Passing test depth, sir.

Passing test depth, sir.

Image result for submarine underwater


A shipmate asked the other night about handling demons.

It’s a simple question that anyone who has been in a submerged submarine can understand. Years after you have left the boat, many still have dreams about what they did. The dreams can be so real sometimes. The feel of the boat sharply turning (even when you subconsciously know you are in your bed in the middle of the country). The claustrophobic surroundings of a dimly lit passageway surrounded by stainless steel covered bulkheads. The sound of the four hundred cycle hum and fan noises that suddenly go quiet. Periscope depth on a winter’s night in some remote sea lane surrounded by passing ships. A relief valve that lifts off its seat shouting its high pressure screams for all to hear.

And test depth.

The designed depth where the hull and all of the equipment are supposed to be able to operate with impunity to the dangers of the deep. Somewhere below, the real demon lives. Crush depth. Your training is filled with stories about the few boats that found where that monster waits to hold you in its death grasp. The sounds of the hull creaking and groaning under the pressure can be felt as you get closer to the test depth. The sound as you get closer to crush depth can only be heard in nightmares.

How do you handle the demons?

The answers are many and as diverse as the men and now women who ride submarines.

Some did their tours and went home in one piece. Some did careers and never look back at all. Others have not fared so well. Broken lives, divorces, substance abuse, isolation from others… all are part of a pattern repeated too many times. Maybe someday someone will be able to explain why some carry the demons with them and some bury them at sea.

Fifty years ago, a submarine named Scorpion was lost.

The legends and stories are many but I only think of the men who went with her to her grave. They were brave men who were performing a mission in defense of this country. They were all relatively young, many had families, and all had expectations of coming home. This crew and ship joined the ill-fated Gato Class submarine named Scorpion that was lost with all hands in 1944. They all gave their lives for our country.

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I am sure that for the next few decades after the second Scorpion was lost, many submariners would go to sea and think about the “What if?” She was a sturdy boat with a good crew. I know I did from time to time. It is easy to do when you know that the boat you are riding was the original Scorpion, repurposed to fulfill another mission. Although she was not lost, the boat she became tested her crew more than once in typhoons and a collision.

My demons? I write about them. Sometimes I go out and do presentations to civic groups and others that have a curiosity about the life. Alcohol never seemed to help. Took me a long time to figure that one out. Prayer works too but so many people put barriers between themselves and God, it is not something that should be taken lightly.

The demons we all faced are familiar to many who have never even submerged on a boat: they are the demons that remind us of our fragile and temporary existence. Accepting that truth is a pretty big step in keeping them in their place.

We will all pass through test depth on our way down one last time… until then, try to be a good shipmate and enjoy the ride.

Mister Mac

A memorial to the 99 USS Scorpion crew members on eternal patrol, as well as the families of those men.


10 thoughts on “Passing test depth, sir.

  1. Bravo Zulu Mac, Demons take all forms, but in the end, it’s how you deal with them that matters.


    On Mon, May 14, 2018 at 7:18 PM, theleansubmariner wrote:

    > mstrmac711 posted: “Passing test depth, sir. A shipmate asked the other > night about handling demons. It’s a simple question that anyone who has > been in a submerged submarine can understand. Years after you have left the > boat, many still have dreams about ” >

    1. Thanks Rick. I started this post out as a gentle reminder to my shipmates of all ages to find a path to peace. It was only after I started writing that I was reminded of the Thresher and the Scorpion (as well as the USS San Francisco which fortunately made it home). Those stories were told to us in submarine school and every once in a while you would serve with someone who knew someone on one of the bots that were lost. That was definitely something that left a long lasting impression on them and those around them.

  2. Great post! I’ve often wondered how submarine crews maintain their ability to function over the very long times submerged. I could not do it.
    Thanks to you and the rest for your service.

    1. Most of the time, its not that hard. In the old days we manned rotating watch sections that were based on an 18 hour day. In some cases, twelve on and twelve off. Its only when you got more senior that you backed down to four section. Everything is different now that they went to a twenty four hour day.
      I think I speak for many when I say it was an extreme honor to serve this country.

      1. Yes, it was a great honor to serve this country. I served on the other end af ASW. I flew as an Aircrewman with a squadron out of NASJAX Florida. That was during the Cuban Missile Crisis and we had contact with many US subs and Soviet Union subs daily. I actually heard the USS Nautilus once. Made my day.

  3. Served on the 609B and went below test depth. Lost propulsion and depth control at a flank bell. Scary time. And yes, I still dream about it after 40 years.

  4. I was one who seemingly walked away unscathed. But two isolated violent outbursts from nowhere years apart, two divorces, and emotional attachment issues nearly 50 years later might suggest something different. VA said it’s not a form of PTSD but I get semi regular therapy still.

  5. Was doing well until the heading, “Fifty years ago, a submarine named Scorpion was lost.” That rocked my boat a little. I never expected to last past 40 years and live to speak the truth about SUBPAC or SUBLANT or the places we didn’t go and the things we didn’t do.

    We were heading home from one of those “Geodesic Surveys” that had extended our away from home a little due to “Technical Issues.” We were waylaid before we were able to perform and had to visit a tender and wait for spare parts to get flown in. We were delayed in the performance so that extended our deployment. Another topic for another time.

    So we were late and anxious to get back to New London when we were told to change course to help in the search for a missing boat. The sonar gang was already overburdened and pretty much had Draim Bamage from being undermanned and pulling extra time on watches. I can truthfully say, “The world will never run out of shrimp.” I know because I counted them and even though they live in the deep blue sea the cicadas topside don’t even come close in their vocal arrangements. And, I can mime a whale fart, too.

    In due time we learned the missing boat was Thresher. I don’t recall when I found out but I think we knew she had exceeded test depth and crush depth before it was official that she was lost with all hands. I do recall wondering why the Emergency Escape Buoy with the script in the International Language, French, was not found. Five years later, we lost Scorpion. I was still a long ways away from forty.

    If you ever road a boat fresh out of an upkeep or yard period you know the feeling you get. Naturally, you are one tough bulletproof hombre and by now you have sailed upon some of the Seven Seas. I have always had a great respect and admiration for the British Navy. I observed their sailors smartly handling “Flag” watercraft and Whalers. Man, they are Royally top echelon. The first time I visited a buddy on a boat at HMS Dolphin and saw the depth gauges I inquired about the boat’s test depth as it wasn’t indicated like ours. He responded that there was no such thing. They had surfaced, periscope depth, and several hundred operational feet until they reached Panic Depth.

    Back when those boats were lost and additionally a French Submarine, an Israeli and a Soviet boat the same year we lost the Scorpion it is a wonder that we can calmly look at a depth gauge without hitting an internal Panic Button. Have you observed, ever, someone having a panic attack? Remember that 100-foot tower at Sub School? I remember not everyone made it. Young duck that I was with a waterproof butt, I never saw that as something to worry over. In a reflection of passing that four zero mark a day or many ago, I would do it all again because there is nothing greater than to be pulling duty alongside a Qualified Submariner or a whole boatload with the same quest.

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