Retired Rear Adm. Maurice H. “Mike” Rindskopf, who became the youngest commander of a U.S. submarine during World War II and helped his vessel achieve one of the best fighting records of the war, died of prostate cancer July 27 at his home in Annapolis. He was 93.
In June 1944, Adm. Rindskopf was a 26-year-old lieutenant commander aboard the U.S.S. Drum, a state-of-the-art submarine fighting in the Pacific. The captain developed gallstones.
“I was given two choices,” Adm. Rindskopf wrote in an unpublished autobiography. “To take command, or to break in yet another skipper. The decision was easy, and I became the first in the [U.S. Naval Academy] class of 1938 to command a fleet boat on patrol.”
During his 11 patrols aboard the Drum, the last two of which he led, Adm. Rindskopf helped sink at least 15 enemy ships and damage 11 more. With that record, the Drum ranked eighth among U.S. submarines in terms of tonnage sank, according to James Scott, author of a coming book about submarine warfare in the Pacific.
Adm. Rindskopf received the Navy Cross for his “extraordinary heroism” as commanding officer of the 11th patrol, which took place in Japanese-controlled waters during the fall of 1944. He “launched five well-planned and brilliantly executed torpedo attacks” that sank four ships totalling more than 25,000 tons and damaged two others.
“By his expert seamanship,” the citation reads, “Commander Rindskopf avoided severe enemy countermeasures and brought his ship safe to port.”
Phillip “Willy” Williamson of Paulsboro, N.J. served on nearly all of Adm. Rindskopf’s patrols aboard the Drum.
“I think Rindskopf was the reason that we made it through the war,” he said.
During the two missions Adm. Rindskopf led, he found himself in control of a multi-million-dollar war machine that typically carried a crew of about 80 men on patrols lasting two months or more.
He had joined the crew of the Drum less than three years earlier as a junior officer, shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and had distinguished himself for his skill in gunnery.
Firing torpedoes is “all about mathematics,” Scott said, and Adm. Rindskopf — who was known for his quick mind for math — played a critical role in firing 125 of them. He often volunteered for the night watch, drinking hot soup while decoding messages about the movements of enemy targets. Fellow crew members always knew when it was time.
“I would don a garish yellow aloha shirt I had purchased in Honolulu,” Adm. Rindskopf wrote in his memoir, “and lo! we went to Battle Stations.”
After World War II, Adm. Rindskopf was a torpedo and gunnery instructor at the submarine school in New London, Conn., where he would later return as the officer in charge. In the 1960s, he commanded two submarine flotillas.
He was promoted to admiral in 1967 and for the next two years served as deputy assistant chief of staff for intelligence to Adm. John S. McCain Jr., the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command during the Vietnam War and father of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
After Adm. Rindskopf retired from the Navy in 1972, he worked for Westinghouse as a marketing manager.
Besides the Navy Cross, the highest award for valor after the Medal of Honor, Adm. Rindskopf’s decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.
Maurice Herbert Rindskopf was born Sept. 27, 1917, in Queens. He graduated from Poly Prep Country Day School at age 16 and went to the Naval Academy.
In addition to the cramped quarters and close calls — including one episode when the Drum came under Japanese fire and water starting pouring in at the rate of three gallons per minute — wartime life on the submarine required great personal sacrifice.
Adm. Rindskopf did not learn that he had a son, Peter, until three weeks after he was born. A radio message had failed to reach the submarine.
Peter Rindskopf died in 1971. The admiral’s wife of 69 years, the former Sylvia Lubow, died in 2010. Survivors include one granddaughter and two great-grandsons.