces of metal that was put on the periscope. So you just slapped the camera on it and take pictures through it. And if the periscope came down, it would automatically flip the camera off so it wouldn't get caught in the well itself, the periscope well. As a result of it, I was pretty lucky. One of the few, whoever got a chance to take pictures through a periscope and the actual motion pictures of it, and now most of that TDC, the Torpedo Data Computer and stuff like that, that was very highly technical. We knew what it could do. That was sufficing. We were looking at systems, how to handle that vessel, how to sink her down, how to get her up, and everything else like that. How to make sure that the auxiliary, everything was working properly.
You probably have heard most submarines say keep a zero bubble. That means keep everything level buster. Make it straight, make it firm, make it functional, make it work. By keeping a zero bubble, that meant when we fire a torpedo, we knew it was going to go where it was supposed to go. If you had an upper gradient on the bow planes, it was going to go climbing until it eventually got, that could lead it to a point where it leveled off in a spot where it might be five feet higher than it should be, and it might get only to the upper part of the vessel instead of the bottom part of the vessel. It could be that critical, those things, once they get on level, that's it. There's zero bubble.
Being on submarine service there's a thing called pride and performance. There's also certain cockiness that goes with that, and some of our submariners got a little bit too cocky and they got into trouble with some of the bubble heads. No, they never got any trouble with another bubble head, but they did with the squids and all the other guys who were surface guys, and we got kind of a wrong name perhaps rightly so. But I'll tell you one thing. If one bubble head got in trouble, there were 50 of them that were right with them. The same way with the surface guys. But they soon let learned to realize that there was something more to it than just what met the eye. There's cockiness that comes with pride and performance. There's cockiness that comes with an individual knowing doggone well that he's damn good in what he's doing, or he wouldn't be there in the first place. But there also comes a little bit of a humbleness that comes in it when you begin to take a look at the long range aspect of it.
I'll tell you, you make some lifelong friends. Some of the things which is good is that those friends are there forever. But the surface fleet looked upon us as God's gift to mankind. And in a way, we were. Excuse me for being blunt, but it was the case. You have to recognize when Pearl Harbor hit, there wasn't one surface vessel that could go out without an escort, and there were no escorts. The only thing that they had was about maybe eight or nine submarines, that was our defense and our attack aspect until the Gato-class and others that were before that came into existence.
Then we went into full mode, you might say. So the only thing that was between us and the Japanese empire were about maybe five or six submarines, or at the very most 10. And surprisingly enough, a lot of them were sunk down deliberately at Pearl Harbor to keep from being hit at the dock. Some of those guys were smart enough to close the hatches and open a negative and drop right down 10 feet or whatever was necessary to keep them underwater. Not one submarine was hit, that I know of. But they were all old ones anyway, so probably wouldn't have hurt too much to have them gone, although that was the only line of defense we had. That's at Pearl.
Let me tell you, it's only been just very recently that anything about World War II submarines is being known about. Actually, like I mentioned earlier, if it wasn't for the fact that we had those submarines there, I don't know what kept the Japanese from not invading Pearl Harbor. That was the biggest mistake they ever made, and I'm glad they made it because they came to our shore and bombed or shot up Oregon to a certain extent. And as a result of it, what else could have happened? We weren't prepared for it, so.
I was introduced to what was known as Project 5. I knew it as 5. I was at muster one morning getting ready, and we always had muster to let us know what we're supposed to be doing that day, where to go, or if they needed you in another place, which is nothing unusual because you shifted around in the refit crew too. Although I spent most of my time in diesel work, when a gentleman's officer stepped up and says, "Is there any of you young men here have ever had any photographic experience?" Well, my mind went to worrying and I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I said, "Yes, sir. I've had some." "Have you ever had any motion picture experience?" I said, "Yes, sir, I have had it." He says, "Where have you had it?" I said, "At Brigham Young University, when I was going to college there." I had about, oh, I guess it was about six, eight months of college there before I went into the Navy. I was in the Navy, but I was waiting for going into a training school at University of New Mexico. Anyway, the end result was, he says, "Well, come with me, Jensen." He knew who I was. I went up there and the first thing I was knowing, I was grilled quite a bit, given a camera, taken some pictures and go out and shoot it, and bingo, bongo, whatever you want to call it. I did. Turned it in. Next thing I knew I was aboard the Queenfish in excess of compliment.
Being in excess of compliment was a very simple thing. You have your regular crew, they put one more on it, or maybe two on it. Now, I'm coming in as a motor machinist mate third class at that time, and as a result of it, I'm carrying a camera, a 16 millimeter camera with a magazine low job. There's 50 feet in each one of those magazines. And as a result of it, I had I think around 35 or 40 magazines. I went aboard the Queenfish.
We went down to the island of Chuuk, which was at that time bypassed. It was interesting, very interesting. I took a few pictures, not too many, because there wasn't much action. The Queenfish had just come back from an Awa Maru incident, and as a result of it, they sent the crew to another spot for a little bit of an easy run for lifeguard duty. When the airplanes were coming over and bombing it, they bypassed Chuuk, by the way, which was a marvelous situation. And they kept them isolated, and they practically starved them to death in there. So when I came back, the next thing I knew, I was back in two days. I was in Camp Dealy.
The purpose of it, the purpose of the photography aspect of it, and particularly motion pictures, was that all of a sudden, Admiral Lockwood and others found out that they hadn't had any type of motion pictures or any combat photography, photographic pictures whatsoever of any actions from submarines, nothing. And it's unique in that sense of the word, because you go on the beach, there's combat photographers all over the place. Nothing like that.
You're too doggone much business. You're down there to get ships, not take pictures of it, not to glorify yourself. The silent service is exactly that. They're not out of their way to glorify themselves. Right now, I'm not exactly in love with glorifying myself, but I'm helping you out in that sense of the word.
But the fact remains that nothing was taken. So they sent out a few photographers, guys like myself, who had little training if anything at all, and by luck, and by golly, it turned out pretty good.
When I came back from the, on the Queenfish from the war patrol off Chuuk, I immediately gave the film that I had to one of the officers there and wrote out the information that they requested of me. And I went to Camp Dealy, which is for rest and recuperation. Under normal conditions, that's what happens. You get two weeks off. Well, I was there, oh, for about two days, and all of a sudden I got request from an officer came out there and says, "Jensen, Admiral Lockwood," or Captain Lockwood, whatever he was at the time, "I would like to speak to you." What the heck have I done? I don't know. Well, he says, "He'd like to speak to you, get your gear and bring it with you." Something wrong. This time was in Apra Harbor in Guam, where the Queenfish was located. So I came back from there to aboard the Proteus, where he was located. He had his office in that place. He said, "Jensen," he says, "your film is pretty good, and what we've seen, what you've taken, the Cod is leaving in the morning. We would like you to go out on that. Do you have any objection to it?" I said, "No, sir, I don't, but I have one request from you." He says, "What is that?" I said, "I don't want just 10 canisters or what you call magazines. I'd like about 50 of them." He said, "How many have you got now?" Well, I fudged and told him I had 10, but I had 15. So he says, "Well, if I give you 25 more, will you be happy?" I said, "I'd like 30, sir." And he gave it to me, and as it turned out, worked out pretty good for me.
But there's one thing I might mention here with reference to regarding the Spritz and his Navy. He instilled within us to keep our mouth shut wherever you went, keep quiet. You don't say anything what you're doing. You don't tell anything about what you're doing to any of them. When you write home, you don't tell them you're on a submarine and all that. In fact, the folks that I lived with before I left for the military service didn't even know I was anywhere near submarines, nor had they any idea where I was for almost 30 some odd months. I wrote to them, and that was it. I'm doing fine. Everything's okay. There might be a two or three-month lapse between letters or something of that nature. But we never told them. And when I got back from submarine service, even up until just recently, I had never said a thing about what has happened. It's been only about the last two years since the Cod has been involved in Cleveland that we began to getting other people the idea, mainly because there's not too many old, 77-year-old birds like me left that were in submarine service, and maybe they ought to know what happened, especially when you recognize that there were very few submarines even at the beginning of Pearl Harbor.
And there's one incident I think should be known. About 1944, somewheres along in that time, a Congressman let... I don't know who it was, but it could be easily enough traced, let everybody in the world know that our submarines were not being depth charged by the Japanese because they can go down to 300 feet and they have their depth charges higher than 300 feet. Then we began to lose vessels, so we see the seriousness of that situation.
The basic fundamental instructions I was receiving was to work closely with the captain. And he says, all captains, particularly the one on the Cod, and I'll take for example on that one, all captains have been instructed to work with you or you work with them. And it's not that hard to work with those skippers. They're pretty doggone good, but you've got to watch it because you're an extra man on deck. And they're used to only so many in the shears and so many elsewhere, and they know exactly where everyone is. I had to do one thing. Wherever I went, that skipper knew exactly where I was all the time. He says, "Okay." I said, "I'm up in the bow, Captain." "Yes, sir. That's all right, son, that's good." Something to that nature. I let him know where I was all the time, and get to an incident, what could happen, I'm glad he knew where I was too, because we got strafed and a few things like that at a later time. But basically, use your own judgment, as such. And particularly, I was very fortunate when I went on the Cod with reference to the rescue of the Dutch submarine O-19.
We went from Guam. Oh, after Admiral Lockwood made the request for me to go aboard the Cod, and I got my film by the way, which was making me happy, I was now again in excess of compliment, meaning that I was an extra hand. Well, the first thing that happened of course was that we were traveling from Guam to Apra Harbor in Guam to Subic Bay in the Philippines.
We got to the Philippines, and as far as that goes, why, the first thing we did was take on fuel again. We make our own water as far as it goes, take on food. We didn't fire any torpedoes, but we did fire some five-inch 25 practice, and we did fire 50 caliber and 40 millimeter. So we replenished all ammunition and all fuel.
Then got our marching orders to go up to... I think it was something like the Gulf of Siam up in there. You have to recognize now, we're now in '45. We're probably in June of '45, late June, early July of '45. And right then and there, the bombing by our aircraft. Thanked the good Lord for that, was going from believe it or not, from the field there in Apra in the Philippines, and also where they island hopped elsewhere, and really leveling Japan a great deal.
A lot of our submarines were now on lifeguard duty around Japan, but there still was a lot of mopping up to do elsewhere, because we had knocked off about probably 45% of the Japanese shipping. The surface fleet took the rest of it in the overall picture. So now we're going after those other aspects of the… getting the munition, or whatever you want to call it, or food stuffs or iron or whatever it is or rubber to Japan, so they could be manufactured, we're now using sand pans and spit kits and so forth, 125, 135-foot vessels sailing.
That's about all that was left. And we started knocking them off. Well, we were on station for about maybe 10 days, and one of our men got sick sicker than the Dickens, and I mean really sick. And at that time, penicillin was beginning to be part of the antidote, if you want to call it, or something of that nature. And this fellow was real sick. We got an ultra allowing us to come back to Subic Bay, bringing him with us. The next thing we knew a day later, this ultra is a special means of communication. I won't even mention what it is, but the fact remains that… it's part of that silent thing. I don't know if I'm allowed to or not, so I won't.
But anyway, the end result is that about one day after we got the ultra to bring him in, we got another one. The O Dutch submarine, the O-19, which had been up in the Indian Ocean up around Bombay and that area, along with several other Dutch submarines had holed up a pocket, German pocket battleship, and its other group of support vessels. And they were wringing it in, so that they couldn't get out. If they did, they'd have torpedoed it, and it wouldn't have gone very far. And yet surprisingly enough, this young fellow, the Dutchman that I got to talk to about it, he said it was interesting. He said, "We'd go in on shore and we'd be shooting the breeze with the Germans and talking to them and everything else and saying, "Hey, we're going to get you yet. We're going to get you yet."" Well, they never got them because the war ended by then."
But the O-19 was sent, it was a mine layer. It was sent to come out and go around and back up into Subic Bay and to turn right around and get mines there and go on up into the Japanese and mine their Sea of Japan and places like that. We would know where they were, and we would know where theirs were, the Japanese mines were, which was helpful. But instead, they'd gone five days without a fix. Now, the fix I'm talking about is a sighting, knowing exactly where they were, either noon or night or star or anything else, whatever it is, they didn't know where they were. We're getting into the hurricane period of time and nasty weather. Believe it or not, they hit the end of Ladd Reef, L-A-D-D, Ladd Reef, less than 500 feet from the end of it. Remarkable navigation even at that. And they went right up aground, I mean, high and dry. And we were given an ultra, this guy, 58 guys are more important than one. You know what they did? They shoved 100,000 units of penicillin over the next four or five days. I think it was in his blood, whatever it was, it was either white, purple, or green. But whatever it was, it cured him. It was remarkable.
When we first cited the O-19 on Ladd Reef, and I heard the sighting, I went to the captain and said, "Captain, what's he doing? Is he making any signal signs?" He said, "Yes, he is." I said, "I'd like to get some shots of it." He said, "Just get your hindquarters up above there and do it." I had the utmost cooperation from Captain Westbrook that you could ever ask for.
I only had one instruction, "You let me know where you are at all times. You're in excess on deck, and I'm going to have to be reminded that you're on deck, because it takes only so many seconds to get down with so many people, and it takes longer with the extra person there. And I can leave you on deck." And he said, "Do you want that to happen?" "No, sir. I don't like my feet wet, under these conditions." So I turned right around and got up there, and I was able to take the signal blinking and so forth. And when we were starting to work with them on all of it, I said, "Sir, when you've got other men on deck, may I roam?" He says, "You go where you want to. I don't need to worry about you now." He said, "There's too many on deck now."
When we first approached it, all we saw was a blinking light. I can't read that stuff. I can get a dit, dit, dit, and a dot, dot, dot, and you know what I mean? SOS, but I wouldn't even know that, if I recognize it now as far as that goes. But we came up to it and here was this vessel. We approached it from the stern, and I got all pictures of it. Motion pictures. Now mind you, I also had a four-by-five camera, black and white. Eventually, I threw it overboard, but that's another story. But at any rate, the end result was that I was able to take the pictures of it, and all I could see was the stern of that thing at an angle, probably about a 35-degree angle. It had hit the reef and gone boom right up, and then sunk down. It tore the bottom out of it, and it jabbed into the deal, and it hit it at low tide, surprisingly enough. And at high tide, it couldn't get off. It was interesting, very interesting. But the end result was the same. They're still up there high and dry, and they had the stern almost underwater. Yeah, for all practical purposes, it was underwater. But let me indicate one thing. I've been in the commercial fishing business. I'm still in it. I'm a master of my own vessel and so forth. But the key thing here is I never in my life have seen a 212-foot vessel with twin screws navigated in such tricky water as at Ladd Reef with Captain Westbrook at the helm. He didn't do it. I mean, he gave the instructions, of course. Never in my life, there was about a three and a half to four knot current at all times, one direction or the other. And that man was a master at it. He didn't let anyone else because he wanted to take the full responsibility. But even then, we hit bottom. We were sunk down. We had decks almost awash. You want to blow up to get out, you know what I mean? As far as that goes. But it was remarkable, what he did.
The first thing we did was we came in there in the afternoon. We assessed how the comfort of the crew was, if they needed food or whatever it was. No, the skipper from the captain, I forget, Van Hoofen or something of that nature came over to talk to Captain Westbrook. I got pictures of all that stuff, was fortunate to be able to do it, as they were coming across and so forth. But it was interesting. That's when the fun began, you might say, really to be able to get that. And the sadness was when the crew came off later on when they had to evacuate. But they came aboard. They discussed what they could do. The next day, we took our anchor chain and tried to pull it off at the same time that they were firing their torpedoes, their three-inch gun and backing down heavily, whatever they could do. And we were trying to pull it off at the same time to give it a jerk.
You need to recognize that while we're still in enemy waters with the O-19, we had air coverage that came from, I don't know where, but I think it was the Philippines. I'm not sure. But we had air coverage that was constantly over us flying all the time. It was at so far a range that, believe it or not, those guys could stay only 10 minutes and had to go back. So there was a constant group of people coming along.
They now had these magnetometers, magnometers, or some doggone thing, where they could detect if there were submarines under the water. Anomaly, yeah, Aa magnetic anomaly. They have that so that they could detect to see anything was coming after us. We were the only one floating, of course.
They went down boom, they disarmed the torpedo head, I presume. At least they disarmed the whatever. But there was enough water for that thing to shoot off and go off somewheres. We never saw it explode of course, but they tried to get it all in a jolt, if they could. The strange thing about it is we broke the cable a few times, and then we tried to use our anchor chain.
And the worst part of it is that when that anchor chain went down into the bottom, it got tangled up in the coral down there, and we couldn't do a thing about it. Couldn't even get it off, couldn't even back off on it because it hooked up to the little pieces of coral stuck within the leaks and so forth. So finally, we had to give in, and then they started to demolish it internally. We got everybody off and so forth. I wanted to go aboard, but they said, "No way."
That was the saddest thing you ever saw in your life with those guys coming aboard. They'd been aboard that thing for five years, hadn't even been home for over five years, and to see them go. If you had an opportunity, one of the fellows had a little doll, like a kachina doll that they have in the Hopis. The result is that that doll had been with them and had been their good luck one. Well, it wasn't the total good luck one at the last of it, but it was interesting. So if you know what I'm referring to. It was really sad to see what those guys went through with. Let me tell you something. When you have 68 guys and 58 guys on a submarine that's built for 65 or 66, arms, legs, and ankles are all over the place.
The reference to the champagne glass with reference to the insignia that's on the side of the Cod, when we came in, we couldn't fly a flag because we didn't shoot anybody down or we didn't sink a vessel or anything else. The Dutch crew of the O-19 gave the crew of the Cod what do you want to call it, a celebration or a party is what it is. It was a champagne party.
Unfortunately, I did not get to attend because as soon as I got off the Cod, I went immediately, in excess of complement, I went immediately on board the Klidy and went back to subdivision 202, or whatever it was.
In Australia after the war was over. See, we got in on the 14th of the August, and the very next day ... The correction, the 13th of August of '45, and the very next day the war was over.
I had no objection because in excess of complement, I wouldn't want to have to hot bunk with someone on the boat. So you went right back to whoever man on the Cod had their own bunk then. Before that, you have three guys sleeping in two bunks and rotating. It's not bad. You got your own bedding.
We gave them our bunks. We sat sleeping up or sitting down or wherever we could. We made them as comfortable as we could. Hey, they had lived under hell for about four or five days there trying to get off that reef and everything else. You'd do that. Hey, they're fellow submariners. We went out of our way for them. We do everything we could.
They sure went out of their way with the guys when they hit in Perth, Australia. We went into Fremantle, is where the docks are, but Perth is where they had the deal. I didn't get to go to that, doggone it. I'd like to have gone to it. But part of life, the war was over. You stay where you are now. You're going home.
Oh, we took the crew of the Dutch submarine O-19 back to Subic Bay. The process of going there, it took us about three days to get there. We left them off there, we refueled, took on more ammunition and all the other things that you could think of. And by the way, we expended a couple of torpedoes into the Dutch sub O-19, along with five-inch 25 and 40-millimeter shells to wreck it. Plus, they had demolition charges inside of her. It blew the heck out of her. But it's still there. Even to this day, the O-19 is still on Ladd Reef. You can see it. You can fly over it or around it or you can take a skiff if you want to. Be a long row, but you can still make it
That was MOMM3 Norman Jensen. Next week on Warriors In Their Own Words, we’ll hear how he narrowly escaped death from machine gun fire, and about the unique camaraderie between sailors on a submarine.
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