Of all the adventures in my short life, the one that will always rise to the top is not just one single adventure, but a collection of adventures over a four year period that have one thing in common: They are all related to being a crewmember of the best submarine a man could ever hope for. The USS San Francisco (SSN 711) begins a journey towards her new life as a Moored Training Ship (MTS) on Friday November 4th. There are rumors that she might be delayed a bit, but her path now seems pretty clear. This mighty war ship will be partially dismantled and used to train the next generation of technicians and officers for their roles in the fleet.
The boat was launched on October 27, 1979 in Newport News Shipyard
Just a few days before she was launched, I reenlisted in the Navy after an absence from active duty of a few years. I was newly divorced, tired of living from paycheck to paycheck and ready to try my hand at being a sailor again. The Navy was a life saver for me since the economy in our area was in a serious mess and the prospects of a great future were non-existent. Three things happened in the year that would follow. I would join the crew of the pre-commissioning ship San Francisco, Ronald Reagan would run for President and ultimately win, and I met and married my beautiful wife Debbie. These three events made the adjustments in my life that helped me to achieve many of my unfulfilled goals.
I missed the launching but didn’t miss anything else related to outfitting the ship. As a member of Auxiliary Division, I helped to put together the non-nuclear machinery thsat would support the ship’s operations and life. I discovered a love for developing and delivering training that would later transfer over to my achieving Master Training Specialist and a Bachelor of Science degree in Workforce Education Development. But I also learned to be a sailor and operate a ship that could do some amazing things.
One of the other reasons this was a special assignment was that I was able to serve with my youngest brother Tom. We had a lot of crazy adventures together and one of my favorite memories was pinning my original pewter back Dolphins on Tom when he became qualified in submarines. I would later pin my San Francisco Dress Dolphins on my nephew Artie Anderson who followed in the family tradition of becoming a Submarine Auxiliary man. Tom’s son Theodore was a submariner as well but somehow we lost him to the Nuclear program. But we were very proud of each of them as they found their own paths.
In the 36 years San Francisco has played a role in defending this country, she has had her share of good fortune and stark terror.
One of the most memorable of course was the collision that occurred a number of years back. I asked the author of the book Making a Submarine Officer – A story of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) Alex Fleming: for permission to post just a small part of that story.
Note: You can order your own copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Making-Submarine-Officer-story-Francisco-ebook/dp/B0052YQLWA
January 8th, 2005, 1142 hours, near the Caroline Islands
: There is a low rumbling which sounds to some like “God crushing a beer can,” and the ship slows instantaneously from 30 knots to 4 knots. The boat is well stowed for sea, so there are no projectiles, but every single person is thrown forward into the nearest vertical object. The people in the chow line end up in a huge pile in middle level. Rome and Litty are on the starboard side of the Diesel in lower level and they land in a heap on the deck. The OOD is thrown out of control, shouting Emergency blow even as he hits his head on a computer screen. The DOOW, Senior Chief Hager, is up out of his chair to update a status board, and he is thrown onto the ships control panel, shattering a gauge. His chair is thrown forward, breaking his leg. The Quartermaster flies fifteen feet forward and lands on the stern planesman, breaking the back of his chair. The JOOD is thrown forward onto the fire control displays in front of him, hitting his head and neck. The men in the smoke pit land on the pumps directly in front of them, except for Ashley, who is thrown forward 20 feet and hits his head on a pump assembly. Every single plate of food is thrown all over the galley. In the wardroom, one officer shoves his fork through his lip, and the Captain watches as one of the mess cooks flies over his shoulder and lands on the flat screen TV on the forward bulkhead.
The Captain is pinned in his chair, but quickly recovers and runs up to control to find out what happened. He gets there after the Chief of the Watch has already thrown the emergency blow handles, but the ship is not going up. The DOOW is back in his chair, not saying a word about his broken leg, shouting out depths. The ship has a down angle, and it is clear from indications that something serious has happened to the forward ballast tanks. Matt Priests quickly recovers from being slammed against his stateroom wall, and runs back to the ER as he hears an emergency report of “Flooding in the ER.” He knows this is the most serious situation that a ship can have, underwater, doing an emergency blow with flooding in the ER. No submarine can get positive buoyancy with the ER filling with water, and for a moment, Matt is sure that they are all going to die. He quickly finds that the report was an error, and the water is just a leak from a cracked freshwater pipe.
The Captain and Chief Hager in control are still watching the depth gauge, waiting for it to show upward movement. Finally, after almost a minute, the ship begins to rise, breaking the surface at 1143:52. The next forty minutes are a chaos of emergency reports, calls for the Doc, people trying to respond to ten different casualties, and people trying to care for injured shipmates. In shaft alley, an electrician named Brain Barnes does not know what else to do, so he holds Joey Ashley’s hand and talks to him, waiting for Doc Akin to arrive.”
You will have to buy the book for the rest of the story. I will also be adding the book to my Now Read This section of the blog.
On Friday November 4th, the change will start taking place. It will probably not be dramatic except for all the ghosts who I am sure will be on the pier. I earlier had thought I would not be allowed to go because of my heart issues. But frankly, my heart has never been the same since I left the San Francisco. Service on board her changed my life. I am pretty sure a lot of other people can say the same. It will be my greatest honor to stand on her decks one last time.
Thanks to all those who kept her going all these years. I am proud to have been called shipmate and even prouder to call all of you my shipmates.
News about the inactivation of the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) has finally been released. It appears that it is coming in the next few months. The ship will be refitted and used as a Moored Training Ship (MTS). It had been a goal of mine to see her one last time while she was still a warship but that seems to be out of the question.
God Bless the men who have sailed her through good times and bad for the past 36 years.
I remember the first time I saw you. I’m not sure what I expected to see, but you surely weren’t it. You were disheveled, ragged and covered with dirt and dust from the rough environment you were in. You were like a new child that hadn’t even taken its first steps yet. I watched you grow. Day after day through winter storms and a summer hotter than I could remember, you took shape. Soon enough, it was time to break free and become the part of most of our lives that would change us forever. I still see you with twenty six year old eyes and I still get goose bumps when I see you where you were always meant to be. Gliding through the water on your way to the dive point. The day you hit 1000 dives must have been very special. I remember your first. I remember praying that the men and women who built you did so with all of the care in the world. When you broke free from the surface and started showing your real gifts, it was the greatest adventure of my life. Looking around at the others who were with us, I could see the looks on their faces. Screaming through the water, diving up and down, turning so fast, it pulled men to the edge of their seats. It wasn’t my first time, but it is the one that I cherish the most.
You’ve logged a lot of miles. You’ve seen so many places. You’ve had challenges that would have broken others. And now your journey is almost over.
I always felt like you were my mistress. I married my Debbie the same year we met and so many times you pulled me back. I dream about you and I dream about the brave men who kept you safe even in the worst of times. I am grateful for their service every day and I thank each and every one of them. So many are not here anymore and in our old age, the list keeps getting longer.
They tell me you will be a school. That seems appropriate. You have already taught a few generations how to be submariners. It’s something you do well.
I wanted to come and see you one last time but I won’t be there. The thirty six years since we met has been hard on me too. I always say I left my heart on the San Francisco but the truth is that my heart is wearing out faster than you did. I pray that the surgeon’s hands will be as true and steady as the hands that built and rebuilt you.
I will be there in spirit though. I’ll be carrying a clipboard as I make my rounds throughout the boat. I’ll smell the cooking in your galley and feel the boat rising beneath my feet. As I enter a darkened control room, the boat will glide to periscope depth, rocking back and forth in the open sea. Somewhere in the night, the Dive is keeping the planesmen focused and the Chief of the Watch moves his hands like a maestro across the ballast control panel making adjustments. Everything will be performed flawlessly and the mission will be completed well. This is how I will remember you old friend.
Oro en Paz, Fierro en Guerra
“Big Mac” SSN 711 Plankowner
Today marks the remembrance of a fateful day in world history – The bombing of Hiroshima in 1945. The lives of every person on earth were changed forever by the use of such a horrendous weapon. Even today, the shadow of nuclear weapons still falls over the human race as more and more countries become armed with weapons even more powerful and destructive. As a former Cold Warrior that served on ballistic missile submarines, I can assure you that I am very aware of the potential for disaster that these weapons represent in the wrong hands.
The mayor of Hiroshima has asked all of us to remember the event and dedicate ourselves to eliminating all nuclear weapons. While I share the ideals of a world free from this darkness, I also am reminded that the weapon would never have been developed if another kind of darkness had not existed, The forces of the Axis performed atrocities upon innocent men, women and children and their leaders intentionally lied and misrepresented their positions for many decades before war became inevitable. I study the historical evidence from both sides and it is clearly evident that many choices were made that influenced the decision to use such a weapon.
We will probably never see the end of the nuclear weapon. Even now, dark forces around the globe are plotting the destruction of their fellow man in the name of religion or a misplaced ideology. Instead of holding up the destruction of Hiroshima as an example of something that should never happen again, I prefer to hold it up as a warning to all men with evil in their hearts. I want them to understand that a determined people is capable of the unthinkable in defeating an aggressor.
While we pray for peace, we will always be on guard against those who promote war as a means to achieve their ends. The world should not be fooled by the current government’s passivity. Like the seasons, government’s change. But the American heart does not. Think long and hard before you decide to test us.
One of the early posts from the Blog.
Submarines operate for extended periods of time under the ocean. This ability gives them the advantage of stealth in performing her missions. Since even the most modern submarine requires people to operate it, providing the basics of life while submerged has always been a challenge.
Think about those World War 2 movies where the Destroyer had forced the U-boat to the bottom. The destroyer captain could be patient since all he had to do was ride around on top and wait for the air on the inside of the submarine to become so horrible it could no longer sustain life. At some point, the boat would have to come to the surface.
When the idea of using nuclear submarines as launching platforms became a reality, something different needed to be done. So the Treadwell corporation proposed building a new type of “Oxygen Generator” that would ensure a high rate of…
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This is a constant reminder to all submariners that there truly are no routine days at sea. God rest their souls
MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is to beef up its military forces all the way from its western border to the Pacific islands amid ongoing strains with the West, the military said Friday.
Perhaps Putin and his Comrades should remember the last time they tried to use coercive measures to blackmail the world into submission.
Here’s a little reminder:
Stand by for action, its going to heat up all over again.
SUBSAFE is a quality assurance program of the United States Navy designed to maintain the safety of the nuclear submarine fleet; specifically, to provide maximum reasonable assurance that subs’ hulls will stay watertight, and that they can recover from unanticipated flooding.
SUBSAFE covers all systems exposed to sea pressure or critical to flooding recovery. All work done and all materials used on those systems are tightly controlled to ensure the material used in their assembly as well as the methods of assembly, maintenance, and testing are correct. They require certification with traceable quality evidence. These measures increase the cost of submarine construction and maintenance.
SUBSAFE addresses only flooding; mission assurance is not a concern, simply a side benefit. Other safety programs and organizations regulate such things as fire safety, weapons systems safety, and nuclear reactor systems safety.
From 1915 to 1963, the United States Navy lost 16 submarines to non-combat related causes. Since SUBSAFE began in 1963, only one submarine, the non-SUBSAFE-certified USS Scorpion (SSN-589), has been lost.
On 10 April 1963, while on a deep test dive about 200 miles off the northeast coast of the United States, USS Thresher (SSN-593) was lost with all hands. The loss of the lead ship of a new, fast, quiet, deep-diving class of submarines led the Navy to re-evaluate the methods used to build its submarines. A “Thresher Design Appraisal Board” determined that, although the basic design of the Thresher class was sound, measures should be taken to improve the condition of the hull and the ability of submarines to control and recover from flooding casualties.
SUBSAFE certification is carried out in four areas; Design, Material, Fabrication, & Testing. The exact procedures are documented in the initial design & construction for new submarines, while undergoing routine maintenance in naval depots, and in the fleet maintenance manual for operating submarines. During each step, quality evidence is collected, reviewed, approved, and stored for the life of the submarine. This process is reinforced with external and internal audits.
My, how quickly the past 44 years have gone by. This documentary shows a bit about nuclear submarines during the middle of the Cold War.
Description from the You Tube site:
“This outstanding U.S. Navy film from 1971 — “The Submarine Part II: Backgrounds, Characteristics and Missions of Nuclear Powered Submarines” focuses on the nuclear submarines of the 1970s. The film shows how the nuclear attack submarine and the fleet ballistic missile submarines, with their sophisticated technologies and nuclear weapons capability, can provide enormous deterrent power for the United States and its allies. Both SSN nuclear attack submarines and SSBN nuclear missile submarines are shown, including Polaris missile submarines firing the A-3 missile and Poseidon. The film also traces the history of the nuclear submarine in the U.S. Navy starting in the 1950s, including the USS Nautilus and the USS George Washington (see 18 minute mark). The USS Albacore is shown at the 5 minute mark, a boat with a unique hull design that ended up becoming standard for the Navy, including with the USS Skipjack. Some of the submarines featured include the USS Sturgeon, SSN-637, USS Greenling SSN-614, fleet ballistic missile submarines, and more. The Polaris A-1 and Polaris A-2 are also shown, as well as the Polaris A-3.
The SUBROC submarine rocket is shown at the 14 minute mark — predecessor to the submarine-launched Tomahawk cruise missile.
Also shown in this film is the DSRV-1 (27 minute mark) deep submergence rescue vehicle and the Alvin (27:30) miniature submarine and AUTEC 1 and 2, as well as the Dolphin and NR-1 research vehicle.
The Polaris missile was a two-stage Solid-fuel rocket nuclear-armed submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) built during the Cold War by Lockheed Corporation of California for the United States Navy.
It was designed to be used for second strike countervalue (CEP not good enough for first strike counterforce) as part of the Navy’s contribution to the United States arsenal of nuclear weapons, replacing the Regulus cruise missile. Known as a Fleet Ballistic Missile (FBM), the Polaris was first launched from the Cape Canaveral, Florida, missile test base on January 7, 1960.
Following the Polaris Sales Agreement in 1963, Polaris missiles were also carried on British Royal Navy submarines between 1968 and the mid-1990s.
Plans to equip the Italian Navy with the missile ended in the mid-60s, after several successful test launches carried out on board the Italian cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi. Despite the successful launching tests, the US never provided the missiles, due to political convenience. Instead the Italian Government set to develop an indigenous missile, called Alfa, with a successful program, officially halted by Italian Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty ratification and failure of the NATO Multilateral Force.
The Polaris missile was gradually replaced on 31 of the 41 original SSBNs in the US Navy by the MIRV-capable Poseidon missile beginning in 1972. During the 1980s, these missiles were replaced on twelve of these submarines by the Trident I missile. The ten George Washington- and Ethan Allen-class SSBNs retained Polaris A-3 until 1980 because their missile tubes were not large enough to accommodate Poseidon. With USS Ohio commencing sea trials in 1980, these submarines were disarmed and redesignated as attack submarines to avoid exceeding the SALT II strategic arms treaty limits.
Many new project management techniques were introduced during the development of the Polaris missile program, to deal with the inherent system complexity. This includes the use of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). This technique replaced the simpler Gantt chart methodology which was largely employed prior to this program.”