Francis Eugene Somers oral history interview, May 12, 1988

Capt. Eugene Somers
USNA Class of 1941
May 12, 1988
Interview #1

Francis Eugene Somers:

I went to the Naval Academy in the summer of 1937. Prior to going, I had finished Winfield (Kansas) High School and completed one year at Arkansas City Junior College. I went in without a competitive entrance exam. I got a direct appointment on the basis of my one year of college.

Coming from the Midwest where I had lived made for an abrupt entry into not only the East Coast, where I never had visited before, but also into a military academy. I didn't even know what one looked like, much less ever been part of one. But I was fascinated with it. I was just as happy as I could be to be a part of it. I had good roommates who were more experienced in the military environment than I, and they did a lot toward indoctrinating and helping me get started during my plebe summer. In the first two years I did well at the Naval Academy in the things in which I was grounded, such as mechanical drawing, English, mathematics, and chemistry. But hanging in there was not without problems because the work environment was very, very stringent and hard. I really liked the outdoor aspects and the camaraderie of the school—all male at that time. I really felt that I had a great opportunity and I worked hard to stay there and do as well as I could. The

boys who came in through prep schools or who had a naval background had a lot going for them; they could hit the ground running when they got there. They knew what they were supposed to do and what it was all about.

Donald R. Lennon:

Well, a significant portion of them went through those prep schools to give them an edge.

Francis Eugene Somers:

Yes. One of my roommates went to Randall Prep, which is almost like the Naval Academy's first year, so he was more or less repeating his first year there. He knew about reveille and the room inspections, which were all new to me. He softened the blow for me. We went to Europe on our midshipman cruise and did the East Coast cruise in destroyers during our second class summer. We did a South American cruise during our senior year. Of course, we were cut short, as you know, and had a February 1941 graduation due to the imminence of war.

After graduation, I went to destroyers. I put in for an East Coast destroyer and got a West Coast destroyer, of course. Actually, I got an East Coast destroyer that had gone west to Hawaii by the time I joined her. I went into a rotation of duties and ended up as an assistant gunnery officer. Usually, you did a little engineering, a little deck, and a little gunnerythat sort of thing.

Donald R. Lennon:

What destroyer was this?

Francis Eugene Somers:

This was the BUCK DD420, a one-stacker. It was a rather new destroyer. I joined her in Honolulu. We sailed out of Honolulu for what we thought was to be ten days of fleet exercises, but instead it turned out to be a classified mission. As soon as we got out of sight of land, we went alongside a cruiser and exchanged mail. When our mail was opened, it

ordered the BUCK to proceed to Guantanamo Bay to join a special task force. We had left people on the dock; wives were coming out.

Donald R. Lennon:

This was in the summer of 1941 before the war had gotten underway.

Francis Eugene Somers:

Yes. We peeled off with a cruiser, three or four destroyers, and I believe, a battleship, which created a little division. We transited the Panama Canal at night so we couldn't be seen, supposedly; however, there was a Japanese freighter on the Pacific side as we went through at dusk. We went through on the night of June 6 and 7. We went to Guantanamo and picked up provisionsno liberty at alland then to Newport. Only the skipper and the exec got ashore in Newport, where they picked up some maps and charts and further orders. We left and ended up in Argentia, Newfoundland, where we joined a task force to take U.S. Marines over to Iceland. It was, essentially, a non-stop trip from Honolulu to Iceland. From then on, the ship was in wartime status. We dropped our first depth charges on July 9. I remember it because my brother's birthday is on July 9. We were on the North Atlantic run.

After about three crossings, I left the BUCK and went to the WILKES. The WILKES had been in two major accidents. In the first one, she had had her bottom damaged in Newfoundland when she ran around with three or four other destroyers. She had to spend a couple of months in the Boston Navy Yard. After she had been fixed up and was being sorted out, she was rammed at the harbor entrance and was put back in the Boston Navy Yard that same night.

Donald R. Lennon:

She was an unlucky ship!

Francis Eugene Somers:

She was unlucky. I joined her just as she was leaving after that second set of repairs. I felt at the time that I had had a string of intensive duty. The BUCK had been just

coming in for an extended overhaul for something like six weeks or so and I had been looking forward to that because I was very much in love with a young lady at the time (whom I later married). Instead, I walked off the BUCK onto the WILKES and out again. The WILKES was the junior ship at sea and she always had to be the first one to sortie and the last one to come in. You know how things work when you're the junior man. It's like being a graduate student.

I stayed on the WILKES and we did some more crossing of the North Atlantic, to Londonderry, and to Scotland, and up in those northern waters. It was a bad time to be therea very intense battle of the Atlantic then. You would never fail to see flotsam and jetsam. The weather was terrible most all the time. When it wasn't cold and windy, it was foggy and windy.

We left convoy duty and went to the invasion of North Africa. We were at Casablanca. Then a couple of trips later, we went into the Mediterranean and were based in Bizerte with the Third Army. We supported the Army troops in their invasion of Sicily. My old ship, the BUCK, was sunk shortly after that while making an attack on a suspect submarine. She blew up. Less than a third of the crew got off. They think it was either a mine or a torpedo that hit her when she was making an approach for a depth-charge attack.

Then I left the WILKES and went to a new ship, the MARSHALL. She had been built by the New York Shipbuilding Company, and we took her on the shakedown cruise. We went straight out to the Pacific with the fast carriers to Saipan, Tinian, and Guam. We were at the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea. We got in a lot of shooting, a lot of activity, and a lot of travel. Of course, there were kamikazes, but we never got hit. We were pretty well-trained.

Then I came back and picked up a new picket destroyer in Orange, Texas. We were heading from for the Panama Canal to go back out to the Pacific when we got word to come back and join a task force up in Casco Bay, Maine. They were doing experimental gunnery work, trying to find an answer to the kamikaze problem. That was Admiral W.A. “Ching” Lee's task force. Admiral Lloyd Mustin also played a very prominent role in this. (His son Lloyd Mustin, Jr., is now a rear admiral.) We started operating with this task force, Task Force 69, out of Casco Bay, and it was very interesting. Engineers from M.I.T., Lincoln Labs, and Harvard would come out and ride on our ships to watch us fire and would take down data and perform analyses. They would go back and make modifications to the equipmentquick modifications to guns, and modifications in techniques and tacticsand we would go back out the next week and try those changes. It was a fast turnaround in those days. We had the money and the people were organized. To try to do now what we did then would take ten times as long. You would have to go out and fire, then come back in and write a report, then the report would have to go some other place, and then it would get lostThe test and evaluation, incidentally, we were so successful that they continued the group after the war ended. It is now the OpTeVFor, Operational Test and Evaluation Force, based in Norfolk. Any weapons, before they go to the Fleet, have to be tested and evaluated by OpTeVFor. Somebody made a very sound decision when they created that group.

After the war ended, instead of being the gunnery officer on the destroyer and participating in the exercises, I joined Admiral Lee's staff that became OpTevForit was OpDevFor at the time. I participated in the evaluation of weapon systems, ammunition, and tactics. I was the staff officer that rode the destroyers out to sea.

I resigned from the staffresigned my regular commissionand picked up a reserve commission. I was in the F.B.I. when the Korean War broke out three years later, but my experimental developmental gunnery work took me back on active duty into a special weapons project, the nuclear weapons developmental group, which was a joint Army/Navy/Air Force group. I spent five years of active Navy service in that group. Then I went to the C.I.A. to their nuclear energy division, producing worldwide intelligence on nuclear programs. This was particularly pointed, of course, at the Soviet Union and their development programs, saying when they were going to have what kind of weapons and how many. That was our main mission in life.

I keep active in the Navy as much as I can. I live right outside of the Naval Academy gates. When we moved in and got settled in a little bit, I went over and volunteered to help at the academy in any way. Fortunately, I got a call to work in the U.S. and International Studies Division. One of the professors wanted to do some outside work and he asked me to give some lectures.

Donald R. Lennon:

You would be right at home in international affairs, I would think.

Francis Eugene Somers:

Right. I had firsthand experience.

Donald R. Lennon:

I would think there is a lot that you cannot talk about in regard to your international expertise.

Francis Eugene Somers:

Yes, there are instances and operations that we can never talk about. But there was still plenty to make a good presentation. I chose to talk on the role of intelligence in international affairs. There is a lot we can say on thathow the National Security Council was formed, how intelligence is collected, etc. Of course, you get some real fancy questions.

Donald R. Lennon:

Especially from a class of bright young midshipmen.

Francis Eugene Somers:

Then they have the Naval Academy Foreign Affairs Conference every year. I think there are about three hundred in attendance from all over the world. Most of the attendees are in their senior year but some are in their junior year. They form into round tablesinto discussion and topic groups. I monitored one of those last year when the topic was the role of technology in international affairs. I was capable and fairly up to date on that. I chose to be an observer. I just sort of roamed around and helped out where I could. I hope I can participate in the conference every year. It's a week of really excellent speakers, like Jean Kirkpatrick and General Haig. They haven't had Ollie North, but might some day.

The Naval Reserve Far East unit is based in Tokyo, but the meetings are all over the Far East. I used to go to those and commanded the unit for two years.

Donald R. Lennon:

For a good portion of your time with the C.I.A you were out of the country, were you not?

Francis Eugene Somers:

Yes, about fifty percent of the time. It's very unusual for a technical person to be outside that much. I probably had more time outside than any other technical person in the C.I.A. The C.I.A is divided into intelligence producers, operations, and technical. Those are the three career branches. It's very seldom that they let the technical people into the operational side. I bridged that gap and it made a very interesting career. I was able to combine the best of both. For instance, when I was in Tokyo, I was responsible for the air operationsthe products of over-flightsthat came through there. There were a lot of problems in those days, with Gary Powers and that group flying. It was a highly exciting time then, really.

[End of Interview]

Francis Eugene Somers oral history interview, May 12, 1988
Somers briefly describes life at the U.S. Naval Academy as a member of the Class of 1941. After graduation Somers was assigned to the USS BUCK. In the interview he discusses the activities of the BUCK as part of a task force carrying Marines from Newfoundland to Iceland, and then briefly describes the sinking of the BUCK off the coast of Italy some months after the invasion. (Somers had left the BUCK before it sank.) After leaving the BUCK, Somers was sent to serve aboard the USS WILKES. He describes convoy duty in the North Atlantic to Scotland and Londonderry and duty supporting invasions in North Africa and Sicily while aboard the WILKES. Following the WILKES, he was transferred to the USS MARSHALL and he notes its participation in the Second Battle of the Philippine Sea. In Interview #2 Captain Somers comments on his perspective of academic challenges at the USNA, his assignment to the USS BUCK, convoy duty in the North Atlantic, transfer to the USS WILKES, and operations at Casablanca and in the Mediterranean during the North Africa and Sicily invasions. He also describes duty on the MARSHALL in the South Pacific at Saipan, Tinian, Guam, and the second battle of the Philippine Sea; his assignment to the USS TUCKER; his resignation from the Navy in order to join the FBI; his return to active duty during the Korean War to work with the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project; and his work for the CIA subsequent to the Korean War. In Interview #3 Captain Somers concentrates on his duty with the CIA monitoring the Soviet nuclear program, liaison service in Tokyo and London with British Intelligence, and assignment as deputy commander of U-2 planes stationed at Edwards Air Force Base. He comments on effort to recover a Soviet nuclear submarine that sank in the Pacific, duty in Vietnam, and project work for the FBI and CIA. Interviewer: Donald R. Lennon.
May 12, 1988
Original Format
oral histories
10cm x 63cm
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Location of Original
East Carolina Manuscript Collection
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