The Emergency Meeting: January 1, 1959

The Emergency Meeting: January 1, 1959

The following transcript, (heavily redacted for security reasons) is a record of an emergency meeting held at the office of Manpower for the United States Navy Bureau of Personnel on New Year’s Day 1959. This meeting was held in the strictest secrecy and portions of the meeting have only recently been declassified. The first ballistic missile submarine, George Washington SSB (N) was nearly completed with a large number of boats following close behind.

Meeting purpose: uncertainty about where the Navy would come up with enough submariners to man the rapidly expanding fleet.

{Sounds of footsteps walking anxiously through the empty passageway echo loudly until they come to a stop in front of a large ornate wooden door with several stars on it. The smartly dressed Captain that manages the submarine manning section knocks on the Admiral’s door. From inside :}

Admiral: “Enter. Let’s get this over quickly Captain so I can return to my family. What seems to be the problem?”

“Admiral, we’ve got good news and we’ve got bad news.”

“Captain, I specifically asked for nothing but good news to start the New Year. Ever since those Russkies launched that damn satellite into orbit, it’s been one thing after another around here. Alright man, spill it. What’s the good news?”

“Well sir, the boys have done it. They have figured out how to make a submarine that combines the new albacore hull with an atomic engine. On top of that, they have added a missile compartment in the middle of the boat that can launch 16 missiles from below the water line. It will be very hard to find, sir. They call them Polaris sir.

The first one will be ready by the end of this year. They just have to finish welding the pieces back together and get her ready for sea.”

“Captain, did you have a little too much “punch” at the Officer’s club last night? How is this even possible?”

“Well, sir, Admiral Rickover just kind of made it all happen when we weren’t looking.”

“Rickover? Again? Remember just a few years ago he was telling us that Regulus was the way to go. He is so busy building all these newfangled atomic boats, he seems to forget that all we have are diesel boat sailors. Thank God those fellow are all so flexible. This could have been a real fiasco.

But I guess a rocket boat that flies through the ocean for months and can’t be found will put the Commie bastards into a tailspin. So what’s the emergency?”

“Well, Admiral, the plan seems to be that the boats will stay at sea for twice as long since they don’t need to come up for air or fuel. Each boat will need two complete crews. Plus, the plan includes making forty or forty one of these boats.”

“Forty or forty one? Great. I guess we’ll have to get rid of the rest of the submarines and reassign everybody.”

“We can’t really do that Admiral. Our agents on the ground tell us that it’s a good bet the Soviets will build their own rocket boats. We’re gonna need all of those other boats we have been building and the diesel boats too to defend ourselves.”

“Well, balderdash. This is a real pickle. I guess old Rickover is going to have to lighten up a bit on his selection process. Flood the gates so to speak.”

“No good Admiral. He’s indicated that since the technology is so new, he’s actually planning on being even tougher and more selective. He’ll interview all of the officers himself and personally ride all of the new boats as they come out of the yards. He’s even going to write to congress about the history behind all of the boat’s names and send a copy to every congressman.”

“History? About a fish?”

“Um, no sir. Apparently the 41 boats will be named after famous men in American history. They’ll still keep the fish names for the Fast Attacks but these new boats will be named after men.”

“All right then, Captain, tell me exactly where we are going to get enough volunteers to man these “super boats?”

“Well, sir, we put our top scientists over in R&D on this as soon as we figured out the gap. When they couldn’t come up with a possible formula for making replacements, we called in a team of consultant experts.”

“A formula? And again, how long did you stay at the club last night?”

“Yes sir, a formula. We consulted with a large group of veterans from the submarine force that served during World War 2 and it turns out that the perfect submariner has a number of common elements that when blended together create just the right mix.

“Elements Captain? Really???”

“Yes sir, those old submariners were very helpful once we got them talking. Took a bit of rum, but once they started, you couldn’t get them to stop. I have the list right here with me. It’s only a partial list but the old boys told me that if we had another meeting just like the first one they would fill me in on the rest.

Oddly enough, all of the measurements are the equivalent of the contents of a group of number ten cans.

First, you need a can of superior intelligence with a healthy dose of skepticism and sarcasm. The will need that in order to operate all that fancy new equipment while dodging the enemy. Being locked up in a sealed tube apparently makes the sarcasm part needed since they will be locked up with all those other sailors that have superior intelligence.

Second, a full can of courage blended liberally with a strain of fear and concern. They will need to show bravery without being stupid enough to think nothing bad could ever happen.

Third, they will need several cans of patience. With no sunlight for months at a time and little chance of adventure in foreign ports, they will probably be bat shit crazy by the end of a sixty day run.

For lubrication, they’ll need a mixture of diesel fuel, hydraulic oil, bug juice and Navy coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. The “consultants” even mentioned something about raisin jack or other homemade substances to cut the edge on something called half way night.”

“Captain, how did these “experts” recommend we combine the elements to make actual submariners?”

“All they would say before we ran out of time (and rum) sir was that it would take pressure. Lots and lots of pressure.”

“I’m a little skeptical Captain. How did these men find this formula?”

“To be honest sir, the oldest ones said it was kind of accidental. 59 years ago when the Navy bought its first submarine, Submariners didn’t exist. In the early days, we just found volunteers who were a cross between a little bit crazy and just a tad foolhardy. To be fair, their boats were powered by gasoline engines and a lot of them sank. But the volunteers just kept coming. Even Admiral Nimitz was on one of the first boats.”

“Well, can we do that again?”

“Afraid not sir. There weren’t that many boats back then and the crews were pretty small. Plus, news about the actual dangers didn’t get around as much back then so finding volunteers wasn’t so hard. This new boat will have an atomic engine in the back that has been barely proven, a set of sixteen missiles that could all blow up in the tubes, and still have some torpedoes up front for self-defense. We’ll need thousands of men. Not sure we can find enough men that crazy in that short of time. Plus, we are going to have to man these boats for decades to come. That’s a lot of submariners.”

“Well Captain, if we can’t find crazy, we’ll have to recruit like crazy. We’ll use every trick in the book. Promise them first rate Hollywood movies and a sound system in every bunk. Show only pictures of heaping platters of steak and lobster with mounds of potatoes and lots of delicious sheet cake. Promise them their own individual bunk with clean sheets and for the diesel boat sailors, tell them they can take showers every other day. Tell the boys that they will only have to field day once a week and only for half the year. Since there will be two crews, that alone should be enough. Finally, make sure they know that we will give them 55 dollars extra a month even when they aren’t under water. That should do the trick, don’t you think Captain?

“Gee, I hope so Admiral. The fate of the free world depends on it.”

“You better hope this works Captain. You know what the alternative is?”

“No sir, frankly I don’t. What is it?”

“Women Captain. We’ll have to man those boats with women submariners.”

{A long silence}

Both: “HA HA HA HA HA}

“Good one Admiral. As if that will ever happen. Let me get my yeoman working on these orders right away.”

{End of transcript}

Note: When I was a very young man, an old sailor once told me that there was a way you could tell the difference between a fairy tale and a sea story. Apparently a fairy tale always starts with the words “Once upon a time” and a sea story always starts with the words “Now this is a no shitter”. Maybe I should have started the post that way?

Happy New Year 2019

Mister Mac


19 thoughts on “The Emergency Meeting: January 1, 1959

  1. Enjoyed the reading, brought back old memories of this OLD Smoke Boat Sailor who made the transition 😳

    1. I attended Auxiliary Package Course in Charleston and most of my class were Enginemen who were being forced to convert to Machinist Mate and ride Nuc boats. Most were not happy but as the boats were already starting to disappear in the early 1970’s they really had no choice. Thanks for your service on both.

  2. I’m a bit disappointed…you promised me I’d be offended. I could share this story in Sunday School.

    1. Good morning Mark. Your disappointment has been noted. Please accept my apologies with all the sincerity in which it has been offered.
      Over the past seven years, I have made it a practice to not interject too much “Navy” specific terminology since I have a global readership. I am also a part time Preacher which makes life interesting since I also used to be an A Gang Chief. Nothing like being in the middle of a sermon and launching an unintentional F bomb (which has never actually happened yet). Please feel free to share the story anyway…Thanks

    1. Steak and lobster tails. We had this with reckless abandon on my first patrol. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Then the Chief cook transferred along with the Chop and the next guys realized that the budget for the year had been exploded. The very next run was chicken. Then more chicken. Then chicken. But at night, I sometimes dream about a platter filled with the fattest lobster tails ever known to man.
      You are welcome.

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