USS Caiman (SS323)



I reported aboard the Caiman in March, 1950, fresh out of sub school in New London. The Caiman was still the older style fleet boat, with cigarette decks and open periscope shears. The only change from the original design was that the overhanging cigarette decks had been cut back to provide quicker submergence. The large 20mm guns had been removed, and the 5" deck gun was stored elsewhere. We had the most senior skipper in the fleet, a full commander, and he could cherry pick his assignments. Most often we just stayed in port, and any sea exercises were passed off to the other boats. We were never away from port overnight. We slept in the barracks except when we had the watch duty. Every weekend was spent on the beaches at Waikiki.


The after torpedo room and two torpedoes. My first bunk assignment was in the rack mounted right above the copper warhead of the torpedo. You can understand why we actually preferred to sleep in the barracks when we had the opportunity. The yellow "exercise shot" had a water-filled tank in place of the warhead. After being shot and running its course, when the propulsion ran down the water was blown out of the tank by air pressure and the torpedo would bob in the water like a buoy to be recovered by the retrievers and re-used. Being a newbie I was assigned a battle station on the torpedo re-loading crew. Under the direction of a torpedoman petty officer we would winch the torpedoes into the tubes before firing.

Christmas in Hawaii, 1950

One week we sailed to Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. We tied up at the commercial port inside the breakwater. Years later that whole section was demolished by a tidal wave. In the background is a bulk sugar loading facility.


After a bit of intensive underway training where we actually stayed out overnight, we were assigned to be a live example for training the sub-hunting flyboys at a naval air station near Seattle. From warm and balmy Waikiki to chilly Port Angeles on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We moored at the Coast Guard Station on a spit of land, and wore heavy foul weather gear all during the summer. More about that in "Other Places."

When we returned to Pearl Harbor from our tour to Port Angeles and the Korean war or "police action" was running hot and heavy they brought back the deck gun and proceeded to mount it on the aft deck. We went to sea several times to practice shooting at a towed skid. I was assigned to be second loader. I received the ammunition and handed it to the first loader who shoved it into the breach of the gun. Handling 100-pound fixed 5" ammunition was a trick. We joked that the safest person around was the guy riding on the skid.

As fall arrived we had a change of command. We lost our senior skipper and received a new one just out of desk duty at the Pentagon. Lieutenant Commander Bennett. He was a spit and polish type, due to his most recent tour in the Pentagon. He shaped us up quickly.

Our exercise operations were either practicing approaches and firing torpedoes at an "unsuspecting" destroyer playing target, or acting as target for the destroyer practicing sub hunting with its sonar. A destroyer going overhead sounds like a freight train going over a steel trestle. As they passed over us they would throw hand grenades over the fantail to simulate depth charges. The grenades would explode about the time it reached our depth, and they made quite a racket. Then one day on a different boat the grenade actually lodged in the periscope shear and blew off the head of the periscope. They stopped dropping grenades after that.

And then there were the flyboys who came out at night to find us with radar or sonarbuoys. They would zero in on us running in the dark on the surface and then suddenly turn on their million candlepower searchlight just as they buzzed us overhead. We would track them on our radar and could tell they had no clue as to where we were. We sometimes had to call them with directions in order to get them close enough to find us.

The chow was good and plentiful. The oncoming watch section had first call on the grub.

The cook preparing some standard deserts.

We spent the winter at Pearl Harbor, thawing out from the "cold" of Port Angeles. The next spring we headed for Mare Island for overhaul and to have a snorkel installed. The first thing they did when we got to Mare Island was take off that deck gun. We never saw it again. The snorkel included installing the streamlined "sail" and the conning tower was extended back four feet to make room for the new electronic equipment. Since we no longer needed 5" ammunition the magazine was converted to a quiet sonar room and the JT sonar console was placed there. The radar mast which formerly rose aft of the conning tower shell now came up through the conning tower. The deck was flattened and the bow reshapped for better underwater speed. Even the anchor now had a cover plate for streamlining. This picture shows us on our shakedown cruise in San Pablo Bay with Mare Island in the background.

Underway in San Pablo Bay.

The new snorkel control panel at the dive station. The snorkel head had an electric sensor that would shut the valve if seawater washed over it. The engines would keep running and suck the air out of the boat.

The upgraded dive control station with new indicators. The former bubbles were replaced with more sensitive dial indicators. We actually had an aircraft-type altimeter to monitor the vacuum pulled by the engines. When the snorkel valve shut we could go from sea level to 5000 feet in a few seconds, and when it opened we went back to sea level. That was an ear-popping sensation in both directions.

One addition to the engine rooms was an air diverter to blow any sea water coming down the snorkel to over and behind the engines. Also, when we were snorkeling in Arctic waters the icy air was partially warmed by the engines before being blown through the boat.

After engine room looking forward.

The maneuvering propulsion and engine/generator control panel.

The AC power distribution panel and gyro control panel in control room.

The high-pressure air distribution manifold looking forward.

The high and low-pressure distribution manifold looking aft.

The mess hall with galley passthrough. Important reading material.

The Captain's chair at the wardroom table. Nobody but nobody sat in that chair except the Captain.

After the conversion and shakedown we returned to Pearl Harbor for operations.

The after battery sleeping quarters, bunks "up"

This was "home" for three years. Bunks down.

When a crewman "qualified in submarines" he was christened, clothes and all.

Even the officers were subject to christening when qualifying or for promotion.

The boat was sleek and fast.

After extensive training on the use of the snorkel we were assigned to a tour of duty in WesPac, for the most part Japan. We moored at Yokosuka and operated in Sagami Wan. We cruised as far south as Okinawa to operate there with other UN warships. Those pictures are on another page.

We did ride a bit low in the water, the waves broke over the deck often.

Sometimes the boat just plunged through a wave. We took a lot of salt water over the bridge.

We used up a captain every two years. Our next commanding officer was a Lieutenant Aubrey, called "Sunshine" by the other skippers because he was always cheerful. He was the most junior captain in the fleet, and so now we got all the dirty duty. We actually had to stay out at sea for a full week! That was because the operating area was two hundred miles out and daily commuting was impossible. On these operations we played target for the flyboys using that new gadget called the magnetic anomaly detector (MAD). We would go out one day early and "hide" in an assigned area one hundred miles square. The next day the MAD planes would come searching for us. We watched them through the periscope for awhile flying around, and then the skipper said, "They're not learning anything if they can't find us." So we broached to bring the antennas above water and called them on the radio to give them our relative position. Then we went back to periscope depth and watched them come our way. Finally they did detect us and dropped sonobuoys to track us. I still have a sonobuoy hydrophone from when we would surface and retrieve the buoys after the exercise. Someday I'll find a use for it.

Cruising in the Maui channel with Lanai on the left. The Stickelback is somewhere below. Captain Aubrey is in the red hat.

Work day completed, time for swim call. Notice the gunner on bridge with rifle on shark watch. Actually we felt safer in the water with the shark.

In the late afternoon some used the ships Aqualung gear to scuba dive.


In the fall of 1953 we conducted a "covert" cruise to track the Soviet merchant fleet sailing through the Bering Strait between Alaska and the Siberian peninsula to supply the North Korean war effort. We relieved the Blackfin who had gone up there two months earlier. We stayed at sea for two months. Once we came near to the operating area we rendezvoused with the Blackfin and exchanged mail pouches by breeches buoy. The pouch we received contained operation briefing information for our captain. The pouch we delivered was expected to contain the two months buildup of mail for the crew which we had brought along. But sailors do screw up occasionally. After we had separated and headed north submerged on snorkel, one of the torpedomen in the forward room opened the other mail pouch in which they had been keeping their dirty laundry and found -- the Blackfin's mail. They had inadvertently given the Blackfin the mailbag containing their dirty laundry. Nothing could be done to correct that situation. When we returned to Pearl two months later, the captain of the Blackfin was waiting on the pier and was the first to come aboard. He politely presented our captain with a bundle of freshly cleaned laundry and requested their mail in return.

This is the rusty scupper after our sixty days at sea.

They were correct, aluminum does not rust. The white stuff is saltwater corrosion of aluminum.

We went in the ARD for scrapping and repainting. The ASR in the background.

The screws were removed and taken to the shop for repair.


I left the Caiman in 1954, transferring to the Bluegill as it came through from a WesPac tour. The Bluegill was homeported in San Diego, and I wanted to get off "the rock."


The launching of the USS Caiman, 1944.

The Caiman was later revised again. The sail was redesigned to place the bridge higher without the plastic bubble shield. The topside sonar was removed. More hydraulic masts were added.



The Caiman was finally sold to Turkey. Word was received that it had been accidentially rammed while submerged, and sunk with all hands, in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.


The Caiman in San Francisco Bay, Yerba Buena Island and Bay Bridge in the background.