AFDB-7 Los Alamos Holy Loch Scotland “IN THE BEGINNING…” 21

For the second time in the history of theleansubmariner, I am posting an article from a Shipmate that I have come to know via our common interests in history and events that shaped it. This article comes from Norman Rachels SWE4 (formerly of the United States Navy). Norm was one of the guys who arrived early enough to see Site One come together in a very meaningful way… this is his story.

Thanks for all your hard work both then and in putting this together Shipmate!

Mister Mac

 

“IN THE BEGINNING….”

Mr. Mac posted a blog on August 1st, 2011 titled “Bagpipes and Boomers and Beer, oh my!”[1]   The sub heading was, “Holy Loch, Scotland”…….and THAT CAUGHT MY ATTENTION. In fact, that was how I stumbled across his blog back on August 3rd, 2013. You see, my 50th wedding anniversary was coming up on the 21st and I was still looking for something unusual for my wife and had been Goggling Scotland for quite some time looking for the perfect gift.

Why, you might ask? Because she is from Glasgow, Scotland and we were married there on August 21st, 1963. I met her on my first day ashore in Dunoon, Scotland, arriving on May 27, 1961 aboard the USS DE SOTO COUNTY. I was a Seabee in MCB-4 (Mobile Construction Battalion Four) and the main body was heading for Rota, Spain.

Fortunately for me, I had been assigned to DETACHMENT KILO and was disembarking with the main body of Kilo to spend my stay in Scotland, in the Holy Loch, on a floating barracks ship, APL-42, which we affectionately called, “The Apple”. The purpose of Detachment Kilo was to erect a floating dry dock capable of docking Polaris submarines.

The dock had been in storage in Green Cove Springs, Florida since WWII and Detachment Kilo was formed in the spring of 1960 to assist in the reactivation of AFDB-7. With the completion of reactivation on the dry dock sections, preparations were begun for the long tow across the Atlantic. This involved the inventory and stowage of all equipment and procuring provisions for the 30-day voyage. The tows left Green Cove Springs, Florida the end of April. Not only were the four sections of the dry dock separately towed but also the barracks ship (APL-42) and a floating warehouse (YFNB-32). Also towed behind the A and B sections of the dock were two barges. It was the largest tow since World War II.[2]

Dock 1  Dock 2

Work commenced on the dry dock sections under the direction of LCDR W. E. Nims, officer-in-charge of Det. KILO, on June 2, 1961. By the 23rd the first wing walls had been raised and by August 10th dock sections A and B had been welded together. Difficulties plagued KILO’s work, the largest being the inclement weather which resulted in faulty welds which had to be cut out and re-welded. Shelters were built around the crews to protect them and the welds where work continued night and day…….and so did the troublesome weather. The core of KILO’s work on the floating dry dock enveloped the steelworkers. Intricate welds, hampering weather and long hours produced a strain evident in the steelworker crews by deployment’s end. Forming the backbone of the steelworker crews were 11 men who had graduated in April 1961 from the Davisville, (RI) (Home of the Seabees) [3] Class “C” Welding and Certification School. All phases of horizontal, vertical, overhead and pipe welding were covered to give the men technical experience for the task they faced. Honor man of the class, J. M. Frizzel lauded the school for the interest shown each individual. Passing on the knowledge and interest acquired in school, the graduates helped promote more efficient steelworker crews in KILO. Addressing the graduating class, LCDR Nims stated that the steelworkers would have the most critical phase of the dry dock assembly.[4]

Dock 3

On top of Section A looking at B going up. I took this picture using a Polaroid camera in 1961. All my black and white pictures are from the same camera

On August 15th sections A and B were ready for the first test dive. However, as the dock descended a fault was discovered in the levelometer system and the submergence test had to be postponed. To repair this deficiency it was necessary to call upon the ONLY LIVING EXPERT ON THIS SYSTEM, age 72, Mr. “T”, as he was known. By September 16th A and B sections were prepared for another try at submergence and were successful.

The next task was to transfer a gantry crane from the back of one of the remaining C and D sections TO THE TOP OF THE WALL on A and B  This was accomplished on September 18th.[5]

 

How… you ask? By sinking sections A and B, building bridge rails across to the back of the section holding the crane then pulling it across with block and tackle.

Normally, this would mean the completion of the hardest task of erection and the beginning of a downhill jog. But events became more hectic for KILO. The weather worsened. The Ingersoll Rand main generator engine broke down and it became obvious that a longer working week was necessary to meet the operational date of November 1st, 1961. The work schedule was pushed to six days a week, 12 hours a day. By October 4th section C was joined to A and B sections and on October 22nd the last section, D, was incorporated. The work schedule was increased to seven days a week, 12 or more hours a day.[6] (funny, I don’t remember getting OT).

Dock 4   Dock 5

Note the crane on the back left of a section and the wing walls are lying down and on hinges with the tops facing each other. The crane(s) had to go from this position to the top of erected wing walls. The left picture was taken in Green Cove Springs, FL before the tow. I took the picture on the right from the top of section A showing a crane on the back of C section, the wing walls still down, which could not be raised because of the position of the crane. The cranes cable drum is almost as large as a pick-up truck. A Mike boat is approaching on the unusually calm waters of Holy Loch.

Below gantry structures are going up for the outer rail for the cranes to run on. The other rail was atop the outer edge of the wing walls.

Dock 6       Dock 7

In the second picture below you can see one of the 30,000 pound anchors used to hold the dock in place. Twenty-four were used with 3 inch chain links which weighed 86 lbs. each. We had 3 miles of chain and dropped 24 anchors in 90 feet of water, only having to re-drop one.

  Dock 81

Dock 9

The first crane is being transferred to the top of wing walls A and B. Note the gantry structure at water level in the picture on the right and the crane at the back of section C. This was the FIRST TIME THE AFDB-7 HAD BEEN UNDER WATER SINCE WWII. These color pictures were taken with my Bell & Howell 8 MM movie camera and I had the 2 & ¾ inch reels of film converted to a DVD & received several still pictures like these also. All my color pictures are from the 8 MM films.

Cranes were pulled across with ropes, blocks & tackles.

Dock 10 Dock 11

Dock 12 Dock 13

I took these pictures from the upper deck of the APL-42 showing section C wing walls going up after the crane had been placed on top of sections A and B. Note the workers on the jacks in the picture on the right, changing the pin positions. The left picture below shows a close up of the jacks with the holes for a large pin to be inserted as each side is raised about a foot. The pin holds up one side while the jack on the other side of the same wall is lowered, a pin removed, and then jacked up two notches, and re-inserted. The process is then repeated for the opposite wall. It took almost 16 hours to raise the walls for each of the four sections. Naturally the ballast must be controlled for the shifting weight. That’s why the 72 year old “Mr. T.” came in and repaired the system.

Dock 14 Dock 15

The above picture on the right is from the top of section C looking at our “home away from home”, the APL-42, or as we called it, “the Apple” (a floating barracks ship).

Dock 16

This is a different view of the Apple showing it had been moved to a different position in relation to the dock, and also one of the outer crane rails on the gantry structure is visible on the right.

.

I took these pictures with my Polaroid Land camera from the top of section A showing Seabees installing the deck between the rails of the cranes.

Dock 17 Dock 18

 

Dock 19

This award winning night photo shows flawed welds being cut out and would be welded again. After completion the welds would again be x-rayed for flaws.

Dock 20 Dock 21

The top picture shows a crane atop completed sections while the bottom right area shows another wall going up. The lower picture is the nearly finished AFDB-7. Note the small crane on the barrage in front.

 

Finished AFDB-7, is sitting high, waiting for a sub.       U.S.S. Patrick Henry is the first sub into the dock.

Dock 22 Dock 23

“….Yours is a significant contribution to fleet readiness of which you can be justly proud…Three points exemplify your outstanding performance. First, the high degree of competence in the fine art of seamanship is most gratifying. Second, your adherence to schedule shows dogged determination and much resourcefulness and imitative. Finally, your safety record be-speaks the skill of every man. Each of these is the more important for the adverse weather conditions which you combated. “The difficulty involved and the result realized are the measure of your accomplishment…..Well Done.

     ADM H.P. Smith, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Navy Forces, Europe      

Fighting all the obstacles, KILO missed the proposed completion date only a week. By November 6th the final submergence test had been accomplished.

As the 300 men of KILO who were in Scotland can testify, a description of the Holy Loch deployment made in April 1961 by CAPT. J.C. Tate, Commander Construction Battalions U.S. Atlantic Fleet held true at the deployment’s close in November: “one of the most interesting job of any of the Seabee battalions.”

On 10 November 1961, six months work on deployment, plus many more months of preparation for the deployment, closed in a ceremony in which Det. KILO OIC, LCDR W.E. Nims, transferred the dry dock to CAPT Walter Schlech, COMSUBRON 14, who in turn placed it in the custody of the AFDB-7 OIC, LT R.O. Melcher. The watch was set, and thus to Holy Loch a new addition for the service of Polaris submarines.

Three days later, the detachment, with the exception of a 60-man rear echelon boarded the USNS GORDON, sailed from the Holy Loch and headed for home.

Holy Loch is nestled in the Scottish Highlands a setting of verdant, rolling hills, picturesque Lochs, parks, kilts and tamoshanters. A land where the whiskey is strong and the people are friendly. Regardless of brooding Scottish skies, liberty became one of the memorable aspects of the deployment at Holy Loch. A short ride in a “Mike” boat from the APL-42 to Ardnadam pier and one was ashore. Only a few minutes ride by bus and personnel could be in the Scottish holiday resort of Dunoon, Scotland, home of the Cowal Highland Games. Many enjoyable evenings were spent by KILO men at Dunoon dancing at the pavilion or ‘quaffing” Lager at one of Dunoon’s inviting pubs.[12] (It’s like drinking, but you spill more. With 3 pints to go and only 2 minutes before they would be thrown out of the pub (bar),quaffing was a given.)

Dock 24     Dock 25

 

The Ardnadam pier was used for embarking and debarking to the Apple and AFDB-7 as well as the submarine tenders.

Returning from liberty in Glasgow via steam trains, we would then take the ferry from Gourock to Dunoon except when we missed the last one. Then we had to take a Mike boat from the Admiralty pier at Caldwell Bay in Gourock, pictured on the right and showing the Holy Loch in the background. I remember we would always be hungry and usually purchased two “fish & chips”, one to eat right-a-way, and the other on the trip to the Apple about 7 or 8 miles away.

Dock 26    Dock 27

About the author:             Norman Rachels SWE4

Below I am standing on the “Apple” with the first two sections, A & B being joined together in the back ground. I remember as my buddy and I went ashore the first time, at least 8, 9, 10 or more people stopped us on the street and invited us to dinner that night; several even asked us to spend the night. Coming from near a large military base, Ft. Bragg, NC, I could never imagine a soldier there getting the same reception. Since we did not take up any of the “offers”, I can now say that I am glad we didn’t. Later that evening, I met my wife of 50+ years at the Crown Court Café & Bar on Argyll Street, Dunoon.

Dock 28   Dock 29

Steelworker Erector E-3 in 1961                                      Crown Court Café & Bar, Dunoon

 

This AFDB 7 plaque, along with the picture of the docked sub, & the Crewmember certificate was given to me by LCDR R.A. Nance of the AFDB-7 when I visited in September, 1989.

Dock 30  Dock 31 Dock 32

Dock 33

MCB-4 Plaque

Dock 34

MCB-4 Battalion Patch

Dock 35

MCB-4 Cruise Book 1961

Dock 36  Dock 37

August 21st 1963 Glasgow, Scotland                                 August 21st, 2013 Scottsdale, AZ

 

[1]theleansubmariner.com

[2] This paragraph and the two pictures are from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[3] Davisville Naval Base no longer exists.

[4] This paragraph is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[5] The above two paragraphs are from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[6] This paragraph is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[7] This photo is from MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961

[8] These two pictures were taken with my Bell & Howell 8 MM movie camera and film converted to a DVD

[9] Picture on left was taken with Bell & Howell 8 mm camera, picture on right with Polaroid Land Camera.

[10] Picture is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book.

[11] I am not sure where I got this picture. The USS Patrick Henry in the AFDB-7 is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book.

[12] These 6 paragraphs are from the MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[13] The above pier picture is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.   Attribution: John Fergusonhttp://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ardnadam_Pier_Holy_Loch_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1750930.jpg No changes made .

[14] Ardnadam Pier Hotel picture is from the MCB-4 Cruise Book of 1961.

[15] Admiralty pier, Caldwell Bay in Gourock. (taken in 1956 – no copyright)

[16] I do not know where I obtained this picture.

[17] LCDR Nance, Commanding Officer, AFDB-7 personalized a note in the upper left corner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

21 comments

  1. Very interesting article. Norman did a wonderful article and we are very lucky he kept pictures.

    • Jack was my neighbor and golfing buddy for years so he maybe a little biased …….wonder if he ever got where he could “keep the ball in the short stuff” ???
      Norman

    • Thanks Debbie for your kind comments. I had never thought about posting it on a blog until Mr. Mac asked if I would be willing to share my experiences. By chance, I had already started a PDF on my short military career that I had planned to document for my 2 small grandchildren in the future and the Holy Loch part was nearly finished……so I thought I’d give it a chance to be seen by others that may have had “the HOLY LOCH experience. Thank you for the time you spent reading it.
      Norman

  2. This was such a great article. It brought back memories of my dad.

    I was a little over year old when we moved to Dunoon. My dad SF1 Eardmon “Jim” Locklear was a part of the crew that brought the ARD to Scotland. My mum was from London so she was thrilled that my dad was going to be stationed in Scotland. We were one of the first families to arrive. A lot of fun times were spent at the EM club every Sunday. we went there for dinner and according to my parents I danced with many a sailor missing their young children at home,

    When we were there my dad fell into the loch in full welding gear he was sure lucky to make it back to the surface.

    We left Dunoon in 1966. Sadly, my dad died in 2009 but he left many photos of the ARD – it was his pride and joy.
    If you remember us please post. I’d love to hear about it.

    • Kim, I apologize for the delay in responding to your post of April 7th.. I left Arizona on April 8th, to visit my brother & sister in Florida for 2 weeks and just returned the 22nd. As stated in the article, I arrived in Holy Loch on May 27, 1961 and left with the main body of Detachment Kilo in mid-November, 1961. Since I spent every minute off the Apple and AFDB-7 with the girl from Glasgow that I met the first day there,…..who later became my wife,…….I don’t remember very much of anything else…..except where we went and what we did.

      I am sorry about your dad passing. I lost my dad in 2011, 9 days before his 92nd birthday. A few months later, we moved to Arizona to be near our only two grandchildren. I wanted to be near them and to see them grow up and to enjoy them while I can. I try to spend as much time with them as possible and to help guide them in the way I think our maker would have us to do.

      I never got a chance to see either of my grandfathers as both died before I was born. I am trying to make sure my grandchildren will never forget me and to document not only their young lives with powerpoint presentations, but my wife’s and our lives together, as well as my short military career that was so rewarding to me.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my article and to post your comments.

      I wish you the best life has to offer and to enjoy it in good health.

    • Hello Kim, I’ am sorry to hear of Jims’ passing. I served on the “DOCK” with him from June 62′-May 64 and do remember him well. He was a GOOD man. D’Attilio BM3

  3. Does anyone remember the sailor who was blown off the top of the dry dock during the later 1980’s. I remember the occasion well but forget the name of the sailor I only met in passing.

    • The sailor could of been my brother, but he passed away on September 24th of 1991. EMFN Robert Dowe Hobbs (Robbie) from Belen NM.

      • Brandi, I have grieved the loss of your brother for years. I was the officer in charge of the investigation after the fall. Please accept my deepest condolences. I still stay in touch with a few of the people who were on the Dock at that time. He was greatly missed then and now by each of them. He was a handsome young man and a good sailor. Bob MacPherson

  4. Does anybody remember a sailor who was leaning on the life chain and the life chain broke falling into the basin. This was around 1975

    • Hello Ed. Not sure about 1975 but we had a young FN fall from the Port Wingwall one night in 1991 while standing on a stanchion trying to change the light on the flag pole in the rain. It was the perfect storm of everything you should not do. The story from my kids at the time was that there were a number of ghosts on the dock who made themselves known from time to time to the various watch standers in the middle of the night.

      • My brother may have been that FN, he fell on Sept. 24, 1991 Robbie HOBBS, miss him dearly. He was in Holyloch on the USS Los Alamos.

      • Hi Bob, Thank you for the reply, it seems to help that he is remembered and missed. That was a difficult time, but time eases our hearts.Thank you for your compliments, he was pretty great wasn’t he. My mom has been trying to find some of his friends for funny stories, pictures or just for fun, maybe you remember Kelly by chance? Hard to believe it will be 25 years. Brandi Mayhew fbmdd@yahoo.com

  5. Just toured the Los Alamos here in Keppel Amfels shipyard in Brownsville TX. Amazing piece of history. Curious how its changed since the 40’s.

    • Person – if you took any pictures, I would love to see them.
      I am sure if you could get them to MISTER MAC or a way to contact you, he would send them on to me.
      Norman Rachels , author of this article.

  6. That was was interesting. I was in Holy Loch from 83 till 86. I was attached to the Hunley Shop 26A/B. We had a job to repair some welds on a splice play that was found to have a defect during an inspection. I arc gouged part of it and found the welds slugged. (filled with other metal such as round bar/allthread).

    • Thank you for you comments. I’m glad to see that some are still reading my article after two years. As far as the defects, I am sure we Seabees made many and that when found, they were corrected. Others not found were apparently not that bad as “the AFDB-7 WORKED FOR 30 YEARS.

  7. Enjoyed the piece very much. Loved the pictures. Brought back lots of memories. Thank you for your service. I served on the USS Holland from 1976-1977. Transferred to boat (USS Alexander Hamilton) until my discharge in 1980. We had one extended refit in the drydock one time. Its something to see your boat high and dry on the blocks. Tennets Ale was one good lager.

  8. Thank you Gary for your comments and I am happy you enjoyed the article and the pictures. Also, thank you for your service as well. I had been in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on deployment before going to Holy Loch. I was drinking rum and coke there and continued doing so in Scotland but I did try some of their lager but never became a beer drinker. At the time we were there it was difficult to fine “cold beer” and I just couldn’t stand the room temperature product. The Tennets Brewery was located near my girl friends/now wifes home in Glasgow. However, I have now become a Scotch on the rocks lover since I gave up the Cokes 10 years ago…..

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