CENTO cruise 1964–1965

By Ken Robarge STS2 (SS), 1964

I served aboard the IREX from May 64 to Feb 65 as a STS2 (Sonarman 2nd class). Having just transferred from a boomer (George Washington SS 598) I was fascinated by the feeling of being on a WWII boat. During my duty on the IREX we cruised from Burmuda to Pakistan. My recollections are fuzzy, considering 35+, years. I would like to concentrate on the CENTO cruise however.

In October 1964 we left New London in company with the USS Sablefish, an older boat which had considerable mechanical problems. Coincidentally, I had the choice of the Sablefish or the Irex when I came off the GW, but I chose the Irex because she was cleaner, newer and the sonar room more accessable. The Sablefish's sonar room was below the mess deck whereas the Irex was below the control room giving the Irex the nod for convenience and comfort.

During the Atlantic crossing the Sablefish had engine problems, which caused the Irex to pause in her fast paced race across the Atlantic to wait while the [Sablefish] chugged away. We had to wait for the Sablefish to catch up on several occasions. Bottom line is the Sablefish stayed in port while the Irex ran and ran and ran.

We finally stopped at the entrance to the Suez Canal and formed up into a westerly convoy and transited the Suez quickly, taking pictures of Migs along the way. The Suez is basically a trench. Sand was scooped up and deposited on the banks, leaving very little to see over the embankment.

Once we transited the Suez we entered the Red Sea. The captain said we would normally have swim call but due to sharks we had a BBQ on the aft deck instead.

Our first port was Aden, which was about to become independent instead of a British colony. Aden is located at the southern tip of Saudi Arabia and is a free port. However, there was local fighting (terrorism) going on during the period that safety was an issue. Our captain briefed us before arriving in Aden with the following message. If you are going ashore, please be aware that there is a revolution going on. There is a struggle to see who will control the country once they become independant from England.

Do not associate with British civilians or serviceman as they are targets for terrorism. Do not enter any shops where Brits are present. Do not ride in taxis with any Brits. If you do go into any shop, keep away from any with Brits and keep your eyes on the front door. If there are any explosions, do not invistigate, stay where you are. If you wish to swim, use the British Seaman's Club but beware or sharks! If you wish to stay aboard, do not go topside as speedboats have been known to strafe US and British ships in the harbor. Otherwise, have a nice liberty!! Welcome to Aden!!

As it was, there were quite a few terrorist incidents in the 2 days we were there. There was the granade thrown into a cab full of British seamen. There was a granade thrown through a window into a room of British women playing cards. There was the rumor of a British soldier who peaked at a native women (some wore black vails) and was found days later in chopped into pieces and stuffed into wicker baskets. There was a bomb explosion a few streets from where I was having a few brewskies, and the Brits told everyone to stay still. The terrorists like to see a crowd gather then set off another bomb.

All in all it was quite an experience. I bought a Nikon camera and tripod for $50 which I still have to this day. Some other guys bought English china. I recall hearing that Aden does not bury their dead because there is no place to bury them due to the rocky conditions. Instead they place the bodies in the hills surronding the city and let the vultures scavage the remains.

Next stop was Karachi, Pakistan—the armpit of the world. It was pitiful!! I have never seen so much poverty and [depredation]. Families would maim their kids so they could have a career as beggers. There were corpses along the streets from the docks. In Karachi they had little scooters with an attached cart which could hold 2 passengers. We took these from the dock to town.

Karachi was teeming with people. Streets were full of people: sidewalk to sidewalk. The odor was awful. When I stood shore patrol I positioned myself next to a perfume factory so I wouldn't gag on the stench. Several things come to mind. There was an excursion to the beach by bus which went from Karachi to an area 20–30 miles away. Along the way the bus passed a village which stank so bad it became known a Breathless Corner. You actually had to hold your breath while the bus passed thru this village otherwise you would puke from the smell.

Another memory was the fight we had with a bunch of tin-can sailors who were with us. Due to sanitary reasons, the best place to eat off ship was the British Seaman's Club. This was also a good place to drink reasonably and safely. A fight ensued between some Irex guys and some tin-can guys. One tin-can guy stuck his thumb in the mouth of a bubblehead who subsquently bit it off. So the story goes.

Hey, gotta go now. If you want more info or intend to add this to the Irex history, just email back. I can finish this later.

Ken Robarge, STS2 (SS) 1960–1965.

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