Patience is a Virtue: A Cold Waters AAR

By Jack Trumbull 13 Sep 2018 1

As my nuclear submarine groaned pitifully, stuck against the seabed off the coast of Norway, I paused to reflect on my actions. Mistakes had been made, a thought that was punctuated by the third torpedo entering the water and bearing down directly on the sitting duck that was the USS Honolulu. As a learning experience, the lesson can be boiled down to this: be patient, or you will definitely die.

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The story of the ill-fated Los Angeles-class submarine began one mission prior. The Honolulu had been tasked with sinking a Soviet sub that was filled with Spetsnaz commandos, bound for Spitsbergen. I steamed straight for Spitsbergen from Scotland, hoping to be there waiting for them when they arrived. Running into the enemy at full steam will frequently begin an encounter with them much too close for comfort (particularly when you’re facing another sub), so getting there first was paramount. Luckily, it seemed that I had arrived just before them, and was waiting quietly in the shallows for them when they showed up.

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I entered combat under the protective shadow of ice, shielding me from any would-be interlopers. Enemy planes rarely factor into fights in Cold Waters, but when they do arrive, they are extremely deadly. For the time being though, it seemed that it was just the Honolulu and some amount of enemy submarines, several kilometers out from the edge of the ice. I began moving toward them, but the enemy almost instantly fired a torpedo in my direction. I had been moving fast enough to cavitate, creating a noisy trail of bubbles behind the Honolulu. I quickly switched to “ultra-quiet,” a state in which all non-essential functions on the ship cease. The Honolulu was now much more difficult for enemy ships and torpedoes to detect, but it also meant that I would be unable to reload any empty torpedo tubes or repair the ship. More importantly, it restricts the speed to a slow shuffle of 5 knots. The Honolulu now crept hopefully past the enemy submarine and its torpedo, which began its search.

Curiously, the enemy set their torpedo in a circular search pattern shortly after they launched it. As I puttered away, several hundred feet below the torpedo, it continued to spin aimlessly, searching for me. I launched a dummy torpedo to see if I could draw it away from its position, still fearing that it might see me at any moment, but it ignored the dummy torpedo completely. Instead, after several more revolutions, it spun around and locked onto the sub that had launched it. I watched in disbelief as the submarine apparently accepted its fate and took the torpedo in its starboard side, sinking it.

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The mission ended abruptly, with the only enemy vessel in the area sinking itself. I was sent hearty congratulations by the commander of the submarine fleet, who I imagined was left unaware of the exact circumstances of the skirmish. Shortly after, I was given another mission to head off troop convoys that were bound for Trondheim. The Honolulu was still mostly armed, only having fired a single dummy torpedo, so I headed straight for Trondheim. Again, I raced there as quickly as I could, wanting to make sure I beat the enemy to their destination, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was there about a day before the enemy. I went over the Honolulu’s stock of weapons during the downtime, loading a missile into one of the 4 weapon tubes I had available. I knew that I would be facing at least a few surface ships, given that there were troops being transported, and generally these formations travelled with destroyer escorts. Satisfied that the one missile would be enough for the start of the battle, I waited in the shallows off Trondheim for what was to be the Honolulu’s doom.

The first thing I noticed when I entered combat with the enemy fleet was that the seabed was only about 350 feet deep, which is not a lot of room to operate in for a submarine. Choosing to fight in the shallows was my first major mistake. My second major mistake was firing a missile at the first enemy contact I saw, which appeared to be a troop transport over 10 kilometers away. I switched to ultra-quiet immediately after firing to hopefully escape the watchful eyes of enemy escorts, and watched the weapon camera with glee as the missile detonated in the side of the transport. My good mood was soon cut short by sound of splashes all around the Honolulu. At least 3 torpedoes had almost immediately entered the water right on top of my ship. One, thankfully, entered another circular search pattern several kilometers away, but two others homed in on the Honolulu almost immediately. I quickly switched out of ultra-quiet and attempted to bring the Honolulu’s speed up to full at 33 knots in order to evade the torpedoes. Unfortunately, they were too close to be dodged, and even my desperate torpedo shot did not distract them. They hit nearly simultaneously, badly damaging the reactor of the Honolulu, as well as the pumps and ballast. With these essential parts of the sub out of commission, the Honolulu lazily sank to the seabed and waited as more torpedoes passed by overhead. 

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Although the sub was in a perilous position, I was forced to keep the Honolulu out of ultra-quiet in order to begin repairing the ballast and the reactor. The sub was completely immobile without the reactor, and it was currently wedged in sand at the bottom of the ocean, and needed to rise toward the surface before it could move forward again. However, just as I finished repairs on the pump, yet another torpedo entered the water and headed straight for me. It was completely unavoidable, and I watched helplessly as it finally finished off the wounded ship. The Honolulu listed to the side, with a final third gash opened in her port. The crew largely managed to survive and see rescue, but the sub itself was finished.

The death of the Honolulu provided a textbook example of exactly what not to do as a submarine captain. Fighting in the shallows is a great way to get trapped, and immobility can kill. But the most important lesson future submariners can take away from the case of the Honolulu is that patience is the surest key to victory. I had been forced to be patient in the fight against the Soviet submarine, and my patience paid off by his impatience backfiring. I had not learned my lesson though, and my impatience off Norway landed the Honolulu in an impossible situation. Luckily, there’s always more submarines.

Cold Waters is available on Steam. Jack is one of our new contributors, members of the wargaming community with stories they want to share on their favourite games!

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