War in the Boats: My WWII Submarine Battles

Captain William J. Ruhe describes life on a US Fleet Boat very vividly in his book.

Authors: William J. Ruhe, USN (Ret.)
 Potomac Books
Year: 1994
Reviewer: RedOctober1984

“Here is how it felt. I endorse every word.”-Captain Edward L. Beach, Author of Run Silent Run Deep.

 Captain William J. Ruhe describes life on a US Fleet Boat very vividly in his book. He kept a journal during his time on Fleet Boats during World War II. This book is based off of the journal he kept while he was on the S-37, USS Seadragon, and USS Crevalle.

The book kicks off describing how he landed on the “Rusty Old Sewer Pipe.” We might know this “Pipe” by its other name, the S-37. Ruhe attended Radar School after the Naval Academy. He was sent to install the SD Radars on the Brisbane-based US Submarines. The problem is the radars that he needs “were at the bottom of the ocean somewhere west of Hawaii.” So, he worked at a Radar Repairman on the sub tender Griffin. Ruhe landed a spot on the S-37 because the radars that he was supposed to install are gone. The S-37 is not in good shape. The boat has numerous problems that keep it from going on patrol. At one point, the Skipper of the 37 takes her down to 135 feet and they sustain flooding. The boat is kept off of patrol status for a little while until they can fix all of her problems.

The S-37 is finally released to patrol status. Ruhe, an officer now on the S-37, describes life in an S-boat with great detail. He takes time to describe how hot and stuffy it was inside the “Rusty Old Sewer Pipe” during an all-day submerged patrol. He had to hot-bunk it. Life in these S-boats was not a pretty thing. I’m sure if you are reading this, you have seen Das Boot. From the descriptions that Ruhe gives, life on an S-boat was cramped, smelly, wet, and nerve-wracking. Ruhe also describes that when the S-37 would surface and start up her diesels. Well, the diesels sucked air through open hatches and brought a nice breeze throughout the boat. Wouldn’t it feel good after sleeping in another man’s sweat while cramped inside a floating metal tube? The sailors on the S-37 would turn the mattresses over just to get rid of the previous man’s puddle of sweat. S-boat life was not glamorous at all. It makes the fleet boats look like a great luxury boat.

The suffering aboard the hot, smelly, half-broken S-37 comes to an end when Ruhe transfers to the USS Seadragon. This boat, he describes, is much better. There are more bunks and less “hot-bunking” aboard the Seadragon. Ruhe transferred to the Seadragon right after it made its patrol that the scene from Destination Tokyo is based off of. The Seadragon also had a man who needed his appendix removed. Ruhe transfers after that patrol.

Ruhe also writes about how repetitive and boring patrol duty can be. He describes life aboard a boat very well. On the Seadragon, they fill their free time with games of hearts. The officers of “The Dragon” treated Ruhe as the new guy. So, naturally, he took the queen of spades several times. Always treat the new guy bad, right?

Soon, after a successful patrol (and some leave of course), Ruhe transfers to the boat where he spent the rest of the book. The USS Crevalle embarks on its first patrol with Ruhe as one of the officers. Ruhe goes through a lot with the men of the Crevalle. They come under attack by Japanese ASW ships and two days later they are sitting around making repairs or playing cards. There was an interesting bit that involved the Crevalle where they sat on the bottom to break contact with Japanese ASW.  The attacking Japanese dragged grappling hooks along the bottom to try and hook the Crevalle. Ruhe and his fellow officers tried to find out what that clanking noise was when suddenly they were hooked like a fish. A fellow SUBSIM member told me that they did this before depth charges. I found this interesting. There are many things you can learn about submarine warfare from this book.

To the best of my knowledge, this is one of the most realistic descriptions of US submarine warfare in the Pacific. Some of these men sacrificed it all for their country. Ruhe reveals at the end of the book what happened to most of the men that he knew well. Some survived, some retired, and some gave it all up. If you want to read a realistic description of the World War II Pacific Submarine life and you want to read a book that will feed your naval addiction with action, suspense, humor, and realism I highly recommend this book to any and all people with general interest in submarine warfare.

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