“In my spare time, I went to Harvard”… how they kept from being bored on a boomer in ’65 3

November has been submarine month at theleansubmariner.

Probably a large part of that is the nostalgia of looking back over the last 45 years and my own experiences on the boats. I got a chance to share some of my memories as well as stories from the archives that highlighted submarine development since the early part of the 20th century.

My memory is not always as good as it used to be. There are some things that happened that seem like yesterday. My dreams are often invaded with unwelcome scenes that wake me up in an unsettled state. Rushing water, uncontrolled hydraulic leaks in places that shouldn’t leak, small fires in places that aren’t supposed to burn, seeing a shipmate electrocuted for the first time (brought back to life), extended patrols with supplies running scarce. One dive that went too far. But we always came home. We always came back for more.

Life, death, loneliness, sadness, great joy, tedium, excitement… all within a hull that is closed in on all sides.

Before I joined the family, others came before and had their own set of emotions and experiences. But reading this excerpt from the 1965 All Hands magazine on Polaris submarines makes me wonder one thing; what the hell happened from the time this was published until the time that I reported on board the George Fish? (slang for the USS George Washington)

As I read through this article I was struggling to believe many of the words written. But by the time I got on board, the Harvard education must have been a thing of the past. Not complaining. My DBF friends went through much worse. Smaller boats, no showers, limited supplies and always having to come up for air. We did have remarkable food. We did have great colleagues. We did have more time to recover between missions.

I can understand why they thought of us as part time sailors. Those months in off crew were pretty special. But by my eight patrol on boomers, I was pretty sure it wasn’t a life I wanted to live forever. My time on the San Francisco convinced me of that too. Longer away from home but never ever boring.

Our lives as submariners will always separate us from those who served in other ways. Not better. Not more dangerous than a tin can on the open ocean fighting a typhoon and trying to keep formation. Not as exciting in some ways than screaming through the air in a supersonic jet. Certainly not getting shot at in a jungle. But all have their own memories.

Looking at the experience in the past is like looking at a painting.

From far away, you see one thing. As you get closer to the painting you start to see the separation of colors. Some light and some dark. Closer still you see the brush strokes and all the areas the artist missed. The imperfections come to life the longer you look.

Maybe the answer is to just stand back and enjoy the painting from a distance.

In the meantime, here is life on board a Polaris Boat in 1965. I can’t wait to hear from the ones who actually lived this.

 

ALL HANDS MAGAZINE 1965

As might be expected, all is not work on board the submarine during patrol.

Bunks for the crew are scattered throughout the ship. So are the comparatively spacious crew’s quarters. Only the Captain has his own cabin. The officers double and triple up in well designed, but compact staterooms. The ship is decorated throughout in light pastel colors to provide a pleasing atmosphere for the long haul.

Scene from the Robert E. Lee Mess decks. Same layout as the George Washington

Men who have served in diesel- powered submarines find it pleasantly difficult to adjust to the plentiful supply of water afforded by nuclear submarines and to the fresh air and space.

The crew’s mess is large by submarine standards and serves the additional purpose of movie and recreation hall, study area and country store cracker barrel.

Eating, of course, is of major concern, and every possible effort is made to provide outstanding food. This begins with the excellence of the cooks who are given special training at topflight restaurants before joining a Polaris crew.

When the ship leaves port, it carries a supply of food that will more than cover the expected duration of the patrol. Boneless and ration-dense foods are used to save storage space, but submariners swear by the ability of the cooks to prepare a meal as fresh looking and tasty as you can get. Almost all, however, revel in the abundance of fresh lettuce and other such foods when their patrol is ended.

Food consumption, on a typical patrol, will include something like 4000 pounds of beef, 3000 pounds of sugar, 1200 pounds of coffee, 120 pounds of tea, 2000 pounds of chicken, 1400 pounds of pork loin, 1000 pounds of ham, 800 pounds of butter, 3400 pounds of flour and 960 dozen eggs.

Some of the more enticing items listed on the menu are chicken Isabella, baked Alaska, shrimp Newburg, beef Stroganoff and lasagna. Standard favorites are roast beef and steak.

Four meals a day are served, including breakfast, lunch, dinner and a soupdown in mid-afternoon. The galley is open the rest of the time so anyone can help himself. Needless to say, with this abundance of calories available and beckoning, keeping the waistline under control could become a problem. There are, however, exercise machines available for this purpose.

ORIGINALLY, there was a fear that boredom would plague the crew on long patrols, but this has not been a problem. This is partly due to the long hours of hard work required on the part of every officer and man to keep the submarine ready at all times for its mission.

Off hours are more than filled with recreational facilities available, a well-stocked library, the need to study for advancement in rate and, if desired, the opportunity to take college-level courses for self-improvement and college credit.

Harvard University has devised a full, two-year course of instruction for the men to earn credits toward a bachelor’s degree. Lectures for the most part are on film, and the greatest share of the work is done while on patrol. Any lectures, tests or laboratory work which can’t be accomplished on patrol are done in the home port as part of the day’s routine. These courses are available only to Polaris submariners.

The submarine carries a good supply of movies, and movie call goes at least once a day, although usually twice to take care of day and night workers.

ALL IN ALL, the crew finds that time passes faster than expected, and soon it is time to head back and turn the ship over to the Blue crew once again.

When the submarine surfaces and the men rejoin the world of ordinary mortals, the first taste of fresh air is not too greatly appreciated, since the controlled air of the submarine is cleaner and purer.

A rash of colds may hit the crew right after return too, for they have been free from infection since about a week after submerging on patrol.

Once they are home, the crew may take leave if they want it. Like other Navy men, Polaris men get 30 days’ leave a year and usually split it between home port periods.

After a week or two of getting used to home life, the crew starts on a regular five day a week program of refresher training. Of particular importance is their work at Edwards Hall, which was built to furnish refresher training for officers.

 

The rest of the article is kind of technical.

I’m sure much of it was accurate at the time. As I said, the whole Harvard program was long gone by my day. The library on the GW was in upper level missile compartment. My first two patrols I spent every waking hour up there reading every book on board (after I qualified). Then on my third patrol, the whole upper level was declared off limits except for drills and watch standers passing through. But definitely no lounging. The poker games never ended (again, except for drills). No one ever messed with the cards and as soon as the drill secured, the boys were right back at it.

For my submarine brothers, thanks for being a part of my life and story.

As I have heard so many others say, I would willingly do it all again.

In Honor of Submarine month, reposting a link to the all time most visited site on theleansubmariner:

https://theleansubmariner.com/2013/11/24/id-like-to-be-a-submariner-how-hard-could-that-be/

 

Mister Mac

There are no GBF pins to be found anywhere (but I could be wrong) Reply

DBF – but not for you sailor

I was a sailor on board five nuclear powered submarines. Like many young men of my day, I had asked for an assignment to a diesel boat out of Key West Florida (or at least San Diego) but the Navy needed my skills (and those of most of my fellow submarine school graduating class in early 1973) on one of the many nuclear powered boats that had been pressed into service in the 1960s and 1970s. While the nuc boats were being built, the old diesel boats were slowly being decommissioned or given away to our “Allies” around the world.

Since that time, many of the men who did serve on the older smoke boats rightly earned a distinction for that demanding service. The amenities were rare and life was a lot harder than what those of us who rode these “Neptune’s Cadillac’s” were exposed to.

So it seems fair that the pride they exhibit would show up in many ways including the fabled “DBF” pins. For the uninitiated and those that are perplexed by letters, DBF stands for Diesel Boats Forever. After all, until the Nautilus was built, the main source of power for boats around the world was the ever reliable diesel engine coupled with electric motors. Those are the boats that sailed the seven seas and developed the type of warfare that would later help to end the War in the Pacific.

But before the smell of diesel penetrated the clothes of every submariner in those seven seas, there was another smell that came from the primary source of power.

By 1905, the British began to overcome their aversion to submarines and were building a small group of boats to counter the efforts of the potential enemies in Europe. By 1908, the rumblings of a future war between Great Britain and the Kaiser’s Navy were already being felt.

Submarining in those early days was a dangerous game. The low speed, limited technology and shipbuilding capabilities were always a factor in operating the small boats. A boat of the A Class, A8 was sunk on June 8, 1905 due to a loose rivet in the bow during exercises in Plymouth Sound, off Plymouth, England. While the boat was raised and repaired, the accident cost the lives of 15 crewmen killed while only 4 survivors were picked up by the trawler Chanticleer.

Other notable accidents included the loss of the A-1 and A-7 which occurred during mock torpedo attacks. Seven of the A class sank during their career, three with their entire crews. All but one (A-7) were raised. A-1 sank a second time.

What made all of the submarines of that class (any many of their contemporaries) fraught with danger  was the main mode of power: gasoline engines.

Yes, that volatile fluid that emitted vapors which in and of themselves could kill was the main source of energy for most of the submarines including the Holland. In fact, the A1 boat was based on the Holland design and many of its features remained throughout the rest of the A class.

For surface running, the boats were powered by a single 16-cylinder 600-brake-horsepower (447 kW) Wolseley petrol engine that drove one propeller shaft. When submerged the propeller was driven by a 150-horsepower (112 kW) electric motor. They could reach 11 knots (20 km/h; 13 mph) on the surface and 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) underwater. On the surface, A9 had a range of 500 nautical miles (930 km; 580 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph); submerged the boat had a range of 30 nautical miles (56 km; 35 mi) at 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph).

But using petrol (gasoline) was adding a lot of risk to an already risky business. So it was in July of 1908 that the A9 joined the record books with a near miss that could have been fatal if not for the extraordinary actions of the officers in charge.

August, 1908 THE NAVY

GREAT BRITAIN – THE A9 ACCIDENT

What might have been a serious and fatal accident was narrowly averted aboard the British submarine A9 on July 14, and was converted into merely a minor mishap by the heroism of the craft’s officers. This submarine belongs to a series of ten of the most modern underwater vessels of the British Navy, designated A1 to A14, respectively, each of which displaces 204 tons submerged, the last of the type being completed early this year. The submarine was one of a flotilla of seven such boats which were on their way from Portland to Dover, accompanied by the second-class cruiser Aeolus as their parent ship.

While they were passing Folkestone about noon of the day of the accident it was observed that there was something wrong with A9, which was gradually falling behind.

When the Aeolus went back to ascertain the cause, it was discovered that there had been an escape of gasoline and that out of a crew of eleven men, including two officers, six were overcome by fumes, while five were affected but did not become unconscious. The men below were the first to feel the effects of the fumes and dropped at their posts. When the officers, Lieutenant C. H. Warren, who was in command, and Lieutenant E. M. Groves, second in command, realized what had occurred, they left the conning tower and attempted to reach the engines. The latter officer was successful in bringing them to a standstill, but his fellow-officer was overcome. Upon the arrival of the parent ship the officers and men were speedily removed to the Aeolus, restoratives and artificial respiration were tried, and all have since recovered. There seems little doubt but that for the gallantry of the officers all aboard the craft, including the officers themselves, would have lost their lives. The accident is understood to have been caused by a slight crack in a petrol tank.

Until recently every British submarine carried a case of white mice in her well. When any leakage of gasoline occurred the heavy, sickly fumes settling to the bottom of the vessel was supposed to make the mice shriek shrilly as they gasped for breath, and thus to warn the crews of impending disaster. Shortly before the A9 accident an order was issued by the British Admiralty directing the removal of white mice from submarines, and this action created some uneasiness among officers and men taking part in submarine operations during the recent maneuvers.

While some thought the removal of the white mice was calculated to endanger the safety of those working the submarines, others claimed that even if the mice were used, their presence would not be very valuable, because the noise of the machinery would make it very difficult to hear anything, much less the squeak of a mouse.

The A-13 was the first diesel submarine in the Royal Navy. She was fitted with a six cylinder Hornsby-Ackroyd diesel. They continued to operate petrol engines in the follow on B and C class boats. It wasn’t until the D class was launched as a purely diesel submarine that the British finally divorced themselves from petrol powered boats.

The evolution of the early submarines reflects the technological advances of their age. But you have to give great credit to the brave sailors of all nations that sailed on these small boats with all of their challenges.

And I am pretty sure there were no GBF pins to be had once the old boats were laid up for scrap in 1920.

Mister Mac