1964–1965 Mediterranean Cruise

By Ken Robarge, U.S.S. Irex (SS482) Newsletter, November 2003

May, 1964—I had just finished a patrol on USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (Gold) (SSBN 598) with newly minted Dolphins. The Blue crew was taking her on her last patrol before an extended overhaul. Those in the Gold crew with less than two years to do were to be transferred. With only 9 months to do, I requested transfer to a submarine that was to make a Med cruise. I was given the choice of IREX or SABLEFISIH (SS 303). I chose IREX, to which I was transferred on May 11, 1964.

Bermuda (Jun 1964) Shortly after reporting aboard IREX we departed for Bermuda on training cruise with Navy Reservists. Bermuda offered a nice, warm, safe place for liberty within easy reach of New London Before we left Groton we were told if we wanted to go ashore in Bermuda we had to wear “civvies” because we would not be allowed off the Bermuda Navy Base in our uniforms. I spent the first day in Bermuda at the US Navy Station aboard ship. The next day I had liberty and I walked around Hamilton in my casual civvies. Hamilton had quaint English shops along the main streets and cafes on the second level where you could drink a beer and watch the tourists and the cruise ship. After window-shopping I took a bus and went to Elbow Beach and filled a small container with Bermuda sand for Mom & Dad They had honeymooned in Bermuda, and I promise them sand from Bermuda if I ever went there. That night I went back to the ship to put on my suit. I found that someone had worn it the day before and it was wrinkled and dirty. I was pissed off and didn't know who to blame. I just put the suit on and went ashore anyway. I went to a nightclub with a bunch of guys, was bored to death and went back to the boat early. On Jun 19, during the return to Groton, IREX made her 9,000th dive.

IREX was scheduled to go into the marine railway for repairs. That morning I left IREX at the pier and went to a school for the day. When I returned from school I went down to the marine railway and found a mess. Only the top part of the railway's frame was showing far into the river. The area around the marine railway and shoreline was covered with wood and floating debris. I learned that IREX was within ten feet of being completely secured when the chain broke sending IREX and the railway back into the river. IREX suffered only minor damage but it took weeks before the railway was back in position. IREX was ultimately put into a standard floating dry dock to inspect the sea valves, propellers, repair the damage from the incident, and clean and paint the hull.

In Oct 1964 we left for four months in Europe. The weather was good and we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal on Oct 17. Ashore, I followed a bunch of guys to the nearest bar and found the girls to be very friendly but you could not be seen on the streets with them while in uniform—so we rented civvies.

Rota, Spain (Oct 20) Just long enough to refuel for the trip further east.

We passed through the Straits of Gibraltar, and moored in Valetta, Malta on Oct 24.

We anchored near Port Said, Egypt, on Oct 28, and entered the Suez Canal the next day. The sand was piled high on either bank of the canal and we could only see over the bank from the top of the sail or through the periscope. Whenever we passed Egyptian bases took pictures of the MIG's through the scope. After transiting the canal, we planned a swim call in the Red Sea, which was cancelled because of the number of sharks.

After a 3500 mile transit from the canal we arrived in Karachi, Pakistan (the armpit of the world in my mind anyway) on Nov 7. Karachi is a very large city with a zillion people—mostly very poor. Any big home leading into town had walls surrounding the house that were topped with razor wire and broken glass. There were many beggars on the streets and a few dead bodies could be seen slumped against a wall or lying in the gutter. There was a rumor that poor parents would purposely maim their kids so their lifetime occupation could be beggar. The streets were wall-to-wall people, cars, camels and an awful odor. I was on Shore Patrol one night in the back streets in an area that was off limits to sailors due to drugs and prostitution. The only place I could breathe without gagging was next to a jasmine factory. I could see camels foaming at the mouth while pulling heavy carts loaded with all types of goods. People were squatting on their haunches chewing on a narcotic nut made from the betel nut, which made their gums and teeth blood red. I remember going into alleys and checking into doorways for sailors. Sometimes I would find a whole family living in one room. Other times I came across a harem type room with pillows, opium pipes and belly dancing girls right out of those 40's movies. One time I stopped at a large, local hotel. It had open courtyards, columns and was quite classy. It was quite a contrast compared to the back streets of Karachi where the crew was told to stay away from the local prostitutes because the venereal diseases were so bad they had no cure for most of them.

While in Karachi, we operated with destroyers from other countries. One night, steaming on the surface, the sea around IBEX was bright with phosphorous and our wake could be seen for a mile, which easily gave us away. We disguised IREX to look like a fishing boat by hanging drop lights at various spots, and securing the normal running lights.

Aden, Yemen (Nov 27) When we arrived the Arabs were trying to kick the British out of Yemen and Aden was prone to terrorists. As we were pulling into the harbor the CO announced that we could go on liberty but we had to be careful; We were told (1) stay away from any British military or civilians because they were terrorist targets, (2) we could go swimming at the British Club beach but not swim too far out due to sharks, and (3) avoid topside (deck and sail) because there was a tendency for strafing by small boats. Nice place!

Back through the canal, and into the Med again we arrived in Beirut, Lebanon (Dec 6.) This was 11 years before their civil war, so things were calm and safe. We had a Lebanese crewman on board who wanted a little romance. He took several of us on a tour of the red light district, trying to find a companion for the evening. His theory was that the higher up they lived in the apartment buildings, the prettier they were. He led us up and down stairs looking for a decent looking girl, but they were all soooo ugly that he gave up, and we all went to the Kit Kat Club.

After Beirut, we went through the Straits of Messina which separates Italy and Sicily, then passed the volcanic island of Stromboli, arriving in Monte Carlo, Monaco (Dec 21) where we spent two weeks over Christmas and New Years. The major problem with Monaco and the Riviera was it was winter, and the beaches, like Connecticut beaches that time of the year, were empty. The real action was in Cannes, Nice, Villefranche and Gulf Juan, France, where the girls were pretty and very friendly towards sailors—with money. Princess Grace had a tradition of inviting visiting American military personnel to Christmas dinner. Three of our crew were chosen by lot to attend. One of the three was a creep who we thought would get us thrown out of the country or try to screw Princess Grace. Fortunately, he was a perfect gentleman. At the same time, IREX hosted a Christmas party for 16 boys from a local orphanage. While IREX was moored in Monaco, I made a few short trips to Limone, Italy, for a ski vacation.

IREX arrived in Malaga, Spain, on Jan 15, 1965. I took a tour to Torremolinos, which was either under construction, or it was all rubble left over from some war.

Our last stop in Europe was again Rota, Spain, just to refuel for the trip back to Groton. Halfway home, we were hit by a nor'easter with 40' waves, with 3-40' between swells. Of course, we rode it out on the surface.

We arrived at the SuBase Groton Jan 30, 1965.

While on the cruise, I accumulated about 5 gallons of wine and booze, only declaring one gallon. I took it ashore in several trips in my sea bag, but almost lost a bag full when I slipped on an icy gangway.

On Feb 5, 1964, I was discharged from the Navy, after serving 4 years and 5 months. I chose not to re-enlist because I did not care for the petty “make-busy” work and the big difference in how the officers lived and were treated versus we enlisted men.

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