My journalist colleague and author Ed Offley responded to a shorter version of “All the Ships at Sea” that I posted on Facebook. He said the sub is likely attached to COMSUBLANT, which stands for Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic. That is, the Atlantic Fleet. In this case, it’s part of an aircraft carrier task force based in Norfolk.
Ed added a poignant story that relates to the Navy patrol boat dude who gave me the wrong direction to turn when avoiding the oncoming sub. Ed said this was one of JFK’s favorite sea stories from World War II.
There was a rear admiral in the Pacific Fleet who had attained a firm reputation as a master tactician with his aircraft carrier battle group, winning multiple victories with a dazzling array of different maneuvers. But his staff was baffled by one quirk the admiral showed at each encounter.
Dash Below Deck
Usually just minutes before launching aircraft, the admiral would suddenly step down from his bridge chair and dash below to his sea cabin, lock the door, and remain within for about ten minutes. Then he would return to the flag bridge with a satisfied smile and get on with the battle.
After about a year of this, one of his junior officers could take it no more, and when the admiral was ashore during a brief port visit, the young lieutenant drilled a tiny hole in the door.
So when the admiral next jumped from his chair and hurried below, the lieutenant counted to fifty, then followed him.
“What does he do in there?” The flag staff asked when the lieutenant returned to the bridge.
“He opened his safe, took out an envelope, pulled out the single sheet of paper and read it,” the lieutenant said. “That’s all he did.”
The mystery remained unsolved, until one night a few months later when the admiral went for a walk on the flit deck, stepped too close to the edge, and fell overboard.
As the man-overboard alarm went up, the entire crew jumped into action, mustering for a roll call as the helmsman threw the ship into a hard turn to get back to the spot of the accident. The admiral’s staff got busy too.
Armed with crowbars and other tools, a half-dozen officers raced to the sea cabin, forced the lock on the safe, pried open the door and pulled out the solitary envelope inside.
Silent with the strain, one of them pulled out the sheet of paper and held it so that all could read the single line of text, which read:
“Port: left. Starboard: right.”