Last week, “Tidbits” featured an article by LCDR Glenn Smith, USN (Ret.), entitled “One Man, Six Commands at Sea: Captain Frederick Colby Lucas, Jr.” Lucas learned early in his career that life beneath the waves was not for him, yet the exigencies of World War II kept returning him to boats as commanding officer. On 11 November 1943, in the midst of an engagement aboard USS BILLFISH (SS-286), Lucas froze. His engineering officer, LT Charles Rush, took charge, although his actions would not come to light for several decades. In an interview given to the Naval Institute’s Proceedings in 2002, Rush, who would go on to a long and successful naval career, describes how he came to be aboard BILLFISH and what happened on that fateful autumn day. Today’s installment is part four of five.
PROCEEDINGS: How long would you estimate this whole ordeal lasted?
CAPTAIN CHARLES RUSH: I would say it lasted about 16 hours.
PROCEEDINGS: How bad was the air by the time you could surface?
RUSH: We had no way of testing it. We could test for carbon dioxide, but we never did that. There wasn’t much we could do about it anyhow.
PROCEEDINGS: Talk about the damage-control contributions mentioned in your citation.
RUSH: My damage-control decisions were based on the condition and situation of the boat as they developed—angle, speed, depth, and mostly how much I judged the ship could withstand without sinking.
The coordination with Chief Rendernick was outstanding. He would come right into the control room and report in person. He was an eyewitness to what I had to do. Every time the depth charges exploded, I used the noise to mask the sound of blowing ballast from the safety tank. That was to compensate for the weight of water leaking into the boat.
The bucket brigade was Rendernick’s idea. Most of the water was leaking through the stern tube, so he and Chief Odom pumped grease into that. They did not stop the leak, but they slowed it quite a bit. At that point I could pump water from the forward engine room to keep the boat from sinking.
PROCEEDINGS: The story is that the captain made some sort of deal with you.
RUSH: Approximately two weeks later, we had progressed into the South China Sea. We were in a two-boat, loose wolf pack with the BOWFIN (SS-287). It was night, I had the watch, and we were on the surface. Radar picked up a Japanese convoy, coming our way—five big ships and two small escorts.
Our radar also reported the enemy had no radar, so we had the advantage. It was overcast. The BOWFIN detected the same convoy, and it was supposed to be a coordinated attack. No one was on the bridge except the captain and me. We went to battle stations, and he started to make an approach. He got to exactly 10,000 yards. Now, as far as hitting anything is concerned, the maximum you could expect from a Mark 14 torpedo was 3,000 yards. At 10,000 yards he did a 180 degree turn and pulled away at full speed. I told him, “Captain, you can’t do this. This is wrong.”
He said, “You’re right,” and turned around and started his approach again.
During this time, the BOWFIN requested permission to attack. We responded on the radio to go ahead. Meanwhile, again at 10,000 yards, the captain turned around and ran away a second time. And again, I got on him about it and told him he had to go back.
He said, “I can’t do it.”
And I said, “I can. Let me do it.”
Then he said, “I can’t turn over command of the ship.”
I said, “I don’t want command, I want the conn.”
He said, “I can’t do that, but I promise you that when I go back I’ll resign from submarines.”
That was it. I didn’t want to talk to any naval person about what had happened.
PROCEEDINGS: Why not?
RUSH: It would have been accusing the guy of a general court-martial offense. He was going to resign from submarines. Did I want to get him shot? I didn’t see anything to be gained. I thought it was a dirty mess. If I had started a big furor over it, not only would he be damaged, but the Navy and the submarine force would be damaged, too.
So I put in for two weeks’ leave and I bought myself a ticket to Adelaide, which was 2,500 miles away and where there were no Navy people. When I came back, there was a new captain.