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Memories of Nishan Derderian
As a young pup, I was part of the commissioning crew of the Bergall in 1944.
About 10 years ago, a friend of mine from the San Francisco Bay area wanted to write a book about Armenian guys in the US military during the war and he wanted to get my story. I told him that I had been trying to forget about all of that time and I wasn't interested but he continued to pester me. It took him three years to get me to write anything, and I mailed him a little something and he called me back and said, "I want details!" Well, after 8 years, he finally went to print with his book and I'm the only Armenian submariner that he got a story from.
We left New London with a whole group of new guys. Those that didn't qualify by the time we got to Pearl Harbor were transferred off the boat. We had quite a few who didn't qualify so we brought on different guys to make the first war patrol. Being the only Radar Tech aboard, I was basically on duty 24 hours a day. I was either in the Conning Tower or the Control Room so I knew what was going on whenever we were up to something. It sure was an adventure!
The Aft Deck Gun
From New London to Pearl we were having exercises every day. Our guns were called open breach guns because the breach was open to sea water at all times. When you fire the gun, the shell cartridge automatically pops out the rear. Well, our Chief gunner was standing near our aft gun (our only 5" deck gun) and the cartridge bounced off the lifeline and hit him in the back and put him out of commission and one of our junior officers was put in charge of the gun. When we got to Panama we had gunnery practice. They have this island with a big black vertical cliff that we were suppose to train our guns on. Well, we couldn't seem to hit the damn thing... and it wasn't even firing back! We were supposed to have two deck guns but New London only had enough to give us an aft gun and they said we could get the second one when we got to Pearl. Hyde, not being terribly impressed with our accuracy, told the base staff in Pearl that he didn't want a second gun and would prefer if we got rid of the aft one!!! Knowing targets for torpedoes were getting scarce, we went to war with the aft 5" anyway and found good use for it after all.
There's a big difference between a trim dive and a crash dive. Trim dives are pre-planned performances under highly controlled conditions. Some are performed with only a partial crew aboard, in shallow water, where possible, and at slow speeds. Trim dives are performed every time you convert from surface action to submerged action to maintain neutral buoyancy as much as possible and most importantly immediately following a fuel and/or supply reloading operation. The diving officer of the day has to calculate the difference in the weight of fuel and supplies taken aboard to the weight of salt water displaced from the sub. He also has to calculate the distribution locations of the differential weight. The trim dive reveals how well he trimmed the ship and no one can do it perfectly. During the trim dive, he uses the readings from the depth gauge and the positions of the bow and stern planes to obtain neutral buoyancy. When the bow and stern planes are at zero degrees and the depth gauge is not moving up or down, he has attained neutral buoyancy.
A crash dive is a total surprise to the crew, it is not announced beforehand, it happens when there is an emergency condition requiring the sub to take evasive action for it's survival. Heading to the war area Capt Hyde wanted to test his green crew's preparedness for such a situation. We had been practicing various diving conditions with various crew combinations from the time we left New London till we were in the middle of the deep Pacific and he wanted to make sure we could perform under stress---we flunked the test!!!
I was in the Control Room when we almost sunk her out of Panama on our way out to the war. We were in deep water of about 6,000 fathoms and the skipper wanted to make an emergency dive! Hyde wanted to get our dive time down to 30 seconds! Now we were getting real good and could get it down to about 40 seconds but 30 seconds wasn't real. Normally we knew about these "practice" dives and everybody would be prepared. Well, we were running on the surface and had all of our equipment running... 18 knots speed with the air compressors and EVERYTHING going and Hyde came up to the bridge real casual to get an "actual" dive condition. I'm standing in the Control Room and I heard, "Dive. Dive. Dive." and the horn going off. Chief Little was in the Control Room in charge of the "DIVE".
Everybody was running for their station and a motormac (I think it was MoMM2c Paul Hess) runs over to the circuit breaker panels to throw the compressor power switch. Now there's two identical breaker panels side by side... one controls the air compressors and the other controls the hydraulics. Well, the motormac threw them both! Without hydraulics we were in for an adventure. A radioman (RM1c Baker, I believe) had the task of listening for the main induction to close automatically (hydraulically) and if it doesn't, instead of panicking, he's charged with manually closing the valve but all he did was stick his head out yelling, "Main induction didn't close... main induction didn't close.". I'm looking at the depth gauge and it's winding like crazy.
We had been running on the surface and that made the engine room just hot as hell. The main induction fed fresh air back to the engine rooms and the motormacs typically had put their chairs under the induction flapper valve to let the incoming fresh air blow on them (primitive air-conditioning). The flapper valves are held open by detents and when released by the motormac, they close against sea pressure so when they slammed shut we were secure from water coming into the boat's main area but the main induction lines feeding them were full of water and that's one hell of a lot of water to take aboard! We were going down like a ton of shit and the chief electrician, I think that was Chief Little, realized what was happened and he ran over from the diving station to the breaker panel and switched on the hydraulic power that enabled us to close the induction hatch.
I believe we passed 700 feet before we recovered. I read the depth gauge while I was shaking in my shoes and the Safety Crew was pounding wooden wedges into leaking seals and broken tubing. Someone (It may have been Capt Hyde) hollered ďAll Back FullĒ to reverse our fall, but it didnít work. The command, "Blow Safety!" was made by Chief Little and that is what saved our lives. The Safety Tank is an emergency tank that is always filled with water. It is designed to offset the weight of the water if the conning tower gets flooded, but in this situation it offset the weight of the water in the main induction pipes, and that allowed us to stop sinking and gain a level bubble. There's a thick green linoleum top on the gyro table in the Control Room and I'm sure you can still see my fingerprints in it as I prayed and waited for us to stop sinking. Seeing that depth gauge doing it's dance didn't make me feel comfortable AT ALL. We had water springing from lots of places and the steel deck plates were buckled up in a "V". They had to be cut to put them back down flat! Someone in the Engine Room or Maneuvering Room had mechanically thrown the engines into full reverse but that was only one of a couple things that saved us. Because of the depth we had sank to, we were smaller than when we were manufactured! Our test depth was 610 feet!!!! We hadn't even made a war patrol and we damn near sunk ourselves. The guys in maneuvering room used to sit on a long leather cushioned bench and would put their feet up on the maneuvering panel. When they sat there their legs would be bent... after the deep dive they had to stretch their legs out because the panel had moved THAT much.
The Great Beard-growing Contest...
When we left New London, these four guys wanted me to get into a beard growing contest with them.
Each man put in $10.00 and the longest beard won all the money. I told them it would be unfair to join the pool, because they were all baby faces and I could
win before we got to Pearl. Well, when we did near Pearl, I looked at them and said I can start now and still beat you guys.
They didn't believe me and took my $10.00. When we finally reached Perth, they didn't bother to make any measurements, they gave me
the money and I had them pose for the photo in the photo shop across the street from our
hotel. The guy standing behind my right shoulder is RM1c Sid
Hoialman, he was our very best Sonar Operator and a great friend. Standing next to him is MoMM
Boy" ( I can't remember his name), he operated the salt water desalinator in the forward Engine Room; but that's another story. Seated
on either side of me is a Torpedoman and I
think an electrician's mate whose names escape me
I was there...
My duty station was in the Control Room and/or the Conning Tower and I was in the middle of any action or pursuit of action. I have first hand information of the events we were involved in since the Capt and I bumped butts many times while he was bent over the periscope and I was bent over the radar scope or scrunched down on the sound gear in the Conning Tower feeding him information from the equipment. I've heard a few different accounts of her times through the war but being in Control, many events were occurring right in front of me.
Due to our action on the Second Patrol the skipper was awarded the Navy Cross
and the Legion of Merit, three other officers were awarded the Silver Star, the boat and crew were awarded the Navy Unit Commendation and the
skeleton crew received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. Here I am at
the the presentation ceremony for the Navy Marine Corp Medal I received after we returned on the skeleton crew with an 8 inch shell hole and no Forward
Torpedo Loading Hatch which was shot off by one of the Japanese Cruisers (The Captain and I both believe it was the Heavy
Cruiser's forward gun turret crew that hit us. Even after it had split in two, the forward gun
turret tower was still above the water line and it was in the correct position to keep firing salvoes at us as we were
making evasive maneuvers to escape to safe waters. Remember, I was on the Bridge standing next to the Captain when the first volley damn near sunk us. That first shell
that hit us was either a dud or an armor piercing warhead shell. If it had
an explosive type warhead, neither I nor the Captain would have survived and the sub would most
probably have sunk. If it didn't sink, it certainly would have been put out of commission in hostile enemy territory). I was on the Bridge because the Captain called me up
there to see the awesome sight of a brilliantly burning Cruiser. He said "Derderian come up here and see what you did to that Cruiser." All I was wearing were a pair of
shorts and sandals and when that shell hit us. The Captain and I were showered with hot burning fragments of steel and decking.
Instinctively we both ducked down and I headed straight for the Conning Tower
hatch to man the radar again. I was reporting a series of targets at 100 to 200 yards range on our port and starboard sides
and after about ten of them the Captain said, "Radar, belay the ranges, those are just shell splashes." That's when I first realized we were in big trouble and I really had the
fear of the Lord shaking me in my sandals. The rest is history, the Captain told us we'd either be heroes or
S.O.B's. Adm Lockhart dubbed us S.O.B's.
Dangers of coming down the ladder.
Later, on the second or third patrol we were riding through some heavy weather and we were really rocking and rolling and all of the topside guys had on those heavy foul weather gear that completely covers you. We were getting ready to dive and all of the topside was coming down off the bridge and QM Walt Gallie (He was a wild guy!) sees this "guy" coming down the ladder (half in and half out of the hatch) and Walt reaches up and gooses the "guy". Purintun got down off the ladder and glared at Gallie and Gallie said, "I'm sorry, sir, I thought you were one of the men!" I was in the Conn and laughing my ass off and Purintun came through on his way to the Control Room and glared at me as he continued down, muttering under his breath!
The Great Olongapo Beerball Game...
After one of the patrols, we had fired all of our torpedoes and we were routed to Olongapo (near Subic Bay, PI) because that was the closest port. They said there would be a sub tender there to take care of us. We thought, "To hell with that... were is our R&R?" Listening to the news we heard that Olongapo was still under siege by the Marines and not secured! Well, we get to Olongapo and there's no sub tender! We found out later that the sub tender was laying way off because the beach wasn't secured. The thought was, "If the tender isn't going in, why the hell are we?". We waited outside the harbor until the sub tender came in. We had liberty there and it was 110 degrees there and we can hear the war going on around us, we could hear mortal shells flying just over the hills. We went ashore and they gave us a couple cases of green beer and sent us over to this Army tent. There were some guys playing baseball out in the hot sun and we went up and asked if we could play. They said, "Sure.", so we divided up teams and proceeded to have a game. One of the guys was an Army officer and after a while the officer said, "To hell with you guys. That's my bat and I'm taking it home." One of our guys said, "Well take that bat and shove it up your ass." Well we figured, "Here we go again, there's gonna be a fight." Well, we had been so hot that we started out in shorts and sandals but after playing so long our shorts were wringing wet from our sweat so we took 'em off (naturally!). I guess, maybe, THAT was the problem. I think the officer wanted us to put our shorts back on and when we refused he decided he was going to take his bat and leave.
Need a Souvenir?
Now, where we were tied up they had this impound of all of these Japanese swords, guns and rifles and we're thinkin' how the hell are we gonna get these aboard ship? Well, come night time, we had some native boys in their outriggers bring us around the seaside of the sub for a few pennies and we smuggled all of these weapons aboard. For the next few nights everybody was bringing more stuff aboard. Well, as we were refueling from the tender, the diesel going in would displace saltwater from the tanks and the Officer of the Deck had to calculate the difference in weight to maintain balance and buoyancy. We were getting ready to leave and the Captain took us out to deeper water outside the harbor and being a savvy dude, he said, "Let's do a test dive." This was a standard procedure that would check the weight and balance of the boat and prepare the boat if it needed to make an emergency dive. This would normally just take us to periscope depth. We had only taken a skeleton crew as we would only need that to do the dive and return to the harbor. As we opened the air tanks we started sinking like a rock! The Captain calmly shook his head and said, "Blow the tanks, blow the tanks!" and we returned to the surface. Right away he gets with the Officer of the Deck and they start reviewing the calculations and everything looked right. The Captain got with each of the officers and told them to go into each compartment and pull up the deck plates and check the bilges. It took them three hours to go through the boat and they started finding shells, shell casings, daggers, guns, swords, rifles, machine guns and all kinds of stuff. They figured there was tons of this stuff! Obviously we returned to the harbor and got the "opportunity" to unload it all.
A day without radar... will get you killed.
On the third patrol, we were getting ready to enter the infamous Lombok Strait and the radar went down with a blown transformer! Lombok Strait was known to be full of enemy patrol boats and no place to be on the surface without the advantage of surface radar! It turned out that we didn't have the spare parts to do the repair. Not having an option, I got a huge transformer from the Electricians that was pretty good sized and I told them that I could use it but I would need a variac (variable transformer) to use with it. The only one they had was considered "reserved" for other equipment but I convinced them that I had to have it and I had to have it NOW! I hooked them up on the deck in the Conning Tower (where there's no room to move, normally) and had these high voltage wires snaking up to the radar unit carrying a lethal 6,000 volts. I had borrowed a wood bread board from the cook and used that as a platform to keep this stuff off the deck and from shorting out and covered the whole mess with cardboard so guys wouldn't step on it. What a kluge! The Captain came up and asked, "What are you doing, Derderian?". I said, "The radar's working!", as my only defense. It may not have been a pretty repair but we had "eyes" (the radar) on-line and we continued on into the Strait and found a spit kit and fired one of the acoustic torpedoes at it. We had to release it from a depth of 200 feet or lower and we heard it hit and the Sonar Op reported the sound of a boat breaking up but when we went to periscope depth we didn't find a damn thing. We couldn't find wreckage or anything. Well, since we couldn't visually confirm the sinking we didn't get credit for the damn thing, although I consider it sunk. Hell, I know it sank!
Another way to find the Japs...
When we were at Subic Bay, actually Olongapo (just outside the base), the Marines were still fighting for Manila. The river divided the city and we had one half and the Japs had the other. There was Army and Marines running all over, even in Olongapo, and a friend and I got a ride on a jeep. We could hear the fighting and we asked the driver, "Hey, can you take us to the top of the hill so we can see the fighting?" and he said, "No, I'm gonna go around the hill but I'll take you over there if you want." We thought this was great until he got us there. We found ourselves right at the back of the front lines! I told the driver, "This is close enough for me, Pal.". We had to bum a ride back as the driver was continuing on and we weren't interested in that at all!
I wanted a machete. The guys in the village really prized their machetes and I tried to buy one off 'em but they just wouldn't sell. One of our guys told me that you could barter with them and that they love food. Well, I always made a point to be friendly with the Yeoman and the cook so I took some food ashore and traded for a nice hand carved machete. I kept that damn thing until I moved from Detroit... wish I'd kept it now!
Water Temperature Checks
Whenever we would surface, the quartermaster was required to go topside and read the temperature of the water and call the Engine Room and tell them. I don't know why but I'm sure it had to do with proper engine cooling or fuel/air mixture. I was up in the Conning tower manning the radar and Quartermaster Walter Gallie got on the Comm and said, "Engine Room, water temperature Hollywood.". The Engine Room came back with, "What the hell is that?" and Gallie said, "Temperature Hollywood... you know... 69!" Gallie was quite a card and always one step from being court-martialed.
Just boys having fun?
I made Chief just after the first patrol and was friends with Ray Northam. Ray was a Yeoman that came aboard as an S1c in September 2 of '44 just before she sailed into the war. He made Chief on March 2nd of '45. Well, one day we were going on liberty together and I looked at his sleeve and noticed he wasn't a Chief anymore and I asked, "What happened?" and he said, "I don't know, but this is the third time I've been busted down." Well, soon we got a Chief Quartermaster aboard and he and Ray were birds of a feather... at the drop of a hat they were in a fight with someone. They would go into some bar and try and pick up somebody's gal and, sure enough, there would be a fight. I used to have to bail Ray out quite a bit. Knowing that he and the Chief would always get into a fight, I decided they were too much trouble and I'd better find different guys to hang out with. One night in Australia, they were both pretty stoned and walking down the street in a residential area and Ray noticed this iron railing around a house and commented, "Boy, that's an ugly sucker." and they proceeded to tear it completely down! He got busted for that, of course. After the Chief Quartermaster was transferred we had another first class Quartermaster for a while that was a big guy! He was about 6'5", and 450 pounds and it was all muscle. He was the most gentle guy you ever saw in your life... until he drank, then he was a holy terror. In Australia we were in a Chinese restaurant and he was drunk and somebody was trying to get him to leave. He didn't agree and proceeded to demolish the poor place. They had a parrot in a cage and he grabbed the parrot in the cage and started down the street. Well, the owner got the shore patrol and the shore patrol started roaming the streets until they spotted him... not too damn difficult to spot a 450 pound drunk sailor carrying a parrot in a cage. They locked his butt up and the Captain had to get him out!
As we were taking muster to get underway for a patrol, we came up short one Yeoman and one Chief Quartermaster. Hyde asked if anybody knew where they might be and sent a courier to get 'em. The Yeoman returned but the Chief refused and we put to sea without him. Johnny Hyde didn't put up with that kinda crap! The Chief Quartermaster got transferred onto the sub that was the last one lost before the end of the war and I always wondered that if he wasn't so rowdy, he would have stayed on the Bergall and gone home with the rest of us.
Where can a guy get a drink around this place?
In Perth, we spent our R&R days in the St. Georges Hotel. It was the fanciest hotel in Perth. The bar opened at 9 am and closed at 6 pm according to the law. Well, at 9 am, a few of us would congregate in the lounge. The first guys to get there would move some tables and chairs so we took over a whole corner of the lounge and we started a ritual... each guy that came in later had to buy a round for everybody already there. By noon the tables were covered with beer and Lemon Squash (kinda like a Vodka Martini, two of those were ENOUGH!) and we couldn't drink enough to clear the table. Our guys would try, you know, but the Chief Electrician never saw a sunset for the first three nights we were in Perth. About 2pm he would get up to go the john and that was all she wrote... he was passed out. We would pick him up, drag him outside, put him in a cab and tell the driver to take him back to his hotel. After 6 pm the only option was to buy bootleg booze. We would go down to one of the clubs at the beach and give the waitress our bottle. The waitress would then serve us from those bottles. So the routine was to drink til 6 pm, run and get something to eat and then head for the clubs for dancing, girls and more drinking! One of the times, Ray and I had made friends with an innkeeper and was asking him where we could buy some booze. Well, he dragged out this bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label. Well we tried to buy it and he said, "No, I can't sell it. I've only got 10 or 12 bottles left." Well, that's all he had to say! Between the Yeoman and me, we talked him into selling us just ONE bottle. What a treat!
Another time, booze was getting scarce and we were talking to everybody, waitresses, cab drivers and anybody trying to find some. This one cab driver said he could help us. There were four of us and we got into the cab. The driver heads down the road and then we are heading into the woods! I told the guys, "Get ready, it looks like were gonna get ambushed.". I was sure... we all had money on us and it sure didn't look good for us. Finally he pulled off the road and blinks his lights. We waited for a bit and the we saw a light blink back from up the road. "Get ready.", I told the guys. Out of the darkness comes this old guy and he talked to the cab driver and finally turned around and went back. He came back shortly with this bottle of bootleg booze and a price was settled. We turn the cab around and go back into town and a bar and gave the bottle to our waitress who proceeded to give us "setups". We took a sip and found we couldn't drink the stuff. It tasted like diesel fuel or something! It was horrible. At the time, on ever corner was a milk bar and they sold this 8% butterfat in a paper cup. One of the guys was a non-drinker and had walked out to one of these bars and brought back his milk. For a joke, when he wasn't looking we slipped in some of this bad booze into his cup. He took a couple more sips and says, "Man, THIS is GOOD milk." We couldn't believe it, so we said, "Give us a taste." You know... it wasn't bad! So we all bought milk. So now we got about 8 guys sittin' around drinkin' "milk" and getting flat stoned. The other folks are lookin' at us wonderin' how the hell we can be getting stoned on milk!
Taking beer on patrol...
I almost got my titty in the wringer in Perth! I was Chief of the watch on the last night we were going to be there. The guys started coming back to the boat and a couple guys asked me if they could bring a bottle aboard. Well, that's not EVEN allowed but I turned a blind eye and said sure. Well, they went back and returned with these wooden crates! Dozens of bottles! I told 'em, "You guys are CRAZY! You can't be bringing that kinda stuff on!" They hid them in the torpedo room behind the torpedoes, laying them down flat and under deck plates. A couple weeks into the patrol we suffered a real heavy depth charge attack and they bombed the shit out of us. We had a radar officer aboard who was an ex-prize fighter and didn't know shit about radar. During the attack, he was in Control or somewhere and they called for a Damage Report and he went back and reported "Chlorine in the After Battery!". Hearing that, my heart sank. When the battery acid mixes with sea water it forms poisonous chlorine gas and you have just "bought the farm". The Executive Officer was sent back to confirm and from the galley area reports, "I don't know what it is, but it's not chlorine." He lifted up the deck plates and saw all of these bottles of vinegar and one of them had busted and that's what the stink was. Thank GOD. We kept getting bombed and all of these foul odors are coming from the forward and after torpedo room and the Captain ordered guys to find out what it was. When they lifted the deck plates they found all of this broken glass and labels from "Emu Bitters" beer floating around. I figured my goose was cooked but everyone played dumb. I don't know how many cases were broken but I sure snuck through that one!
How deep is that beer can?
We transited to Guam and because the island wasn't secured we couldn't go on the beach. Out in the harbor a large wooden raft was our R&R area and we took a few guys and some beer over and drank beer and laid in the sun. As you would finish a can, you would fill it with water to insure it sank and then toss it into the bay. That water was SO clear you could see the bottom as clear as a bell. You could watch the beer can sinking slowly to the bottom and then you could see it sitting there. One of the guys decided he would dive down and bring one of the cans back up. Well, it was so clear that it didn't sound like any great feat. He dove in and swam down... and down... and down... until he ran out of air and he raced for the surface. "How friggin' deep is THIS WATER?", he asked. Of course we had no idea but it sure gave us one. When the motorboat brought out some other guys, we would bet them a dollar that they couldn't dive down and retrieve a beer can. With the bottom looking maybe 10 or 15 feet deep... we made more than a few dollars! Nobody retrieved a can but it was a nice break from the war!
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