The Crew 5

The Crew

As I look back over the past forty five years, I keep wondering what it was about serving on submarines was the part of my life that had the most impact on my life. As I look around social media, it’s not too hard to see that I am not alone in that view. Don’t get me wrong. My marriage to Debbie and my parents were impactful and meaningful in many ways that transcend the service, but no other single thing has been as much of a driver as those days on board the boats I was a crew member of.

You can get a little tunnel vision looking back across all of those years and forget there were bad things. Not enough sleep, separation from the family and real world, stress that was off the charts surrounded by unbelievable boredom and sleeping on a foam mattress in a space the size of a coffin (if you were lucky). But there are the good memories that seem to overshadow most of those. When you are young and new to the game, it’s getting a signature on your qualification card. Not just an easy one but one of the really complicated ones that require an inordinate amount of knowledge and skill. With each succeeding signature, you come closer and closer to that goal. Not just the physical symbol of the dolphins, but knowing that you will be seen as a fully qualified member of the crew.

The current trend for many millennials is something called person branding. Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal-branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging. Tom Peters, a management Guru, is thought to have been the first to use and discuss this concept in a 1997 article.

Personal branding is the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual, group, or organization.

Being a submariner has always been about personal branding but in a bigger way. The focus as you qualify is very inward. You are trying your best to learn the knowledge and become an expert in the skills that make a good submariner. From damage control to operating the ship’s systems, you must be able to contribute in every sense of the need when the ship is operating or when it is involved in a casualty (real of practice). And everyone on board is a member of the combat and casualty teams. You might be a phone talker or you might be the nozzle man on the hose preparing to fight the infamous deep fat fryer fire but you will play some role.

My first experience on an aircraft carrier as a Chief (I was teaching classes while the Nimitz was underway) was a real eye opener. A drill was announced over the PA system and I was trying to rush to my battle station. What stunned me is that not everyone was moving at the speed of light to get to where they should have been. Only designated “Flying Squads” of DC men were in motion. I cannot even imagine that happening on any submarine I ever served on.

But the inward focus gives way to a crew focus once you qualify as a submariner. You have about five minutes to gloat that you have achieved something many never do or could do. Then you start to focus on actually learning how your role is part of the crew’s success. You qualify increasingly more complicated roles on the boat and you learn that you are now expected to train the ones that will come behind you. It is stunning when I look back how quickly the transition from non-qual to subject matter expert comes. Not because you are that amazing of a person but out of necessity.

The first time I found myself “in charge” was when I learned what real challenges are. Even on submarines, there is a small team for nearly every task (with the exception of the Corpsman and sometimes the Ship’s Yeoman). All of the other divisions have work related to their equipment and division’s responsibility. Each of those divisions need leaders and when you suddenly find yourself in charge on that special day, you pray that your training and the coaching you have received will be enough.

The branding for a submarine is twofold. You want to come back to the surface every time you dive and if you have any pride at all, you want your boat to be known and remembered as being the best. To be the best, you must first outperform the enemies abilities but you must also consistently rise to the top among a group of submariners that already think they are the best crews; your Squadron Mates.

To get there, you drill. Drills mean getting more proficient and better able to manage the unlimited challenges presented by operating in the ocean’s depths. All of that means sacrifice. Since there is no place to hide, sleep deprivation and personal sacrifices become common place. Tempers can often flare and we are often pushed to the limit. But the ship’s that drill the hardest are the ones who are rewarded with the recognition of external teams and the personal satisfaction of knowing you can take almost anything the ocean can throw at you.

All of this binds you together as a crew. To longer you serve on a boat, the more your personal brand is overshadowed by the brand of the boat. If you are really lucky, this will last for the rest of your life.

I have been away from the Navy and submarines now for many years. But I still proudly display my dolphins as the single greatest achievement of my career. More than my rank, more than my awards, more than the letters and medals that came from those days. I will always be glad that when my nation needed me, I was lucky enough to volunteer twice and serve with the greatest crews I could have ever asked for. That certainly includes my non-submarine crews but I am eternally grateful to have earned my fish.

Mister Mac

 

“The sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster” The Story of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz 2

The sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster.

This was the early childhood lesson taught to the boy who would later become one of the most influential leaders in the United States Navy. He was significantly influenced by his German-born paternal grandfather, Charles Henry Nimitz, a former seaman in the German Merchant Marine, who taught him, “the sea – like life itself – is a stern taskmaster. The best way to get along with either is to learn all you can, then do your best and don’t worry – especially about things over which you have no control.”

Few men in modern American Naval history have had as much influence on its success as Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. This article comes from the official Navy Records and shows his progression from a Texas boy to one of the most brilliant minds in Naval Warfare in the Twentieth Century.

Nimitz’s work in submarines not only ensured that the Navy had a powerful answer to the attack the left a smoking mess in the Pearl Harbor but helped to deliver a crushing blow to the Japanese.

At the end of his biography, there is a short section about what he predicted in March of 1948 about the future of warfare. There are some critical lessons from the previous war and some stern warnings about what we whould do do be prepared for in the future.

The future is now.

Mister Mac

The boy from Texas

Chester William Nimitz was born on 24 February 1885, near a quaint hotel in Fredericksburg, Texas built by his grandfather, Charles Nimitz, a retired sea captain. Young Chester, however, had his sights set on an Army career and while a student at Tivy High School, Kerrville, Texas, he tried for an appointment to West Point. When none was available, he took a competitive examination for Annapolis and was selected and appointed from the Twelfth Congressional District of Texas in 1901.

He left high school to enter the Naval Academy Class of 1905. It was many years later, after he had become a Fleet Admiral that he actually was awarded his high school diploma. At the Academy Nimitz was an excellent student, especially in mathematics and graduated with distinction — seventh in a class of 114. He was an athlete and stroked the crew in his first class year. The Naval Academy’s yearbook, “Lucky Bag”, described him as a man “of cheerful yesterdays and confident tomorrows.”

After graduation he joined USS Ohio in San Francisco and cruised in her to the Far East.

On 31 January 1907, after the two years’ sea duty then required by law, he was commissioned Ensign, and took command of the gunboat USS Panay. He then commanded USS Decatur and was court martialed for grounding her, an obstacle in his career which he overcame.

He returned to the U. S. in 1907 and was ordered to duty under instruction in submarines, the branch of the service in which he spent a large part of his sea duty. His first submarine was USS Plunger (A- 1). He successively commanded USS Snapper, USS Narwal and USS Skipjack until 1912. On 20 March of that year, Nimitz, then a Lieutenant, and commanding officer of the submarine E-1 (formerly Skipjack), was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal by the Treasury Department for his heroic action in saving W.J. Walsh, Fireman second class, USN, from drowning. A strong tide was running and Walsh, who could not swim, was rapidly being swept away from his ship. Lieutenant Nimitz dove in the water and kept Walsh afloat until both were picked up by a small boat.

He had one year in command of the Atlantic Submarine Flotilla before coming ashore in 1913 for duty in connection with building the diesel engines for the tanker USS Maumee at Groton, Conn. In that same year, he was sent to Germany and Belgium to study engines at their Diesel Plants. With that experience he subsequently served as Executive Officer and Engineering Officer of the Maumee until 1917 when he was assigned as Aide and Chief of Staff to COMSUBLANT. He served in that billet during World War I.

In September 1918 he came ashore to duty in the office of the Chief of Naval Operations and was a member of the Board of Submarine Design. His first sea duty in big ships came in 1919 when he had one year’s duty as Executive Officer of the battleship USS South Carolina. In 1920 he went to Pearl Harbor to build the submarine base there. Next assigned to the Naval War College, his studies of a possible Pacific Ocean war’s logistics would become extremely relevant two decades later.

In 1922 he was assigned as a student at the Naval War College, and upon graduation went as Chief of Staff to Commander Battle Forces and later Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet (Admiral S. S. Robinson) .

In 1923, Commander Nimitz became aide to Commander Battle Force and later to Commander in Chief, U.S. Fleet. Later in the decade, he established the NROTC unit at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1929, now holding the rank of Captain, he began two years as Commander, Submarine Division 20, followed by two more years in charge of reserve destroyers at San Diego, California. He then took the heavy cruiser Augusta (CA-31) to the Orient, where, under his command, she was flagship of the Asiatic Fleet in 1933-35. Three years’ duty at the Bureau of Navigation in Washington, D.C., ended in 1938 with his promotion to Rear Admiral.

His next sea command was in flag rank as Commander Cruiser Division Two and then as Commander Battle Division One until 1939, when he was appointed as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation for four years. In December 1941, however, he was designated as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, where he served throughout the war.

Ten days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he was promoted by Roosevelt to commander-in-chief, United States Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT), with the rank of admiral, effective December 31. He immediately departed Washington for Hawaii and took command in a ceremony on the top deck of the submarine Grayling. The change of command ceremony would normally have taken place aboard a battleship, but every battleship in Pearl Harbor had been either sunk or damaged during the attack.

Assuming command at the most critical period of the war in the Pacific, Admiral Nimitz successfully organized his forces to halt the Japanese advance despite the losses from the attack on Pearl Harbor and the shortage of ships, planes, and supplies.

On 19 December 1944, he was advanced to the newly created rank of Fleet Admiral, and on 2 September 1945, was the United States signatory to the surrender terms aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

He hauled down his flag at Pearl Harbor on 26 Nov. 1945, and on 15 December relieved Fleet Admiral E.J. King as Chief of Naval Operations for a term of two years. On 01 January 1948, he reported as special Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy in the Western Sea Frontier. In March of 1949, he was nominated as Plebiscite Administrator for Kashmir under the United Nations. When that did not materialize he asked to be relieved and accepted an assignment as a roving goodwill ambassador of the United nations, to explain to the public the major issues confronting the U.N. In 1951, President Truman appointed him as Chairman of the nine-man commission on International Security and Industrial Rights. This commission never got underway because Congress never passed appropriate legislation.

Thereafter, he took an active interest in San Francisco community affairs, in addition to his continued active participation in affairs of concern to the Navy and the country. he was an honorary vice president and later honorary president of the Naval Historical Foundation. He served for eight years as a regent of the University of California and did much to restore goodwill with Japan by raising funds to restore the battleship Mikasa, Admiral Togo’s flagship at Tsushima in 1905.

He died on 20 February 1966.

 

PROMOTIONS

Graduated from the Naval Academy – Class of 1905

Ensign – 07 Jan. 1907

Lieutenant (junior grade) – 31 Jan. 1910

Lieutenant – 31 Jan. 1910

Lieutenant Commander – 29 Aug. 1916

Commander – 8 March 1918

Captain – 02 June 1927

Rear Admiral – 23 June 1938

Vice Admiral – Not held – promoted directly to Admiral

Admiral – 31 Dec. 1941

Fleet Admiral – 19 Dec. 1944

 

DECORATIONS and AWARDS

Distinguished Service Medal with two gold stars

Army Distinguished Service Medal

Silver Lifesaving Medal

Victory Medal with Escort Clasp

American Defense Service Medal

Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal

World War II Victory Medal

National Defense Service Medal

 

Excerpt from Nimitz’s Essay on employment of naval forces,” Who Commands Sea – Commands Trade”

 

Employment of Naval Forces

By Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN

“Who Commands Sea – Commands Trade”

 

Former CNO Discusses Use of Navy in Maintaining Security of United States on day of departure from Navy Department as CNO

 

From the Monthly NEWSLETTER – March 1948

 

EMPLOYMENT OF NAVAL FORCES IN THE FUTURE

 

In addition to the weapons of World War II the Navy of the future will be capable of launching missiles from surface vessels and submarines, and of delivering atomic bombs from carrier-based planes. Vigilant naval administration and research is constantly developing and adding to these means. In the event of war within the foreseeable future it is probable that there will be little need to destroy combatant ships other than submarines. Consequently, in the fulfillment of long accepted naval functions and in conformity with the well known principles of warfare, the Navy should be used in the initial stages of such a war to project its weapons against vital enemy targets on land, the reduction of which is the basic objective of warfare.

For any future war to be a sufficient magnitude to affect us seriously, it must be compounded of two primary ingredients: vast manpower and tremendous industrial capacity. These conditions exist today in the great land mass of Central Asia, in East Asia, and in Western Europe. The two latter areas will not be in a position to endanger us for decades to come unless they pass under unified totalitarian control. In the event of war with any of the three we would be relatively deficient in manpower. We should, therefore, direct our thinking toward realistic and highly specialized operations. We should plan to inflict unacceptable damage through maximum use of our technological weapons and our ability to produce them in great quantities.

 

WHAT ABOUT FUTURE AIR ATTACKS?

Initial devastating air attack in the future may come across our bordering oceans from points on the continents of Europe and Asia as well as from across the polar region. Consequently our plans must include the development of specialized forces of fighter and interceptor planes for pure defense, as well as the continued development of long range bombers.

Offensively our initial plans should provide for the coordinated employment of military and naval air power launched from land and carrier bases, and of guided missiles against important enemy targets. For the present, until long range bombers are developed capable of spanning our bordering oceans and returning to our North American bases, naval air power launched from carriers may be the only practicable means of bombing vital enemy centers in the early stages of a war.

In summary it is visualized that our early combat operations in the event of war within the next decade would consist of:

DEFENSIVELY

  • Protection of our vital centers from devastating attacks by air and from missile-launching submarines.
  • Protection of areas of vital strategic importance, such as sources of raw materials, our advanced bases, etc.
  • Protection of our essential lines of communications and those of our allies.
  • Protection of our occupation forces during re-enforcement or evacuation.

OFFENSIVELY

  • Devastating bombing attacks from land and carrier bases on vital enemy installations.
  • Destruction of enemy lines of communication accessible to our naval and air forces.
  • Occupation of selected advanced bases on enemy territory and the denial of advance bases to the enemy through the coordinated employment of naval, air and amphibious forces.

Of the above activities or functions there are certain ones which can be performed best by the Air Force, and certain others which can be performed best by the Navy – it is these two services which will play major roles in the initial stages of a future war. The 80th Congress took cognizance of this fact when, in the National Security Act of 1947, it specifically prescribed certain functions to the Navy, its naval aviation and its Marine Corps. In so doing the Congress gave emphasis to the fact that the organizational framework of the military services should be built around the functions assigned to each service. This is a principle which the Navy has consistently followed and is now organized and trained to implement.

Defensively, the Navy is still the first line the enemy must hurdle either in the air or on the sea in approaching our coasts across any ocean. The earliest warning of enemy air attack against our vital centers should be provided by naval air, surface and submarine radar pickets deployed in the vast ocean spaces which surround the continent. This is part of the radar screen which should surround the continental United States and its possessions. The first attrition enemy air power might be by short range naval fighter planes carried by task forces. Protection of our cities against missile launching submarines can best be effected by naval hunter-killer groups composed of small aircraft carriers and modern destroyers operating as a team with naval land-based aircraft.

The safety of our essential trade routes and ocean lines of communication and those of our allies, the protection of areas of vital strategic importance such as the sources of raw material, advanced base locations, etc., are but matters of course if we control the seas. Only naval air-sea power can ensure this.

Offensively, it is the function of the Navy to carry the war to the enemy so that it will not be fought on United States soil. The Navy can at present best fulfill the vital functions of devastating enemy vital areas by the projection of bombs and missiles. It is improbable that bomber fleets will be capable, for several years to come of making two-way trips between continents, even over the polar routes, with heavy loads of bombs.

It is apparent then that in the event of war within this period, if we are to project our power against the vital areas of any enemy across the ocean before beachheads on enemy territory are captured, it must be by air-sea power; by aircraft launched from carriers; and by heavy surface ships and submarines projecting guided missiles and rockets. If present promise is developed by research, test and production, these three types of air-sea power operating in concert will be able within the next ten years critically to damage enemy vital areas many hundreds of miles inland.

Naval task forces including these types are capable of remaining at sea for months. This capability has raised to a high point the art of concentrating air power within effective range of enemy objectives. It is achieved by refueling and rearming task forces at sea. Not only may the necessary supplies, ammunition and fuel be replenished in this way but the air groups themselves may be changed.

The net result is that naval forces are able, without resorting to diplomatic channels, to establish offshore anywhere in the world, air fields completely equipped with machine shops, ammunition dumps, tank farms, warehouses, together with quarters and all types of accommodations for personnel. Such task forces are virtually as complete as any air base ever established. They constitute the only air bases that can be made available near enemy territory without assault and conquest; and furthermore, they are mobile offensive bases, that can be employed with the unique attributes of secrecy and surprise — which attributes contribute equally to their defensive as well as offensive effectiveness.

Regarding the pure defense of these mobile air bases the same power projected destructively from them against the enemy is being applied to their defense in the form of propulsion, armament, and new aircraft weapons whose development is well abreast the supersonic weapons reputed to threaten their existence.

It is clear, therefore, that the Navy and the Air Force will play the leading roles in the initial stages of a future war. Eventually, reduction and occupation of certain strategic areas will require the utmost from our Army, Navy and Air Force. Each should be assigned broad functions compatible with its capabilities and limitations and should develop the weapons it needs to fulfill these functions, and no potentiality of any of the three services of the Military Establishment should be neglected in our scheme of National Defense. At the same time each service must vigorously develop, in that area where their functions meet, that flexibility and teamwork essential to operational success. It should also be clear that the Navy’s ability to exert from its floating bases its unique pressure against the enemy wherever he can be reached in the air, on sea or land is now, as it has been, compatible with the fundamental principles of warfare. That our naval forces can be equipped defensively as well as offensively to project pressure against enemy objectives in the future is as incontrovertible as the principle that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

In measuring capabilities against a potential enemy, due appreciation must be taken of the factors of relative strength and weakness. We may find ourselves comparatively weak in manpower and in certain elements of aircraft strength. On the other hand we are superior in our naval air-sea strength. It is an axiom that in preparing for any contest, it is wisest to exploit – not neglect – the element of strength. Hence a policy which provides for balanced development and coordinated use of strong naval forces should be vigorously prosecuted in order to meet and successfully counter a sudden war in the foreseeable future.

[END]

The Cost of Freedom – Letter to the Editor Pittsburgh Post Gazette 2

The Cost of Freedom

To the Editor

Pittsburgh has long been a source of the materials and equipment necessary for our national defense.

The propulsion equipment for submarines and aircraft carriers comes from manufacturers in the Steel Valley as it has for generations. A strong fleet ensures freedom of the seas and guarantees the level of commerce needed to ensure a robust economy.

In critical global areas, freedom is being challenged. China’s influence in the Southwester Pacific is already being felt by our trading partners. A resurgent Russian naval influence is the result of their leaders trying to regain what they lost at the end of the Cold War. The re-appearance of Russian surveillance ships near America’s submarine bases is definitely a concern for a Navy that is already resource strapped with existing obligations in the prolonged conflicts in the Middle East.

As Congress prepares its budgets, sensible but strong support for the re-building of our fleet must be supported by all citizens. Our submarine forces need new boats to answer the gap left by an aging fleet. Boats that were built in the 1980’s are being retired faster than our ability to build replacements. Even some of the mighty Ohio class submarines are older than thirty five years old. A replacement must be built as soon as possible to ensure our strategic abilities.

It is time for congress to act. I urge all Pittsburghers (and Americans ) to contact your Senators and Representatives and support the rebuilding of America’s sea services.

This is a critical time in our history and your support is needed now. This is the Cost of Freedom.

Robert “Bob” MacPherson

USNL Pittsburgh Council President (2017-2019)

Mister Mac

Cold War 2 – Russia Rising Reply

Headline:

Russian military plans buildup from West to Pacific

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is to beef up its military forces all the way from its western border to the Pacific islands amid ongoing strains with the West, the military said Friday.

Perhaps Putin and his Comrades should remember the last time they tried to use coercive measures to blackmail the world into submission.

Here’s a little reminder:

#blackhullsmatter

 

Stand by for action, its going to heat up all over again.

Mister Mac

Submarines : Documentary on the Submarine Wars of the Cold War (Full Documentary) 1

1395190_10201730056564944_611884660_n If you ever lived on one, this will make you homesick. If you never lived on one, it might make you jealous. In the beginning scenes one of my colleagues Mark Keef is featured in a submarine missile launch. 1983 Debbie, Bob, Mark https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj6VaV6-d6Y   Enjoy

Mister Mac

Come Home to the Sea – Post Number 500 on TLS 2

 

I woke up this morning from a dream about being on the seashore looking out. Our family used to drive across Pennsylvania in the heat of summer and spend a weeks vacation in Wildwood New Jersey. Growing up along the rivers and in the hills of Western Pennsylvania, I had never experienced anything like this before so standing on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean was pretty awesome. The dream was so clear… a boy standing with his feet in the wet sand staring out at the horizon past the waves that were breaking in front of him. The potential for adventure was endless to a young boy.

I can imagine another small boy thousands of years ago doing the exact same thing. The salt spray from the ocean breeze fills his nostrils and the sound of the breakers is balanced with the sound of the seagulls flying all around. What is he thinking as he looks out over the vast sea with no end in sight? Where does his imagination take him as he thinks about the vastness of the water before him? What else is out there?

The oceans have always represented man’s greatest barriers and his greatest opportunities.

“Oh Lord your sea is so great and my boat is so small” is an ageless statement that has probably crossed the minds of sailors in all generations. I have journeyed in everything from a fishing boat in the Gulf of Thailand to the mightiest aircraft carrier in the mighty Pacific Ocean. They are all made equal in their helplessness against the forces of the waters. Even the powerful submarines that carried me around the globe are often mere subjects to the whims of King Neptune when he is raging and storming in his fury.

Nimitz Golden Gate

Yet human kind still seeks the opportunities that the sea can provide.

Since the earth’s surface is made up of a significant amount of water, the seas provide a way to communicate and share the raw materials far beyond a single countries shores. The early explorers  challenged the “Flat Earth” theories that promised  a swift and sure death for sailors who went too far and fell off into the abyss filled with all manner of dangers and sea monsters. Those explorers were inspired and made brave by the promise of adventure and wealth. In many ways, that same promise spurs on much of the economic growth in the world we live in today.

Ohio on the surface

We have learned many new technologies over the years that have made the world closer. Air travel is routine now and satellites and the internet have drawn us together like nothing that Magellan could have imagined. Yet the sea remains. Even in this modern day and age, the sea remains as the greatest barrier and opportunity for man.

The great powers throughout history have found ways to use the oceans and seas to extend their power. From the earliest civilizations in the east and the west, nations have used the water for power projection and protection from outside forces. Just as Rome conquered the Mediterranean, other countries have used the distance and difficulty to shield themselves from the influence of others. But technology has impacted both of those abilities and despite the oceans challenges, most modern civilizations are now dependent on one thing: the freedom to freely navigate the sea lanes of the world.

This was one of the first lessons we learned in Boot Camp in 1972. In Chapter 1 of the Bluejackets Manual (18th Edition, US Naval Institute) Military, Economic and Political Importance is introduced to the new recruits.

“Ships of the Navy have always been needed to protect our country’s interests off our coasts and all over the world. Today in an age of atomic bombs, nuclear power, and guided missiles, the importance is greater than ever.”

What was written then is even more true today. Our freedom is directly related to our ability to defend ourselves from any threat to our ability to maintain freedom of the seas. Yet it is the face of this reality that the nation faces threats that come from within. For a number of reasons, our ability to build and maintain a fleet that is capable of an adequate defense is being threatened. The shipyards that once built the ships that stopped the rising tide of imperialism and savagery in the past are no longer capable of producing the next generation with any strength. The technology, experience and ability of our shipyards is being lost to global forces that make us more and more dependent on other countries. Those same countries that could easily fall prey to the influence of an emerging China or a resurging rogue Russian desire for the old days.

Look how weak the world has been in response to the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Observe the silent spread of Chinese influence over her neighbors in the vast Pacific ocean. Who will provide the strong voice and power that will keep both of those ambitions in check? America still has a large force available for the foreseeable future. But one only needs to look at Pearl Harbor to see how quickly the power of an area can be shifted. The difference between then and now is that after Pearl Harbor, we had the shipyards and ability to overcome that tragic loss and build the mightiest Navy the world has ever known. With the state of our shipbuilding industry today, I am not convinced we would be able to repeat the miracle. We had the luxury of time in the 1940’s because of the ocean’s protection. With the threats today, that protection would be neutralized.

004_33A

From the BJM: “The United States is almost an island, surrounded by oceans. Over these oceans must come the raw materials needed to preserve our great industries. There are a few materials, such as manganese and chrome, which are vital in making steel. Our Navy must keep the sea lanes open for merchant ships, not only to get raw materials but to deliver food and weapons to our friends and allies.”

In a new age of threats, our merchant fleet is almost non-existent. Most of our goods are now shipped on foreign flagged ships built in other nations. This “Island” we live on would quickly become hostage to whoever controlled the seas. The Chinese in particular have spent a great deal of time and money on ship killing missiles. How long could the United States survive without the raw materials that come daily into our ports? Senator McCain, a third generation Navy man is pushing to cripple what is left of the Maritime industry.

http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2015-01-21/story/john-mccain-plan-scuttle-100-year-old-maritime-law-unleashes-anger-first

What’s ironic about McCain’s caving in to special interest that seek to bypass protections for our vital shipping industry is that his whole family and the nation he served are all indebted to that industry for their lives and their freedom.

McCain 2

The oceans of the world will always provide the resources, the opportunities and the challenges that every generation must embrace. The one thing the ocean’s provide more than anything else is the opportunity for freedom or slavery. Time will tell if the United States is wise enough to determine how to maintain the former and stave off the latter.

By the way, this link will take you to one of the most amazing tributes to the sea I have ever heard. “Come Home to the Sea” comes from Mannheim Steamrollers Fresh Aire VI album and is a remarkable representation of what I feel every time I think of the sea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aN3ACbKknhw

Thanks for stopping by.

Mister Mac

Did it matter? 21

Did it matter?

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

Proteus early 70s

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

936794_10200475730009241_176765817_n

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

The sacrifices were abundant.

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

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

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

Bob and Renee 1972

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did it matter?

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

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

Mister Mac

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

 

Fringes of the Fleet 2

Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves

When your country is an island, it is only natural that you would come to rely on the ocean for commerce with others. When that island is vulnerable to attacks form others, it is even more natural that the ocean would serve as a means for your defense. To achieve both, you need ships and men who sail on them. England is such an island and from the 16th century through the 20th century, she relied primarily on the Royal Navy to make sure that her freedom was protected. As the world careened out of control towards World War 1 in 1914, the Royal Navy was second to none in the world.

http://www.worldwar-1.co.uk/the%20royal%20navy.html

As the storm clouds gathered, the warring nations took stock of the weapons in their arsenal. On the naval side, huge dreadnaughts (the precursors to battleships), armored cruisers, destroyers and auxiliaries of every type filled the anchorages surrounding the tiny island nation. Guns as large as 15 inches bristled on the monster ships and threatened to send everything in front of them to the bottom of the ocean.

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The Germans had spent much of their time leading up to the war trying to build a fleet that would allow them to join the big gun club. They also saw England as a natural threat to their desire for dominance and growth. Empires around the world were the goal and growing your empire required freedom of the seas to prosecute your goals and maintain the trade that would add money and power to the nation’s interests. The Germans had less effective weapons for their main guns but relied heavily on technology and innovation to overcome their perceived weakness. Their surface vessels had better optical and range finding capability and were easier to handle than Royal Navy fleets. But their secret weapon was their submarine fleet. Even with the exaggerations of the German Fleet Commanders, the technological differences in their submarine fleet made it a potent weapon that could interdict trade in all of the main sea lanes.

On both sides of the conflict, submarine technology advanced quickly leading up to the War and all through it. Diesel and electrical systems adapted and changed to meet the realities of the type of warfare that evolved. At the beginning of the war, the Germans followed the rule of “Prize Rules” which allowed the crews of their target ships to escape before the ships would be sunk by either torpedoes or gunfire. The later introduction of unrestricted submarine warfare destroyed any illusion of chivalry however and cast a dark shadow on submarine warfare in an age that had not quite adjusted to war on such a scale.

You fight the war with the weapons you have at hand.

The Royal Navy soon discovered that its assumptions about naval warfare were suitable for a war from the last century but limited in response to the new threats. If you really think about it, the first successful submarines had been developed in 1900 and it did not include the technology to help a submersible sustain itself for long ocean voyages. But the engineers on all continents were quick to develop the systems and weapons to build this new type of weapon. Improvements came one on top of another and all of this despite the prevailing attitude everywhere: submarines were just a fringe element of naval warfare. Gentlemen would fight in long lines of battle cruisers in the prescribed manner and the enemy would obligingly respond by doing the same.

In the first ten weeks of the war, the vaunted Royal fleet lost five cruisers to the German U boats. This despite the fact that the Germans only had 48 submarines total of which about 30 were functional after the war erupted in August of 1914. Admiral Tirpitz’s vision came quickly to bear fruit even as he sat in disgrace on the sidelines of the war.

The Fringes

The admiralty on the British side was completely invested in traditional naval warfare and weapons. For century’s larger and larger surface forces dominated naval thinking which meant that resources and support went to the surface fleet. The leadership and strategies were all built on the rock solid foundation of how to win a war and dominate the trade routes. Every officer in high command had waited his turn in line to reinforce the notions and concepts that would ensure that Britannia rules the waves forever.

The sad reality of modern warfare is that an enemy that can’t beat you on your own course will figure out technology to even the playing fields. The Germans have always managed to do the unexpected and they developed both the simple and the sublime to balance the scorecard. Mines laid from submarines were only one of those surprises and the combination of regular submarines and these special boats meant the Royal Navy would have to spend an inordinate amount of time protecting its fleets. The air ships that flew over London also created an entirely new threat that the 1914 fleet was woefully unprepared for.

U boat picture

The Zeppelin fleet and limited use of coastal air aero planes introduced a whole new element which would require a rethinking of the arms a ship would need to carry to protect itself. More importantly, the Zeppelins also increased the ability of their Navy to discover where ships were located and mine fields existed. This expansion of technology could not have been imagined no less planned for by traditionalists. While the bombing attacks on Britain were of limited value, their fear added to the concerns of the British public about the weapons of this horrible new war.

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The prejudice against alternative views hampered the British in two ways. First, the public’s view of the superiority of the battleships needed to be maintained so that the public would feel safe and secure. Reports from the front rapidly erased the illusions of a quick war. The death reports alone shook the nation to its core. Secondly, service in a professional fleet meant opportunity on the large vessels where glory and promotion reigned supreme.

It was against this background that another type of weapon was employed to gain support from both the public at large and the young men of the Navy who would be called to fill the ranks on both auxiliary ships and the fledgling submarine fleet. That weapon was propaganda from an unexpected source.

Changing Course

Kipling

Rudyard Kipling was an author who had been awarded the Nobel Prize in literature just a few short years before the war.

His books and short stories had gained him a special place in literary circles that extended from commoner to royalty. I remember reading The Jungle Book and Gunga Din as a young man and of course have practically memorized his poem about Tommy Adkins. His work appealed to people of all backgrounds and it was only natural that he would be called upon to help and extend the words and feelings needed to motivate a people to war.

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In 1916, he used his skills to pen a series of articles about the outliers of the fleet that he called the Fringes of the Fleet. These articles were about the auxiliary units that searched for the mines and hunted the dreaded U boats. They also covered the newest weapon of the Navy and the men who sailed them: submarines.

Kipling decided that the only way he could write about the tiny craft was to actually ride them and get to know the men involved. His writing is remarkable in that he captured the very essence of a submariner. What is remarkable is how little the genre has changed in the hundred years since the words were written.

From the chapter on submarines:

Kipling: “THE CHIEF business of the Trawler fleet is to attend to the traffic. The submarine in her sphere attends to the enemy. Like the destroyer, the submarine has created its own type of officer and man—with a language and traditions apart from the rest of the Service, and yet at heart unchangingly of the Service. Their business is to run monstrous risks from earth, air, and water, in what, to be of any use, must be the coldest of cold blood.

The commander’s is more a one-man job, as the crew’s is more team work, than any other employment afloat. That is why the relations between submarine officers and men are what they are. They play hourly for each other’s lives with Death the Umpire always at their elbow on tiptoe to give them “Out.””

My favorite part of the submarine stories comes from part 2.

Kipling: “I WAS honoured by a glimpse into this veiled life in a boat which was merely practising between trips. Submarines are like cats. They never tell “who they were with last night,” and they sleep as much as they can, If you board a submarine off duty you generally see a perspective of fore-shortened fattish men laid all along. The men say that except at certain times it is rather an easy life, with relaxed regulations about smoking, calculated to make a man put on flesh. One requires well-padded nerves. Many of the men do not appear on deck throughout the whole trip. After all, why should they if they don’t want to? They know that they are responsible in their department for their comrades” lives as their comrades are responsible for theirs. What’s the use of flapping about? Better lay in some magazines and cigarettes.”

I had the feeling that Kipling could see into the future and watch a submarine crew in a more modern era.

If you have time for a really good read, here is a link to all of his stories. It is remarkable how little some things have changed and yet how far we have come in the years since the First World War.

http://www.telelib.com/authors/K/KiplingRudyard/prose/FringeFleet/index.html

I hope and pray that a new world war never comes to mankind again. I am sure that feeling is shared by many. But as I see nations all over the word continuing to build “defensive” fleets, I can’t help but feel we are marching once again to the next last Great War.

Mister Mac

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As much as today (April 24) is a day of remembering the great things about the 711 Boat, I thought is was good to also reblog one of the earlier blogs about the heroic crew that saved her (and the one who gave his all).

theleansubmariner

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Seven years ago, an event happened on the USS San Francisco that serves as a reminder that even in this day of modern technology and science, the ocean is still mightier in its capability to test man’s limitations. On January 8th 2005 at 0243 GMY, she collided with a sea mount resulting in massive damage to the bow section, 23 were wounded as a result of the collision and the tragic death of MM2/SS Joseph Allen Ashley of Akron Ohio occured the next day as a result of his wounds.

Within a very short time of the collision, the emails of previous San Francisco lit up with passed along messages. Speculation was the name of the game which seems to ghoulishly follow all tragedies at sea. The first thought was an underwater collision with another boat but a closer examination revealed that the damage to the sonar dome and the forward…

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