It’s a Bonny Life in the Land of Kilts and Bagpipes – ALL HANDS September 1967 4

This article was written less than a decade after Site One was established in the Holy Loch.

I did not arrive in Scotland until August of 1990 to serve on board the AFDB 7 Floating Drydock but many of the same conditions that existed back in the Sixties were very similar to what was written. The major differences of course were mostly economic and the price for gasoline was WAY higher than what it was in 1967.

My wife and I lived off base in a little house at the head of the loch that had just been vacated by another American family. To be honest, it was a real learning experience for us as we sacrificed a few small appliances while learning about the different electricity. But the wood stove furnace kept us very cozy at night.

It was really very pleasant and we enjoyed the new way of living. It was a far cry from our base housing in Hawaii, but it held a certain charm of its own. The neighbors were nice and by the time we were stationed there the site had been active for over thirty years.

The saddest day of my career came when we were informed that our tour was ending due to the site being phased out and closed. But as I sat here tonight and reread the article from ALL HANDS, so many memories came flooding back.

I am grateful to the Navy for giving me a chance to live in Scotland (even if it was a short tour). For us, it was indeed a Bonny Life.

Mister Mac

“September 1967 THE BULLETIN BOARD – ALL HANDS MAGAZINE

It’s a Bonny Life in the Land of Kilts and Bagpipes

Authored by William Roger Maul, CTC, USN

When NAVYMEN and their families complete a tour at duty stations overseas, they leave with a better appreciation of the country and its people, thanks to their life as neighbors of the local residents. That’s part of the broadening experience of travel, one of the service fringe benefits that has a tendency to be overlooked.

Of course, some duty stations abroad are more interesting than others. Some have an ideal climate. Some have exotic scenery. And then there’s duty in Holy Loch, Scotland.

Navy families have been known to return from a couple of years in Holy Loch almost unrecognizable to family and friends they had left behind. Hitherto unmusical Navymen can be seen—and heard—sending the skirl of the bagpipes wafting across the water as their submarine pulls into Charleston, S. C.

Friends are sometimes startled when newly returned families rush outside at the first sign of sunshine and throw their arms skyward as if greeting a long-lost comrade.

Former diehard bachelors come home with brides, whose thoroughly charming accent quickly devastates the local populace.

There is no U. S. naval base at Holy Loch. A small, protected bay near Scotland’s western coast, it is used by the Navy as an anchorage for a submarine tender (currently Uss Simon Lake (AS 31) is as signed), and the boats of Submarine Squadron 14, most of which are Fleet ballistic missile subs.

Since there is no base, Navy families are required to live among the Scots (not Scotch, if you please), and it apparently doesn’t take long to become captivated by the whole Scottish scene. Most of the scene, anyway. The Scottish weather is notoriously uncaptivating.

There are three principal towns close to Holy Loch. Most Navy families set up housekeeping in either Greenock, Gourock, or Dunoon.

Greenock (about 77,000 population) is the largest of the three, and thus has most to offer the Navy family, especially with respect to available housing.

It is also only 25 miles from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Greenock has one major disadvantage. It is on the wrong side of the Firth of Clyde, as far as the submarine tender is concerned, and the boat ride to the ship is rather long.

Gourock (about 10,000) is near Greenock, also across the Firth of Clyde from the tender, and the boat ride to the ship is still lengthy.

Many Navy families choose to live in Dunoon (about 10,000), since it is closest to the anchorage. There is a small Navy Exchange and Commissary located here, and the tender is anchored nearby.

Housing: Most Navy families rent furnished apartments (called flats) or houses. Unfurnished houses are available, but are much more difficult to find, and often require a minimum two-year lease. Furnished two-bedroom apartments and houses usually rent for $100 per month and up. One-bedroom flats start at $45 per month.

Houses are generally unheated. But, even if they are provided with central heating, the maximum temperature may not be as high as that to which you are accustomed during the winter months in the States.

Heating is usually by portable electric or paraffin (kerosene) heaters.

Gas heating is more expensive than in the States.

Scottish communities have an electrical supply of from 200 to 240 volts at 50 cycles. Electrical appliances of American manufacture normally operate on 110/120 volts, 60 cycles; therefore, they can be used only with a transformer. It is suggested that you check your American-made appliances to determine the correct size transformer to use.

You should bring plenty of sheets, pillowslips, towels, and tablecloths so that you do not have to do your laundry too frequently. Good drying days do not come with any regularity.

Clothes dryers are especially helpful items to bring with you, although the limited space in the kitchen area can present a problem, and you may have to pay for special wiring or run your dryer on half power.

Clothes washers of the semiautomatic or wringer type will work with a converter. Automatic washers can present a number of problems due to the difference in cycles, plumbing lines, and fixtures.

Radios, hi-fi’s, phonographs, mixers, toasters, grills, vacuum cleaners and electric heaters are desirable, and you will want to bring them with you. However, it is suggested you store television sets (completely useless), freezer, stoves, and automatic washer-dryer in the States until you get back home. Television sets may be bought or rented locally.

Medical and Dental Care: There are two U. S. naval clinics, one in Dunoon, the other in Greenock. Medical care is also available from civilian sources, but dependents may not use the free facilities of the British National Health Service without the permission of a U. S. Navy medical officer. When hospitalization is required, it must be obtained from civilian sources.

It is recommended that dependents have all necessary dental treatment completed before leaving the U. S., because only limited dental treatment is available from the Navy Dental Clinic and local civilian dentists. British dentists are highly skilled and qualified, of course, but their first concern is to their own patients. Some, however, will accept other than National Health patients.

Their fees are comparable to those charged by dentists in the States.

Commissary and Exchange: The U. S. Air Force has a commissary store and exchange at Prestwick Air Base, approximately 40 miles from Holy Loch. The store is, of course, open to Navymen and their dependents.

You will probably find yourself doing considerable shopping in the local markets, since the Air Force commissary is so far away. (In Scotland, a 40-mile jaunt can turn into quite an expedition. There are few super highways between Holy Loch and Prestwick.) You will find that personal contacts in your daily marketing are far more important than they are in the U. S. supermarket, and you will get personal attention that you will not find at home.

There are many small towns and villages in this area, and you will rarely find it necessary to leave your neighborhood for most of your needs.

A limited selection of commissary and exchange items and package liquors is available at the Ardnadam Recreation Complex, near Dunoon. Money and Banking; U. S. currency is used on U. S. bases in the United Kingdom. Elsewhere, British sterling is the medium of exchange.

The pound sterling (£) is valued at approximately $2.80, and is composed of 20 shillings. A shilling is valued at 14 cents. Other units of exchange are: 10-shilling notes ($1.40), half crown, or two and one half shillings (35 cents), two-shilling piece (28 cents), six pence (seven cents), three pence (pronounced “thruppence”) (three and one-half cents), and half-penny (pronounced “hayp’nee”) (one-half cent).

One U. S. bank maintains a branch in Glasgow. Military personnel may maintain dollar or sterling checking accounts with this bank. However, checks drawn on this bank are not readily negotiable outside Britain. Postal money orders and bank drafts are the only practical means of remitting funds to the States. While it is suggested that you consider retaining your checking account with your present bank, a local bank account is most convenient and highly recommended.

Clothing: The reporting uniform for Navymen is Service Dress Blue Bravo. In addition to the prescribed military uniform, personnel are permitted to wear civilian clothing for shore leave. A full seabag should be brought when reporting for duty. Local prices on women’s clothes are from moderate to expensive, depending on taste. Materials are of excellent quality, and woolens can be bought at a considerable saving.

Sweaters and other woolens are in good supply and reasonably priced.

If you wear narrow shoes you may find it difficult to get a proper fit. Otherwise, shoes are attractive and moderately priced. It is a good idea to be in contact with your favorite shoe dealer in the States. Have your size and width handy, and allow three to four weeks for delivery.

Comfortable walking shoes are a must.

Clothing for girls is easier to find than for boys. Girls’ wool skirts and sweaters are plentiful as are good coats. Mail order houses in the States give good service and orders can usually be obtained in three weeks. If you enter a child in a British school, the school uniform is comparable in price to other clothing, and is of good quality.

You will probably want to bring some summer clothing, but the bulk should be placed in permanent storage in the States. For everyone, a raincoat with a lining is another must.

Automobiles: There are no restrictions on the importation of a privately owned automobile, as long as it is in a safe operating condition and in good mechanical order. A mandatory inspection of all automobiles manufactured over six years ago is now in effect in the United Kingdom.

Vehicles are entered free of duty and purchase tax, provided that a certificate is executed which requires the owner to export the car at a later date. A sale to another U.S. serviceman, who must execute the same type of certificate, is permissible.

Spare parts and repairs on American cars are expensive in Scotland and hard to get. Compacts are preferable to larger automobiles, since some of the roads and gates are quite narrow.

Military personnel are not required to obtain a British driver’s license, but must hold a valid U. S. license. If your stateside license expires while you are in Scotland, you can obtain a British license for five shillings (70 cents) a year, upon the presentation of a certificate signed by your commanding officer.

Two other items are essential for operation of an automobile in Great Britain: payment of road tax at the rate of 15 pounds a year, and automobile insurance for which the yearly rates vary according to a number of circumstances. In regard to automobile insurance, a letter from your present insurance company attesting to the number of accident- free years you have driven will result in a no-claims bonus policy with the resultant reduced rates.

Exchange gasoline is sold at Ardnadam Recreation Complex, at25 cents per imperial gallon. Gasoline at this price is rationed for use in driving to and from work (that is, the appropriate pier). Gasoline on the local market (petrol, of course) costs 70 cents per imperial gallon.

Education: Since there are no U.S. Schools in the Holy Loch area, your children will attend British schools. Each school is under the supervision of a headmaster, who is generally one of the faculty. The children are placed in classes according to age and ability.

These classes are called “forms” instead of grades—thus, what we call the sixth grade is called the sixth form. The first stage of schooling, called the “infant stage” is for children from five to seven years old.

The next stage, the “primary,” takes the child through age 11.

At this point the local children are given an examination called the eleven plus exam, which determines where they will be placed in the secondary system. American children do not have to take these examinations.

The secondary system takes the child through to ages 15 to 18, or older. In secondary, or grammar school, the student will be offered college entrance courses, commercial, homecraft, or technical courses. American children are placed in classes based on the records transferred from their last school and, in some cases, as a result of conferences with the teachers. Once school is in session, the child will be moved up or down until he is with a class of the same educational level.

Children are generally expected to walk or cycle to school if they live less than two miles from the school.

Students who are under 15, living two or more miles from school, are entitled to transportation. The transportation provided may be a season ticket on public transportation and does not have to be a special bus or automobile.

Students at most schools in the Holv Loch area wear uniforms. This is often just a blazer, but is sometimes a complete outfit. Although wearing the uniform is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged.

Preparing for the trip: Dependents planning to travel to Scotland would be wise to check early on immunization requirements. Applications for passports and visas should also be made well in advance. It is a good idea to maintain close liaison with your sponsor so that you will have up-to-date information on requirements.

Pets: As there is a six-month quarantine for all pets arriving in Great Britain, you are advised not to take your pets to Scotland. Costs of maintaining animals in quarantine are high, and must be borne by the owner.

Recreation: Most of the towns in the Holy Loch area have public facilities for individual sports such as golf, tennis, swimming, bowling, and fishing.

The U. S. Navy contingent also has established its own sports program. There are softball and bowling teams for the ladies, and baseball competition for boys. The men participate in basketball, softball, swimming, soccer, boxing, golfing, skiing, cycling, bowling, camping, and other sports.”

 

USS George Washington SSBN 598 – First and Finest 4

Just a short history of the submarine I qualified on 44 years ago.

 

A Global Cold War Warrior

USS George Washington (SSBN-598) was the United States’ first operational ballistic missile submarine. It was the lead ship of her class of nuclear ballistic missile submarines, was the third United States Navy ship of the name, in Honor of George Washington (1732–1799), first President of the United States, and the first of that name to be purpose-built as a warship.

George Washington’s keel was laid down at Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics, Groton, Connecticut on 1 November 1958. The first of her class, she was launched on 9 June 1959 sponsored by Mrs. Ollie Mae Anderson (née Rawlins), wife of US Treasury Secretary Robert B. Anderson, and commissioned on 30 December 1959 as SSBN-598 with Commander James B. Osborn in command of the Blue crew and Commander John L. From, Jr. in command of the Gold crew.

George Washington was originally laid down as the attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN-589). During construction, she was lengthened by the insertion of a 130 ft (40 m)-long ballistic missile section and renamed George Washington; another submarine under construction at the time received the original name and hull number. Inside George Washington’s forward escape hatch, a plaque remained bearing her original name. Because the ballistic missile compartment design of George Washington was intended to be reused in later ship classes, the section inserted into George Washington was designed with a deeper test depth rating than the rest of the submarine.

George Washington left Groton on 28 June 1960 for Cape Canaveral, Florida, where she loaded two Polaris missiles. Standing out into the Atlantic Missile Test Range with Rear Admiral William Raborn, head of the Polaris submarine development program, on board as an observer, she successfully conducted the first Polaris missile launch from a submerged submarine on 20 July 1960. At 12:39, George Washington’s commanding officer sent President Dwight Eisenhower the message: POLARIS – FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT. Less than two hours later a second missile from the submarine also struck the impact area 1,100 nmi (1,300 mi; 2,000 km) downrange.

George Washington then embarked her Gold crew, and on 30 July 1960 she launched two more missiles while submerged. Shakedown for the Gold crew ended at Groton on 30 August and the boat got underway from that port on 28 October for Naval Weapons Station Charleston, to load her full complement of 16 Polaris missiles. There she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation, after which her Blue crew took over and embarked on her first deterrent patrol.

The submarine completed her first patrol after 66 days of submerged running on 21 January 1961, and put in at Naval Submarine Base New London at New London, Connecticut. The Gold crew took over and departed on her next patrol on 14 February 1961. After the patrol, she entered Holy Loch, Scotland, on 25 April 1961.

In 1970 ten years after her initial departure from Groton, George Washington put in to refuel in Charleston SC, having cruised some 100,000 nm (120,000 mi; 190,000 km). George Washington shifted to the United States Pacific Fleet and a new home port at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii after the refueling.

On 9 April 1981, George Washington was at periscope depth and was broadsided by the 2,350 long tons (2,390 t) Japanese commercial cargo ship Nissho Maru in the East China Sea about 110 nmi (130 mi; 200 km) south-southwest of Sasebo, Japan. George Washington immediately surfaced and searched for the other vessel. Owing to the heavy fog conditions at the time, they did see the Nissho Maru heading off into the fog, but it appeared undamaged. After calling out for a P-3 Orion to search for the freighter, they headed into port for repairs; the crew was later flown back to Pearl Harbor from Guam. Unbeknownst to the crew of the George Washington, Nissho Maru sank in about 15 minutes. Two Japanese crewmen were lost; 13 were rescued by Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force AkiGumo(ja) and Aogumo(ja). The submarine suffered minor damage to her sail.

The accident strained U.S.–Japanese relations a month before a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki and President of the United States Ronald Reagan. Japan criticized the U.S. for taking more than 24 hours to notify Japanese authorities, and demanded to know what the boat was doing surfacing only about 20 nmi (23 mi; 37 km) outside Japan’s territorial waters.

The U.S. Navy initially stated that George Washington executed a crash dive during the collision, and then immediately surfaced, but could not see the Japanese ship due to fog and rain (according to a U.S. Navy report). A preliminary report released a few days later stated the submarine and aircraft crews both had detected Nissho Maru nearby, but neither the submarine nor the aircraft realized Nissho Maru was in distress.

On 11 April, President Reagan and other U.S. officials formally expressed regret over the accident, made offers of compensation, and reassured the Japanese there was no cause for worry about radioactive contamination. As is its standard policy, the U.S. Government refused to reveal what the submarine was doing close to Japan, or whether she was armed with nuclear missiles. (It is government and navy policy to neither confirm nor deny the presence of nuclear weapons on board.) The Navy accepted responsibility for the incident, and relieved and reprimanded the George Washington’s commanding officer and officer of the deck.

On 31 August, the U.S. Navy released its final report, concluding the accident resulted from a set of coincidences, compounded by errors on the part of two members of the submarine crew. After the collision with the Nissho Maru, the damaged sail was repaired with parts from the sail from the USS Abraham Lincoln which was waiting for disposal at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

In 1982, George Washington returned to Pearl Harbor from her last missile patrol. In 1983, her missiles were unloaded at Bangor, Washington to comply with the SALT I treaty. George Washington made 55 deterrent patrols in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in her 25-year career

George Washington continued service as an attack submarine (SSN), returning briefly to Pearl Harbor. In 1983, she departed Pearl Harbor for the last time and transited the Panama Canal back to the Atlantic and to New London. George Washington was decommissioned on 24 January 1985, stricken from the Naval Vessel Registry on 30 April 1986, and scheduled for disposal through the Ship-Submarine Recycling Program at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Recycling of the ship was completed on 30 September 1998.

George Washington’s sail was removed prior to disposal and now rests at the Submarine Force Library and Museum at Groton, Connecticut.

Gone but never forgotten

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

The Build – Reflections from an Old Docking Officer 3

The Build

When you have sailed on submarines for most of your career, stepping outside of your comfort zone reveals many things about who you are. Most submariners have achieved a level of excellence that is demanded by the profession. You are operating a large ship that is designed to sink and do most of its work undetected. That requires each person to be multi-talented in addition to being subject matter experts. You may be cooking one minute and helping to put on a band-it patch the next. Your watch could be as routine as pumping water from one tank to another then suddenly shifting into a battle stations mode where multiple responses must be made in a split second with no time to analyze.

In other words, you can get a little self-confident. If you get really cocky, you may just decide to take another path and become a Chief Warrant Officer. This program is designed for Chief Petty Officers who have no college degree but have a high degree of technical knowledge and advanced leadership skills. It has traditionally been highly selective and the billets are very limited. The year I was selected (FY 1989) there were only thirteen of us selected in my skill set out of a few thousand applicants.

I knew life was going to be different since instead of having a small division of men to care for, I would now have larger groups of men and women on board a ship that was not a submarine. I had no idea how different until I crossed the bow of the USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7) a large four section drydock in Holy Loch Scotland. When you first see her up close, you are struck by the size of the thing and the new challenge you are about to face.

Every ship and submarine is designed to sail the ocean with certain physical characteristics. But every ship and submarine also share one thing: they all need to come out of the water from time to time. When a ship is in the water, its hull is supported by the water that cradles it. Taking the water away means that all the weight will be shifted to another place and if it isn’t done properly, you could damage the ship itself or one of the many underwater components not visible when the ship is floating.

Someone has to create the build.

The Los Alamos was resurrected from a graveyard in Florida in the early 1960’s. She had been placed in storage at the end of World War 2 in the late 1940’s. When the new Polaris submarine program was introduced, the need for a portable servicing facility was determined. In this case, a small body of water on the west coast of Scotland was deemed suitable. For that reason, the Site One base in Holy Loch was created. Four sections of the dock were towed to the Loch and assembled by Seabees. That dock commenced operation within a short period of time and did hundreds of routine and emergency dockings over the next thirty years.

When a ship or submarine is designed, it comes with plans for building and plans for docking as the need arises. The submarines that Los Alamos had been designed to support were built at the same time and after she was reactivated. SO needless to say, they plans we had for each boat were really worn and aged by the time I reported on board. The Navy had sent me to Connecticut to train on a dock that was a lot more modern and not a sectional dock. But the principles remained the same. You had to understand weights and measures, metacentric heights, and the importance of the build.

Each build is slightly different, even on the same class of boats. Some had different equipment, some had seawater openings in different places and all had to be examined carefully in order not to damage the boat when you land it. Most importantly, all of the calculations for block heights had to be precise. Then you had to have a plan on how to land the boats exactly where you built the blocks. The time needed to create a build plan was at least a week. You take the old plan and verify that no changes have occurred. Then you painstakingly set up the height measures for each of the wooden blocks that will be built. The carpenter shop then cuts each block to your specification and prepares them to mount on the base blocks. You also need to calculate the measurements for the side blocks that will be shifted in place to prevent the boat from accidently rolling over.

There is little room for error.

These wooden blocks are designed to crush with the weight but they have a designed factor that allows for uniform crush. Once the calculations are complete, the build begins. Men and women from the docking department work day and night alongside the deck division to place the blocks and caps in their proper place. The last step is when the Docking Officer personally measures each part of the build and certifies it.

All of this work occurs in a variety of weather. All year long. In Scotland, that can mean anything from freezing rain to blinding snow storms. The schedule rarely was interrupted by weather. Many times the boat needed more than a routine repair so we just did what we did.

Apparently someone thought he was Captain Morgan

The day comes when all is ready and the floating drydock submerges in place. You do that by flooding the dock down until it is low enough to accept the submarine or ship that is waiting to cross her brow on the open end. The Captain and Docking Officer are on the Flying Bridge opposite of the open end and everyone on the dock is in place ready to receive the ship. When the nose of the submarine enters the dock area, the Docking Officer becomes legally responsible for the safety of the unit. It means bringing her in safe and not scraping the walls, setting her down correctly with having it fall over, and ensuring that this multi-million dollar warship will be safely landed and able to be restored to fighting condition in a few weeks.

No pressure at all.

March 15, 1991 was my qualification docking. It was an incredible feeling to finally land the boat and the tugboat that we landed at the same time (two units at once was pretty common for the Los Alamos).

It was the longest day of my life and certainly one filled with exciting things no one had planned. The docking took a little longer and while we were bringing the boats in a sudden squall appeared. That wind tried to knock our two charges all over the dock before we could land them. But the crew of the dock did a marvelous job.

A party had been planned by the wives for the event over at our house on shore. Since the docking was delayed about eight hours, the party started without us, But when we finally finished, the crew assembled at my house and we commenced a celebration for the ages. It did not end until the next morning. Most of us had to go back to work and believe me there were a few hurting sailors and officers that day. But it was a successful landing and that meant the world to me.

Sadly the announcement that the dock was to be closed down after 31 years came not too long after that. I was able to do five dockings before the end but the lessons have stuck with me ever since:

  1. To have a good build, you have to have a good crew. I was honored to have some of the best people I have ever worked with on that dock.
  2. The most expensive ship in the Navy still relies on a solid foundation. The build must be carefully created and designed for the worst possible scenario,
  3. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is the only way to find out who you really are. Being a long time submariner gave me confidence in one area but may have actually been keeping me from reaching my potential

The engineers that originally designed the sectional floating drydocks would have had no way to foresee the impact of their design on future operations. The first atomic power plant was not even commissioned until 1948. But the core principles of safely docking a vessel stand the test of time. I salute all of the unsung heroes of the Cold War that operated in the worst conditions of all but helped protect America from those who wanted to destroy her.

Mister Mac

 

41 For Freedom – SSBN Memories 41 Years Later 3

Its funny how an old picture can bring back so many memories. Whether a boomer sailor sailed out of Scotland, Guam, Rota or Charleston many of the events they experienced were similar. I don’t know how many hundreds of ballistic missile patrols were made. I am sure there were a lot.

Since the 1960s, strategic deterrence has been the SSBN’s sole mission, providing the United States with its most survivable and enduring nuclear strike capability.

The world’s first operational nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) was USS George Washington (SSBN-598) with 16 Polaris A-1 missiles, which entered service in December 1959 and conducted the first SSBN deterrent patrol November 1960-January 1961. The Polaris missile and the first US SSBNs were developed by a Special Project office under Rear Admiral W. F. “Red” Raborn, appointed by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke. George Washington was redesigned and rebuilt early in construction from a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine, USS Scorpion, with a 130 ft (40 m) missile compartment welded into the middle. Nuclear power was a crucial advance, allowing a ballistic missile submarine to remain undetected at sea by remaining submerged or occasionally at periscope depth (50 to 55 feet) for an entire patrol.

A significant difference between US and Soviet SLBMs was the fuel type; all US SLBMs have been solid fueled while all Soviet and Russian SLBMs were liquid fueled except for the Russian RSM-56 Bulava, which entered service in 2014. With more missiles on one US SSBN than on five Golf-class boats, the Soviets rapidly fell behind in sea-based deterrent capability. The Soviets were only a year behind the US with their first SSBN, the ill-fated K-19 of Project 658 (Hotel class), commissioned in November 1960. However, this class carried the same three-missile armament as the Golfs. The first Soviet SSBN with 16 missiles was the Project 667A (Yankee class), the first of which entered service in 1967, by which time the US had commissioned 41 SSBNs, nicknamed the “41 for Freedom”.

This is a typical picture of a boat leaving Holy Loch Scotland

Inside that boat, the sailors and officers were preparing for the first dive after refit. There are very few times in life where something so seemingly simple can be so complex. The vent valves on the ballast tank will open on command but will they close? Are the seals on the hatches cleaned and inspected before closing? What major systems were worked on during refit that might cause a problem? Did you get all of the air out of the hydraulic lines, especially the ones for the planes controls?

For the older guys, a feeling of sadness knowing that it will be sixty or more days before they get to talk to a loved one again. For the new guys, its that feeling of mixed excitement at a first dive and a nagging fear that anyone one of the things listed above could go wrong. For the officer’s its that lurking Russian trawler just beyond the Clyde waiting to give them a hard time on their way to work.

For the tender guys, its just another boat in a long rotation of boats with another one soon to follow. On shore, the people of Dunoon see a shadow filled with customers and men who often drank too much knowing there would be no more drinks for the months ahead. Somewhere back in the states there was an empty feeling in the homes of the families who may have wished that last phone call could have lasted a few minutes longer. In the heartland of America, there was nothing. Not a feeling of something special or different about to happen. Not a fear in the world that some Soviet boat might be at that very minute patrolling near their coasts. Not a streak of an ICBM over the dawn sky.

Because at the heart of it all, men who sailed on that boat and worked on those tenders and docks were so very damn good at their jobs.

Mister Mac

Did it matter? 21

Did it matter?

A few weeks ago on one of the Holy Loch themed Facebook pages, a few of us were reminiscing about the old days and all of the patrols that were made during the Cold War. Someone reflected how successful the system was but a member of the site (who self-identified as an anti-nuclear activist) said something to the effect that we didn’t do a thing. I was reminded that since the end of the Cold War, many of the early anti-nukes were actually encouraged, trained and funded in a very secretive way by the KGB. Yet, I do ask from time to time, was it all worth it?

Proteus early 70s

From 1960 – 1991, submarines made deterrent patrols beneath the surface of the ocean almost non-stop in support of America’s strategic system. The intent of course would make the idea of anyone (USSR specifically) launching a first strike nuclear attack virtually out of the question. While land based missiles and planes could be targeted by heavier and heavier land based missiles, finding all of the Polaris, Poseidon and later Trident boats would have been much more of a challenge. Even the growth of the Soviet submarine forces as a countermeasure would not have stopped all of the boats from performing their gruesome task.

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In order to support such a system of deterrence, someone was going to have to give up some free time of course. The ballistic missile submarines from the very beginning were manned by rotating crews (blue and gold). The hallmark of the system was that pretty well engineered boats with nuclear reactors and flexible support teams could get in to port, turnover and refit and return to station with a great deal of efficiency. From 1960 that included forward deployment of tenders and drydocks in strategic locations to allow the patrol zones a maximum coverage.

The sacrifices were abundant.

For the men who sailed on the boats, there were plenty of sacrifices to go around. The separation from family for months at a time is in itself one of the great reasons so many only did one or two tours. We sailed in virtual silence, only being on the receiving end of an occasional Family Gram. These messages were limited to a few sentences and if the sender didn’t do it right, a man could go without any word for the entire patrol. Not only were you missing holidays and birthdays (not to mention the occasional actual birth of a child) but you had nothing but the bottom of the upper bunk to stare at in the glowing red lights in berthing.

Life went on while the boys were under the seas. Bills to pay, washing machines that waited until the hatch was closed to break. Cars that had flat tires and storms that blew down fences. All while Daddy was away and left Mom to try and figure out how to fix things. Some marriages weren’t strong enough. The divorce rate was high and the broken families literally littered the landscape. Kids learned to talk and walk and fight and make new friends all while Dad was so far away. There was no one to ask advice from about that girl who drove you crazy or the boy who wanted to be “more than friends”. All that had to wait while Mom tried to handle things on her own.

It wasn’t a great picnic for single guys either. Their lives were just as much impacted by hibernating under the waves.

Bob and Renee 1972

My first patrol was a Christmas run on the George Washington in 1973. When I went to sea, I had had a fight with my fiancée on the phone. This was no small deal since we were in Guam in another time zone and she was at home in Elizabeth PA. The phones were very expensive back then and when you are fighting and not speaking, it’s an expensive silence. Things at home were not great either. Dad had just come back from the hospital where Mom was spending the night after a few days of a serious medical condition. He was tired and we also had some harsh words about the future and the past. I can’t even remember if I told him I loved him. He was pretty angry that I had sent half of my family gram forms to Renee.

The boat leaving for patrol was actually kind of a relief in some ways. The relief was that we were so busy with everything that comes with making a patrol that we could turn life off for a while. There were fun moments mixed in the bad ones. There were hours of boredom surrounded by a few moments of utter fear. Even as close as you were with the men around you, there were also a lot of lonely moments when you really questioned who you were and what you were doing there.

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The worst moment of course came on Christmas Eve. The cooks had decorated the mess decks for the season with some shiny tinsel and a few lights. If I remember, there were even some of those cheesy cut out signs strung together that said Happy Holidays. I had mess cooked all day and was pretty tired but I have to say the feeling on the mess decks when they broke out the movie was pretty depressed. I was raised as a Christian and missed the service at my old Church field with singing and Joy to the World. I don’t know who thought it was a good thing to do, but in the second reel of the movie, the fans suddenly turned off and the General Alarm broke over the MC system followed by “Man Battle Stations Missile, spin up all missiles” followed by another round of that awful General Alarm.

There were not many Christian sentiments shared by the crew members who dragged themselves out of their racks that evening. I couldn’t help but think about the old saying Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards men as we came together to practice what we had been sent to do.

But it was only practice. The world got to live another day without a cataclysmic moment. Silent Night, Holy Night.

The patrol would end just like the 42 before it on board the George-fish. Turnover to the Goldies, get on the busses to the air base in Guam and try to catch back up with our lives.

That girl I left behind found a new guy. Mom got better and has lived another 40 years in relatively good health. Dad and I found a way to say “I love you” before he died … He told me the day before he passed and the day before I went to sea for one of my last trips. The world never did get to experience that nuclear holocaust we were sent out to prevent.

Did it matter?

I still like to think it did. We have had wars of other kinds but the ones we worked to prevent never have materialized. I hear the Chinese are building boomers now. I hear the Russians are upgrading their fleets again and of course there is that whole madness with the entire Middle East. Our own country is being torn apart inside by people with some pretty selfish motives.

But tonight, as I write this and you read it, some new generation is at sea riding their own patrol or mission. Even with the change in the way we live and fight, our submarine force is still sailing the oceans protecting a fragile peace. I thank them all. I pray for their missions and their safety. I mostly pray that as I sing Silent Night at Church tonight, the words will have as much meaning as they did that night 41 years ago.

Mister Mac

Merry Christmas to all of my fellow Submariners wherever you are!

 

The World of Polaris Reply

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One of the best weekends of my life was our Perfect Scottish Weekend. We travelled the Highlands in August of 1991 and visited Newtonmore for a visit with Clan MacPherson. Then we went to Edinburgh for the world famous Tattoo. I hope you get a chance to visit it someday, it is breathtaking. Recommend that you make reservations well in advance for seats beneath the Governor’s box.

Mid way through the video clip attached you will see a Tattoo from an earlier time. The whole video takes about half an hour but for anyone interested in or having lived the Polaris story, this is a wonderful way to view the life we lived when not on the boats.

 

Enjoy, Aloha.

Mister Mac

The First Dive – Looking Through a Prism Reply

I have always been fascinated by prisms. As a kid, I loved looking through them at various objects to see what would happen. Without going into the science of it, what you saw as you looked through it was different depending on the angle you looked through it. Another sailor posted a picture on Facebook today that almost immediately made me think of the points of view of all the people who would have been involved in the original picture.

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This picture appears to have been taken in Scotland in the Holy Loch. The base was really more of an anchorage where ballistic missile submarines (and the occasional other fast attack submarine) would come for refitting between patrols. The tender provided many services that the boat was unable to provide for itself and the floating drydock nearby would provide a means for cleaning the hull and other major repairs in a remote location.

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The boats started patrolling fifty years ago and the ships that supported them rotated through for over thirty years except for the drydock USS Los Alamos which stayed for the entire time During those years, the dock had a number of sections changed out but on the whole, parts of it were there nearly non-stop.

As I looked at the picture, it occurred to me that I had been at one time or another one of many of the roles represented in it. Of course I sailed as a submariner then as a Docker. In my last days I served on a tender that had a long history of servicing boats. While our mission had changed by 1991, the Hunley was still configured for her original mission in many ways as well as adapting to the new ones.

Hunley 1994

 

What they were feeling depended on what their point of view was – their own view through a prism.

inside that boat, the sailors and officers were preparing for the first dive after refit. There are very few times in life where something so seemingly simple can be so complex. The vent valves on the ballast tank will open on command but will they close? Were the seals on the hatches cleaned and inspected before closing? What major systems were worked on during refit that might cause a problem? Did you get all of the air out of the hydraulic lines, especially the ones for the planes controls? For the older guys, a feeling of sadness knowing that it will be sixty or more days before they get to talk to a loved one again. For the new guys, its that feeling of mixed excitement at a first dive and a nagging fear that anyone one of the things listed above could go wrong. For the officer’s its that lurking Russian trawler just beyond the Clyde waiting to give them a hard time on their way to work. For the tender guys, its just another boat in a long rotation of boats with another one soon to follow. On shore, the people of Dunoon see a shadow filled with customers and men who often drank too much knowing there would be no more drinks for the months ahead. Somewhere back in the states there was an empty feeling in the homes of the families who may have wished that last phone call could have lasted a few minutes longer.

What about in the heartland?

In the heartland of America, there was nothing. Not a feeling of something special or different about to happen. Not a fear in the world that some Soviet boat might be at that very minute patrolling near their coasts. Not a streak of an ICBM over the dawn sky. Because at the heart of it all, men who sailed on that boat and worked on those tenders and docks were so very damn good at their jobs.

What is most interesting to me is the resurgence of the Russian missile forces and the growth of the Chinese. The first submarine response was necessary for the continued freedom of mankind from tyrannical forces. I hope we have not lost the learning that was achieved during the First Cold War. It appears we may need some of those lessons again.

Mister Mac

FBM Blue and Gold – The Beginning Reply

This post from a while back has a link to a 7.5 minute video of the USS George Washington in 1963 (fifty years ago and ten years before I rode her). Even though its black and white I could feel myself at the inboard station making my depth one five oh feet. The launch of an A1 missile is pretty cool too

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Thanks to shipmate Tim Lutes  STS2(SS)  USS George Washington SSBN 598 for finding this little gem and posting it on FB.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HGrDJSHmXZU#!

I sailed on the GW when she was about twelve years old and had clear memories about how old she was (at least every time something broke).

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At different points in my four patrols we suffered a failure of the fairwater planes in a typhoon, the rudder ram during a high speed run, fire in the machinery room (O2 Generator), and others that I still wake up to at night sometimes.

Watching the small clip took me right back to being a helmsman staring at the grey panel and very old fashioned depth and speed indicators. What a far cry from my last boomer tour which was on the USS Ohio in the eighties. Both were examples of man’s ability to create rapid advancements in the face of…

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A Highland Festival of Note 4

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The sky was exactly what would be expected for a festival that claims to celebrate the highlands of Scotland. Sunny one moment and dark grey and foreboding the next.

The weather didn’t deter the faithful though as people from all over Western PA and anyplace within reasonable driving distance headed out to the Ligonier Highland Games at Olde Idlewild Park.

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The parking lot was full to overflowing (as proved by the brand new dent on the rear bumper of my car).

But the people were exactly as one would expect at a typical highland games: excited to hear the bands, see the lovely dancers, and smell the amazing foods waiting to be eaten.

If you’ve never been to a games but you suspect that you are even vaguely Scottish (twice removed on your Mother’s side for instance) you should seek one out. What I like about this game setting is the timing. Fall in Western PA reminds me a bit of summer in Western Scotland (all two weeks of it).

Moderate temperatures which makes wearing a kilt much nicer and the coolness in the air seems to help the pipes sound even more fantastic than they normally do.

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You meander through the booths like a wild stream through the woods of Idlewild. The bumper stickers say it all: “If it isn’t Scottish, it’s CRAP”. The funny thing is, I always end up walking away a little more laden with stuff that isn’t crap in my knapsack. Well, it keeps the economy rolling along I suppose. I am sitting at the keyboard wearing my latest amnesia/Alzheimer’s present to myself. It’s a beautiful black polo shirt with the Clan Crest and my last name sewn on it in bright letters. I call it that because someday when my memory fades my wife can just dress me up in one of the many fine shirts I have bought over the years and if I am ever in doubt, I can merely look at the name for a quick reminder.

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There is something for everyone… Shetland Ponies, dogs of every breed, color and size, pipe bands and solo pipers and wee lads and lassies dressed in their highland finest.

 

As I mentioned before, there is also a fine selection of foods. The Scottish are world renowned for their skillful cuisine that I am sure most countries would die for. Actually, most of what is served helps you along the way to the final resting place. Scotch Eggs, Bridies, Meat Pies, Haggis, Banger’s and Mash and a full assortment of American fried and grilled foods for the non-Scottish members of the family.

If it wasn’t for the never ending skirl of the pipes caused by the solo pipers practicing by a tree, you could probably hear the arteries of many of the patrons hardening as they swallow their treats. I will freely confess that it isn’t a good games for me without at least a tasting. Special note to the gentleman behind me: Texas hot sauce is not normally found at the Meat Pie tent. I’m sure its delightful but its not normally served.

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The real delight for me though is the massed bands marching onto the field. The sound of well over a hundred pipers echoing off the nearby hills is amazing and takes you far away to another place and time. The staccato drumming and muffled beat of the big drums adds a crisp line of rhythm that keeps even the most excitable child in line if only for a short time. The well placed feet follow a practiced pattern and they come down the field in a way that reminds you of the bold army they once led. No wonder the enemy called them “The Ladies from Hell”.

Everyone is a family member or part of a larger “Clan” on days like today. The military men who served in Vietnam are all getting on in years now but still wear their caps with their kilts. The Navy boys form the Holy loch keep a keen eye out for a brother with Dolphins or Surface Warfare Pins on their khaki shirts. The Marines sport their own shirts and hats but you can tell them by their walk. They are American’s first, but are proud of the lineage that sets them apart as Scottish blooded warriors.

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The Festival and Games are over for another year. Just ahead will be celebrations for Saint Andrews day in November. January brings Rabby Burns Birthday Celebrations and all the Haggis your heart can stand. Cold winter nights up north are just a reminder of the hardships our ancestors faced to help build this new land. But in the far reaches of the hollows and lanes, you can bet that somewhere, some young piper is practicing for the next season. Some athlete is dreaming of how he will get the next few feet from his throw. Some dancer meets in a practice hall and listens to hour after hour of the pipes learning how to control that critical step.

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They will meet again in September of 2013 in the woods near Ligonier as their predecessors have for over 54 years. And all of us who love the history, mystery and revelry of Scotland will gladly join them there.

Will ye no come back again?

Mister Mac

By the way, if anyone saw the guy who hit my car, send me a note to my private email. A kind soul wrote their license plate number on a napkin and the police think they know who did it, but it would be nice to have a witness. (It happened between 10:30 and 2:00 PM) Thanks