One of the men who was standing watch on the bridge, a Petty Officer, was blown by the force of the first blast through the top hatch and down into the conning tower. The second set of blasts rolled his bloody, unconscious body down through the control room hatch, where he fell and landed on his head on the steel deck in front of me.
Inside the boat there was pure pandemonium. The lights had gone out and the air was suddenly filled with thick acrid smoke. When the emergency lights finally came on, it unveiled a scene straight from Dante’s Inferno, complete with screams and burning noxious fumes. Shouts from the aft end of the boat told us that there was a large breach in the hull. A thick jet of seawater was pouring into the boat, filling the diesel bilge and flooding the engine room. Someone reported that the depth meter indicated that water was weighing the boat down. Translation: we were sinking!
I cannot possibly begin to describe what it was like inside the boat at that moment. Nor can I describe my emotional state. Never in my life had I felt such an irresistible urge to escape—to climb, crawl, and if need be, claw my way up the conning tower ladder to the sun and fresh air of the surface. Something, however, held me back, and I refused to succumb to the animalistic desire within to run. Perhaps it was my training or professional pride. Or perhaps it was just a childish fear of being called a coward. Whatever it was, I somehow overcame the primal desire to escape. Despite our desperate situation, a steely determination to do our duty and fight to save our boat quickly spread unspoken from crewman to crewman. None of us deserted our post.
Not everyone, however, was so determined to stay on board. Kapitänleutnant Zschech came running through the control room and clamored up the ladders to the bridge. What he saw must have really scared him because after just a moment topside, he shouted down to the control room the order to abandon ship. We all froze at our posts, unable or unwilling to obey the order.
But when the command to abandon ship reached the next compartment, our Diesel Chief Petty Officer Otto Fricke stormed like a mad bull into the control room. With anger and defiance in his voice, he shouted up to Zschech, “Well, you can do what you want, but the technical crew is staying on board to keep her afloat!”
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