Cavalla Crew Interview

Ernest J. Zellmer

Cavalla's Guns

During the period that Cavalla was fitting out in New London, the Balao class was in the works and some of the later Gato boats got some of the equipment that would be standard on the Balao class boats. Initially Cavalla had a 4" 50 caliber gun on the foredeck and had mounts for 20mm guns on the cigarette deck and the platform forward of the conning tower. The 20 mm guns had only the mounts installed; the guns had to be mounted after surfacing. While at Pearl Harbor prior to the 1st patrol, two windows were cut into each side of the sail (they are visible in the photo you sent me) and mounts for two 50 caliber machine guns were installed there. While at Freemantle, prior to the 3rd patrol, the 20mm gun on the cigarette deck was replaced with a 40mm gun. The 40 mm was a wet mount. The gun was too heavy and large to be dismounted. As a result, the gunners mates had to conduct maintenance on the 40mm every night. The 4'" needed less frequent lubrication and maintenance as it was a "dry" mount with a hinged cover for the breech and a tompkin for the barrel. While at Guam prior to the 6th patrol, the 4" gun was replaced with a 5" 24 caliber wet mount gun.

We also had a couple of 30 caliber machine guns, one or two sub-machine (Tommy) guns, several 30-06 Springfield rifles, and a few 45 caliber automatic pistols. Later the 30-06's were changed out and we got carbines in their place. The trouble with the latter was the lack of penetration power. The Springfields would penetrate mine casings and eventually sink them; the carbines usually ricocheted off the mine casing and we had trouble sinking them.

(back row) LTJG Edward L. Eeds, USNR; LT Authur C. Rand, Jr., USN; LT Thomas B. Denegre, Jr., USNR; LT Edward R. Eberle, USNR; LTJG Edward C. Page, Jr., USNR

(front row)ENS Edward J. Koehne, Jr., USN; ENS Vance L. Cathey, USNR; LTJG Ernest J. Zellmer, USN

The 20mm. and the 40mm. would make short work of a mine --- if you could hit it. They were less accurate against such a small, bobbing target. If they hit the mine, it was more likely to detonate. We preferred their sinking to exploding and throwing shrapnel our way.

Cavalla's Flag

Cavalla SS flag The Cavalla's symbol developed because the Skipper directed me (Communications Officer) to come up with one for the boat while we were in the pre-commissioning period. First to the encyclopedia to find out what kind of fish and where it could be found. Cavalla's is a tropical fish found off the coasts of South America and in the Caribbean. From that came the idea of a Spanish origin and the Sombrero to perch on its head. Had to be warlike, thus the torpedo was tucked under the fin and we had a simple symbol. The idea now needed an artist; and our yeoman was one. The New London Day provided the next assist and engraved several printer's plates for use in printing stationary, etc. The Base used the symbol on the cover in printing the Commissioning Party programs. The flag came later. It was made by a girlfriend from home who sent it to me out in the Pacific. We first flew it returning from the third patrol. I still have the flag and have since added the Japanese flags for the ships Cavalla's sank. When Cavalla's became an SSK, the symbol was changed to fit the mission. Or. possibly, they had no record of the original and thus created one.

Torpedo Off Port Stern!

We were on the surface west of the Philippines when the high periscope watch sighted a torpedo heading toward us. The Officer of the Deck was alerted, went all ahead flank and turned to run parallel to the torpedo track. He then sounded the collision alarm. The quick maneuver caused the torpedo to miss to port.

After all was over and we had begun to clear the area of the Japanese submarine, I made my way back to the maneuvering room. On watch was our Chief Electrician's Mate; he was highly agitated. As he saw me, he said, "Mr. Zellmer, if that was a drill, I want off this submarine as soon as we get back to Freemantle." When I assured him it was a true emergency, he calmed down and took pride in the prompt and proper actions of all involved from the seaman at the periscope to the Officer of the Deck, to the engineers at the diesels and finally to himself and his mate on the motor controllers. This veteran of many patrols could take the impact on his nerves, which were always stressed when we were out on patrol, as long as the threat was real. He didn't want the extra stress from a drill when we were in enemy waters.

Fire in the Motor Room

On return from one patrol, we had very strong winds and high seas as we got to Freemantle, Australia. Just as we were lining up to go into the channel, we had a fire in the motor room caused by arcing in a main power switch. All main power was cut off and the anchor was dropped. An Electrician's Mate and I went down into the main motor flats with CO2 fire extinguishers to stop the fire.

Meanwhile, with heavy seas and winds the anchor dragged and we were headed toward the beach. Finally, the fire was put out and power was back on one shaft. Cavalla limped into the harbor. With the fire out, we hastily climbed back up into the maneuvering room and found we were very short of breath and panting furiously. The fire extinguishers had laid down a lot of CO2, which being heavier than air, had accumulated in the flats, displacing our oxygen. A few more minutes and we would have had to be pulled out.

Cavalla's Mascot

Among those assigned bunks in the after torpedo room was the Dingo pup that made one patrol. Initially the pup had the run of the boat and was the center of much attention. However, soon after the start of the patrol, he chose the Skipper's stateroom as his personal toilet. Only once!

From then on he was permanently exiled to the after torpedo room where he continued to be untrainable. He frequently chose a remote spot under the torpedo skids and caused no end of work moving bunks, torpedoes, etc. in order to clean up after him. After that patrol, he was returned to his Australian home. A canvas blanket was made for him to wear when we returned from that patrol. It had the Cavalla symbol and flags for Shokaku (CV-6), Shimotsuki (DD-111), and the small patrol craft we sank in a battle surface attack.

May 1997

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