I’m sure I have mentioned it before but I have a modest collection of Bluejackets Manuals dating back to the early 1900’s.
I started out with my Grandfather Parkin’s manuals from the Second World War. From that time, I have added them as I find them in old book stores, sea ports, and Army Navy stores. There is a very nice one in Palmyra PA if you happen to be driving through town but make sure you don’t park in the “Precious Puppies” parking lot out back. The lady that does the grooming will give you an honest to goodness stink eye.
Today I picked up one that I did not have before, the Eighteenth Edition.
This particular version was one of the light blue hardbacks, large print on page numbering and in remarkably good shape. Most of the manuals I find from places like today have pages that are a bit browned from being stored in a basement somewhere. They ended up in his store after someone passed away or maybe just on a wholesale house cleaning. After all, unless your day to day life involves tying knots or small boat handling, the BJM probably doesn’t have much value for you.
I like the submarine sections of the BJM through the years.
You can really get a feel for submarine development by reading the sections that discuss current and future trends. In 1968, nuclear submarines were the main topic.
“The fleet ballistic missile and nuclear propulsion have given the submarine a new place in the defense of the United States. To help discourage an attempted sneak attack on the country, our FBM submarines are kept constantly on station beneath the sea, ready to answer such an attack with an immediate and devastating counterpunch. Our attack submarines are designed to find and destroy enemy subs or surface ships which might launch missiles against us.”
The memory of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was engrained in the Navy’s and the country’s DNA.
The generation of leaders in 1968 in many cases were the young Ensigns and Seamen so sneak attacks were a very real threat. With the advent of the Soviet missile fleet, this threat was very real. In many senses of the word, we were still at war.
The Navy was gearing up for the conflict it hoped to never fight.
“By 1970 the Navy expects to have a fleet of of 100 nuclear powered submarines, 41 of which will be armed with Polaris ballistic missiles. However there are still a large number of conventionally powered “fleet types” in the active Navy”
Mention is made of the Barbel class boats as the last conventionally powered submarines added to the fleet at large. The Nautilus is mentioned as the first nuclear powered boat followed by the four ships of the Skate Class and six of the Skipjack class. The last of the Skipjack Class was of course the USS Scorpion. She was launched on 19 December 1959, sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison (daughter of the last commander of the World War II-era USS Scorpion, which had been lost with all hands in 1944), and commissioned on 29 July 1960, Commander Norman B. Bessac in command.
The article goes on to report “the largest group of SSNs will eventually be the ships of the Permit (SSN 594) Class, the first of which were completed in 1962. These ships are armed with both torpedoes and SUBROC, an antisubmarine missile which can be fired from a torpedo tube, take to the air in a ballistic trajectory and return to the water miles away to become a submarine hunting torpedo.”
The Scorpion was engaged in submarine warfare development activities in the Atlantic when she was lost.
Most boat sailors who know the back stories know that the original Scorpion hull was used for the rapid development of the USS George Washington SSBN 598. The name Scorpion was shifted to the hull which became the boat all of us commemorate each May.
The Eighteenth Edition of the BJM that I have was actually printed in September of 1969. There is no mention of the Scorpion’s loss. While the mix of submarines by the early seventies is covered in great detail in the Nineteenth Edition (mine in boot camp), there is still no mention of the loss of the Scorpion. Maybe they didn’t want to scare us.
The Nineteenth BJM does have an interesting take on submariners though;
“Submarine duty is different than anything else in the Navy; it requires a special temperament which not all possess.”
From my humble experience, I would have to agree.
The Silent Service
The USS Thresher’s loss finally shows up for the first time in the Naval History section in the twentieth edition of the Blue Jacket’s manual. That was the edition published in 1978 which glowingly talked about the Los Angeles Class and Ohio class boats. Fifteen years. Still no mention of the Scorpion.
The latest version of the BJM in my collection is from my nephew EM1/SS. The Scorpion is still not listed in the historical section of the book. I had never even thought about it until today. That’s kind of sad. Maybe someone who has a more current one can check and see if she has shown up yet.
Did you ever forget something after it was too late to do anything about it? Mine is the sound of my Dad’s voice telling me to be a good person. I can hear the words, but I can’t reproduce the sound no matter how hard I try. I also can’t remember what the Scorpion plaque in the forward escape truck looks like on the George Washington. As an A-ganger doing PM’s, I surely must have seen it. But for the life of me, I can’t remember it.
I hope the lost souls of that boat and their families know that even though the Navy’s Blue Jackets Manual doesn’t remember them, most of us still do. God Rest their souls.