Commander Fred Connaway, USNA Class of ’32

Submitted by John Pope, grandson and son of Col. Joe D. Pope, USAF (Ret.), USNA '56

As Commander of the U.S.S. Sculpin, operating in the South Pacific during WWII; my grandfather lost his life on November 19, 1943 as a result of action against a Japanese destroyer. The Sculpin was sunk and 62 sailors lost their lives, 22 survivors were recovered from Japanese prison camps after the war. On board the Sculpin as Commander of a wolf pack, Commander John P. Cromwell elected to go down with the ship in order to prevent the Japanese from obtaining information he held regarding American operations in the Gilbert Islands. For this action he was posthumously awarded the CMH.

The story I wish to submit actually took place several years earlier while my grandfather was on his midshipman’s summer cruise and takes place in 1931. The following is a transcription, in its entirety, of a letter that my grandfather wrote to his mother while he was at sea.

Enroute Copenhagen, 10 June, 1931:

Dearest Mother,

You should see me now. I wish I were back home or someplace where I could sleep again. For three weeks I am an engineer. Besides having two lectures a day and having to sketch the entire engineering plant and electrical system, and having to write up the lectures, and having to stand eight hours’ watch every day at the most unearthly hours in the fire room, temperature 130 degrees F, I don’t have very much to do except try to find time and a place to sleep. I always have the inclination. Well the first twelve weeks are the hardest, then maybe we can all enjoy September leave. We have been gone a week and in only twelve more days we should be in Copenhagen. I have one consolation, the days seem to pass quickly.

Sunday – 14 June:

After a lapse into unconsciousness for a few days I start more of the sad news. Friday was a twenty three hour day for me. I crawled out at three o’clock in the morning to go on watch. I had no sleep during the day and had another watch from eight p.m. to midnight. I turned in at one a.m. but they set the clocks up an hour so it was two instead of one. Saturday, after three hours sleep, we had Captain’s inspection and I stood watch from 12 to 4 in the afternoon and from 12-4 Sunday morning. We are rather far north and it is very cold. The temperature in the fire room dropped to 117 degrees F and I almost got cold. This morning we suddenly got orders to go to the aid of the Nautilus, Sir Herbert Wilkins’ submarine in which he expects to reach the North Pole. We found it about one o’clock this afternoon after hunting around in a dense fog for quite a while. There was a heavy wind and sea, and the submarine, having one engine and both motors broken down, could not be easily controlled. I don’t see how Mister Wilkins expects to even reach the North Pole in that boat. We spent all afternoon trying to get a tow line out to it and finally succeeded after many hours. It is about nine o’clock now and we have just gotten under way again towing this little tin can. We are going to take it to Queenstown, Ireland and then proceed on our way to Copenhagen. I hope we don’t arrive there late but I’m afraid we shall. I certainly don’t want to miss any of the time we have there and I am especially anxious to go to Berlin.

Thursday – 18 June:

Four more days gone by and we are still a long way from land. We have poked along with this submarine for too long. She broke away Sunday night about and hour after wee took her in tow and we waited until the next morning to try it again. We took her in tow again Monday and went along at about seven knots until Tuesday night when she got one engine started. We then speeded up to eleven knots but early Wednesday morning she broke away again. She has been proceeding under her own power ever since but we have had to go along very slowly so that she could keep up with us. If we keep on we may sight land Saturday. I don’t care much now. I’ve been at sea for so long it doesn’t make much difference. I have gotten so much out of the habit of sleeping that I don’t even take the trouble to turn in at night. We are having quite a blow tonight. Waves are washing over the decks quite frequently and the ship is rolling quite a bit. The poor Nautilus is being tossed around like a cork, and this afternoon her bridge was carried away. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it break up into little pieces pretty soon. – Thus it continues Friday – The little blow turned out to be quite a storm last night. We rolled about thirty degrees on each side nearly all night. My cot slid across the deck three or four times before I finally got it tied down. And then I would roll out unless I held tight. About four o’clock this morning I finally got a good hold and managed to sleep until reveille at five thirty. We tried to keep a spot light on the Nautilus last night but we lost her about ten o’clock. We went round and round in circles trying to find her but were unsuccessful until about three o’clock this morning. After that we continued again. The Nautilus crew was certainly scared last night when we lost them. Their periscope was carried away and they have to stay below with all hatches closed. They have to steer as we tell them. They are about as well fitted to cross the Atlantic as a wheel barrow. Well, we have lost several more hours. I don’t think we ever will get to Copenhagen. We are still rolling between twenty and twenty five degrees but it is nothing. The old ship isn’t very well secured for sea at it is supposed to be. Last night everything that wasn’t fastened down rolled around the decks. A big steel filing cabinet in the Executive Officer’s office fell over and smashed a couple of desks and chairs. The barber chair rolled around and wrecked the barber shop. Several offices and storerooms were wrecked, and the galley came near being wrecked. Finally everything was secured somewhat and there were few serious casualties. One man has a broken leg, another was cut badly, and several were knocked unconscious. Personally, I enjoyed it all very much. I went up to the top side about midnight and the old ship was almost submerged. Every time she rolled one side would go under, and the sky would just stand on end. We couldn’t use our mess table this morning and it looked doubtful for a while whether we would get anything to eat or not. I found that it takes quite an artist to balance oneself and a cup of coffee at the same time. Also it is rather peculiar to look at your cup and have it horizontal without spilling anything. I’m just praying that Ruth Nichols doesn’t take off until we get out of the way. I don’t want to have to go all over the ocean looking for her. As it is we will have been at sea about twenty days when we reach Copenhagen.

Sunday – 21 June:

We are still having our troubles. The Nautilus broke down completely Friday afternoon. They thought they would be able to fix it in a few hours so we waited patiently until Saturday morning. The new sent a tow line over, and also sent a boat over so that our men could make it fast. That is the only way to make sure that it wouldn’t come loose again. We have been going ahead at about five knots and should arrive at Queenstown tomorrow. We are scheduled to arrive in Copenhagen the day after tomorrow but we shall still be more than a thousand miles away on account of this submarine.

Wednesday – 24 June:

We arrived at Queenstown early Monday morning, let go the submarine and started on our way at fourteen knots. We ran into a fog Monday afternoon and were almost rammed by a trawler. The fog lasted until Tuesday morning when we speeded up to fourteen knots after making five all night. We have now passed through the English Channel and are in the North Sea. We are heading almost north and it is getting colder every minute. We expect to anchor early Friday morning. I am leaving Sunday for a four day trip to Berlin. I return to the ship Wednesday evening, and we leave Friday morning for Glasgow. I stood electrical and radio watches last week and am standing engine room watch as a chief machinist’s mate. I have only one day’s duty in Copenhagen. Our second period of three weeks starts Saturday. I shall have watches and details in a deck division during that period.

Thursday – 2 July:

It has been a long time since I last wrote. I haven’t had a chance since we have been here and the mail closes in fifteen minutes. We went to Berlin and had a wonderful time. I bought a wonderful pair of binoculars, but I had to borrow some money to get them. Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that but they are something I shall always need in the service. They cost me $55.00. The same glasses cost more than id="mce_marker"00.00 in the U.S. I borrowed $45 but I think I can pay back id="mce_marker"5 or $20 before the end of the cruise. I wonder if you will lend me the balance. Please consider it a loan if you can spare it.

Must close. Love, Fred


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