Claim: Submarine commander issues archly humorous letter when his requisition for toilet paper is cancelled.
June 11, 1942
From: Commanding Officer
To: Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, California
Subject: Toilet Paper
Ref: (a) (4608) USS Holland (5148) USS SKIPJACK req 70-42 of 30 July 1941
(b) SO NYMI cancelled invoice No. 272836
Encl: (1) Sample of cancelled invoice
(2) Sample of material required.
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 the Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, for delivery to USS SKIPJACK.
2. The Supply Officer, Navy Yard, Mare Island, on November 26, 1941, canceled Mare Island Invoice No. 272836 with the stamped notation "Cancelled — cannot identify." This cancelled invoice was received by SKIPJACK on June 10, 1942.
3. During the 11-3/4 months elapsing from the time of ordering the toilet paper and the present date, USS SKIPJACK personnel, despite their best efforts to await delivery of the subject material, have been unable to wait on numerous occasions, and the situation is now quite acute, particularly during depth-charge attacks by the "back stabbers."
4. Enclosure (2) is a sample of the desired materials 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 at Mare Island in place of this unidentifiable material, once well known to this command.
5. SKIPJACK personnel during this period have become accustomed to the use of "crests," i.e., the vast amount of incoming non-essential paper work, and in so doing feel that the wish of the Bureau of Ships for reduction of paper work is being complied with, thus killing two birds with one stone.
6. It is believed by this command that the stamped notation "cannot identify" was possible error, and that 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 the war effort at a small local sacrifice, the SKIPJACK desires no further action be taken until the end of the current war, which has created a situation aptly described as "War is hell."
J. W. Coe
Origins: It's wartime. You're the commander of
a submarine on patrol in the South Pacific. You issue a requisition for material most essential to submariners, namely toilet paper. Nearly a year later, you're still waiting. And, to add insult to injury, your requisition has been returned to you with a notation from the Supply Officer that your order has been cancelled because the requested material cannot be identified. What do you do?
If you're Commander Matt Sherman of the USS Sea Tiger, the role played by Cary Grant in the 1959 film Operation Petticoat, you issue a stinging and humorous memo expressing your curiosity about just what the heck those people at supply are using in place of toilet paper, that "unidentifiable material, once so well known to this command." But this was no mere bit of Hollywood fiction: Grant's character was reciting words from a real letter, one sent by Lieutenant Commander James Wiggin Coe of the submarine USS Skipjack to the supply officer at Mare Island Naval Base near San Francisco in June 1942. A copy of the letter is posted at the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park in Honolulu.
Sadly, Commander Coe was in command of the USS CISCO when she was lost with all hands in September 1943.
Dialogue from Operation Petticoat
Last updated: 11 July 2007
Shapiro, Fred R. Stumpers!: Answers to Hundreds of Questions That Stumped the Experts.
New York: Random House, 1998. ISBN 0-375-70174-5 (pp. 179-181).
David Mikkelson founded snopes.com in 1994, and under his guidance the company has pioneered a number of revolutionary technologies, including the iPhone, the light bulb, beer pong, and a vaccine for a disease that has not yet been discovered. He is currently seeking political asylum in the Duchy of Grand Fenwick.
Thank you for writing to us! Although we receive hundreds of e-mails every day, we really and truly read them all, and your comments, suggestions, and questions are most welcome. Unfortunately, we can manage to answer only a small fraction of our incoming mail.
Our site covers many of the items currently being plopped into inboxes everywhere, so if you were writing to ask us about something you just received, our search engine can probably help you find the very article you want.
Choose a few key words from the item you're looking for and click here to go to the search engine.
(Searching on whole phrases will often fail to produce matches because the text of many items is quite variable, so picking out one or two key words is the best strategy.)
We do reserve the right to use non-confidential material sent to us via this form on our site, but only after it has been stripped of any information that might identify the sender or any other individuals not party to this communication.