21 Days Under Water – The USS Pickerel’s 5200 Mile Journey at Periscope Depth 1

In 1950, the US Navy was coming to terms with its peacetime role in a Cold War setting. The Russians had obtained the German submarine technology along with the rocket scientists from captured territory. No longer content to be a coastal navy, the Russians were building their own fleet of new submarines with the ability to stay at sea for longer periods of time.  Atomic power was being worked on in secret but diesels still ruled the waves for the world’s navies.

This is a unique story about the USS Pickerel’s voyage from Hong Kong to Pearl Harbor. The entire voyage was made submerged at periscope depth. The depth allowed the boat to use its diesel’s for propulsion the entire length of the trip. I can only imagine making that run at periscope depth. Submarines are notoriously bad “rides” when they are going through any kind of seas and keeping the snorkel mast above the water line would be critical no matter what the waves brought.

The second part of the story talks about life on board the boat during the trip. Most submariners can appreciate the experience.

Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.), 10 April 1950.

21-Day Undersea Trip Of 5,200 Miles Made By U. S. Submarine

By the Associated Press

On March 15 a United States submarine dived into the Pacific off Hong Kong and didn’t surface again until 21 days later at Pearl Harbor.

In the meantime, the submarine had covered 5,200 miles. The Navy told of the trip yesterday. It did not claim a record, but officers said that this was the longest underwater run they had ever heard of. The precise time during which the submarine, the Pickerel, relied on its snorkel “breathing” apparatus was given as 505 hours, one hour over 21 days.

Importance Stressed.

The achievement, disclosed as the submarine service prepared to celebrate its 50th anniversary tomorrow, pointed up the growing importance being attached to undersea craft by Navy planners.

Recent tests showing that submarines can be used to launch guided missiles have made them a threat against coastal targets as well as sea commerce, thereby stepping up their potentialities in any future war.

At Pearl Harbor, Comdr. Paul R. Schratz of the Pickerel called the long voyage “all in the day’s work, just a routine test.”

He was asked whether the sub could be seen on the cruise, and without elaborating he said: “We had indications to the contrary.”

Pickerel Is New Craft.

The Pickerel was built at the Portsmouth, N. H., naval shipyard and was commissioned April 4, 1949. She went to the Pacific Fleet last fall.

The Snorkel apparatus with which the latest United States subs are equipped is a breathing tube which extends to the surface.

It was developed by Germany during the war, from a Dutch idea. By using the device, the submarine can operate under the surface on its diesel engines, which give it much more speed than can be had from the electric motors previously relied upon for submerged runs.

There is the added advantage of not having to come up to re charge batteries exhausted by the motors.

Fuel Supplies Only Limit.

Thus with the Snorkel equipment the time a submarine can stay down has little limitation other than fuel supplies. Pressure is being applied in this country to development of means to stretch that limit almost infinitely by application of atomic power.

Work is progressing on such an engine which would lift even the fuel and batteries requirement. An atomic-operated engine would operate indefinitely without refueling, for all practical purposes. The Westinghouse Corp. has acknowledged that it is working on an atomic power plant, but its development is expected to take from two to ten years.

American interest in submarine and anti-submarine devices has been spurred by reports that Russia is building the world’s mightiest undersea fleet—estimated currently at 250 to 300 vessels, only a small percentage of these are said to be snorkel-equipped.

German Plans Captured.

Like this country, Russia is reported to have captured German plans for a hydrogen-peroxide engine that would require no breathing tube at all. What is being done in that field either here or in the Soviet Union has been kept secret.

Along with submarine development work, the United States Navy is pushing defense measures against undersea craft.

Admiral Forrest Sherman, chief of naval operations, has assigned Vice Admiral Francis S. Low, wartime chief of anti-submarine work, to survey needs in that field. And Admiral Sherman himself has said that the Navy’s No. 1 project right now is to get more patrol planes and destroyers—both major weapons against submarines— back into the active fleet.

Along the same line Rear Admiral C. B. Momsen, assistant chief of naval operations for undersea warfare, said in an address here March 27 that he has reason to believe there will be an early development which will enable the United States to “drive submarines off the seas.”

21 Days Under Water Means Lots of Beards, 30 Movies

By the Associated Press

PEARL HARBOR, April 10.—

What do you do under water for 21 days and 5,200 miles? Comdr. Paul R. Schratz supplied the answers yesterday after commanding the snorkel-type submarine Pickerel from Hong Kong to Pearl Harbor without surfacing.

“If you feel like getting a good workout,” he said, “you just lie down until the feeling’s gone. Our main athletics were cribbage and acey-deucy.”

The 34-year-old skipper added in an interview:

“We took 30 movies along on the trip. We saw them all by the time we hit Pearl.”

Comdr. Schratz said the 67 enlisted men and eight officers abroad the 300 – foot sub “Just didn’t feel like eating much” during their underwater voyage from March 15 to April 5.

Most of the officers tried to make up by growing goatees and mustaches. Most of the crew grew full beards. These adornments didn’t last long once the men arrived here. Wives and sweethearts met them at the dock with leis and kisses.

“And. as soon as they got home, with scissors,” Schratz added.

The pickerel’s crew also whiled away some time watching tropical fish in a small aquarium they took along. The skipper, who plays first violin in the Honolulu symphony orchestra when he isn’t doing his day’s work under the Pacific, didn’t take the violin along.

Comdr. Schratz himself suggested the underwater cruise after taking part in exercises in Philippine waters.

“We used the snorkel breathing tube the entire voyage,” he said.

The Pickerel made the complete distance at periscope depth and made an average speed of about10 knots. The usual number of torpedoes for Pacific Fleet submarines was carried.

The 1,850-ton Pickerel is a standard fleet type submarine—only streamlined and with higher propulsive power than others of her class.

Mister Mac

 

One comment

  1. SS 524 was the last boat I rode. Qualified on Sea Leopard in 1959, then
    COD in Cleveland, then Spinax SS489, Blackfin SS322, Seafox SS402,
    Volador SS490. Boarded Pickerel in San Diego 9/70 the day she left for Chasn, SC to change homeports. A year later after a Med. cruise she was given to the Italian Navy

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