Another Routine Day at the Office

By Michael R. Richards (TM2), USS Irex 1952–1956

A second refit aboard the Irex, and again in Portsmouth. a town Navy friendly, historic, lobsters trapped right off the duty barge, chipping paint, firewatches, yard birds swarming all over the boat, welding arcs, cutting torches, huge cranes like prehistoric monsters gorging the boat, good liberty, water too cold for swimming even in August, and the Naval Prison, Sphinx-like, posing no riddle—only looming over the shipyard.

Once in dry dock we, for some reason never really made clear, removed much of the lead ballast from the keel. All ballast subtracted was scrupulously weighed and the lead bricks stowed somewhere in the shipyard, never, we hoped, to be seen again. Finished with dry dock, we again floated, finished refit, and headed out into a November Atlantic for our first test dive. Nothing happened! Plug pulled, Irex remained surfaced!

God works in mysterious ways, and, not to equate military duty with deity, the Navy does seem to have a proclivity to operate in a most incomprehensible manner. Much of the ballast was returned, and, to the sheer horror of TH1 Lynch, strapped and stowed in the bilges of the FTR. Irex was now deemed again ready to attempt her test dive in early December.

We steamed out of harbor into a black Atlantic with white caps etching themselves against the dark waters. Yard bird foremen and a ballast of brass joined the crew to see if Irex could dive. With sea legs weak after months in port, stomachs were at best queasy. A green-gilled yard bird engineer (one of those who wore a necktie and used a pocket protector) deep breathing, riding the corkscrew swells, clinging to the plot table in the control room, was asked by Snedeker (QM1) if he would like him to puke in his mouth, promptly regurgitating. Then the dive—green board, pressure in the boat, ballast must be right; we slip to periscope depth—a good dive.

Irex then goes to test depth, always an anxious moment after refit. I'm the ATR with Krupenevich (TH1) and a Chief Electrician, when a damp and nearly hysterical electrician on watch sticks his head through the hatch and screams “Chief!”. Krupenevich and I dash with the Chief Electrician to the hatch and see water spraying hose-like throughout the Maneuvering Room. Through Navy training and well-conditioned reflexes, the water-tight door and the bulkhead flappers were slammed shut, dogged down and the onset of flooding reported to Control Room.

Irex surfaced immediately, but not before a spraying of Maneuvering Room had knocked out all AC power. What had happened was that the shipyard had coupled a soft brass fitting into a monel fitting. The pressure line which carried sea water to cool fresh water used to cool the main motors had carried away.

While I fail to remember what all of the crew did to mitigate the emergency, I know I became helmsman as soon as Irex ran for port. With no AC power, steering was shifted from Conning Tower to auxiliary steering in Control Room and steering was by magnetic compass. We had no rudder indicator and tried to use the emergency dry cell battery operated indicator but its battery was dead. With no AC power, turns could not be sent to Maneuvering. We contrived a system: Crowley (TH1) read rudder from the manual indicator in ATR; COB Larch rigged me a headset tied into Bridge, Crowley in ATR and Maneuvering Room. It proved to be the busiest trick at helm I ever experienced.

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