A New Wrinkle on H. G. Rickover – A Real Life Saver 4

I was doing a little research this morning about the main subject of a book I am writing and I ran across a little gem that while unrelated was certainly an eye catcher. It had to do with a young Lieutenant named Hyman G. Rickover. Okay, to be fair, he wasn’t all that old when he was recognized in the June 13, 1931 Bureau of Navigation Bulletin Number 159. When Mr. Rickover was already 29 years old, he entered the submarine service. When this mention occurred, he was 31 years old.

The exact wording of the recognition was this:

“The Secretary of the Navy recently addressed letters of commendation to the officers listed below:

Lieutenant Hyman G. Rickover, U.S.N., U.S.S. 48

For rescuing Augustin Pasis, MAtt. 1c, U.S.N. from drowning at the Submarine Base, Coco Solo, Canal Zone”

Petty Officer Pasis was a First Class Mess Attendant that was returning from shore leave when he fell over the side of the boat according to the June 3rd San Antonio Express Newspaper.

To be honest, I only met Admiral Rickover one time.

I was on my third submarine and it was the spring of 1981 when the USS San Francisco was on sea trials. Looking at the frail old man, I was awestruck with how much power he still wielded even in his later years. None of us knew that within a year he would be forced out of the Navy he had spent a life serving. But thinking about his size, it’s hard for me to imagine that even at a younger age, he might have the strength to rescue a drowning sailor. In between other projects today, I did a little research about his time in submarines and especially on the S-48.

I have researched the S boats for years and I know some of the history about the four boats that made up the “4th Group” of S boats. None of them faired very well and the S-48 was no exception.

From the records:

“Rickover preferred life on smaller ships, and he also knew that young officers in the submarine service were advancing quickly, so he went to Washington and volunteered for submarine duty. His application was turned down due to his age, at that time 29 years. Fortunately for Rickover, he ran into his former commanding officer from Nevada while leaving the building, who interceded successfully on his behalf. From 1929 to 1933, Rickover qualified for submarine duty aboard the submarines S-9 and S-48.

On 1 June 1929, S-48 had been reassigned to SubDiv 4, with which she operated through the end of 1929. Then assigned to SubDiv 3, later SubDiv 5, and then Squadron 3, she continued her operations off the New England coast, with an interruption for winter maneuvers to the south. During this time, Lieutenant Hyman G. Rickover was assigned to her. He later credited S-48′s “faulty, sooty, dangerous and repellent engineering” with inspiring his obsession for high engineering standards. She was transferred to the Panama Canal Zone in 1931. On 1 March, she arrived at Coco Solo, whence she operated for four years.

SS-159 S-48

Four “4th Group” S-boats were constructed. The 4th Group S-boats were the largest of the fifty-one S-boats contracted to be built for the United States Navy. These S-boats had six water-tight compartments to enhance internal integrity. S-48 thru S-51 were authorized in FY1920 and laid down 1919-20 at Lake Torpedo Company, Bridgeport CT. They were modified “S” class boats which added an aft torpedo tube which resulted in 27 tons additional displacement. All four commissioned in 1922.

The S-48 Class submarines were 240′ in length overall; had an extreme beam of 21’10”; had a normal surface displacement of 903 tons, and, when on the surface in that condition, had a mean draft of 13’6″. The submarines displaced 1,230 tons when submerged. The designed compliment was 4 officers and 34 enlisted men. The S-boat was equipped with two periscopes. She had a double hull in the center portion of the boat; a single hull at each end of the ship. This S-boat could completely submerge in one minute to periscope depth. Maximum operating (test) depth was 200′.

The submarine was armed with five 21-inch torpedo tubes (four in the bow and one in the stern). Fourteen torpedoes were carried. One 4-inch/50-caliber gun was mounted on the main deck forward of the conning tower fairwater.

Stowage was provided for 44,350 gallons of diesel oil by utilizing some of the ballast tanks as fuel oil tanks. This gave the boat a maximum operating radius of 8,000 miles at ten knots when transiting on the surface. The normal fuel oil load was 23,411 gallons. Two 6-M-85 six-cylinder 900 brake horsepower (at 410 rotations per minute) diesel engines, that had a total output of 1,800 horsepower, that were made by the Busch-Sulzer Brothers Diesel Engine Company at Saint Louis, Missouri, could drive the boat at 14.4 knots when operating on the surface.

Submerged propulsion electrical power was provided by the 120 cell main storage battery which was manufactured by the Gould Storage Battery Company at Trenton (“Trenton makes, the world takes”), New Jersey, which powered two 750 B.H.P. electric motors, with a total output of 1,500 designed brake horsepower, that were manufactured by the Ridgeway Dynamo and Electric Company at Ridgeway, Pennsylvania which turned propeller shafts which turned propellers which drove the submarine at 11 knots, for a short period of time, when submerged.

Two of the four boats would suffer battery explosions and decommissioned in 1927 and a third would be lost when rammed by a merchant ship. The lead ship of the class grounded off New Hampshire during a storm and her crew was evacuated. The resulting repairs and modernization would keep her out of commission for over three years.

In February 1924, S-50 (SS-161) suffered a battery explosion which resulted in exhaustive engineering testing and her early decommissioned in August 1927. On 29 January 1925, S-48 (SS-159) grounded off the New Hampshire coast and her crew was evacuated during a storm. She would be salvaged and modernized, returning to commission in December 1928. S-51 (SS-162) was rammed and sunk by the merchant SS City of Rome off Block Island, RI on 25 September 1925. She was raised in 1926 and sold for scrap in 1930. On 20 April 1926 S-49 (SS-160) suffered a battery explosion and was decommissioned in August 1927.

A Hard Luck Sub

S-48’s hard luck started 10 months after launching, when the yet-to-be-commissioned sub conducted her first test dive in New York Sound off of Penfield Reef on December 7, 1921.

According to press reports, the 240-foot boat “was hardly under water before the shouted reports came from the aft part of the vessel: ‘Engine room flooding! Motor room flooding!’” Emergency procedures kicked in. The men in the aft compartments stumbled forward and the forward compartment doors were shut. “A moment later the stern softly bumped on the bottom. The electric lights went out.” Flashlights in hand, the sub’s Commander, Lt. Francis Smith, ordered the ballast tanks blown, but “the weight of the water in the stern compartments was too much…her nose tilting up a little but that was all.” Two hundred pounds of pig lead ballast bars were jettisoned through an air lock and four dummy torpedoes were shot out, on which the crew had painted “HELP” and “SUBMARINE SUNK HERE” along with numerous milk bottles “in which messages were enclosed giving notice of the plight of the vessel.”

Slowly the bow began to rise like an inverse pendulum, but the stern stuck to the bottom. The upward tilt shifted the stern water. “Port batteries flooding!” yelled a crewman. The New York Evening News described the dramatic moment: “Breathing stopped. A flooded battery means chlorine [gas].” Cmdr. Smith and three crewmen immediately began bailing “to get seawater below the level of the [battery containers]…their hands were burned and every moment or two a whiff [of chlorine gas] drifted across their faces,” making them cough and choke. No sooner had they gotten the water off the port side batteries that the starboard batteries started flooding. At the same time, the boat’s bow continued to tilt upward as more material weight was jettisoned. At 30 degrees, the ships executive officers were certain the bow was above the surface “more than sixty feet from the bottom.”

One member of the crew, while being pushed from behind, wriggled and worked his way out of the sub through a torpedo tube, which was about four feet higher than the ocean surface. A rope was passed up the tube, and the remaining crew of 50 were pulled out one by one. Hot coffee and blankets were also hauled up as the men huddled in the freezing weather. One Sailor’s wet underclothing “was frozen into a solid casing about his shoulders and legs.”

Some of the men went back down into the sub through the torpedo tube and “hauled out mattresses [which]…one by one were burned at the tip of the upstanding bow…the men sitting around their flaming signal…[warming themselves from] a stiff wind…[and] rough waters.” They were finally rescued at 10:30 PM by a passing tug. The ordeal had lasted 14 hours, 10 of which were spent exposed to the frigid elements. Three men were briefly hospitalized for minor chlorine gas inhalation. Most of the men were employees of the Lake Torpedo Boat Co. of Bridgeport, Conn.

Initial reports by the Associated Press claimed that the sub had been hit by a tug boat, but it was later learned that somebody left open one of the airtight “manholes.” Divers were able to secure the hatch and refloat the vessel.

By the following August (1922), the S-48 began its second series of tests on Long Island Sound, diving to a depth of 100 feet and firing torpedoes and “other such trials.” She was accepted and commissioned by the U.S. Navy in October of 1922. Over the next three years, she was in and out of New London, Conn. for repairs. She ran aground twice in 1926 during a violent storm once taking on water, which again caused chlorine gas to form. She was then returned to New London for the fifth time. Due to a lack of repair funds, the submarine was decommissioned. Funds became available in 1927 and repairs commenced, which included a hull extension of 25½ feet. In December 1928, she was recommissioned. Within seven months, she was back at New London undergoing repairs before resuming operations in June 1929.

It was a year later that Rickover joined the crew.

By then, S-48 was the only remaining S-class submarine from the four-boat Group IV consisting of S-48 to S-51. S-49 and S-50 experienced battery explosions and S-51 sank due to a collision with a passenger ship. By the time Rickover reported aboard the S-48, her two surviving sister ships, themselves mechanical and electrical nightmares, had been decommissioned.

In his biography, “Rickover: The Struggle for Excellence,” Francis Duncan reports on a myriad of mechanical and electrical problems confronted by the young engineering officer on his first cruise aboard the S-48. He relates that the pneumatic control valves used to submerge the ship never “synchronized [properly and thus when diving] she [always] lurched to one side or the other…to as much as twelve degrees.” Rickover wrote about his first cruise in July of 1930. Less than an hour into the cruise, a malfunctioning electrical controller forced the sub to stop. Once fixed, the gyro compass repeater then “went haywire…[making it] impossible to steer a correct course,” he reported. About an hour later, an exhaust valve stem cracked, forcing another stop. It was repaired and “then three…cylinder jackets of the port engine developed leaks… [Rickover, fearing the Captain] would become disgusted [with his performance] took the chance and ran with the leaky cylinder jackets…” If that wasn’t enough, several hours later “the electrician reported…something wrong with one of the main motors.” Crawling into the bilges to check out a “jangling in the bow,” he discovered the anchor chain was loose, “the control panel for the anchor windlass had become grounded.”

Two months later, smoke belched from a ventilator fan; a main battery had caught fire. According to Thomas Rockwell in his book, “The Rickover Effect,” the skipper, fearing an explosion, “ordered all men on deck, prepared to jump overboard if the expected hydrogen explosion occurred.” Believing the problem was his responsibility, Rickover volunteered to re-enter the sub and fix the problem. Rickover wrote, “the smoke was coming from the battery compartment…when it was opened black smoke billowed forth… Wearing a gas mask and trailing a lifeline [Rickover ventured through the hatch].” Finding no fire, he rigged a ventilating system and lime was placed in the compartment to absorb carbon dioxide. A later examination revealed that the fire had started by sparking battery connections. Three hours later, a short circuit in the “charred battery connections” started yet another fire, which he unsuccessfully attempted to put out with a carbon tetrachloride fire extinguisher. In desperation, he successfully sprinkled lime on the flames. It worked. The cause of the second fire was old and deteriorating insulation. Rockwell also relates that Rickover was confronted with propulsion motors that “were a continual source of trouble.” Showing his hands-on approach to problem solving, “he redesigned and rebuilt them [after which] they caused no further trouble.”

13 June 1931 Bureau of Navigation Bulletin… Rickover commended for saving a petty officer form drowning

In July 1931, Rickover was promoted to Executive Officer.

In November, the S-48 had another mishap. She started a dive for a practice torpedo run and immediately “she took a twelve-degree list and a sharp downward angle. At seventy feet…she was out of control…blowing the tanks…brought her up… [A later] investigation showed a vent valve had failed to open.” In February of 1932, after several diving mishaps, a group of officers “nervous and tired, had drawn up a message…for all to sign, stating the ship was unsafe and could not complete her assignment.” According to Duncan, “Rickover argued them out of it…it would be bad for the reputations of all concerned and [told them] that he could work out a new diving procedure.” His diving protocol meant diving took longer, but it worked.

The 1932 Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies

The first gravity measurements at sea had been made in 1926 from a submarine of the Royal Navy. The first U.S. gravity measurements at sea had been made from the submarine USS S-21 (SS-126), assisted by the Eagle Boats USS Eagle No. 35 and USS Eagle No. 58.

S-48 was assigned at the request of the Hydrographer of the Navy by the Secretary of the Navy to assist with the second U.S. expedition to obtain gravity measurements at sea using a gravimeter, or gravity meter, designed by Dr. Felix Vening Meinesz. Meinesz, joined by Dr. Harry Hammond Hess of Princeton University, and a U.S. Navy technician, participated in the expedition. The submarine was accompanied and assisted by the minesweeper USS Chewink (AM-39) in a route from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Key West, Florida and return to Guantanamo through the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos region from 5 February through 25 March 1932. The description of operations and results of the expedition were published by the U.S. Navy Hydrographic Office in The Navy-Princeton gravity expedition to the West Indies in 1932.

SS-159 S-48

Despite her frequent mechanical and electrical mishaps, sinking’s, and groundings, the Lake Torpedo Boat Co. built S-48 was finally deactivated in 1935 and berthed at League Island, N.Y. At the beginning of WWII, she was reactivated and used for training at New London. “Overhaul and repair periods [during the war] were frequent,” history records.

The hard luck S-48 was decommissioned in 1945 and scrapped the following year after 25 years of service, three of which inspired one of the Navy’s most respected and honored seamen.”

I do not know what happened to the man Rickover saved. He had a son that lived in Norfolk but the only other records I could find indicated that he followed a sailor’s life. Like Rickover, he was in his late twenties or early thirties so I can imagine that he would continue on serving the Navy through the next decade at least.

Like most people that rode nuc boats, we owed a lot to the man who guided the Navy’s nuclear power program. I have a new appreciation for him after reading about his exploits on the S 48 boat.

Mister Mac

A photo of S-48 (SS-159) which was taken in November 1931 at Submarine Base Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone aboard the boat. Persons from left to right are: LTJG Howard Walter Gilmore as a LCDR, he later commanded the S-48 in 1940 and in 1941 commanded the Shark (SS-174), in 1942 he became 1st CO of the Growler(SS-215) where he was KIA. Howard W. Gilmore (AS-16) was named in honor of him. LT Hyman George Rickover was last CO of the S-9 (SS-114) until 15-APR-1931 and also later commanded the S-48 as a LCDR in 1937. He became Admiral and father of the nuclear navy. Hyman G. Rickover (SSN-709) was named in honor of him. LTJG William Ramon Headden later commanded Plunger (SS-179) from 26-JAN-1939 to 22-FEB-1941 as a LCDR and destroyer Edison (DD-439) from 01-MAR-1942 to 24-02-1943 as a CDR. LTJG Frederic August Graf commissioned the transport ship John Land (AP-167) as CAPT and first CO. LT Olton Rader Bennehoff was CO of S-48 when the picture was taken. He took command of S-48 23-JUNE-1931. He previously commnded Eagle #7 (PE-7) since 24-NOV-1918 and the submarine S-11 (SS-116) since 02-JAN-1926. He probably had a second tour as CO as a LCDR in S-48 in 1934. In WW II he became the one and only CO of amphibious transport ship Thomas Stone (APA-29) from 18-MAY-1942 to 01-APR-1944.

 

 

 

 

 

A Prophesy From Nearly a Hundred Years Ago is Just as True Today 8

Everywhere you look these days, people are reacting to the senseless deaths of innocent people and wondering how we can stop the killing.

I think its a fair question. But I think we are not examining the root causes of what seems to be an increase in evil actions. Society has become very sophisticated since the days when the Europeans and others came to the shores of America. The vast country that lay before them was already inhabited, albeit with people who were not as organized and ready to repel the invaders. The resulting turmoil between natives and invaders was exacerbated by the conflict between the “Old Countries” that sought to take advantage of the new lands for their own purposes.

At one point, the invaders became the nation we are today.

The old ways of kings and queens were rejected and a representative form of government emerged. Laws were struck and revised and slowly the nation evolved as a new entity with a purpose and a culture of its own. Along the way, a man or a woman no longer had the day to day fear of attack from the forces of nature, other warring parties, or just people with bad purposes. Communities sprung up and men no longer had to carry their weapons openly to provide for individual liberties and security. Gunfights in the street diminished and new laws were created to govern behavior. The police would be the new protectors and ordinary people could just go about their business building the new country.

See the source image

But all of those circumstances were surrounded by one constant. We had moral codes. We had religion as a backbone to society and a family structure that held people and particularly children accountable. Schools had structure, business had rules, the police were respected if not feared, and the government was something that was there to help manage it all.

Well, that is the illusion anyway. Things always seem to look better in the rear view mirror.

I have been researching the early 1900’s for a book I am writing. Some of the articles I have been finding come from the Library of Congress’s Project called Chronicling America. The project entails digitally recording newspapers in their entirety from all over the country. This storehouse of information is free (so far) and shines a light on what the world was really like back in the day. Some of the stories about what really did happen back in the day. Killings by shooting, stabbing, poisoning and so on fill many of the pages. Violence all over the world is recorded in nearly every decade. Bank robbing’s, stickups, home invasions, and on and on. Frankly, the idea that violence is a new thing is as ludicrous as thinking that man has ever really had a peaceful period.

The main difference now is the way we are all connected electronically through the internet and cable.

Unless you live in a cave and have no connection (which means you aren’t able to read this) you are being influenced by someone’s opinion or interpretation of the facts as they occur. Somewhere today, large groups of young people who were disturbed enough to put down their video games, are gathering to protest something. Some believe that taking away everyone’s guns will make it a safer world. The less idealized may think that just regulating the guns is a good solution. Mind you, none of them is old enough to own a gun, but they somehow have the wisdom to know how to fix what has been an almost non stop problem since the day Cain picked up the first rock.

See the source image

The question of guns and weapons is not a new one.

In 1919, the first World War had just ended and the countries were still counting the cost of the carnage. New and powerful weapons had reached an industrial strength that no one could have imagined. Mass bombardments, gas, machine guns, airplane and even the deadly creature from the sea called a submarine. In the months and years that followed Armistice Day, nations began the struggle to contain the beasts they had unleashed. The British had been particularly hard hit by the submarine menace and determined to eradicate the foul little beast no matter the cost. Other nations who saw the boats as a great equalizer fought hard to prevent the Brits from having their way. The American’s saw the fledgling weapon as a tool of the future. Its a good thing they did. When the Japanese left the battleship fleet lying on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, it was American Submarines that helped to carry the war back to the enemy almost immediately. Imagine if the Brits had been successful in their quest.

This is an article from the time that was pretty prophetic

From “The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 17 Jan. 1919”

I would suggest that we pay heed to those words of nearly a hundred years ago.

For all those willing to surrender the second amendment, how do you propose protecting the remaining amendments?

Or are you just going to rely on the good will of others?

#notme

Mister Mac

I love LA 3

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

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

as the USS Los Alamos (AFDB 7).

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

A chance for a new life for a venerable name

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the source image

Virginia Class Submarine

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

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

This is one heritage that should not be forgotten.

Mister Mac

The Build – Reflections from an Old Docking Officer 3

The Build

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

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

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

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

Someone has to create the build.

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

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

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

There is little room for error.

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

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

Apparently someone thought he was Captain Morgan

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

No pressure at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mister Mac

 

Primus in Pace – USS George Washington SSBN 598 Reply

Post #598: Primus In Pace

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

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

Primus in Pace

My Qual Boat : 1974

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

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

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

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

 

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

The new kid

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

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

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

Man Battle Stations – cue the really annoying electronic alarm

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

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

There was no place to go.

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

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

The wave

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

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

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

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

Fairwaters jammed on full rise

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

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

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

A different kind of war, a different kind of warrior

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

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

 

Saying Goodbye

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

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

 

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

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

Mister Mac

Post number 597… Submarine Number 597 4

An odd kind of submarine

USS Tullibee

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

 

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

From an article on Global Security.org

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

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

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

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

SSN-597 USS Tullibee Patch

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mister Mac

 

Random Thoughts from theleansubmariner… I lived 3

I lived.
I could have chosen to stay in my hometown and learned a trade. I could have hidden from life’s greatest challenges and been safe. But instead…

I lived.
I could have worked harder to gain acceptance to a fine educational institution and maybe be part of a fraternity that I could look back on years later and think how special I was. But instead…

I lived.
I lived on a boat that was designed to defy the sea and all its challenges. I lived a life of sacrifice that often defied logic. Many of the people I lived it for didn’t even know I was doing it. Or cared. And hardly appreciated the gift. But despite that…

I lived.
I lived with men who left their own families and personal freedom to protect total strangers. I lived with them in a world surrounded by darkness and enemies of every kind. We saw some amazing things and we remained silent through it all. And because of that…

I lived a life worth living. A life that has sustained me through my later years. When the Angels call me home and ask me what I did, I only have one response.

I was a Submariner. I lived.

Mister Mac   aka theleansubmariner

 

Homecoming… its a harder journey than you think without brothers 11

When you get to a certain point in your life you start taking stock of what mattered.

The first seventeen or eighteen years of most people’s lives are the foundations for much of who they become. If you grew up in Middle America, your understanding of relationships, education, and spirituality are all forged from those basic foundations. I will admit that I truly struggled with all three of these in those early years. By the time I was seventeen, I had shown remarkably little interest or aptitude in any of the categories.

Perhaps because I was so much like him, my relationship with my Dad was tortured if nothing else. As I got older he got less well informed and my defiance ended at least once in a physical altercation (which I lost). As a middle kid, I never really fit into any of my brothers or sisters circles so mostly went out on my own. I saw a great description of how service members see themselves and the Navy person was described as being the adventurous middle child that left home and nobody cared. (To be fair, my Mom cried when I left but she was also convinced I would end up in Vietnam and get killed). One of my favorite family pictures is of me in uniform after I came home from Boot Camp. I never really noticed it until a short while ago but the looks on my sibling’s faces were pretty telling. “Can we just get this over with and aren’t you supposed to be leaving soon?” I know that look pretty well since I just saw it again a short while ago.

The education part was a struggle too. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to read, its just that the teachers kept making me read the wrong books. Given a choice, I would have read every book about the Navy and warfare that had ever been written. But it was the late sixties and early seventies and frankly we were on the cutting edge of books about hating wars and the military and the ecology was just beginning its rise to worship status. So I did the minimum and guaranteed that I would receive rejection letters from every college that I applied for. The only group that seemed to be interested were people in uniforms and frankly by the time I was seventeen, I was ready to get away from endless classes and boring curriculum.

I will save the spirituality part for another time. Let’s just say that God probably got tired of trying to get through to me. I am eternally grateful for the redemption I am assured of now but at the time, well, I was seventeen and bulletproof. The whole matter of a higher power just seemed a bit unnecessary.

Mom, Dad and my girlfriend saw me off to the airport and the real learning lessons of my life began.

In Boot Camp, I learned that you could rely on another person and it wasn’t on a phony or contrived basis. You were all going through the same testing and in the end, if you failed the team, you paid a price. So you learned to pay attention to details, pull your share, and trust your shipmates. After fourteen weeks (the war was still on and I was in the band), we graduated and were sent to our next commands or school. I found out quickly there were real consequences to failing and not some far off threat of a career opportunity. The steam and hydraulics that powered many ships could actually kill you just as quick as a bullet. The gasses used to refrigerate or air condition were invisible demons that replaced the very air that you need to breath. And every modern vessel relies on electricity in some form or another and that little devil will light you up just like a light bulb on your way to being dead.

Submarine school just made the learning more relevant. It seemed like from the first day you got there, you were exposed to more and more things that were designed to do one thing but actually had a side effect of doing another; killing you and your fellow submariners if you did it wrong. Hard to believe that its been forty five years this month (2018)

During all this learning, you start to figure out that even as dangerous as all of these things are, if you follow the directions and become qualified, you will find yourself surrounded with a whole group of people who have also committed themselves to not getting killed. As you grow, you find out that most if not all of them also know that working together as a team will push you beyond what you ever thought you could do. You found the capacity to overcome amazing odds together.

Over time, they become your family.

The members of the family often change because of duty rotations, but that family grows and grows. For those of us lucky enough to make a career of the Navy (even a shortened one or one that had broken service) you discover that these family members are the ones that have the most meaning. Outside of those of you who have had a great marriage like me, these are the people who made a difference in your life.

  • There is the Chief who took a very non-focused young Midwesterner and made him into a fire breathing sea devil capable of fighting a galley fire and setting a broken bone in a state four sea.
  • There is a shipmate that made you work your ass off for a qualification signature but was the first one to shake your hand when you put your fish on.
  • There is that first time that a non-qual comes to you and asks for help and you make sure they get the same advice and knowledge you did. You know that you will be able to count on them because you did your best to train them to the same high standard.
  • There is the shipmate who was so happy to get that letter from home only to find out his girlfriend grew tired of waiting and now he faces a future of uncertainty.
  • There is the watch section that has just spend a harrowing six hours doing something submariners never admit to outsiders they have done in defense of our country only to be racked out for a field day or drill.
  • There is a boat that always seems to be first in line when it comes to unplanned deployments. It’s almost as if you are the only boat in the harbor. But you suck it up, load stores and go do your job
  • There is a radio message to the Captain telling him that he needs to tell your shipmate that his Mom didn’t make it to the end of the patrol or mission. And we can’t go home just quite yet.

There is that day when you see each other years later at some boat reunion and all of the memories come flooding back. And you all hoist a beer and say

“Hell yes, I’d do it all again.”

You would do it all again with your brothers and for some of us a few sisters too. That is the often unstated part of the vow. The men and women you qualified with, suffered through long deployments with, struggled through untold hardships, and every once in a while blew off a little steam in a foreign port.

There is an old saying that you can’t go home again.

I believe there is some partial truth to that. The things that you saw and lived through for the first seventeen years of your life were all done in a place that probably didn’t move or grow very much while you were gone. They learned to live without you just like you learned to live without them. It’s the nature of things I suppose. In the past five years since we moved back to the area I grew up in, that has become abundantly clear. In fact, you often learn that some of those who never moved away actually resent you for thinking you could come back and have a role. They know nothing of your life just as you can’t possibly imagine why someone would miss a lifetime of adventures.

On days like those, I remember my brothers (and a few sisters of note).

I think about all the places we went and all the challenges we overcame. I think about the joy of seeing a brother advance in rank or get his dolphins. I know that they earned and did something that the average person can never understand. I am grateful for each and every one of my family that has stayed faithful and loyal over the past forty five plus years. You listened without judgement, you honored me when I deserved it and you tightened my chain on the times when I have been wrong. But you always did it in a way that showed me I could trust you. I hope when the final muster is taken, you can say the same about me.

Mister Mac

Birth of the Boomers 2

Happy New Year from TLS

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

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

Now for something completely different

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

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

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

Here is the link to the article.

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

Enjoy the read

Mister Mac

 

The one thing you can’t stop 2

Today marks the end of yet another year.

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

Time has a way of creeping up on you.

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

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

We have some remarkable nautical memorials

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

    

The ones we didn’t save

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

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

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

A Remarkable Record

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

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

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

Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant SC

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

Time takes its toll on everything.

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

How a Docking Officer views the world

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

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

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

Can’t we save them all?

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

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

A proper remembrance

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

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

The future

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

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

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

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

Some of us are more interested than others.

Mister Mac