USS Cobbler

I arrived at Naval Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, at 11:00 PM on a rainy, fog bound evening. Wandering along the waterfront past all those low black shapes, I searched for the USS Cobbler, a diesel-powered submarine. A sub! Yeah, our squadron’s primary mission was anti-submarine warfare. So why not see what it was like experiencing the role of the hunted versus that of the hunter.

I found a watch officer who directed me to the boat. However, after a confused conversation, it was apparent that those around at that hour were not expecting me. I was told to find a bunk somewhere and the captain would deal with me in the morning. It was not a warm welcome.

The next day I learned the captain had been aware of my assignment and explained the Cobbler would be sailing from New London to Halifax, Nova Scotia. En route it would be conducting a training exercise with a patrol squadron out of Naval Air Station Brunswick, Maine, my new home base.

The captain and other officers were polite, but rather distant. I felt as if I was in a different branch of the service. It may have been the rumored arrogance of naval aviators that pit my shipmates on guard, but that was not the case with the enlisted crew who were open and friendly.

I’d never seen such courteous sailors, although that might be a prerequisite for submarine duty where spaces are confined. Curious about my flight training, the crew wanted to know all about airplanes, especially aircraft carrier landings.

The USS Cobbler was a celebrity. Walter Cronkite had done a television special aboard the Cobbler for the show 20th Century. A copy of the documentary could be viewed in the boat’s wardroom.

I had no problem dealing with what people assume might be claustrophobic conditions. I banged my head a few times but swinging through the low narrow openings between watertight compartments soon became easy. Operating the head (toilet) was a challenge requiring the turning of several different valves, but I learned.

Formalities in the submarine were relaxed; both crew and officers wore civilian shoes sweaters and T-shirts. There was no sense of night or day. People were either coming off or going on watch during the twenty-four-hour day, sleeping in four-hour stretches. Meals were available at all hours, although one meal consisted primarily of breakfast items.


As a conventual diesel-powered boat, we needed to spend several hours each day on the surface recharging the batteries. Whenever we surfaced, I headed for the conning tower, not because I needed to escape the confines below, but because I just enjoyed being topside. Standing in the open air with binoculars around my neck checking out distant ships, I loved the feel of the wind and salt spray in my face, gazing out at shoreless horizons. Gad, I loved it. Even in rain showers, I would don rain gear and ride the tower.

Halfway to Halifax, we were attacked by a P2V Neptune aircraft, my same aircraft type. That started the exercise with the patrol squadron. Submariners all think that fly-boys are undisciplined show-offs. I had to chuckle at the sneers on the bridge as the flight crew discussed the exercise they wanted to set-up with the sub over the radio.

“Roger, Roger, Sea Fish Alpha. Why don’t you boys pull the plug, drop down one hundred feet and hold course three-five-zero. Pop up again when hearing our signal, five Papa Delta Charlies, over.” The Papa Delta Charlies refer to PDCs—practice depth charges—small harmless explosive signaling devices.

After an hour or so during which the sub maintained a constant course for the aircraft to practice tracking, the sub was then allowed to evade using its own maneuvers and deceptions. The results were debatable since no one was actually fired upon. In their minds, I think the aircrew felt they had won, but the sub crew probably thought, “No way. We gave you the slip.”

Once in Nova Scotia, one of the flight crews from Brunswick picked me up, having flown up on a training flight. My time abord the Cobbler had been interesting. I think I may have even convinced one of two of the officers that not all Navy Airedales are pompous showoffs. If aviation had not been my first choice, I would have been happy as a submariner.

2 thoughts on “USS Cobbler

  1. What a great post! When I was in my early 30s, I worked in PR for Newport News Shilbuilding, and I got to go on sea trials aboard the George Marshall fast-attack nuclear sub and the Carl Vinson (CVN-70) aircraft carrier. Your description of life aboard the USS Cobbler, including your time spent in the conning tower, brings back good memories. I hope to learn more about your time in aviation.

  2. Great post, Jim, and I enjoyed reading it. I share your affinity for subs. I was only aboard one once, a fleet sub, much like Cobbler, during visitors day one Sunday in Norfolk, VA. I highly recommend the movie Das Boot and the non-fiction book Thunder Below, by Eugene Fluckey. It is about the famous (among sub buffls) the boat Barb, skippered by Gene Fluckey. One of my fraternity brothers was and EM (radioman) on Barb and was on every war patrol the Fluckey made on Barb. He had some great stories, one about potatoes in the showers until the first Jap sinking on each patrol.

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