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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
I spent a number of years in my youth living and sailing out of Pearl Harbor. The last time we were there was in 2003 and the changes even then were astonishing. Many of the old buildings were still there but a modern bridge attached Ford Island to the mainland. The Chapel at Sub base was closed at that time and the Enlisted Men’s club was on limited hours as well.
But no matter how long you are away, some memories come back and overwhelm you. The smell of the many flowers as you arrive at the airport. The breeze of the trade winds that mask the heat of the bright sun. And the feeling of an unstated collection of long ago spirits that traveled through these islands on their war to long ago wars. As you stand by the finger piers looking across at the shipyards, you can hear the hammering and welding of broken warships being readied for another battle. The sound of the liberty boat fills your imagination of so many trips across the harbor, stopping only for the raising of the flag each morning and the lowering each night.
The day you get orders to Pearl Harbor for the first time, your life is changed forever. You are about to become part of a legend. No matter where you travel in life, you will always carry that memory inside of you.
Pearl Harbor was originally an extensive shallow embayment called Wai Momi (meaning, “Waters of Pearl”) or Puʻuloa (meaning, “long hill”) by the Hawaiians. Puʻuloa was regarded as the home of the shark goddess, Kaʻahupahau, and her brother (or son), Kahiʻuka, in Hawaiian legends. According to tradition, Keaunui, the head of the powerful Ewa chiefs, is credited with cutting a navigable channel near the present Puʻuloa saltworks, by which he made the estuary, known as “Pearl River,” accessible to navigation. Making due allowance for legendary amplification, the estuary already had an outlet for its waters where the present gap is; but Keaunui is typically given the credit for widening and deepening it.
Naval Station, Honolulu” was established on 17 November 1899. On 2 February 1900, this title was changed to “Naval Station, Hawaii”. In the years that followed, dredging and building continued and eventually the idea of stationing submarines in Pearl Harbor was broached.
This is the story of the submarine base up until 1945.
Pearl Harbor Submarine Base: 1918-1945
From the Official US Navy Records:
Shortly after the Armistice of World War I in 1918, the submarines R-15 to R-20 were ordered to the Hawaiian Area, arriving early in 1919 to establish the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor. Previous to this, there had been other submarines operating in the Hawaiian Area, for in 1912 four “F” class submarines operated from the site of the old Naval Station, Pier 5, Honolulu.
Their activities, however, were concluded when the F-4 sank off Honolulu. After this tragedy in 1915, the remaining “F” boats were towed back to the mainland. Shortly after these submarines left, four “K” type submarines and the Alert arrived, staying until after World War I started.
The R-11 to R-20 were ordered to Pearl Harbor in 1920 and the R-1 to R-10 followed in 1923. When the “R” boats, under the Divisional Command of Lieutenant Commander F.X. Gygax, arrived at Pearl Harbor, he found only one finger pier at the present site of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base, and to this the R-18 was secured. This was the first submarine to moor at todays most modern and most complete Pacific submarine home activity.
The area chosen in 1919 for a submarine base was covered with cactus plants and algaroba trees, which had to be cut down before any buildings could be erected. When the land along the waterfront had been cleared, concrete slabs were poured into the region to support portable structures which had been obtained by Commander Chester W. Nimitz (now Fleet Admiral Nimitz), who was the first Commanding Officer of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base. These structures consisted of old aviation cantonment buildings that had seen service in France. Meanwhile, tents had been pitched, and the base personnel used these meager furnishings for their living and messing needs. Two months after the arrival of the first submarine division, the base had a temporary mess hall; administration building; machine, carpenter, electric, gyro-compass, optical and battery overhaul shops. For general stores, a floating barge was procured from the Navy Yard, housed over and pressed into service.
In 1923, the first permanent building, still in use as a battery overhaul shop, was constructed with approximately 85% of the work being done by submarine base personnel. Living quarters for submarine personnel were improvised by utilizing the cruiser Chicago, later renamed the Alton, which was brought in and moored where the present day base’s largest pier, S1, now stands. A causeway was built out to her, and the cruiser’s topside was housed over to provide bunk rooms for submarine officers, while the lower deck was given to the officers and men attached to the base. Also, in 1920, another finger pier was constructed.
In the years that followed, peace time years, the temporary buildings were gradually torn down and replaced by larger and more commodious structures, some of which provided excellent usage during World War II. In 1925, the base had approximately 25 buildings erected and the Navy had already begun to reclaim marsh and swamp land in order that further expansion could be possible. During the same period, two more finger piers were built. In 1928, the largest building on the present day site, the main “U” shaped barracks building, was spacious enough to accommodate all submarine and base personnel and, as late as 1940, was still utilized for this purpose, other barracks not being necessary until shortly before hostilities began in 1941. By 1933, berths 10 to 14 on a long quay wall had been completed and a thirty ton crane had been constructed on the outboard end of finger pier number four. Also by this year, the submarine rescue and training tank, the enlisted men’s pool, the theater (built entirely by submarine base personnel), and the main repair buildings had been completed.
The Administration Building, housing the base torpedo shop in the main deck of one wing and the Supply Department on both decks of the other wing had been completed. Above the torpedo shop, was located the Base Commanding Officer’s and Executive officer’s offices. Shortly after the completion of this building, an officer’s quarters was built close to the Administration Building. Since there was now housing and messing facilities for both officers and enlisted men, the Alton was no longer needed.
From 1935 until the outbreak of hostilities, many other buildings were added to the base proper, the majority of them small in size and nature. In addition, with the planting of coconut trees, palms and other shrubberies, the Submarine Base became not only a place military in nature, but also pleasant in appearance.
December 7th, 1941
Fortunately for America, and conversely, unfortunately for Japan, the enemy neglected to strike at Pearl Harbor Submarine Base on 7 December 1941. Quite possibly this could have been by design since the Japs conceivably paid little attention to the comparatively small submarine force the United States had operating in the Pacific, the majority of which, incidentally, was operating in the Far East.
For whatever reason, no damage was done to the base and for this oversight the Japs were to pay dearly since it was the submarine force in the Pacific that, almost alone, carried the war into the enemy’s waters in the first two years of the war, a feat that would have been improbable, if not impossible, had it not been for the excellent repair and supply facilities afforded by the Pearl harbor Submarine Base before other advanced bases could be established.
On 30 June 1940, there were 359 enlisted men stationed at the Submarine Base with this number slowly increasing to 700 on 15 August 1941 and to 1,081 in July 1942. Rapid expansion of the base reached its peak in July 1944, when there were 6,633 enlisted men serving on the Submarine Base proper. These were the men for whom there was no glory but who, nevertheless, worked excessive hours no matter what their job in order that our submersibles might roam the Pacific in excellent fighting condition.
As an indication of the tremendous amount of work accomplished by the Pearl Harbor base, four hundred submarines were overhauled, refitted, or repaired during the period from May 1944 until July 1945. (This should not be construed as 400 individual submarines, but rather as a certain number of subs overhauled numerous times). This meant four hundred submarines prowling the seas, destroying Japanese shipping relentlessly through the sole medium of repair and supply furnished by one base. Truly, the enemy missed a military objective by blindly overlooking the Submarine Base on the day of the “blitz”.
It is not a debatable question as to which departmental function was the most important at the Submarine Base, since without one the other would have been negligible. To all go the credit for the tremendous successes achieved as the result of basing submarines at Pearl.
Under the Supply Department during a three month period ending 1 September 1944, the Commissary Department furnished $410,000 worth of provisions aboard roving submarines; and for the entire war, the value of provision stowed aboard operating subs totaled the tremendous sum of $3,680,296, a good reason as to why submarine personnel are the best fed men in the world. The Disbursing officer paid $33,363,305.23 in salaries to submarine personnel in the last two and a half years of the war in 1,144 individual pay days to submarine crews. Clothing and Small Stores, another function of the Supply Department, issued $916,519 worth of clothing to submarine personnel in the last year and a half of the war. Supply was, without a doubt, a major issue of the war.
The Ordnance Department, from the outbreak of war until the cessation of hostilities, overhauled 15,644 torpedoes of which 5,185 were fired by combat submarines with 1,860 torpedoes resulting in successful hits. A remarkable record and one which can well be shared by the shore based personnel of the Pearl Harbor Submarine Base.
The Engineering and Repair Department consisting of technicians and specialists of every description commenced their work on submarines days before the boat ever berthed at the Base. For as much as a week prior to each submarine’s arrival, plans were drawn up for the work to be accomplished on the boat. On the day of arrival, the submarine furnished the E&R department a complete list of “ailments” and on the following day an arrival conference between Base officers and Ships’ officers was held. At this time, a detailed plan of repair action was made while, even at that moment, work crews from the various shops were ripping apart faulty equipment for overhaul and repair. In the short two week period that the submarine remained at the Base, every department observed every derangement, large or small, and made corrections and repairs as necessary or else replaced faulty equipment. Engineering was a factor of no small importance in the winning of the war because submarines, returning from patrol, ofttimes had almost unrepairable damage. In the month of September 1944 alone, the Engineering and Repair Department refitted twelve submarines and made voyage repairs to twenty-five others, a feat not only never before performed but not even dreamed of in the past.
The Medical Department achieved miracles in the treatment and prevention of ills and diseases. Upon the completion of a war patrol, each submarine crew was thoroughly examined by especially trained and unusually competent Medical, Dental and Psychiatric Officers. Should it develop that a man had an ailment, no matter how trivial, he was replaced, treated and, in most cases, restored to duty on board operating submarines. Many a story has been told of medical corpsmen on submarines who have performed such feats as appendectomies and the diagnosis of diseases like spinal meningitis while on a combat war patrol. Many of these men were trained and gathered experience at a well-equipped and efficient Dispensary of the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor. In addition, it was the Base Medical Department’s responsibility that all medicinal supplies and drugs were furnished each submarine prior to its departure on war patrol.
And there were other departments, the First Lieutenant’s men worked day and night loading or unloading submarines, maintaining buildings and equipment, patrolling the base during the war’s most security conscious moments, and furnishing transportation for men and equipment.
There was the Rest and Recuperation Annex to the Submarine Base, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with its 425 rooms and housing capacity of 935 guests. When this entire space was not required by the Submarine Force, it was made available to aviation activities, small craft returning from advance bases, forward advance Marine units, and in some isolated cases, to battleships and cruisers.
Then there was the Chaplain and his assistants who offered counsel and guidance to war-weary and nerve-torn veterans of the war patrols. There was the Ship’s Service Department which offered everything necessary to life and comfort from phonograph records to the latest books and novelties.
The Pearl Harbor Submarine Base was not a base erected during the heat of battle. Its permanent foundations were laid down in 1919 and through the years of peace it became stronger and healthier. At the outbreak of hostilities, it was incapable of accommodating the ultimate number of submarines that were to operate in the Pacific, but never once did this Base lag in its accomplishments of sundry duties. At times, the output of work far exceeded that expected or thought of, but always the submarines based temporarily at Pearl Harbor between moments of combat had their slightest needs fulfilled.
Upon the establishment of the Submarine Base at Pearl Harbor, Commander C.W. Nimitz was the Commanding Officer, a duty he held until 1922. He was succeeded in command by the following officers:
Commander L.F. Welch 1922-1925
Commander F.C. Martin 1925-1928
Captain A. Bronson 1928-1929
Captain W.K. Wortman 1929-1930
In 1930, Submarine Squadron FOUR commenced operating in the Hawaiian Area, and the two commands were united with the following officers pursuing duties as Commander, Submarine Squadron FOUR and Commanding Officer, U.S. Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor, T.H.:
Captain W.K. Wortman 1930-1932
Captain H.W. Osterhas 1932-1934
Captain R.A. Kock 1934-1936
Captain R.S. Culp 1936-1938
Captain F.W. Scanland 1938-1940
Captain W.R. Carter 1940-1941
Captain F.A. Daubin 1941-1942
Captain R.H. English March 1942-May 1942
Captain J.H. Brown, Jr. May 1942-January 1943
On 13 January 1943, the two commands were separated, due to the tremendous work load required of each command by war time operations. As a result, Captain C.D. Edmunds relieved Captain J.H. Brown, Jr., as Commanding Officer of the Submarine Base, with Captain Brown retaining the command of SubRon FOUR. In turn, Captain Edmunds was relieved by Captain C.E. Aldrich, who served in that capacity from September 1943 until October 1944, when he was relieved by Captain E.R. Swinburne, who remained in command of the base until after the cessation of hostilities. However, the Commanding Officer of the Submarine Base continued to come under the Squadron Commander until, in October 1945, with the reorganization of the submarine force, he was placed directly under ComSubPac.
The story of Submarine Base Pearl Harbor will continue in the near future…
The Cradle of Submarine Life in America
I was reading through a Naval History record of Building the Navy’s Bases in World War II (Volume I (Part II))
Part of the massive construction done to support the war was the story about the expansion of the Naval Submarine base at New London Connecticut. In my generation, nearly everyone destined to serve on submarines spent some time at the school and many went on to serve on boats stationed there. While the boats themselves demand a lot of attention for their missions, we can never forget the significance of having a powerful infrastructure.
Bases as a vital factor of sea power were defined by Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz.
‘Sea power,’ he declared, ‘is not a limited term. It includes many weapons and many techniques. Sea power means more than the combatant ships and aircraft, the amphibious forces and the merchant marine. It includes also the port facilities of New York and California; the bases in Guam and in Kansas; the factories which are the capital plant of war; and the farms which are the producers of supplies. All these are elements of sea power. Furthermore, sea power is not limited to materials and equipment. It includes the functioning organization which has directed its use in the war. In the Pacific we have been able to use our naval power effectively because we have been organized along sound lines. The present organization of our Navy Department has permitted decisions to be made effectively. It has allowed great flexibility. In each operation we were able to apply our force at the time and place where it would be most damaging to the enemy.’
New London Submarine Base is the United States Navy’s primary East Coast submarine base, also known as the “Home of the Submarine Force”. It is located in Groton, Connecticut
In 1868, the State of Connecticut gave the Navy 112 acres (0.5 km²) of land along the Thames River in Groton to build a Naval Station. Due to a lack of federal funding, it was not until 1872 that two brick buildings and a “T” shaped pier were constructed and officially declared a Navy Yard. In 1898, Congress approved a coaling station be built at the Yard for refueling small naval ships traveling through the waters of New England. The Navy Yard was first used for laying up inactive ships. The Congressional appropriations were small and the Navy had little need for the Yard, which was actually closed from 1898 to 1900 and its personnel reassigned. This new yard was primarily used as a coaling station by Atlantic Fleet small craft. It is located in the towns of Groton and Ledyard. By 1912, oil replaced coal in warships and again the Yard was scheduled for closure and the land relinquished by the Navy.
The Navy Yard was spared permanent closure in 1912 by an impassioned plea from local Congressman Edwin W. Higgins of Norwich, who was worried about the loss of Federal spending in the region. Within six years, the Federal government would spend over a million dollars at the Yard. On 13 October 1915, the monitor Ozark, a submarine tender, and 4 submarines arrived in Groton. With the war effort in Europe and the Atlantic in full swing, additional submarines and support craft arrived the following year and the facility was named as the Navy’s first Submarine Base. The first Commander of the Yard was retired Commodore Timothy A. Hunt, who was recalled up to service. Living in New Haven, Commodore Hunt used the Central Hotel on State Street, New London when in town to attend to Yard duties on an “as needed” basis. Despite being physically located in the Town of Groton, the name New London became associated with the Navy Yard because the base had its main offices and housing in New London. Following World War I, the Navy established schools and training facilities at the base.
The first diesel-powered US submarine, USS E-1 (SS-24), was commissioned in Groton on February 14, 1912, Lieutenant Chester W. Nimitz in command.
Previous to the outbreak of World War I, very little consideration had been given to the care and upkeep of submarines, except at the primary navy yards and stations. New London (Conn.), commissioned in December 1915, was the first continental submarine base.
On June 21, 1916, the Navy Yard changed forever as Commander Yates Stirling, Jr. assumed the command of the newly designated Submarine Base, the New London Submarine Flotilla, and the Submarine School.
The Base property expanded during the latter part of World War I. Congress approved over a million dollars for Base real estate and facilities expansion. By the end of the war, 81 buildings had been built to support 1400 men and 20 submarines. With victory in hand, the land expansion of the Base was slowed through much of the 1920s. However, the Great Depression of the 1930s saw an expansion and enhancement of the physical plant of the Base. President Franklin Roosevelt created a series of Federal Government employment programs that contributed significantly to the Submarine Base. Over 26 high quality warehouses, barracks and workshops were built at the base under these Federal job-spending programs.
New London, as the only station especially equipped for the training of submarine personnel, received special consideration by the Hepburn Board, and early in January 1939 a survey was made by the public works officer at the base to determine the necessary facilities required to provide for 21 submarines in commission and reserve. Rehabilitation of service lines to existing piers was listed as a first priority, and that work, begun in October of that same year, was completed by July 1940.
On the 12th of July 1940, a CPFF contract in the amount of $2,021,175 for facilities for commissioning reserve submarines, including improvement of buildings and accessories and waterfront development, was awarded. Field work was begun July 29, 1940. Additions to the contract included a marine railway. A second CPFF contract called for additional facilities for servicing the submarines, including connection with outside power. A third CPFF contract provided for housing units for married enlisted naval personnel.
In July 1941 the Fuel Storage Board recommended that additional fuel-oil and diesel-oil storage facilities be provided in prestressed concrete tanks. In March of 1942, work was started on the construction of 50 “keyport” magazines for the storage of torpedo warheads, two fixed ammunition magazines, one small-arms magazine, one pyrotechnic magazine, and one fuse magazine. The second largest expansion of Submarine Base New London occurred during World War II, when it grew from 112 acres to 497 acres. The Submarine Force leaped in size, and the Base accommodated thousands of men to service the growing combat fleet.
Expansion of the Submarine School facilities, calling for the construction of additional barracks, subsistence building, and school buildings, and concomitant services, was approved July 28, 1942. Unforeseen increases in the training program made it necessary to increase these facilities, under an appropriation approval in January 1943. By May of 1943, approximately $12,000,000 had been spent on the rehabilitation program, and plans were immediately begun for further development.
By March 1946 the record stood at 263 buildings, including 87 magazines and 15 Quonset huts, providing floor space of 1,815,362 square feet. Berthing space had been increased to 10,000 linear feet. There were 15 submarine piers, a floating drydock with a capacity of 3500 tons, and a marine railway with a 3000-ton capacity, together with 300 square yards of outdoor assembly, repair or working space. The barracks could accommodate 448 officers and 7286 enlisted men, and, in addition, there were 106 family housing units. Messing facilities to care for 142 officers, 2774 enlisted personnel, and 264 civilians had been provided, together with dispensary facilities of 354 beds.
Immediately after WWII the Submarine Force was significantly reduced and many famous submarines were sent into storage. Most of the World War II fleet was sold for scrap metal during the early 1960s.
The Escape Training Tank
From 1930 to 1994 the most recognizable structure on the base was the 100-foot-tall Escape Training Tank. Generations of submariners learned to escape in up to 80 feet of water using buoyant ascent, and were trained in the use of the Momsen lung or Steinke hood. In 2007 the Escape Training Tank was replaced by the Submarine Escape Trainer, which has two types of escape trunks in up to 40 feet of water. The Steinke hood was replaced by the Submarine Escape Immersion Equipment in the 2000s
The First School
Within a few years of the first submarine being accepted by the United States Navy, it became apparent that the new technology and tactics would require special training.
When the first class of twenty four officers began studies for submarine duty a century ago in the summer of 1916, the submarine base in Groton, Connecticut, was little more than a handful of buildings scattered across the area now known as Lower Base.
First Submarine Officer Graduation Class, 1 July 1916
By Christmas 1916, the twenty two graduates of that first submarine officers’ course were heading out for assignments after spending six months in training on submarines, torpedoes, engineering and electricity.’ Records are sketchy on the nature of much of that training-especially since the bulk of the early trainers were salvage material from decommissioned submarines.Within a year the graduates of that first officers course, and those who were to follow them through Naval Submarine School, were serving around the globe as the United States entered World War I.
One hundred years after that first graduation, Naval Submarine School, Submarine Base, the U.S. Navy and the world have all undergone radical and profound change but the tradition as the center for submarine training excellence continues.
First enlisted muster at Naval Submarine School, Winter 1917
From one building on Lower Base in 1916, Naval Submarine School has grown to the largest single tenant unit on Submarine Base, with over thirty thousand Sailors graduating annually from nearly two hundred different courses.
From an era when training aids were Mark I Attack trainers and a German-built trainer of unspecified history, Naval Submarine School maintains and operates state-of-the-art trainers costing millions to design and develop. These trainers are vital tools in providing realistic individual and team training for a submarine fleet striving for total inclusion in Joint Vision 2020.
Basic Enlisted Submarine School (BESS) is the U.S. Navy’s submarine training school for enlisted sailors. Located on Naval Submarine Base New London (NAVSUBASE NLON) in Groton, New London County, Connecticut, the school is an eight-week introduction to the basic theory, construction and operation of nuclear-powered submarines. The course includes instruction on shipboard organization, submarine safety and escape procedures. This program requires passing a physical and mental screening. As of 2015, BESS is open to female sailors, including current sailors who wish to join the submarine force by completing the two-month program.
Yesterday and today: Still the Center of Submarine Force Training Excellence
Naval Submarine School course offerings include introduction, apprentice and basic skill level training; encompass initial technical proficiency training and advanced team operator and team training in electronic and combat systems employment, navigation and damage control; and provide mid-career professional growth courses for both officers and enlisted Sailors.
The Naval Submarine School also conducts refresher training of all Atlantic Fleet submarines completing construction or overhaul, pre-deployment and training ashore for all submarines of the Atlantic Fleet.
I supposed I am prejudiced, but I would say that the US Submarine Force is the best equipped and trained submarine force in the world. In a dangerous world, that makes me very happy.
Each submariner’s journey begins when they finish all of their training and the hatch closes when the last man is down. For a hundred and seventeen years, submariners have steered a course unique to their own generation and their own type of boat. From the wildly dangerous gasoline powered boats to the sleek new nuclear powered leviathans, submariners have all pioneered their own form of warfare facing unique challenges. In my lifetime, I have watched the demise of the diesel boats and an entire generation of nuclear boats that had vastly different missions and capabilities.
The lessons learned on the early boats have been passed along in design and operations. Learning the characteristics of the sea is a never ending process as boats operate in depth greater than the early designers could have imagined at speeds that dwarf the Pig Boats. New technology and weapons have made the modern submarines the most fearsome warriors the world has ever known.
With all of these improvements in design and technology comes a much stronger need for training and skills. Even though I sailed on some of the most updated submarines for their time (688 Class and Ohio Class) the new boats have capabilities that make what we did seem like it was primitive.
Two things have remained constant throughout the entire history of U.S. Submarines. First, the older generation always had a rougher time than these newbies and were somehow the “real” submariners. Second, the older generation passes away and is replaced by the “newbies” that are now the older generation and had a rougher time than the current generation of newbies. They become the “real” submariners.
If you ever want to have some fun at a USSVI meeting, just whisper out loud to someone that the definition of a real submarine is one that can stay underwater for months at a time. Man Battle Stations Torpedo will soon be heard throughout the room. Shouts of DBF will fill the air.
News flash: your dolphins make you unique among the many classes of sailors who have ever challenged the sea. But they do not make you any better than anyone else wearing them because of the type of boat they earned them on. The mixture of bravery, comradery, sacrifice and tireless work binds us all together. I would even challenge that those men and women who are currently serving on the newest boats are more technically qualified than people of my generation. Their sacrifices are just as real however. In some cases more. Instead of weeks of sea time, they routinely do months. Instead of slowly cruising near the ocean’s surface, they bravely sail at great depths with astounding sustained speeds.
I love my many memories from serving on my five nuclear submarines. We did and saw things that will remain secretly in my heart forever. I also love belonging to a unique fraternity that stands alone in all of the fraternities of the world. I feel disappointed when any member of this fraternity tries to diminish the service of anyone else who has earned the position just to make themselves feel better or more important. You aren’t. And God willing, maybe the next generation will not be so inclined to be so self-focused.
The operation at Guadalcanal was named “Watchtower” but to the Marines involved, it would forever be known as Operation Shoestring. As history records, the entire operation was put together in a hurry with limited resources and even less intelligence. One misstep after another compounded their misery and the disastrous events of the First Battle of Savo Island would mean the Marines on shore would have to fight twice as hard with meager supplies.
This Story comes from the book
Marines in World War II, Historical Monograph, The Guadalcanal Campaign
by Major John L. Zimmerman, USMCR Historical Section, Division of Public Information Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps 1949
The Naval Withdrawal
The burning of the Elliott had two adverse consequences, entirely apart from the loss of the ships herself. Included in the supplies aboard her had been a good shore of the material of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines, and that was lost. The second, and more serious, consequence was the fact that the glare caused by her burning allowed enemy observers in the neighborhood of Tassafaronga to see the cruisers and destroyers which were shortly to be attacked on that night of 8-9 August, and to report their presence to the advancing enemy task force.
In the evening of 8 August, General Vandegrift was called to a conference aboard the USS McCawley, flagship of Task Force 62. While there he was told that Admiral Turner had decided to remove all transports and cargo vessels from the area at 0600 next morning, 9 August. The reason given for this decision was the fact that advice had come from Admiral Fletcher, Commander, Task Force 61, telling of a shortage of fuel and of the loss of 21 of his 99 planes, and of his consequent decision to withdraw.
This posed a new and most alarming problem for General Vandegrift and his staff. Plans made by the division had been formulated on the assumption that the ships would remain for four days in the target area so that all supplies could be put ashore. However, even with the removal of all supplies to the beach, the division would have been in a somewhat precarious position, for the shortage of shipping and the unforeseen demand for haste had made necessary a cut below the basic allowances ordinarily prescribed. The unloading process, as we have seen, had been complicated by a condition approaching chaos on the beach, and the movement from ship to shore had been stopped as a result. The withdrawal of the supply ships, therefore, was, from a troop standpoint, little short of a catastrophe, but Admiral Turner’s decision was not changed.
Shortly after midnight of 8-9 August, moreover, friendly surface forces operating in the Solomons area suffered a sudden and overwhelming defeat. The events leading up to the disastrous Battle of Savo Island are interesting.
There can be no doubt at this time that the American attack on Tulagi and on Guadalcanal came as a surprise to the enemy at Rabaul as well as to the smaller forces in the target area.
The American convoy had been sighted as it approached the area by an enemy lookout in the vicinity of Cape Esperance. There appears to have been a breakdown in communications between his post and Tulagi, for his warning did not alert the people on the latter island. The attack, moreover, cut the area off from communication with the enemy rear areas (the radio installations on Tulagi, Gavutu, and Tanambogo had been destroyed by the prelanding bombardment by the San Juan and the two destroyers which accompanied her). Captain Miyazaki, of the Imperial Japanese Navy, who was on duty at Rabaul at the time, was questioned on November, 1945, as a prisoner of war. He said, in speaking of the events of 7 August 1942, “Early in the day we lost communication with Gavutu, so did not know what happened.”
Communication must have been reestablished quickly, however, or else the enemy must have been able to deduce, from the silence that had fallen over its forces in the Tulagi area, that an attack had been mounted. By afternoon of 7 August a naval task force was being assembled from units in Kavieng and Rabaul. It was formed from elements of the 8th Fleet, and consisted of five heavy cruisers–Chokai (flying the flag of Rear Admiral Gunichi Mikawa, CinC, 8th Fleet), Kako, Furutaka, Aoba (Rear Admiral Goto), Kinugasa, the light cruiser Tenryu (Rear Admiral Matsuyama), and Yubari–with one old destroyer Yunagi from the 4th Destroyer Division. Rendezvous was effected northwest of Bougainville, and the force came down the stretch of water which lies between the parallel chains of islands of the group and which was later to become known as the “Slot”.
This force was sighted at 1130 on the morning of 8 August by a U.S. observation plane which maintained contact with it for about an hour.39 The results of the observation were reported at once, but through some mix-up in the communication chain which has never been satisfactorily explained, the screening force of United States and Australian ships apparently was not apprised of the potential danger which the enemy task force presented.
The screening force, divided in two groups, was patrolling the approaches to the transport area on each side of Savo Island when, at about 0130 of the morning of 9 August, it was attacked and overwhelmingly defeated by an enemy force which immediately retired from the area. No attempt was made by the Japanese to pursue the advantage which had been gained, and the transport area was left unmolested. The attack had been preceded by the dropping of flares from Japanese cruiser-based planes, and information subsequently got from prisoners indicates that the attacking force was aided by observation from Cape Esperance made possible by the illumination from the flares and from the burning transport, Elliott.
The results of the attack were little short of catastrophic for the Allied forces. Of the five cruisers on station at the time, four were sunk and the other badly damaged. Chicago sustained damage, while Astoria, Vincennes, Canberra, and Quincy sank during the night and the early morning.
Post-war interrogation of Japanese prisoners answered a question which arose immediately after the Japanese withdrawal–why had the attacking force refrained from annihilating the then defenseless transports? It appears that one 8-inch round fired from the second group to be attacked–the Northern Group–penetrated the operations room of Chokai, destroying all equipment and charts. This together with the fact that there was some delay in resuming proper formation, impelled Vice Admiral Mikawa to withdraw rather than run the risk of being overtaken by planes during a later withdrawal.
A belated vengeance overtook another ship of the force when Kako, about to enter the harbor of Kavieng the next morning, was sunk off Simberi Island by an American submarine, the old S-44.
End of Part 7
In the final days of the Great War, Naval planners had seen first hand the devastation and destruction caused by the modern machines of war.
The submarine was an example of one of the most destructive. As plans were being made for the peace, decisions about the methods for maintaining that peace would have to be made. One of the grand ideas at the time was to limit the offensive powers of the world’s navies. In this rarely discussed report from 1923, the future of the American submarine force hung in the balance. One can only imagine how the world would look today if the planners had their way. The plucky little submarine fleet that survived the devastation at Pearl Harbor on December 7th may not have been available to punish the Japanese while the nation rebuilt.
These records are held in the Naval History and Heritage Command. I am grateful for their work in preserving these valuable lessons from the past.
NAVY DEPARTMENT OFFICE OF NAVAL INTELLIGENCE HISTORICAL SECTION
Publication Number 7
THE AMERICAN NAVAL PLANNING SECTION LONDON
Published under the direction of The Hon. EDWIN DENBY, Secretary of the Navy
WASHINGTON GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE| 1923
This monograph is virtually a reproduction of the formal records of the American Planning Section in London during the Great War, presented in numbered memoranda from 1 to 71, inclusive. Memoranda Nos. 21 and 67 have been omitted as being inappropriate for publication at this time.
Before December, 1917, all strategic planning for the American Navy was done by a section of the Office of Naval Operations in Washington. Admiral Suns urged the need of a Planning Section at his headquarters in London, where comprehensive and timely information was more available; not only of the activities of American Forces, but of the Allied Navies and of the enemy.
A visit to England during November, 1917, by Admiral Benson, Chief of Naval Operations, coincided with a reorganization of the British Admiralty, which included, as a result of war experience, magnification of the function of strategic planning by their War Staff. Decision was then reached to form an American Planning Section at the London headquarters of the Commander, U. S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters, with the idea of cooperating more closely with the British and other Allied plan makers. Up to that time the naval strategy of the Allies often appeared to lack coordination and to be formulated primarily by men so burdened with pressing administrative details as to prevent them from giving due attention to broad plans. It was intended that the new arrangements should correct these defects.
The function of the Planning Section corresponded closely to that of similar units of organization in large businesses and in armies. Its work was removed from current administration, yet necessarily required constant information of the progress of events. It comprehended a broad survey of the course of the war as a whole, as well as a more detailed consideration of the important lesser aspects.
From an examination of these records of the American London Planning Section, together with its history contained in Memorandum No. 71, prepared soon after the conclusion of the war, it is evident that the influence of the Section upon the general naval campaign was constructive, comprehensive, and important.
- W. Knox, Captain (Retired), U. S. Navy, Officer in Charge, Office of Naval Records and Library; and Historical Section
Memorandum Number 68:
FUTURE SUBMARINE WARFARE.
General situation: International naval situation as at present.
Required: Estimate of the situation as to future submarine warfare with relation to—
(a) National interests.
(b) World interests.
As a result of the manner in which the Central Empires have conducted submarine operations, there exists throughout the world a public sentiment favorable to the abolition of submarine warfare and the destruction of all existing vessels of this type.
It is our purpose to examine the question of a future policy in regard to submarines, both from the point of view of world interest and national interest, and to determine the attitude which the United States should adopt toward the abolition of submarine warfare.
Theoretically the submarine is a valuable weapon of war with a large field of legitimate activity. There appears no cause for its condemnation on the ground that it has been the most powerful weapon of our adversaries, or that it has been used in violation of existing international law. The same reasons might be adduced for discarding the use of guns because they have been used to project poison-gas shells and other projectiles that cause unnecessary suffering.
It is necessary then to examine the actual methods employed by the Central Empires in submarine warfare to discover how far the successful use of submarines is dependent inherently on their employment in a manner inconsistent with the conduct of civilized warfare. If it appears that their efficiency is largely dependent on their illegitimate use in disregard of the laws of humanity, in violation of neutral rights, or in derogation of a sound policy for the world at large, it is safe to assume that in any war the temptation to employ submarines in their most efficient manner may prove too strong for a belligerent threatened with defeat, and that therefore the moral and material interests of humanity would be improved by the elimination altogether of the subsurface vessel.
CONDITIONS GOVERNING SUBMARINE ATTACK.
The weapons of the submarine are the torpedo and the gun. In order to maintain the water-tight integrity of its hull, it is essential that the submarine be protected as far as possible from gunfire. There is thus imposed upon the vessel the necessity of submerged attack against all craft possessing guns of equal or superior range. To make a successful submerged attack it is considered essential to get within ranges of 1,000 yards—preferably 300 yards. To approach within such ranges demands the utmost secrecy. Furthermore, the safety of the submarine precludes the possibility of demanding surrender at anything but a distance that would permit the most valuable prizes to escape by utilizing their superior speed. Owing to the impossibility of always determining the hostile or neutral character of a vessel by its flag or general appearance, there will frequently exist a doubt in the mind of the submarine commander, with a strong tendency to resolve the doubt in favor of aggression. Having torpedoed a vessel, there remains no means under the average conditions of providing for the surrender of the crew or its removal to a place of safety. The security of the submarine at such close quarters requires its continued submergence until the menace to its safety is removed by the sinking of the attacked vessel. Such has been the practical operation of submarine warfare.
LEGITIMATE USE OF SUBMARINES.
The legitimate use of submarines may be considered to be confined to the following:
(1) Independent attack on unsupported combatant vessels of the enemy.
Comment: The submarine has an undoubted right to attack without warning an enemy man-of-war or any vessel engaged in military operations and not entitled to immunity as a hospital ship, cartel ship, etc.
It is repugnant to the standards of civilized humanity to deliberately plan warfare with the intention of giving no quarter in battle. Hence if such an attack is made and the enemy vessel surrendered, provision should be made for the safety of the lives of the prisoners either on their own vessel or in the ship’s boats if in safe waters.
A torpedo attack usually results in the sinking of a vessel. If we imagine this vessel to be a transport loaded with troops, it would be obviously impossible for the submarine to take them on board or to insure any degree of safety to those who might be successfully embarked on the high seas in the ship’s boats.
It may be argued that a similar result might follow an action between surface ships, but it is desired to point out that the rescue of the surrendered or drowning should be the normal procedure and not the exception, as would be the case in unrestricted submarine warfare.
While submarines might be built of sufficient size and equipped in a manner that would permit their operations to conform to the rules adopted for surface craft, it is certain that such vessels would be seriously handicapped by such requirements, and it is not reasonable to suppose that they would be adopted.
(2) Independent attack on combatant enemy vessels capable of rendering mutual support.
Comment: In this case attack without warning would be justifiable. Destructions might be continued until the enemy surrendered, when humanity would require that a vessel be spared to care for the surviving crews. Unless we imagine a submarine large enough to carry prize crews to take possession of surrendered vessels, it is not reasonable to suppose that any combatant vessel would be spared.
(3) Attack, in support of surface vessels, on enemy combatant forces.
Comment: This is a purely legitimate use of the submarine which, however, has had no exemplification in the present war. Great Britain has fast submarines designed to operate with the fleet, but there is no reason to suppose that they might not be diverted to other uses not so legitimate.
(4) Capture or destruction of enemy merchant vessels.
Comment: It must be expected that the merchant vessels of belligerents will arm for defense. This is an ancient right, founded on that of self-preservation and as sound in principle as the right of a citizen to keep and bear arms. Such vessels are nevertheless noncombatants and must be regarded as such, since they are denied the right of taking the offensive.
Since, however, it would be too late for a vessel to defend herself after being torpedoed by a submarine, it is necessary for her to forestall attack as soon as the intention of the submarine can be determined. Under such conditions (which must obtain in unrestricted submarine warfare) a submarine appearing in any quarter from which an attack was possible must expect resistance from the threatened vessel.
In order to make certain that a prize shall not escape attack, the submarine, if inferior in speed and gun power, must make a submerged attack with torpedoes. He is thereby precluded from—
(a) Visit and search to determine identity as well us origin and ownership of cargo.
(b) Summoning the vessel to surrender.
(c) Taking possession of the vessel.
(d) Providing for the safety of passengers or crew.
The inhuman character of this form of warfare has led to forms of reprisals on submarines, such as the use of mystery ships, that react to make the crews of submarines still more brutal, so that no attempt is made to save life, but the submarine continues its submerged attack until the merchant vessel is sunk. Instances of submarines firing on boats filled with passengers are cited and of crews deliberately drowned after being placed on the deck of the submarine.
(5) Capture or destruction of neutral merchant vessels.
Comment: Capture of neutral merchant vessels under conditions
and restrictions imposed by international law is justifiable. Destruction after capture is contrary to international law and can not be justified in any circumstances.
The right of neutral vessels to arm for self-defense dates from the days of piracy, and it can not be denied that the same right still exists to take measures for self-preservation against a belligerent who chooses to operate in defiance of international law against friend and foe alike.
If we admit the right of neutral merchant ships to arm for self-defense, the same set of conditions arise that makes it impossible for the submarine to efficiently wage war on commerce within the bounds of international law. Nor is it apparent that any change in international law could be made that would satisfy the just claims of neutrals to the free use of the high seas for their persons or their goods that would not at the same time seriously hamper the success of the submarine. The difficulty lies in the necessity of secrecy and suddenness of attack to prevent the escape of fast merchant vessels. This is obviously inconsistent with any attempt at visit and search, which in all cases would be necessary if only to establish identity.
(6) All operations of war permitted to surface vessels.
Comment: The necessity of preserving hull integrity and the limited number of guns that can be carried by a submarine restrict sharply its employment in surface operations. Such operations, while legitimate, offer but a small field of activity; illegitimate use of submarines.
The illegitimate employment of submarines by the Central Empires in the present war consisted of—
(1) Attack without warning on enemy merchant vessels.
(2) Attack without warning on neutral merchant vessels.
(3) Attack without warning on enemy hospital ships.
(4) Sinking of enemy merchant ships without visit or search.
(5) Sinking of neutral merchant vessels without visit or search.
(6) The abandonment, without regard to safety, of passengers and crews of vessels sunk.
(7) The planting of unproclaimed mine fields outside of enemy territorial waters.
Submarine operations in the present war may be considered as typical of what may be expected in future wars, when success is dependent on the result of a war on commerce.
There is high authority for the statement that prominent naval officials of at least one of the Allies are of the opinion that the unrestricted submarine warfare conducted by Germany was justifiable, and that with the exception of its more barbarous features its adoption by this ally might be expected under similar circumstances.
It is of interest to note the several phases of submarine operations in the present war as illustrating the tendency to develop maximum efficiency regardless of legal restrictions.
The first phase consisted of submarine attacks on combatant vessels. With the abandonment of the Declaration of London and the inauguration of a general blockade, there entered a second phase, a measure of retaliation, which was distinguished by the destruction without warning of enemy merchant vessels. The protests of neutrals and the fear of drawing the United States into the war induced for a time the exception of enemy passenger vessels; but, on the other hand, destruction without warning was gradually extended to apply to enemy and neutral cargo vessels alike.
It became apparent at last that the only hope of ending the war was by a food blockade of Great Britain. In this situation the Central Empires declared for unrestricted warfare and established prescribed zones that pretended to exclude all vessels from the high seas within certain areas contiguous to the territory of the Allied Powers. Any vessel whatever entering these areas was liable to destruction without warning.
NATIONAL INTEREST AS AFFECTED BY SUBMARINES.
Considering submarine warfare from the standpoint of national interest, let us examine the advantages and disadvantages to be derived from its use by each of the Great Powers.
Great Britain is the greatest naval power as well as the greatest mercantile power in the world. Her existence depends on control of her sea communications. In a naval war conducted by surface craft alone she can by maintaining a large margin of strength above her probable adversaries hope to maintain her position indefinitely. In a naval war involving subsurface craft no amount of naval superiority in any class of vessel can prevent the destruction of her shipping, or, as in the present war, relieve her from the menace of starvation by blockade.
The submarines of Germany almost accomplished their purpose, although the German surface fleet was but a fraction of the united strength of the United States and the Allies, and this in the face of over 4,000 special craft, as well as mines, aircraft, and every device known to science, employed against them.
In spite of the fact that Great Britain has a large flotilla of submarines and has developed a special type for use in fleet action, her naval strength would be greatly increased by the abolition of submarine warfare, and it can be confidently expected that she would favor such a policy.
France is a continental nation ranking fourth in naval strength and merchant marine. She is directly dependent on neither for existence. Except in a world war she might expect to be supplied through her neighbors. In a war with Great Britain, submarine warfare would seem to be to her advantage. She would have little to lose and much to gain. The present war has shown, however, that submarines have little success against combatant vessels, so that, as considered heretofore, important results could be gained only by unrestricted operations against merchant shipping. Aside from any question of legality or morality involved, there is in the destruction of merchant shipping an economic loss to the world that affects all nations, whether belligerent or neutral. This phase of the subject will be discussed later. In a naval war against powers other than Great Britain, there is little that France could accomplish with submarines that could not be done with surface craft.
Italy, while not an insular nation, is dependent largely on sea-borne commerce. Her Navy and merchant marine occupy fifth place among the Great Powers. Her commerce would be largely at the mercy of any enemy in the Mediterranean. During the present war her commerce was driven from the Adriatic, and in spite of the assistance of the Allies she had great difficulty in maintaining herself. With naval operations confined to surface craft she would have been much better off. In addition to the objections to submarine warfare it should be remembered that it is a highly organized and specialized form of warfare requiring technical labor for construction, and for operation expert training, great skill, and considerable endurance to insure success. These requirements are to be found in but few countries. The Germans have set a standard of efficiency for the submarine weapon that we can expect to see but rarely attained. Italy’s strength would not be relatively improved by the continuation of submarine warfare.
Germany and Austria can not expect to be in a financial condition that will permit for at least a generation to come any attempt to revive their naval strength. Considering the fate of their existing submarines, it is safe to exclude the Central Empires from present consideration. They would probably gladly agree to abolish any form of warfare in the future. Should they eventually regain their military strength there is every reason why they should never again be trusted with the submarine weapon.
Japan is an insular nation that occupies in the Pacific a position similar to that of Great Britain in the Atlantic. She stands third in naval and mercantile strength. She has a growing fleet and a rapidly increasing merchant marine. Her only potential enemy is the United States, from whom she can expect no aggression. If, unfortunately, war should come, her position would be very favorable for submarine operations against our communications with the Philippines.
On the other hand, our submarines based on the Philippines and Guam would be within striking distance of her coasts and would be a grave threat to the commerce on which her existence depends. With submarine abolished, her surface craft could probably accomplish lawfully all and more than could submarines.
Japan has but few submarines, and these of but little efficiency, which would seem to indicate that she is in agreement with this view.
Like other nations with ambitions to be powerful commercially on the sea, she has much to lose and little to gain by submarine warfare.
Small nations, with relatively large merchant fleets, such as Holland, Norway, and Sweden, have neither the military strength to withstand the invasion of a great power, nor the means to conduct an aggressive war against a small power. In either case they could expect heavy uncompensated loss from submarines.
Small nations with little or no merchant shipping of their own might selfishly benefit by submarines in a war against a maritime power. If their submarine warfare was confined to legitimate operations against combatant vessels they would be of value in repelling invasion, but it cannot be expected that they would bring about victory against a powerful nation, and in addition to the danger of their submarines being used illegally there could be no equitable means provided of granting their use to one nation and not to another.
The United States is the second naval and mercantile power in the world. Our continental coasts lie across the ocean from any formidable enemy. No foreign invasion of our continental territory is possible, nor do we contemplate aggression against any power. Nevertheless the large merchant marine that we are building may be exposed to submarine attack in any part of the world. Such an aggression by any small or irresponsible power might cause us losses both in property and national prestige out of all proportion to the size of the offending power.
In a war with Great Britain submarines would serve a purpose in preventing the blockade and bombardment of our coasts, but the same results could be accomplished by surface craft and mobile coast-defense guns.
The chief reason why the United States should not build submarines is that public opinion would never permit their use in the same manner as that of our adversaries. Their chief use would be in the destruction of enemy merchant shipping. This the national conscience would not permit, certainly not after the German manner, while our probable adversaries would likely not be controlled by any such restrictions.
With a surface fleet second to none, the United States is in a position to vindicate its policies in every part of the world. With submarines in existence no strength in surface craft can ever insure a like security.
EFFECT OF ABOLITION OF SUBMARINES ON NAVAL STRENGTH.
If we reckon naval strength in terms of dreadnoughts and battle cruisers, and exclude Russia and the Central Powers, we observe that the naval strength of the Great Powers follows closely the strength of their merchant marine and is not dependent on submarines.
|Naval strength.||Capital ships.||Merchant tonnage (approximate).||Submarines.|
|1. Great Britain||43||15,000,000||168|
|2. United States||17||5,000,000||108|
Small powers with negligible navies are—
We conclude that the abolition of submarines would not practically alter the standing in relative remaining naval strength of any of the Great Powers.
DESTRUCTION OF MERCHANT SHIPPING AN ECONOMIC LOSS TO THE WORLD.
It is to the interest of the world at large that the evils of war be confined to the nations participating in it.
The economic interdependence of every part of the modem world makes it impossible for one country to suffer loss without in a measure affecting all. But the vital indispensable necessity to the welfare of the world is merchant shipping, the common carrier of the world that provides the sole means of interchange of products on which civilized existence has come to depend.
International law for the present has not progressed sufficiently far to forbid the destruction of belligerent merchant vessels under certain prescribed circumstances. It does forbid the sinking of neutrals.
We believe that the destruction of any merchant ships employed as common carriers is contrary to a sound world policy and should be forbidden.
As a result of the present war the world at large has been subjected to a loss of 13,000,000 tons of merchant shipping; 2,000,000 tons of this was the property of neutrals.
The loss of cargoes has impoverished the world and subjected many of the neutrals to hardships greater than those endured by some of the belligerents.
The tonnage sunk represents a direct economic loss falling upon the people of the world, whether belligerent or neutral.
EFFECT OF ABOLITION OF SUBMARINES ON REDUCTION OF ARMAMENTS.
The abolition of submarine warfare would be a great step in the reduction of armaments. In addition such a reduction would carry with it the elimination of all special types of craft that are necessary only in antisubmarine warfare.
If all distinctly antisubmarine craft were dispensed with and torpedo vessels reduced to a proportion of six destroyers for each dreadnought or battle cruiser, the following reduction could be accomplished in vessels already built:
|Submarine depot ships||13|
|Submarine depot ships||3|
|Converted yachts (?)||53|
|Submarine depot ships||4|
|Special gunboats (?)||10|
|Submarine depot ships||1|
In addition to the foregoing there could be a reduction in minesweeping vessels, aircraft, repairs, and supply vessels, as well as elimination of special nets, mines, and devices used against submarines.
1. That an international agreement be concluded to abolish submarine warfare.
2. That to insure against violations of this agreement all sub-surface vessels of every class whatsoever now built or building be destroyed, and that none hereafter be constructed.
3. That no merchant vessel shall hereafter be destroyed by belligerent action.
4. That merchant vessels which under present rules would be subject to destruction may be sent into a neutral port and interned in the same manner as combatant vessels.
The Old Submariner
I sometimes don’t know where I’m going, but Oh, all the places I’ve been.
Wrapped up in a hull made of steel, with a crew of fine sailors locked in.
The missions are lonely and silent, the dangers untold with no yield,
But we still climb down the steel ladders, the hatches above us are sealed.
The sunlight’s a far distant memory, fresh air just a dream from the past
The world outside comes in short little bursts, from a buoy or a wire or a mast.
Between drilling and watches and work, there’s no place to be secluded
Surrounded by lights and companions, and pressure is always included.
In sub school they taught you the stories, of boats that exceeded design,
And others that found ancient mountains, nearly ending before it was time.
Fires and flooding and things that exploded, in a hull that is closed on both ends,
Add to pressure from not really seeing, what’s ahead or around the next bend.
You can hide from the storms in deep places, using thermals and currents as masks.
But if mission requires more exposure, the crew does what the Captain asks.
Sliding silently through the dark ocean, sometimes you forget where you are,
Until you remember there’s no moon, not even a glimmering star.
They all wait above you in silence, for the boat to once more breach the waves
In a rush of wild water and motion, escaping a watery grave.
Unless you’re an old submariner, it’s hard to know what this means
As age dims my mind and my body, I’m back riding old submarines.
I sometimes forget what I’m thinking, but Oh, all the places I’ve been.
Bob MacPherson (AKA Mister Mac)
July 25, 2017
I’M THE GALLOPING GHOST OF THE JAPANESE COAST
By Constantine Guiness, MOMM 1/C, USN
I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast.
You don’t hear of me and my crew
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan.
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.
I look sleek and slender alongside my tender.
With others like me at my side,
But we’ll tell you a story of battle and glory,
As enemy waters we ride.
I’ve been stuck on a rock, felt the depth charge’s shock,
Been north to a place called Attu,
and I’ve sunk me two freighters atop the equator
Hot work, but the sea was cold blue.
I’ve cruised close inshore and carried the war
to the Empire Island Honshu,
While they wire Yokahama I could see Fujiyama,
So I stayed, to admire the view.
When we rigged to run silently, deeply I dived,
And within me the heat was terrific.
My men pouring sweat, silent and yet
Cursed me and the whole damned Pacific.
Then destroyers came sounding and depth charges pounding
My submarine crew took the test.
Far in that far off land there are no friends on hand,
To answer a call of distress.
I was blasted and shaken (some damage I be taken),
my hull bleeds and pipe lines do, too
I’ve come in from out there for machinery repair,
And a rest for me and my crew.
I got by on cool nerve and in silence I served,
Though I took some hard knocks in return,
One propeller shaft sprung and my battery’s done,
But the enemy ships I saw burn.
I’m the galloping ghost of the Japanese coast,
You don’t hear of me and my crew.
But just ask any man off the coast of Japan,
If he knows of the Trigger Maru.
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)