Hallmark doesn’t make a card for Sea Daddys. (But maybe they should) 8

Warning: Some salty language may have snuck past the censors

There was a Navy training film many years ago called “The Lost Sailor”.

The idea behind the film was for Navy leaders to recognize all the things that could go wrong with a young sailor when they first report on board a ship or submarine. The newly arriving boot was probably fresh from school and this was his first assignment at sea. He reports on board and suddenly gets disillusioned when everyone is too busy to pay any attention to him. In fact, the sailor that ultimately takes him to his berthing assignment is a sub-standard sailor who is only available for such duty because he is on restriction. It doesn’t take long for the squared away recruit to turn into a derelict just like his “mentor”. The entire film is based around leaders not letting this kind of thing happen to their new sailors when they report on board.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the term “Sea Daddy”. Thinking back to my earliest days in the Navy, I remember reading the Blue Jackets Manual from front cover to back. The Eighteenth Edition of Ridley McLean’s handbook for sailors had specific details on everything the American bluejacket would ever need to know about being a sailor.

Delbert D. Black was the Master Chief Petty officer of the Navy in the 1969 edition and he gave the following forward: To all Navy Men: The Navy is a man’s job. It requires courage, dedication and daring. Navy men have a proud tradition of heroism in all conflicts.”

He goes on to say more but in the entire book, nothing is mentioned about the existence of a position or assignment called Sea Daddy.

Maybe that’s why I never had one when I went to my first submarine. I was a Machinist Mate Fireman that was assigned to a Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine and my role would include driving the boat, cleaning dishes in a hot deep sink, compacting and shooting trash and eventually standing watch as a roving Auxiliaryman and later as a Scrubber Room watch.

As I was reporting on board, the senior men in that division all hit their rotation dates. Once the dust settled, we had a brand new Chief (who had just been advanced) one first class and one second class. The rest of us were new to the boat and new to submarines. If there actually was an official title of Sea Daddy, there wouldn’t have been enough of them left to care for the rookies that showed up for duty,

Looking back through a long lens, I think Chief John did the best he could with what he inherited. All of us had been through a lot of technical classes before we showed up. The problem was that the technical classes were mostly geared towards the sleek new SSBN 640 Class Boomers and this was the original 41 For Freedom experiment called the George Washington. By the time I reported on board, she had sailed in both oceans, made over forty patrols, and was showing the signs of age that can only come from a boat that had been stitched together in a rush to beat the Russians to a viable boomer.

Old Boats Leaked

Everything that could leak did. The pumps we had to pack and repack were buried under pipes and deck plates and lines that crisscrossed each other in a chaotic maze that had been designed by a mad man. The high pressure air compressors were not the kind any of us had trained on so each time they required repairs (which was pretty damn often) it was like an exercise in jig saw puzzle land. On my first patrol, I saw very little of these mechanical wonders since I spent most of the time in the galley as a crank. The second patrol was a little better since I was qualified and only stood dive and drive part of the time. Between watches and drills, I was indoctrinated into the world of adapt and overcome.

While I am sure he would have revolted against the idea of being called a Sea Daddy, Chief John probably fit the bill more than any other man I served with in all five boats. He was patient to a point but he was also firm that you didn’t get to walk away from a job just because it was kicking your ass. He would teach to a point but his main method of teaching was to make sure you didn’t screw things up too badly while you were figuring out the right way to fix them.

You do not have permission to quit

My least favorite job was repacking the trim pump. This pump was vital to the ship’s operation since it moved water from tank to tank and helped the boat to adapt to the ever changing sea and internal ballast. But replacing the packing meant climbing down into a tightly packed area with very little room to get comfortable. Then you had to maneuver your hands in such a way that you could pull the old packing as needed and insert the new rings. If you tightened the packing too much, you smoked the rings. Then you got to start all over. I found this out the hard way. After a few attempts, I went back to the Chief and said that I couldn’t get it. I was tired, hot and dirty and I just wanted to go to my rack.

I don’t think I saw my rack for another day.  Or maybe it was two

Chief John made it very clear that he had no time for someone not doing their job. I don’t remember his words but I do remember he had quite the way with phrases that a young sailor would never forget. I finally got it right. I never had to repeat that error again. The same lesson would be learned on nearly every job I was assigned to for the next few years.

I lost track of Chief John when I transferred. After some time away from submarines, I returned to being an Auxiliaryman and never looked back. The lesson about doing hard things without quitting never left me and I hope that I did him proud. To be honest, I think he would be surprised to know I made it as far as I did. He was in my mind the day I made Chief. I tried to help other sailors along the way with some of his best lessons and maybe a few I learned from others.

Come to think of it, maybe there was such a thing as a Sea Daddy after all. If I were to see him today, I would thank him for helping me through some of the most difficult days of my life. And I would probably wish him a Happy Father’s day.

Dedicated to MMC/SS John Mills, US Navy

The best damn Chief I ever met

Mister Mac

 

 

Adversity is a refining fire. 9

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.

Mister Mac

Cassin Young, Captain, United States Navy MOH Recipient, Information request Reply

Good morning. For the past few years, I have been searching through Naval Records, newspaper articles, period books and a number of other sources to help complete the picture of one of the greatest heroes the Navy has ever produced, Captain Cassin Young. The journey has had a lot of twists and turns but I am nearing completion of the project.

I am missing one crucial element of the story that the rest hinges upon. During 1940-1942, then Commander Young was the Executive Officer of the Naval Submarine Base in New London Connecticut. He was a submariner from his earliest days in the Navy during some very pivotal times and served as a Submarine Squadron commander prior to this assignment.

But something happened at the base that changed the course of his life. I have part of the story but it comes to me from a second hand source. The only way I can validate it is to speak with a family member that can corroborate what I have found. I have reached out to them on social media and in other ways but so far no response.

So I am taking a shot in the dark.

I am asking that if you read this, you would consider sharing it to your own Blog or to any social media that you are connected to. Have them reach out to me here at theleansubmariner and I will do the rest.

When I started the project, my motivation was that so little was known about the amazing life and service of an American Hero. Last Christmas, I was given a book about Pearl Harbor and the author and one of the men he wrote about alluded to something that was both reprehensible and unthinkable. They attacked someone who had spent a lifetime preparing for just the moment that occurred on that December morning in Pearl. My book will show a different view of those events based on many sources. I feel compelled that the rest of the real story be told.

The time period Young spent in New London would help to fill in one last gap in the book. Any help would be appreciated.

Thanks

Mister Mac

Things we got wrong (or did we?) Predicting the Atomic Navy (1939) Reply

Things we got wrong (or did we?)

In 1939, a book was published called “Sea Power and Today’s War” / by Fletcher Pratt

Murray Fletcher Pratt (25 April 1897 – 10 June 1956) was an American writer of science fiction, fantasy and history. He is best known for his works on naval history and on the American Civil War and for fiction written with L. Sprague de Camp. (He was also a contemporary of one of my favorite writers of all time Isaac Asimov).

This particular book was written in the summer of 1939 and was an attempt to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s navies from a technical perspective. The usual chapters on the battleship being the backbone of any world power’s navy was predominant as is to be expected from any book written before Pearl Harbor and the first gruesome years of struggle during the Second World War.

What was most interesting to me was his surprising information about potential new developments. In the latter part of his book, he discusses some possible changes that might be coming which might have an impact on the way future wars would be fought.

In a section called “Atomic Power” he notes:

“The scientists at M.I.YT in Boston, where they have a cyclotron, or atom smasher, claim to be within measurable distance of realizing the dream of tapping reserves of power within the structure of the atom. Under the impulse of war needs, which always supply a spur to invention, they might conceivably make it.

“But even if it comes the effect on naval warfare would be slow and not quite so profound as imagination likes to picture, The greatest result would, of course, be that giving every ship so powered unlimited cruising range. “Atomic power” would not be power itself, but heat – vast reserves of heat from an insignificant quantity of combustible material. A warship using atomic power would still find boilers and engines necessary; it could dispense with nothing but the present fire rooms. There would not even be much saving in weight, for an atom-smashing machine is a cumbersome and weighty device.

Thus no very small ship, such as a torpedo motorboat or submarine could use the new source of power, and it might be limited to battleships, carriers and large cruisers. For ships of these classes, it would take a good deal of time to install. Ships would either have to be taken off duties on which they were urgently needed to make the installation, or it would have to wait to be built into new craft.”

The author goes on to write about a “death ray” that uses short wave radio frequencies that was barely able to kill a mouse no less a man. His prediction was that such a ray would be centuries in the future in the making. Rocket powered planes were also beyond the reach of man’s abilities since the speed of acceleration would kill any human being and the solution to the issues lie long in the future if at all.

The most interesting thing about the book is not what he got wrong but how much he came close to getting right.

It will be interesting to see if I can find other books he wrote that may shed some light into how he knew about Atomic Power long before the Manhattan Project was known.

He was not without controversy, however.

In an article by Henry Wessells in AB Bookman’s Weekly for 30 June 1997 it was noted that “Pratt was a syndicated naval correspondent for the New York Post, and his views stirred up controversy as early as December 9, 1941, in the aftermath of his comments on Pearl Harbor and what it revealed about the state of readiness of the American Navy. He apparently lost this job after speculating incorrectly on the outcome of a naval engagement.”

His banishment must have been short lived however since he went on to write many Navy themed books and articles for a number of publications including:

    • America and Total War . New York : Smith & Durrell, 1941.
    • Ships, Men — and Bases , by Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy with Fletcher Pratt. Philadelphia : Curtis Publishing Company, 1941. An eight page pamphlet : “ This article from the April 5, 1941, issue of The Saturday Evening Post , has been reprinted for the Navy Department in the interests of National Defense. ”
    • What the Citizen Should Know About Modern War . New York : W.W. Norton, 1942.
    • The Navy Has Wings . New York : Harper, 1943.
    • U.S. Army : A Guide to Its Men and Equipment . Racine, Wisconsin : Whitman, 1943.
    • The Navy’s War . New York : Harper, 1944. With a foreword by the Honorable Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy. 14
    • My Life to the Destroyers . New York : Holt : 1944. With Captain L.A. Abercrombie.
    • Short History of the Army & Navy . Washington D.C. : Infantry Journal, 1944 (wraps).
    • Night Work : The Story of Task Force 39 . New York : Holt, 1945.
    • Empire and the Sea . Illustrated by Inga Stephens. New York : Holt, 1946.
    • Fleet Against Japan . New York : Harper, 1946.
    • The Marines’ War : An Account of the Struggle for the Pacific from Both American and Japanese Sources . New York : William Sloane Associates, Inc., 1948.

Pratt was also the inventor of a set of rules for naval war gaming, which he created before the Second World War. This was known as the “Fletcher Pratt Naval War Game” and it involved dozens of tiny wooden ships, built on a scale of one inch to 50 feet. These were spread over the floor of Pratt’s apartment and their maneuvers were calculated via a complex mathematical formula.

The full story can be found here: Fletcher Pratt’s Naval War Game (1940). A book on the Fletcher Pratt Naval Wargame

https://www.amazon.com/Fletcher-Pratts-Wargame-Wargaming-1900-1945/dp/1447518551/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528071661&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=Fletcher+Pratt%27s+Naval+War+Game+%281940%29.+A+book+on+the+Fletcher+Pratt+Naval+Wargame+was+printed+2011

The book is probably pretty hard to find. I have a new source of reading that is called the HATHI Trust. HathiTrust began in 2008 as a collaboration of the universities of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (now the Big Ten Academic Alliance) and the University of California system to establish a repository to archive and share their digitized collections. HathiTrust quickly expanded to include additional partners and to provide those partners with an easy means to archive their digital content.

While you have to be a member to download the material, if you know what to look for (which I am still learning) an entire new world of books opens up for the dedicated researcher.

Mister Mac

 

Now More Than Ever – a Strong Navy and Peace 5

The Navy League has been tireless in its mission to support the sea services throughout the last 116 years. From its founding in 1902, they have tried to always live the spirit that Theodore Roosevelt embodied when he said “A good Navy is not a provocative of war, it is the surest guarantee of peace.”

Three years after he said those fateful words, the world was changed forever on May 27, 1905 when a smaller Japanese fleet defeated the powerful Russian Navy in the Straits of Tsushima.

This unexpected naval battle set the tone for naval conflict for the next century. It showed that a willful and resourceful nation could project sea power and influence the course of history in a way that the world would have to notice. It clearly demonstrated that no country, no matter how small or limited in resources, should ever be taken for granted.

Despite that warning, America was not ready for the Great War that was to come. We had lulled ourselves into thinking that the vastness of the oceans surrounding us would keep us from harm. We were wrong. An entirely new menace called the submarine destroyed that perception of safety once and for all. 100 years ago today, fighting men and women would serve in a cause that should have been avoidable. But the oceans brought the threat to us.

As many countries did, we relied on the promise of peace through disarmament when that war completed. The navy was shrunk and a peace dividend was expected in its place. It never came. Instead, the Axis of Japan, Italy and Germany once more used the oceans to project their power. We were ill prepared for that war too, but the drive and determination of the American people carried the day once more.

The global situation is much the same today as it was before the major wars. Countries are once more expanding their forces and influence through sea power.

  • China is pushing the boundaries in the seas and islands around her country that once enjoyed freedom;
  • A resurging and aggressive Russian Navy has a global reach and an eye on returning to their once unlimited status
  • Rogue nations that are seeking to capitalize on technology are once more challenging freedom around the globe.

 

On Memorial Day, we honor the fallen. We remember their sacrifices. But we honor and remember them best when we remain ever ready and ever vigilant. We pay them the ultimate tribute when we are once more ready to defend that which they gave everything for.

The Navy League stands with all of our sea services in paying honor and tribute to our fallen. We stand for maintaining the strongest military on the face of the planet. America stands for freedom in this world. In the face of so many challenges, maintaining that strength is the only way to maintain our freedom. America needs to be alert now more than any time in history.

Mister Mac

The Line 13

As Memorial Day approaches, I know that all of us will be busy with tributes, ceremonies and parades of honor. At least I hope that we all would be so engaged. The truth is that many will be more focused on picnics and pools, parties and getaways, sales and sports. How far away from our own heritage have we drifted.

I will have the honor of participating in the Elizabeth Parade and Ceremony in Elizabeth PA. The ceremony goes back as far as anyone can remember and has been a regular part of my families tradition for nearly as long. I hope to be able to introduce a new poem written today for the occasion.

This poem is a reflection based on a vision I had about sailors today. I have copywrited the work so if you feel the desire to share, please contact me directly.

The Line

Mister Mac

“My child is a submariner… I’ll sleep when they come home” 5

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.

Thanks Mom.

Mister Mac

“Brandywine, Brandywine this is Singing Bush. Gertrude Check.” 3

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.

Mister Mac

The Fleet Today: 1942 Chapter XV THE “PIG BOATS”: THE SUBMARINES 4

While much of my work is original, there are some times when I find things that are too amazing to disturb. The year was 1942 and the book “The Fleet Today” by Kendall Banning had just been released (again). My assumption was that the book was already in publication before December 7th 1941 and was released as is. The reason I make that assumption is the fact that the main part of the book still focused on the mantra the Navy practiced for the thirty years prior to Pearl Harbor. “The Battleship is the BACKBONE of the Navy”.

The book has a lot of interesting chapters about life in the Navy just prior to the beginning of the war. What interested me most of course, was the chapter called The “Pig Boats”: The Submarines.

If you have ever wondered what a submariner of that era went through for training and actual service, this seems to be a pretty good representation. I have to warn you, its a long read. But if you love all things submarines, you will find a quiet place to read it and savor the richness of the story.  For me, it was worth every second.

Spoiler alert: One of the best parts is right near the end

Mister Mac

See the source image

 

“Chapter XV THE “PIG BOATS”: THE SUBMARINES

US. SUBMARINE STATUS (As of December 6, 1941)

Number in commission 113

Number building 73

TOTAL 186

“ALONGSIDE the docks at the submarine base lie moored a line of “pig boats,” the sailor’s name for submarines. Some of them are so new that the paint on them still shines in the sunlight. Their high bows and their stately superstructures tower impressively above the water. They are so long that even those parts of their hulls that remain above the sur- face extend beyond the ends of the docks.

In contrast to these undersea leviathans are the smaller submarines of the so-called R and S classes, which were built during the World War period, and, though still serviceable, are now regarded as suitable only for coast defense and training purposes. Because these smaller fry exceed the prescribed age limit of thirteen years, they are officially classified as “over age” by the terms of the Washington and London Naval Treaties of 1922 and 1930 respectively. While they lack the improvements of their more aristocratic brethren, have a smaller cruising range, and certainly can boast of fewer comforts—if any submarine at all may be said to have comforts— the basic principles of operation are the same. Thus these older types serve adequately as training ships for the men who are newly admitted to the submarine service; at the same time their use releases the newer vessels for more important duty with the fleet.

It is a little after eight o’clock in the morning.

Groups of sailors are making their way down to the dock, prepared for a training trip of six hours or more. The men are clad in their work uniforms; clambering about the oily machinery with which the hull of the submarine is packed is not a function that demands formal attire. The commanding officer, the diving-and-engineer officer and the torpedo officer; a group of young student officers who are taking the five-months course at the Submarine School; a few experienced and seasoned chief petty officers to act as instructors for the enlisted students who are taking the six-weeks basic course, and the regular crew, constitute the ship’s company. They number thirty-five or forty in all. Four days a week the students get practical instruction on these training trips; on the fifth day they get classroom work and are examined on what they have learned. Both the officers and the men get the same instruction in the technical details of the operation of a submarine— with the exception of the operation of the periscope. The use of that all-important instrument, upon which the very life of the vessel often depends, is restricted to the officers alone. It is a prerogative of command.

Before the day’s work is over the submarine will have made four, five or six dives. Before his course is completed the student will have made about fifty dives. For each dive, each enlisted man used to get $1 extra on his pay; it was awarded to him in the submarine service as a bonus for the hazardous character of his duties. Now the extra pay ranges from $5 to $30 a month flat. The students will not only learn by observation how these dives are made but will perform some of the operations themselves, always under the watchful eyes of their instructors. No student has the chance to make a serious blunder. No serious blunder has ever been made by a student.

Because of the dangers inherent in the submarine service, extreme caution is exercised in even the most simple of operations. This caution extends as far back as the selection of the men themselves. In the first place, they must be dependable men. The crew of a submarine is small and every man has a duty to perform; a single act of negligence might endanger the life of every man aboard. In the second place, a submariner must be blessed with the virtue of calmness and self-possession. The fellow who is subject to temperamental outbursts or who is contentious or who talks too much or who becomes excited has no place on a pig boat. And—to add the human touch—he must not be cursed with those little mannerisms or affectations which, in the intimacies that must necessarily prevail in cramped quarters, might grate on the nerves of his shipmates. Even that intensely personal and often unavoidable quality, designated by the medicos as bromidrosis but more popularly known as “B.O.,” will bar a man; even if his “best friends won’t tell him” the Navy will. The fruit of this selective system is found in the chief petty officers who have been developed over a term of years and who rate among the steadiest, most silent, and ablest groups of men in the Navy.

A submarine that starts out on a training trip from a base goes to the “diving area” to which it is assigned. These areas vary in size from four square miles up to a hundred or more square miles. Before a dive is made, each vessel reports by radio its location, the approximate course it proposes to steer and the expected duration of the dive. As soon as it comes up it reports “Surfaced.” The ordinary dive for elementary training purposes lasts about 20 minutes. The record for submergence was made at Cape May, when a submarine rested on the bottom (in order to conserve its electric power by cutting off its motors) for 96 hours. If a submarine fails to report surfacing within 30 minutes of its predicted time, attempts are made to reach it by radio. If they are not immediately successful, the Navy unleashes all the rescue forces at its command—aircraft, near-by vessels of any description, rescue ships, divers. Alarms of this kind are theoretical rather than actual, however; skippers of submarines just do not forget to report.

When all the men are aboard, the diving officer pulls out the “diving book” and begins to check up. The weight of the boat right now, as compared to its weight on the previous trip, is a factor that must now be taken into calculation; this knowledge is needed for the manipulation of the controls. Are there more or fewer men aboard? How do the number of gallons of fuel aboard check up with the last voyage? What is the status, in terms of pounds, of the forward and aft trim tanks? Controlling the depth of a floating craft submerged in water presents a problem analogous to that of controlling the altitude of a free balloon floating in air. So delicate a balance must be preserved that when the oil goes out of the tanks, for instance, it is replaced automatically by an equal volume of heavier water, and this excess weight must be compensated for before the submarine dives again. An inadvertent break on the surface of the water in the presence of an enemy would betray its location and spell its doom.

As soon as the vessel gets under way, the student submariners climb down the perpendicular ladders through the small circular hatches—which serve as the “escape hatches” in time of emergency—and are led about on sightseeing tours in small groups by the various instructors.

A submarine, the student learns, is divided into six compartments; in the more modern vessels that have a torpedo room aft as well as forward, a seventh compartment is provided. Each is a separate, watertight unit, capable of sustaining human life for several hours or possibly days, even though every other compartment is flooded. The average submarine with a full crew can remain submerged for about 36 hours without replenishing its air supply.

Its only connection with the adjoining compartment is a small, oval door just large enough for one man at a time to crawl through with a “watch-your-step-and-mind-your-head.”

The steel, watertight door to it weighs three hundred pounds or more, but it hangs upon hinges so scientifically designed and so delicately balanced that it may be swung by the push of a finger—provided the vessel is on an even keel. Should the vessel be tilting upward at an angle opposite to the direction in which the door swings, brute force would be required to pull the door upward in order to close it; it was exactly this situation that confronted the alert young electrician’s mate of the ill-fated Squalus when it sank May 23, 1939? His timely display of physical strength in pulling the door up- ward to close and to dog it before the onward rush of water hit it saved from death the 33 men trapped in the forward compartments. Every submariner is indoctrinated with the law and the gospel that quick decisions must be followed by immediate action. Emergency drills accustom the men to shut these watertight doors and secure them in a matter of split seconds.

The forward compartment, which extends right up into the bow of the submarine, is the “torpedo room”; on the modern boats it is called the “forward torpedo room” to distinguish it from the after torpedo room in the stern. Here are located the cluster of tubes through which the torpedoes are dis- charged by compressed air. Contrary to popular belief, the torpedoes are not aimed by the crew that discharges them. The torpedo crews have no way of seeing the target; they perform a purely mechanical routine and adjust, load and re- lease the projectiles only upon command from the control room. The projectiles are “aimed” only to the extent that the submarine itself is pointed so that the moving torpedoes will meet the moving target after they are fired, and this position can be determined only by the officer at the periscope. It is he alone who can sight the enemy, estimate the range, calculate the speed and course of each vessel, and direct the torpedo crew to make the proper adjustments in the torpedoes themselves. The maximum range and speed of torpedoes are both items of information of a secret nature; it is not a secret, however, that for training purposes torpedoes may be geared to speeds ranging upward from 27 to 45 miles an hour or more, and that target practice is conducted at ranges from 6000 to over 15,000 yards. The higher the speed the shorter the range, and vice versa. As soon as a 2500-pound torpedo leaves its tube, water is immediately let in to preserve the trim of the boat. The number of torpedoes that can be carried on a modern submarine is also a naval secret, but it is no secret that when these have been expended, the submarine is disarmed and helpless—except for a 5-inch gun on its deck; this, of course, can be manned only when the boat is on the surface. As a result, a submarine in wartime does not waste its limited number of torpedoes. Especially when those torpedoes range in price from $7500 to $12,000 apiece. In time of peace torpedoes fired in practice are retrieved and used many times.

Abaft the forward torpedo room is the “forward battery room.” To outward appearance this compartment on the training ships is filled with tiers of folding metal bunks; on the modern vessels this space is divided up into officers’ quarters and even a wardroom, so tiny and compact as to make a Pullman stateroom seem like a two-car garage. The compartment gets its name, however, not from any battery of guns supposedly operated from it but from a compact cargo of large storage batteries below its deck. These are the batteries that furnish the electric power for operating the boat under water, when the Diesel gas engines must be shut off.

Aft of this, a little forward of amidships, is the brain, nerve and message-center of the vessel, the all-important “control room.” This is where the skipper has his post of command when the submarine is submerged; here, consequently, is the periscope, the eye of the ship. Off to one side silently stands the quartermaster at the helm; near him are grouped the ship’s navigators, bending over their charts spread atop narrow, built-in desks. Over in a corner is tucked the radio room, miniature in size but equipped with submarine communication apparatus that is included among the most jealously guarded of all the Navy’s secrets.

This control room is literally so packed with mechanical devices and instruments that only the narrowest of passage- ways can be provided for traffic; however, when the sub- marine is proceeding under water, there is little moving about by the members of the crew; every man is stationed at his post. Near the center rises the oily steel tube that is the periscope. When cruising at periscope depth—which is about 40 feet below the surface—the commanding officer stands before this vital instrument, clutching the two handles that control the movements of the lens above, and peering into the eye- piece. Within range of his arm is the battery of push-buttons used for signaling instructions within the ship; among them are the general alarm, collision alarm and diving alarm, whose shrieking voices of warning sound like the wails of tortured banshees. About the compartment are arranged glistening dials, levers, valves, throttles, clutches, indicator lights and all manner of control and recording gadgets, doodads and thingumbobs. Over against the starboard bulkhead stands an array of controls which operate the Kingston valves. These admit water to the main ballast tanks when the submarine is diving. When the valves are opened, the normal procedure is to open the vents also, in order to permit the air to escape.

In time of emergency a “quick dive” often becomes necessary. A quick dive used to be called a “crash dive,” but perhaps because of its ominous psychological significance this term has finally gone out of use. When a quick dive is about to be made, the skipper gives the command “ride the vents”; this consists of opening the Kingston valves (or “flood valves” on* modern submarines) and keeping the vent valves closed. By this method it is possible to bring the boat down to periscope depth in 70 seconds or less. Along another bulkhead is lined up the battery of “water manifold” valves for regulating the flow of water to the different variable tanks in order to keep the vessel in trim. The “air manifold” valves are used for blowing water out of the tanks when the vessel is about to rise.

The “most important single instrument” in a submarine is the depth gauge. When the vessel is submerged, this instrument is under constant surveillance. A needle on the dial reveals the water pressure on the outside of the hull, graduated to indicate depth in feet. Another important instrument is the ordinary aneroid barometer, which indicates the air pressure within the boat itself. This air pressure, which is only a fraction of a pound and consequently negligible, is applied merely to determine if all the outboard openings are tightly sealed; any leakage of air, naturally, prevents compression and thus serves as a danger signal.

As might be expected, the control room is not alone the center of the submarine’s communication system, but also the point from which all communications of any kind emanate. What happens in time of disaster in case the control room is flooded? In such a case the entire communication system of the submarine becomes paralyzed. The forward end of the vessel is cut off from the after end. For reasons which are not difficult to understand, practically all such mishaps as do befall a submarine befall the forward or after compartments.

It was the control room of a submarine that served as the setting of a drama of the sea that has begun to assume the aspects of a classic. It started, according to legend, in the friendship between two or three cadets at West Point and as many midshipmen at Annapolis, and was continued after graduation. The Army men entered the Air Service; the Navy men the Submarine Service.

“Ever been up in a plane?” the fliers asked of their Navy guests during the latter’s visit to the flying field.

No, they had never been up in a plane. Yes, they would be delighted to take a trip. So up they went, with their Army hosts at the controls, and a grand performance indeed they put on. They gave their guests the works—loops, tailspins, barrel rolls, Immelmann turns. The sailormen were finally landed, a bit groggy and pale, perhaps, but still game and properly appreciative. In the course of time these same fliers, mindful of their social obligations, called upon their Navy friends at the Submarine Base. No, they had never been down in a sub. Yes, they would be delighted to take a trip. So aboard they all went; orders were passed; the engines were started, and while the Vessel was proceeding to the diving area, hosts and guests repaired below to pass the time.

“Rig for diving!” at last came the cry from the bridge.

Hatches on-the deck were slammed shut and dogged; the diving officer made his round of inspection; diving stations were manned. The hosts explained to their visitors the mechanics of the operation. Soon, however, the interest of the hosts began to be diverted from their guests and become focused upon the controls. They showed signs of anxiety; something was evidently going wrong. The depth gauge seemed to be the center of interest; instead of stopping at the indicated depth of 40 feet, the needle continued its course. Now the boat was shown to be down to 60 feet; now 80 feet; soon it struck 150 feet. The hush in the boat was broken only by the commands of the officers.

“These boats are designed to stand 200 feet of pressure, but they can probably stand as much as 300 feet,” the skipper encouragingly assured his guests. With increasing perturbation the visitors watched the gauge record a depth of 180 feet, with the needle steadily moving into dangerous area. At 200 feet the silence was blasted by the shriek of the collision alarm. All compartment doors were instantly closed; the visitors were now trapped in the control room with their hosts. Suddenly the lights went out and the compartment was thrown into a tar-like blackness. The dim emergency lamps were switched on; they cast the compartment into an eerie gloom. At 220 feet the Momsen escape lungs were hauled forth and strapped upon all hands, with hurried instructions for their use—just in case. A stream of water began to trickle ominously down the hatchway from the conning tower. Beads of perspiration broke out upon the faces of the worried visitors. The needle now registered 260 feet; the boat was now well down into the danger zone; obviously out of control. When a depth of 300 feet had been reached and the submarine was in imminent peril of collapsing, the needle on the depth gauge miraculously steadied. Slowly, exasperatingly slowly, the boat began to rise. With breathless interest the eyes of the visitors were riveted upon the dial as the needle indicated the return to safety. At last, thank God! the boat broke the surface; the hatches were thrown open to the sky, and the visitors clambered joyfully to the deck.

The vessel was still quietly moored to the dock; it had never moved a foot. The hosts smiled enigmatically. The debt of the submariners to the fliers had been paid in full.

The most popular spot on the whole submarine—popular because it combines all the recreational features of a mess hall, social center, playground and rest room—is the after battery room.

The outstanding feature of this compartment is a large, substantial, built-in, flat-topped structure that serves the purpose of a dining table. About it runs a passageway too narrow to provide space for seats but large enough for standing room. In height it comes nearly up to a man’s chest, which is just about the height of a bar, and that is exactly right. Over against the bulkhead at one side are arranged the gal- leys, flanked by sufficient cabinets and refrigerators and other storage space for food to maintain a steady flow of edibles to insatiable customers. Steaming coffee is served continuously to all and sundry; so, too, apparently, are soup, stew, meats, vegetables, cakes and pies, to accommodate the men on various watches whose meal hours are variable and sketchy. Be- cause of the limited space available on a submarine for such standard recreational facilities as deck tennis courts, running tracks and gymnasiums, to say nothing of swimming pools, pool tables and bowling alleys, the only indoor sport permissible is eating, and the submariner goes in for it in a really Big Way. In recognition of this phenomenon Uncle Sam gives the submariner a larger allowance for rations, and the submarine service prides itself on the quality and quantity of its grub. On short training trips, fresh meats, vegetables and fruits are obtainable, but on long cruises recourse must be had to canned goods. It has been aptly observed that “the submarine owes its existence to the invention of the Diesel engine, the storage battery and the tin can.”

Adjoining this social center is the engine room, so packed with machinery as to permit only the narrowest of passage- ways down the center. While the submarine is under way on the surface, the puffing Diesel engines here installed furnish the power; upon submerging, these are turned off and the electric motors are put to work. Motors neither consume the air supply nor give out gases. The motor compartment is aft of the engine room. In the tail of the ship—right down in the very extremity—a small space is provided for a few tiers of metal bunks and a tiny cubbyhole (or two) that has a miniature spray at the top and a drain pipe at the bottom, and which, by these symbols, lays claim to the designation of the shower bath. On the modern submarines this after compartment is a torpedo room similar in size and equipment to the forward torpedo room.

A group of new men is being conducted about by a chief petty officer and shown the more vital points of interest. “This particular ship,” the chief explains, “has three escape hatches. One is right here in the torpedo room; there it is up there; it is the same hatch through which you came down. Another one just like it is in the motor room. The third one is in the control room; that one leads right up through the conning tower and opens up at the bridge. These things over here, packed away in the corner, are the escape lungs. You will find them stowed in each end compartment. There are enough aboard for every member of the crew plus 10 per cent. You will also find a few scattered through the ship, but these are intended for emergency use as respirators and chlorine gas masks.”

The instructor explains the use of the various appliances throughout the vessel; his “students follow him respectfully but in silence. They have been accustomed to serve on larger ships, where a wider gap exists between the men and their chiefs than in the confined quarters of a submarine. The larger the ship, the greater are the formalities. The new men are shy about asking questions at first, so the instructor rambles along easily and does most of the speaking himself.

“See this peculiar coating on the interior of the boat?” he observes. “That is cork paint. The particles of cork in it help absorb the moisture caused by sweating. The small metal tablet you see in every compartment gives the Morse code. Most of you men know the code, but in case of acci- dent you may have to tap out mighty important messages with a hammer to the divers outside, so these tablets may come in useful in case your memory is rusty.”

“This little gadget over the door—you’ll find one over each door of every compartment—is the ‘gag’ for the compartment blow system. In case of emergency in a compartment, be sure to remove this stopper from its socket and insert it in the salvage airline before you leave. That will make it possible to admit high-pressure air to the vacated compartment and blow water out of any flooded compartments whose salvage blow outlets have not been gagged.”

The chief conducts his class to the automatic detector that records the presence and amount of hydrogen gas, if any, that may be generating in the submarine. That is the highly inflammable gas used in balloons. Because it has no odor or color, it can be detected neither by the nose nor by the eye. A 4 per cent concentration of it is considered dangerous be- cause of its explosive character. It is generated occasionally when the batteries are being charged, but accidents from this source are rare. More dangerous is the deadly chlorine gas, which is sometimes generated when water comes in contact with the batteries. This is a heavy gas, greenish-yellow in tinge and with a pungent odor that floats low over the decks, so its presence is quickly made known. When it is discovered, the alarm is given, the compartment is vacated, the entire crew don their lungs for use as gas masks, and the boat sur- faces with all speed unless an enemy ship is waiting to drop a depth bomb upon it. Carbon dioxide gas is just the com- mon CO2—the refuse given off by breathing and commonly known as merely “bad air.” This becomes a troublemaker only when fresh air is not available, and it is ordinarily counter-acted by some chemical. Soda lime was formerly used for this purpose; it was spread upon cloth of all kinds, especially upon mattress covers. But soda lime proves ineffective in low temperatures, and when a disabled submarine is resting on the bottom and the pumps are inoperative, the submarine be- comes as cold as a refrigerator. So a new chemical, effective in any temperature and known as “a CO2 absorbent,” is now used.

“That man standing over there with headphones is rotating the wheel of the listening device,” the chief continues as his flock pauses in its tour. “Under good conditions he can pick up the sounds of the propellers of a ship several miles distant and tell its bearing. And this small wheel overhead here, when given six turns, releases the marker buoy. That is used only as a distress signal when the submarine is disabled under water; it shows the searchers where the boat is lying. Inside the buoy is a telephone that makes it possible for anyone on the surface to talk to the men in the submarine.”

The class proceeds to the after battery compartment. “That mechanism up there,” the chief points out, “is the under- water signal ejector. It releases bombs that give out smoke of different colors; red smoke bombs, for example, are calls for help. When a smoke bomb is ejected, the water melts a thin wafer in the shell and the chemical action causes an explosion which throws a bomb 175 feet into the air. During maneuvers a yellow smoke bomb is ejected three minutes before surfacing as a warning to neighboring craft to keep clear.”

Thus the initiate is eased to his new duties and is familiarized with his strange environment. Many of his early lessons aboard are concerned with safety measures; with modes of escape in hours of peril; with methods of sustaining life till rescue comes. He learns how to summon aid by releasing oil at intervals by the several available means—through torpedo tubes, through signal bomb vents, through the toilets— in order to create a slick of oil upon the waters and thus reveal his location to searching airplanes and vessels. He is told how to conserve the limited air supply during enforced .submergences by restricting his physical activities and even curtailing his speech. He learns about the emergency lockers that contain enough food to keep him alive—a can of baked beans, supplemented with a cup, a spoon, a couple of candles and a pocket flashlight. He is at least assured that he will not starve to death; unless he is rescued before a second can of beans is needed, he might as well begin asking forgiveness of his sins, because his predicament is hopeless.

On the other hand, the morale of the submariner is bucked up by the knowledge that every conceivable precautionary measure is taken for his safety. He learns that the submarine, so far as its seagoing qualities are concerned, is “the safest type of ship afloat”; it is practically impossible to capsize it. In case of a hurricane it can escape by the simple expedient of submerging and cruising in quiet waters fifty or a hundred feet below the surface—although this is not done, because of the necessity of preserving its storage batteries. He participates in various roles in emergency drills, fire drills, collision drills, abandon-ship drills, and man-overboard drills.*

* While a modern submarine carries small motor boats, they are not quickly available; consequently a rescue at sea is effected by throwing out a life preserver and either reversing the engines or swinging* the vessel about in a circle until the members of the life-saving crew can climb out on the wing- like diving planes and pull the victim aboard. At a surface speed of 12 knots a rescue can ordinarily be made in less than three minutes. The record of 2 minutes and 7 seconds was made by the crew of the submarine R-I3 in 1938.

In spite of the fancy assortment of perils that beset the submariner, the accident rate is so amazingly low that the life insurance companies no longer charge a premium on policies to men in this branch. The mortality rate, to be specific, is 1.53 a thousand in the Navy as a whole, and only 3.60 a thousand in the submarine service; that represents a difference of just about two more fatalities for every thousand men. This is so slight that it has failed to arouse any superstitions among the submariners themselves. In fact, they have fewer superstitions than the average sailorman; they are a notably staid, level-headed lot, with perhaps just a trace of fatalism in their make-up. Signs, portents and omens play no part in their lives. Once in a rare while a whisper of superstition travels about; a chief electrician once acquired the reputation of being a Jonah because he had figured in three mishaps and escaped from each. “Three strikes and you’re out” was the umpire’s decision, and he was thereafter kept on shore duty, where his shipmates would just as like he would stay.

The attitude of the representative submariner is well reflected in an incident that occurred on the S-1 after it had successfully completed a training trip. “Captain, do you know what you have just done?” an old- timer among the chief petty officers smilingly inquired. “Today is Friday the 13th, and at 1300 by the clock you took the boat down on its I313th dive and gave a brand-new diving officer the complete works.” Yet only one man of the entire crew had bothered to heed the omens.

One of the perplexing tasks in the training of new submariners is to loosen up their tongues and induce them to speak up boldly and repeat all the orders they receive on board. Men from the fleet are not accustomed to talk in the presence of officers except in answer to questions. The crew of a submarine is so small and the duties and responsibilities of each man are so great that no chances are taken that an order is either unheard or misunderstood. The most common fault of a newcomer is over haste, due to his over anxiety and nervousness, especially in manipulating the water manifolds. But the instructor who stands over him steps in to take charge before any damage can be done. Most of the men selected for the basic submarine course make good; only one out of fifteen is dropped and sent back to the fleet. The chief causes for failure are inaptitude in learning the controls, temperamental traits that threaten personal relations with ship- mates, juvenile skylarking, and the unforgivable sin of “being late.” Any man who is temperamentally dilatory is marked for an early end to his submarine career; that is a symptom of a trait that is not tolerated; it is evidence of his lack of reliability and integrity.

All of the practical instruction aboard ship is supplemented by concurrent classroom work that is graded and marked on the 4.0 system, which is used at the Naval Academy and throughout the Navy. The passing mark is 2.5, which is equivalent to a mark of 62.5 per cent on the decimal system. The curriculum of the basic course may be outlined thus:

1st week: Sketches of the submarine, showing the location of all tanks, controls and other pans

2d week: Sketches of each compartment, showing all the gear in each

3d week: Use of the water manifold and maintenance of the trim line

4th week: Use of the air manifold

5th week: Battery ventilation and salvage systems

6th week: Fuel oil and lubricating systems

Courses for the more advanced students include a six-weeks storage-battery course, a six-weeks gyro-compass course, a six- weeks radio and sound course, and a twelve-weeks submarine Diesel engine course. Graduates are given certificates, their class standings are entered in their service records, and they are considered all set to go to sea in the submarine service; incidentally, they have not exactly impaired their chances of winning the competitive examinations for higher ratings. Technical education is playing an increasingly important role in the making of all modern sailors, and this is especially true in the submarine service.

But what the newcomer learns about submarines and submariners is by no means confined to what he gets out of text- books. Here are just a few odd bits of un-academic lore with which he regales the wondering folks back home: When a submarine crosses the equator, it dives under it. It is an old Navy custom.

Since the inception of the submarine, Uncle Sam has at various times designated the classes of boats that have been developed, by letters of the alphabet running from A to V—with the exception of the letter U. That has been reserved for Germany. Modern sub- marines bear the names of game fish, in addition to their hull numbers.

Messages of a strictly personal nature scribbled upon the walls of the waiting rooms at the bus stops near submarine stations are written discreetly in the dot-and-dash system. In case a sailor happens to get caught on the top deck of a submarine that is submerging, his only chance of saving himself is to cling to the periscope and place his hand over the eyepiece as a signal to those below that he is in very urgent need of help.

A submarine when submerged must either keep moving forward or rest on the bottom; it cannot hang suspended in water and remain under control.

The only way a submerged submarine can take soundings is by the use of a “fathometer,” which records the time taken for sound waves to travel back and forth between itself and the sea bottom directly below it.

As every good submariner knows, John Q. Public entertains some strange illusions about undersea craft. Some of his more common fallacies, as revealed by his questions, are:

  • That the submarine cruises almost continually under water. (It submerges only occasionally and for short periods, and then only for training purposes or when engaged in maneuvers or on war missions.)
  • That the air compression within the submarine increases with the depth. (Except for the slight “pressure in the boat” that is applied just before submerging as a test for possible leakages, the compression remains the same at all depths.)
  • That the torpedoes are propelled on their course by compressed air. (They are launched from the tube by air pressure; thereafter they proceed by power generated in their own miniature engines.)
  • That the crew is conscious of a sinking sensation when the submarine descends. (Usually the bow of the submarine dips only 4 or 5 degrees when diving and points upward at about the same slight degree when rising; except for this trivial tilt, there is practically no sensation of either rising or falling. Ascents and descents are often made, too, on an even keel.)
  • That the deck gun of a submarine can be fired under water. (No gun could be either sighted or fired when submerged, even though it were manned by mermen.)
  • That the last man to remain in a sunken submarine has no way of escaping. (He has the same chance to escape as anyone else, either by the Momsen-lung method or by means of the descent chamber.)
  • That the most dangerous period of submarine operation is when diving. (That is merely one of three hazardous moments. Equally critical moments come just before the submarine rises to periscope depth after a deep submergence and also when approaching in close proximity to other vessels. When below periscope depth, the vessel is completely blind and can detect the presence of vessels overhead or approaching only by means of its listening devices. If the propellers of vessels on the surface are not turning over, their presence is not likely to be revealed.)
  • That the periscope is always visible above the water and that the presence of a submarine during an attack can thus be detected. (During attack the periscope is raised only for the hastiest of peeks, for the purpose of taking bearings.)
  • That exciting glimpses of undersea life may be viewed from the ports of a submarine when submerged. (The only ports on a submarine are in the conning tower, and only in clear water and when near the surface where light permits vision can an occasional fish be seen.)

Not all of the high adventure in the submarine service is confined to wartime. Even routine training trips never be-come wholly monotonous; the ever-present element of danger and the ever-alert effort to avert it, make each trip at least a potential thriller: especially when a brand-new boat is put through her paces in trial runs and test dives, to find out if she is really seaworthy—or not. While most test dives develop no troubles of note, occasionally a breath-stopping incident occurs that is no less exciting merely because it does not make the headlines. Here is one behind-the-scenes drama that never even attained the dignity of official documentation. It is taken from the personal record of a sailor who was a member of the ship’s company: *

Fresh from a blueprint, she had yet to prove her mettle—in the depths as well as on the surface—before she would be officially accepted. A jammed vent cover, loose hatch bolts or weak plating that would crumple in when they reached the pressure depths, and three million dollars’ worth of steel hulk plus the lives of 54 men would sink to oblivion. Perhaps such thoughts as these were passing through the minds of the submarine’s crew, causing them to take extra turns on the numerous watertight locking devices that sealed the boat. Presently a chief torpedoman stepped up to the bridge.

“Top side secured for diving, sir.”

“Very well.” The captain turned, spoke into the voice tube.

“Rig ship for diving.”

The order went through the boat sending the crew racing to their diving stations.

In the torpedo room, where her missiles of death were sent bubbling on their destructive missions, a handful of men stood ready to flood the bow torpedo tubes. In the forward battery room more men were turning the big wheels that cut out the main air induction and cut in the auxiliary line. The ballast tank vents, located in the after battery room, were opened wide. Further aft in the engine room and motor room, grimy machinist’s mates sweated over the now quiet Diesels and prepared to start the motors. * By courtesy of Joseph McNamara, of the S-91, who took part in the test dives of that vessel in the Pacific in 1939.

Amidships in the control room where the entire operation of the boat was centered, the second officer labored over tank capacity tables, gradually putting an even trim on the boat. Around him stood members of the crew poised tensely at the most important diving stations in the boat: the flood valves, diving planes and steering control.

A maze of countless valves glittered from the port and starboard bulkhead; red lights, green lights winked on and off from the safety panel located over the motor controls signifying the opening and closing of all hull apertures.

Up on the small semicircular bridge, the captain pored over reports coming to him from every compartment in the teeming shell below him. A veteran submarine officer, his calm, assured manner seemed to have instilled a sense of security and confidence into the apprehensive crew. He was the government’s official “test pilot” for all new underwater craft; a job that was packed with constant danger and one of which he was never envied in the least.

“Shift all control below—course one eight zero.” The quarter- master and signalman scrambled below, leaving the skipper alone on the bridge.

“Both motors ahead one third. Stand by to dive.” A tense gripping suspense followed this order. Then the diving alarm went screaming through the boat. Up on the bridge the captain watched the hull slowly settle, the decks go awash. With a last look about, he dropped through the narrow hatch, locking it secure. “Eyeports awash, sir,” reported the quartermaster as he reached the conning tower. Damn! They must have flooded fast to be going down at this rate. He stepped down into the control room, where a volley of reports came at him.

“Ballast tanks flooded, sir.”

“Pressure in the boat, sir.”

“Ready on the motors, sir.”

The captain glanced quickly at the big depth gauge on the port bulkhead. Thirty feet already and sinking fast. He spoke to the men at the diving planes.

“Diving angle—five degrees. Level off at fifty feet.”

A test dive in a new boat is always made in stages of fifty feet. Wooden battens placed athwart ships throughout the length of the boat record the effects of the pressure on the submarine’s steel sides.

“Stop both motors.” The voice of the captain was cool, efficient. The throbbing motors died away, leaving a penetrating silence filling the boat, broken only by the lapping of the waves caressing the submarine’s exterior.

“Level off.” The captain, his eyes glued on the depth gauge, repeated the order as he saw the needle rush past the fifty-foot mark. The men on the planes strove to check the sudden change in the boat’s diving angle. Eighty, ninety, a hundred feet, and still no sign of leveling off. The faces around the crowded control room had taken on the color of chalk. The S-91 dove still deeper. Every pair of eyes was fixed on the captain.

“Hard rise.” There was a slight tremor in his voice as he shot the order to the men at the diving planes. The power levers were thrown all the way over. A blinding flash came from the diving-gear control panel, paralyzing the men at the planes. They stared helplessly as the bubble in the indicator glass bobbed crazily back and forth. All control of the diving planes was gone. With a sickening lurch the 8-91 plunged for the bottom.

“Blow all ballast!” The man at air manifold fumbled with the big blow valve. The depth gauge now registered 240 feet. Their safety depth was only 300 feet!

Quickly the white-faced skipper stepped forward, brushing the man aside, and gave the valve a strong pull. It was frozen fast! “A wrench, quick!” he shouted. A man darted aft to get one. Half fearfully, he glanced at the depth gauge—280 feet!

He couldn’t wait for the wrench—he had to act fast if he was going to save them.

“Both motors full astern,” came from the captain. It was their only hope now. If the motors could check their plunge long enough to break the air valve loose, they still had a chance. Slowly the powerful motors of the S-91 took hold, sending a violent shudder through the boat as the terrific strain told on her. Tense figures relaxed slightly; the depth gauge needle faltered, stopped at 293 feet. A wrench was quickly put to the frozen valve. A shot of oil, a blow from the light sledge, and it broke free, sending the high pressure streaming into the tanks and forcing the heavy ballast out into the sea.

Steadily regaining her buoyancy, the submarine rose gallantly from the pressure-laden depths.

“Eyeports awash, captain!” The glad cry accompanied by a dull “plop” told them they were back on the surface once more, none the worse for their nerve-racking ordeal. The captain’s recommendations would now mean the boat’s acceptance or rejection.

A few minutes later he finished the brief report:

“General performance of S-91 excellent. No remarks worthy of mentioning.” The distinction that marks the discipline, technique and morale of the submarine service and sets it apart as peculiar to itself and different from every other branch of work in the Navy is expressed by an experienced submarine officer in the following eloquent words: *

The commanding officer of a submarine is a bigger factor in her success than any officer or man in any other type of ship that floats. He alone sees the enemy and he alone makes the estimates upon which the success or failure of the attack depends. But the well-trained crew of a submarine is a team. The Captain calls the signals and carries the ball, but the untimely failure of even the least member of the crew may mean disaster. … To operate a complicated mechanism like a submarine, each individual must be free to volunteer information, to discuss when discussion is profitable, to exercise initiative and discretion in carrying on his duties; yet in other situations he must obey instantly, without question and without thought as to his safety. The recognition of the subtle changes in the situation which determine where and when and in what circumstances these two widely different attitudes are demanded is what makes a good submarine officer.

* By courtesy of Lieutenant Wilfred J. Holmes, retired, writing under the nom-de-plume of “Alec Hudson,” and by permission of The Saturday Evening Post.”

 

 

Passing test depth, sir. 10

Passing test depth, sir.

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A shipmate asked the other night about handling demons.

It’s a simple question that anyone who has been in a submerged submarine can understand. Years after you have left the boat, many still have dreams about what they did. The dreams can be so real sometimes. The feel of the boat sharply turning (even when you subconsciously know you are in your bed in the middle of the country). The claustrophobic surroundings of a dimly lit passageway surrounded by stainless steel covered bulkheads. The sound of the four hundred cycle hum and fan noises that suddenly go quiet. Periscope depth on a winter’s night in some remote sea lane surrounded by passing ships. A relief valve that lifts off its seat shouting its high pressure screams for all to hear.

And test depth.

The designed depth where the hull and all of the equipment are supposed to be able to operate with impunity to the dangers of the deep. Somewhere below, the real demon lives. Crush depth. Your training is filled with stories about the few boats that found where that monster waits to hold you in its death grasp. The sounds of the hull creaking and groaning under the pressure can be felt as you get closer to the test depth. The sound as you get closer to crush depth can only be heard in nightmares.

How do you handle the demons?

The answers are many and as diverse as the men and now women who ride submarines.

Some did their tours and went home in one piece. Some did careers and never look back at all. Others have not fared so well. Broken lives, divorces, substance abuse, isolation from others… all are part of a pattern repeated too many times. Maybe someday someone will be able to explain why some carry the demons with them and some bury them at sea.

Fifty years ago, a submarine named Scorpion was lost.

The legends and stories are many but I only think of the men who went with her to her grave. They were brave men who were performing a mission in defense of this country. They were all relatively young, many had families, and all had expectations of coming home. This crew and ship joined the ill-fated Gato Class submarine named Scorpion that was lost with all hands in 1944. They all gave their lives for our country.

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I am sure that for the next few decades after the second Scorpion was lost, many submariners would go to sea and think about the “What if?” She was a sturdy boat with a good crew. I know I did from time to time. It is easy to do when you know that the boat you are riding was the original Scorpion, repurposed to fulfill another mission. Although she was not lost, the boat she became tested her crew more than once in typhoons and a collision.

My demons? I write about them. Sometimes I go out and do presentations to civic groups and others that have a curiosity about the life. Alcohol never seemed to help. Took me a long time to figure that one out. Prayer works too but so many people put barriers between themselves and God, it is not something that should be taken lightly.

The demons we all faced are familiar to many who have never even submerged on a boat: they are the demons that remind us of our fragile and temporary existence. Accepting that truth is a pretty big step in keeping them in their place.

We will all pass through test depth on our way down one last time… until then, try to be a good shipmate and enjoy the ride.

Mister Mac