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.
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
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.
CHANGES IN UNIFORM REGULATIONS NO. 1.
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,
- 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 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.