Author’s Thoughts pertaining to submarine warfare about which he knows absolutely nothing other than to say he has watched the 1958 feature Run Silent, Run Deep, a not untypical naval warfare film about the psychological and strategic tension between American and Japanese submarine commanders during WW2.
Whether it happens to be this film or another within the genre of Hollywood-produced “soft, war-time propaganda” films, our in-bred emotional nationalism eventually rises to the surface. When an American “sub” sinks an enemy ship, we, the viewers, celebrate with our jubilant, heroic American submariners. However, when the enemy does the same thing to us, do you recall how angry and vengeful you feel?
Consider how the use of the submarine changed the nature of naval warfare. Over the many centuries of pre-submarine naval history one thing could be said with reasonable surety: that a captain was certain if the enemy was approaching or not and, if so, how far away he was and the size of the force he was bringing.
The sight of an approaching enemy might have scared them, but at least the fear that uncertainty produces was no longer a concern.
The very opposite situation occurs with the introduction of the submarine; a new and unknown variable enters the equation for the first time. Terrorism. More specifically, the terrorism of the torpedo.
In Search of the Memory of Waldron Polgren
Conditions aboard the Leopoldville were crowded and chaotic. Sea sickness was rampant. The food rations and sleeping quarters were beyond deplorable, the troops had not been trained in emergency evacuation, and the very last thing they needed was a hungry wolf looking for a kill.
On Christmas Eve, 1944, the German U-boat 486 Unterseeboot 486 torpedoed and sank the SS Leopoldville in the English Channel five miles off the coast of Cherbourg, France. On board were this writer’s uncle, Hirsh Meyer Busch, Waldron Polgren and 2, 251 other American soldiers on their way to replace the already fallen at the Battle of the Bulge.
“Unless you were there to see it, you could not grasp the pandemonium. The young troops, many in full gear, were jumping into the water with their helmet strap tightly secured under their chins. So many boys, in trying to save themselves, were literally breaking their own necks upon impact, ” Uncle Hirsh explained, emotionally exhausted by the depth of his recollection.
“To Waldron, I was like a kid brother, a responsibility he took very seriously,” a remark that made me and, I’m sure, Uncle Hirsh think of my father who was Uncle Hirsh’s real big brother.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this: the initial explosion, the intake of thousands of gallons of sea water. Men drowned like rats.”
And what became of Waldron Polegren, twice Uncle Hirsh’s age and father of three young sons at home with their mother ?
“He died that night. I later found out his body was recovered.”
My guess is that Uncle Hirsh, who was only eighteen years old at the time, was looking for a big brother, and thirty-six year old Waldron Polgren someone “to big brother.”
A very special “thank you” to my uncle, Hirsh Meyer Busch and Aunt Norma Busch.