|The following is an excerpt from a book written by Sarah J. Nachin entitled Ordinary Heroes. It was contributed by Joe Sabol GM1(SS) 1943-1945.|
|Joe Sabol shook my hand vigorously and ushered me into his "submarine gallery", a spare bedroom in his house. There he had on display plaques he had made with submarine insignias, books on submarines and naval history and other memorabilia of his twenty-three years as a submariner. He's active in his veterans' group and travels each year to Kings Bay, Georgia and other ports to ride on submarines and visit with Navy pals. "Submarine Joe" doesn't lack for stories, which he tells with his wry sense of humor. He relates the incident that made him decide to enlist in the Navy.
"I was working in the Baltimore shipyards in October of 1942 where we were building the Liberty cargo ships. One day I saw a destroyer come in with a huge hole and the bow almost torn off and that just kicked me into being patriotic. I went on a drinking binge and I must have enlisted somewhere along the way because two days later I found myself sitting on a curb with a tattoo that said "Mother" and a set of orders to go to boot camp!"
What made him go out for submarine duty?
"Well, as I was nearing the end of boot camp, they gave me a choice of either to be a coxswain )a driver of a landing ship that goes ashore) or go to submarine school. I didn't feel like driving a boatload of soldiers onto a beach. That was not my bag. So I ended up in submarine school and I was happy I did."
Joe went to New London, Connecticut for subbmarine training, along with a special sonar school and gunnery school. One of the skills they had to learn involved swimming through an escape tower.
"We had to go through a one hundred foot escape trunk from a depth of a hundred feet to prove that we could ascend from that depth. It entails you going to the bottom of the tank and entering a pressurized chamber. We had no scuba gear, just a Monsson Lung. You would put the lung on, put your mouth around it, and then inhale and exhale into the lung as you made your ascent up a rope. If you got into trouble they had divers at the various levels to help you. It was a very important part of our training because if you were on the bottom you had to be able to escape from the submarine if you needed to."
"Once we got through that training I was assigned to "new construction" on the USS Raton, SS-270, a submarine being built in Manitowac, Wisconsin. We had to learn every part of the submarine as it was being built, every system and every valve. It was called "school of the boat." We were there for three months. Then we took the sub through the Chicago Canal to Rockport where they had a tug with a dry dock. The sub was put into the dry dock. Then we went down the Mississippi River in this dry dock because a sub draws seventeen to twenty feet of water and the dry dock put us up above the surface. After that we made our way to Algiers, a Navy base in New Orleans, where we took on ammunition and got ready to go to war/"
"From there, we made a couple of training trips back and forth through the Panama Canal. Later, we took on torpedoes and went to the Galapagos Islands where we learned to fire them."
It didn't take long for Joe and his crew to see action.
"We were enroute to Brisbane, Austrailia when one of the lookouts spotted two torpedoes fired at us. We managed to go down the middle between the two of them."
Joe relates a humorous incident in Brisbane that reinforces the reputation sailors have for being hard drinkers.
"I had a topside watch one night. I was armed with a gun at the gangway and one of the Chief Petty Officers came back about two o'clock in the morning with a real live cow. Obviously, he was nightclubbing and had brought the cow back with the intention of getting us fresh milk. We never got the chance to milk it because the owner came looking for the cow and he was pretty upset!"
One of Joe's projects that he's especially proud of is a map on which he has marked the tracks of the eight patrols he was on during the war. They show meticulous detail, pinpointing the latitude and longitude at various places where events occurred and the results of each patrol. It took him months of research through naval records to compile these maps. Two of the eight patrols were unsuccessful in that no enemy ships were sunk. In all, the Raton sunk twenty-one Japanese vessels.
"During our fourth patrol the USS Lapon, another sub, mistook us for an enemy submarine and fired two torpedoes at us. We were chasing a Japanese submarine and told the Lapon that we were coming into their area, but we mistakenly went an hour ahead. We were going into a different time zone and didn't turn our clocks back. One of the torpedoes went off prematurely and one bounced right off the side of our sub and didn't go off. When we came in from the patrol and were put into dry dock you could see the glancing blow on the hull."
Joe relates another case of "friendly fire."
"We were near Balakapapan , the largest oil field in Borneo, and one of our bombers from New Guinea was hading there. He came down very low and prematurely dropped a string of bobmbs ahead of us. We were on the surface and couldn't dive because it was too shallow. Our skipper bot on the radio with whoever was leading them and raised all kinds of heck with the squadron leader/"