James Wiggins Coe
On June 11th of 1942 (not 1943, as the memo's opening typo states), the Commanding Officer of USS Skipjack, Lt. Commander James Wiggins Coe, sent the following sarcastic memo to the Navy's supply department at Mare Island. At this point it had been almost a year since crew aboard the submarine had placed a simple request for 150 rolls of toilet paper with the depot, and only very recently had said requisition been returned, frustratingly bearing the words "cancelled — cannot identify." This memo was Coe's response.
Amusingly, when the submarine next returned to land, Coe and crew were faced with a dock piled high with toilet roll pyramids, countless toilet roll streamers flying from every available post, and a brass band wearing toilet paper neckties. The situation surrounding the toilet paper shortage even made an appearance in the movie Operation Petticoat, with Lt. Cmdr. Coe's equivalent character played by Cary Grant.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of The Navy Department Library.
11 June, 1943
From: The Commanding Officer.
To: Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California.
Via: Commander Submarines, Southwest Pacific.
Subject: Toilet Paper.
Reference: (a) (6048) USS HOLLAND (5184) USS SKIPJACK Reqn. 70-42 of July 30, 1941; (b) SO NYMI cancelled invoice No. 272836.
Enclosure: (A) Copy of cancelled invoice; (B) Sample of material requested.
1. This vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper on July 30, 1941, to USS HOLLAND. The material was ordered by HOLLAND from Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, for delivery to USS SKIPJACK.
2. The Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, on November 26, 1941, cancelled Mare Island Invoice No. 272836 with the stamped notation "cancelled — cannot identify". This cancelled invoice was received by SKIPJACK on June 19, 1942.
3. During the 11-1/2 months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date the SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of subject material have been unable to wait on numerous occasions, and the situation is now quite acute, especially during depth charge attacks by the "back-stabbers".
4. Enclosure (B) is a sample of the desired material provided for the information of the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island. The Commanding Officer, USS SKIPJACK cannot help but wonder what is being used by Mare Island in place of this unidentifiable material, one well known to this command.
5. SKIPJACK personnel during this period has become accustomed to the use of "Ersatz" the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work, and in so doing felt that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for "reduction of paper work" is being complied with thus effectually "killing two birds with one stone".
6. It is believed by this Command that the stamped notation "cannot identify" was possibly an error, and this is simply a case of shortage of strategic war material, the SKIPJACK probably being low on the priority list.
7. In order to cooperate in war effort at small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action to be taken until the end of current war which has created a situation aptly described as "War is Hell".
Operation Petticoat is a 1959 comedic film directed by Blake Edwards, and starring Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Dina Merrill. Operation Petticoat follows the adventures and tribulations of the sub's skipper (Grant) and his crew (including Curtis as a deviously mercenary supply officer), as they first try to repair the sub and then reach Australia for the necessary refit. The voyage includes various detours along the way, including the acquisition of a group of stranded female Army nurses, an attempt to sink a Japanese ship, and a hurried stopover to overhaul and repaint the sub which quickly goes awry.