Tuesday, December 20, 2005

 

Sailor's diary reveals horrors of war

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Pekin Times
By Gaye Maxson
December 16, 2005


Helen Tomlin reads husband George TomlinÕs
journals of his duty aboard the U.S.S. Crevalle
during World War II. She did not know that the
journals existed until after his death. Photo by
Gaye Maxson / Times correspondent

MASON CITY - While going through her husband's personal effects after his death two years ago, Helen Tomlin came across two pocket-sized black leather notebooks.

She picked up one of the books and read the first yellowed pages.“George Lawrence Tomlin, aboard the U.S.S. Crevalle,” it said in faded ink.

“I looked at it and saw it was a diary, and I had never known it existed,” Helen Tomlin said. “He never said anything about it at all. I never went through his things.”

George Tomlin watched the Crevalle, a submarine, being built and commissioned in Portsmouth Naval Yard June 24, 1943. The books were journals of his ship's engagements with the Japanese fleet, with entries from Nov. 9, 1943 through June 26, 1945.

Tomlin was an electrician's mate first class and slept and worked in the aft battery - the torpedo room. He omitted the mundane, but gave emotional descriptions of many battles.

In one of the first entries, the Crevalle came upon 10 ships and three destroyer escorts near Balabak Strait in the South China Sea. The water was only 150 feet deep.

A 20,000-ton tanker was “staring them in the face,” wrote George.

They knew an attack in shallow water would be rough. The Crevalle torpedo crew fired four “fish” and heard two explosions. The tanker sank fast, and the three destroyers zoomed toward them.

“Down we went to the bottom, rigged for a depth charge attack,” Tomlin wrote. “At 0716, Hell really broke lose. The charges came fast and furious. By 0733, 55 charges had hit within a few yards. Oh, but it was awful. Everyone in the boat was scared to death.

“My heart pounded so hard and fast I couldn't keep up with counting. Sweat was rolling and pouring on the deck. I laid down and thought of home. The control room deck had an inch of human sweat covering the deck."

“We laid on the bottom for an hour. They'd come over the top of us and stop. Would they drop the final charge? No one knew!”

With each charge, the submarine would shake, fly off the bottom, and then settle down to await the next. The final charge never came and the Crevalle crept away, scraping the bottom at one-third speed.

“That morning, a Saturday morning, I lay in my bunk and drawed my pay of $174 a month. I'd have gladly traded anyone at home. I've never heard such loud explosions in my life. Oh what a terrible experience. I hope never to go through with another such horrible experience,” the young sailor wrote.

But more harrowing experiences were to follow.Sept. 11, 1944, “was almost the fatal day,” he wrote. “No boat ever came closer and survived.”

After a trim dive, the bow went under and water rushed through the hatch into the conning tower, flooding the pump and control room. The 312-foot ship was at a perilous 42-degree angle, with the bow 200 feet down and the stern on the surface. One of two men washed away was never recovered, though they searched for 12 hours just 60 miles from a Japanese naval base. They couldn't dive, and were at one-third speed all day.

The submarine had no compass, radar, radio, meters or indicators on the entire ship.

“Our air banks were low and we had no air compressor - no periscope, no hydraulics system. In fact, all we had was main power,” George wrote.

It took four days and nights to get back to “the barn” at Perth, Australia, clearing barriers and being guided by the stars.

After repairs, the crew was sent on more runs.“Please, oh Lord, let's not have any more (Japanese) ships come near us so that we won't have anything to fight,” he wrote in April 1945.

The Crevalle established one of the best records in the fleet and emerged from a dangerous mission with “Hydeman's Hellcats” in the Sea of Japan where other ships were lost.

Mere miles from the Japanese coast, his handwriting grew more scrawled as he told of oxygen shortages and anxiety over the continued depth charges the submarine endured.

Tomlin's last entry June 26, 1945, left little indication it would be his last. The Crevalle left Japanese waters on three main engines, sailing through thick fog. One ship, the U.S.S. Bonefish, was unaccounted for.

“It was a real rough sea,” George wrote.


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