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

There should be no question in anyone’s mind that submarines are one of the most challenging duties any person could ever volunteer for. The men and now women who sail on these unique ships do so with the understanding that all care has been taken to provide for their safety but in the end, safety takes a place in line behind the word “mission”. I have spoken with combat veterans who faced live fire who told me that they could not see themselves serving on board one of these underwater craft. Yet year over year since 1900, American Bluejackets and Officers have raised their hands and taken an oath to defend the country while serving within the confines of a steel tube, closed on both ends, surrounded by the darkness of the world’s largest battlegrounds: the oceans.

When things go according to plan, the crew submerges the ship, conducts their business in silence and returns to some port with stories they are not permitted to tell. Like the contents of a black hole, you are aware that something happened there, but it is only for those who participate to understand the whole story. Some spend a few years in this life and some spend a career. All have a unique story and all have seen and done things that range from the tedious to the terrifying.

Sadly, some join a special group that is known to the submarine family as “On Eternal Patrol”. The unfortunate members who gain this status gain entry in ways that are the stuff of every submariner’s nightmares. Whether it was fire, flooding, loss of propulsion, an enemy attack, or any of a hundred things that went wrong, the boat often serves as a forever resting place for their physical remains. http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/uss-scorpion-589.htm

The Navy marks this day, May 22nd as the official loss date of the USS Scorpion. This is the official US Navy History of the USS Scorpion

“USS SCORPION was laid down on 20 August 1958 by the Electric Boat Division, General Dynamics Corp., Groton, Conn.; launched on 19 December 1959; sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison; and commissioned on 29 July 1960, Comdr. Norman B. Bessac in command.

Assigned to Submarine Squadron 6, Division 62, SCORPION departed New London, Conn., on 24 August for a two-month deployment in European waters. During that period, she participated in exercises with units of the 6th Fleet and of other NATO navies. After returning to New England in late October, she trained along the eastern seaboard until May 1961, then crossed the Atlantic again for operations which took her into the summer. On 9 August, she returned to New London and, a month later, shifted to Norfolk, Va.

With Norfolk her home port for the remainder of her career, SCORPION specialized in the development of nuclear submarine warfare tactics. Varying her role from hunter to hunted, she participated in exercises which ranged along the Atlantic coast and in the Bermuda and Puerto Rican operating areas; then, from June 1963 to May 1964, she interrupted her operations for an overhaul at Charleston, S.C. Resuming duty off the eastern seaboard in late spring, she again interrupted that duty from 4 August to 8 October to make a transatlantic patrol. In the spring of 1965, she conducted a similar patrol.

During the late winter and early spring of 1966, and again in the fall, she was deployed for special operations. Following the completion of those assignments, her commanding officer received the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership, foresight, and professional skill. Other SCORPION officers and men were cited for meritorious achievement.

On 1 February 1967, SCORPION entered the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for another extended overhaul. In late October, she commenced refresher training and weapons system acceptance tests. Following type training out of Norfolk, she got underway on 15 February 1968 for a Mediterranean deployment. She operated with the 6th Fleet, into May, then headed west. On 21 May, she indicated her position to be about 50 miles south of the Azores. Six days later, she was reported overdue at Norfolk.

A search was initiated, but, on 5 June, SCORPION and her crew were declared “presumed lost.” Her name was struck from the Navy list on 30 June.

The search continued, however; and, at the end of October, the Navy’s oceanographic research ship, MIZAR (T-AGOR 11) located sections of SCORPION’s hull in more than 10,000 feet of water about 400 miles southwest of the Azores. Subsequently, the Court of Inquiry was reconvened and other vessels, including the submersible TRIESTE were dispatched to the scene, but, despite the myriad of data and pictures collected and studied, the cause of the loss remains a mystery.”

For an unusually long period, beginning shortly before midnight on 20 May and ending after midnight 21 May, Scorpion attempted to send radio traffic to Naval Station Rota, but was only able to reach a Navy communications station in Nea Makri, Greece, which forwarded Scorpion’s messages to ComSubLant. Lt. John Roberts was handed Commander Slattery’s last message, that he was closing on the Soviet submarine and research group, running at a steady 15 knots at 350 feet “to begin surveillance of the Soviets”. Six days later the media reported she was overdue at Norfolk.

The message read: “Brandywine, Brandywine this is Singing Bush. Gertrude Check.”

Over the years, many stories have emerged from people who were on active duty at that time that tell of a harrowing choice of alternatives to explain the “mystery”. I will wait to go on my own personal “Eternal Patrol” and try and find the crewmembers themselves to find the real answer. Until then , I just know they are gone. They are heroes in the sense that they gave their all for their country. For that reason, I salute their memory and pray for those who still traverse the oceans in these underwater vessels. May the number of dives and surfaces always be equal in the end.

Mister Mac

Passing test depth, sir. 10

Passing test depth, sir.

Image result for submarine underwater

 

A shipmate asked the other night about handling demons.

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

And test depth.

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

How do you handle the demons?

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

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

Fifty years ago, a submarine named Scorpion was lost.

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

See the source image

 

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

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

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

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

Mister Mac

 

Bluejackets Manual, eighteenth edition, 1968 (Third Printing, September 1969) 9

I’m sure I have mentioned it before but I have a modest collection of Bluejackets Manuals dating back to the early 1900’s.

I started out with my Grandfather Parkin’s manuals from the Second World War. From that time, I have added them as I find them in old book stores, sea ports, and Army Navy stores. There is a very nice one in Palmyra PA if you happen to be driving through town but make sure you don’t park in the “Precious Puppies” parking lot out back. The lady that does the grooming will give you an honest to goodness stink eye.

Today I picked up one that I did not have before, the Eighteenth Edition.

This particular version was one of the light blue hardbacks, large print on page numbering and in remarkably good shape. Most of the manuals I find from places like today have pages that are a bit browned from being stored in a basement somewhere. They ended up in his store after someone passed away or maybe just on a wholesale house cleaning. After all, unless your day to day life involves tying knots or small boat handling, the BJM probably doesn’t have much value for you.

I like the submarine sections of the BJM through the years.

You can really get a feel for submarine development by reading the sections that discuss current and future trends. In 1968, nuclear submarines were the main topic.

“The fleet ballistic missile and nuclear propulsion have given the submarine a new place in the defense of the United States. To help discourage an attempted sneak attack on the country, our FBM submarines are kept constantly on station beneath the sea, ready to answer such an attack with an immediate and devastating counterpunch. Our attack submarines are designed to find and destroy enemy subs or surface ships which might launch missiles against us.”

The memory of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was engrained in the Navy’s and the country’s DNA.

The generation of leaders in 1968 in many cases were the young Ensigns and Seamen so sneak attacks were a very real threat. With the advent of the Soviet missile fleet, this threat was very real. In many senses of the word, we were still at war.

The Navy was gearing up for the conflict it hoped to never fight.

“By 1970 the Navy expects to have a fleet of of 100 nuclear powered submarines, 41 of which will be armed with Polaris ballistic missiles. However there are still a large number of conventionally powered “fleet types” in the active Navy”

Mention is made of the Barbel class boats as the last conventionally powered submarines added to the fleet at large. The Nautilus is mentioned as the first nuclear powered boat followed by the four ships of the Skate Class and six of the Skipjack class. The last of the Skipjack Class was of course the USS Scorpion. She was launched on 19 December 1959, sponsored by Mrs. Elizabeth S. Morrison (daughter of the last commander of the World War II-era USS Scorpion, which had been lost with all hands in 1944), and commissioned on 29 July 1960, Commander Norman B. Bessac in command.

The article goes on to report “the largest group of SSNs will eventually be the ships of the Permit (SSN 594) Class, the first of which were completed in 1962. These ships are armed with both torpedoes and SUBROC, an antisubmarine missile which can be fired from a torpedo tube, take to the air in a ballistic trajectory and return to the water miles away to become a submarine hunting torpedo.”

The Scorpion was engaged in submarine warfare development activities in the Atlantic when she was lost.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Scorpion_(SSN-589)

Most boat sailors who know the back stories know that the original Scorpion hull was used for the rapid development of the USS George Washington SSBN 598. The name Scorpion was shifted to the hull which became the boat all of us commemorate each May.

The Eighteenth Edition of the BJM that I have was actually printed in September of 1969. There is no mention of the Scorpion’s loss.  While the mix of submarines by the early seventies is covered in great detail in the Nineteenth Edition (mine in boot camp), there is still no mention of the loss of the Scorpion. Maybe they didn’t want to scare us.

The Nineteenth BJM does have an interesting take on submariners though;

“Submarine duty is different than anything else in the Navy; it requires a special temperament which not all possess.”

From my humble experience, I would have to agree.

The Silent Service

The USS Thresher’s loss finally shows up for the first time in the Naval History section in the twentieth edition of the Blue Jacket’s manual. That was the edition published in 1978 which glowingly talked about the Los Angeles Class and Ohio class boats. Fifteen years. Still no mention of the Scorpion.

The latest version of the BJM in my collection is from my nephew EM1/SS. The Scorpion is still not listed in the historical section of the book. I had never even thought about it until today. That’s kind of sad. Maybe someone who has a more current one can check and see if she has shown up yet.

Did you ever forget something after it was too late to do anything about it? Mine is the sound of my Dad’s voice telling me to be a good person. I can hear the words, but I can’t reproduce the sound no matter how hard I try. I also can’t remember what the Scorpion plaque in the forward escape truck looks like on the George Washington. As an A-ganger doing PM’s, I surely must have seen it. But for the life of me, I can’t remember it.

I hope the lost souls of that boat and their families know that even though the Navy’s Blue Jackets Manual doesn’t remember them, most of us still do. God Rest their souls.

Mister Mac

By the way, if for some reason I am mistaken about the BJM not mentioning the loss, I will issue a formal apology. Maybe I just got the only copies of the 18th to the 22nd Editions that cover the years 1969 – 2000 that didn’t mention them.