The Typical Submariner Candidate in 1950 – Not Just Your Usual American Home Town Boy

The Typical Submariner Candidate in 1950 – Not Just Your Usual American Home Town Boy

The average 20 year old American male in 1950 shared a number of things. They were between 9-10 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed so they grew up while the world was at war. Their entertainment was radio and movies and if they paid attention at all, they got their news from newspapers that were printed in their home towns.

Boys still wore pants and girls for the most part wore dresses. Very few had ever traveled further than their hometowns and even fewer had ever been on an airplane. Trains, busses and trolleys were the main mode of public transportation and cars were just beginning the Golden Age as the war ended and the automotive industry shifted back from making war machines to making dream machines.

From 1948 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the armed forces which could not be filled through voluntary means. So all young men were still required to register and in 1950, that would subject many of them to a tour in either Europe or a small country called Korea which was involved in a regional conflict from the summer of 1950 on.

The Navy was beginning to understand the significance of submarines in its overall Cold War Strategy but selecting the right men for the job was still a high priority. Submarines had definitely tipped the balance of the last war, and the Soviet investment in this type of warfare was obvious and alarming.

The New CNO was concerned about America’s Anti-submarine capability and the drawdown from the last war was continuing at a furious pace. New weapons like submarine launched missiles were no longer just comic book fodder. The potential for attacking the homeland was greater than ever before.

The following call to arms appeared in the ALL HANDS magazine of January 1950:

Enlisted Training Billets Now Open in Submarine Service

Training billets are now open for qualified petty officers and non-rated men who want to get into the submarine Service. BuPers Circ. Ltr. 97-48 (NDB, 30 May 1948) contains the latest information regarding assignment of enlisted personnel, both rated and non-rated, to submarine duty. Enlisted men who have the desire to serve on submarines and who are able to meet the stiff requirements laid down for men who get duty in the undersea boats may apply for the U. S. Naval Submarine School at New London, Conn.

At the school, you will get an intensive, eight-week course in basic submarine equipment. The course is designed to familiarize the petty officer and non-rated man alike in the intricacies of submarines and how they differ from surface vessels.

A new class convenes at the school every four weeks during the year. The next one starts on 16 Jan 1950. Graduates of the school will take their places on boats of the fleet. Requests for submarine training may be submitted by petty officers first, second and third class in the following ratings: TM, QM, FC, FT, RM, SO, EN, EM, IC, YN; first and second class HM; and SN, SA, FN and FA.

Here are the qualifications you need to be eligible:

    • Be a volunteer for sea duty in submarines. This means you must sign a statement, “I volunteer for sub marine duty” and insert it on page 9 or page 4A-4B in your service record.
    • Be emotionally and mentally stable and mature. Your service record will play a big part in determining these factors.
    • Have a minimum combined GCT-ARI score of 100.
    • Be physically qualified for sub marine duty (see Manual of the Medical Dept., Art. 21133).
    • Have at least 12 months in the naval service and at least six months in your present ship or at your present station. Personnel serving in newly commissioned ships should not forward applications until they have completed 12 months’ service therein
  • No age limit is set, but maturity and flexibility are primary requirements. If you are over 30, your commanding officer must endorse your emotional, mental and physical condition.


The following personnel are not eligible to submit requests for sub marine school: Recruits undergoing recruit training, personnel attending Navy schools, Seabee personnel and personnel in a transient status. Enlisted personnel who have been separated from the submarine force and who carry the designation SS may also submit requests for return to the submarine force, provided they are physically and temperamentally qualified. In all cases, however, these former submariners will not be ordered to the school at New London, but to ComSubLant or Com SubPac for further assignment to duty.

All this led to the Submarine Medical Department developing tests and aides to assist the Interviewers in weeding out people who might not make the grade. It’s been really interesting to see the results of those tests and what the men who were involved at the time looked like on paper.

The first Interview guide (The Submariner Stereotype) was used to determine characteristics. The characteristics that they could have chosen from include: Hard worker, clean, strong, ladies’ man, bright, generous, cocky, drinking man, dreamer, gambler, griper and so on. Altogether, the men were given forty choices.

Here are the top five answers given by those men interviewed in 1951:

How the submarine candidates view what a submariner should be:



Hard workers


Good pals

This is how submariner candidates viewed themselves using the same scale:



Hard Worker



The consistency between the two viewpoints was unique among the three tested groups. Submariner candidates were statistically consistent in the choices they made during this evaluation.

On the opposite side of the coin are things least chosen by the candidates.

On the basis of the data available, the items least often considered important in submariners—-spenders, dreamers and Good-looking, would appear to be personal characteristics irrelevant to the major important qualities, and some of them, seemingly undesirable as well. Rough, tough and shy, appear to receive the least emphasis by members of the three naval groups for themselves, and are also of the personality characteristic type.

The overall opinions of the original study group are that the characteristics that made the best submariners were those directly related to team environment success.

One unique part of this study. They tracked those who failed to complete submarine training and found that their answers were consistently opposite of the answers of those who completed the training and went on to become Submariners.

The Confidential Questionnaire

Being on a submarine is obviously stressful, even in peacetime. The Navy was already beginning to look at the future in 1950. Atomic power for propulsion was already becoming an accepted fact of life in the near future. This source of energy would allow submarines to stay submerged for months versus days. What new stress would this subject the sailors to?

The confidential interview was a way to draw out any hidden characteristics that might affect a man while he was assigned to a submarine. The interviewers would use the answers form the exam to rate the man’s ability to be a part of a crew.

The following is the typical description of a submarine candidate:

Description of a Submarine School Candidate:


  1. He is in the second pay grade.
  2. He is 20 years old or younger.
  3. He remained in his home town nine or more years.
  4. He is single.
  5. He completed twelve grades of schooling.
  6. He did not have a sustained absence from school.
  7. He left school at age 17 or younger.
  8. He left school because he graduated.
  9. He liked two subjects best but there was no evident pattern to the “likes.”
  10. He failed no subjects.
  11. He held an unskilled job from one to four years if he worked before entering the service.
  12. He has a savings account.
  13. He has had three or fewer sicknesses of miscellaneous varieties.
  14. He considers his worst disease to be one of the childhood communicable type.
  15. He regards the disease as worst because of its severity – this includes indication of pain).
  16. He considers his greatest accomplishment to be in connection with his education and self—improvement.
  17. He considers his greatest failure to be in connection with incomplete education.
  18. He is upset by people with undesirable personality characteristics.
  19. He wants to improve any one of the following: order of frequency.)
    1. relations with others
    2. language and speech
    3. acquisition of knowledge or skill ) own personality
    4. neatness and physical appearance
  20. He cries at the death of a loved one.
  21. He most admires: (in order of frequency)
    1. Mother
    2. family or parents
    3. anyone with good qualities wife
  22. He likes sports of the team play variety and he rates his proficiency as average.
  23. He wants to be in the Navy five years from now.
  24. His three most cherished possessions are:
    1. someone dear to him
    2. some concept, such as his background
    3. some material possession

The same study also examined traits for those who were considered “Temperamentally disqualified”

This group is best described as a broad category of psychological disqualifications. In a negative sense, the group includes all (rejected) men who were not rejected for physical unfitness or academic failure, The comments listed on the records of these men were of three types: (1) temperamentally unsuited for submarine duty; (2.) psychologically un-adapted for submarine duty; and (3) no longer a volunteer. The number of men in Group II was 70 out of over 1100. Interestingly, all 70 had been previously screened before this examination for mental fitness.

Can an interview document be used to find the less desirable candidates?

Here was the conclusion:

The items which have been mentioned thus far as indicating some distinguishing factors have been almost exclusively located in the first or factual part of the questionnaire. The section containing questions related to personality structure was not found to be discriminatory. It has been thought that the characteristics which made for psychological disqualifications might be revealed by the responses to such items, but this was not the case. However, this does not mean that these personality differences cannot be discovered. If the hypothesis is granted that psychological differences do exist between successful men and other groups, then the difference must lie not in the response per se, but in the reasons underlying the responses. It is doubtful whether such reasons can be brought to light by questionnaire methods alone, without the skillful probing of an experienced interviewer.


So apparently in 1950, you still needed someone to tell you that you just weren’t right… some things never change.

I’ve had a lot of fun the past few days reading responses on Facebook about the “Are you crazy” comment. I am not sure which came first, being a little off centered, sarcastic and maybe just a little egotistical because of what we achieved when others did not. Or were we always that way and just needed a place to practice our unique skills? All I know is this. We were crazy enough to volunteer to be among the most elite group of people that have ever sailed the seven seas and brave the deeps of the ocean. The world can always use a little more of that kind of crazy. I hope the next generation will continue to hold that line.

Mister Mac

I am reminded of an old saying… you don’t have to be crazy to work here… but it helps

7 thoughts on “The Typical Submariner Candidate in 1950 – Not Just Your Usual American Home Town Boy

  1. I joined the Navy reserve in 1950, was called to active duty in. 1951, went straight to submarine school after boot camp in 1952. Served on the uss greenfish ss 351 and received my dolphins in 1953. I am one of these young guys you described in this article. Now at 87 years old I still remember the good times I had as a submarine sailor

    1. Harry, I can’t thank you enough for the service you performed for this country. Your generation is seriously underestimated for your contributions but I am grateful for all that you did. You are the reason I work so hard to memorialize the history of submariners. My Mom is 87 and we spend every Tuesday afternoon together. In the second survey, the participants were asked what they valued the most. I guess I am old school. I would have answered my Mom and Dad.
      Mister Mac

    2. Harry, I can’t thank you enough for the service you performed for this country. Your generation is seriously underestimated for your contributions but I am grateful for all that you did. You are the reason I work so hard to memorialize the history of submariners. My Mom is 87 and we spend every Tuesday afternoon together. In the second survey, the participants were asked what they valued the most. I guess I am old school. I would have answered my Mom and Dad.
      Mister Mac

  2. Greetings.
    It would be my pleasure to have you as a member of the “Submarinos & Submarinistas – Submarines & Submariners”, a Facebook group I’ve created to share and discuss the subject among enthusiasts and, eventually, also professionals in the field. Posts allowed in any language. The link to it:

    Do feel free to join and share it, which would be highly appreciated.
    Best regards.

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