'Commissioned before the war in 1941, by the US Navy, he [Hubbard] was ordered to the Philippines at the outbreak of war in the US and was flown home in the late spring of 1942 in the Secretary of the Navy's private plane as the first US returned casualty from the Far East.' (A Brief Biography of L. Ron Hubbard)
'He served in the South Pacific, and in 1942 was relieved by fifteen officers of rank and was rushed home to take part in the 1942 battle against German submarines as Commanding Officer of a corvette serving in the North Atlantic. In 1943 he was made Commodore of Corvette Squadrons, and in 1944 he worked with amphibious forces. After serving in all five theaters of World War II and receiving 21 medals and palms, in 1944 he was severely wounded and was taken crippled and blinded to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital.' (Facts About L. Ron Hubbard)
(Scientology's account of Hubbard's war years.)
By July 1941, the United States was effectively, although unofficially, at war. US marines had taken over the British garrison in Iceland and US warships were already escorting convoys of lend-lease supplies across the North Atlantic. The isolationist lobby bitterly accused President Roosevelt of needlessly leading the nation into the conflict, but the momentum was irreversible. When Germany invaded Russia, Roosevelt immediately promised US aid, declaring the defence of Russia to be 'vital to the defence of the United States'.
In August, as the apparently invincible Nazi Panzer divisions pushed the Red Army back towards the outskirts of Leningrad, Roosevelt met the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, off the coast of Newfoundland and signed the Atlantic Charter, confirming US-Anglo co-operation and calling for 'the right of all peoples to choose the form of Government under which they will live'. A few days later, a German U-Boat unsuccessfully attacked an American destroyer, the USS Greer, south of Iceland and Roosevelt issued orders to 'shoot on sight'. In October, the US Navy suffered its first
casualty when another destroyer, the USS Kearney, was sunk by a submarine in the North Atlantic. After the loss of the Kearney, the United States embarked on an undeclared naval war against Germany.
Lieutenant L.R. Hubbard, US Naval Reserve, did not exactly play a central role in these events. In moments of fantasy he could no doubt picture himself on the bridge of the Kearney, heroically choosing to go down with his ship, a wry smile playing on his lips as the last of his crew was rescued; in reality, he was being shunted from one desk job to another in public relations.
In the light of his success as a writer, it was not surprising that the US Navy assigned Lieutenant Hubbard to a job in publicity, even though the fledgling officer's literary talent was largely confined to the abstruse field of science fiction, far divorced from the sober requirements of military public relations.
But Ron naturally considered himself supremely well qualified and he had barely been in uniform five minutes before he was offering the benefit of his advice to his senior officers. On 21 July, with two full days' service completed, he wrote to Congressman Magnuson thanking him for his help in obtaining a commission and mentioning that he had already submitted three ideas to accelerate recruiting, all of which were 'going into effect'. Magnuson replied; 'Glad to bear your commission went through. Know you will be right at home in your work with Navy Press Relations.'
A week later, Ron had other plans. In a second letter to Magnuson, dated 29 July and written from The Explorers Club in New York, he said that 'as Press Relations was getting along well enough' he had offered to write two articles every week for national magazines, with the aim of selling the 'American bluejacket' to the public. He had, he said, been given a 'free helm' and 'because this program will net about three times as much as Navy pay I think it no more than right that I return anything above pay and expenses to Navy Relief. So all goes along swimmingly.'
Well, not quite swimmingly: it transpired that Ron was a little over-confident about his ability to sell US Navy stories to national magazines. He might have written two articles every week, but none was published.
When it became clear to the Navy that Lieutenant Hubbard was wasting his time, it was decided to send him to the Hydrographic Office in Washington to annotate the photographs he had taken during his trip to Alaska with Polly. He arrived on 22 September and stayed two weeks. In a memo to the Assistant Hydrographer, it was noted that several dozen of his photographs were 'fairly clear' and of 'some navigational interest'. Ron had also suggested changes and amplifications to the Sailing Directions for British Columbia. Some were
1. Memorandum from Hubbard to Magnuson, 22 July 1941
unimportant, the memo continued, 'but in the aggregate they represent a very definite contribution'.
It was a contribution that marked the end of Ron's career in public relations. On 24 November, after six weeks' leave, he was posted to Headquarters, Third Naval District, in New York, for training as an Intelligence Officer.
Throughout this period, his father was stationed at the Navy Yard on Mare Island in San Pablo Bay, California, as officer in charge of the commissary. Now fifty-five and still a Lieutenant-Commander, Harry Hubbard's relationship with his son had deteriorated over the years and they saw little of each other. Any pleasure Hub might have experienced when he learned Ron was following him into the Navy could not outweigh his overall disapproval of, and disappointment with, his son. Harry Hubbard was a deeply conservative, utterly conventional plodder, a man ruled by routine and conformity. He could never come to terms with what he viewed as his son's eccentricities - his refusal to get a job, his habit of staying up all night and sleeping all day, his prolonged absences from home, his lack of regard for his family. Hub was extremely fond of Polly and adored his two grandchildren - Nibs, then seven years old, and Katie, who was five. Sometimes he felt he was closer to them than their own father and he was saddened that this should be the case.
As far as Ron was concerned, he had nothing in common with his father who had spent virtually his entire life pushing paper in the Navy with nothing in prospect but a pension. To Ron it was a grey and unappealing existence compared to his own world, at least as it existed in his thoughts. Ron still saw himself as an adventurer cast in the mould of his fictional heroes and never missed an opportunity to promote himself as a fearless, devil-may-care, globetrotter. It was no wonder father and son inexorably drifted apart - their characters were simply too different to be compatible.
Ron was still at HQ Third Naval District in New York when, a few minutes after three o'clock on the afternoon of Sunday 7 December, an announcer broke into a New York Philharmonic concert being broadcast on CBS: 'We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin. The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor.' At that very moment, bombs were still falling on the ships in Pearl Harbor and before the Japanese pilots headed for home, five US battleships had been sunk or beached, three others damaged, ten smaller warships disabled and some 2400 men killed. Next day, the President signed a declaration of war.
If Ron was chafing to get into action he was to be disappointed. On 18 December, he was posted to the Philippines, but got no further than Brisbane, Australia, where while waiting for a ship to Manila, he
2. Memorandum for Assistant Hydrographer, 22 October 1941
so antagonised his senior officers that in February 1942 he was on his way home again on board the USS Chaumont. 'This officer is not satisfactory for independent duty assignment,' the US Naval Attaché in Melbourne reported on 14 February. 'He is garrulous and tries to give impressions of his importance. He also seems to think he has unusual ability in most lines. These characteristics indicate that he will require close supervision for satisfactory performance of any intelligence duty.' It was claimed that Ron assumed authority without bothering to obtain official sanction and attempted to perform duties for which he had no qualifications, thus becoming 'the source of much trouble'.
At Headquarters Twelfth Naval District in San Francisco, it was decided that Ron's talents might be more profitably employed in censoring cables. In a despatch dated 22 April, the Chief Cable Censor in Washington recommended that no disciplinary action be taken following the report from Melbourne 'as it is thought that the Subject's qualifications may find a useful outlet in the Office of the Cable Censor, New York'.
Ron did not enjoy his desk job at the Office of the Cable Censor and in June he put in a request for sea duty on a patrol boat, preferably in the Caribbean area, 'the peoples, language and customs of which I know and of which I possess piloting knowledge.' His request was approved - he was taken off cable censorship work and ordered to report to a shipbuilding yard in Neponset, Massachusetts, to supervise the conversion of a heavy beam trawler, the Mist, into a US Navy gunboat to be classified as USS YP-422. When she was ready to put to sea he was to take over as Commanding Officer.
Here at last was his opportunity to prove he was the hero he devoutly believed himself to be. (Had he not fought and won countless battles in the pages of his fiction?) Fighting men of calibre were certainly desperately needed, for the months following Pearl Harbor saw some of the darkest days of the war for the United States. Although jukeboxes around the country were tinnily cranking out patriotic jingles like 'Goodbye, Mama, I'm Off To Yokohama' and 'You're a Sap, Mister Jap', the initial euphoria that had greeted the war soon began to fade as the Allies were routed in the Pacific: Guam fell, then Manila, then Singapore, Bataan and Corregidor.
It was, then, with a certain sense of fulfilling his destiny that Lieutenant Hubbard travelled to Neponset, his orders contained in a signal in his pocket: 'LTJG LAFAYETTE R HUBBARD DVS USNR HEREBY DETACHED PROCEED IMMEDIATELY NEPONSET MASS . . . DUTY CONNECTION CONVERSION YP422 AT GEORGE LAWLEY AND SONS AND AS CO OF THAT VESSEL WHEN PLACED IN FULL COMMISSION.'
The conversion work was carried out swiftly and on 9 September
3. Despatch from US Naval Attaché, Melbourne, 14 February 1942
1942, Ron despatched a message to the Commandant of Boston Navy Yard reporting that USS YP-422 was in excellent condition, crew training was 'approaching efficiency' and morale was high. 'As soon as a few deficiencies are remedied,' he added 'this vessel will be in all respects ready for sea and is very eager to be on her way to her assigned station or task force.'
Like his father, Ron tended to be somewhat absent-minded about personal debts. While he was supervising the conversion of the YP-422 he was being pursued by tailors in Brisbane and Washington DC for unpaid uniform bills and he still owed $265 to the Bank of Ketchikan. When the Alaskan bank reported Lieutenant Hubbard's debt to the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, Ron wrote an indignant letter to the cashier: 'You are again informed that the reason for non-payment of this note is the sharp decrease in pay which I was willing to take to help my country. Until this war is ended I can only make small and irregular payments.'
The implication was that Lieutenant Hubbard was far too busy fighting a war to be bothered by trifling debts, but sadly, when the USS YP-422 set out on her shakedown cruise, Lieutenant Hubbard was nowhere to be seen on board. On 1 October, Ron was summarily relieved of his command and ordered to report to the Commandant, Twelfth Naval District 'for such duty as he may assign you'. No explanation was contained in his orders, although earlier he had been involved in an unwise altercation with a senior officer at the shipyard. Considerable tension had developed between the officers in charge of the conversion work and those officers assigned to crew the ten YPs being converted at the Neponset shipyard, culminating in an extraordinary order prohibiting YP officers from approaching the conversion office or even speaking to any of the shipyard workers. Ron had taken it upon himself to fire off a memorandum to the Vice-Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, naming the officer responsible and pointing out that the YP commanding officers were all 'startled' by the order. He might have been better advised to keep quiet: on 25 September the Commandant of Boston Navy Yard sent a signal to Washington stating his view that Hubbard was 'not temperamentally fitted for independent command.'
With his dreams of glory temporarily crushed, Ron waited for his next assignment without much optimism, anticipating he would probably be put back in command of a desk. However, he perked up considerably when his orders came through - he was to be sent to the Submarine Chaser Training Center in Miami, Florida. This immediately opened up a vista of wonderful new images - 'Ron the Fox', ace sub hunter, fearless scourge of the Japanese submarine fleet, etcetera.
Wearing dark glasses, Lieutenant Hubbard arrived at the Training
4. Memorandum from C.O. USS YP-422, 12 September 1942
Center on 2 November and quickly made friends with another officer on the course - a young Lieutenant from Georgetown, Maine, by the name of Thomas Moulton. Ron light-heartedly explained that he was obliged to wear dark glasses as he had received a severe flash burn when he was serving as Gunnery Officer on the destroyer Edsel. He had been standing close to the muzzle of a five-inch gun which fired prematurely and while his injuries did not impair his vision, he found any kind of bright light painful without dark glasses. Moulton, understandably, was impressed.
By judiciously lacing his conversation with jargon and anecdotes, Ron possessed an uncanny ability to be totally convincing. It was soon 'common knowledge' at the Center that he had served on destroyers; indeed, said Moulton, he was 'used as something of an authority in the classroom'. While they were training together in Miami, mastering the intricacies of tracking and attacking enemy submarines, Moulton was treated to further details of his new friend's astonishing exploits in the early months of the war. His strong recollection was that Ron was a reticent sort of hero, reluctant to talk about himself, but over the weeks his story came out bit by bit.
On the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, it seemed that Ron was landed from the Edsel on the north coast of Java in the Dutch East Indies, not far from the port of Surabaya, to carry out a secret mission. The Edsel was sunk a couple of days later [not quite accurate - she was sunk in March 1942] and went down with all hands. When the Japanese occupied the island, Ron took off for the hills and lived rough in the jungle. Once he was almost caught by a Japanese patrol and was hit in the back by machine-gun fire before he was able to make his escape. Those wounds still troubled him, he confessed. He often suffered severe pain in his right side and the bullets had damaged his urinary system, making it difficult for him to urinate. He was in bad shape for quite a while after being shot, but eventually he teamed up with another officer and they constructed a raft on which they sailed across the shark-infested Timor Sea to within one hundred miles of the Australian coast, where they were picked up by a British or Australian destroyer. It was, Moulton thought, a remarkable piece of navigation.
In January 1943, Ron was sent on a ten-day anti-submarine warfare course at the Fleet Sound School in Key West, Florida, prior to being posted to Portland, Oregon, as prospective Commanding Officer of USS PC-815, a 280-ton submarine-chaser under construction at the Albina Engine and Machine Works. Ron asked Moulton if he would be his Executive Officer. Moulton was really hoping for a ship of his own, but he so admired Ron that he agreed.
5. Moulton testimony in Church of Scientology v. Armstrong, 21 May 1984
While the PC-815 was being built, the two officers found time to enjoy life a little in the pleasant city of Portland. Moulton's wife came over from the East Coast and Polly was able to visit from Bremerton, which was only 150 miles to the north. As a foursome they enjoyed each other's company and frequently had dinner together, despite rationing, in one of the restaurants overlooking the green valley of the Willamette river and the distant snow-capped peak of Mount Hood. On one well-remembered occasion, the prospective Commanding Officer of PC-815 and his Executive Officer drove up to Seattle for a dance at the tennis club. Ron was wearing his mysterious dark glasses, as usual, and was being gently teased by one of the women in their group. When he explained why they were necessary, the woman raised her eyebrows as if she did not believe him. Moulton was quite shocked. However, to prove what he was saying, Ron took off his glasses and within five or ten minutes his eyes began watering and were clearly sore. His friend was deeply gratified.
At ten o'clock on Tuesday 20 April 1943, the USS PC-815 was commissioned. Ron noted the event in a pencilled entry on the first page of the ship's log book, signing his name with a proud flourish. Two days later, the Oregon Journal published a photograph of Ron and Moulton in uniform with an article about the commissioning of the new ship. Ron wore his dark glasses and an intrepid expression, his coat collar was turned up and he gripped a pipe in his right hand: he looked just like a man ready to go to war.
In the story, Ron was described as a 'veteran sub-hunter of the battles of the Pacific and Atlantic . . . an old band at knocking tails off enemy subs'. To add a little local interest, it seems he told the reporter that he had grown up in Portland and came from a long line of naval men. He said his grandfather, 'Captain' Lafayette Waterbury, and his great-grandfather, 'Captain' I.C. DeWolfe, had both helped make American naval history, although naturally he did not elaborate on their contribution. [His great-grandfather's name was Abram; 'I.C.' were his grandmother's initials.]
His membership of the Explorers Club received a prominent mention, of course, along with the fact that he had commanded three 'internationally important' expeditions. He was also persuaded to reveal that during the Caribbean Motion Picture Expedition he had become the first man ever to use a bathysphere for underwater filming.
When the reporter asked Ron for a comment about his new ship, he obliged with a picturesque quote that began by sounding like Humphrey Bogart and ended like the President: 'Those little sweethearts are tough. They could lick the pants off anything Nelson or Farragut ever sailed. They put up a sizzling fight and are the only answer to the submarine menace. I state emphatically that the future of America rests with just such escort vessels.'
On the evening of 18 May, the USS PC-815 sailed from Astoria, Oregon, on her shakedown cruise. Her destination was San Diego, but she had only been at sea for five hours when, at 0230 hours off Cape Lookout on the coast of Oregon, she encountered at least one, perhaps two, enemy submarines in the middle of a busy shipping lane!
Ron provided a graphic account of the engagement that followed in a secret Battle Report to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet:
'Proceeding southward just inside the steamer track an echo-ranging contact was made by the soundman then on duty . . . The Commanding Officer had the conn and immediately slowed all engines to ahead one third to better echo-ranging conditions, and placed the contact dead ahead, 500 yards away.
'The first contact was very good. The target was moving left and away. The bearing was clear. The night was moonlit and the sea was flat calm . . . The USS PC-815 closed in to 360 yards, meanwhile sounding general quarters . . . Contact was regained at 800 yards and was held on the starboard beam while further investigation was made. Screws were present and distinct as before. The bearing was still clear. Smoke signal identification was watched for closely and when none appeared it was concluded the target must not be a friendly submarine. All engines were brought up to speed 15 knots and the target was brought dead ahead . . .'
On its first attack run, the USS PC-815 dropped a barrage of three depth charges. When it had re-established contact, a second attack was made at 0350 hours, this time laying down a pattern of four depth charges.
Ron lapsed into rather unmilitary lyricism to describe the ensuing events: 'The ship, sleepy and sceptical, had come to their guns swiftly and without error. No one, including the Commanding Officer, could readily credit the existence of an enemy submarine here on the steamer track and all soundmen, now on the bridge, were attempting to argue the echo-ranging equipment and chemical recorder out of such a fantastic idea . . .
'At 0450, with dawn breaking over a glassy sea, a lookout sighted a dark object about 700 yards from the ship on the starboard beam. When inspected the object seemed to be moving . . . Although very probably this object was a floating log no chances were taken and the target was used to test the guns which had not been heretofore fired structurally. The gunners, most of whom were men of experience, displayed an astonishing accuracy, bursts and shells converging on the target.
'The target disappeared for several minutes and then, to test the guns not brought to bear on the first burst, the ship was turned in
6. USS PC-815 Action Report, 24 May 1943
case the object reappeared. The object appeared again closer to the ship. Once more fire was opened and the target vanished.'
Ron stressed that he considered it likely this target was no more than driftwood, but he thought it was good for the morale of the gunners to ensure the newly-installed guns worked. The USS PC-815 mounted four further attacks on the elusive submarine in the hope of forcing it to the surface, without success. At the end of the sixth attack the ship's supply of depth charges was exhausted. Urgent signals requesting more ammunition at first met with no response.
At nine o'clock in the morning, two US Navy blimps, K-39 and K-33, appeared on the scene to help with the search. By noon, Ron believed that the submarine was disabled in some way, or at least unable to launch its torpedoes, since the PC-815, lying to in a smooth sea, presented an easy target and had not been attacked. In the early afternoon a second, smaller, sub-chaser, the USS SC-536 arrived, but was unable to make contact with the target.
On the bridge of PC-815, Ron offered to lead the other ship on an attack run, blowing a whistle to signal when to drop its depth charges. 'With the bullnose of the SC nearly against our flagstaff,' Ron wrote, 'we came to attack course . . .' Five depth charges were dropped on the first run and two on the second.
"The observation blimps began to sight oil and air bubbles in the vicinity of the last attack and finally a periscope. This ship also sighted air bubbles . . . At 1606 oil was reported again and this ship saw oil. Great air boils were seen and the sound of blowing tanks was reported by the soundman . . . All guns were now manned with great attention as it was supposed that the sub was trying to surface. Everyone was very calm, gunners joking about who would get in the first shot.'
But the submarine did not surface. Far from being discouraged, it seemed that Ron was by then convinced that there was not just one but two submarines lurking somewhere beneath them. His sonar operator had reported making a second, separate, contact a few hours earlier.
Shortly before five o'clock, a Coast Guard patrol boat brought in further supplies of ammunition. Manoeuvring alongside, twenty-seven depth charges were transferred on to the USS PC-815 and made ready for firing. Not long afterwards, a second Coast Guard patrol boat, the Bonham arrived, followed by another sub-chaser, the USS SC-537. There was now a total of five ships and two observations blimps involved in the search for the enemy submarines off the coast of Oregon.
All through the next day, sweep and search operations continued, although not all the Commanding Officers were as keen or convinced as Ron. 'Neither the SC-537 nor the Bonham', he noted 'showed any
understanding whatever and refused by their actions to cooperate.' The SC-537, he added with barely concealed disgust, failed to drop a single depth charge. As if in compensation, the USS PC-815 made one attack run after another, forging back and forth at high speed, dropping barrage after barrage.
Still no wreckage, no bodies, floated to the surface. Ron was not in the least deterred. 'Because we had three times found two sub targets on the previous day, we considered from her failure to surface that one sub was gone down in 90 fathoms. The other still had batteries well up for it made good speed in subsequent attacks . . .
'All during the following night, the USS PC-815 kept the area swept as well as it could. The moonlight showed up an oil slick which we investigated, though the slick was too thin for samples . . . A report that the sub had surfaced off Sand Lake caused all vessels except the Bonham to go flying north to that position. But before flank speed was attained the reported "sub" was reported as a fishing vessel . . .
'At 0700, May 21, 1943, being near the area of the attacks the night before this ship stopped to search . . . Suddenly a boil of orange colored oil, very thick, came to the surface immediately on our port bow . . . The Commanding Officer came forward on the double and saw a second boil of orange oil rising on the other side of the first. The soundman was loudly reporting that he heard tanks being blown on the port bow.
'Every man on the bridge and flying bridge then saw the periscope, moving from right to left, rising up through the first oil boil to a height of about two feet. The barrel and lens of the instrument were unmistakable . . . On the appearance of the periscope, both gunners fired straight into the periscope, range about 50 yards. The periscope vanished in an explosion of 20mm bullets.'
The USS PC-815 made one further attack run and dropped its last two depth charges. At midnight, after being in action for some sixty-eight hours, Ron received orders to return to Astoria.
He noted in his report, rather sourly, that they were greeted with 'considerable scepticism' on their return. Nevertheless, his conclusion was unequivocal: 'It is specifically claimed that one submarine, presumably Japanese, possibly a mine-layer, was damaged beyond ability to leave the scene and that one submarine, presumably Japanese, possibly a mine-layer, was damaged beyond ability to return to its base.
'This vessel wishes no credit for itself. It was built to hunt submarines. Its people were trained to hunt submarines. Although exceeding its orders originally by attacking the first contact, this vessel feels only that it has done the job for which it was intended and stands ready to do that job again.'
Despite the scepticism, the US Navy mounted an immediate investigation of the incident. Ever since Pearl Harbor, Americans had been jittery about the possibility of an attack on the mainland by Japanese submarines. In February 1942, a lone enemy submarine had surfaced about a mile offshore north of Santa Barbara, California, and lobbed twenty-five shells at an oil refinery. If it happened once, it could presumably happen again and the Navy certainly needed to know if the USS PC-815 had indeed stumbled across enemy submarines close to the coast of Oregon.
The Commanding Officer and Executive Officer of PC-815 were ordered to report immediately to Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, Commander Northwest Sea Frontier, in Seattle. Fletcher studied Ron's eighteen-page Battle Report and interviewed the Commanding Officers of the four other ships and two blimps involved. The tape from the PC-815's attack recorder, which recorded the strength and characteristics of the sonar signals, was evaluated by experts. When all the reports were in, Fletcher swiftly came to the conclusion that the hundred depth charges dropped during the 'battle' had probably killed a few fish but no Japanese.
In a secret memorandum to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, dated 8 June 1943, Fletcher stated: 'An analysis of all reports convinces me that there was no submarine in the area. Lieutenant Commander Sullivan [Commander of the blimps] states that he was unable to obtain any evidence of a submarine except one bubble of air which is unexplained except by turbulence of water due to a depth charge explosion. The Commanding Officers of all ships except the PC-815 state they had no evidence of a submarine and do not think a submarine was in the area.'
Fletcher added that there was a 'known magnetic deposit' in the area in which the depth charges were dropped. The implication was clear: Lieutenant Hubbard, Commanding Officer of USS PC-815, had fought a two-day battle with a magnetic deposit.
Neither Ron nor Moulton would accept this verdict. They believed that denying the existence of the submarines was a political decision taken to avoid spreading alarm among the civilian population. Moulton pointed out that the Reader's Digest had recently published a story about the attack on the oil refinery near Santa Barbara and it had caused something approaching panic among people living along the coast of California. It was hardly surprising, they concluded, that the top brass wanted to hush up the fact that US Navy ships had been fighting enemy submarines only about ten miles off the coast of Oregon.
The disconsolate crew of the USS PC-815, who had no doubt expected to return home as conquering heroes, had to be satisfied with
7. Memorandum from Commander NW Sea Frontier, 8 June 1943
this explanation and forego public recognition of their battle. It was a bitter pill for them to swallow. The only reward their Commanding Officer could arrange was a rare treat recorded in the ship's log on the day they returned to Astoria: 'Ice cream brought on board.'
As Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Hubbard's record was unquestionably blighted by the Admiral's damning report, although there was no suggestion that he should be relieved of his command. There was plenty of good-natured joshing in the service about the man who had attacked a magnetic field, but it would probably have been forgotten eventually and need not have affected Ron's career, except that the luckless USS PC-815 was soon in even worse trouble.
Towards the end of May, the PC-815 was detailed to escort a new aircraft carrier from Portland to San Diego. Thankfully this voyage was completed without incident. On arrival in San Diego Ron said goodbye to his friend Tom Moulton, who had been transferred to HQ Thirteenth Naval District in Seattle for further assignment.
San Diego is the most southerly coastal town in California, only ten miles from the Mexican border at Tijuana. Just offshore from Tijuana there is a small group of islands known as Los Coronados, used by local fishermen to dry their nets.
On the afternoon of 28 June, the PC-815 steamed unknowingly into Mexican territorial waters and fired four shots with its 3-inch gun in the direction of the Coronados islands. She then anchored off the island and fired small arms - pistols and rifles - into the water.
The Mexican government may not have considered that the United States was launching a surprise attack, but the incident was deemed sufficiently serious for an official complaint to be lodged. Lieutenant Hubbard, fresh from his notorious battle with a magnetic deposit, was not exactly well placed to be forgiven for this new blunder.
On 30 June, a Board of Investigation was convened on board the PC-815 in San Diego Harbor. Lieutenant Hubbard was first to give evidence and stoutly denied that he had done wrong. He had ordered the gunnery practice because he was anxious to train his crew and he believed he had authority to be in the area. When asked why he had anchored for the night he admitted that he had not wanted to spend the entire night on the bridge. 'On three separate occasions,' he added, 'when leaving my officers in charge of the bridge they have become lost.'
The next witness was the Gunnery Officer, who cheerfully confessed that he thought the Coronados Islands belonged to the United States. After listening to more than thirteen hours of evidence, the three-man Board of Investigation concluded that Lieutenant Hubbard had disregarded orders, both by conducting gunnery practice and by anchoring in Mexican territorial waters without proper authority.
8. Record of proceedings, Board of Investigation, USS PC-815, 30 June 1943
It was recommended, in the light of the short time he had been in command, that he should be admonished in lieu of the more drastic disciplinary action that the offences would normally have deserved. But it was also decided that he should be transferred to other duties.
On 7 July, after just eighty days as Commanding Officer of his own ship, Ron signed his last page of the PC-815's deck log: '1345, Signed on Detachment, L. R. Hubbard.'
In a fitness report covering his brief career as a Commanding Officer, Rear-Admiral E.A. Braisted, Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command, Pacific, rated Lieutenant L.R. Hubbard as 'below average' and noted: 'Consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgement, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results. He is believed to have been sincere in his efforts to make his ship efficient and ready. Not considered qualified for command or promotion at this time. Recommend duty on a large vessel where he can be properly supervised.'
Ron was posted to temporary duty in the Issuing Office at Headquarters, Eleventh Naval District in San Diego, where he almost immediately reported sick with a variety of ailments ranging from malaria to a duodenal ulcer to pains in his back. He was admitted to the local naval hospital for observation and remained there as an in-patient for nearly three months. He wrote home to inform the family that he was in hospital because he had been injured when he picked up an unexploded shell from the deck of his ship; it had exploded in mid-air as he threw it over the side.
In later years Ron would tell a story of how he had helped the staff at San Diego Naval Hospital during this period. It seemed a regiment of marines had been shipped home with a disease called filoriasis about which the doctors knew nothing. Ron, because of his experience in 'the South Pacific', advised them that although there was a serum available to treat the condition, his understanding was that a spell in a cold climate would work equally well. Accordingly, the regiment was despatched to Alaska where, Ron said, 'I am sure they all recovered.'
This good deed done, in October 1943 Ron was sent on a six-week course at the Naval Small Craft Training Center on Terminal Island, San Pedro, California. In December he learned he was to be given another opportunity to go to sea - as the Navigating Officer of the USS Algol, an amphibious attack cargo ship under construction at Portland, Oregon.
To judge from an entry in his private journal, he was not particularly thrilled about going back to sea, nor indeed, about being in the Navy at all. 'My salvation is to let this roll over me,' he noted gloomily on 6 January 1944, 'to write, write and write some more. To
9. Letter of admonition from Commander, Fleet Operational Training Command, Pacific, 15 July 1943
10. Report on the Fitness of Officers, 29 May - 7 July 1943
11. Letter from L. Ron Hubbard Jr., 26 January 1973
12. L. Ron Hubbard autobiographical notes, 1972
hammer keys until I am finger worn to the second joint and then to hammer keys some more. To pile up copy, stack up stories, roll the wordage and generally conduct my life along the one line of success I have ever had.'
'The only thing that ever affected me as a writer,' he recalled years later in a newspaper interview, 'was the US Navy when their security regulations prohibited writing. I was quiet for about two years before I couldn't take it any more and went and took it out on a typewriter and, wearing a stetson hat in the middle of a battle theater, wrote a costume historical novel of 60,000 words which has never seen the light of day.'
For the first six months of 1944, Ron remained in Portland during the fitting out of the Algol. News of the war in the Pacific was of bitter fighting and heavy casualties. US Marines were working their way from island to island towards Japan, but at shocking cost. In the attack on Tarawa Atoll, more than a thousand Americans were killed and two thousand wounded: news pictures of the beaches littered with dead Marines shocked the nation and brought home the terrible reality of war. On 15 June, two divisions of US Marines began an assault on Saipan in the southern Marianas, and in the battle that followed 16,500 Americans were killed or wounded.
The USS Algol was commissioned in July and immediately put to sea for trials. Through August and most of September she was exercizing at sea; as Navigating Officer, Ron signed the ship's deck log every day, but there was little to report except 'under way, as before'. He seemed to have had second thoughts about wanting to see action, for on 9 September he applied for an appointment to the School of Military Government, citing among his qualifications his education as a civil engineer, membership in the Explorers Club, wide travel in the Far East and experience of handling natives. The Algol's Commanding Officer approved Ron's application, noting on his fitness report that while Lieutenant Hubbard was a capable and energetic officer, he was 'very temperamental and often has his feelings hurt'.
On 22 September, the Algol was at last ordered to Oakland, California, to start taking on supplies in preparation for sailing to war. The excited rumour among the crew was that the ship was to take part in a major new offensive in the Pacific aimed at the final defeat of the Japanese.
At 1630 on the afternoon of 27 September- the day before Ron was due to leave for Princeton - the ship's deck log recorded an unusual incident: 'The Navigating Officer reported to the OOD [Officer On Duty] that an attempt at sabatage [sic] had been made sometime between 1530-1600. A coke bottle filled with gasoline with a cloth wick inserted had been concealed among cargo which was to be hoisted aboard and stored in No 1 hold. It was discovered before being taken
13. Ron The Writer
14. Rocky Mountain News, 20 February 1983
on board. ONI, FBI and NSD authorities reported on the scene and investigations were started.'
No further mention was made of the incident. There was no explanation of why Lieutenant Hubbard, the Navigating Officer, was poking around in cargo being loaded on to the ship or of how he had managed to find the 'petrol bomb'. Neither was the result of the investigations recorded. Shortly after ten o'clock that evening a brief signal was received 'Lt Lafayette Ron Hubbard, D-v (S), USNR 113392, is this date detached from duty.'
On 4 October, the USS Algol sailed for Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands, from where she would take part in the invasion of Luzon in the Philippines and the landings on Okinawa, earning two battle stars. Her erstwhile Navigating Officer, meanwhile, was on a four-month course in 'Military Government' at the Naval Training School, Princeton, prompting him to claim ever after that he finished his education at the venerable Ivy League university of the same name.
While he was at Princeton, Ron was invited to join a group of science-fiction writers who met every weekend at Robert Heinlein's apartment in Philadelphia to discuss possible ways of countering the Kamikaze menace in the Pacific. They were semi-official, brainstorming sessions that Heinlein had been asked to organize by the Navy, in the faint hope of coming up with a defence against young Japanese pilots on suicide missions. 'I had been ordered to round up science fiction writers for this crash project,' Heinlein recalled, 'the wildest brains I could find.'
Heinlein's apartment was only three hundred yards from Broad Street Station in downtown Philadelphia and the group gathered on Saturday afternoons, arriving on Pennsylvania Railroad trains which ran every half hour into Broad Street. 'On Saturday nights there would be two or three in my bed,' said Heinlein, 'a couple on the couch and the rest on the living-room floor. If there was still overflow, I sent them a block down the street to a friend with more floor space if not beds.'
Heinlein tried to avoid asking Ron to walk down the street as Ron had said that both his feet had been broken when his last ship was bombed. 'Ron had had a busy war - sunk four times and wounded again and again,' Heinlein explained sympathetically.
Sunday morning was set aside for the working session, after which everyone sat around swapping stories and jokes. Ron often got out his guitar and entertained them in a rich baritone voice with songs like 'Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest' and 'I Learned about Women from Her'. He could also reduce the assembled company to helpless laughter with his repertoire of fast-moving burlesque skits in which he played all the roles.
15. Deck log of USS Algol, US National Archives
16. Foreword to Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon, 1986
On Saturday 2 December, Jack Williamson, then a Sergeant in the US Army, hosted a dinner in Philadelphia for fellow science-fiction writers and their wives. He was to be sent overseas in a couple of days and this was his farewell party. Among those present were the Heinleins, the de Camps, the Asimovs and L. Ron Hubbard. 'The star of the evening', Isaac Asimov recalled, 'was Ron Hubbard. Heinlein, de Camp and I were each prima donna-ish and each liked to hog the conversation - ordinarily. On this occasion, however, we all sat as quietly as pussycats and listened to Hubbard. He told tales with perfect aplomb and in complete paragraphs.'
The host was less impressed. 'Hubbard was just back from the Aleutians then,' said Williamson, 'hinting of desperate action aboard a Navy destroyer, adventures he couldn't say much about because of military security.
'I recall his eyes, the wary, light-blue eyes that I somehow associate with the gunmen of the old West, watching me sharply as he talked as if to see how much I believed. Not much.'
Heinlein's group never came up with any ideas about how to prevent US Navy losses from Kamikaze pilots, but it did not matter much because the war was drawing to a close and Japan was running out of aircraft and pilots to fly them. The last big Kamikaze strike was launched in January 1945 against the US fleet (including Ron's old ship, the USS Algol) taking part in the invasion of Luzon. That same month Ron was transferred to the Naval Civil Affairs Staging Area in Monterey, California, for further training, having finished about mid-way among the 300 students on his course at the school of Military Government. In April he again reported sick and a possible ulcer was diagnosed.
On 2 September 1945, after the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese signed the surrender instrument on the quarterdeck of the USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay. Three days later, Ron was re-admitted to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital, Oakland, not as a result of heroic war wounds, but to be treated for 'epigastric distress'. It was in this rather inglorious situation, suffering from a suspected duodenal ulcer, that the war ended for Lieutenant L. Ron Hubbard, US Navy Reserve.
He, of course, saw it somewhat differently: 'Blinded with injured optic nerves, and lame with injuries to hip and back, at the end of World War Two I faced an almost non-existent future . . . I was abandoned by family and friends as a supposedly hopeless cripple and a probable burden upon them for the rest of my days . . . I became used to being told it was all impossible, that there was no way, no hope. Yet I came to see and walk again . . .'
If his own account of his war experiences is to be believed, he
17. Asimov, op. cit.
18. Williamson, op. cit.
19. Hubbard, My Philosophy, 1965 and passim
certainly deserved the twenty-one medals and palms he was said to have received. Unfortunately, his US Navy record indicates he was awarded just four routine medals - the American Defense Service Medal, awarded to everyone serving at the time of Pearl Harbor, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War Two Victory Medal, this last received by everyone serving on V-J Day.