The Origin of Submarine Dolphins – Part Deux 8

Nothing like stirring the pot… (you can always count on a Submariner to do something  like that).

In the last couple of days, the Post about the Origin of Submarine Dolphins has been one of the most viewed articles on the blog in a long time.  Along with the views came the comments. Some were pretty nice. But many decided to attack the messenger. I have been getting messages and posts on Facebook about dolphin and fish etymology and all the reasons why the “Dolphins” couldn’t possibly be anything but fish. Not a single person could source a design note or explanation from the creator of the original insigne that their intent was to commemorate anything other than a pair of dolphins nestling their heads on the bow planes of a submarine.

I have even had my credibility questioned with one guy asking snarkily “Who is this Mister Mac anyway???” Since I qualified on five boats, I typically do not respond to people who only rode one boat for a couple of years in times like that. I still respect them for their service and sacrifice but when they ask nub questions without knowing who I am, they really don’t rate a response much more than “who the hell are you?”

Yep, there were lots of interesting discussions on Facebook and on the blog about where our “Dolphins” came from. Many readers have extrapolated from the design that the “Phins” are truly fish since they resemble the dolphin-fish in shape and configuration. The earlier article quoted from a nineteen sixties era All Hands Magazine that the idea for the submarine insigne originated from an idea by then Captain Ernest King in 1924.

Homework

The nice thing about being a researcher is being able to discover documents which are no longer in print but are available through reliable resources. I decided to take a quick cruise (four hours) through some of my favorite on line “haunts” and dig up a few more tidbits on the insigne that we call “Dolphins”.

Without judgment or prejudice, the results of tonight’s search are included here. They come from two separate sources that existed in 1924. The first was a Newsletter called  Our Navy, the Standard Publication of the U.S. Navy during that timeframe. The second comes from the 19214 amended uniform regulations November 1924 Change bulletin which was the first time that the submarine insigne was authorized for wear.

They are included here:

Our Navy, the Standard Publication of the U.S. Navy, Mid April Issue 1924, Volume XVII, Number 24

SUBMARINE INSIGNIA

The Bureau of Navigation has secured the approval of the Department to add an insignia, to be worn on the breast by qualified submarine officers and enlisted men. The design will be somewhat similar in size and material to that now worn by aviators.

The center of the device is the bow of a submarine with the conning tower in evidence, flanked by a bow diving rudder, and supported by dolphins on either side. The Bureau of Navigation will shortly issue detailed uniform regulations as to the conditions under which the insignia may be worn.

From the November 1924 Changes to Uniform Regulations

 

CHANGES IN UNIFORM REGULATIONS NO. 1.

NAVY DEPARTMENT,

Washington, 12 November, 1924.

The following changes in the Uniform Regulations United States Navy, 1922, are hereby ordered to be made immediately upon receipt of this order.

CURTIS D. WILBUR,

Secretary

  1. Submarine insignia (Plate 34, fig. 3).-

(a) A bronze gold-plated metal pin, bow view of a submarine, proceeding on the surface, with bow rudders rigged for diving, flanked by dolphins in horizontal position with their heads resting on upper edge of rudders; the device to be 2% inches long. (U. R. C. 1.)

(b) Officers “qualified” for submarine command in accordance with requirements outlined in “Submarine Instructions” shall be entitled to wear the above insignia. The insignia shall be worn at all times by officers, while attached to submarine units or organizations, ashore or afloat, and may not be worn at any time by officers when not attached to submarine units or organizations.

(c) Enlisted men “qualified” for submarine duty in accordance with “Submarine Instructions” whose certification of qualification appears on their service records or men who, prior to the issue of the Submarine Instructions, November, 1919, were found qualified for submarine duty and whose certification of qualification appears on their service records shall be entitled to wear the above insignia embroidered in silk, in white on blue for blue clothing, and in blue on white for white clothing. The submarine insignia shall be worn at all times by enlisted men qualified to wear it, while attached to submarine units or organizations, ashore or afloat, and may not be worn by enlisted men when not attached to submarine units or organizations (Plate 34, fig. 4), except that enlisted men transferred to other duty shall be permitted to wear the insignia for six months after their detachment from submarines or until they have been permanently assigned to other naval duties. (U. R. C. 3.)

(d) To be worn with dolphins horizontal—by officers on the left breast and just above the center of ribbons or medals; by enlisted men on the outside of the right sleeve, midway between the wrist and elbow. (U. R. C. 1.)

(e) A miniature submarine insignia (pin type), scale one-half that of the original, shall be worn when miniatures are prescribed. (U. R. C. 6.)

How did it get started?

The original submission from Captain Ernest J. King was very different from the final version. His version is the top one on this picture:

 

Who made the final design?

Suggestions at the time ranged from matched seahorses to a divers helmet to a wide range of submarine and dolphin configurations. One old salt on the S-1 Boat even recommended that a shark design was most appropriate. He argued that a shark would be more reflective of submariners who he said “are a fearlessly resolute bunch.”

In the end, dolphins were the most popular idea and the final design was crafted by a Philadelphia jewelry firm (the same firm that designed the naval aviator insignia. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Acting Navy Secretary approved the final design in March 1924. As the documents above show, it was incorporated into Naval Uniform regulations shortly after that and has survived to this day.

The design

The design was a bow view of a submarine proceeding on the surface with bow planes rigged for diving, flanked by dolphins with their heads resting on the upper edge of the bow planes.

I find it interesting that Theodore Roosevelt’s father was the first sitting United States President that ever rode a submarine. TR rode the USS Plunger in a historic ride that played a key role in recognizing the future of submarines and submariners.

http://militaryhonors.sid-hill.us/history/gwmjh_archive/Documents/Roosevelt.html

None of this credibly answers whether the dolphins Submariners wear are actual dolphins (mammals) or dolphin fish (fish).

It would be interesting to ask the Jeweler in Philadelphia what was in his mind when he crafted the pins. Interesting but probably impossible since he has more than likely died.

I also find it interesting that many nations have chosen the Dolphin for their submarine insigne since it was the traditional attendant of Poseidon, Greek god of the sea. It turns out that dolphin mythology goes back pretty far.

I’ll just leave this piece of medieval artwork with Old Poseidon and his Pet Dolphin here for all the people who want to hate:

“Hey, that thing has scales”

Mister Mac

8 comments

  1. ” Not a single person could source a design note or explanation from the creator of the original insigne that their intent was to commemorate anything other than a pair of dolphins nestling their heads on the bow planes of a submarine.”

    What other sources are needed. Cetacea do not have scales. If you can cite any reference to any species in that clade that has scales, I will give up the ghost, but the one making the claim has to offer proof, more than something than an article that could be wrong.. I appreciate your service. I rode a few boats in my time. No disrespect intended.

    • None taken. Just not sure why anyone would believe that an artists rendering from a jeweler in Philadelphia of a mythical sea creature could trump actual facts (like Naval Uniform Regulations and all of the supporting documents) that clearly say DOLPHIN. But you go ahead and be you.

  2. There are submarine pins other nations , some have smooth skin and others have scales. History search could show time of origin and maybe where our design was influenced.
    Brother of the fin.

    • That was why I have spent so many hours researching the actual history of our insigne. The written proof comes from three different sources (Two official Navy sources and the last was United States Navy Submarines published by the Navy Submarine League.
      Since it was a Philadelphia Jeweler who created the pins using a fictional dolphin for his design, not sure where the confusion comes from.

  3. Pingback: The Origin of Submarine Dolphins – All Hands Magazine January 1961 « theleansubmariner

  4. Thanks Mr. Mac. Seems like from the beginning the “dolphins” were a little cartoonish. But if one had to pick between a mammal and a fish, it clearly looks like more of a dolphin fish then Flipper. Thanks for doing the research! The article is very interesting.

    • Thanks Ron. I have spent a lot of time on this one since it drove so much interest and a wee bit of controversy. The heraldic dolphin is the explanation for the appearance of course. I have continued the search and will look for more amplifying information in the months to come.

  5. Pingback: Submarine Dolphins Part Three – The Artists that created the Insignia « theleansubmariner

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