Post Number 637 – Commemorating the USS Sturgeon SSN 637 7

Workhorses of the Cold War

Over forty years ago when I first volunteered for submarine duty, one of the hottest boats in the fleet was the boats of the 637 Class. These workhorses were responsible for so many missions during the Cold War that it would be  impossible to catalog them all on a single blog post.

Most people will never know how many times these boats performed missions that protected our country. Their missions were secret then and many probably remain so now. But like all submarines, they are only as good as the men who manned them. I salute the service and sacrifice that each crew member made in the defense of this great nation. Submariners receive the designation of “SS” when they become qualified.

Service and Sacrifice seem to fit that title very well.

To all who served on these fine submarines, hand salute.

 

SSN-637 Sturgeon class

STURGEON class submarines were built for anti-submarine warfare in the late 1960s and 1970s. Using the same propulsion system as their smaller predecessors of the SSN-585 Skipjack and SSN-594 Permit classes, the larger Sturgeons sacrificed speed for greater combat capabilities.

They were equipped to carry the HARPOON missile, the TOMAHAWK cruise missile, and the MK-48 and ADCAP torpedoes. Torpedo tubes were located amidships to accommodate the bow-mounted sonar. The sail-mounted dive planes rotate to a vertical position for breaking through the ice when surfacing in Arctic regions.

Beginning with SSN-678 Archerfish units of this class had a 10-foot longer hull, giving them more living and working space than previous submarines of the Sturgeon Class.

A total of six Sturgeon-class boats were modified to carry the SEAL Dry Deck Shelter [DDS], one in 1982 and five between 1988 and 1991. They were SSN 678-680, 682, 684, 686 were listed as “DDS Capable” — either permanently fitted with the DDS or trained with them. In this configuration they were primarily tasked with the covert insertion of Special Forces troops from an attached Dry Deck Shelter (DDS). The Dry Deck Shelter was a submersible launch hanger with a hyperbaric chamber that attaches to the ship’s Weapon Shipping Hatch. The DDS provided the most tactically practical means of SEAL delivery due to its size, capabilities, and location on the ship.

Rapidly phased out in favor of the LOS ANGELES and SEAWOLF Classes of attack submarines, this venerable and flexible workhorse of the submarine attack fleet has been completely retired now. Attracting little publicity during its heyday, this class of ship was the platform of choice for many of the Cold War missions for which submarines were now famous.

SSN 637 USS Sturgeon

Sturgeon’s keel was laid down by General Dynamics Corporation, Groton, CT, 10AUG63; Launched: 26FEB66; Sponsored by Mrs. Everett Dirkson; Commissioned: 3MAR67 with Cdr. Curtis B. Shellman, Jr. in command; Decommissioned: 1AUG94

USS STURGEON (SSN637) was the third ship of the line to bear the name STURGEON and the lead ship of 37 nuclear fast attack submarines of the Sturgeon-class.

STURGEON departed Groton, Connecticut in April 1967 and conducted her shakedown cruise down the east coast with ports of call in Norfolk, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, St. Croix in the American Virgin Islands, and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. In September she conducted the first of her many extended submarine operations. Upon return to port, STURGEON was transferred to Development Group 2. In January 1968 the boat began a five week antisubmarine exercise to evaluate the relative effectiveness of the STURGEON and PERMIT class submarines.

In late May and early June of 1968 STURGEON participated in the search for the lost submarine USS SCORPION (SSN-589) in the vicinity of the Azores. She then participated in tests and evaluations of a new sonar detection device from December 1968 to February 1969. After a brief visit to the Naval Academy in March 1969 her crew held intense training for her deployment in May. STURGEON was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal for her outstanding service in 1968. She received a second Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal for completing a special project for the CNO.

From January to April 1970 STURGEON was deployed. She then spent several weeks aiding and evaluating aircraft anti-submarine warfare tactics and equipment. She also participated in intense submarine exercises and sound trials. From October 1970 until October 1971 STURGEON was in overhaul in Groton, Connecticut, where she received the Navy Unit Commendation Medal for exceptional Service in 1970.

After completing her overhaul STURGEON was transferred to Submarine Squadron Ten based at New London. She completed her refresher training and shakedown cruise and then participated in two antisubmarine exercises before returning to Groton for a restricted availability period. Once completed, STURGEON began extensive tests on sonar systems until the end of 1972.

Starting in 1973, STURGEON conducted extended submarine operations in the Narragansett Bay Op Area. In April she sailed to the fleet weapons range in the Caribbean where she ran aground and was forced to return to Groton in June to repair damage. She then conducted extensive local operations and finally entered Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to effect bow repairs. She remained in the yard until April 1974.

After sea trials and a ten day upkeep STURGEON sailed to Norfolk to join other fleet units participating in Atlantic Readiness Exercise 1-73. In November of that same year STURGEON sailed for the Mediterranean for a six-month deployment with the 6th Fleet. STURGEON spent Christmas and New Year’s in Naples, Italy, and then spent the next few months conducting sea trials, ASW exercises and various other operations in the Med. She returned to New London in May 1975 and conducted post deployment standdown. For the rest of 1975 she conducted midshipmen operations and participated in exercises MOBY DICK and OCEAN SAFARI which ended with a port visit in Rosyth, Scotland.

In June 1976 STURGEON was transferred from Squadron Ten to Submarine Squadron Four homeported in Charleston, South Carolina. STURGEON again deployed to the Med in May 1978 here she conducted many special operations and also participated in the Mediterranean ASW Week and National Week XXV. She was highly commended by COMSIXTHFLT for here outstanding performance. She returned to Charleston in November and commenced a well deserved standdown.

In 1979 STURGEON was again making preparations to deploy. She deployed from June until September and had various port visits which included Holy Loch, Scotland and Wilhelmshaven, Germany. Upon return to port she conducted a Selected Restricted Availability period at the Charleston Naval Shipyard.

In September 1980 STURGEON again departed to the Med where she conducted ASW operations and participated in USN PASSEX with the 30th Airwing of Italy. She returned to Charleston in February 1981 for standdown and upkeep. In August 12981 STURGEON participated in OPERATION OCEAN VENTURE 81, Phase IV and crossed the Arctic Circle on 1 September 1981 at 006 41′ East. She was awarded the Battle Efficiency “E,” engineering “E,” the Antisubmarine Warfare and Operations “A” and the Damage Control “DC” for fiscal year 1981.

From January to March 1982 STURGEON conducted special operations. She was the first U.S. nuclear submarine to visit Brest, France, and the first U.S. nuclear submarine since 1969 to visit any French port.

In March 1984 STURGEON provided support for a multi-national task group engaged in amphibious operations in the eastern Atlantic and Norwegian Sea. She also visited Trondheim, Norway where she hosted the Lord Mayor of Trondheim, Commander Trondelag Naval District, and the U.S. Ambassador to Norway.

During January 1985 STURGEON provided vital SEAL support during diver operations. STURGEON at that time completed a record number Lock Ins/Lock Outs for SSN diver operations. She also conducted a number of SEAL full mission profiles and developed new techniques to improve success, particularly in the area associated with rendezvous and recovery. In February STURGEON conducted two special CNO operational evaluations on USS FLYING FISH (SSN-673). In March STURGEON hosted commander Submarine Group SIX.

RADM Stanley Catola, and a group of local businessmen and community leaders on a dependent’s cruise. STURGEON then entered the yards for a non-refueling overhaul at Charleston, South Carolina Naval Shipyard which lasted until November 1986. While in the yards, STURGEON updated her Sonar to the BQWQ-5C, Fire Control to the CCS MK-1 and gave the ship the capability to shoot Tomahawk Missiles.

In early 1987 STURGEON completed all tests and certifications for here new systems satisfactorily. In August she deployed to the Mediterranean, the first deployment since 1985. STURGEON remained in the Med for the rest of 1987 and while there developed new operational procedures for employment of the MK-67 SLMN mines. She returned to Charleston on 31 January 1988.

1988 was highlighted by STURGEON passing a surprise ORSE with superior performance, a TRE with a grade of above average and a NPTI with a grade of outstanding in 10 of 12 categories. She then went into SRA to update the fire control system to give her the capability to shoot ADCAP MK-48 torpedoes. For her efforts in fiscal year 1988 STURGEON was judged as one of the outstanding submarines of the Atlantic Fleet. The boat was awarded a second consecutive Battle “E”, engineering “E” and the Supple “E” for Submarine Squadron Four.

In March 1989 STURGEON deployed to the Arctic Ocean for ICEX 1-89. While deployed she hosted a Congressional delegation on the ice pack. STURGEON also conducted several missions of scientific importance and a joint operation with the British Navy to further develop ASW capabilities. She returned to homeport in June. In September 1989 Hurricane Hugo devastated the South Carolina coast. STURGEON remained in port due to a Steam Generator Inspection and came through the storm with no damage. In the aftermath of the storm STURGEON sailors assisted the local community and provided assistance to 643 families.

STURGEON was again deployed from June to September 1990 and was awarded the Battle “E,” Engineering “E,” ASW “A,” and the Supple “E” for that fiscal year.

In January 1991 STURGEON was included in the highly successful operation SWAMP FOX, a multi-unit exercise that took her to a port visit in Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico. From April to June STURGEON completed another highly successful deployment. STURGEON then entered a Selected Restricted Availability and underwent a complete refurbishing, leaving the drydock in mid-October. For her effort in 1991 STURGEON once again was awarded the Battle “E”, ASW “A”, and the Communications “C.”

1992 saw STURGEON completing another highly successful exercise SWAMP FOX 92. After the exercise STURGEON spent a week in Cap Canaveral, Florida. In late August, STURGEON deployed to the North Atlantic, diverting to Faslane, Scotland for repairs. After leaving Faslane for tests in the Irish Sea, STURGEON became entangled in an Irish fisherman’s net. No one was injured and minor damage was done to both vessels. STURGEON then returned to Charleston for repairs.

1993 was STURGEON’s final full year of operation. Intensive training for a highly sensitive CNO project occupied the majority of STURGEON’s time. However, STURGEON had a chance for a port visit to Port Everglades, Florida in July. In early October STURGEON departed Charleston to participate in SWAMP FOX 93-1 and then deploy. STURGEON returned to Charleston in late November following the completion of another very successful deployment.

In December 1993 and January 1994 STURGEON’s crew once more conducted an intense upkeep, preparing for her deactivation ceremony, several short operations, and final transit to Bremerton, Washington for decommissioning. She was deactivated in Charleston, South Carolina on January 14, 1994, and decommissioned on 1 August 1994. She was scrapped at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 11 Sep 1995.

On September 15, 1995 at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington, a ceremony commemorated the transfer of the USS STURGEON (SSN637) sail from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The sail, now located in the museum parking lot, is the only detached sail from a nuclear fast attack submarine on display anywhere in the United States.

Correction from a shipmate: I really enjoy your posts. However, I would like to point out that my qual boat, USS Lapon (SSN 661) sail is on display at American Legion Post 639 in Springfield Missouri. Lapon was also a Sturgeon Class boat.

So Apparently there are two! Good to know but the bucket list just grew again.

The USS Surgeon and I were both decommissioned on the same day (August 1, 1994). As I look at the world around us, I sure do wish both of us could sail again to counter the threats that are emerging. Thank God we have new boats and new submariners willing to raise their hands (twice) and service this great nation.

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

“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

Passing test depth, sir. 10

Passing test depth, sir.

Image result for submarine underwater

 

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.

See the source image

 

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