Floating Drydocks: A Noteworthy Innovation That Changed the Course of Two Wars 7

Floating Drydocks had been around for a long time before World War 2. But the scope of naval warfare during World War 2 and the Cold War that would follow would test the Navy’s ability to maintain vessels in faraway locations. This is part on of the story of docks like USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7) which serviced the Polaris and Poseidon Missile submarines of the Cold War.

Looking back on the years since the LA was placed out of commission, its easy to forget that for over thirty years she served on the front lines of a different kind of conflict. But it was a need identified and filled many years before that which made her ability to fill this new role possible. This is the story of the Floating Drydocks of World War II.

 

Advanced Base Sectional Dock Number 3

“The fleet of floating drydocks built by the Bureau of Yards and Docks during World War II was a significant and at times dramatic factor in the Navy’s success in waging global war.

It had long been recognized that in the event of another world war the fleet would be required to operate in remote waters, and that ships were going to suffer hard usage and serious battle damage. It was obvious that many crippled ships would be lost, or at least would be out of action for months while returning to home ports for repairs, unless mobile floating drydocks could be provided that could trail the fleet wherever it went. It was the Bureau’s responsibility to meet these requirements.

Floating drydocks have been used for overhaul and repair of ships for many years, and many ingenious designs have been devised from time to time. One of the most interesting was the Adamson dock, patented in 1816, which may be considered the prototype of some of the new mobile docks. The Navy apparently built several wooden sectional docks at various navy yards about 1850, but little is known of their history.

About 1900, two new steel floating drydocks were built for the Navy. The first of these, of 18,000 tons lifting capacity, was built in 1899-1902 at Sparrow’s Point, Md., and towed to the Naval Station a Algiers, La., where it was kept in intermittent service for many years. In 1940, it was towed via the Panama Canal to Pearl Harbor to supplement the inadequate docking facilities there. Since the dock was wider than the Canal locks, it was necessary to disassemble it at Cristobal and to reassemble it at Balboa. Although both the dock and the ship in it were damaged during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the dock was not lost, but was quickly repaired and subsequently performed invaluable service both in the salvaging of vessels damaged in that attack and in the support of the fleet in the Pacific.

The other dock, the Dewey, was a 16,000-ton dock, built in three sections, and capable of docking itself. It was constructed in 1903-1905, also at Sparrow’s Point, Md., and was towed via the Suez Canal to the Philippines. The saga of this voyage is an epic of ocean towing history. The Dewey was still in service at Olongapo when the Japanese invaded the Philippines early in 1942. [sic: Preliminary landings took place as early as 8 December, with the main landings following on the 21st. Manila was occupied on New Years Day. — HyperWar] It was scuttled by the American naval forces before they abandoned the station.

Neither of these docks was suitable for mobile operation. Between 1920 and 1930, the Bureau of Yards and Docks made numerous studies of various types of mobile docks of both unit and sectional types. In 1933, funds were finally obtained for one 2,200-ton dock, and the Bureau designed and built the ARD-1. This dock was of revolutionary design. It was a one-piece dock, ship-shaped in form, with a molded closed bow and a faired stern, and may be best described as U-shaped in both plan and cross-section. The stern was closed by a bottom-hinged flap gate, operated by hydraulic rams. This gate was lowered to permit entrance of a ship into the submerged dock and then closed. The dock was then raised by pumping water from the ballast compartments and also from the main basin. This dock was equipped with its own diesel-electric power plant, pumping plant, repair shops, and crew’s accommodations. It was the first drydock in any navy which was sufficiently self-sustaining to accompany a fleet into remote waters.

The ARD-1 was towed to Pearl Harbor, where it was used successfully throughout the war. Thirty docks of this type, somewhat larger and incorporating many improvements adopted as a result of operational experience with this experimental dock, were constructed and deployed throughout the world during the war.

Advance Base Sectional Dock in the South Pacific
View shows keel blocks and bilge blocks set to accommodate a ship.

 

In 1935, the Bureau obtained $10,000,000 for a similar one-piece mobile dock, to be capable of lifting any naval vessel afloat. Complete plans and specifications were prepared by the Bureau for this dock, which was to be 1,027 feet long, 165 feet beam, and 75 feet molded depth. Bids received for this huge drydock, designed as the ARD-3, appreciably exceeded the appropriation, and the project was abandoned when the additional funds needed for its execution were refused.

At the same time, plans were prepared for the ARD-2, an improved and enlarged model of the ARD-1. It was not until November 1940, however, that funds were obtained for its construction, and the project placed under contract. The ARD-2, and an additional dock, the ARD-5, were completed in the spring of 1942. Additional docks of this type were built in rapid succession and were delivered during 1943 and 1944 at an average rate of more than one a month.

Types of Floating Drydocks

The war program of floating drydocks included a wide variety of types to meet the varying service requirements for which they were designed. The principal categories were as follows:

  • ABSD — Advance Base Sectional Dock. Mobile, military, steel dock, either (a) of ten sections of 10,000 tons lifting capacity each, or (b) of seven sections of 8,000 tons lifting capacity, for battleships, carriers, cruisers, and large auxiliaries.
  • ARD — Auxiliary Repair Dock. Mobile, military, steel unit dock, ship-form hull, with a normal lifting capacity of 3,500 tons, for destroyers, submarines, and small auxiliaries.
  • ARDC — Auxiliary Repair Dock, Concrete. Mobile, military concrete trough type, unit dock with faired bow and stern, 2,800 tons lifting capacity.
  • AFD — Auxiliary Floating Dock. Mobile, military, steel trough type, unit dock, with faired bow and stern, of 1,000 tons lifting capacity.
  • AFDL — Auxiliary Floating Dock, Lengthened. Mobile, steel trough type, unit dock, similar to AFD’s, but lengthened and enlarged to provide 1,900 tons lifting capacity.
  • YFD — Yard Floating Dock. This category included a wide variety of types, designed generally for yard or harbor use, with services supplied from shore. Among the principal types were 400-ton concrete trough docks; 1,000-ton, 3,000-ton and 5,000-ton one-piece timber trough docks; sectional timber docks ranging from 7,000 to 20,000 tons lifting capacity; and three-piece self-docking steel sectional docks of 14,000 to 18,000 tons lifting capacity.

These classifications were modified in 1946 in order to make the standard nomenclature of floating drydocks consistent and more descriptive. Four class designations were established, as follows:

  • AFDB — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Big.30,000 tons and larger.
  • AFDM — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Medium.10,000 to 30,000 tons.
  • AFDL — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Little. Less than 10,000 tons.
  • AFDL(C) — Auxiliary Floating Drydock Little (Concrete).

Under this modification, the ABSD’s were redesignated AFDB’s; the ARD’s became AFDU’s; the RDC’s became AFDL(C)’s; the AFD’s became AFDL’s; and the YFD’s became AFDM’s.

Advance Base Sectional Dock

The problem of providing floating drydocks capable of moving to advanced operational areas in the wake of the fleet, of sustaining themselves in full operation without support from shore, and of sufficient size and lifting capacity to dock all capital ships had been under study by the Bureau for many years. The ARD-3 was one solution of this problem. It was recognized that a unit dock of this size possessed certain disadvantages. In required a special basin of huge size for its initial construction. It was necessary to retain this basin in reserve or provide an equivalent basin elsewhere, for the periodic docking of the hull, since it was not self-docking. The towing of a craft of this size presented an operational problem of unprecedented magnitude. Provision for stresses during storms at sea required heavy reinforcement of the dock. Concern was felt over the possibility of losing the unit dock from enemy action while en route.

Cruiser in an Advance Base Sectional Dock
Showing the ship secured in position so that it will be supported on the prepared blocking as the dock is unwatered.

 

Studies had been carried on concurrently by the Bureau on various types of sectional docks, which would be designed with faired hulls for ease of towing and with joint details which would permit rapid assembly in forward areas under adverse conditions. These schemes were not carried to a final conclusion, primarily because the requirements of the Bureau of Ships for the longitudinal strength and stiffness of the assembled dock could not be met by an practicable form of joint.

When war was declared, it was apparent at once that a number of mobile capital-ship floating drydocks would have to be constructed immediately. The project was authorized and funds made available early in 1942. Studies in connection with the preparation of plans and specifications led to the proposal of a sectional type of dock, with field-welded joints, designed for a strength materially below that previously specified by the Bureau of Ships. This reduction was accepted, and the sectional type adopted.

Unwatering an Advance Base Sectional Dock
Water is pumped out of the bottom pontoons and wingwall compartments to raise the ship out of the water.

These docks were of two different sizes. For battleships, carriers, and the largest auxiliaries, the larger docks, consisted of ten section, each 256 feet long and 80 feet wide, and with a nominal lifting capacity of 10,000 tons. When assembled to form the dock, these sections were placed transversely with 50-foot outrigger platforms at either end of the assembly, making the dock 927 feet long and 256 feet wide overall, with an effective length of 827 feet, a clear width inside wing walls of 133 feet, and a lifting capacity of 90,000 tons.

The smaller docks, intended for all except the largest battleships, carriers, and auxiliaries, consisted of seven sections, each 240 feet long and 101 feet wide, with a lifting capacity of 8,000 tons. The assembled dock had an effective length of 725 feet, an overall length of 825 feet, a width of 240 feet, a clear width inside wing walls of 120 feet, and a lifting capacity of 55,000 tons.

At maximum submergence the 10-section docks had a depth over the blocks of 46 feet, with a freeboard of almost 6 feet; the 7-section docks had a corresponding depth of 40 feet and and a freeboard of almost 5 feet.

For both sizes, the sections were faired fore and aft to a truncated bow and stern, and could be towed at a speed of 6 to 8 knots without excessive power. In the assembled docks, the flat bows and sterns formed interrupted berths alongside to which barges and vessels could be readily moored.


A Section of an Advance Base Sectional Dock in Tow
Wingwalls are down to reduce wind resistance. Repair equipment is stowed on deck.

The sections consisted of the bottom pontoon and two wing walls, which were hinged at the bottom so that they could be folded inboard for towing, the purpose being to reduce the presentation to the wind and to lower the center of gravity as compared to fixed standing wing walls.

Each bottom pontoon of the battleship dock was 28 feet deep and was subdivided by two watertight bulkheads running lengthwise and four watertight bulkheads athwart the section to form twelve water ballast compartments and a central buoyancy compartment, 36 feet by 80 feet. This buoyancy compartment contained two decks, the upper deck being used for crew’s quarters, and the lower deck, for the machinery compartment. The double bottom was subdivided to form fuel-oil and fresh water tanks. Access to the usable compartments was provided by passageways under the upper pontoon deck which connected to stair trunks in the wing walls.

The wing walls were 20 feet wide and 55 feet high, and were subdivided by a safety deck set 14 feet below the top deck to form dry compartments above and three water ballast compartments below. The dry compartments were completely utilized for shops, storage, and similar facilities. Quarters and galleys were in the dry compartments in the bottom pontoons.

Each section was equipped with two 525-h.p. diesel engines directly connected to 350-k.w. generators, and with pumps evaporators, compressors, and heating and ventilating apparatus. No propulsion machinery was provided.

The smaller docks were similar, except that the bottom pontoons were 231/2 feet deep and the wing walls were 18 feet wide and 49 feet high.

Each dock was equipped with two portal jib cranes having a lifting capacity of 15 tons at a radius of 85 feet, traveling on rails on the top deck of the wing walls. In the case of the smaller dock, the cranes were set back from the inner face of the wing walls to provide clearance for overhanging superstructures of carriers, and the outer rail was supported on steel framing erected on the outboard portion of the pontoon deck.

ABSD Construction

The 58 sections required for these docks were constructed by five contractors at six different sites, including four on the West Coast, one on the Gulf Coast, and one near Pittsburgh on the Ohio River. Generally, they were built in dry excavated basins which were flooded and opened to the harbor for launching. In one case, two basins in tandem were utilized to suit local site conditions, and the sections were locked down from the upper basin, in which they were built, to the lower basin, the water level of which was normally at tide level and was raised temporarily by pumping.

 

Picture:


Raising the Wingwalls of an Advance Base Sectional Dock with Hydraulic Jacks
Crews on top of wingwalls change position of the pins in the beams alternatively.

At one yard, the sections were built on inclined shipways and end-launched; at another, they were side-launched. These sections were built in from 8 to 14 months. Maximum possible use was made of prefabrication and pre-assembly methods.

ABSD Assembly. — Although the wing walls were generally erected initially in their upright position for ease of construction, it was necessary to lower them to the horizontal position for towing at sea. On arrival at the advance base where they were to be placed in service, the wing walls were first raised again to their normal position and the sections then aligned and connected.

An ingenious method was evolved for the raising of the wing walls, which was found to be quicker and more certain than the scheme originally contemplated of accomplishing the result by the buoyancy process. Each wing wall was jacked into position, using two jacking assemblies, each consisting of a long telescoping box strut and a 500-ton hydraulic jack. Closely spaced matching holes were provided in the outer and inner boxes of the strut through which pins were inserted to permit holding the load while the jacks were run back after reaching the limit of their travel. These devices were also designed to hold back the weight of the wing walls after they passed the balance point during the raising operation. Two 100-ton jacks opposing the main jacks were used for this purpose. After the wing walls were in the vertical position, they were bolted to the bottom pontoon around their entire perimeter, and all access connection between the wing wall and bottom pontoon were made watertight.

The sections of each dock were successively brought together and aligned by means of the matching pintles and gudgeons which had been provided for the purpose on the meeting faces of the sections. Heavy splice plates were then welded in position from section to section across the joints at the wing walls, at top and bottom, and on both the inside and the outside faces of the wing walls. The strength of these connections gave the assembled dock a resisting moment of about 500,000 foot-tons, or approximately one-fourth that of the largest prospective vessel to be docked.

The drydock cranes were carried on the pontoon deck of individual sections during tow, and were shifted to their operating position on the wing walls during assembly of the dock by immerging the partially assembled dock, bringing the section carrying the crane alongside, and aligning it so the rails on the pontoon deck were in line with those on the wing walls of the rest of the dock. The trim and alignment were adjusted during the transfer by a delicate control of water ballast.

The assembled docks were moored at anchorages in protected harbors where wave conditions, depth of water, and bottom holding power were satisfactory. The large docks required at least 80 feet depth for effective use. They were moored by 32 fifteen-ton anchors, 14 on both side and 2 at either end, with 150 fathoms scope of chain.

In actual operation, it was found that the effectiveness of these docks could be improved by providing auxiliary facilities in excess of those available on the dock itself. A considerable number of shop, storage, and personnel accommodation barges were provided for this purpose.

Special Problems

Special conditions of service involved many entirely new studies and developments for our floating drydocks. For instance, as the docks had to operate in outlying areas where ideal conditions for operation could not always be met, it was necessary to give the adequacy of their moorings special consideration. In the largest size docks, this involved wind-tunnel experiments which gave some surprising results and indicated that a rearrangement of the moorings as originally planned was desirable. Also, as the drydock operating crews were initially relatively inexperienced and docking of ships under advance base conditions had never been attempted to the extent contemplated, it was necessary to prepare complete operating manuals for the use and guidance of the crews. Damage control was also important, and damage-control manuals were prepared for all advance base docks, covering every possible contingency of weather an enemy action.

As advance base docks were commissioned and had regular Navy crews and as they operated in areas where they had to be self-sustaining to a large extent, it was necessary to develop allowance lists for each type of dock and outfit them in much the same manner as a ship. This necessitated the incorporation into the docks of special facilities for the handling, stowage, and issuance of great quantities of material and equipment.

Complete statistics have not been compiled of the total number of vessels of all kinds from the mightiest battleship and carriers to the humblest patrol craft that were salvaged, repaired, and overhauled in this armada of floating drydocks. Themost dramatic demonstration of the importance of the mobile drydocks was given during the long drawn-out naval support of the invasion of Okinawa, when the fleet was subjected for weeks to continual and desperate “Kamikaze” attacks by Japanese suicide-bombers. The fleet suffered great damage, but the ready availability of the mobile drydocks at nearby advance bases, and the yeoman service rendered by their own crews and the ship repair components at these bases, save many ships and minimized the time ships were out of action for repairs, to such an extent that these docks may well have represented the margin between success and failure.”

AFDB-1 with West Virginia (BB-48) high and dry in the dock

The AFDB’s served on for many years. You can read about some of their stories in the archives of theleansubmariner.com

Mister Mac

I love LA 3

Regular readers know that once upon a time when the world was still dark with fears from the Soviets, a little known base in Scotland served as a portable pier for our submarine fleet. Starting in 1960, units of the United States Fleet anchored in a small inlet called Holy Loch that was just up from Dunoon. The submarine tenders that rotated in and out for the next 31 years all toiled endlessly to support the ballistic missile submarines and occasional fast attacks.

The other major unit was the floating sectional drydock that was known

as the USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7).

You can search theleansubmariner by looking for articles about her and understand just how important this asset was and how amazing the technology was that allowed her to serve for the entire time Site One was open.

A chance for a new life for a venerable name

The LA has been decommissioned for nearly twenty seven years as a Naval Unit but a unique opportunity has emerged that would pay tribute to the city that gave its name to this unit.

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico’s congressional delegation says the U.S. Navy’s next nuclear submarine should be named “USS Los Alamos” in recognition of the community’s contributions.

The delegation sent a letter to Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Monday citing the founding of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the once-secret federal installation that helped develop the atomic bomb.

The letter refers to the heritage, service and scientific achievements of the northern New Mexico community.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the founding of the lab, one of the nation’s premier nuclear weapons research centers. Aside from its role in the Manhattan Project, work at Los Alamos provided the technical understanding in nuclear energy that led to the Naval Propulsion Program.

The naming effort also has the support of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

See the source image

Virginia Class Submarine

Of course I strongly support the efforts to bring back the name Los Alamos to the US Navy. My only hope is that in all the hubbub, the people who are pushing from the name don’t forget the mission the original LA performed. By providing remote dockings all of those years, she contributed so much to the nation’s defense.

Heritage means something to all of those who have served in the Navy.

This is one heritage that should not be forgotten.

Mister Mac

Primus in Pace – USS George Washington SSBN 598 Reply

Post #598: Primus In Pace

If you cross parts of the great American prairie, you can still see the ruts of the wagons that crossed the vast wilderness on their way to the west. Those ruts have been superseded by ribbons of concrete and asphalt that stretch from sea to shining sea and remind you of where we have been and where we have yet to go.

On the other hand, you can scour the oceans as long as you want and you will never find evidence that the mighty submarine warship USS George Washington was there. From the minute she started her first underway in 1960 until she was decommissioned on January 24, 1985, her path was largely undetected with a few notable exceptions along the way. That part of her story was long after I left her and will remain for another day.

Primus in Pace

My Qual Boat : 1974

Any submariner that follows the story knows that she was the lead class of the first Polaris submarines.

These submarines paved the way for the group of boats known as the “Forty One for Freedom” boats.

Each succeeding hull number series brought greater capabilities and more powerful weapons. But through it all, the Georgefish sailed on and played her role. She sailed in the Atlantic and the Pacific and places unknown for a few generations of sailors. I was assigned to be an Auxiliaryman in 1973 and spent two years learning about the boat, about submarining in general and about myself. I would like to say I did things that were heroic and memorable but that would be a lie. Like most submariners of that age, I mainly just did my job.

Interesting map found at the Sub Base Museum in Groton depicting the missile ranges of the various classes of FBMs

 

Not that there weren’t interesting times. We sailed out of Guam and I the early seventies, Guam and Mother Nature treated us to a couple of typhoons. The Vietnam War was ending and the Cold War was heating up so we had a lot of company on our way into and out of Guam. Those Soviet fishing boats liked to show us how well they could navigate while listening for telltale signs of submarine sounds. Even when we got on station, we knew that there would be great challenges. Submarines sometimes came closer to the surface for different reasons and the enemy had many faces. Some of those faces were actual patrolling craft and sometimes the enemy took the form of great open ocean storms.

The new kid

When I first reported aboard, I learned about how life is ordered. If you are new and not qualified to do anything, sleeping was more of a rare privilege than a right. You can’t imagine how low you are on the food chain until you have to clean out the trash compactor room with all of the smells that still manage to come back after over forty years. When things need to be quiet, trash accumulates quickly and the stench fills your nose. There really is no place to go that you can avoid that odor when you are working in the scullery so you just learn to talk yourself out of being sick.

The bunk that I was assigned was directly below the scullery. Since the scullery wasn’t watertight, often the liquids would come down the long shaft of the TDU (trash disposal unit) and settled near where I slept (when I actually got to sleep). I have to be honest, I was not aware how lucky I was to have a rack at the time but in retrospect, I remember being extra careful to clean my space and keep it spotless.

After a tour as a mess cook, it’s off to the helms planes station. Compared to the diving stations I see on the modern boats, ours looked like something out of an ancient handbook. We had manual depth counters, a rudder angle indicator, an actual bubble inclinometer and two colors: white when it was light and red lights when it was rigged for red. You learn what ultimate boredom is and sheer panic is while sitting in the same seats. You also learn to control them both. The boredom on an old boomer is traveling at a set speed for days on end, sometimes varying your depth, always following the compass to you next path. We kept ourselves awake with cigarettes and coffee and hot cocoa. We learned old sailor stories from the more seasoned Petty Officers, Chiefs and sometimes Officers that kept us company on our long drive to nowhere.

Man Battle Stations – cue the really annoying electronic alarm

Then there would be the moments of stress. Battle Stations Missile, Battle Stations Torpedo, Collision Alarms, Fires and flooding in some of the most unusual places. Mostly drills but you didn’t always know it. You went from practically asleep to wide eyed and alert in moments as everything around you changed too. Headphone would be manned, communications between missile control, engineering and the torpedo room would come rattling across like bullets from a machine gun. During all of these, you kept focus on what was in front of you.

In some cases, your rudder or planes would no longer function properly. We drilled on the back up process which was incredibly old fashioned and manual. Minutes seemed like hours. Somewhere, hundreds of feet behind you, shipmates who just minutes before may have been sleeping or eating were struggling to activate an emergency backup system and restore the ship.

There was no place to go.

When an actual casualty did occur, all the discipline and practice kicked, almost as if directed by unseen hands. Men knew where to go and what equipment they would need. We practiced in the dark just in case the lights were out. We knew where every twist and turn was located so that we could get through the maze of equipment without becoming casualties ourselves. Your heart would be racing a hundred miles an hour as you took your position but you were there. Waiting if needed but ready.

It paid off more times that I can tell you. The Georgefish was well worn by 1974. She had some shipyard time for repairs and upgrades in weapons systems, but some things just fell below the radar. So when she found herself in a Northern Pacific monster storm and had to go up for a communications pass, she got to test the designer’s abilities and the builder’s skills.

The wave

I do not know what the size of the waves were that came rolling over us in a series of loud canon shots. I do know that the boat inclinometer was clearly indicating that every other swell took us to forty five degrees. I do know that it was black as night and the Officer of the Deck kept saying he couldn’t see a damn thing. The rudder was nearly useless in trying to keep us on course and we popped to the surface where we remained for the next twenty minutes. We were caught in a surfacing effect between the wave troughs. The missile deck superstructure was higher than the pressure hull and it worked as a magnet holding us fast on top. Then came “the wave”. It was horrendous and sounded like the loudest clap of thunder I had ever heard. I was standing back fro the dive stand near the officer of the deck when I heard the loud spraying noise coming from somewhere in front of me. Followed by loud yelling of the men caught in its path. We had all been taught from the very first that flooding and fires kill people first and submarines second.

Just at that moment, the Captain came into the control room and turned the lights on. He said, there is no use having the lights off officer of the deck, you can’t see anything. Then he took the deck and the Conn. Sizing up the situation quickly he saw what had happened. The hydraulic supply line to the ram that controlled the fairwater planes had a small blow out plug in it that was supposed to protect the lines in case of over pressurizations. It worked. The 3000 PSI supply line was over pressurized when the wave forced the fairwater planes to fight against the ordered position. It did exactly what it was supposed to.

My Chief was the Chief of the Watch and he isolated the line stopping the flow of oil. The planes were now frozen in the “rise” position. Both the inboard and outboard planesmen were covered with hydraulic oil so they were relieved and sent below. That left me (as the messenger) the only choice to sit in the outboard station and the rudder was shifter over. They were cleaning up the oil all around me as the boat continued to rock and I tried to control the rudder.

The Captain ordered a massive amount of water flooded into the variable ballast tanks. Thousands and thousands of pounds of cold sea water made the boat heavier and heavier until finally, we broke the grip the ocean held on us. Now the boat began to sink quickly and as we passed 150 feet, the reactor gave up the ghost. The main propulsion for the boat comes from that single screw driven by the steam created in the reactor. But all of the wild gyrations on the surface must have affect the plant. Without that power, the huge pumps needed to get rid of all that extra water would have to sit and wait. Restoring power would take everything.

Fairwaters jammed on full rise

As the boats downward speed increased, I remember hugging the stern planes yoke to my chest. Full rise. Trying to take advantage of any residual speed still left on the no longer responding screw. My eyes were glued to the dial that showed us slowly sinking closer and closer to test depth. I was only nineteen. I really didn’t want to die. But I also didn’t want to let go of that yoke. The Captain was behind me watching the same thing.

As we approached test depth, maneuvering called on the 2MC and reported that the reactor was back on line and propulsion was being restored. We were moments away from having to do an emergency blow. If that had failed, we would have been a worse disaster than the Thresher. I didn’t think about that at the time. I just kept asking God to keep us alive. The next few hours were a blur. We came back up from the deeps and had to porpoise the boat. The fairwater planes were still stuck on full rise so I had a depth band of about 75 feet to play with. I think I got pretty good at it as they came up with a replacement blowout plug and restored the planes. I finally got relieved and was so very happy to just go and lay my head down for a while.

The remainder of that trip was unremarkable. It’s funny how that works. When we returned to port and gave the boat to the Gold Crew, I was still in a bit of a haze. I wasn’t really sure I ever wanted to go back to sea. But I did. There were more adventures and other casualties along the way. A few fires, an Oxygen generator rapid depressurization, and losing the rudder ram when the end cap sheared off during another storm.

A different kind of war, a different kind of warrior

Some people will say that we weren’t in a war. Fair enough. The work that many of us did was far from anything that resembled Vietnam of the Gulf Wars. I would never try and take anything away from anyone who has served in active combat where you don’t know from minute to minute if this is your last. I didn’t see my first Russian Officer face to face until a few years after I retired when a former Soviet Submariner came to Kansas on a trade mission shopping for deals on wheat. He seemed nice enough.

Our only real claim to fame was that in all the years we sailed, not a single missile flew with a hostile intent in mind. Lots of practice shots along the way but the very fact that we could not be pinned down must have given old Ivan a lot to think about all those years. For all of his craziness, he wasn’t too bad of an enemy. He at least understood that the one nation that has actually used nuclear weapons had enough to make any victor just as much as a loser.

 

Saying Goodbye

I was stationed in Bremerton when the Georgefish showed up for decommissioning. A lot of water had travelled over both of our hulls by that time. I have the distinction of sailing on the first SSBN and the first Trident USS Ohio. I can assure you that the difference was dramatic. Both filled the same role but the destructive power of an Ohio Class boomer is breathtaking.

It was a very cold day in January 1985. I have no idea how the Navy found out that I had been a young sailor on the Georgefish but I got a personal invitation. She looked odd sitting next to the pier with no missile compartment. I felt a loss it is hard to explain. That feeling would return decades later when I stood on the hill looking at her sail in Connecticut. But all things come to an end. Except the stories. Those will live long past the boat or the men who sailed on her.

 

My life was profoundly influenced by my association with the men and women of America’s submarine program. I would not trade the experience for any other kind of experience the world has to offer.

I am also profoundly grateful to those who taught me, accepted me as one of their own, and made sure that we never left ruts in the ocean.

Mister Mac

Post number 597… Submarine Number 597 4

An odd kind of submarine

USS Tullibee

USS Tullibee (This photo was probably taken shortly after her commissioning in 1960. The distinctive shark-fin domes are for the PUFFS sonar system).

 

Today’s post is about an odd numbered submarine that played a unique role in the development of the nuclear Navy, the USS Tulibee.  I am always reminded when I do stories about the nuclear submarine Navy that there has never been a point in my life that the United States did not have a nuclear submarine. I was born in the cradle of the Nuclear Navy (Pittsburgh not New London) in 1954 and had family members that worked at Bettis Atomic Energy from the very start.

From an article on Global Security.org

“In 1956 Admiral Arleigh Burke, then CNO, requested that the Committee on Undersea Warfare of the National Academy of Sciences study the effect of advanced technology on submarine warfare. The result of this study, dubbed “Project Nobska” was an increased emphasis on deeper-diving, ultraquiet designs utilizing long-range sonar. The USS Tullibee incorporated three design changes based on Project Nobska. First, it incorporated the first bow-mounted spherical sonar array. This required the second innovation, amidships, angled torpedo tubes. Thirdly, Tullibee was propelled by a very quiet turboelectric power plant.”

The Soviets were already developing boats that combined speed and diving ability. That ambition would remain one of their driving goals throughout the Cold War. Some of their later boats were rumored to seceded the diving capability of Allied Submarines by a significant amount. So Tullibee was an early recognition by American planners for the need for stronger ASW capability and operational improvements.

“Naval Reactors’ effort to develop a quiet nuclear propulsion plant began early — even before the sea trials of the Nautilus — with the hunter-killer submarine Tullibee (SSN 597). The purpose of the hunter-killer was to ambush enemy submarines. As the mission of the ship was seen in the early 1950s, speed was less important than silence. By substituting an electric-drive system for reduction gears, Rickover hoped to reduce noise. In this approach a generator ran an electric motor. Varying the speed of the motor would achieve the same result as the reduction gear, but there would be a penalty; the electric propulsion system would be larger and heavier than the components it replaced.

On 20 October 1954, the Department of Defense requested the Atomic Energy Commission to develop a small reactor for a small hunter-killer submarine. The ship was meant to be the first of a large class. The commission, wishing to broaden industrial participation in the program, assigned the project to Combustion Engineering, Incorporated. The S1C prototype achieved full power operation on 19 December 1959 at Windsor, Connecticut. Congress authorized the Tulibee in the 1958 shipbuilding program, Electric Boat launched the ship on 27 April 1960, and the navy commissioned her on November 9 of that year. The ship was not small; although her tonnage, beam, and draft were less than the Skipjack, her length was greater. By the time the Tullibee was in operation, she was about to be superseded by the Thresher class.”

SSN-597 USS Tullibee Patch

“Tullibee combined the ASW focus of the SSKs with the smallest nuclear reactor then feasible with an eye toward a relatively cheap, dedicated ASW asset that could be deployed in the numbers still considered necessary to fully populate the forward barriers. Compared to the 15,000 SHP S5W type reactor of a Skipjack, Tullibee had a 2500 SHP reactor and turbo-electric drive. She could barely make 20 knots, but she lacked the reduction gears whose loud tonals made prior SSNs so easy for SOSUS to detect at extreme range. She also continued the tradition established by the BQR-4 equipped SSKs by mounting a large, bow mounted, passive, low frequency array, the BQR-7. On Tullibee, the BQR-7 was wrapped around the first spherical active sonar, the BQS-6, and together they formed the first integrated sonar system, the BQQ-1.

Superficially, the Tullibee appeared to be one of the blind alleys into which technological evolution occasionally wandered. Nevertheless, the ship was important. To get good reception, her sonar was placed far forward, as far away from the ship’s self-generated noise as possible. Her torpedo tubes were moved aft into the midship section and were angled outward from the centerline—features that were incorporated in the Thresher submarines.8 Finally, electric drive worked well; the submarine was the quietest nuclear platform the Navy had.

As an ASW platform her performance was unmatched, but almost as soon as the decision to deploy Tullibee was made, a further decision was made to avoid specialized platforms and pursue instead a multipurpose SSN that best combined the speed of Skipjack and the ASW capability of Tullibee into one platform. This became the USS Thresher.”

The Tullibee had a good career lasting from the early sixties into the late 1980’s. She was superseded by a number of classes but the work done on her would impact most of those classes. Tactics leaned in those early days would help the newer boats to understand the opportunities that existed for modern nuclear submarine warfare.

Decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 25 June 1988, ex-Tullibee entered the Navy’s Nuclear Powered Ship and Submarine Recycling Program on 5 January 1995. Recycling was completed on 1 April 1996. One of the fairwater planes from the Tullibee can be seen as part of a permanent art installation on the shore of Lake Washington in Seattle.

To all who built her and sailed on her, Brazo Zulu.

Mister Mac

 

The Madness of Crowds 6

“In reading The History of Nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities, their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”

― Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

I was seventeen on April 23rd 1972 when I enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program for the United States Navy.

I turned eighteen when they put me on a plane bound for boot camp. Since the time that I was very young, I had wanted to be a sailor and even the long drawn out years of the Vietnam War had not dissuaded me from my calling. To be honest, I just wanted to find my place in the world.

In Boot Camp, they issued us all new clothes to go with our spiffy haircuts. We quickly learned the fine art of shining your boondockers to a perfect shine, how to wash clothes in a long sink and dry them on a line and oh by the way, they issues us all rifles.

Now to be fair, the rifles they gave us had no firing pins. They were surplus 1903 A3 Springfield Rifles and at the end of each drill we put them back in their racks. The purpose was to teach us responsibility, strengthen our arm muscles and teach us a little bit about discipline. It worked too. You learned quickly that even an inert weapon could get you in a lot of trouble if you neglected it. The manual of arms indeed toughened you up and on the very rare occasion you had to hold in in front of you or over your head while running, you discovered what true discipline meant.

We did practice with actual weapons too. But since it was the Navy, nothing automatic and nothing that would get you in much trouble. That would come later when we went to our various assignments. I was still eighteen when I graduated from Boot Camp along with hundreds of other young men in Great Lakes, Orlando and San Diego. Many of them would go to ships and boats that still plied the waters off of Vietnam. Many of those would be issued weapons or be part of a gun crew. In 1972, eighteen year olds were still being called upon to fight wars. Come to think of it, that’s still true today. More on that later.

We didn’t have the internet back then but I was a pretty avid reader. My memory is a little hazy from that time, but I don’t ever remember hearing about any mass killings stateside. Despite the fact that we had all these trained eighteen year olds running around with Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Training, there just weren’t that many mass killings. Come to think of it, there weren’t any Coasties shooting up towns either.

I was nineteen the first time I fired a machine gun. It was an old Thompson .45 and I only got to fire it a few times. Same with the shotguns, Colt 45 pistols, and later the M-14 and M-16. To be accurate, I didn’t get my first crack at an M-16 until I was in my twenties. But I made up for it later in life when I purchased a civilian version of the M-4. Maybe I shouldn’t say this since it might scare some people, but I knew a lot of nineteen and twenty year olds that worked on missiles and torpedoes. I won’t tell you what kind of missiles but you can look them up. Some of them had names like Polaris, Poseidon and Trident. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever used one of those weapons in any way that wasn’t planned.

In all those years since I was seventeen, neither I nor any of the weapons I handled ever killed a single thing. Not one. I was an armed watchstander on many submarines and a few ships and carried pistols and shotguns fairly regularly. I just never had to use them. Since I retired, one of my hobbies is target shooting. I’m probably not as good as others I know but I still enjoy the sport. It’s not a cheap hobby by any means. But it’s one that I enjoy. I also enjoy knowing that I am part of a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. The tradition of freedom and supporting the laws that have kept this country strong.

This week, people are reacting with emotion and fear to a horrible tragedy. It’s one of a few that have happened over the past ten years and the press and anti-gun people are throwing around the usual words they use when they want to ban freedom. “Sensible” and “Common Sense” laws are always a bit disingenuous to me because they are typically driven by emotional responses to symptoms and not the root cause. “Why does anyone need an AR?” is the latest battle cry of the left. They don’t own them, most have probably never shot one, so they can’t understand why so many people want to own them. Maybe that’s a fair question.

The fear of the weapon is deeply ingrained in some. It’s scary looking to the uninitiated. Black and sleek, this weapon can hold a magazine that often carries thirty rounds. It looks just like those assault rifles (whatever the hell that is) they see on their police shows where large men with SWAT vests come charging around the corner. But knowing modern weaponry like I do, the AR is just the scary public face of an entire class of guns that hold multiple rounds. Most are used for hunting or ranching out west and don’t have the look of a “weapon of war” as I heard one child say today. But they have the exact same capacity for destruction in the wrong hands.

In all of the years that many of us have owned multiple round weapons, none of the people I know have ever gone on a rampage. Not one. There are millions of these rifles and rifles similar to them in circulation today. But the only time we hear of shootings like this are when people with mental issues break the laws and obtain them to use for evil. No gun law ever developed will stop a mentally deranged individual from killing innocent people. Because even with the incredibly strict laws we have now, none ever has. The key word here is “Individual”.

The talk today turned to trying to limit the age of who can buy a gun. I have heard people say a few times on the news that no eighteen year old should be able to buy a rifle. Seriously??? This is the solution? Maybe we should also not send any more boys off to fight for our country either. But you would have to go back to wipe history from the pages of our freedom. Those boys landed on Omaha Beach and freed Europe. Those boys stopped the Japanese from driving their ships into San Francisco Harbor. And for the forty five years of the Cold War they protected this country from all manner of threats. They have sacrificed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan and so many other countries around the world for freedom sake.

I cannot stand idly by while politicians and pundits wash away our rights. As horrible as the recent tragedies have been, they are not addressing the root cause. We have allowed parents to not parent, kids to run absolutely wild while society tears itself apart. We have allowed the fabric of society to be torn apart with so much lack of discipline that it is little wonder that mental cases like that idiot who shot up the latest school have been allowed to slip through the cracks. Let’s work on that before we go down a path of destroying the legitimate rights of law abiding citizens.

But I fear this time we won’t.

We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We don’t want to hold anybody accountable. We want to show how progressive we are and that society is better than what we actually are. We won’t stand up because we are afraid to get shouted down by the hysterical people who don’t want to admit that not every child deserves a trophy and some of them are seriously flawed. The NRA is an easy target and so are the rights of people you don’t agree with. But once we have gone down that road, there will be no return. The slippery slope will be a raging torrent of destruction to all of your rights. The only difference this time is that you won’t have a gun to stop an oppressive force.

America’s strength does not lie alone in the fact that we have the ability to defend ourselves. America’s strength is based on the strength of individuals who have banded together for the common pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of justice. Individuals who get up every morning and take responsibility for their own actions. Individuals who have the ability to contribute to the common defense of what makes us strongest – Our Freedoms. There is no age limit on that desire for freedom.

A lot of eighteen year olds paid the ultimate price to protect those rights.

They probably don’t teach that in schools nowadays.

Mister Mac

Birth of the Boomers 2

Happy New Year from TLS

I have been doing a lot of research on my WW2 projects and came across a great source of information.

The Navy publishes a monthly magazine that dates back to the 1920’s under a variety of names including “All Hands Magazine”.

Now for something completely different

I was thinking about how submarines have changed and of course one of the real milestones in submarine operations was the creation of the Polaris Program. This is one of those game changing moments in many ways. While the boats were built using methods that dated to the Fleet Boats, the marriage of a new power and propulsion system and brand new form of weapon fundamentally changed submarine warfare as well as global warfare. While earlier systems had been developed to attack the enemy ships and territory (Regulas for instance) Polaris provided a multiple survivable weapon that would be difficult to detect.

From the Nautilus on, submarines had already proven their new stealth technology. No longer would boats be required to come to the surface (or near to the surface while snorkeling) on a regular basis. These new vessels became true submarines in the sense that they could operate for months at a time and perform all of their designated missions. These boats could provide enough air and water and habitability was greatly improved. Most importantly though, the purpose of the boat was more than adequately met. The 41 for Freedom boats would contribute greatly to the winning of the Cold War (at least the first one).

The USS George Washington SSBN 598 was commissioned on December 30, 1959. The January “All Hands Magazine” chronicled the development of the weapons systems and boats that would follow as the nation geared up for this newest phase of the Cold War. The engineering and production capabilities that were needed to accomplish these tasks stand as monuments to American ingenuity to this day.

Here is the link to the article.

http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/archpdf/ah196001.pdf

Enjoy the read

Mister Mac

 

The one thing you can’t stop 2

Today marks the end of yet another year.

The world has turned 365 more times in its journey and I feel fortunate to have had more good days than bad ones during that time. I find myself in a much better place today than I did a year ago and for that I am grateful.

Time has a way of creeping up on you.

Even if you take the best care of yourself, the elements and time itself play havoc with what we try to preserve. This is just as true of the things we have made as it is to the people that made them. This year saw the 75th Anniversary of many of the most notable naval battles of World War II. Midway, Coral Sea, the seven battles of Guadalcanal, and many other important actions all marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

The ships that fought those battles were legendary. Against enormous odds in most cases, the American’s fought back against the Imperial Japanese fleet and stopped their progress. In 1942, that meant that mostly pre-war vessels and their crews fought back in battles that could have spelled doom for many if we had lost.

We have some remarkable nautical memorials

One of my passions is going to visit and learn about the memorial ships around the country that have been preserved. While I favor the remaining battleships as my primary destinations, I will willingly spend hours and hours crawling through everything from destroyers to submarines and the occasional aircraft carrier. We are blessed as a nation that many such monuments still exist and I strongly support the efforts of the many men and women who have volunteered over the years to keep the memories alive.

    

The ones we didn’t save

Many of the ships I would have loved to have seen preserved were active in 1942. It should not come as a surprise that the USS San Francisco CA 38 would be on the very top of my list. She was unique and had a very storied history before and during the war. This New Orleans class cruiser was commissioned in 1934 and saw the beginning of the war in Pearl Harbor. She quickly showed her worth as the fast moving battles of the first year unfolded. But nothing will ever replace her glory in the night battle of November 13th near Guadalcanal. She was the flag ship for Admiral Callaghan and a small force of cruisers and destroyers that went up against two Japanese battleships.

Out gunned and out maneuvered, she led her brave force into action and paid a ferocious cost. At the height of the attack, she came under close fire from the 14 inch guns of the Hiei and Rear Admiral Callaghan, Captain Cassin Young, and much of the staff were killed in a blinding flash. But the well trained crew, under the leadership of Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless and Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland continued to fight the ship and saved her to fight another day. 77 sailors, including Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan and Captain Cassin Young, had been killed. 105 had been wounded. Of seven missing, three were subsequently rescued. The ship had taken 45 hits. Structural damage was extensive, but not fatal. No hits had been received below the waterline. Twenty-two fires had been started and extinguished.

San Francisco was sent home for repairs. When she returned, she would fight and serve through many harsh battles. She was one of many ships targeted by the dreaded kamikaze weapons the Japanese had mustered. But the Frisco Maru would beat them all and was part of the victorious fleet that finally subdued the enemy.

A Remarkable Record

The night battle of November 13th resulted in four Medal of Honors being awarded. Lieutenant Commander Herbert E. Schonland, Lieutenant Commander Bruce McCandless, and Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Reinhardt J. Keppler (posthumous). Admiral Callaghan was also awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumous). San Francisco was among the most decorated ships in US service during World War II.

Despite her many accolades, the country ended the war with a surplus of ships. The Cold War was just a short time away from its official start but the cost of maintaining such a large fleet was unacceptable. San Francisco was decommissioned in February of 1946 and in 1959 she was sold for scrap. So were nearly all of her surviving partners. The only physical memory of her now is the rescued bridge section that was saved when she was rebuilt after the horrific battle in 1942. It was a point of honor for the crews of the subsequent USS San Francisco (SSN 711) to visit and pay honor when the boat was in port in the city.

I would have given anything to be able to walk her decks and stand where so many brave men gave their all in a battle that was so notable. So I do understand why so many people do their best to preserve the vessels that have survived. I wish there was more money and more public commitment. But unfortunately, time continues to exact a price and the public is easily distracted. No matter how important a mission may have been, preservation almost always comes down to a few people who do the lion’s share of the work.

Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant SC

I ended 2017 at Patriot’s point with a fellow retired Chief Warrant Officer. He and I served on the submarine San Francisco in the beginning and we have watched her over the past 37 years. She of course is infamous for a sea mount collision that nearly cost the country a crew and vessel. The loss of our shipmate MM2/SS Joey Ashley still affects those who loved him and recognize his sacrifice with a solemnness earned with such a sacrifice. The 711 boat is undergoing a conversion to a new mission as a training ship and we are all filled with a bittersweet feeling of pride in her continued life but sadness in knowing she will no longer sail the oceans and face unseen enemies.

Time takes its toll on everything.

I had visited Patriot’s Point in Mount Pleasant five years ago and toured the ships and boat located there. The USS Clamagore is a treasured part of the collection of diesel boats on display around the country. Her history did not include service in the war, but she more than made up for that through her conversions to several classes of GUPPY boats and her service helped to pave the way for the submarine technology that would aid the coming nuclear fleet.

How a Docking Officer views the world

Seeing her this week was kind of shocking. I should tell you that one of my roles in the Navy was as a Docking Officer on a floating drydock that primarily docked submarines. Whenever I see any vessel, I often do a mental calculation of what I would have to do to create the “build” for that vessel. The build consists of the blocks topped with wood that the vessel would sit on once the water has been pumped down. It is incredibly important that the docking officer builds a safe crib that support the keel of the vessel in such a way that it will not be damaged.

Like most docking officers, I know that each ship and boat has a docking plan. That plan includes the exact location for each block to ensure maximum safety for the landed vessel. Even an inch or two off the mark could have an impact.

As we approached the submarine, the first thing that was noticeable was the exterior damage near the waterline. While I understand that the damage may not be indicative of the pressure hull, I also know that in order to safely dock a boat, any compromise in the plan would have some impact. I felt kind of sick to my stomach as I saw her tied up next to the pier and couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the last time I saw her. To be fair, the inside tells a great story and you can see the work so many have done over the years. But time is catching up to her.

Can’t we save them all?

I know there is a lot of passion around saving Clamagore. Four of the boats I served on are gone now and both of my surface commands have long since been torn down and scrapped (except for some parts of the USS Los Alamos that are still in use in a civilian yard). All of them served honorable and several made marks on Naval history that should have automatically made them eligible for some kind of living memorial (USS George Washington SSBN 598 and USS Halibut her dual roles as a Regulas Boat and her remarkable role as a Special Projects Boat)

But time and events were not in their favor. They remain alive in the stories that have been written and the hearts of those who sailed on them. There will never be boats like these again. There will never be mighty warships like the USS San Francisco CA 38. But her impact on the war she fought will live forever in the halls of United States Naval history.

A proper remembrance

In a cemetery in Mount Pleasant SC just up the road from Patriots Point is a marker in a small cemetery for one of my greatest heroes. Captain Cassin Young was a Commander on board the USS Vestal, a repair ship tied up next to the Arizona on December 7th. He was awarded the Medal of Honor that day and his story is remarkable. I will be telling it in detail later this year in a special way. His body is not there however. He was one of those killed on the bridge on the morning of November 13 on the bridge of the CA 38. He was buried at sea along with many others.

It is fitting for a sailor to be buried at sea after such a death. I can imagine the grief the family felt but how much worse it would be to see the burned and fragmented remains that would have had to have been shipped back those many thousands of miles. The family would have a loving memory of their sailor in his glory days.

The future

I do not know what will become of the Clamagore. I hope some solution comes soon. I have to admit that seeing her in such a condition makes me sad for those who have worked so hard to save her. But time marches on. It is the one element that has never been completely mitigated. It makes me wonder about the remainder of the boats and what it will take to preserve them properly. Where is the strategy? What is the plan? Would it make more sense to view each from a bigger picture? Resources are not unlimited but the elements and the weather have no limits.

Every boat tells a story. Every boat means so much to those who have given so much to save them from the scrap yard or reef. The sad reality is that not all of them will be able to be saved.

I am sure there are probably a few diesel boat sailors that will start a “I hate Mister Mac” campaign after this is published. I am sorry for that. This is not intended to say let’s kill this or any other boat memorial. I do not have that power or ability. But I do hope that there is a strategy to remember the boat in a way that is respectful and memorable. I also hope we have a good long discussion about the other boats that are either going through the same challenges or are about to.

If someone does come up with a strategy for stopping time, please let us all know what it is.

Some of us are more interested than others.

Mister Mac

The Crew 5

The Crew

As I look back over the past forty five years, I keep wondering what it was about serving on submarines was the part of my life that had the most impact on my life. As I look around social media, it’s not too hard to see that I am not alone in that view. Don’t get me wrong. My marriage to Debbie and my parents were impactful and meaningful in many ways that transcend the service, but no other single thing has been as much of a driver as those days on board the boats I was a crew member of.

You can get a little tunnel vision looking back across all of those years and forget there were bad things. Not enough sleep, separation from the family and real world, stress that was off the charts surrounded by unbelievable boredom and sleeping on a foam mattress in a space the size of a coffin (if you were lucky). But there are the good memories that seem to overshadow most of those. When you are young and new to the game, it’s getting a signature on your qualification card. Not just an easy one but one of the really complicated ones that require an inordinate amount of knowledge and skill. With each succeeding signature, you come closer and closer to that goal. Not just the physical symbol of the dolphins, but knowing that you will be seen as a fully qualified member of the crew.

The current trend for many millennials is something called person branding. Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging. Tom Peters, a management Guru, is thought to have been the first to use and discuss this concept in a 1997 article.

Personal branding is the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.

Being a submariner has always been about personal branding but in a bigger way. The focus as you qualify is very inward. You are trying your best to learn the knowledge and become an expert in the skills that make a good submariner. From damage control to operating the ship’s systems, you must be able to contribute in every sense of the need when the ship is operating or when it is involved in a casualty (real of practice). And everyone on board is a member of the combat and casualty teams. You might be a phone talker or you might be the nozzle man on the hose preparing to fight the infamous deep fat fryer fire but you will play some role.

My first experience on an aircraft carrier as a Chief (I was teaching classes while the Nimitz was underway) was a real eye opener. A drill was announced over the PA system and I was trying to rush to my battle station. What stunned me is that not everyone was moving at the speed of light to get to where they should have been. Only designated “Flying Squads” of DC men were in motion. I cannot even imagine that happening on any submarine I ever served on.

But the inward focus gives way to a crew focus once you qualify as a submariner. You have about five minutes to gloat that you have achieved something many never do or could do. Then you start to focus on actually learning how your role is part of the crew’s success. You qualify increasingly more complicated roles on the boat and you learn that you are now expected to train the ones that will come behind you. It is stunning when I look back how quickly the transition from non-qual to subject matter expert comes. Not because you are that amazing of a person but out of necessity.

The first time I found myself “in charge” was when I learned what real challenges are. Even on submarines, there is a small team for nearly every task (with the exception of the Corpsman and sometimes the Ship’s Yeoman). All of the other divisions have work related to their equipment and division’s responsibility. Each of those divisions need leaders and when you suddenly find yourself in charge on that special day, you pray that your training and the coaching you have received will be enough.

The branding for a submarine is twofold. You want to come back to the surface every time you dive and if you have any pride at all, you want your boat to be known and remembered as being the best. To be the best, you must first outperform the enemies abilities but you must also consistently rise to the top among a group of submariners that already think they are the best crews; your Squadron Mates.

To get there, you drill. Drills mean getting more proficient and better able to manage the unlimited challenges presented by operating in the ocean’s depths. All of that means sacrifice. Since there is no place to hide, sleep deprivation and personal sacrifices become common place. Tempers can often flare and we are often pushed to the limit. But the ship’s that drill the hardest are the ones who are rewarded with the recognition of external teams and the personal satisfaction of knowing you can take almost anything the ocean can throw at you.

All of this binds you together as a crew. The longer you serve on a boat, the more your personal brand is overshadowed by the brand of the boat. If you are really lucky, this will last for the rest of your life.

I have been away from the Navy and submarines now for many years. But I still proudly display my dolphins as the single greatest achievement of my career. More than my rank, more than my awards, more than the letters and medals that came from those days. I will always be glad that when my nation needed me, I was lucky enough to volunteer twice and serve with the greatest crews I could have ever asked for. That certainly includes my non-submarine crews but I am eternally grateful to have earned my fish.

Mister Mac

 

Just an average Cold War Submariner 2

Just an average Cold War Submariner.

The average Cold War Submariner :
Volunteered to serve his country…  Twice.
Went to submarine school in New London.
Trained in the old escape tower.
Spent time on the dive and drive trainer.
Had a few drinks in Groton.
Showed up on their first boat with too much in their sea bag.
Found out about sleeping next to a torpedo.
Mess cooked in between drills
Field dayed in a bilge in between drills.
Drove the boat as a helmsman and planes man.
Stood messenger watch and dodged flying shoes and hurled insults.
Tried to keep course in a typhoon.
Tried to keep depth in a hurricane.
Tried to keep lunch down during both.

The average Cold War Submariner earned his fish.
Then he was no longer average.
All Became the teachers.
Most Became the Petty Officers
Many Became the Chiefs
Some Became COBs
Some Became Chief Warrant Officers.
Some Became Limited Duty Officers
Some Became Supply and Line Officers.
But all remained submariners at heart.

The average Cold War Submariner is now losing their eyesight and gaining in their waistlines.

These steely eyed killers of the deep sometimes find themselves back on watch when they sleep. Angles and dangles and battle stations cause the covers to fly off in the middle of the night. They still sleep better listening to a fan than the stark silence of a bedroom. They like repeat backs and often find themselves saying “say again?”. Only now it’s because their ears are fading as fast as their eyes. They still laugh when they hear someone talk about shooting water slugs. And they still shed a tear when they find out about another shipmate that has gone on final patrol.

The average Cold War Submariner has a crusty shell on the outside and melts like butter when he holds his granddaughter on his knee. He swells with pride when the flags fly and sadness when he sees the new generation shirk their responsibility. He knows that he can never tell his best stories but gets a twinkle in his eye when they ask him to tell them anyway.

People ask me sometimes why I write about the life.

I don’t really have a good answer. Maybe part of it is an effort to make sense of what we did and why we did it. Today would have been the birthday of one of our shipmates that died while serving on the USS San Francisco. He was an A Ganger and was doing his routines when the boat hit the mountains. That could have been any one of us. Maybe sometimes I just feel blessed that it didn’t happen to me. And a little guilty.

Today (September 4th) would have been Joe’s 36th birthday. I am so proud to present the draft for the memorial tile for the Ohio Veterans’ Memorial Park we will have made in his memory today of all days. Please take a moment today to say a prayer for Joe and his family. As a military spouse and proud American it has been my honor to do this for Joe. Thank you to all of you who helped make this possible.

Vicki Ashley-Matics also says it is an honor for her that Joe’s classmates and friends chose to remember him this way ❤️ 🇺🇸 Happy Birthday, Joe!

Mister Mac

SSN 587 – Just for the Halibut 3

I reported on board the USS Halibut SSN 587 in Mare Island California in October 1975

I am always quick to point out that I was not a crew member when Halibut did the amazing things she did to help bring an end to the Cold War. I learned most of what I knew about her from the crewmembers during many long nights of standing watch in the shipyards. Like them, I signed a lot of papers to never divulge what the boat did, where it did it, and how it achieved what it did. I will take those memories to the grave.

What was unique about being part of a decommissioning crew was knowing what was under all of those tarps surrounding the boat while it was in drydock. Standing fire watch, I got to see the “extra” stuff being cut off her hull. It amazed me to see the things that were stuffed into the hull, especially in that cavernous place called the Bat Cave.

The story is kind of outlined in the book Blind Man’s Bluff but I can neither confirm nor deny any of the stories in that book. I will leave it up to the reader’s imagination to try and figure out which parts are true and which parts are red herrings.

The Halibut’s full story was that she was especially designed and built to deliver the Regulus Missile

Begun as a diesel-electric submarine but completed with nuclear power, Halibut was the first submarine initially designed to launch guided missiles (SSGN). Intended to carry the Regulus I and Regulus II nuclear cruise missiles, her main deck was high above the waterline to provide a dry “flight deck.” Her missile system was completely automated, with hydraulic machinery controlled from a central control station.

Halibut departed on her shakedown cruise 11 March 1960. On 25 March,underway to Australia, she became the first nuclear-powered submarine to successfully launch a guided missile. She returned to Mare Island Naval Shipyard on 18 June 1960, and after short training cruises sailed 7 November for Pearl Harbor to join the Pacific Fleet. During her first deployment she successfully launched her seventh consecutive Regulus I missile during a major Southeast Asia Treaty Organization weapons demonstration. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 9 April 1961, Halibut began her second deployment 1 May. During subsequent cruises, she participated in several missile firing exercises and underwent training.

Halibut deployed for the third time to the Western Pacific in late 1961, establishing a pattern of training and readiness operations followed through 1964. On 4 May 1964 Halibut departed Pearl Harbor for the last Regulus missile patrol to be made by a submarine in the Pacific. In total, between February 1961 and July 1964, Halibut undertook a total of seven deterrent patrols before being replaced in the Pacific by Polaris-equipped submarines of the George Washington class. From September through December 1964, Halibut joined eight other submarines in testing and evaluating the attack capabilities of the Permit-class submarine.

Special operations missions, 1965 – 1976

With the success of the Polaris and later Poseidon missiles, the Halibut’s mission was no longer valid. So she went into the shipyard for modifications in 1965 and began her career as an SSN. As I said earlier, if you truly want to  know what she did, you will have to look elsewhere. By the way, some of the web sites out there that say SSN 587 are filled with high risk viruses. Just be warned. Apparently someone in an unnamed country likes to hack people’s computers through bad sites like those.

The Silent Service has been a key player in all of our modern conflicts. As the world struggles to find a semblance of peace. I am glad we have men and women who are still willing to raise their hands and volunteer not once but twice (submariners have traditionally been an all volunteer service.

Halibut was decommissioned on 30 June 1976. She was “mothballed” at Keyport/Bangor Trident Base, Washington in 1976, struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 April 1986, and disposed of through the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, on 9 September 1994. (September of 1994 was the month I was retired from active service also with my last ship, USS Hunley AS 31)

Hand Salute to All Halibut Sailors!

Mister Mac