MOMM3 Norman Jensen: Combat Cameraman in a Submarine Part II
MOMM3 Norman Jensen served on submarines as a combat cameraman during WW2.
After attending diesel and submarine school, he 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 as 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 before he dove into the hatch to safety.
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Today, we’ll hear from MOMM3 Norman Jensen. Jensen served on submarines as a motor machinist during WW2, but his unofficial job was that of a combat cameraman. In this final part of his interview, he describes how he narrowly escaped death during a firefight, and how the camaraderie in submarines is unique.
In regards to the strafing situation, we took the Dutch submarine group back to Subic Bay, refueled, ammunition, et cetera, so forth. Went back on station again up to the Gulf of Siam. In the process of going up there, we knew that we were working in conjunction with the Blenny and a couple of other vessels. It was kind of like a wolf pack. And we had some pretty rough times out there because there was a destroyer up there that was... The skipper of that one was pretty doggone good. Anyway, the end result was that we had two sampans alongside of us tied up. They're about 125 foot. They had rubber aboard it and so forth. I was on deck, fortunate to be on deck, because I'm filming our coming to it and everything else in excess of the normal amount. In the process of it, I turned right around and wind up was taking pictures of it as we came onto it. Not continuously, of course, because I've only got so much film. But the end result was, is I took pictures of what we're coming up after.
By this time, we had a fellow by the name of Tommy C. on board. He could speak the language of what they were. He was a British subject. It later turned out that he was exactly what he said he was, had been commandeered, and he was being pushed to help out these sampans, take the fuel or whatever it was, the diesel or whatever it was, that they were taking, the rubber, the rice, whatever, or even in some cases, what do you call it, GI clothing and so forth like that to Singapore, which was in turn transposed and put aboard another vessel, taken to Japan. Well, we had this one come upon it. I'd take pictures of it, and then I'd eventually, if I could see I was in the way, I was smart enough to go down the hatch. "Jensen requests permission to go below." "Very well." You always say those certain things. Then, "Jensen requests permission to come above, Captain." He says, "Okay, Jensen, come on up. It's time to take some pictures." He was pretty good about it, the skipper was.
Well, the next thing I knew is we had him alongside of us. I had a meat cleaver in my right hand around my wrist. I was going to cut a rope if I had to. See, the sampan is tied up alongside of us, had a bowline and a stern line alongside the Cod so our boarding party could go aboard it, look it over, see what contraband they had on it, whatever you want to call it.
Okay, I also had a Speed Graflex camera in my left hand, and I had my 16-millimeter camera around my neck. As a machinist, I could figure out how to handle things so it'd make it comfortable for me. I had a peacoat on. Hotter than Dutch love, but still I did it because if I'm going down that hatch, I don't want that camera whacking me between the eyeballs or breaking my nose or something. So I had it down inside, you might say.
Well, the end result was is here I'm on deck. I looked up in the shears, that's up in the periscope shears up there, and I noticed that one of our lookouts was not quite looking where he should. He was watching what was going on. So I moseyed up to the bow of the boat, not too far away from where I'm looking at it. I've already taken pictures what I wanted to take of it. The end result was is that I got some pretty good ones.
All of a sudden, I looked up and saw the glint of an aircraft wing. I turned around and says, "Captain, aircraft bearing 359 degrees." In other words, on the port side. "Elevation two degrees, coming in doggone fast." All he said was, "Clear the bridge. Clear the bridge. Dive, dive," and the horn started hounding. "Cut those lines, Jensen!" I cut the one line. The other guy on the far end cut the other one down there. He was part of the boarding party. He and five other guys, along with Tommy C., which he was the sixth one you might say, jumped aboard the sampan. When I cut that line, I threw a Speed Graflex over the side. You don't want it rattling on deck. I threw the meat cleaver over the side, shoved this thing down, and all the time I'm running like the dickens towards that thing they called a cigarette deck in the front. I dove up in there, and as I dove up in there, machine gun bullets came within about two feet of me. Let me tell you, that's a pretty good incentive to want to go faster. I figured that I had an opportunity to do one of two things. Now, you're talking about swimming. I knew if I didn't make it down that cotton-picking hatch, I was going to get wet. But I figured I could swim over there, but I'm going to do all my darnedest to get down that hatch. I got down the hatch. I dove right on that. I got up on there, swung up on it, dove over the cowling, went right smack down head first down there just about the time they were going to ... Well, I knocked a few guys out of the way, and I still carry scars on my shins. So I got down. I'm telling you, the luck of the gods was with me that day because that boy, if he'd have sneezed and turned to the left, he'd have got me.
The sampans, as far as the overall picture's concerned, basically were fine if you could get up to them and Tommy C. could talk to them. But there was several times when they shot at us. That's right. They shot at us. It didn't take long for a 40 millimeter to eliminate them. I don’t know what you’d call them. They came from Singapore. I guess you'd call them Singaporese to be screwy at it, you might say. But the end result is is that they were a duke mixture of everything. There were some that were Japanese. Now, the ones that did shoot at us were Japanese, and it didn't take long to eliminate them. You'd be surprised what a 40 millimeter will do when it hits one of those vessels.
When we approached a sampan, fortunately, we had Tommy C. We picked him up one of the first things that we did.
Tommy C. was a British national that had been captured, you might say, but he had to work his way around to help out and so forth and so forth and with regards to getting from one place to another. He was slowly working his way over to a point where he could get to some, what do you want to call it, allied place where he could escape. It was subsequently found out that he actually was a British national. He went to Australia with us when we left the area and went off station, went back to the refit, and so forth.
But basically and fundamentally, what occurred was that we'd go up to them and talk to them. Tommy would talk in the language. He'd find out what it was. Our boarding party, knowing that it's a risky situation, and that you've got five men plus Tommy C. and me on deck ... That's eight guys on deck. And I mean on deck, not up in the shears. Plus, you got the three guys in the shears and two officers, so you've got a pile of men up on deck. The more men, the longer it takes you to get down because you got to wait so long before it ... Takes you only just a few seconds to get down.
Well, the end result is is that the ... I should say the situation is that these boarding party people knew the risks they were taking. So when this machine gun came along, bullet came along from this aircraft, they jumped aboard. They knew they weren't going to make it because when you say, "Clear the bridge, clear the bridge. Dive, dive. Cut the lines," or whatever he said was first, cut the lines or whatever it was ... He usually says, "Clear the bridge, clear the bridge, dive, dive," and then the horn sounds. That means that you're going to get that vessel down and everything else. The rest of us, it's up to us to see what we can do.
I knew I was taking a risk. There's no question about it. I knew I was on deck. I took the gamble and it paid off. Water was coming in when I went down that hatch, I'll guarantee you that. They were able to shut the hatch, but I had not only got that, but my head banged.
But you have to recognize the fact that along with that risk, each one of those guys were trained. They knew what they were going to do, and they knew what they were looking for. They were looking for charts of the area because we didn't have charts. Heck, we were only in about 30 fathoms of water. 30 fathoms, six times three is 180 feet of water. At least you could get down to 60 feet for a periscope depth. So we were in pretty shallow water as far as it goes.
So they went aboard that sampan. We tried to keep track of them, but that airplane and a few other airplanes, surprisingly enough, kept us down. Every time we came up, bingo, down we went. Up, down, up, down. The vessel's integrity is more important than the five guys. We figured we could find them.
When I got down into the hatch, my job was over with. I went to a duty station. I just shoved the camera underneath the bunk and that was it and went to the duty station. I already had thrown the other things away. The cook raised hell with me. There's no question about that because he lost two meat cleavers that day and he didn't have any more. He had to use his butcher knife to do everything from then on out. But you don't have too many bones in the steaks anyway. T-bones are boneless.
But any rate, the next thing was that when we got up that evening, we tried to keep track of where the sampan was. Finally it got out of our sector. We have certain areas in which we stay. If we go out of that sector, we're fair game for anybody else to shoot at. That is in our own people. So we sent an ultra to Washington DC, or correction, to Pearl. From Pearl it came back to the Blenny and the other four vessels, there were five of us in that group there, all around that section to be on the lookout for the sampan. Three days later, the Blenny found them. They saw them way off away from everything else. Well, the next day, this was in the afternoon, and it took them about a half a day to come up. The next morning, we transferred them across from the Blenny to the Cod by breeches buoy. You saw that. That was interesting. That's the only time that's ever happened. Now, we've sent ammunition across like that. We've sent food across like that. We've picked up milk and every other conceivable thing, but not human beings. That was the first time anything like that had ever happened. It was interesting.
I was fortunate enough to be able to ask the skipper to get up on deck. "I really don't want you up here." I says, "Captain, this is an interesting stuff, and it should be taken care of. I'm sorry, sir, but I'm going to have to request it again." "Get up here, Jensen." He was a great guy. He says, "Okay," because you don't know what's going to happen. Well, the end result was is I was able to get every one of those guys coming across like that, and you saw the grins on their face.
They played dead a couple of times from what I understand. They got sunburned the rest of the time. Fortunately, they had a pretty good crew of individuals that they were working with or that they were living aboard there. Someone was always with a .45 on their hip, awake. They wanted to get to Taiwan. That's where they were heading for. They knew that was the only neutral port, or if they could get to a certain place in China. See, the Japanese had invaded everything along the Chinese coast, but it's almost gone as far as that goes to get there. So they're trying to get to Taiwan. They were about 400 miles from it. They'd already gone 300 miles when they picked them up. Those guys were going fast. That's why we lost them, you see. So when they came aboard, they were happy as heck.
Well, right after that, of course, we turned right around and wound up getting the word to get off station and go home. ‘You've created enough havoc.’ 27 different sampans we shot up, along with rescuing the crew of the Dutch submarine and along with the other one. We had a pretty successful war patrol. I think it was, anyway.
It was interesting. When we came into Fremantle, a vessel came out to escort us in, and it was not too big a vessel. You got certain recognition signals you got to go through to get in too, because you don't know who they are. You want to make sure you do it the proper place to get into Fremantle itself. Well, I requested permission from the skipper if I could get aboard that vessel to take pictures of us coming in. The end result was is that I was able to see the Cod actually docking with all the flags flying and everything else, and it was quite interesting.
Actually, they brought out milk. I didn't even get any milk until two days later, dadburnit, and boy, that's the one thing you want. It's just a craving for it for some reason or the other. They always give you milk and mail. My mail was still on board the gol darn Cod, two letters. That was about all it was, one from my sister, and one from the people I lived with before the war. But it's interesting.
I had no idea where the film was that I took on the... Queenfish I've never seen, it must be somewheres, but the stuff that I took on the Cod, I had no idea of it until Mr. Farsi listened to the tape, went to the naval archives and got it. And then I was absolutely flabbergasted that it was still in existence. And it sort of excited me because... And surprisingly enough, believe it or not, it turned out pretty doggone good.
I didn't like airplanes flying around, even, even when they're out there watching over us on the O-19. I am a pilot myself. I've flown a single engine land and sea for 30 years, owned my own airplane for 10 years, and gone all over the country. But I don't like anybody that has a bomb bay on it and it's opened up coming in on me. I just don't like it. I have my feelings that these airplane guys can have it. I have some buddies of mine that went through ... One of my buddies went 27 missions over Germany, B-17.
The relationship between a crew and a captain is almost like a family with no squabbles, about as close as you could get it, and putting it in just as direct a way as it is. The skipper is in charge. He can't go any further than what his crew can do. He trains his crew, he trains them according to his way of doing it. He bends them to it and they better bend. You'll have one captain that's a daredevil. You have one captain who's not. You'll go anywhere. That crew will go anywhere if they have the confidence in the skipper. They'll do anything for him and all the other officers. You have a very close knit, almost... it's not totally family affair because you get to the point where familiarity can breed contempt and it doesn't on a submarine from the standpoint that each person is aloof, but at the same time wants to do what's right. It may not be correct in some people's way of looking at it, but it doggone well saves the crew. You work together, you don't have any jealousy among men. The jealousy itself is enough to wreck a family. You're aware of that, and I am aware of it too, being in the field of education. But more than any other single thing, you work together. The skipper gets the glory. We don't give a darn. We know we got them there. We could care less. There's one of the most selfless group of human beings you could ever ask for is a group of submarine sailors on a submarine. They will do anything for each other. And let me tell you, I mean they'll do anything for each other. They'll help them out. They'll do anything they can. Even today, if there's someone in need, they're right there. I don't understand to some extent how the camaraderie is instilled within you other than pride of performance and belonging to something. Something that is worthwhile and having done a job the best you can with what you've got.
Now, if you don't have anything in the first place, there's nothing you can do about it. But you just keep on hoping and so forth. But when you've got a submarine, you either know it or you don't, but you're not dumb enough to try to fake it. There's no faking on the submarine. It's sixes or nothing. And if you don't stick up with the sixes, meaning that you're doing what you can, you better get some help. And you don't have that much pride to worry about because you ask for it. The pride comes later. I'm not kidding you, boy. It's a camaraderie that you cannot buy. In some ways it's even greater because of sharing your life than what your bond is between your wife and yourself. No one can break that bond in that sense of the word. I don't know how you could better put it that way other than that. And as far as the skipper's concerned, I'd go to hell for Westbrook. I'd do anything he'd ever ask for. I'm sure he wouldn't put me in a position where I'd have to go to hell. I'm sure that he would go to hell for me. I've never seen a skipper that hasn't been worth his weight in gold. And usually the executive officer is the one who takes over after he leaves because of the continuity with the crew. Without it, you got troubles. And let me tell you, if an officer doesn't cut the mustard, he doesn't last out more than one trip and he's gone. It isn't a... There's no shame to it. It's just that it isn't a question of fitting in, it's just that you have to be able to be honest with yourself.
The closeness as far as being in a submarine with reference to crew is very simple in a sense. You're confined. It isn't a question of wanting to get along. You have to get along. Your will has to be bent to the better of the crew. I don't know how else to put it other than the fact that the overall picture is such that all of us are in this boat together and all of us are going to go down together or going to go up together. Do your best. If it's not good enough, don't be afraid to say, "Hey, I need help." Because it's always there. You don't bluff. You don't bluff when you're running the submarine. You can have a lot of fun kidding, and everything else, let me tell you, they can rib the devil out of you boy, let me tell you. They're vicious on it. Not from the point of being a negative aspect of it, but they'll ride you to pieces if you screw up. But it's for your own betterment.
I have seen Captain Westbrook in just with his pants on, with just a skivvy shirt. Everyone knew who he was. Everyone knew who everyone else was. You knew each other on those things. And it doesn't take you long to get known. And let me tell you, if you don't have a doggone good cook, you're screwed. We had the best cooks of the ones, and they are the best. And if you've ever seen a galley in a submarine, Lord only knows how they can produce what they do. Produce is a miracle, a absolute unequivocal miracle. 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And there's only three guys, the cook and two mess cooks. Oh man, I can't believe it.
I personally didn't have to have battle- I mean permission to move from one compartment to another. If I was doing for the photographic work and the skipper knew it, he'd make an announcement, "Jensen's coming through the boat." "Oh, that doggone Jensen again." They had groans and moans. There's always a ham in the bunch. It was fun.
You respected the guys that were sleeping and off duty. Hey, a lot of times you'd be on the surface. You have 16 hours, you're on the surface or 12 hours on the surface. You see, at the beginning, they used to stay in the underwater during the daytime and come on surface at night. At the last, you had to go on the surface to get anything going at all. And then you'd charge your batteries at night anyway. Well, let me just put it very succinctly: Sometimes you'd be up for 25 to 30 hours straight and when you slept, you wanted to sleep, and boy, you respected it and that was it.
When the war ended, when the Cod came into Fremantle, I immediately went aboard the Clyde because I was in excess of compliment. I knew what was going to happen. The same thing had happened when it was on the Queenfish, although I did get to go for two weeks R&R. Well, the next day the war was over. We got in on the 13th and on the 14th, 15th in the States, the 14th there. Okay. It was over with. I'm not going to go back aboard the Cod. The simple reason is, ‘Hey, the war's over. Each of those guys need their own bunk.’ Clyde was another tender. It was just not anywhere near like the Proteus. The Proteus was built originally as a tender, beautiful vessel.
It wasn't until actually the 16th, or two days later that I found out it was atomic bomb that had hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We didn't even know that the first one that got hit was on. We had no idea of it. I knew what atomic bomb would go, would happen. Yeah, because I'd studied physics before and college and so forth like that. I had a very, very good idea of what atomic bomb would do. I didn't know its vastness or its destruction purposes. A nuke bomb is nothing to play with. They got bigger ones now than they had then, of course. But there's nothing to play with. But I personally think that was the best thing that ever happened because we'd have saved at least a million of our own people from going into invade Japan. But that's another thing.
We did our job, we got it done. We came home. That was it. We didn't expect anything, didn't ask for anything. But there were those who thought that we did need it and they got it. And I'm not griping because of getting the GI Bill. I didn't have a plug cent when I went into the service. I had about $2,500. I never took my money, but I had about $2,500 when I got out of it in the Navy. And as far as the overall picture's concerned, that would've given me about maybe three years. I got my bachelor's degree that last of my bachelor's degree. I got a master's degree from it. And then when I got my doctorate from Oregon State, the overall picture was that I paid for that myself. So I feel pretty good about it. We didn't ask for anything. We're American citizens. We did our job, we got it done, we're going home. That's it. And what more can you ask for?
That was MOMM3 Norman Jensen.
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