USS Hunley AS-31 (Cold Warrior Extraordinaire)


Its hard to believe that a little over twenty years ago I checked on board the USS Hunley. The ship was already about thirty years old when I got to her as the Machinery Division Officer (later Auxiliary Division). The previous two years had been spent in Holy Loch Scotland where the Hunley had spent a number of years long before my time. Now she was In Norfolk and the budgetary affects of the end of the Cold War were about to set in.


The Hunley was an interesting ship and one of only two built like her (Holland was the other). Her propulsion came from six main engines tied through a giant converter to produce enough AC electricity to turn the giant squirrel cage induction motor. That motor could turn the single screw just fast enough to make fifteen or sixteen knots on a clear and calm sea with a strong wind at our back. She was not built for speed.


Being built for speed was not her purpose though. In the beginning of the cold war, our submarine missile launch capability was limited by the technology. In order not to lose too much patrol time, submarine tenders from World War 2 were quickly converted and Hunley and Holland headed the line of new construction tenders. Each new tender would have greater capability and a different type of propulsion system. But Hunley’s all electric engine rooms served a unique dual purpose.

When the subs would come along side, Hunley was able to provide them with electricity, a source for air conditioning and a complete shop to make just about anything. She had fresh and canned food, basic supplies, diesel fuel, and anything the boats needed to fulfill their mission.

She was not without her challenges though. Several design flaws continued to haunt the Hunley throughout her career. The engine rooms were ventilated with forced draft air. That did not take into account the atmospheric conditions found in some of her operating areas. In other words, she got a bit warm in the tropics.

The little boilers were kept up as good as they could be for their age, but occasionally they would give themselves a rest at just the wrong time. As good as the air conditioning units were in their day, they had mostly fallen on hard times by the time I got there.

The engine exhausts were an interesting experiment as well and from time to time caught on fire. Since a million gallons of diesel fuel capacity wrapped both engine rooms, God Bless the folks that got the fires out before it was too late.

Hunley Aft ER-2 Hunley Aft ER-3

The last unique design “issue” was throwing the main contact to engage the main engines to the propulsion system. The lever had to be manually operated. This is one position where as the EOOW, I always made sure I had my biggest and strongest electricians ready for. Towards the end, the contacts (which were made of gold by the way) would stick as we were coming in to the pier. I was not on watch that day but will never forget the sound of the Captain screaming at the CHENG through the MC.

To the Hunley’s credit, she didn’t let those things halt her forward progress.  Not only did we pass OPPE with flying colors, we also upgraded the ship well enough to pass an INSURV right before the the Navy decided that she had to be retired due to the post Cold War budget cuts. On the day she was announced for retirement, all ten engines were running and in pretty decent shape.

We had installed a new galley, new AC units throughout the ship, and every major piece of equipment was in fighting condition. The men and women of the Hunley answered the call with no hesitation when Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida. Our people were rewarded for their four months of hard work with the Humanitarian Service Medal.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t thrilled to have the EOOW watch during that North Atlantic storm in the early winter of 93. I had all the mains on line and could barely hold 3 knots. But the men and women in both forward and aft engine rooms (as well as the many folks up topside) proved that they were as good a crew as any I served with in twenty two years.

Hunley Jeannie Keith Hunley Jeannie and Mark

One member of my Auxiliary Division was a young third class when I knew her. Today, she is a Major in the Air Force and fought in the Liberation of Iraq. I think some of the “men” who wasted so much time giving the women a hard time couldn’t have held her “battle rattle” on a good day.

Hunley 1994

Hunley is gone now, sold for scrap. I can’t even guess how many thousands of crew members sailed on her. The only ones I would just as soon forget know who they are so I will leave them to their retirements in peace. But I will always remember the fine men and women who took her around the world and made her work to the best of their ability. God Bless them All.

scan0003       USS Hunley Decom Invite 1994

Hunley ER Men  Hunley EN


Mister Mac

on the dock 2

  Retirement 3

10 thoughts on “USS Hunley AS-31 (Cold Warrior Extraordinaire)

  1. I’m not compentent to comment on the Hunley, although I can imagine that switchgear fairly well.

    What I will comment on is how extraordinary the women coming up in the Armed Forces are. They not only have proven equal to the men but, often have raised the standards.

    1. The one thing left out of the story above is that the main propulsion generatores (2400 AC amps each) were put on the propulsion buss without the aid of a syncroscope. The only means or paralleling them was by matching the engine tachs.

  2. Thanks for the great info about the Hunley. I was stationed on her from 1984 – 1988. Holy Loch was awesome.

  3. Really interesting article. I am a Dunoon local who remembers all the ships from the Proteus right up to the end. I remember being at school when all these American kids arrived and being welcomed with curiosity. I still have friends from that time.

    1. Thanks John. By the way, John was my Dad’s name as well. One of my favorite memories from Dunoon was the first time I got a “Poll Tax” bill. I called the government office up and said that I was an American citizen and the woman said “Oh sure you are Mr. Robert Macpherson… di ye know how many times I’ve heard that one?” I think she’s still waiting for me to show up at the office…

  4. I was on board in Charleston in the mid 70s working in forward engine room. On a saturday in the summer, another design flaw of the Fairbanks-Morse main engines revealed itself. To keep fuel back pressure for the injectors, a copper tube with a flare fitting was used on the fuel return line, right over the exhaust elbow. They would break from vibration. On this day #2 main engine caught fire, and M division went on Port and Starboard duty for a few months to straighten the mess out. Thankfully, nobody was injured. The fire party and all involved did a great job. The fuel return was replaced with a better set up after that. Glad it didn’t happen on the way to Guam.

    1. Hey Ingram, ya ole knuckle draggin hole snipe you. Remember me EM3 Bob Payne EOS Controllerman. On board 76-79 I left the ole girl stuck on the rock in Guam, sure do miss her. I was the Fire Party Electrician at that forward engine room fire you speak of, what a mess that was. E-div was on port and starboard duty too. Sometimes I feel like I could still parallel those generators and answer bells today.

  5. I was on Pre Com with Hunley and took her to Scotland and stayed till Feb 1964 Was in pipe shop as SFP2 Where are all the guys today Have been looking for Webber a long time . i retired as HTCS in 1984 and still above ground at 75 today 1/16/2019 send me some mail shipmates Norm Atwater

  6. Ran the Radio Shack 1971-1975 aboard the Hunley. Loved the duty in Guam, then trip to Austrailia, return to drop off two underage female stowaways to New Zealand, GOLDEN SHELLBACK on the way to Washington State, , Hawaii, then Bremerton WA for missile upfit, .dropping an officers car during crane transport (destroyed) Lost a brand new missile crane due to static testing failure (three month delay) then via San Francisco, San Diego, Acapulco, Panama Canal, GTMO, Cuba and arrived at Fort Lauderdale 1974 (The STREAK just came out) for spring break. I’m sure many marriages that visit, but not me). Ended up in Chas’n South Carolina the discharged out back to Los Angeles. LOVED THE HUNLEY.

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