Fire Onboard! The events of August 25, 1949 according to CT1 Austin:
“After the COCHINO pulled off station, the submarine quickly ran into the middle of one HELL of a storm that [caused] the series parallel switch to short out in the aft battery. We had rendezvoused with TUSK early in the morning and were conversing while at snorkel depth in very heavy seas. Of course, when the seas overwhelmed the snorkel the flapper valve closed and we drew air for the diesels [engines] from inside the boat which not only raised hell with your ears popping every few seconds, but raised the hydrogen levels over 5 percent due to the equalization of warm air flowing over the battery banks when the snorkel popped out again.
When the switch shorted out in aft battery room it arced through four bunks, causing an explosion in the batteries, and blacked both my eyes (I was on No. 2 periscope, right?). Things went from bad to worse causing all hands except the maneuvering room and after torpedo room crews to head topside. Both quartermaster/signalmen were gassed and out of action and so were the radiomen. By this time, of course, we had surfaced and TUSK also popped up many miles away. Bob and I were in the shears (housing and support for periscopes) with only dungarees on, as were most of the crew and others were in the topside conning tower. The water temperature was less than 50 degrees and the winds were steady at 20-25 miles per hour. The shears were covered with the “sail” which kept the frigid wind off us (must have been fifteen guys in the shears) but water was pouring in on us. The only time in the next 14 hours that I was warm was when the guy on a ladder rung above me pissed on me. We lost all power and the TUSK surely couldn’t guess what the hell our problem was so the skipper pulled me out of the shears and from then on I was the signalman.”
From Blind Man’s Bluff:
“Man overboard! Man overboard! It was Joseph Morgan, one of COCHINO’s cooks. “Gotta go pick him up,” Benitez mumbled, now entirely focused on moving his sub closer to Morgan, who was barely visible in the turbulent seas. Just then someone spotted TUSK off the starboard quarter. Austin had, by now, made his way onto the bridge beside Benitez. Austin was the only person left standing who knew enough code to transmit a message. He hadn’t used semaphores since boot camp, but now he grabbed hold of two flags and raised his hands high. At 1112, fighting the wind, he spelled out, “MAN OVERBOARD DEAD AHEAD X FIRE IN THE AFT BATTERY.”
… Austin picked up his flags and began to signal. “COME ALONGSIDE WE MAY HAVE TO ABANDON SHIP.” As soon as Benitez receive Doc Eason’s fires reports, Austin picked up the flags again. “REQUIRE MEDICAL ASSISTANCE X FIVE MEN INJURED. X ONE BADLY BURNED.”
… Meanwhile, the captain knew he had to try to transfer the rest of the crew over to TUSK. In the nighttime haze, Austin did not want to take a chance that TUSK’s men would no longer see the signals flags. So he picked up a battle lantern and using its toggle switch spelled out in Morse code, “ANOTHER EXPLOSION. CLOSE ME.” Ten minutes later, TUSK came along and transfer of personnel to her was commenced. At 0036, because of a starboard list and low freeboard aft, Benitez ordered COCHINO abandoned. Just before COCHINO went down, 76 men were transferred from her deck to TUSK and Benitez was the last to leave. Three minutes later COCHINO sank 100 nautical miles off the coast of Norway in 950 feet of water (71:35N 23:35E).
From CT1 Austin:
“The upshot of it all was that we sunk, were rescued by TUSK and headed for Hammerfest with a loss of 6 men from TUSK (a story in itself), the two dead RCA civilians techs, several of our burned and wounded survived even the treatment they received in the “hospital” in Hammerfest. After a day passed the TUSK was ordered to Tromsoe [city in northern Norway] with nearly 170 “crew” in all (about twice the normal complement). In the hassle of being rescued my log book got away (I had tucked in my belt) and I had one hell of a time logging the “numbers” on arrival back in the states.
After Tromsoe we were asked if we would rather fly to Oslo and thence home or would we rather ride TUSK. Not one man defected although after some of those daily trim dives I had second thoughts, I can tell you.
Of course the U.S. newspapers were rampant with misinformation and banner headlines drove my wife and kids crazy until we got to Tromsoe and were able to wire home and direct our dependents to New London Conn where we arrived a couple of weeks later. I was transferred to DOGFISH (SS 350) while waiting to give testimony at the hearings board (OPNAV speeded that up for Schaeffer and I) and it was during that time that LCDR Bill Lederer of PIO [preliminary inquiry officer] gathered material for his book ‘The Last Cruise.’
I got a nice bunch of commendatory letters from COMSUBLANT, CO Cochino, etc, but the one I prize most highly originated at OP201X and was signed by Adm. John R. Redman, CNO.
After we left New London I never set eyes on Bob Schaeffer so I don’t know what happened to him. Likewise Moose (whose first name I can’t remember) but I may have run across some of the other CU32 members in the next ten years.”
** We do not want to diminish, in anyway, the selfless acts of heroism, bravery and professionalism displayed by the officers and crew of USS COCHINO (SS 345). The purpose of this series is to highlight CTC Harris Monroe “Red” Austin’s role as the first submarine direct support operator. **
Blind Man’s Bluff – History Channel Documentary:
CTC Harris Monroe “Red” Austin
The Austin Family
Blind Man’s Bluff – The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage