The USS Irex SS-482: Family-Gram No. 6

Care of Fleet Post Office
New York, N.Y.

7 November 1961


Dear Wives, Mothers, Sweethearts, Children and Fathers:

The last lap of our trip is now underway and we will move west in the Mediterranean for the last time. The events during the waning days of the cruise were as follows:

Saturday, 14 October 1961

We arrived off of Valletta, Malta at 0600 and found KITTIWAKE and SHARK waiting for us. Four U.S. Destroyers were also going to enter port. At 0800 we steamed into Valletta for our second visit. SHARK went into Valletta harbor but we moved off into the Naval Base, and again moored alongside HMS Narvik. Our reception here was warm and sincere and we were glad to tie up for a few days. Many people have the idea that an in-port stay is merely a big rest but a lot of work has to be done. This involves many hours and several men never get into town. After arrival in Malta, the officers spread out to prepare for the next weeks' operations. And also to complete the report for the preceding weeks' operations. The men accomplished the following:

Ramsey and Ryel—Obtained a boat from the oiler and spent the better part of the day trading movies with the other ships.

Berndt, Anderson, Gustafson and Huntress—Fueled ship. The Royal Navy brought diesel fuel out to the ship by barge.

Pratt and Bleber—Mail pickup which took several hours each day and they usually ended up returning to the ship in the wee hours of the morning.

France and Newton—Two cooks off to try to get fresh provisions and see they are loaded on board.

Sunday, 15 October 1961

We received our first and as it turned out, only mail early this morning. Mail deliveries have been very slow as we jump about the Mediterranean. It is now late in the trip and evidently mail has dropped off. Many of the men went off to church early. During the day we completed loading water and this evolution had taken Engineman Steele about 20 hours. Unfortunately, local water pressure is very low and it takes a long time to fill the ship's tanks. During the afternoon we had an opportunity to visit Grand Harbor which is the main section of Valletta. Ships were jammed in very closely. The harbor proper is surrounded by several old forts which were originally constructed by the Crusaders and ear still in use today. During World War II, the local populace took refuge in the many tunnels and cover below these forts so they were put to good use. During the afternoon a Turkish submarine moored alongside and the crews had a chance to exchange stories.

Monday, 16 October 1961

Underway from Malta for sea at 0815. The sun was out the whole way down harbor and by the time we cleared the breakwater the sea was glassy calm. The British cruiser TIGER and a fleet of smaller ships were also out bound. The multitude of ships clearing port was a something to see. Once again we headed west and then turned south to take station south of Malta for our next exercise. We will now remain in this area for seven days and operate with other NATO units.

Tuesday, 17 October 1961

The day started very early with aircraft and surface units churning by to add confusion to the picture. By 1000 it was all quiet and we stopped the exercise for a few hours. IREX surfaced and again we enjoyed a fine Mediterranean swim and shower. At 2345 (11:45 P.M.) we submerged for the second part of our exercise and took our assigned station. Most of the men have turned in and will sleep for long periods of time. We are resting on a cold layer of water in the ocean and will merely float lifeless here hour after hour. The only thing that bothers you is actually boredom. The sonar gear of course hears the hundreds of sea noises which are always present. This area is particularly alive with fish which cackle back and forth and raise a chorus of noise. The usual porpoise come and go and they whistle back and forth to each other. Naturally we hear other ships moving about and frequently hear gunfire many miles away. Although many believe the sea is quiet, it is never still for a minute.

Wednesday, 18 October 1961

The ship remains submerged about thirty miles south of Malta. Our friends the fishermen came out at dawn and hauled their drift lines in, little suspecting that there was a very large “fish” watching them. The day passed very quietly with no contact with the outside world. Fortunately we installed a tape recorder in the shipyard and the men do have music part of each day. One of the tapes is almost worn out.

Thursday, 19 October 1961

Still no activity and the sea has roughed up to the point where even the fishermen did not show up today. The fish are even quiet so that we hear for once a great silence. The days and nights seem to merge into one and the various watch sections establish their own routine. Men are always up and around no matter what the hour while others sleep. For us there is no day or night but merely eight hours of watch plus one hour of cleaning ship and school for the unqualified men. Each afternoon there is one movie and in the evening we re-show the picture for the afternoon watch.

Friday, 20 October 1961

Another day on station and the sea is really rampaging across the horizon in high gray sheets. The surface units are probably rolling badly but we feel not a thing and doze in our steel home. The barometer has dropped fairly low and by night fall a full scale gale was lashing Malta and vicinity.

Saturday, 21 October 1961

Still no activity with the storm gradually dying down. The wind has backed through north and evidently the weather will now improve.

Sunday 22, October 1961 a

A very quiet Sunday with church services early in the day. The sea is again quiet and we are now waiting for the surface fleet to return. During the late afternoon we surfaced for a few hours and moved to the east in order to be close to the action. However, it is still very quiet. The fresh air smelled very good but had a very different odor than the oil laden environment we normally live in. Many men have now been submerged longer than they have ever been down before.

Monday, 23 October 1961

Still on patrol south of Malta. Today will be our last day. IREX is to surface tonight and move west to Italy. We will not reenter Malta but proceed directly south of Sicily to our new operating area. The sea has again roughed up. The night radio traffic was good news for all. Electrician Woodrum's wife presented him with a bouncing baby girl in Hartford, Conn. Mother and child are well. The Commanding Officer received word that he has been selected for promotion to Commander which is somewhat of a relief.

Tuesday, 24 October 1961

Underway on patrol south of Malta. At noon we were advised to surface at 5:00 P.M. and proceed to Grand Harbor, Malta and transfer our records of the exercise. At 1700 (5:00 P.M.) we surfaced and started slowly north to Grand Harbor. At 2000 (8:00 P.M.) we arrived off Grand Harbor and the British ask us to enter the harbor. This is indeed a ticklish operation at night. The wind stood fairly heavily from the west and made steaming difficult as we entered their outer harbor. As luck would have it every small boat was out so we had to zig-zag into port. At 2045 we had entered the naval basin, with a howling breeze and no boat to take off the records. At 2115, one thousand gray hairs later, a small naval boat came alongside and the Executive Officer hung over to try to pass our package to them only to find that the crew was all Maltese and spoke no English at all. I hope they didn’t understand English either. After several minutes of negotiations the records were transferred and we headed out the narrow pass to sea. All we needed was for someone to play the famous travelogue theme song and say we bid fond adieu to Malta. We were all glad to reach open water. Once well clear to seaward we turned west and headed for Italy.

Wednesday, 25 October 1961

Underway for Italy. During the night we passed Cape Bon, Africa and took departure from the eastern Mediterranean. We have also heard our relief ships entered the Mediterranean and we will all meet in La Spezia, Italy two days from now. At dawn we were again south of Sardinia and moving north west to pass up the west coast of Sardinia and then enter La Spezia. It will be an easy trip on the surface. The men are all showering and shaving again and should be ready for a shore liberty. The weather had moderated and we are again in smooth crystal clear water.

Thursday, 26 October 1961

Underway along the north west coast of Sardinia making a very smooth surface trip to La Spezia. During the late afternoon we sighted other fleet units as they moved to Genoa, Cannes or Antibes.

Friday, 27 October 1961

At 0500, we sighted the coast of Italy and slowly entered La Spezia Bay. This World War II naval anchorage is filled with wrecks and nets. This particular city was and still is the principle Italian naval base. Two Italian cruisers were present. At 0800 we followed KITTIWAKE into the inner harbor and by 0900 were moored to the quay wall. Shortly thereafter, the USS TENCH and USS QUILLBACK arrived and will now relieve us of our Mediterranean duties. During the next few days many conferences and meetings will be in order.

Saturday, 28 October 1961

Liberty in La Spezia with a very warm Italian sun and once again fresh provisions. We have hopes of getting the crew paid before we leave La Spezia.

Sunday 29, October 1961

The day started early with our old Task Force Commander being relieved and the new Commander taking over the reins of responsibility. Church services were held at 0900 and then most of the men went to town for the day. It is still very warm here with temperatures in the 70's all day. Conferences continue.

Monday, 30 October 1961

Pay day. Today a paymaster drove down from Genoa and paid the crew. When we left New London we were paid in advance and this is our first pay since then. Conferences have continued and we are almost ready for sea again.

Tuesday, 31 October 1961

The fleet is restless again and IREX will put to sea today. This is early but we are ready to move on. At 1700 (5:00 P.M.) the pilot was on board and we slipped out to sea. LTJG Kosoff remained on TENCH to complete his qualification in submarines.

Wednesday, 1 November 1961

Northwest of Corsica on station ready for exercises with the fleet. At noon the units of the Sixth Fleet came into view and we conducted exercises until late in the day.

Thursday, 2 November 1961

IREX has now moved south to the Balleric Islands. We are on patrol station north of Menorca ready for the fleet to arrive. The day however was very quiet and we patrolled on station for several hours unmolested. At 1700 (5:00 P.M.) we surfaced and moved north to recover LTJG Kosoff from TENCH. At 2300, we found them and our LTJG is back on board. We then turned south and are again on station off of Menorca. The weather has remained clear and calm. The temperatures are somewhat lower.

Friday, 3 November 1961

IREX remained submerged on station near Menorca during the day. The barometer commenced a downward glide about dawn and by evening a very bad storm had entered the area. This is the first winter storm for the Mediterranean this year. All the ships are scurrying for shelter.

Saturday, 4 November 1961

Underway, submerged northeast of Menorca. The weather reports state the seas are very heavy. This is the understatement of the year. Shortly after first light it became evident that we were quite alone and therefore we have sought a nice smooth deep depth to ride the storm out. The seas are so heavy that we roll at 100 feet. Fortunately, we are deeper and quite warm and safe. During the evening the wind dropped slightly and we were able to look around again. During the night we will snorkel south and west for the straits of Gibraltar.

Sunday, 5 November 1961

During the night the wind continued to abate and by the first gray wisps of dawn we could see a very dirty confused sea but the giant waves are gone. At 0800 A.M. IREX surfaced with the sea astern and we moved southwest towards the Atlantic. At sunset this date, we sighted the coast of Spain near Cartegena.

Monday, 6 November 1961

The seas have now completely abated and IREX once again will have a smooth sailing. At dawn Cape De Gata, Spain was north of us and we swing to course west. During the day we moved west towards the straits. Just before sunset the Rock of Gibraltar was sighted and the crew had the opportunity of seeing the British Stronghold. After supper, IREX once more entered the Atlantic and moved northwest towards Rota, Spain. We are due to enter Rota at dawn and refuel. After a one day stop we will head west for home.

With this letter, the sixth and last Family-Gram of the current series will by necessity close. We have now been underway from home three months and one week and should arrive in New London about 22 November 1961. If the weather stays good, it is possible for us to arrive a little early. Accordingly, the families in the New London area should call the base answering service for our exact time of arrival commencing about 18 November 1961.


GRANT B. APTHORP LCDR, U.S. Navy Commanding Officer

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