Silent Service: Sal and Sea Tales

Hello, all! Sal here. Tautog and the other girls are busy, so I thought I’d pop in to tell you a story instead. After all, I want to add a little bit to what Cal was talking about the other day.

Generally, everyone know me as the “gotta-be-prepared“ shipgirl or the “one that checks everyone’s gear” or some variant like it. I want to point out that as a whole, we shipgirls are very good at taking care of our gear. Subgirls, especially so, because we have to go in an environment that is considerably less supported than say, anyone else fighting on the surface.

Now, you’ve heard from me before. Some of you seem to take what I say to heart. Some even think I’ve got OCD or think I’ve got a fearful temperament or something of the like. Some others like to point to Scul and go, well, she’s definitely the less-fun or the stressful one out of the pair. Even STEC says I’m a “little” prone to worry.

What I want to say is that I take stuff seriously. I take safety seriously. I also take the lives of my friends seriously. For all these reasons, you’ll see me harp on and on about making sure gear is in good shape, that each shipgirl knows how to use it, so on and so forth. It’s because it’s really, really important. After all, if you didn’t think it was important, you wouldn’t really think or worry about it, would you?

See, Cal said the other day that a shipgirl isn’t restricted by her “ship”‘s history. Shouldn’t. Isn’t. I’m actually not quite sure what she was getting at, but you get the idea. At the same time, though, I want to add that we do liberally and freely draw inspiration from the more colorful personalities that we’ve interacted with. You do it. I do it. We all do it. It’s why by common wisdom, they say that happily married old couples become increasingly similar to each other in personality and temperament.

What I’m gonna tell you about is a guy by the name of Mumma. Summary Courts Martial Mumma. He’s one of the Sailfish’s earliest commanders. The guy, if you want me to be honest, was definitely a handful. Think of a guy with the biggest chip you can think of on his shoulder. That’d be him.

Yup, the men definitely didn’t have a good time. The Sailfish had a reputation for being one of the most strictly disciplined subs in the entire navy. If you were one-twelveth of an inch out of line you’d get chewed out. If you questioned orders out of turn you got chewed out. If you brought stuff that the CO didn’t explicitly say you could bring in, you got chewed out. Mumma thought that would be able to get her away from the memories associated with the Squalus’ untimely demise.

(What people didn’t get, and it’s something Scul’ll tell you, is that the Squalus’ accident was one of the biggest miracles in any maritime incident. Yeah, a lot of people died. What about all these people that old Morton managed to save?

You gotta look at each thing as it is. You can’t just always focus only on the bad. Trouble is, some people can’t do that.)

You can kind of guess where this is going. Mumma was an honest man. He was tough on everyone, but he was also really tough on himself. That’s not a winning combination either if you’re the commander of an entire submarine. The men sees and hears your every move, you know, and so if you’re stressed out all the time, it’s gonna make everyone else stressful too.

Mumma was definitely a stressful guy. I’d even say that he’s always afraid. He paces. He snaps at people. He asks questions down to the smallest detail and wants to know exactly what is happening all the time. He barely sleeps. He’s a micromanager. He checks the gauges and the readings and the details on his own constantly.

Does he want to do a bad job? No, of course not. He definitely wanted to be the best sub commander he could be, and wanted to do the best he could.

But do you know what his efforts got him?

He missed a cruiser. Fearful of being discovered, he missed a really easy target.

What’s more, when the Sailfish finally did attack an enemy ship, Mumma’s paranoia got to him. He was so sure that the Japanese had no sonar that he did not know what to do when they started pinging us. Insisting that it was an American destroyer at first, he couldn’t listen to his officers and ordered up periscope. He was so sure in his own expertise and preparedness and knowledge that he dismissed any possibilities that the Japanese might have had sonar, too.

Big mistake. As it turned out, the Japanese did. When they started to depth charge the sub, Mumma freaked out.

The last order he gave was that he was going back to his cabin.

Instead of acknowledging his mistakes or staying on the post of command, he retreated to his cabin. Throughout the entire depth charge attack he stayed inside having his nervous breakdown. The Sailfish returned to her base a few days later, and Mumma was replaced thereafter.

Well, you say, what a story. Indeed. That was the Sailfish’s earlier days. If you ask me, there can be too much of a good thing. Mumma has qualities that would make him a great commander, but those very qualities such as sense of duty and high personal standards ended up being a detriment more than a help. Ultimately, the demands he placed upon himself contributed to the thing that he feared the most, which is failure.

Am I prone to worry? I don’t think so. Some people might say, “a little,” but I’ve got plenty of examples that I look to so that I can tell myself, Sal, you’re going overboard.