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W.J. Simmons « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

W.J. Simmons

Hometown: Goldsboro, NC
Branch of Service: Navy, USS Albacore, USS Finback (SS-230), USS Sperry
Location of Service: Pacific

I was born and grew up in Goldsboro, NC. My family moved to Tarboro, NC in 18939 where I graduated from high school in 1941. I got a job through my brother-in-law with T.A. Loving Co. at Wilmington, NC that summer and lived at Carolina Beach. Being unable to go to college, I returned to Tarboro for the then optional 12th grade of high school but after a short time I decided that was not for me so I decided to join the Navy, which I had, but, I decided to wait until after the first year to join. My brother-in-law now lived in Morehead City, NC and worked at what is now Cherry Point, so I went to stay with him, and was offered job with T.A. Loving Construction Co. at Cherry Point to start Monday morning, December 8, 1941.

On Monday morning I was at the Navy recruiting office in New Bern, NC along with several discharged and retired Veterans trying to get back in service.

I was sworn into the Navy recruiting office in New Bern, NC along with several recently discharged and retired veterans trying to get back in service.

I was sworn into the US Navy and transported to Norfolk, VA for boot camp. After six weeks of training in total confusion, the approximately 80 men were sent divided up, to volunteer to Sub school, others to trade schools and the largest group to, as I later heard, were put on a ship for transport to Panama but never made it.

The volunteers for submarined duty were sent to New London, CT where physical and psychological tests reduced the number by 80%. If you had any problems with your lungs, sight, ears or hearing you were out.

The tower 100’ high full of water with pressure tanks at different depths allowed you to get in wearing a “Munson Lung” to duplicate escape from a sunken sub. Before you reached the 100’ depth, many more were eliminated. After 6 weeks of sub school, I was assigned to the sonar school which was to last about 4 weeks.

A sonar man was the ears of the submarine. An amplifier located in the conning tower controlled a micro-phone locator outside in a “Head” you controlled from what direction a sound came from and you with earphones identified what the sound was and where it came from. Each ship had a different sound and RPM told you how fast it was going, or if it changed speed or direction. You had the ability to measure distance, but rarely used since it gave away your presence.

Part of of sonar school was a barge anchored in the Long Island Sound with amplifiers with a yacht running around it named the “Duck” formally owned by Eddie Cantor the comedian whose saying was “Wanna buy a Duck?”

The graduates of school were sent all over the world and assigned to existing “boats” which submarines were known as. But not me…I was assigned to the USS Albacore SS218 under construction at the Electric Boat Co. at Groton, CN only a few miles down the river from New London, CN. Lake made a submerged approach and fired three torpedoes at the leading shipa nd two at the second. One or possibly two torpedoes hit on the first ship: but none struck the second. Albacore claimed to have damaged the leading vessel.

Her next enemy contact came on 1 October when the submarine made a night surface attack on a Japanese tanker. She expended seven torpedoes and scored two hits. Although that tanker appeared to be low to the water, she was still able to leave the scene under her own power. On 9 October, Albacore spotted a Zuikaku-class carrier escorted by a heavy cruiser and a destroyer but was depth charged by the escorts and forced to break off her pursuit. The next day, she attacked a freighter. One torpedo hit the mark, and 12 minutes after firing, the sound of two heavy explosions caused the submarine’s crew to presume that they had downed the vessel.

Beginning at mid-morning on 11 October, Albacore underwent a series of depth charges, all of which exploded close aboard. At 1548, the conning officer finally spotted the Japanese attackers, two submarine chasers and an airplane. A third ship equipped with sound gear joined the group and continued the hunt.

The ships crisscrossed over the Albacore close enough for propeller noise to reverberate throughout the submarine and compelled her to proceed under her most silent running conditions. All auxiliary systems were secured, off-duty men remained in their bunks, and all watch personnel were barefoot. After a chase of nearly seven hours, the Japanese ships disappeared astern, and Albacore then surfaced to clear the immediate area. On 12 October, Albacore headed for Midway. Although she had had several opportunities to score during the patrol, Albacore was not credited with any damage to Japanese shipping.

On arrival of Midway, I was transferred to Sub-Division 101 to refit crew, which had been set up to repair, reload and prepare the boat for its next patrol. Captain Lake was relieved of command. I remained on Midway, the most advanced base in the Pacific, since Wake Island had been captured by the Japanese early on, until February 1943 when I was assigned to the USS Finback (SS 230) and sailed February 27, 1943 on my second war patrol and the Finback’s 4th patrol, this patrol lasted until 13 April 1943. We returned to Pearl Harbor and while the boat was being refitted the crew was given R&/r at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach for two weeks.

My third (Finback’s 5th) patrol from May 12 to June 26, 1943 and again returned to Pearl Harbor for a major overhaul. I was given my first leave and was able to return to the States for 30 days. On return we were to make my final 5th patrol and Finback’s 7th which began on December 15, 1943 and was to last until February 11, 1944. For the second time, I was given 2 weeks R&R at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. I had now earned the Submarine Combat Insignia with 3 gold stars, only later did they change one star to silver to indicate the 5th patrol. I was awarded a Letter of Commendation in my records for the destruction of over 100 thousand tons of Japanese shipping during 3 of the 4 patrols that I served on the Finback.

I was now assigned to the Submarine Tender US Sperry. This large ship could make most in repairs needed on a submarine and supply most anything neede without going all the way back to Pearl. We anchored in the lagoon ofn the islands of Majuro. One of the islets was set up as a rest camp and I was assigned to a signal tower on the end of a float dock on the Islet. The rest camp was made up of Quantis Huts. After several months, the Sperry returned to Pearl to reload and then went to Guam Island, where there was fighting going on, where another Rest Area was to be set up. After a short time, I was transferred back to New London, CT

In June 1945, a crew assembled for the USS Mero (SS 378), now under construction at Manitowoc, WI Shipyards on Lake Michigan where the last of the 12 subs were being built. The next day while making rounds of the bars, a group of “Rosie the Riveters” who had just gotten off of work at the extension of the shipyards. They were welders and came into the bar I was at and I met my future wife. We were married on August 4, 1945 and on our honeymoon while the commissioning party went on. The “A” bomb was dropped on Japan on the day we came off our honeymoon and we celebrated at our favorite bar.

When the point system came out I had enough points for two men to get out and was discharged on October 11, 1945.