Submarines have always been dangerous.
The early submarines were even more so because of the emerging technologies that had not yet evolved. The men who rode the early boats were a different breed. This story is about one of them who was a national hero in Japan and left a legacy that would have implications for decades to come. The story is about the Last Letter he ever wrote to his father. It is certainly a letter no submariner’s father ever wants to receive.
The beginning of the Japanese Submarine Fleet had its roots in America
The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) acquired its first submarines during the Russo-Japanese War on 12 December 1904 where they arrived in sections at the Yokohama dockyards. The vessels were purchased from the relatively new American company, Electric Boat, and were fully assembled and ready for combat operations by August 1905. However, hostilities with Russia were nearing its end by that date, and no submarines saw action during the war.
The submarines that Electric Boat sold to Japan were based on the Holland designs, known as Holland Type VIIs similar to the American Plunger-class submarines. The five imported Hollands were originally built at Fore River Ship and Engine Company in Quincy, Massachusetts under Busch’s direction for the Electric Boat Company back in August–October 1904. They were shipped by freighter from Seattle, Washington in Knock-down kit form to Japan, and then reassembled by Arthur Leopold Busch at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, which was then Japan’s largest naval shipyard, to become Hulls No. 1 through 5 and were designated Type 1 submarines by the Japanese Navy.
Frank Cable, an electrician who was working for Isaac Rice’s Electro-Dynamic and Storage Companies along with Rice’s Electric Boat, arrived some six months after Busch, training the IJN in the operation of the newly introduced vessels.
In 1904 Kawasaki Dockyard Company purchased plans for a modified version directly from Holland, and built two boats (Hulls No. 6 and 7), with the help of two American engineers, Chase and Herbert, who had been assistants to Holland. The Kawasaki-type submarines displaced 63 and 95 tons when submerged, and measured 73 and 84 feet in overall length, respectively. Both vessels measured 7 feet at the beam. This contrasted with the original five imported Holland type submarines which had arrived that same year, at over 100 tons submerged, 67 feet in overall length and 11 feet beam. The Kawasaki Type #6 and #7 submarines had gained extra speed and reduced fuel consumption by 1/4. However both boats could launch only one 18″ torpedo, and each was manned by 14 sailors, whereas the imported Holland-type submarines could fire two torpedoes and could be operated by 13 sailors. This new type was designated the Type 6 submarine by the Japanese Navy, and was used primarily for test purposes.
The Kaigun Holland #6 was launched at Kobe on 28 September 1905 and was completed six months later at Kure as the first submarine built in Japan. It sank during a training dive in Hiroshima Bay on 15 April 1910. Although the water was only 58 feet deep, there were no provisions at all for the crew to escape while submerged. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Tsutomu Sakuma, patiently wrote a description of his sailor’s efforts to bring the boat back to the surface as their oxygen supply ran out. All of the sailors were later found dead at their duty stations when this submarine was raised the following day. The sailors were regarded as heroes for their calm performance of their duties until death, and this submarine has been preserved as a memorial in Kure, Japan
SINKING OF JAPANESE SUBMARINE No. 6
When the Japanese submarine No. 6, which foundered while maneuvering in Hiroshima Bay on April 16, was raised, the following message was found. It was written by Lieut. Tsutoma Sakuma, the commander, after it became evident that the submarine could not be raised by the efforts of the crew. The translation appeared in the Kobe Herald, and is as follows:
Although there is, indeed, no excuse to make for the sinking of His Imperial Majesty’s boat and for the doing away of subordinates through my heedlessness, all on the boat have discharged their duties well, and in everything acted calmly until death. Although we are departing in pursuance of our duty to the State, the only regret we have is due to anxiety lest the then of the world may misunderstand the matter, and that thereby a blow may be given to the future development of submarines. Gentlemen, we hope you will be increasingly diligent without misunderstanding (the cause of this accident), and that you will devote your full strength to investigate everything, and so insure the future development of submarines. If this is done we shall have nothing to regret.
While going through gasoline submarine exercises we submerged too far, and when we attempted to shut the sluice valve the chain in the meantime gave way. Then we tried to close the sluice valve by hand, but it was then too late, the rear part being full of water, and the boat sank at an angle of about 25 degrees. –
The boat rested at an incline of above 13 degrees, pointing towards the stern. The switchboard being under water, the electric lights gave out. Offensive gas developed, and respiration became difficult.
At about 10 a. m. on the 15th the boat sank, and under this offensive gas we endeavored to expel the water with a hand pump.
At the same time as the vessel was being submerged, we expelled the water from the main tank. The light having gone out the gauge cannot be seen, but we know that the water has been expelled from the main tank. We cannot use the electric current entirely The electric liquid is overflowing, but no salt water has entered, and chlorine gas has not developed.
We only rely upon the hand pump now. The above has been written under the light of the conning tower, when it was 1145 o’clock. We are now soaked by the water that has made its way in. Our clothes are pretty wet and we feel cold.
I had always been used to warn my shipmates that their behavior (on an emergency) should be calm and delicate while brave; otherwise we could not hope for development and progress, and that, at the same time, one should not cultivate excessive delicacy lest work should be retarded. People may be tempted to ridicule this after this failure, but I am perfectly confident that my previous words have not been mistaken.
The depth gauge of the conning tower indicates 52, and despite the endeavor to expel the water, the pump stopped, and did not work after twelve o’clock. The depth in this neighborhood being ten fathoms the reading may be correct.
The officers and men of submarines must be appointed from the most distinguished among the distinguished, or there will be annoyance in cases like this. Happily all the members of this crew have discharged their duties well, and I feel satisfied.
I have always expected death whenever I left my home, and therefore my will is already in the drawer at Karasaki. (This remark refers only to my private affairs, and it is not necessary.
Messrs. Taguchi and Asami ! Please inform my father of this.)
I respectfully beg to say to His Majesty, I respectfully request that none of the families left by my subordinates shall suffer. The only thing I am anxious about now is this.
Please convey my compliments to the following gentlemen:
(the order may not be proper) : —Minister Saito; Vice-Admiral Shimamura; Vice-Admiral Fujii; Rear-Admiral Nawa; Rear Admiral Yamashita; Rear-Admiral Narita. (Atmospheric pressure is increasing, and I feel as if my tympanum were breaking.)
Captain Oguri; Captain Ide; Commander Matsumura (Junichi); Captain Matsumura (Riu); Commander Matsumura (Kiku) —my elder brother. Captain Funakoshi; Instructor Narita Kotaro; Instructor Ikuta Kokinji. –
12.30 o’clock, respiration is extraordinarily difficult. I mean I am breathing gasoline. I am intoxicated with gasoline.
It is 12.40 o’clock.
After the submarine was lifted from the sea, the tone soon changed to praise of Sakuma and his crew for the glorious way they died while carrying out their duty.
Lt. Sakuma was in the conning tower, just as he had been when commanding his crew in majestic fashion, but instead lying in eternal repose as though still alive. The helmsman had expired with his hand still on the handle of the rudder … That they kept their composure is the mark of military men, and their devotion to the duty in the face of death is moving in the extreme. *
* Tokyo Asahi Shimbun, April 20, 1910. Furthermore, in the Kobunbiko Maki 26-2, Dairoku Sensuitei Sounanji ni Okeru Teinai Eisei Jokyo ni Kansuru Chosahokoku (Report on the Conditions Inside the Vessel at the Time of the Submarine No. 6 Accident), Lt. Sakuma is described as having been found at the aft side of the bottom of the conning tower.
The newspapers published a copy of his original letter. The original letter was stored at the Kure Naval Shipyard and was destroyed in a fire during the Great Kanto Earthquake.
I have read through the letter three times now.
It reminds me of a dream I used to have a long time ago.
Workhorses of the Cold War
Over forty years ago when I first volunteered for submarine duty, one of the hottest boats in the fleet was the boats of the 637 Class. These workhorses were responsible for so many missions during the Cold War that it would be impossible to catalog them all on a single blog post.
Most people will never know how many times these boats performed missions that protected our country. Their missions were secret then and many probably remain so now. But like all submarines, they are only as good as the men who manned them. I salute the service and sacrifice that each crew member made in the defense of this great nation. Submariners receive the designation of “SS” when they become qualified.
Service and Sacrifice seem to fit that title very well.
To all who served on these fine submarines, hand salute.
SSN-637 Sturgeon class
STURGEON class submarines were built for anti-submarine warfare in the late 1960s and 1970s. Using the same propulsion system as their smaller predecessors of the SSN-585 Skipjack and SSN-594 Permit classes, the larger Sturgeons sacrificed speed for greater combat capabilities.
They were equipped to carry the HARPOON missile, the TOMAHAWK cruise missile, and the MK-48 and ADCAP torpedoes. Torpedo tubes were located amidships to accommodate the bow-mounted sonar. The sail-mounted dive planes rotate to a vertical position for breaking through the ice when surfacing in Arctic regions.
Beginning with SSN-678 Archerfish units of this class had a 10-foot longer hull, giving them more living and working space than previous submarines of the Sturgeon Class.
A total of six Sturgeon-class boats were modified to carry the SEAL Dry Deck Shelter [DDS], one in 1982 and five between 1988 and 1991. They were SSN 678-680, 682, 684, 686 were listed as “DDS Capable” — either permanently fitted with the DDS or trained with them. In this configuration they were primarily tasked with the covert insertion of Special Forces troops from an attached Dry Deck Shelter (DDS). The Dry Deck Shelter was a submersible launch hanger with a hyperbaric chamber that attaches to the ship’s Weapon Shipping Hatch. The DDS provided the most tactically practical means of SEAL delivery due to its size, capabilities, and location on the ship.
Rapidly phased out in favor of the LOS ANGELES and SEAWOLF Classes of attack submarines, this venerable and flexible workhorse of the submarine attack fleet has been completely retired now. Attracting little publicity during its heyday, this class of ship was the platform of choice for many of the Cold War missions for which submarines were now famous.
SSN 637 USS Sturgeon
Sturgeon’s keel was laid down by General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, CT, 10AUG63; Launched: 26FEB66; Sponsored by Mrs. Everett Dirkson; Commissioned: 3MAR67 with Cdr. Curtis B. Shellman, Jr. in command; Decommissioned: 1AUG94
USS STURGEON (SSN637) was the third ship of the line to bear the name STURGEON and the lead ship of 37 nuclear fast attack submarines of the Sturgeon-class.
STURGEON departed Groton, Connecticut in April 1967 and conducted her shakedown cruise down the east coast with ports of call in Norfolk, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands, and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. In September she conducted the first of her many extended submarine operations. Upon return to port, STURGEON was transferred to Development Group 2. In January 1968 the boat began a five week antisubmarine exercise to evaluate the relative effectiveness of the STURGEON and PERMIT class submarines.
In late May and early June of 1968 STURGEON participated in the search for the lost submarine USS SCORPION (SSN-589) in the vicinity of the Azores. She then participated in tests and evaluations of a new sonar detection device from December 1968 to February 1969. After a brief visit to the Naval Academy in March 1969 her crew held intense training for her deployment in May. STURGEON was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal for her outstanding service in 1968. She received a second Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal for completing a special project for the CNO.
From January to April 1970 STURGEON was deployed. She then spent several weeks aiding and evaluating aircraft anti-submarine warfare tactics and equipment. She also participated in intense submarine exercises and sound trials. From October 1970 until October 1971 STURGEON was in overhaul in Groton, Connecticut, where she received the Navy Unit Commendation Medal for exceptional Service in 1970.
After completing her overhaul STURGEON was transferred to Submarine Squadron Ten based at New London. She completed her refresher training and shakedown cruise and then participated in two antisubmarine exercises before returning to Groton for a restricted availability period. Once completed, STURGEON began extensive tests on sonar systems until the end of 1972.
Starting in 1973, STURGEON conducted extended submarine operations in the Narragansett Bay Op Area. In April she sailed to the fleet weapons range in the Caribbean where she ran aground and was forced to return to Groton in June to repair damage. She then conducted extensive local operations and finally entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to effect bow repairs. She remained in the yard until April 1974.
After sea trials and a ten day upkeep STURGEON sailed to Norfolk to join other fleet units participating in Atlantic Readiness Exercise 1-73. In November of that same year STURGEON sailed for the Mediterranean for a six-month deployment with the 6th Fleet. STURGEON spent Christmas and New Year’s in Naples, Italy, and then spent the next few months conducting sea trials, ASW exercises and various other operations in the Med. She returned to New London in May 1975 and conducted post deployment standdown. For the rest of 1975 she conducted midshipmen operations and participated in exercises MOBY DICK and OCEAN SAFARI which ended with a port visit in Rosyth, Scotland.
In June 1976 STURGEON was transferred from Squadron Ten to Submarine Squadron Four homeported in Charleston, South Carolina. STURGEON again deployed to the Med in May 1978 here she conducted many special operations and also participated in the Mediterranean ASW Week and National Week XXV. She was highly commended by COMSIXTHFLT for here outstanding performance. She returned to Charleston in November and commenced a well deserved standdown.
In 1979 STURGEON was again making preparations to deploy. She deployed from June until September and had various port visits which included Holy Loch, Scotland and Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Upon return to port she conducted a Selected Restricted Availability period at the Charleston Naval Shipyard.
In September 1980 STURGEON again departed to the Med where she conducted ASW operations and participated in USN PASSEX with the 30th Airwing of Italy. She returned to Charleston in February 1981 for standdown and upkeep. In August 12981 STURGEON participated in OPERATION OCEAN VENTURE 81, Phase IV and crossed the Arctic Circle on 1 September 1981 at 006 41′ East. She was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E,” engineering “E,” the Antisubmarine Warfare and Operations “A” and the Damage Control “DC” for fiscal year 1981.
From January to March 1982 STURGEON conducted special operations. She was the first U.S. nuclear submarine to visit Brest, France, and the first U.S. nuclear submarine since 1969 to visit any French port.
In March 1984 STURGEON provided support for a multi-national task group engaged in amphibious operations in the eastern Atlantic and Norwegian Sea. She also visited Trondheim, Norway where she hosted the Lord Mayor of Trondheim, Commander Trondelag Naval District, and the U.S. Ambassador to Norway.
During January 1985 STURGEON provided vital SEAL support during diver operations. STURGEON at that time completed a record number Lock Ins/Lock Outs for SSN diver operations. She also conducted a number of SEAL full mission profiles and developed new techniques to improve success, particularly in the area associated with rendezvous and recovery. In February STURGEON conducted two special CNO operational evaluations on USS FLYING FISH (SSN-673). In March STURGEON hosted commander Submarine Group SIX.
RADM Stanley Catola, and a group of local businessmen and community leaders on a dependent’s cruise. STURGEON then entered the yards for a non-refueling overhaul at Charleston, South Carolina Naval Shipyard which lasted until November 1986. While in the yards, STURGEON updated her Sonar to the BQWQ-5C, Fire Control to the CCS MK-1 and gave the ship the capability to shoot Tomahawk Missiles.
In early 1987 STURGEON completed all tests and certifications for here new systems satisfactorily. In August she deployed to the Mediterranean, the first deployment since 1985. STURGEON remained in the Med for the rest of 1987 and while there developed new operational procedures for employment of the MK-67 SLMN mines. She returned to Charleston on 31 January 1988.
1988 was highlighted by STURGEON passing a surprise ORSE with superior performance, a TRE with a grade of above average and a NPTI with a grade of outstanding in 10 of 12 categories. She then went into SRA to update the fire control system to give her the capability to shoot ADCAP MK-48 torpedoes. For her efforts in fiscal year 1988 STURGEON was judged as one of the outstanding submarines of the Atlantic Fleet. The boat was awarded a second consecutive Battle “E”, engineering “E” and the Supple “E” for Submarine Squadron Four.
In March 1989 STURGEON deployed to the Arctic Ocean for ICEX 1-89. While deployed she hosted a Congressional delegation on the ice pack. STURGEON also conducted several missions of scientific importance and a joint operation with the British Navy to further develop ASW capabilities. She returned to homeport in June. In September 1989 Hurricane Hugo devastated the South Carolina coast. STURGEON remained in port due to a Steam Generator Inspection and came through the storm with no damage. In the aftermath of the storm STURGEON sailors assisted the local community and provided assistance to 643 families.
STURGEON was again deployed from June to September 1990 and was awarded the Battle “E,” Engineering “E,” ASW “A,” and the Supple “E” for that fiscal year.
In January 1991 STURGEON was included in the highly successful operation SWAMP FOX, a multi-unit exercise that took her to a port visit in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. From April to June STURGEON completed another highly successful deployment. STURGEON then entered a Selected Restricted Availability and underwent a complete refurbishing, leaving the drydock in mid-October. For her effort in 1991 STURGEON once again was awarded the Battle “E”, ASW “A”, and the Communications “C.”
1992 saw STURGEON completing another highly successful exercise SWAMP FOX 92. After the exercise STURGEON spent a week in Cap Canaveral, Florida. In late August, STURGEON deployed to the North Atlantic, diverting to Faslane, Scotland for repairs. After leaving Faslane for tests in the Irish Sea, STURGEON became entangled in an Irish fisherman’s net. No one was injured and minor damage was done to both vessels. STURGEON then returned to Charleston for repairs.
1993 was STURGEON’s final full year of operation. Intensive training for a highly sensitive CNO project occupied the majority of STURGEON’s time. However, STURGEON had a chance for a port visit to Port Everglades, Florida in July. In early October STURGEON departed Charleston to participate in SWAMP FOX 93-1 and then deploy. STURGEON returned to Charleston in late November following the completion of another very successful deployment.
In December 1993 and January 1994 STURGEON’s crew once more conducted an intense upkeep, preparing for her deactivation ceremony, several short operations, and final transit to Bremerton, Washington for decommissioning. She was deactivated in Charleston, South Carolina on January 14, 1994, and decommissioned on 1 August 1994. She was scrapped at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 11 Sep 1995.
On September 15, 1995 at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington, a ceremony commemorated the transfer of the USS STURGEON (SSN637) sail from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The sail, now located in the museum parking lot, is the only detached sail from a nuclear fast attack submarine on display anywhere in the United States.
Correction from a shipmate: I really enjoy your posts. However, I would like to point out that my qual boat, USS Lapon (SSN 661) sail is on display at American Legion Post 639 in Springfield Missouri. Lapon was also a Sturgeon Class boat.
So Apparently there are two! Good to know but the bucket list just grew again.
The USS Surgeon and I were both decommissioned on the same day (August 1, 1994). As I look at the world around us, I sure do wish both of us could sail again to counter the threats that are emerging. Thank God we have new boats and new submariners willing to raise their hands (twice) and service this great nation.
As it so often happens, I was looking through the archives and discovered an article that jumped off the pages at me. This article was found in a collection of Navy Department News Releases and was released seventy seven years ago today (September 7, 2018)
HOLD FOR RELEASE
SUNDAY PAPERS, SEPTEMBER 7, 1941
FATHER TO JOIN SEVEN SONS IN THE U. S. NAVY
A sea meeting unique in the world’s naval history will take place on the quarterdeck of the USS NEVADA on Tuesday night with the central figure, strangely enough, a farmer from Ridgefield, Washington. Officers and crew of the big battleship drawn up at rigid attention for the impressive rite, Captain F. W. Scandland, U. S. Navy, the NEWADA’s commanding officer, will administer the Navy enlistment oath to the farmer– Clarence Floyd Patten, a man of about 50 years.
Standing just behind the principal in the ceremony, in which Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox in Washington will take part by radio, will be seven proud Sailors–Patten’s sons, Clarence, Jr., Myrne, Roy, Marvin, Allen, Gilbert and Bruce, all serving in the NEVADA’s fireroom. The elder Patten, not to be outdone by his sons, decided some time ago to follow the same urge which led them to the sea and into the service of their country and he will be enlisted as a fireman, first class.
Nor is the father the last of the Patten family who will enter the Navy. An eighth son, Wayne Henry Patten, just 16, about to become a sophomore at a Portland (Oregon) High School and with aspirations to become an aviator, plans to enlist when he becomes eligible on July 1, 1942. The NEVADA’s location for the ceremony will remain secret for reasons of Navy security, but the public will be enabled to hear the rites through the facilities of the National Broadcasting Company, which is to present it over its Blue Network from 7:00 to 7:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
Secretary Knox will congratulate the elder Patten on the patriotism of his all-Navy family in a brief talk over a special hook-up linking Washington, D.C., with the NEVADA. All of the Patten brothers were born at Lake City, in Carroll County, Iowa, and the first to enter the Navy was Clarence Floyd Patten, Jr., now 25, who enlisted on July 1, 1937. The next was Myrne Roosevelt Patton, 22, who enlisted October 5, 1937.
Roy Hart Patten, 20, enlisted November 21, 1939; Marvin Kenneth Patten, 28, on January 3, 1940, exactly two weeks ahead of Allen Mayo Patten, 24; Gilbert Russell Patten, 29, on August 31, 1940, and Bruce Calvin Patten, 18, on December 12, 1940. Clarence, Myrne, Roy and Marvin all enlisted at Des Moines, Iowa; Allen at San Diego, California; Gilbert in Honolulu, T.H., and Bruce at Portland, Oregon.
In keeping with the Navy’s policy to bring together, whenever possible, brothers in the service, the seven Patten boys were put together in the NEVADA. In fact, all of them are stationed in the fireroom and occupy seven bunks together in a corner of one of the ship’s sleeping compartments.
(Photograph available in Photographic Section, Office of Public Relations.)
The Nevada wasn’t in her usual place when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor just a few month later. During the previous fleet maneuvers, she was delayed coming into port and the USS Arizona took her usual berth. This left the Nevada outboard of another ship and able to get underway once the attack occurred.
USS Nevada (BB-36), eldest (by a few months) of the battleships in Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, was hit by one torpedo during the last part of the Japanese torpedo planes’ attack. This opened a large hole in the ship’s port side below her two forward turrets. Her anti-torpedo protection, of a type back-fitted to the Navy’s older battleships, resisted the warhead’s explosion fairly well. However, serious leaks were started in the inmost bulkhead, allowing a considerable amount of water into the ship.
The damaged Nevada got underway at 0840, about a half-hour after she was torpedoed, backed clear of her berth, and began to steam down the channel toward the Navy Yard. The slowly moving battleship was an attractive target for Japanese dive bombers, which hit and near-missed her repeatedly, opening up her forecastle deck, causing more leaks in her hull, starting gasoline fires forward and other blazes in her superstructure and midships area. Now in serious trouble, Nevada was run aground on the Navy Yard side of the channel, just south of Ford Island.
As her crew fought her many fires, the ship twisted around until she was facing back up the harbor. With the help of tugs, Nevada then backed across the way and grounded, stern-first, on the other side of the channel. Her old, much-modified structure proved itself to be anything but watertight, and water traveled inexorably throughout the ship. By the following day, she had settled to the bottom, fortunately in fairly shallow water. There she was to remain for over two months, the subject of one of the first of Pearl Harbor’s many demanding salvage projects.
Over the course of the morning, Nevada suffered a total of 60 killed and 109 wounded. Two more men died aboard during salvage operations on 7 February 1942 when they were overcome by hydrogen sulfide gas from decomposing paper and meat. The ship suffered a minimum of six bomb hits and one torpedo hit, but “it is possible that as many as ten bomb hits may have been received, […] as certain damaged areas [were] of sufficient size to indicate that they were struck by more than one bomb
None of the Patten Family were listed as KIA in the attack. You can find the rest of their amazing story here:
The Sullivan’s were not so fortunate
Just over a year later, the Navy’s policy on allowing family to be stationed together received a shocking jolt when the USS Juneau was sunk at the Naval Battle for Guadalcanal. The famous “Fighting Sullivan Brothers would all lose their lives in a single day.
The Navy would not allow brothers and family to serve again for many generations. Interesting footnote: forty years later (1981) My brother Tom and I both served on the USS San Francisco SSN 711 for over three years together. During that time, the 711 boat would be host to a total of four sets of brothers.
To the best of my knowledge, we all made it home safely. Interestingly enough, my brother Tom went on to serve on the Submarine USS Nevada.
I have often thought that the world was filled with a number of randomly colliding coincidences.
Sometimes people forget the strong bond the Navy has always had with the City of Pittsburgh
On this Labor Day, I thought it would be appropriate to highlight the men and women who contributed to the victory in World War 2. Many never carried a gun, but their efforts were instrumental in delivering not only men and weapons, but the many supplies needed to bring the Nazi’s and Imperial Japan to their knees.
Geographically, Pittsburgh is situated far from either the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. This was both a blessing and a challenge. The blessing was that at the time, the city was well out of range of traditional attacks. She was also located in an area that is still rich with natural resources and a well maintained systems of rivers with locks and dams. The challenge was building anything of significance and delivering it intact to the war effort. While the rivers are well suited for the many coal barges that routinely sail from the mines, they are not deep enough or wide enough to manage a larger vessel.
The answer came in the form of a unique new vessel that was desperately needed on both coasts. The LST Landing Ship, Tank, or tank landing ship, is the naval designation for ships built during World War II to support amphibious operations by carrying tanks, vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto shore with no docks or piers. This provided amphibious assaults to almost any beach. The bow of the LST had a large door that would open with a ramp for unloading the vehicles. The LST had a special flat keel that allowed the ship to be beached and stay upright. The twin propellers and rudders had protection from grounding. The LSTs served across the globe during World War II including: Pacific War and European theatre.
These unique vessels were built in a number of places but Pittsburgh was ideally suited for their construction.
Here is their story from the Book “Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II “Volume I (Part II)
Neville Island, Pittsburgh, Pa. – Construction of LST’s took place along the seacoast and on inland waterways. One of the building sites which was farthest from the ocean was Neville Island, on the Ohio River, a short distance below Pittsburgh, where the Dravo Corporation, a prime contractor for the Navy, built facilities for the construction of twelve LST’s at a time. Prior to the war expansion for the Navy, Dravo had built on Neville Island a plant where barges and other river craft were produced.
Under the war program, the existing yard was expanded by the construction of a seven-position assembly line. The first construction operation took place in position one, parallel to, and farthest from, the river. The growing ships were moved sidewise to each successive building position and finally into the Dravo side-launching ways, which existed before the Navy project was initiated.
Other new facilities constructed included a mold loft, a main office building, a warehouse, a machine shop, and two platens. The platens were open, rectangular, steel platforms for welding assemblies before installation in the ships. The platens were built at the stern ends of positions 1, 2, and 3 in the assembly line. The expanded old yard was called West Yard.
Upstream on Neville Island, separated from West Yard by another industrial property, an entirely new yard area, East Yard, was built. The assembly line at East Yard had five building positions. Side-launching ways were built, as were a service shop, warehouse, carpenter shop, sheet metal shop, two platens, and several minor buildings for personnel and offices.
To facilitate the equipping and outfitting of ships, two fitting-out quays were constructed on the river bank. One, 1,350 feet long, was located at the East Yard; the other, 300 feet long, was just east of the West Yard launching ways. Together the piers accommodated ten ships, moored two abreast. The quay was constructed as a filled steel, sheet pile cellular type. Three icebreaker piers, consisting of steel sheet piling driven in a 30-foot-diameter circle were constructed adjacent to each other, in a line at right angles with the shore, near the upstream end of the longer quay. They served as a means of breaking ice and downstream drift and for ship mooring. Additional mooring, in the non-quay waterfront area, was obtained by the construction of four dolphins in a line 50 feet from the shore and parallel to it.
In each yard, whirler-type gantry cranes were used in the pre-assembly and ship construction areas for handling ship sections and materials. Seven gantry-crane tracks were built, as were tracks for side-movement of ships on the assembly lines and tracks for railway service.
Three architect-engineer firms were used by the prime contractor. One handled the heavy-construction design and supervised the work of a heavy-construction contractor. The second handled shop and warehouse design; the third handled design of offices, cafeterias, and locker buildings. Work in the second and third categories was performed by a second construction contractor. Each of the two construction contractors performed almost $3,000,000 worth of work. The overall cost of the facility, including the non-civil works, was more than $10,000,000.
The Pittsburgh Area has always been a representative community for what makes America exceptional.
The LST story is just one of the many contributions her citizens made to the war effort. Many of her own sons went to sea on these ships and helped free the world from Fascism and Imperialism.
To help celebrate the Navy’s 243rd Birthday, Pittsburgh is holding its traditional Navy Birthday Celebration on October 12th, 2018. We are offering an opportunity for anyone who would like to contribute to the celebration to help by making a donation to the Navy League Pittsburgh Council Navy Ball Fund. In exchange for a contribution of $15.00 or more, you will receive this commemorative coin.
The Navy League is a 501 C3 organization
These limited Edition Coins will go fast so contact me at email@example.com if you would like to help celebrate the Navy’s Birthday
This morning, I was honored to join a few members of the Pittsburgh Sea Cadet Battalion in helping to kick off the Bike Ride for Operation Troop Appreciation in Pittsburgh. This even helps to raise funds to build and sustain the morale and wellbeing of the military community, past and present, with the assurance that the American public supports and appreciates their selfless service and daily sacrifices.
This 100 mile run will travel the hills and valleys of Western Pennsylvania in support of our troops still deployed and those who return to our country after serving.
It is very humbling to see all of the volunteers and meet the bikers who came out to support. God bless all of you for your efforts.
Thanks to the Sea Cadets and a special thanks to the guest singer Antolena who performed one of the most amazing renditions of the National Anthem many of us have ever heard.
The New “Star” in Star Spangled Banner
When I came home, I posted the pictures and related a few of the stories on Facebook I learned while I was at Operation Troop Appreciation’s Pittsburgh facility this morning. I posted a picture of the young lady (Antolena) and wrote the following comment to go with it:
“Sometimes we take for granted that the National Anthem will be sung nicely. It happens so often that a beautiful young lady or handsome young man stands before a group of total strangers and gives a very pleasant version of a very difficult song. Then, every once in a great while, or in this case, for the very first time, you are standing less then ten feet from someone who owns the song from the moment they open their mouth. No fear. No quivering of the voice. No searching for notes. Without the flourishes and fanfare of an orchestra, you hear something that represents what the song stands for. Courage. Skill. Spirit. When Francis Scott Key wrote the words, he did so with a determination that was meant to convey the emotions he felt at seeing that flag still standing. When I heard you sing this morning, I felt what he felt. So many people had tears in their eyes when you were done. I know that God was with you. I pray that no matter what journey life takes you on, He is always there with you. God Bless you.”
While I was writing my tribute and without any warning, her Mom was writing the following note to me. Both notes appeared simultaneously:
” Bob; I will never forget the day Antolena discovered she was born the same day as Francis Scott Key. She said she had chills and how ironic. The day she first sang at PNC park for the Pirates was her birthday Aug. 1. She said I want to make him proud performing his star spangled banner on “our” birthday!! Funny how God always places people in each other paths…blessed for certain”
To all of my readers: I hope the day comes that you get a chance to hear this young lady sing. I have a suspicion that you probably will!!!
I achieved a minor but important breakthrough this morning at around 4:50 AM when Angus the dog decided he needed to get up and go outside.
I have been struggling for months to properly title the book project I have been working on now for about five years. The last three chapters have been the hardest since these chapters cover the most well known parts of my subject, Captain Cassin Young, US Navy Medal of Honor awardee (deceased).
The breakthrough is that I believe I have the name that fits the work I have done and best describes what I want people to see when they pick up the book.
I will reveal that in the weeks to come.
Debbie and I have tried to get into a habit each day of studying God’s word through the Bible and some study guides we purchased for individual chapters. The study has been a lot like going back to school and we have both gained much from reading and looking at the many resources. This morning’s lesson for me came from Ecclesiastes Chapter 7 verses 1-2. These verses focus on adversity and how we are defined in its shadow.
We include a prayer each day for the country, the President and Vice President and their families and for all of those who love and protect this country.
While there are some who see nothing but hatred in this country because of the past, we see the goodness and the mercy that happens here every day. Without freedom, there is little chance for people to rise up from the ashes of adversity, no chance for charity that overcomes greed and absolutely no hope for a world that is …broken in so many ways.
My ancestors came to America under very adverse circumstances and because of the land of their birth were faced with tremendous adversity. Yet they managed to use the freedoms and opportunities that were available to rise above those humble beginnings. We have doctors, lawyers, Navy, Army, and Coast Guard Officers, teachers, millworkers and business men and women of every kind in our family. Nearly all have contributed to the song we call “America the Beautiful” and every single one that is alive stands for the pledge of allegiance.
We rise or fail when we remember that adversity is the refining fire that either prepares us all for our destiny or gives us the excuse to never achieve what we should.
I am hoping to have the book completed by the end of July. Then will start the process of editing and hopefully finding the right publisher. But I am absolutely passionate about the story the book will tell and the life of Captain Cassin Young. I hope passion equals success.
I will never forget that day in June 1972 when my parents came to Pittsburgh International Airport to see me off on my way to Boot Camp. I was not the first in my family to leave home (big brother went to a nearby college three years earlier) but I was the first to go into the military. Dad had proudly served in World War 2 and I did not want to miss the adventure that I knew lay ahead of me.
Back in those days, the families could go to the gate with no problems and Mom, Dad, and my high school sweetheart all came to see me leave to go to the faraway land of Lincoln where the Navy had one of its three Boot Camps. (I had asked for Orlando and San Diego so of course was sent to Great Lakes outside of Chicago IL.) There were a lot of hugs and a few kisses and then it was up the ramp. I turned just before I went through the door and saw them all standing there. The girlfriend was sobbing, Dad had his arm around Mom, and Mom just had this sad look on her face. One of her children was leaving forever and he would never be the same again.
The next six months were fast and filled with all kinds of new adventures. Boot Camp, Machinist Mate A school, and temporary duty when I failed to make the needed requirements for Nuc school. Somewhere in the whirlwind of activity, someone sat down with me and placed a pile of paperwork in front of me. Since I was no longer going to nuclear power training, there were some forms to sign and the need to refocus on a different path. One of the options was to volunteer to undergo submarine training and ultimately serve on a boat. I will freely admit that I didn’t give it much thought at the time. The idea of making an additional fifty five dollars a month seemed to be the biggest motivator at the time. The decision to volunteer would change my life. And it would change my Mom’s life, too.
I will freely admit that I have never been a Mom of a submariner. But I did have a Mom that had two boys on board submarines who would eventually serve for over twenty years. For nearly four of those years, my brother Tom was on the same boat with me.
I knew from the first minute I told them that Mom was worried. As a kid growing up, we were not allowed to have guns or motorcycles since they were too dangerous. She would wait up for me to come home from dates to make sure I was safe and no harm would come to me. I suppose that is what normal mothers do.
Mom used to worry, I am sure, but despite serving on a combined total of nine submarines, we both came home each and every time. The boats we served on had the highest level of quality of any that had ever been built. The training is and has been the finest in the entire world. Between Tom and I, I am sure that we went to over a hundred different schools and classes. The mission could be a bit dicey from time to time but the emphasis was always on safety.
Communications were not always easy back in the day. There was no internet and phone calls were pretty expensive. So we wrote a lot and called when we absolutely needed to. The infrequent visits home would be celebrations that we survived another mission. But I know now that the times for her had to be pretty hard. She was always enough of a patriot that she never complained about the life we had chosen. Like our wives, she was as much a part of the service as those of us that wore the uniforms.
So how did my Mom handle things?
While we were deployed, Mom worked with the veterans groups in the community and did her best to support active duty men and women with her volunteer work, contributions and activism. She focused on the things around her and remembered every day that her boys were volunteers that did so twice: once to become a United States Navy sailor and once to become a volunteer in the submarine force.
I pray for all of the sons and daughters who go to sea in submarines and ships.
There are no guarantees. But know that we have the finest Navy and submarine force anywhere in the world and their main focus is and should be on the mission to protect this country. But I also pray for all the Moms who sit at home and wait for their child to return safely home. When they do, you may notice they are a little different from when they were younger. That can’t be helped. They have seen and done things they will never be able to fully explain. But in their hearts, they are still your children and still love you for all of your sacrifices that allowed them to be who they are today.
There should be no question in anyone’s mind that submarines are one of the most challenging duties any person could ever volunteer for. The men and now women who sail on these unique ships do so with the understanding that all care has been taken to provide for their safety but in the end, safety takes a place in line behind the word “mission”. I have spoken with combat veterans who faced live fire who told me that they could not see themselves serving on board one of these underwater craft. Yet year over year since 1900, American Bluejackets and Officers have raised their hands and taken an oath to defend the country while serving within the confines of a steel tube, closed on both ends, surrounded by the darkness of the world’s largest battlegrounds: the oceans.
When things go according to plan, the crew submerges the ship, conducts their business in silence and returns to some port with stories they are not permitted to tell. Like the contents of a black hole, you are aware that something happened there, but it is only for those who participate to understand the whole story. Some spend a few years in this life and some spend a career. All have a unique story and all have seen and done things that range from the tedious to the terrifying.
Sadly, some join a special group that is known to the submarine family as “On Eternal Patrol”. The unfortunate members who gain this status gain entry in ways that are the stuff of every submariner’s nightmares. Whether it was fire, flooding, loss of propulsion, an enemy attack, or any of a hundred things that went wrong, the boat often serves as a forever resting place for their physical remains. http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/uss-scorpion-589.htm
The Navy marks this day, May 22nd as the official loss date of the USS Scorpion. This is the official US Navy History of the USS Scorpion
“USS SCORPION was laid down on 20 August 1958 by the Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corp., Groton, Conn.; launched on 19 December 1959; sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison; and commissioned on 29 July 1960, Comdr. Norman B. Bessac in command.
Assigned to Submarine Squadron 6, Division 62, SCORPION departed New London, Conn., on 24 August for a two-month deployment in European waters. During that period, she participated in exercises with units of the 6th Fleet and of other NATO navies. After returning to New England in late October, she trained along the eastern seaboard until May 1961, then crossed the Atlantic again for operations which took her into the summer. On 9 August, she returned to New London and, a month later, shifted to Norfolk, Va.
With Norfolk her home port for the remainder of her career, SCORPION specialized in the development of nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying her role from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises which ranged along the Atlantic coast and in the Bermuda and Puerto Rican operating areas; then, from June 1963 to May 1964, she interrupted her operations for an overhaul at Charleston, S.C. Resuming duty off the eastern seaboard in late spring, she again interrupted that duty from 4 August to 8 October to make a transatlantic patrol. In the spring of 1965, she conducted a similar patrol.
During the late winter and early spring of 1966, and again in the fall, she was deployed for special operations. Following the completion of those assignments, her commanding officer received the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other SCORPION officers and men were cited for meritorious achievement.
On 1 February 1967, SCORPION entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for another extended overhaul. In late October, she commenced refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests. Following type training out of Norfolk, she got underway on 15 February 1968 for a Mediterranean deployment. She operated with the 6th Fleet, into May, then headed west. On 21 May, she indicated her position to be about 50 miles south of the Azores. Six days later, she was reported overdue at Norfolk.
A search was initiated, but, on 5 June, SCORPION and her crew were declared “presumed lost.” Her name was struck from the Navy list on 30 June.
The search continued, however; and, at the end of October, the Navy’s oceanographic research ship, MIZAR (T-AGOR 11) located sections of SCORPION’s hull in more than 10,000 feet of water about 400 miles southwest of the Azores. Subsequently, the Court of Inquiry was reconvened and other vessels, including the submersible TRIESTE were dispatched to the scene, but, despite the myriad of data and pictures collected and studied, the cause of the loss remains a mystery.”
For an unusually long period, beginning shortly before midnight on 20 May and ending after midnight 21 May, Scorpion attempted to send radio traffic to Naval Station Rota, but was only able to reach a Navy communications station in Nea Makri, Greece, which forwarded Scorpion’s messages to ComSubLant. Lt. John Roberts was handed Commander Slattery’s last message, that he was closing on the Soviet submarine and research group, running at a steady 15 knots at 350 feet “to begin surveillance of the Soviets”. Six days later the media reported she was overdue at Norfolk.
The message read: “Brandywine, Brandywine this is Singing Bush. Gertrude Check.”
Over the years, many stories have emerged from people who were on active duty at that time that tell of a harrowing choice of alternatives to explain the “mystery”. I will wait to go on my own personal “Eternal Patrol” and try and find the crewmembers themselves to find the real answer. Until then , I just know they are gone. They are heroes in the sense that they gave their all for their country. For that reason, I salute their memory and pray for those who still traverse the oceans in these underwater vessels. May the number of dives and surfaces always be equal in the end.
There was a sad yet joyous announcement this morning as we started our day. The Reverend Billy Graham had passed from this world early on the morning of February 18, 2018.There was sadness in my heart as I started the mourning process for someone who had impacted my life and the lives of so many others, yet there was also joy in knowing that he had finally passed into the awaited Kingdom of Heaven at the age of 99 years and would no longer be constrained by the body that had long ago started to fail him.
Billy Graham is probably the world’s best known evangelist and his message crossed all boundaries of the Christian faith. “God Loves You”. Even as broken as we all are, Billy reminded us that with a redemptive heart and spirit and the grace of Jesus Christ, all have a pathway to the kingdom. His message reached hundreds of millions of people and created many spiritual leaders through the years using his Crusades.
In 1968, he brought his crusade to Pittsburgh and thousands came to hear his message. On September 4, 1968 at the Pitt Panthers Stadium, he came and spoke to a world of people who were troubled by the events going on around them. The Vietnam war was raging, protesters were filling the streets, the civil rights movement was in full swing, women’s liberation was on everyone’s minds and the old world was passing into history. Patriotism as passé. On September 8th, former Vice President Richard Nixon attended the Pittsburgh Crusade as he was closing his successful campaign to become the next President.
And my family was in the stands. At the end of each Crusade, Billy called for people to come down and accept Jesus. My oldest brother went at the call. The choir was singing “Just as I am” and I also heard a small voice inside telling me not to miss this chance… so I got to my feet and at the age of fourteen walked down the concrete stairs out into the field. There were men there waiting for us to arrive and they brought us forward to be prayed upon. I don’t remember the prayers. I don’t remember anything especially spiritual happening at the time. Maybe I felt a little guilty about coming down since I wasn’t really sure what all this spiritual stuff was supposed to be about. But I signed the forms for more information and sure enough within a week, the newsletters started coming.
It didn’t stick with me at the time. I was fourteen and I was just about to enter a world where every manner of distraction would keep me off balance. I don’t think I am any different than many kids of that time. Peer pressure and the world’s rapidly changing landscape drove a wedge between us and our parents and our parent’s ways. The newsletters stopped coming at one point and were replaced with many other things. By the time I was seventeen, the Navy was the only path on my mind.
In all the years since, I have wondered if I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe if I had just listened to the words better that day in September 1968, my whole life would have been different. But through every trial and every journey, I still held the most important words he said that day strongly in my mind… “God Loves You”.
I am in the autumn of my life now. Maybe even the beginning of winter. But I have a great wife who keeps trying to help me come to terms with my spirituality. One of the ways she does this is to continue to be a prayer warrior and be a gentle reminder to share a daily devotional time with her. This year’s book (one of three we are using) is from Billy Graham’s Ministry and is called “Unto the Hills”. It’s a daily devotional with scriptures and thoughts Reverend Graham had over the course of his long ministry. After we heard the news and stumbled through breakfast, we sat down and I opened the book. The title of today’s lesson:
More than Conquerors
We are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Romans 8:37
Out of respect for the copyright, I will only share one part of the message.
“There is only one way to have victory over sin. That is to be so closely walking with Christ that sin no more abounds in your life, that sin becomes the exception with you rather than the rule.”
Today my old friend is walking side by side with his Savior Jesus Christ. As has been said so many times this morning by people far more important than me, I can hear Jesus saying, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
I will miss you Billy, but we will meet again. Thank you God for sharing your friend Billy Graham with us.