Once upon a time in the west (several meanings of west here) I had an interesting conversation about World War One naval battles. The title of this post is obviously a play on words regarding the name of one of those battles, the Battle of Dogger Bank, though as I recall the conversation revolved specifically around the Battle of Jutland. But perhaps you see what I did and why.
First the strenger Vortrag, or argumentum ad intellectum pertinens poneretur. You needn't peruse the lecture; you may safely skip down to the next row of octotherps (crosshatches). No I will not call them by that other name.
Only at your peril may you trust the message of any particular human making authoritative pronouncements. Particularly if they throw out a bunch of high-sounding foreign phrases or big scientifical-sounding words. Do not trust the message on the strength of your perception of the speaker's authority or expertise!
"Well of course," the generic reader might say. "Common sense. I never do that."
Yet the majority of first-world humans do exactly that, almost all the time.
If you dig into the literature and carefully read sound, science-based papers on human behavior, you'll find that the evidence shows most first-world humans are convinced they are smart enough to assess the validity of a verbal pronouncement based solely on the base pronouncement and without assessing the actual evidence backing the argument.
All humans who are not fundamentally cognitively flawed have an enormous capacity to be smart. Almost all first-world humans spend almost all of their thinking time in the mode of the good subjects of the naked emperor.
None of this makes first-world humans bad. Nevertheless, most first-world humans have trained themselves to -- when it comes to thinking (and to steal a phrase from the greatest president of all time) -- behave stupidly.
In the first world, where two or more millennia of Western thought provide the basis for civilization, the burden of maintaining society falls directly upon the individual. Today most first-worlders believe this not at all. "I am so small and civilization is so large..." To modern thought the proposition seems absurdly paradoxical. Nevertheless, the alternative is a state of being which is fundamentally and profoundly paradoxical.
How to fix the world then? To put it bluntly and in good old sailor talk, fuck the world. Unfuck yourself before you fix the world. That's the only way you can understand the problem and formulate a strategy which is helpful rather than harmful.
It's a lot of work though. And we first-worlders really aren't into that whole work thing.
Now why would anyone trust this argument?
On with the show.
Summer of 1986. And into the fall of 1986. USS Boat and the Boat Battlegroup had ventured across the pond to firetruck with the Soviets in a NATO exercise called Northern Wedding. It was kind of a big deal, and from my perspective I was getting full measure of that sailor stuff I so enjoyed.
Before the deployment had even really begun, I drew a medevac which I wrote about previously.
Northern Wedding was a great deal of fun as far as I was concerned. It was also a great deal of work. I did a lot of flying and got to learn and practice more ASW than I'd done in the previous six years combined. I continued to work mostly nights on the roof, and it was sometimes quite unpleasant up there what with steaming around north of the Arctic Circle. It seemed I was always either in a wet suit for flyin' or foul weather gear for roof-rattin'. The pace of operations kept most of the crew busy as hell, and that's the kind of busy that can really blow the cobs out. It was great.
Now the thing that prompted this edition of a self-indulgent trip down memory lane is that when I checked over at Sarge's place the other day, there was a big, beautiful picture of SMS Seydlitz, just beat to shit and in some peril of sinking at the pier following the Battle of Jutland 103 years ago (can that be right?).
|Source: Sarge's Place.|
The image snapped me instantly back to Northern Wedding and the port of Wilhelmshaven, which was then located in West Germany. I understand they've since relocated the place and I've no idea what country it's parked in these days. Anyway, I stood on that very pier away back in 1986, and believe it or not, looking at that very image.
Before I get to that, let me do this.
I flew another medevac on the first or second day of the exercise. I remember exactly zero details of the patient I transported or of his malady or injury. Given that fact I suppose it was relatively minor, though I'm sure it was a big deal to the patient. Anyway, I offloaded said patient at the Royal Norwegian Air Force Base at Stavanger.
Even then it was a joint-use facility, a fighter/recon/maritime patrol base which also hosted rotating NATO air assets (99.9 percent U.S. and U.K.), as well as a modern civilian international(ish) airport. And mostly because Norway, RNAFB Stavanger was actually located at Sola, 10-15 miles from Stavanger. Foreigners. Hmmph.
No, actually I jest. It was only a curiosity in the Land Where No One Is Named Quisling Evermore, and it didn't matter where we deposited the medevac patient, so long as it was the "right" place. And it must have been that place because to the best of my recollection I never got rang up for misplacing the fellow.
However I do remember that the weather, which was a little not so bad when we launched in the early evening, was absolute dogshit by the time we landed. It was such a howling gale they stuffed us in a hangar rather than risk losing a dozen ramp rats trying to tie the big Sea King down on the transient line. Which meant we'd have to RON!
The next morning we hit the Norwegian Officers Mess for breakfast. As far as they knew we were five Flaggoffiserer, or at least a handful of korporaler. No one was about to care anyway, we were just another bunch of branbill-ing amerikanerne. Breakfast was a buffet, and there were platters heaped high with fried eggs and toasted black bread. And herring prepared at least 31 ways, including a tasty fermented concoction with onions, mint, and sjokoladebiter. It was really quite a good breakfast. For certain values of good. And certain values of breakfast.
There was a big crowd and only a single fellow taking money at a cash register, so there was a line. I went off to hit the head and when I returned the rest of the crew had made it past the money taker. When it was my turn I reached deep into my flight suit chest pocket for some of the dollars I'd turned into Kroner the night before. The kassaapparat gnome didn't speak American and I didn't habla Norsk, so I just held out a fistful of shiny coins. He pulled out several, then quickly cast a shifty-eyed glance around before pulling out several more of the biggest, shiniest ones.
Later when I asked the other guys what they'd paid for breakfast they weren't sure but shared similar observations. None of us spoke the language or knew how the money worked, so we had no idea how much we'd spent. When we got back to the ship we did some counting, adding, subtracting, and checking with both mom and a math teacher. All together the five of us had paid about $190 for breakfast. We were pissed of course but you had to see the humor in getting screwed by a major (ahem) NATO medsammensvoren for a pile of stinky fish and cold fried eggs. It's not just a job, it's an Adventure!
I hope that wasn't too much goggleNorsk and that you understand I'm being kaustisk og ironisk. The Norwegians were in fact very valuable partners. In my personal experience though, they tended to be, from my 1986 American perspective, insular, standoffish, and cranky. Obviously I didn't meet every single one. No doubt there were a great many who were just rude. The girls were quite Scandinavian though, so there's that.
The Norwegians I know and love today tell me that if I think they're bad, I should check out the Finns. I actually treasure the Finns I know, which probably speaks to the nature and depth of my pathology. YMMV.
Okay, back to Wilhelmshaven. We'd been operating hard. I was in that exhausted state where I kept saying "bring it on" but also kept tripping over knee-knockers and bumping my head. The world had gone as chewy as saltwater taffy. I existed in the moment and cherished each moment, including our night check Flight Deck Battle Dressing Station (FDBDS) ceremony of consuming a single warm beer at the beginning of our watch.
It was actually Egyptian Coca-Cola. Which should inform the reader of how goofy-tired we all were.
Anyway, we pulled into Wilhelmshaven, anchoring out as was always the case.
To my pleasure, I drew Beach Guard for the duration of the port visit.
As far as I was concerned, Beach Guard was a treasure, one of the few gold-plated really good deals provided by an unsuspecting navy.
Beach Guard duty meant being a member of the Beach Detachment (Beach Det) which was the formal and administrative presence of the command ashore whenever the ship was in a foreign port. The Beach Det was always housed in a structure (sometimes temporary) hard by Fleet Landing, which was the place where the Carrier's liberty boats disgorged and retrieved the crew going ashore for liberty.
At the Beach Det "shack" there was always a crew on duty, 24/7. There was a Beach Det Officer, who was essentially the OOD or Officer of the Deck/Day ashore. There was a Petty Officer of the Watch, usually a First Class/E-6, and a watch section consisting of (usually) an E-4 or Third Class Petty Officer and a couple of E-3's, who were variously Seamen, Enginemen, or Airmen, depending on whether their rating was Deck, Engineering, or Aviation. The shack always had tables and chairs, a radio for comms with the ship, several big-assed coffee pots and a half-dozen 30 pound cans of coffee, a bunch of stokes stretchers and folding liters, bales of gray wool blankets, and a great big cruise box of medical equipment and supplies.
At Wilhelmshaven the Beach Det shack was located in what appeared to me to be a temporary (perhaps WWII-built) frame structure. It was a single story and set back from the water only a few dozen yards to the south-southwest of fleet landing.
|Red circles are Beach Det shack left and fleet landing right. The frigate wasn't there in '86, but there was a Can parked a bit farther to the left.|
I thought the building likely to have been an administrative office at one time. It featured three entrance doors, each with a small concrete stoop or porch; each door opened on to a large front room with two smaller rooms and a head in back. The three sets of rooms were each isolated from the others -- there were no connecting doors or passageways. Beach Det had the run of the building and set up in the center section. The section farthest from fleet landing was used for Shore Patrol mustering and other SP business. The section nearest fleet landing was reserved for medical and napping. Believe it or not, some of the Beach Det sailors got tired during their marathon eight-hour watches. I tended to spend my watches mainly in the center section with everyone else and the coffee. I had no desire to isolate myself in aseptic splendor and had no need to hang out with the medical gear unless there was a patient involved who required my attention.
|The Beach Det Shack as it looks today(ish). They've changed it a bit but it's really as I remember, except for the wheelchair ramp or whatever it is on the right.|
The Beach Det roster also always included a couple of MDR's, or Medical Department Representatives. The MDR's were usually experienced corpsmen with demonstrated medical skills as well as demonstrated ability to think on their feet, make sound decisions, and work well with both the ship's command structure and foreign authorities. It's actually a somewhat rare skill set in many medical departments, in part because medical tends to be somewhat cloistered and specialized and just a little bit separate from the rest of the command's divisions and departments. Also, the tooth-to-tail ratio in medical resembles the Army's tooth-to-tail ratio. In the Army, relatively few shooters or infantry (teeth) are backed up by relatively very many support personnel (tail). In medical, very few people do hands-on patient care stuff; these are supported by very many techs, clerks, and fetchers. Not everyone in medical had the qualifications, and this is why there were seldom (never in my experience) more than two corpsmen assigned to Beach Guard.
In general, a carrier's Beach Det was massive, because the entire group, from the Beach Det Officers down to the most junior slick-sleeves, rotated in eight hour watches. Rather than rotate back and forth from the boat, the entire party was almost always housed in a hotel, which was usually but not always located close to Fleet Landing. If the hotel wasn't within easy walking distance, vehicles would be rented and drivers would be added to the Beach Det roster. Beach Det could be rather a large circus. While all those dozens of sailors rotated watches, usually standing only one watch per day and with at least one day in three entirely free during any particular port visit, the corpsmen were port and starboard, 24 hours on and 24 hours off. Which was great, because if you do the math, that's every other day off, baby!
You might wonder why all the fuss about a presence ashore, and it's simply this. The boat is out there, swinging on the hook. Many of the crew are here, in a foreign port. When things happen ashore involving the ship's personnel -- good or bad -- there must be someone available ashore who can immediately represent the command in a face-to-face setting. It's really pretty darned important, though I tended to view my part exclusively through the lens of "good deal for me-me-ME."
And speaking of ME, what's all this description and setting the stage shit? This is all about ME, innit?
As the senior MDR (and dickhead) I got to pick which days I was on and which days I was off. Well, more precisely, I got to pick whether I stood duty the first day or not, and everything flowed from that. We'd be in Wilhelmshaven for eight days. If I picked day one, I'd work 1,3,5, and 7. The other guy would catch 2, 4, 6. and 8. The first and last days would be shorter than the rest, with the day one duty commencing usually not earlier than late morning and day eight duty ending usually not much after midnight. So it was pretty much a wash. The deciding factor was that it seemed like the most interesting stuff happened on the first day, and I had a desire to be present when serious medical stuff was most likely to go down. I always felt like I was the most qualified and had the best ability to handle serious medical shit. Whether it was true or not, that's how I saw it and I picked my watches accordingly. Though I never let an inflamed sense of duty keep me from charging headlong into liberty on my days "off!" Anyway, I picked "on" for day one (and therefore three, five, and seven, just to beat a dead horse).
So day one was cool. As usual, a few intoxicated, semi-conscious, and vomit-covered amateur sailors were being returned to fleet landing within 90 minutes of arrival. Things got more interesting after the sun went down, but not too interesting. There were a lot of inebriated sailors flowing back to the boat, but they were almost exclusively happy drunks who'd had a grand time of liberty. As I recall the overnight was really quite boring.
As the sun came up I was sleepy as hell and doing touch-n-goes over my forty-leventh cup of coffee. I got up and announced an excursion to stretch my legs. Outside I turned right and began to walk briskly down the roadway fronting the pier. The third building I came to, on my right as I walked, was a larger two-story building which had a neat sign in front that said something in German which made me think it might be a museum.
|The building in question is now a parking lot (red circle to the left). The small building to the far right with a red circle on it is the Beach Det shack.|
I walked over to check but the door was locked. Well, it was early in the morning. I cupped my hands to a window glass and peered inside. What I saw looked very much like it could be the displays of a German Navy museum. There were some ensigns, pennants, and lots of navalish pictures hanging on the walls. I resolved to come back later when the museum was open. When that would be I had no idea, and I didn't see anything like an hours of operation sign, either on the front door or on the big sign out front. I was sure I could ask around and find out. Probably.
I continued my walk until I reached the locks that allowed passage into the inner basin of the naval harbor, then turned and retraced my steps. This time I paid more attention to the German destroyer, now on my right, parked at the pier just down from the Beach Det shack. It was a sleek looking vessel, in an odd shade of gray to my eye, with gun mounts fore and aft, what I took to be torpedo tubes amidships, and something that might be a missile launcher aft.
|Locks to the left, large red circle. Smaller red circles along the pier are, from left to right, location of the destroyer, museum building, Beach Det shack.|
As I came abreast of the destroyer's deckhouse I noticed a German officer standing out on the bridge wing looking at me. He waved, and I fired off a snappy salute. I was in uniform after all. Dress Blues and looking firetrucking sharp if I say so myself. The fellow returned my salute and I continued on my way.
At 0800 I was properly relieved, so I made my way to the hotel and crashed. In the evening I went out walking and took in some sights.
I ran into some squadron buddies and we hit a likely looking restaurant for dinner. Inside I met and was smitten by a gorgeous waitress and secured a tour guide/dinner date for two evenings hence. This served to reinforce to my fellow squadron members the fact that Doc was something of a superman and an international player par excellence. Well and good, but I'd actually surprised the hell out of myself.
I'll touch on that experience another time. The hour grows late and I want to send this to scheduling and hit the rack. And I haven't even approached the whole Seydlitz story! But here we go.
The next morning after relieving my fellow Beach Guard corpsman the Bundesmarine equivalent of the Naval Base's Command Duty Officer stopped by while making his morning rounds. I wasn't paying much attention as he exchanged pleasantries with the duty officer. That was officer shit and had nothing to do with me. However, the two naval officers, one American and the other German, stepped over to where I was busy reading my partner's overnight notes in the logbook. I glanced up, then shot to my feet.
"Petty Officer Evertson is our Beach Det Corpsman," he said to the German officer, before turning to me. "This is Fregatten-Kapitan (some German-sounding name), Doc."
"Pleased to meet you, Sir," I said as we shook hands.
He smiled warmly and asked if I was interested in a tour of the base's naval museum. His English was accented but he was easy to understand. The penny dropped.
"Ah, yesterday morning!" I said. We had exchanged salutes. "Yes, I'd very much like to visit your museum. When does it open?"
As it turned out, the museum was open only by appointment, but the Fregatten-Kapitan had some time to spare and would be pleased to give me a tour. I was genuinely honored and took him up on the offer.
"Just three buildings down on the right, Lieutenant," I said.
"I'll send a runner if we need you, Doc," he said. "Enjoy!"
I had assumed the Fregatten-Kapitan was a, well, Captain-Kapitan, or equivalent to an O-6. He was actually, however, nobbut a lowly Hinge, or Lieutenant Commander/O-4. He gave me a hell of a tour though, including the part when he lifted a framed picture off the bulkhead, image identical or very closely related to the image of SMS Seydlitz above, and walked me and the heavy picture out onto the pier to show me exactly where the ship had tied up after Jutland way back in 1916. At that time 1916 was a mere 70 years in the past.
|Red circle marks the spot where Seydlitz tied up in 1916 and where a German Navy Hinge and I stood 70 years later. The other red circles are, from left to right, site of the former museum building, Beach Det shack, fleet landing.|
One thing I found very odd at the time was that there was exactly zero information or displays in the museum regarding WWII. I'm afraid I pestered the poor Fregatten-Kapitan on the subject, which may be why he pulled the picture off the wall and dragged me out on the pier -- to shut me up! I had no idea at the time how denazification had shaped post-war Germany, and I could be pretty tone deaf in my curiosity.
So that's pretty much it for this part of the story of my visit to Bill's Towne, but I should share the story of the beautiful German girl with you kind readers. I'll do that in the near future.
If I don't get abducted by aliens.