While much of my work is original, there are some times when I find things that are too amazing to disturb. The year was 1942 and the book “The Fleet Today” by Kendall Banning had just been released (again). My assumption was that the book was already in publication before December 7th 1941 and was released as is. The reason I make that assumption is the fact that the main part of the book still focused on the mantra the Navy practiced for the thirty years prior to Pearl Harbor. “The Battleship is the BACKBONE of the Navy”.
The book has a lot of interesting chapters about life in the Navy just prior to the beginning of the war. What interested me most of course, was the chapter called The “Pig Boats”: The Submarines.
If you have ever wondered what a submariner of that era went through for training and actual service, this seems to be a pretty good representation. I have to warn you, its a long read. But if you love all things submarines, you will find a quiet place to read it and savor the richness of the story. For me, it was worth every second.
Spoiler alert: One of the best parts is right near the end
“Chapter XV THE “PIG BOATS”: THE SUBMARINES
US. SUBMARINE STATUS (As of December 6, 1941)
Number in commission 113
Number building 73
“ALONGSIDE the docks at the submarine base lie moored a line of “pig boats,” the sailor’s name for submarines. Some of them are so new that the paint on them still shines in the sunlight. Their high bows and their stately superstructures tower impressively above the water. They are so long that even those parts of their hulls that remain above the sur- face extend beyond the ends of the docks.
In contrast to these undersea leviathans are the smaller submarines of the so-called R and S classes, which were built during the World War period, and, though still serviceable, are now regarded as suitable only for coast defense and training purposes. Because these smaller fry exceed the prescribed age limit of thirteen years, they are officially classified as “over age” by the terms of the Washington and London Naval Treaties of 1922 and 1930 respectively. While they lack the improvements of their more aristocratic brethren, have a smaller cruising range, and certainly can boast of fewer comforts—if any submarine at all may be said to have comforts— the basic principles of operation are the same. Thus these older types serve adequately as training ships for the men who are newly admitted to the submarine service; at the same time their use releases the newer vessels for more important duty with the fleet.
It is a little after eight o’clock in the morning.
Groups of sailors are making their way down to the dock, prepared for a training trip of six hours or more. The men are clad in their work uniforms; clambering about the oily machinery with which the hull of the submarine is packed is not a function that demands formal attire. The commanding officer, the diving-and-engineer officer and the torpedo officer; a group of young student officers who are taking the five-months course at the Submarine School; a few experienced and seasoned chief petty officers to act as instructors for the enlisted students who are taking the six-weeks basic course, and the regular crew, constitute the ship’s company. They number thirty-five or forty in all. Four days a week the students get practical instruction on these training trips; on the fifth day they get classroom work and are examined on what they have learned. Both the officers and the men get the same instruction in the technical details of the operation of a submarine— with the exception of the operation of the periscope. The use of that all-important instrument, upon which the very life of the vessel often depends, is restricted to the officers alone. It is a prerogative of command.
Before the day’s work is over the submarine will have made four, five or six dives. Before his course is completed the student will have made about fifty dives. For each dive, each enlisted man used to get $1 extra on his pay; it was awarded to him in the submarine service as a bonus for the hazardous character of his duties. Now the extra pay ranges from $5 to $30 a month flat. The students will not only learn by observation how these dives are made but will perform some of the operations themselves, always under the watchful eyes of their instructors. No student has the chance to make a serious blunder. No serious blunder has ever been made by a student.
Because of the dangers inherent in the submarine service, extreme caution is exercised in even the most simple of operations. This caution extends as far back as the selection of the men themselves. In the first place, they must be dependable men. The crew of a submarine is small and every man has a duty to perform; a single act of negligence might endanger the life of every man aboard. In the second place, a submariner must be blessed with the virtue of calmness and self-possession. The fellow who is subject to temperamental outbursts or who is contentious or who talks too much or who becomes excited has no place on a pig boat. And—to add the human touch—he must not be cursed with those little mannerisms or affectations which, in the intimacies that must necessarily prevail in cramped quarters, might grate on the nerves of his shipmates. Even that intensely personal and often unavoidable quality, designated by the medicos as bromidrosis but more popularly known as “B.O.,” will bar a man; even if his “best friends won’t tell him” the Navy will. The fruit of this selective system is found in the chief petty officers who have been developed over a term of years and who rate among the steadiest, most silent, and ablest groups of men in the Navy.
A submarine that starts out on a training trip from a base goes to the “diving area” to which it is assigned. These areas vary in size from four square miles up to a hundred or more square miles. Before a dive is made, each vessel reports by radio its location, the approximate course it proposes to steer and the expected duration of the dive. As soon as it comes up it reports “Surfaced.” The ordinary dive for elementary training purposes lasts about 20 minutes. The record for submergence was made at Cape May, when a submarine rested on the bottom (in order to conserve its electric power by cutting off its motors) for 96 hours. If a submarine fails to report surfacing within 30 minutes of its predicted time, attempts are made to reach it by radio. If they are not immediately successful, the Navy unleashes all the rescue forces at its command—aircraft, near-by vessels of any description, rescue ships, divers. Alarms of this kind are theoretical rather than actual, however; skippers of submarines just do not forget to report.
When all the men are aboard, the diving officer pulls out the “diving book” and begins to check up. The weight of the boat right now, as compared to its weight on the previous trip, is a factor that must now be taken into calculation; this knowledge is needed for the manipulation of the controls. Are there more or fewer men aboard? How do the number of gallons of fuel aboard check up with the last voyage? What is the status, in terms of pounds, of the forward and aft trim tanks? Controlling the depth of a floating craft submerged in water presents a problem analogous to that of controlling the altitude of a free balloon floating in air. So delicate a balance must be preserved that when the oil goes out of the tanks, for instance, it is replaced automatically by an equal volume of heavier water, and this excess weight must be compensated for before the submarine dives again. An inadvertent break on the surface of the water in the presence of an enemy would betray its location and spell its doom.
As soon as the vessel gets under way, the student submariners climb down the perpendicular ladders through the small circular hatches—which serve as the “escape hatches” in time of emergency—and are led about on sightseeing tours in small groups by the various instructors.
A submarine, the student learns, is divided into six compartments; in the more modern vessels that have a torpedo room aft as well as forward, a seventh compartment is provided. Each is a separate, watertight unit, capable of sustaining human life for several hours or possibly days, even though every other compartment is flooded. The average submarine with a full crew can remain submerged for about 36 hours without replenishing its air supply.
Its only connection with the adjoining compartment is a small, oval door just large enough for one man at a time to crawl through with a “watch-your-step-and-mind-your-head.”
The steel, watertight door to it weighs three hundred pounds or more, but it hangs upon hinges so scientifically designed and so delicately balanced that it may be swung by the push of a finger—provided the vessel is on an even keel. Should the vessel be tilting upward at an angle opposite to the direction in which the door swings, brute force would be required to pull the door upward in order to close it; it was exactly this situation that confronted the alert young electrician’s mate of the ill-fated Squalus when it sank May 23, 1939? His timely display of physical strength in pulling the door up- ward to close and to dog it before the onward rush of water hit it saved from death the 33 men trapped in the forward compartments. Every submariner is indoctrinated with the law and the gospel that quick decisions must be followed by immediate action. Emergency drills accustom the men to shut these watertight doors and secure them in a matter of split seconds.
The forward compartment, which extends right up into the bow of the submarine, is the “torpedo room”; on the modern boats it is called the “forward torpedo room” to distinguish it from the after torpedo room in the stern. Here are located the cluster of tubes through which the torpedoes are dis- charged by compressed air. Contrary to popular belief, the torpedoes are not aimed by the crew that discharges them. The torpedo crews have no way of seeing the target; they perform a purely mechanical routine and adjust, load and re- lease the projectiles only upon command from the control room. The projectiles are “aimed” only to the extent that the submarine itself is pointed so that the moving torpedoes will meet the moving target after they are fired, and this position can be determined only by the officer at the periscope. It is he alone who can sight the enemy, estimate the range, calculate the speed and course of each vessel, and direct the torpedo crew to make the proper adjustments in the torpedoes themselves. The maximum range and speed of torpedoes are both items of information of a secret nature; it is not a secret, however, that for training purposes torpedoes may be geared to speeds ranging upward from 27 to 45 miles an hour or more, and that target practice is conducted at ranges from 6000 to over 15,000 yards. The higher the speed the shorter the range, and vice versa. As soon as a 2500-pound torpedo leaves its tube, water is immediately let in to preserve the trim of the boat. The number of torpedoes that can be carried on a modern submarine is also a naval secret, but it is no secret that when these have been expended, the submarine is disarmed and helpless—except for a 5-inch gun on its deck; this, of course, can be manned only when the boat is on the surface. As a result, a submarine in wartime does not waste its limited number of torpedoes. Especially when those torpedoes range in price from $7500 to $12,000 apiece. In time of peace torpedoes fired in practice are retrieved and used many times.
Abaft the forward torpedo room is the “forward battery room.” To outward appearance this compartment on the training ships is filled with tiers of folding metal bunks; on the modern vessels this space is divided up into officers’ quarters and even a wardroom, so tiny and compact as to make a Pullman stateroom seem like a two-car garage. The compartment gets its name, however, not from any battery of guns supposedly operated from it but from a compact cargo of large storage batteries below its deck. These are the batteries that furnish the electric power for operating the boat under water, when the Diesel gas engines must be shut off.
Aft of this, a little forward of amidships, is the brain, nerve and message-center of the vessel, the all-important “control room.” This is where the skipper has his post of command when the submarine is submerged; here, consequently, is the periscope, the eye of the ship. Off to one side silently stands the quartermaster at the helm; near him are grouped the ship’s navigators, bending over their charts spread atop narrow, built-in desks. Over in a corner is tucked the radio room, miniature in size but equipped with submarine communication apparatus that is included among the most jealously guarded of all the Navy’s secrets.
This control room is literally so packed with mechanical devices and instruments that only the narrowest of passage- ways can be provided for traffic; however, when the sub- marine is proceeding under water, there is little moving about by the members of the crew; every man is stationed at his post. Near the center rises the oily steel tube that is the periscope. When cruising at periscope depth—which is about 40 feet below the surface—the commanding officer stands before this vital instrument, clutching the two handles that control the movements of the lens above, and peering into the eye- piece. Within range of his arm is the battery of push-buttons used for signaling instructions within the ship; among them are the general alarm, collision alarm and diving alarm, whose shrieking voices of warning sound like the wails of tortured banshees. About the compartment are arranged glistening dials, levers, valves, throttles, clutches, indicator lights and all manner of control and recording gadgets, doodads and thingumbobs. Over against the starboard bulkhead stands an array of controls which operate the Kingston valves. These admit water to the main ballast tanks when the submarine is diving. When the valves are opened, the normal procedure is to open the vents also, in order to permit the air to escape.
In time of emergency a “quick dive” often becomes necessary. A quick dive used to be called a “crash dive,” but perhaps because of its ominous psychological significance this term has finally gone out of use. When a quick dive is about to be made, the skipper gives the command “ride the vents”; this consists of opening the Kingston valves (or “flood valves” on* modern submarines) and keeping the vent valves closed. By this method it is possible to bring the boat down to periscope depth in 70 seconds or less. Along another bulkhead is lined up the battery of “water manifold” valves for regulating the flow of water to the different variable tanks in order to keep the vessel in trim. The “air manifold” valves are used for blowing water out of the tanks when the vessel is about to rise.
The “most important single instrument” in a submarine is the depth gauge. When the vessel is submerged, this instrument is under constant surveillance. A needle on the dial reveals the water pressure on the outside of the hull, graduated to indicate depth in feet. Another important instrument is the ordinary aneroid barometer, which indicates the air pressure within the boat itself. This air pressure, which is only a fraction of a pound and consequently negligible, is applied merely to determine if all the outboard openings are tightly sealed; any leakage of air, naturally, prevents compression and thus serves as a danger signal.
As might be expected, the control room is not alone the center of the submarine’s communication system, but also the point from which all communications of any kind emanate. What happens in time of disaster in case the control room is flooded? In such a case the entire communication system of the submarine becomes paralyzed. The forward end of the vessel is cut off from the after end. For reasons which are not difficult to understand, practically all such mishaps as do befall a submarine befall the forward or after compartments.
It was the control room of a submarine that served as the setting of a drama of the sea that has begun to assume the aspects of a classic. It started, according to legend, in the friendship between two or three cadets at West Point and as many midshipmen at Annapolis, and was continued after graduation. The Army men entered the Air Service; the Navy men the Submarine Service.
“Ever been up in a plane?” the fliers asked of their Navy guests during the latter’s visit to the flying field.
No, they had never been up in a plane. Yes, they would be delighted to take a trip. So up they went, with their Army hosts at the controls, and a grand performance indeed they put on. They gave their guests the works—loops, tailspins, barrel rolls, Immelmann turns. The sailormen were finally landed, a bit groggy and pale, perhaps, but still game and properly appreciative. In the course of time these same fliers, mindful of their social obligations, called upon their Navy friends at the Submarine Base. No, they had never been down in a sub. Yes, they would be delighted to take a trip. So aboard they all went; orders were passed; the engines were started, and while the Vessel was proceeding to the diving area, hosts and guests repaired below to pass the time.
“Rig for diving!” at last came the cry from the bridge.
Hatches on-the deck were slammed shut and dogged; the diving officer made his round of inspection; diving stations were manned. The hosts explained to their visitors the mechanics of the operation. Soon, however, the interest of the hosts began to be diverted from their guests and become focused upon the controls. They showed signs of anxiety; something was evidently going wrong. The depth gauge seemed to be the center of interest; instead of stopping at the indicated depth of 40 feet, the needle continued its course. Now the boat was shown to be down to 60 feet; now 80 feet; soon it struck 150 feet. The hush in the boat was broken only by the commands of the officers.
“These boats are designed to stand 200 feet of pressure, but they can probably stand as much as 300 feet,” the skipper encouragingly assured his guests. With increasing perturbation the visitors watched the gauge record a depth of 180 feet, with the needle steadily moving into dangerous area. At 200 feet the silence was blasted by the shriek of the collision alarm. All compartment doors were instantly closed; the visitors were now trapped in the control room with their hosts. Suddenly the lights went out and the compartment was thrown into a tar-like blackness. The dim emergency lamps were switched on; they cast the compartment into an eerie gloom. At 220 feet the Momsen escape lungs were hauled forth and strapped upon all hands, with hurried instructions for their use—just in case. A stream of water began to trickle ominously down the hatchway from the conning tower. Beads of perspiration broke out upon the faces of the worried visitors. The needle now registered 260 feet; the boat was now well down into the danger zone; obviously out of control. When a depth of 300 feet had been reached and the submarine was in imminent peril of collapsing, the needle on the depth gauge miraculously steadied. Slowly, exasperatingly slowly, the boat began to rise. With breathless interest the eyes of the visitors were riveted upon the dial as the needle indicated the return to safety. At last, thank God! the boat broke the surface; the hatches were thrown open to the sky, and the visitors clambered joyfully to the deck.
The vessel was still quietly moored to the dock; it had never moved a foot. The hosts smiled enigmatically. The debt of the submariners to the fliers had been paid in full.
The most popular spot on the whole submarine—popular because it combines all the recreational features of a mess hall, social center, playground and rest room—is the after battery room.
The outstanding feature of this compartment is a large, substantial, built-in, flat-topped structure that serves the purpose of a dining table. About it runs a passageway too narrow to provide space for seats but large enough for standing room. In height it comes nearly up to a man’s chest, which is just about the height of a bar, and that is exactly right. Over against the bulkhead at one side are arranged the gal- leys, flanked by sufficient cabinets and refrigerators and other storage space for food to maintain a steady flow of edibles to insatiable customers. Steaming coffee is served continuously to all and sundry; so, too, apparently, are soup, stew, meats, vegetables, cakes and pies, to accommodate the men on various watches whose meal hours are variable and sketchy. Be- cause of the limited space available on a submarine for such standard recreational facilities as deck tennis courts, running tracks and gymnasiums, to say nothing of swimming pools, pool tables and bowling alleys, the only indoor sport permissible is eating, and the submariner goes in for it in a really Big Way. In recognition of this phenomenon Uncle Sam gives the submariner a larger allowance for rations, and the submarine service prides itself on the quality and quantity of its grub. On short training trips, fresh meats, vegetables and fruits are obtainable, but on long cruises recourse must be had to canned goods. It has been aptly observed that “the submarine owes its existence to the invention of the Diesel engine, the storage battery and the tin can.”
Adjoining this social center is the engine room, so packed with machinery as to permit only the narrowest of passage- ways down the center. While the submarine is under way on the surface, the puffing Diesel engines here installed furnish the power; upon submerging, these are turned off and the electric motors are put to work. Motors neither consume the air supply nor give out gases. The motor compartment is aft of the engine room. In the tail of the ship—right down in the very extremity—a small space is provided for a few tiers of metal bunks and a tiny cubbyhole (or two) that has a miniature spray at the top and a drain pipe at the bottom, and which, by these symbols, lays claim to the designation of the shower bath. On the modern submarines this after compartment is a torpedo room similar in size and equipment to the forward torpedo room.
A group of new men is being conducted about by a chief petty officer and shown the more vital points of interest. “This particular ship,” the chief explains, “has three escape hatches. One is right here in the torpedo room; there it is up there; it is the same hatch through which you came down. Another one just like it is in the motor room. The third one is in the control room; that one leads right up through the conning tower and opens up at the bridge. These things over here, packed away in the corner, are the escape lungs. You will find them stowed in each end compartment. There are enough aboard for every member of the crew plus 10 per cent. You will also find a few scattered through the ship, but these are intended for emergency use as respirators and chlorine gas masks.”
The instructor explains the use of the various appliances throughout the vessel; his “students follow him respectfully but in silence. They have been accustomed to serve on larger ships, where a wider gap exists between the men and their chiefs than in the confined quarters of a submarine. The larger the ship, the greater are the formalities. The new men are shy about asking questions at first, so the instructor rambles along easily and does most of the speaking himself.
“See this peculiar coating on the interior of the boat?” he observes. “That is cork paint. The particles of cork in it help absorb the moisture caused by sweating. The small metal tablet you see in every compartment gives the Morse code. Most of you men know the code, but in case of acci- dent you may have to tap out mighty important messages with a hammer to the divers outside, so these tablets may come in useful in case your memory is rusty.”
“This little gadget over the door—you’ll find one over each door of every compartment—is the ‘gag’ for the compartment blow system. In case of emergency in a compartment, be sure to remove this stopper from its socket and insert it in the salvage airline before you leave. That will make it possible to admit high-pressure air to the vacated compartment and blow water out of any flooded compartments whose salvage blow outlets have not been gagged.”
The chief conducts his class to the automatic detector that records the presence and amount of hydrogen gas, if any, that may be generating in the submarine. That is the highly inflammable gas used in balloons. Because it has no odor or color, it can be detected neither by the nose nor by the eye. A 4 per cent concentration of it is considered dangerous be- cause of its explosive character. It is generated occasionally when the batteries are being charged, but accidents from this source are rare. More dangerous is the deadly chlorine gas, which is sometimes generated when water comes in contact with the batteries. This is a heavy gas, greenish-yellow in tinge and with a pungent odor that floats low over the decks, so its presence is quickly made known. When it is discovered, the alarm is given, the compartment is vacated, the entire crew don their lungs for use as gas masks, and the boat sur- faces with all speed unless an enemy ship is waiting to drop a depth bomb upon it. Carbon dioxide gas is just the com- mon CO2—the refuse given off by breathing and commonly known as merely “bad air.” This becomes a troublemaker only when fresh air is not available, and it is ordinarily counter-acted by some chemical. Soda lime was formerly used for this purpose; it was spread upon cloth of all kinds, especially upon mattress covers. But soda lime proves ineffective in low temperatures, and when a disabled submarine is resting on the bottom and the pumps are inoperative, the submarine be- comes as cold as a refrigerator. So a new chemical, effective in any temperature and known as “a CO2 absorbent,” is now used.
“That man standing over there with headphones is rotating the wheel of the listening device,” the chief continues as his flock pauses in its tour. “Under good conditions he can pick up the sounds of the propellers of a ship several miles distant and tell its bearing. And this small wheel overhead here, when given six turns, releases the marker buoy. That is used only as a distress signal when the submarine is disabled under water; it shows the searchers where the boat is lying. Inside the buoy is a telephone that makes it possible for anyone on the surface to talk to the men in the submarine.”
The class proceeds to the after battery compartment. “That mechanism up there,” the chief points out, “is the under- water signal ejector. It releases bombs that give out smoke of different colors; red smoke bombs, for example, are calls for help. When a smoke bomb is ejected, the water melts a thin wafer in the shell and the chemical action causes an explosion which throws a bomb 175 feet into the air. During maneuvers a yellow smoke bomb is ejected three minutes before surfacing as a warning to neighboring craft to keep clear.”
Thus the initiate is eased to his new duties and is familiarized with his strange environment. Many of his early lessons aboard are concerned with safety measures; with modes of escape in hours of peril; with methods of sustaining life till rescue comes. He learns how to summon aid by releasing oil at intervals by the several available means—through torpedo tubes, through signal bomb vents, through the toilets— in order to create a slick of oil upon the waters and thus reveal his location to searching airplanes and vessels. He is told how to conserve the limited air supply during enforced .submergences by restricting his physical activities and even curtailing his speech. He learns about the emergency lockers that contain enough food to keep him alive—a can of baked beans, supplemented with a cup, a spoon, a couple of candles and a pocket flashlight. He is at least assured that he will not starve to death; unless he is rescued before a second can of beans is needed, he might as well begin asking forgiveness of his sins, because his predicament is hopeless.
On the other hand, the morale of the submariner is bucked up by the knowledge that every conceivable precautionary measure is taken for his safety. He learns that the submarine, so far as its seagoing qualities are concerned, is “the safest type of ship afloat”; it is practically impossible to capsize it. In case of a hurricane it can escape by the simple expedient of submerging and cruising in quiet waters fifty or a hundred feet below the surface—although this is not done, because of the necessity of preserving its storage batteries. He participates in various roles in emergency drills, fire drills, collision drills, abandon-ship drills, and man-overboard drills.*
* While a modern submarine carries small motor boats, they are not quickly available; consequently a rescue at sea is effected by throwing out a life preserver and either reversing the engines or swinging* the vessel about in a circle until the members of the life-saving crew can climb out on the wing- like diving planes and pull the victim aboard. At a surface speed of 12 knots a rescue can ordinarily be made in less than three minutes. The record of 2 minutes and 7 seconds was made by the crew of the submarine R-I3 in 1938.
In spite of the fancy assortment of perils that beset the submariner, the accident rate is so amazingly low that the life insurance companies no longer charge a premium on policies to men in this branch. The mortality rate, to be specific, is 1.53 a thousand in the Navy as a whole, and only 3.60 a thousand in the submarine service; that represents a difference of just about two more fatalities for every thousand men. This is so slight that it has failed to arouse any superstitions among the submariners themselves. In fact, they have fewer superstitions than the average sailorman; they are a notably staid, level-headed lot, with perhaps just a trace of fatalism in their make-up. Signs, portents and omens play no part in their lives. Once in a rare while a whisper of superstition travels about; a chief electrician once acquired the reputation of being a Jonah because he had figured in three mishaps and escaped from each. “Three strikes and you’re out” was the umpire’s decision, and he was thereafter kept on shore duty, where his shipmates would just as like he would stay.
The attitude of the representative submariner is well reflected in an incident that occurred on the S-1 after it had successfully completed a training trip. “Captain, do you know what you have just done?” an old- timer among the chief petty officers smilingly inquired. “Today is Friday the 13th, and at 1300 by the clock you took the boat down on its I313th dive and gave a brand-new diving officer the complete works.” Yet only one man of the entire crew had bothered to heed the omens.
One of the perplexing tasks in the training of new submariners is to loosen up their tongues and induce them to speak up boldly and repeat all the orders they receive on board. Men from the fleet are not accustomed to talk in the presence of officers except in answer to questions. The crew of a submarine is so small and the duties and responsibilities of each man are so great that no chances are taken that an order is either unheard or misunderstood. The most common fault of a newcomer is over haste, due to his over anxiety and nervousness, especially in manipulating the water manifolds. But the instructor who stands over him steps in to take charge before any damage can be done. Most of the men selected for the basic submarine course make good; only one out of fifteen is dropped and sent back to the fleet. The chief causes for failure are inaptitude in learning the controls, temperamental traits that threaten personal relations with ship- mates, juvenile skylarking, and the unforgivable sin of “being late.” Any man who is temperamentally dilatory is marked for an early end to his submarine career; that is a symptom of a trait that is not tolerated; it is evidence of his lack of reliability and integrity.
All of the practical instruction aboard ship is supplemented by concurrent classroom work that is graded and marked on the 4.0 system, which is used at the Naval Academy and throughout the Navy. The passing mark is 2.5, which is equivalent to a mark of 62.5 per cent on the decimal system. The curriculum of the basic course may be outlined thus:
1st week: Sketches of the submarine, showing the location of all tanks, controls and other pans
2d week: Sketches of each compartment, showing all the gear in each
3d week: Use of the water manifold and maintenance of the trim line
4th week: Use of the air manifold
5th week: Battery ventilation and salvage systems
6th week: Fuel oil and lubricating systems
Courses for the more advanced students include a six-weeks storage-battery course, a six-weeks gyro-compass course, a six- weeks radio and sound course, and a twelve-weeks submarine Diesel engine course. Graduates are given certificates, their class standings are entered in their service records, and they are considered all set to go to sea in the submarine service; incidentally, they have not exactly impaired their chances of winning the competitive examinations for higher ratings. Technical education is playing an increasingly important role in the making of all modern sailors, and this is especially true in the submarine service.
But what the newcomer learns about submarines and submariners is by no means confined to what he gets out of text- books. Here are just a few odd bits of un-academic lore with which he regales the wondering folks back home: When a submarine crosses the equator, it dives under it. It is an old Navy custom.
Since the inception of the submarine, Uncle Sam has at various times designated the classes of boats that have been developed, by letters of the alphabet running from A to V—with the exception of the letter U. That has been reserved for Germany. Modern sub- marines bear the names of game fish, in addition to their hull numbers.
Messages of a strictly personal nature scribbled upon the walls of the waiting rooms at the bus stops near submarine stations are written discreetly in the dot-and-dash system. In case a sailor happens to get caught on the top deck of a submarine that is submerging, his only chance of saving himself is to cling to the periscope and place his hand over the eyepiece as a signal to those below that he is in very urgent need of help.
A submarine when submerged must either keep moving forward or rest on the bottom; it cannot hang suspended in water and remain under control.
The only way a submerged submarine can take soundings is by the use of a “fathometer,” which records the time taken for sound waves to travel back and forth between itself and the sea bottom directly below it.
As every good submariner knows, John Q. Public entertains some strange illusions about undersea craft. Some of his more common fallacies, as revealed by his questions, are:
- That the submarine cruises almost continually under water. (It submerges only occasionally and for short periods, and then only for training purposes or when engaged in maneuvers or on war missions.)
- That the air compression within the submarine increases with the depth. (Except for the slight “pressure in the boat” that is applied just before submerging as a test for possible leakages, the compression remains the same at all depths.)
- That the torpedoes are propelled on their course by compressed air. (They are launched from the tube by air pressure; thereafter they proceed by power generated in their own miniature engines.)
- That the crew is conscious of a sinking sensation when the submarine descends. (Usually the bow of the submarine dips only 4 or 5 degrees when diving and points upward at about the same slight degree when rising; except for this trivial tilt, there is practically no sensation of either rising or falling. Ascents and descents are often made, too, on an even keel.)
- That the deck gun of a submarine can be fired under water. (No gun could be either sighted or fired when submerged, even though it were manned by mermen.)
- That the last man to remain in a sunken submarine has no way of escaping. (He has the same chance to escape as anyone else, either by the Momsen-lung method or by means of the descent chamber.)
- That the most dangerous period of submarine operation is when diving. (That is merely one of three hazardous moments. Equally critical moments come just before the submarine rises to periscope depth after a deep submergence and also when approaching in close proximity to other vessels. When below periscope depth, the vessel is completely blind and can detect the presence of vessels overhead or approaching only by means of its listening devices. If the propellers of vessels on the surface are not turning over, their presence is not likely to be revealed.)
- That the periscope is always visible above the water and that the presence of a submarine during an attack can thus be detected. (During attack the periscope is raised only for the hastiest of peeks, for the purpose of taking bearings.)
- That exciting glimpses of undersea life may be viewed from the ports of a submarine when submerged. (The only ports on a submarine are in the conning tower, and only in clear water and when near the surface where light permits vision can an occasional fish be seen.)
Not all of the high adventure in the submarine service is confined to wartime. Even routine training trips never be-come wholly monotonous; the ever-present element of danger and the ever-alert effort to avert it, make each trip at least a potential thriller: especially when a brand-new boat is put through her paces in trial runs and test dives, to find out if she is really seaworthy—or not. While most test dives develop no troubles of note, occasionally a breath-stopping incident occurs that is no less exciting merely because it does not make the headlines. Here is one behind-the-scenes drama that never even attained the dignity of official documentation. It is taken from the personal record of a sailor who was a member of the ship’s company: *
Fresh from a blueprint, she had yet to prove her mettle—in the depths as well as on the surface—before she would be officially accepted. A jammed vent cover, loose hatch bolts or weak plating that would crumple in when they reached the pressure depths, and three million dollars’ worth of steel hulk plus the lives of 54 men would sink to oblivion. Perhaps such thoughts as these were passing through the minds of the submarine’s crew, causing them to take extra turns on the numerous watertight locking devices that sealed the boat. Presently a chief torpedoman stepped up to the bridge.
“Top side secured for diving, sir.”
“Very well.” The captain turned, spoke into the voice tube.
“Rig ship for diving.”
The order went through the boat sending the crew racing to their diving stations.
In the torpedo room, where her missiles of death were sent bubbling on their destructive missions, a handful of men stood ready to flood the bow torpedo tubes. In the forward battery room more men were turning the big wheels that cut out the main air induction and cut in the auxiliary line. The ballast tank vents, located in the after battery room, were opened wide. Further aft in the engine room and motor room, grimy machinist’s mates sweated over the now quiet Diesels and prepared to start the motors. * By courtesy of Joseph McNamara, of the S-91, who took part in the test dives of that vessel in the Pacific in 1939.
Amidships in the control room where the entire operation of the boat was centered, the second officer labored over tank capacity tables, gradually putting an even trim on the boat. Around him stood members of the crew poised tensely at the most important diving stations in the boat: the flood valves, diving planes and steering control.
A maze of countless valves glittered from the port and starboard bulkhead; red lights, green lights winked on and off from the safety panel located over the motor controls signifying the opening and closing of all hull apertures.
Up on the small semicircular bridge, the captain pored over reports coming to him from every compartment in the teeming shell below him. A veteran submarine officer, his calm, assured manner seemed to have instilled a sense of security and confidence into the apprehensive crew. He was the government’s official “test pilot” for all new underwater craft; a job that was packed with constant danger and one of which he was never envied in the least.
“Shift all control below—course one eight zero.” The quarter- master and signalman scrambled below, leaving the skipper alone on the bridge.
“Both motors ahead one third. Stand by to dive.” A tense gripping suspense followed this order. Then the diving alarm went screaming through the boat. Up on the bridge the captain watched the hull slowly settle, the decks go awash. With a last look about, he dropped through the narrow hatch, locking it secure. “Eyeports awash, sir,” reported the quartermaster as he reached the conning tower. Damn! They must have flooded fast to be going down at this rate. He stepped down into the control room, where a volley of reports came at him.
“Ballast tanks flooded, sir.”
“Pressure in the boat, sir.”
“Ready on the motors, sir.”
The captain glanced quickly at the big depth gauge on the port bulkhead. Thirty feet already and sinking fast. He spoke to the men at the diving planes.
“Diving angle—five degrees. Level off at fifty feet.”
A test dive in a new boat is always made in stages of fifty feet. Wooden battens placed athwart ships throughout the length of the boat record the effects of the pressure on the submarine’s steel sides.
“Stop both motors.” The voice of the captain was cool, efficient. The throbbing motors died away, leaving a penetrating silence filling the boat, broken only by the lapping of the waves caressing the submarine’s exterior.
“Level off.” The captain, his eyes glued on the depth gauge, repeated the order as he saw the needle rush past the fifty-foot mark. The men on the planes strove to check the sudden change in the boat’s diving angle. Eighty, ninety, a hundred feet, and still no sign of leveling off. The faces around the crowded control room had taken on the color of chalk. The S-91 dove still deeper. Every pair of eyes was fixed on the captain.
“Hard rise.” There was a slight tremor in his voice as he shot the order to the men at the diving planes. The power levers were thrown all the way over. A blinding flash came from the diving-gear control panel, paralyzing the men at the planes. They stared helplessly as the bubble in the indicator glass bobbed crazily back and forth. All control of the diving planes was gone. With a sickening lurch the 8-91 plunged for the bottom.
“Blow all ballast!” The man at air manifold fumbled with the big blow valve. The depth gauge now registered 240 feet. Their safety depth was only 300 feet!
Quickly the white-faced skipper stepped forward, brushing the man aside, and gave the valve a strong pull. It was frozen fast! “A wrench, quick!” he shouted. A man darted aft to get one. Half fearfully, he glanced at the depth gauge—280 feet!
He couldn’t wait for the wrench—he had to act fast if he was going to save them.
“Both motors full astern,” came from the captain. It was their only hope now. If the motors could check their plunge long enough to break the air valve loose, they still had a chance. Slowly the powerful motors of the S-91 took hold, sending a violent shudder through the boat as the terrific strain told on her. Tense figures relaxed slightly; the depth gauge needle faltered, stopped at 293 feet. A wrench was quickly put to the frozen valve. A shot of oil, a blow from the light sledge, and it broke free, sending the high pressure streaming into the tanks and forcing the heavy ballast out into the sea.
Steadily regaining her buoyancy, the submarine rose gallantly from the pressure-laden depths.
“Eyeports awash, captain!” The glad cry accompanied by a dull “plop” told them they were back on the surface once more, none the worse for their nerve-racking ordeal. The captain’s recommendations would now mean the boat’s acceptance or rejection.
A few minutes later he finished the brief report:
“General performance of S-91 excellent. No remarks worthy of mentioning.” The distinction that marks the discipline, technique and morale of the submarine service and sets it apart as peculiar to itself and different from every other branch of work in the Navy is expressed by an experienced submarine officer in the following eloquent words: *
The commanding officer of a submarine is a bigger factor in her success than any officer or man in any other type of ship that floats. He alone sees the enemy and he alone makes the estimates upon which the success or failure of the attack depends. But the well-trained crew of a submarine is a team. The Captain calls the signals and carries the ball, but the untimely failure of even the least member of the crew may mean disaster. … To operate a complicated mechanism like a submarine, each individual must be free to volunteer information, to discuss when discussion is profitable, to exercise initiative and discretion in carrying on his duties; yet in other situations he must obey instantly, without question and without thought as to his safety. The recognition of the subtle changes in the situation which determine where and when and in what circumstances these two widely different attitudes are demanded is what makes a good submarine officer.
* By courtesy of Lieutenant Wilfred J. Holmes, retired, writing under the nom-de-plume of “Alec Hudson,” and by permission of The Saturday Evening Post.”