Early Life

Becoming a Sailor

Becoming a Submariner

Outbreak of War

Faulty Torpedoes and Being Depth Charged

Ongoing Submarine Duty, Picking Up Prisoners and the War's End

Postwar Navy Service

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Mitchell Zimmer was born in Detroit but moved to Yugoslavia which was Austria-Hungary before World War 1. His mother brought Zimmer and his three siblings with her so she could be with her ailing mother. While there, she divorced her husband. When she returned to the United States, it was the Depression. She could only bring two of her children at a time. She sent money to support the siblings who were not able to enter the country. In 1930, they were allowed to enter the United States. In 1935, Zimmer and his sister were allowed to enter the country. He had difficulty in school because he could not speak English. He was sent to a special school in Detroit for foreign speaking students. He progressed with his education from there. Zimmer learned to work in a bakery while he was in Europe. He took over his brother's job in a bakery after he entered America. He continued his education and work until he heard about Japan's attack on the USS Panay (PR-5) gunboat in 1937. He became interested in joining the Navy. After testing, he was selected for enlistment out of multiple applicants.

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Mitchell Zimmer attended boot camp at Newport, Rhode Island. He went to special training in San Diego. He was assigned to a sea going tug as a recruit. He served for a year and a half aboard the tug under a bosun's mate [Annotator's Note: Boatswain's Mate]. Discipline was not strict initially but got tougher. Zimmer put in for a transfer and went to a battleship in 1940. He boarded the California [Annotator's Note: USS California (BB-44)]. He ran the motor whale boat. It was used as a rescue boat while the ship was out at sea. His battle station was on a five inch gun. As the ship proceeded to Hawaii for maneuvers, Zimmer began to dislike the discipline on the big ship. He transferred to the heavy cruiser USS Astoria (CA-34). Zimmer served on ships with floatplanes. He worked on retrieving the aircraft and its crew after landings. He was overexposed to the sun and had to report to sick bay as a result. He was ordered to wear more than just a t-shirt to protect his sunburn. The officer of the deck confronted him about wearing excessive cover until Zimmer showed the officer his notice from the sick bay to protect his burned skin. Zimmer was a seaman on the Astoria. He served in the cleaning and painting crew and maintained the side of the ship. The Astoria visited multiple ports of call. He enjoyed liberty and going ashore. On one occasion, he was challenged about his liberty. After he went anyway, it resulted in him getting an AWOL [Annotator's Note: absent without leave] charge and a deck court martial before Captain Turner [Annotator’s Note: then US Navy Captain, later Admiral, Richmond Kelley Turner]. Although not severely punished, it prohibited him from advancing in rating as quickly as otherwise possible. It made up Zimmer's mind that he wanted to get aboard a smaller ship. He put in for submarine duty.

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Mitchell Zimmer liked the idea of sailing on a smaller boat like a submarine. He was trained in New London, Connecticut for submarines. He met up with a friend that he had met in boot camp. They seemed to parallel their Navy assignments. They both made it to the tender Holland [Annotator's Note: USS Holland (AS-3)] but Zimmer would move on to the submarine Snapper [Annotator's Note: USS Snapper (SS-185)]. There was daily training for the submarine. It included Momsen lung exercises in a vertical water tank. It was a means of escape from a stricken submarine. The key was to not rise to the surface too quickly. Zimmer entered submarine duty in the early part of 1941. He loved submarines and served on eight of them before he retired from the Navy.

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Mitchell Zimmer and the crew [Annotator's Note: of the submarine USS Snapper (SS-185)] knew that war was on the way. In October [Annotator's Note: October 1941], the Holland [Annotator's Note: USS Holland (AS-3)] went to the Philippines. That was where Zimmer was when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened. He was handed a rifle and told to repel boarders. The submarine squadron had been assigned to Manila Harbor the month before. PT boats were patrolling the harbor. Even motor whale boats had machine guns mounted to them so as to be armed when performing patrol duty. When the four submarines left Pearl Harbor, they were on full wartime status. If they observed a surface ship, they were to dive. Manila Bay had a few heavy ships but not much to provide defense for the Philippines. The four submarines submerged when Manila was attacked. When they surfaced, the Cavite Navy Yard was destroyed. One submarine was sunk and one was badly damaged. After a few weeks, the submarines were sent on patrol toward Formosa and Hong Kong. Snapper also made provision and ammunition runs to Corregidor from Cebu. Some military personnel were evacuated aboard the submarine. The troops were a combination of officers and enlisted. Snapper provided torpedoes to a PT boat [Annotator's Note: patrol torpedo boat] during that time. The Philippines operation and the Asiatic Fleet took a terrible beating during the early months of the war. The larger ships in the fleet were sunk by the Japanese. The Holland was escorted by Snapper and Sturgeon [Annotator's Note: USS Sturgeon (SS-187)]. Corregidor surrendered a month after the Snapper had been there. The rumors of aid for the Philippines never materialized. The submarines served the country well. It was good that Zimmer got off his two previous ships because they were sunk [Annotator's Note: USS California (BB-44) and USS Astoria (CA-34)]. Meanwhile, his submarines lasted the duration of the war.

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Mitchell Zimmer and the USS Snapper (SS-185) had multiple war patrols while using faulty torpedoes. Most of their action involved avoidance of depth charges. He was later assigned to the USS Sturgeon (SS-187). As a torpedoman, Zimmer was retrained at Hyannis Port to adjust the torpedoes to make them effective. The fix was easy to learn. Zimmer explains the faulty conditions and the corrections required. It was an exasperating experience firing the bad weapons until the fixes were put in place. Being depth charged sounded like a huge hammer hitting the hull. He got used to it after awhile. It was no worse than being on the surface and being bombed.

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Mitchell Zimmer served aboard two sister-ship submarines, the Snapper [Annotator's Note: USS Snapper (SS-185) and the Sturgeon [Annotator's Note: USS Sturgeon (SS-187)]. He also served on the Piper [Annotator's Note: USS Piper (SS-409)]. His two war patrols on the Sturgeon were non-eventful. He served in new construction on Piper. She was a more modern submarine. Piper participated in wolf packs off Japan to protect the aircraft carriers bombing the home islands. The submarines served to rescue pilots shot down after bombing Japan. Although no pilots were retrieved, Japanese prisoners were picked up. A film crew aboard the submarine even filmed some of the crew and prisoners when that happened. Whenever the enemy had to go to the bathroom, they were guarded closely because they could not be trusted alone in the boat. One POW [Annotator's Note: prisoner of war] even wanted to commit suicide. He had to be sedated. The prisoners were brought to Guam. The submarine was bombed in the Sea of Japan afterward. Subsequently, the crew learned of the atomic bombs being dropped and Hirohito [Annotator's Note: Japanese Emperor Hirohito] announcing the Japanese surrender. The crew had to be alert for floating mines that could have destroyed their submarine.

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Mitchell Zimmer and his boat [Annotator's Note: USS Piper (SS-409)] returned to Pearl Harbor en route to the Panama Canal and New London, Connecticut [Annotator's Note: after the war ended]. Zimmer passed two enlistment termination points. He had signed up for the DOW, Duration of the War. He made chief before New London. He received leave and returned to Detroit. He was married. Afterward, he was assigned to Panama. He served in Panama for two years. He was discharged in October 1957 after 20 years in service. He liked the Navy and had no regrets about his service.

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