During the World War 2 in the Pacific, one of the groups that had the biggest ability to impact Japanese supply lines was the US Navy Submarine Force. These incredibly brave men began their missions within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbor and brought destruction to the Japanese supply lines that was critical in winning the war.
But the bases were far from the patrol areas in many cases so the crews would be exhausted after their missions.
When a boat would return to Pearl Harbor, the crew would be replaced by men who were technically a “Relief Crew”. These men would take over the submarine while the returning sailors headed to Waikiki and some well-earned R&R at the Royal Hawaiian.
In all of the reference materials I possess on submarine operations, not much is mentioned about the relief crews. The filled a need and gave the submariners some much needed rest. But like many support personnel, their names are not well known. One that I do remember was a man by the name of Bernard Schwartz. I met him at a submarine ball out west one year and he was introduced as a submariner. He did serve on board the USS Proteus and would have been someone who provided that relief crew service on returning boats. He and the Proteus crew were in Tokyo Bay to witness the surrender of Japan on board the nearby USS Missouri. Bernard later changes his name to Tony Curtis and used his GI bill to study acting. You may remember him from the submarine movie “Operation Petticoat”.
I do not remember ever having a relief crew on the five boats I served on. I know that some boats had support but I was not too familiar with the concept. When we returned from missions on fast attacks, we simply left some guys on board and some guys got to see their families. But then, we were returning from being depth charged either so there was a big difference.
One more modern boat that was the exception was the USS Pittsburgh. When John Lehman announced the assignment of the name to a 688 class submarine, the Pittsburgh area leaders stepped in and set up an organization that would last the life of the boat. Under the auspices of the Pittsburgh Navy League, a relief crew was formed to raise funds and let the future crews know that they would always have the support of the city whose name was on their shoulders and on their boat.
The Relief Crew was a strong force of support
Over $71,000 was raised for commissioning activities and support. After commissioning, $34,000 was left over and converted into a scholarship fund. Through the years, the relief crew never wavered in its support hosting golf fund raising events, crew visits, Christmas Parties for the families, recognition of distinguished sailors and so many more activities. (See attached list below)
When the Pittsburgh was decommissioned last year, a decision by the Board of Directors was made to retire the relief crew. Scholarship funds are still being issued each year but no activities were scheduled to grow the fund. To be fair, Covid has cancelled many activities so we would have been hard pressed to do much in the way of events.
But the recent announcement of a new USS Pittsburgh (LPD-31) has generated new interest in how we can support the ship once she is begun. We are already having Board discussions and will be working to reinvent the concept. There are many new rules and regulations about gift giving because of a number of scandals over the past few decades. But there will still be ways the city of Pittsburgh and the surrounding community can support this new warship.
More information will be coming in the next few months. But I can assure you that the tradition of support for our warfighters will not be lost. You do not need to be a current resident to support. We will look forward to sharing how you can support this ship and crew even if you moved to Florida. Pittsburgh stays in a person’s heart for life.