December 28, 2009

Stories of Submarine service during the cold war, Vietnam war and even the six day war!!

Glossary of terms:

Port – – Left

Starboard – – Right

Forward – – toward the front end

Aft – – Toward the rear end

Periscope well – – When a periscope is lowered, it goes into a periscope well.

Bubble head – – Name that surface sailors called submariners, we called them surface skimmers, it was O.K. because we knew that they could never find us!


Welcome to Vagabondpress! This is the first time in a long, long, time that the Vagabond (original), has been heard from.  He started in 1966 on the Submarine U.S.S. Piper SS409. You see the Vagabond, legendary now, of course… Lived in nº. 2 Periscope well on that old Submarine, equipped with 4 Fairbanks Morse 16 Cylinder Diesels, built in 1941, equipped after WWII with a Snorkel, and at the time that Vagabond appeared on board, was berthed at the Submarine Base in New London Connecticut, normally doing Submarine Officer training in Long Island Sound. All of those dives for training, and the subsecuent, (only God knows how!) surfaces, made the Piper the U.S. Submarine with the most dives in history, (13,724), when it was put out of commision and went to Detroit as a reserve boat. The Piper was sold for scrap in 1971, a lot of memories went with her.

WWII diesel submarine: 311 feet long, 27 feet across, much smaller than that on the inside. Crew of 10 Officers and around 80 enlisted. Launched in 1944, the Piper made 4 war patrols and won 4 battle stars. It would make 20 knots on four diesels on the surface, 8 knots submerged on the battery and also made our ear drums really flexible during snorkelling operations.

Did anyone out there serve on the Piper during 1966? If so, you are as old as the Vagabond, and of course you remember  his daily newsletter, Sees all, knows all, tells all. Well, the Vagabond is back and not on paper. If you are a Bubblehead, or an ex-bubblehead, drop a comment, the Vagabond will respond with comments on today and stories of yesteryear.

How did your holidays go? The Vagabond went out Christmas day and stayed home New Years day.

Vagabond Continued:

Glossary of terms:

RO – – Reactor Operator

3363 Nuke – – Designated as a nuclear reactor operator at enlistment.

non qual – – anybody who is not qualified in submarines.

ET – – Electronics Technician

3rd. class – – E-4 rank. One chevron below the eagle, or as we called it “crow”. 2nd class E-5 two chevrons, 1st. Class E-6 three chevrons. ie.. Pay grades.

Rack – – Bunk

Wave guide – – a hollow tube that Radio Frequency travels through after it is produced by a magnetron to go out and bounce off targets in a radar system.

There are two kinds of ships – – Submarines and Targets!

Con – – On the old boats it was a barrel shaped area above the control room, you raised and lowered periscopes from there, looked through periscopes from there, the helmsman (driver), was there,the guy in charge was there (conning officer), and a whole bunch more stuff!

Jg – – Lieutenant junior grade.

Trim, a term used to describe the attitude of the submarine, ie.. level in all directions with the diving planes at zero inclination, accomplished by pumping water forward or aft to obtain neutral bouyancy and “zero bubble”, yup, like a couple of levels, one lengthwise and the other side to side.

The perpetrator of the Vagabond Newsletter was a 3363 Nuke and was totally surprized to be sent to a submarine built in 1941 after completing D1G prototype as an RO. In fact, he grabbed his seabag, which had not been touched since he dragged out his dungarees to wear at the prototype. As he started to go on board, he met two third class ETs who were leaving, seabags in hand. One said, hey you must be our relief since there are no other ETs on board now, oh, by the way, the radar has been down for a month! Naturally the newbie thought to himself, radar? The following day there was a uniform inspection in whites, so our third clas ET pulled his whites out of the seabag and tried to smooth out some of the wrinkles without much success. He finally decided that there was nothing more to do so he would have to grin and bear it. As it turned out, our boy, wrinkles and all, had the cleanest and neatest uniform of the whole crew! Meanwhile the Captain, a Lieutenant Commander that the Enginemen had nicknamed Alice was informing the Division heads that this had to be fixed before tomorrow morning because we had to put the boats into a nest so that some Admiral could skip across from boat to boat and get his picture taken. Since they don´t tell non-qual 3rd classes anything, I don´t  know how everything came out, but I didn´t see anyone being beat up on.

So the time had come to start fixing the radar and qualify. The radar was full of jumpers in the power supply, our boy knew that because he figured that his only chance of fixing it would be to make the tech manual part of his body! On further inspection he decided that the only way was to make the guts of the thing at least look like the pictures in the manual! It took a month to fix that SS2 radar, waiting for parts, figuring out where they went and why, etc.. It turned out that the thing would track targets right off the screen and actually worked well through the waveguide in nº2 periscope! Most importantly, our 3rd class ET never had to look at the tech manual again and could trouble shoot the radar from his rack.

The author has been reading the Bubblehead blog which recently was talking about pranks on board during patrols. On the old boats we didn´t need many pranks to have an exciting day.

One of the engineman strikers was shining up a 1 inch sea water flushing line in the forward engine room and it carried away making for lots of high pressure sea water blowing right across the passageway to the opposite bulkhead. We did an emergency surface, got it stopped and then fixed it in port.

The author learned to drink coffee black and bitter after some genius stored all of the sugar outboard of one of the diesels, sugar impregnated with diesel fuel does not taste real good!

Yours truely was always in the con, (barrell) when on watch on the surface.  Deciding that it was fun to take over the quartermaster´s job, jump up the ladder and batten the upper hatch with an officer trainee pulling the hatch shut with the lanyard, 1,2,3 turns on the handwheel, followed by yelling, ” hatch secured sir”. One fine day a fat little officer jumped down from the bridge, threw all his weight on the lanyard, shut the hatch about half way and the lanyard broke, the officer trainee ended up in the control room, and the hatch went “creak” and opened fully, with the locking pin catching dutifully in it´s place. Being a salty submariner by this time I did not hesitate to ring the diving alarm three times and yell “emergency surface”  in the one MC mic, knowing that there was no way that anyone, (even Lurch), was going to pull the pin and pull the hatch shut with no lanyard, end result we kept the ocean in it´s place and didn´t collect a drop inside the boat.

Talk about stowing the boat for sea? One day we were doing dive training in Long Island sound, with the boat out of trim to give the Officer Trainees experience in recognizing and correcting an out of trim situation. So we went into the dive 3000lbs. heavy in bow bouyancy tank, and the boat went nose down real quick, actually it got to almost 45º down angle with no action by the diving Officer Trainee and everybody, at least in the con, hanging on for dear life! Finally, this old salt piped up and said to the ship´s Conning Officer, “I think it´s time to do something sir”. The Conning Officer´s eyes returned to their normal size, and he ordered the ship´s diving Officer to take control. The ship´s diving Officer, being a Jg and a genius, also with the knowledge of what the problem was, promptly gave an “Aye, Aye Sir” and blew bow bouyancy tank. The boat got to an even keel rapidly and then took on a huge up angle, even steeper than the previous down angle!  We finally got the thing under control and surfaced. I was relieved of the watch shortly afterward and walked through the boat to scope out the damage. Since the mess cooks were doing dishes at the time of the event, one coffee cup survived because a mess cook had it in his hand and didn´t break it when he fell on the mess deck. Torpedos had broken loose in the skids, there was paper, rags and trash everywhere in the boat, two packs of WWII lucky Strike cigarettes, (the ones in the green and red pack) showed up floating in the forward torpedo room bilge! Miraculously, no one was hurt more than a few bruises, but after having another huge up angle experience later in my career on the USS Francis Scott Key SSB(N) 657(G), to this day when I fly in a commercial flight and they take that big up angle to gain altitude just after takeoff, people look at me as I instinctively grab things to try and hang on!

One day we were toying with some destroyers from Newport News. I was standing sonar watch when I heard on the underwater phone, “warshot in the water, warshot in the water”, the Captain started to give the order to blow main ballast, and the thing hit us three times on the port side, BONG,.. BONG,.. BONG! Now some of you may not think that the old adage about your life passing before your eyes when you know that you are going to die, is true, but I guarantee that it does! The Squadron Commander was on board and about 15 minutes after the event I heard him tell the Captain of the tin can, (soon to become a Jg stationed in Antartica), on the underwater phone, “I´m glad that your aim is so good and your weapon is so bad”. It turned out that the torpedo was nuclear and didn´t explode because the battery was in the stowed position, upside down!

On the Piper we usually didn´t spend more than a couple of weeks at sea and we didn´t take showers during that time because there was not enough water and besides, the showers were where we stored potatoes! There was enough water to wash your privates every day and not much else. Since we did have bunks we made them up very neatly with sheets and everything and then zipped the flash cover up and slept on top of same, since there was no way to wash the sheets, we didn´t use them!

Vagabond again:


Dolphins – – Metal insignia of two Dolphins with a boat in the middle, signifying qualification as a submarine sailor, worn on the left breast above the ribbons.

I left off with taking a shower every two weeks while riding the Piper, that was in the barracks on the Sub Base in New London. I didn´t last too long in the barracks because the Chief who was in charge of the barracks found me one morning at about 9 o´clock in the morning, asleep in my rack with clothes strewn around and half a pizza on the floor. I woke up with his face about 6 inches from my face, screaming at the top of his lungs! Now, when one has gotten woefully drunk and entered the barracks at about 3 in the morning, he does not like to start his day in this manner! I screamed back, telling him to leave me alone, because I did not have to report in that day, but he kept screaming and I finally picked up and left. The next day one of the Chiefs on the boat said that I had been banned from the barracks and to get reinstated, I should go apologize to the Chief Master at Arms in question. I said that if there was some rule in those barracks that stated that you must be on your feet at certain hour, I was not aware of it and that a Chief should know better than to jolt a drunk into reality like that, no I would not apologize, and I found a woman to live with that day!

How did we used to get that drunk and disorderly? Simple, we just went to the Sub Bar in New London. You could buy your own bottle there at a reduced price, (rather than by the drink), and there were quite a few young chicks there serving behind an oval bar. We drank our Dolfins there, we played darts from 40 ft. away with a beer sign on the wall, someone trickled lighter fluid around the edge of the whole oval bar, waited for all of the girls to be inside and fired it up, a great panic scene!

We didn´t  just have fun in New London, we went to the Newport News Jazz festival once as a submarine crew, ie.. we dropped off the married guys at New London and made four engine turns to Newport News. We had to anchor out in the middle of the bay and ride small boats into town. The Captain, who instigated the trip, had a buddy who had a good sized boat with a couple of outboards on it to help take us over also. Well, the first night about 15 of us took over a bar, (Newport News was a destroyer town at that time), the owner was standing outside the bar and hailed us as we were walking down the street, so we went in and after the guy called a bunch of girls in, we really had a party, one of our most animal dudes jumped up on the bar and stuck his head through the false ceiling, from there a lot of fun and destruction ensued! The next day we actually marched in a parade, well, we got into a sort of double file and walked along behind a high school band. The crowd went crazy when they saw the dolphins and kept running out to bring us drinks. Needless to say we were saluting with the drink cups and really had a good time.

In between the good times we spent most of our time doing training dives with a few sorties to play with destroyers down around the Carolinas. For topagrafical reasons, the sea is always rough off the Carolinas and we ended up with a wierd banging noise up near the bow that was screwing up our passive sonar reception. After an inspection of the forward torpedo room it was determined that it was something outside the hull that was banging around. That was no news to the sonar operators, myself included, so the chief of  the boat, Joe Negri, an E-8 Bosun whose claim to fame was that he gunned down the last Japanese sampan of the second world war, I also saw him save a headon crash into the pier in the Thames river by tying a boline on a bite in record time and lassoing a pileon to stop the boat!, volunteered to go take a look with a First class Engineman. So with the sea running at about 6-7  foot waves, the two of them hooked their life belts to the deck rail and made their way forward to have a look. I was watching through Nº. 2 scope and saw them get down on all fours to peer through the wood decking slots. I saw the COB motion the Engineman to return to the sail which he did and then all hell broke loose. A stiff wind came up and a wave went right over the COB, knocking him down. He got up and became the only person I ever saw who could run with a life belt attached to the deck rail! Result of the inquiry? Someone had managed to steal an aluminum canoe and stuff it down between the superstructure and the pressure hull!

Vagabond signs off:

The Vagabond continued insulting the whole crew on the Piper during the rest of 1966 and into the summer of 1967. One fine morning his master, as below decks watch on nights, was doing pre-checks for getting under way the next morning. When he raised Nº.2 periscope to go into the radio shack and look at that SS-2 Radar waveguide alighnment with Nº. 2 scope wave guide he discovered that the scope wave guide when it came up, smashed into the SS-2 wave guide and bent it! Instant panic ensued and he took the piece of wave guide off and tried to figure out a way to get it´s shape back! This was not to be so the piece of wave guide was delivered to the Sub base metal shop and we got under way without the Captain´s favorite toy, the one shot radar blast through Nº. 2 scope to get perfect ranges on Race Rock, light houses and once in a while a destroyer.

In April of 1967 we took the Piper into the yards at Norfolk Naval Shipyard and spent two months putting her out of commission. Most of the crew got transferred before we took her for her last trip under her own power and it was a very solemn trip. For whatever reason we of the decommissioning crew were teary eyed and choked up for the whole two months that it took us to strip her down to the bare essentials to become a reserve training boat, (sitting at a pier), in Detroit. Since almost no one from the old crew was around, the Vagabond went into hiding and did not surface until recently.

I finally got orders in June and after months of ringing my hands and slobbering about going to a Nuke, I was dismayed to find out that I was going to the U.S.S. Clamagore SS 343 for a four month Mediterrainian run.

Upcoming Post:

How to re-qualify in a week

How to get drunk on one drink

How to rescue downed aviators in the exact middle of the Atlantic ocean

How to became a CT without really trying

How to get run over by an aircraft carrier and others.

U.S.S. Clamagore (SS 343)

As I finished in my last post, I was waiting for the last few months in Norfolk Naval shipyard for orders that I was sure would be to a Nuke Boat, however I received orders to the U.S.S. Clamagore SS343 which was built in 1944, and launched after the Piper, only the Clamagore was 15 feet longer because some genious in the Navy Department decided to add on a bunch of super, duper sonar gear. Well, the shipyard cut the Clamagore in half either port to starboard or starboard to port, not lengthwise… added a bunch of state of the art sonar gear, (state of the art for the late fifties that is), and the boat really wasn´t much different than the Piper except that you had to walk through a longer messdeck to get to your bunk, and the engines were Jimmies (GMCs), which meant that there was more fuel oil all over everything because the Jimmies seemed to leak from every flange! So we were going to the Mediterrainian but first we needed a shakedown after a yard period to get ready to go. So we went out in Long Island sound and shook it down. We did a few dives and surfaces, (it was nice for me not to have Officer Trainees under foot) and then the Captain decided to snorkel a bit. We actually did pretty good until the snorkel induction ball valve decided to shut whenever it felt like it rather than when the sensors detected green water coming in the snorkel air induction mast.

The snorkel was invented by the Germans during WWII to be able to run engines while submerged at scope depth, normally 55 feet keel depth. Great idea because you can charge batteries at the same time while making about 10 to 15 knots of headway, without presenting much to see on the surface, only the periscope and the snorkel mast. The Germans also invented an air system that blew out compressed air through nozzles from the bow planes and the sail trailing edges which effectively masked the sound of the engines which discharged the exhaust directly overboard. We had a masking system on the Clamagore which we tested with another boat listening to us snorkel and when we turned on the masking they said that our trace on passive sonar stopped immediately and we effectively dissappeared. Snorkeling was not a lot of fun however, in fact it was one of those, “yeah we can do that but we don´t choose to things”. Since the sixteen cylinder engines, (each about 20 feet in length with pistons the size of your head in circumference), took their air intake from the ship´s atmosphere with the snorkel mast supplying the new air, any time the snorkel induction mast ball valve closed, for more than about two seconds, the engines would draw a vacuum on the inside of the boat! It was excrutiating and you ended up with no ear wax but lots of headaches!

Vagabond in Europe:

I was not too happy about spending more time on fleet boats but looked forward to fun in Europe. I was a 2nd. class electronics tecnician by then and obviously already qualified in submarines. The ET gang consisted of me, two third class and a Chief. The Chief was not an ET, he was a CT, (SPY). The CTs job on a submarine as I later found out, was to be able to listen to radar beeps and be able to distinguish what kind of ship was emiting them. I say that I found that out later because the Chief got transferred the day before we left for the Med run. The electronics Officer came to me that day, introduced himself and told me that I had to requalify on the Clamagore rapidly because we were going to be in a pinch for radar watch standers. I had been looking around the boat with that in mind, asked a few questions about things that were different or new to me as compared to the Piper such as the masking system. The clamagore was almost a replica of the Piper and I was really qualified on the Piper. So I told the electronics Officer to give me a qual sheet and I would go as rapidly as possible. It took me one week and I was standing watches again in front of my favorite radar, the SS2. That also made me the lead ET and thus put me under the gun.

So we took off for Europe at the end of June, 1967, the day after I received orders to the U.S.S. Francis Scott Key SSB(N)657 Gold crew, to report at the end of October 1967. Since our Corpsman was a sicky, he had the enginemen give us the shots, it was a little unsettling to have a guy with black hands and a huge smile sticking a needle in your arm. Naturally we crossed the Atlantic on the surface making lots of turns on four engines most of the time. The weather was really nice and the sea was quite calm. In fact we arrived at the exact midpoint of the Atlantic and the Captain, since the ocean was dead calm, like a mirror, not even a ripple, much less a wave, decided to do a downed aviator rescue! This consisted of putting three idiots in a rubber raft with a line hooked to one of the grommets, submerge, make a circle and come back, get close enough with the periscope so that they could throw a loop from the line over the scope and we could drag them away to safety! Well, about two hours later, after about 20 attempts to get close, (although the surface was dead calm the currents pushed us around all over the place), One of the guys in the raft stood up with the line fashioned into a lariat, and managed to lasso the scope. We could see what was going on through the scopes, an 8B and number 2, so when we got the thumbs up, we put some turns on to get away from the “enemy fire”, great imaginations! At first we sped up too much and the wake from the scopes tipped the front of the raft up and the three lunatics in the raft looked like they were on water skis, while actually, they were hanging on for dear life, imagine being in a rubber raft in the middle of the Atlantic! Finally we came to all stop and the guys pulled the raft close with the line and unhooked from the scope. We went to a safe distance, surfaced and picked them up. Later I interviewed them with a flashlight as a microphone and they were all clear on one thing, they would never be stupid enough to do that again!

About 5 days later we ended up close to the Rock of Gibralter and the Captain decided to go through the straits submerged! So we submerged and started to go through until we found that the under water currents were moving us around all over the place, fearing hitting the bottom we surfaced and got to get a good view of the Rock and Morrocco on the other side. Our first stop was in Palma, de Mallorca, one of the Spanish Islands off their South coast. In 1967 there was nothing in the seaport of Palma de Mallorca, in fact, we who had liberty the first night, took an hour to find a bar! Today, it costs a small fortune to berth a boat in that port and it is wall to wall bars of all types, along with luxury hotels etc.. etc.. We walked into the bar and discovered immediately that the barman did not speak one word of English so I piped up with Cuba Libre, which I hoped meant rum and coke. Everybody else ordered by pointing and gesturing. The bartender came with the rum bottle and a coke, aha, the plan is working, he filled a shaker glass with rum up to about 1 inch of the top and dashed a little coke in it! My thought was, “the coke must cost more than the rum”, then I decided that it was a rough job but somebody had to do it. Well, I drank the thing over the next hour and then they carried me back to the boat.

We got underway the next morning, not realizing in 1967 that if 3 or 4 of us had gotten together enough money to buy an acre of land on that waterfront we would have been millionaires in about 15 years. We joined the 6th. Fleet in Malta, a small rock in the middle of the Mediterrainian. I guess that we were all there so that the ship Captains could get together with each other and a good single malt to discuss the upcoming training exercises. I had duty the first night and then the next night I had the worst luck of my career, Shore Patrol duty in Malta with the whole sixth Fleet and ships from several different NATO countries there! The strip in Malta, (every port has a strip, where the bars, booze and broads are), consisted of a narrow street that went up one side of a hill and came down the other, every inch on either side was a bar, brothel or sandwich shop. When we arrived there in our paddy wagon, adorned in our cute little SP arm bands and carrying a night stick, the urine was running down the gutters on both sides of the street and on both sides of the hill! One of the prostitutes came up immediately and said that there was a fight in a bar, just up the street, (I knew that she was a prostitute because at least in those days the Malta prostitutes wore a badge which said “Malta Prostitute”, this supposedly meant that she was clean and checked out frequently by a doctor). We got to the bar, loaded up the remnants of the fight, and took them to holding cells somewhere on the island. The night was a horror story with drunken one and two strippers (apprentise seamen), falling around everywhere. Some were asleep, others violent, others violent and crazy, we had a mix of everything and I kept looking at my watch to figure out how much time I had left in purgatory. It finally did get over with and I took a bum boat back to the Clamagore, (we were anchored out in the bay like everyone else).  The next day the leading Petty Officers, my self included made trips around in bum boats trying to either get spare parts for our equipment or get some  A-gang guys to come over and do some welding work. Somebody from our Auxillary gang managed to bring a welder and his helper from a destroyer to come over and fix our after battery hatch, the incentive was a submarine dinner, (the submarine service has always had the best food in the Navy). This welder fixed our warped hatch in about an hour and got a great dinner. This was easy to provide because the cooks were sick of manning the phones on every dive to wait around till we got to 100ft. to take a couple more turns on the hatch handwheel to keep it from leaking at lesser depths, and then, woe be it if we forgot to go to 100ft before surfacing to take a couple of turns off the thing, because the man did not exist who could turn that handwheel to the left on the surface after putting a couple of turns on it at 100 ft! (even Lurch couldn´t do it).

So even though the Shore Patrol stint was a horror story, we all agreed that our 5 days in Malta was probably the best refit that the boat had ever gone through. We thought that we were going to go out and play war games with the sixth fleet but we ended up going fairly close to the Israeli coast, directly between Crete and Alexandria Egypt. Our job? Submerge, make as few turns and noise as possible, cycle between scope depth and a couple of hundred feet and listen for Russian Nuclear submarines making the trip from Crete to Alexandria, pick them up, report their course and speed to the carriers and let the anti-sub fly boys harrass them while they racked their brains trying to figure out how they got detected! After 4 days of this and nothing, the Captain offered a bottle of whiskey to whoever picked up the first one on sonar. The fifth day I was listening and cursing the headset I had on and suddenly it happened, a Whisky Class Russian boat passed so close that I thought we were hit, in a second my heart started pumping again and I reported his course and speed to the con and they called in the dogs. It turned out later that this was all part of the six-day war, you know, Egypt against Israel. The Chief Sonarman in charge stated that the damned ETs have all the luck! This guy took the active sonar on as his own personal baby, the reason being that it was somewhere around a 1955 model,cantankerous and not willing to work. Couple that with the fact that the boats only used these things to get a one ping range and then shoot and you have a real live lottery! The Chief used to sit in seance style cross legged position and talk to the damn thing, he even put in candles and incense.

We screwed around for another few days, with no contacts and then proceeded to Pyireaus, Greece, the port for Athens, to spend some time in a barracks, wash clothes, play in a softball tournament and investigate the hooker situation! I actually did go to the Parthenon and other points of interest in Athens. Turns out that it would be a nice place to be from. The softball tournament was a sixth fleet thing and we looked at it as a good place to drink beer in public. Since we only had 90 guys on the boat even the Captain played so we had enough “atheletes”. We were so loose that we beat two teams from destroyers and another from a cruiser and then we got beat in the ninth because of a dropped fly ball, (it was the Captain), by an aircraft carrier in the championship game. Talking to those guys after the game, they had actually scouted us and were really serious about the whole thing, while we were just having fun, I liked our way better.

By the time we got underway again from Greece, we were already about two months into the Med run which had been mainly ho hum except for the Whisky class nuke. More to come….

Clean Sweep!

In my last post we we leaving Athens and obviously the crew didn´t know where we were going, except for the Quartermasters who for some reason always guarded their priviledged information. It turned out that we left about two days before the rest of the sixth fleet and we headed south west through the Greek Island chain out to somewhere around the middle of the Mediterrainain.

We were more or less biding our time at scope depth, waiting for something and suddenly the C.O. who was on the scope said, “holy shit!”, that looks like a brand new Soviet Destroyer! He gave a course and speed and we sidled up along side, about 150 yds. away. The Soviet destroyer was dead in the water and did not have a clue that we were there! I don´t know if the Captain had radioed in his discovery or not, but his next move was to get the camera rigged up on Nº. 2 periscope and then surface! We were taking turns between me,( the radar operator and scope jockey), the quartermaster, the conning officer and the Captain, looking at this beautiful new destroyer, while the conning officer was snapping pictures through the Nº 2 scope. As we slowly made headway to get pictures of the whole port side, we could see that all hell had broken loose on the destroyer´s deck, ie… it took them 5 minutes to see us after we were on the surface! I was taking my turn gawking and realized that they were taking pictures with hand held cameras and also they trained their deck guns on us. I said, “Captain, you´d better have a look”. He looked and said ahead 2/3 and we made a wide circle around the bow of the destroyer and came up on their starboard side at about the same distance as before and sidled slowly up that side taking miles of pictures, all the time with the guns following us. Since the boat had the numbers blacked out, and since we were on the battery, it was kind of hard, I imagine, for them to figure out what they had in front of them. The Clamagore was longer than a normal Fleet boat and had a sonar bubble on the bow disguising the normal shark fin nose that the fleet boats had.

After about an hour of this the words “Dive, Dive” were passed, we submerged and made about ten miles before we surfaced, started engines and a battery charge, and made some turns to go a little farther west. The Soviet destroyer seemed to be unable to make headway or was on station waiting for another Soviet ship, at any rate we saw no more of it or any other Soviet ships for the rest of our cruise. I learned a few things from this chance encounter, such as the “Cold War” was real, and that our Captain had balls of steel, (albiet, a lousy outfielder).

We messed around for a couple of days there and then got the word that there would be night exercises the following day, the sixth fleet with one aircraft carrier, the Saratoga, was forming a task force from Greece and would head for the Straits of Gibralter, our job, intercept and make kills with flares! Sounds like fun, but it wasn´t. The Clamagore had some kind of a device for picking up radar signals, I don´t remember what it was, because the first time I actually opened it up was when I was under the gun, the CT Chief, who got transferred before we left for the Med, was usually seen at this device, drolling on it! I turned it on and fiddled with it knowingly, and it became clear that the task force had split into two groups, the smaller one coming on the south side of the Greek Islands and the larger group coming from the north side of the Greek Islands with at least fifty miles beween them. The Captain´s question was very simple, where is the aircraft carrier, which group is it in? Not wanting to appear totally inept at this, which I was, ” I said if you would sir, just a minute to listen.” I was frantic and trying to logic out the problem, trying to hear a radar that seemed more potent than the other 20 or so. It was simple logic but almost impossible to determine. Finally I thought I heard something a little different from the north so I cast my future to the winds and said, “the carrier is to the north sir, I think”.

So we positioned ourself directly in front of the northern group, at night, with the Captain on the scope. He kept saying, “wow there are a lot of running lights out there”. Then he continued with the narration, “one going by to port, must be a destroyer, (confirmation came from sonar), one passing to starboard another destroyer, (confirmation from sonar), and then he hit the down lever on the scope and yelled to the diving officer from his knees over the control room hatch, get me down, get me down, now,” Followed closely by sonar reporting, “heavy dead ahead”.  The diving officer flooded everything he could and the boat sank down like a rock , after about 30 seconds all hell  broke loose overhead. The huge screws from the Saratoga passed very close to the top of the sail and the boat was tossed around like a cork, the noise was deafening directly through the hull. The Captain again with his steel balls, shouted, “blow negative make your depth 55 ft”. When scopes popped the surface, the Captain took a look dead ahead then ordered the conning officer to take a picture of the Saratoga, now directly aft, and the after torpedo room to shoot three flares through the signal gun. Later, when we saw the picture it only had Sar, we were that close! I did realize later, that the Captain had come to scope depth immediately, without knowing if there was another ship directly behind the Saratoga, but obviously that was on his mind because he did take a look in that direction. Later, when the Captain returned from a debriefing in Naples, we were informed that one of the flares landed on the after deck of the Saratoga!  The rest of the exercises went rather calmly and it was apparent that the surface craft could not find us, ever. We were told that we had taken a shot at every single ship from the sixth fleet that had participated. We then went to Naples and had some time there to refit and enjoy a little bit of Italy. We actually met up with some of the guys from the Saratoga softball team, telling them that O.K. you won in softball but we won in war!

Naples in 1967 was probably about the same as it is now, at least where the sixth fleet ties up. I walked off the tender with a carton of Lucky Strikes which cost me a dollar, and I was offered ten by the young kids who were at the end of the gang plank. I learned to love home made Italian minestrone, but I won´t say what the circumstances were! I took an excursion to Rome to see the Colisium and generally had a good time. By the time all of that was over we were in the short strokes for the cruise.

We were in the throes of September and made our way to the west stopping at Rota, Spain to refuel and hoist a broom with Nº. 2 scope, we also actually spliced the main brace as we went through the straits of Gibralter, first time I had ever had a drink on a submarine! After an eventful Med run I was expecting a nice smooth ride home, wrong again Batman! About two days out from Rota en route to New London Conn., we were hit by a hurricane. The Captain relieved the radar watch standers because the only thing that showed up was surface noise, waves. I took one of my bottles of Ouso and went down into the sonar shack, since they had also been relieved, there was no one there so I drank enough booze to pass out and woke up when the boat had stopped yawing, rolling, and riding the waves which were some 20 to 30 feet high! The first thing you learn about sea sickness is, “don´t get sick, because at first you will vomit and then have dry heaves until the ship stops moving”. One day later, another hurricane swooped down on us and I did the same thing, get in the lowest part of the ship and pass out! After another day or so that hurricane went to screw over someone else and we managed to make lots of turns real quick and got back to New London without further mishap. Two days later I was transferred to the U.S.S. Francis Scott Key SSBN 657 Gold crew which happily was just starting the 90 day in port period.

Next Nuclear tales….

U.S.S. Francis Scott Key SSB(N) 657


PPIPs – – Primary Plant Instrument Panels –

Primary Plant – – The nuclear power part, reactor vessel, pressurizer, coolant pumps etc..

Secondary Plant – – Steam generators, turbines

NIs – – Nuclear Instruments – – source range, intermediate range and power range.

Well, I returned from the Mediterrainian in one piece and got transferred a few days later to the USS Francis Scott Key SSB(N) 657 Gold crew. The gold crew was finishing up their inport period and I got to get in on the the end of the in port Nuke training! Specifically it was the test! After 2 years on fleet boats, the only thing that I really remembered about Nuke school was the name of the prototype that I qualified at! It was with a sigh of relief when we finally boarded the plane to go over to Holy Loch Scotland and pick up the boat. I was by then a 2nd. Class ET, reactor operator trainee.

We took buses from New London to Rhode Island and flew over on a Navy cargo plane, a C130 I think, and we were sitting in seats made out of straps and all facing the back of the plane, our luggage was packed in towards the tail of the plane and the bets were on how many of us would be killed by flying whiskey bottles if we happened to crash! As I remember, we landed at Preswick, Scotland, in the dark, boarded buses for Dunoon, and made our way by small boat to the tender in Holy Loch, arriving at just about muster time. The Key was tied up in a nest alongside the tender and we settled into temporary berthing and went over to the boat to start taking turnover from the Blue crew.

After 2 years on fleet boats, the Francis Scott Key seemed like a 5 star hotel to me! There were people taking showers in the head on the starboard side of the crew´s lounge, there was a hot dog machine, there was no smell of diesel fuel, heaven! Since we reactor operators were told by the E9 Chief who was the leading Petty Officer, to just go talk to the Blue crew RO´s and see if they would spit out some info on the equipment, I spent most of my time exploring. We, the Gold crew, remained dressed in dungarees while the Blue crew still had their “Poopie suits” (one piece blue coveralls) on, we could easily distuinguish who was who. The Reactor Operator gang for the Gold crew consisted of the Chief and nine 2nd. class Electronics Technicians, including myself. Of the nine, five were qualified Reactor Operators and the rest of us, trainees. I discovered that I had an advantage because everyone seemed to have been forewarned that I was qualified on diesel boats. Of course the E-9 (the favorite story was that when he first qualified as a reactor operator, the reactor vessels were made out of wood!), was too, but other than that we were alone. The turnover between Blue crew and Gold crew was pretty brief because the Blue crew was more interested in when they were going to get the hell on the plane. Therefore I attached myself to a qualified Reactor Operator from the Gold crew and we attacked the RO´s from the Blue crew in tandom, ie.. neither he nor I wanted any surprizes when we tried to start up the reactor for the first time. As we watched the Blue crew RO´s doing checks on the primary plant instruments, nuclear instruments, rod control system etc.. etc.., my recollections of the Nuclear prototype that I went to came back and I was starting to feel at home on the second day. After three days the Blue crew left and we were “the goat”, ie.. responsible. I moved into crew´s berthing, with the rest of the 2nd. class and below and found my bunk to be more spacious that on the fleet boats but nothing spectacular, except it did not have a coating of diesel fuel on the flash cover!

I went to Dunoon a few nights after we got there and found the enlisted men´s club. I filled up on rum and cokes for 25 cents each and watched the funniest TV that I have ever seen, English comics, had me in stitches the whole time. This was the end of 1967 and the comedy was really funny on the BBC. I did the same thing almost every liberty night for the whole month that we were in refit. Back on the boat I was trying to become familiar with everything with Reactor Operator and boat qualification in mind. I was reminded by the Chief several times that myself and everybody else would be on port and starboard, 6 hours on shift, six hours off shift, after getting underway, until we qualified, ie.. could stand an RO watch with no supervision. The rest of the refit we did PPIP checks, NI checks and check outs on the equipment, on the engineering spaces and general qualifying on the boat. For some reason, something that I acquired in basic nuclear school, (two years of college math, physics and chemistry in six months), stuck out, I can inherently, make pictures stick in my mind, (I came upon this when I figured out in the first couple of weeks in basic school, that I needed to learn how to study, something completely new for me!), after having looked at the spaces or done an instrument check or looked something up in the Reactor Plant Manual, I could recollect and see that scene or page, (including the number), with total recall! This inherent trait or blessing, if you will, made qualifying a snap and I was well on my way to qualifying as an RO before we even went out for sea trials! The Chief was astounded and asked me if I was just jerking everybody around because the questions just happened to fall right, or if I was for real. I told him what I considered to be the truth, I was never much on theory, because it was boring and already done as far as I was concerned, but put the nuts and bolts in my hands and I just ate it up! When I was trying to figure out how to  study in basic Nuclear Power School, I decided to try taking as many notes as possible during class and then go back to them to try and absorb the info. The first time that I pulled them out to study, I realized that anything I had written down, I already knew just by taking the notes and visualizing the pages anytime it was necessary.

About a week before sea trials we did a reactor plant startup which I had gone over with a qualified RO the night before and the Chief put me on the reactor plant control panel (RPCP) as the trainee. Everything went without a hitch and the qualified RO´s started wringing their hands and offering info for the first time, they could see a short period of back to backs if they could get me qualified rapidly! I absolutely loved the boat, loved what I was doing and was fueled with a burning desire to be the best. Sea trials went as sea trials go, the boomers, (Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines), rolled from side to side constantly when on the surface because they had a round hull and no rolling chalks. Rolling chalks, which the diesel boats had, were strips of steel welded to the lower side of the submarine on both port and starboard at an angle of about 35º for the whole length of the hull. The rolling chalks scooped the water and acted like a brake to calm the rolling effect produced by the waves. So I think everybody felt a little stomach upset after not being at sea for over four months. We dove, drove around a little, checked out all of the hovering controls, pumps, scopes etc.. and did a fast scram recovery on the reactor, (a scram is when for one reason or another electrical power is lost to the rod control system and all of the poles go in the holes, ie.. the reactor shuts down). to recover you must find the cause, correct it and then pull rods again to bring the reactor back to criticality and then produce heat again. We then did a few angles and dangles to stow the boat, make sure that everything was more or less secured in it´s place and cruised back into Holy Loch. They put me on the bridge as phone talker during the manuevering to get back in the nest alongside the tender, to get a lookout watch requirement signed off on my requalification on submarines. The following occurred which to this day still makes me laugh:

Whereas Diesel submarines were like driving a catepillar because they had two screws, ie.. you could drive ahead with one and backwards with the other and just about do pirouettes if you had enough space, any Nuke boat with one screw was like driving a tractor trailer with a  broken steering mechanism. The FBMs were another hundred feet longer than a fleet boat and displaced about 5000 more tons of water, ie.. a big, unruly cigar on the surface. To be able to manuever these elephants someone installed a secondary propulsion motor amidships. This thing was the equivalent of a retractable inboard motor that would extend from the keel and once locked in place could be controlled as far as turns and rotated 360º. Using the SPM you could push the boat a little bit from side to side or whatever you wanted. The scene went, “SPM con, deploy the SPM”, shortly the word came back, “con SPM, SPM deployed”. The SPM had a syncro-servo system allowing the turns on it´s screw and the direction it was pushing to be controlled from the con, in this case the bridge. Communication between the con and the SPM was done with a 7MC microphone/speaker system and after pushing the boat around for a while we banged and clanged more or less into our position, the Conning Officer says into the 7MC, “SPM con, house the SPM”, reply, “It´s fine sir”. The conning Officer while laughing, along with the rest of us, was also trying to figure out another way to say, “retract and secure the SPM”, which was, in the end, what the Captain told him to say!

A few days later we went on my first of seven, deterent patrols, I don´t know exactly what our patrol area was, but the water temperature was real, cold. I settled into my new life in this wonderful, clean “boomer” and stood back to back 6 hour watches until three weeks into patrol, when I qualified as Reactor Operator and we went to 8 hour watches once a day. I spent my time then qualifying on the boat and within a month had that out of the way. Other than getting at least six hours sleep on off time, I spent most of my time in the engineering spaces because I loved it, even though we were stumbling around on patrol at three knots, it just made me feel good to be there. The Reactor Operator watchstations were the Reactor plant control panel and Auxillary Machinery Room 2 upper level, the flangeheads (machinist mates), had the lower level. There was a voice tube between the two levels and the ET´s delighted in growling in the thing and then dumping anything and everything on the Lower level watch when he answered because you knew that he had an ear stuck right on the end of the pipe! Everything from water to confetti and everything in between went down that voice tube and the flangeheads spent all their time on watch trying to figure out how to do in the upper level watch. They got back at me on my second patrol when I was qualifying as Engineering Watch Supervisor, ie.. the guy in charge of the engineering spaces outside of the manuevering room. To qualify as EWS you had to become proficient at standing all of the watch stations in the engineering spaces. One day while I was standing watch to qualify in AMR2 lower level, they called on the voice tube and I went over and answered and then, in a flash I said, “oh shit” and jumped back as a ton of icy cold water shot out of the tube, I got wet but they didn´t get it in my ear!

Once in a while we would have a “readiness” drill, man battle stations and then bob around at about 60 feet while the missle techs did a fake shoot. By the time word was passed to man battle stations and you threw on your poopie suit to run aft, the boat was already rolling around, so I managed, as I was running through middle level missle compartment, to run into the last missle tube on the port side, the tube didn´t move at all, and I didn´t run through the missle compartment any more!

The only time that I saw the Captain on my first and second patrols was when he came aft to do a cleanliness inspection after halfway field day. When we did a cleanup, “field day” on submarines it meant that Chiefs and first class got to pick where they cleaned and everybody cleaned. Actually it was no big deal for the RO´s because machinery 2 upper level was inherently clean anyway unless some dummy popped open the flapper valve on the head when we were blowing the tank overboard, the sound of an inadvertently opened flapper on a pressurized tank is very distinctive, in fact, fittingly it sounds like a huge fart! Since one normally had his head directly in line to pull on the flapper handle, everyone would rush to the head to see what the victim looked like spitting out bits of toilet paper and excrement! “Funny”, is in the eyes of the beholder.

I made First Class ET on the inport period after my first patrol, after being in the Navy for about 4 and a half years. It wasn´t easy for the Nuke ET´s to make rate because the tests were all about radar and stuff that we had never seen and never would see, it made studying a huge bore. However, I had become a multiple choice test whiz, somehow I could always throw out two answers as being ridiculous and then I had a 50% chance of getting the right answer.  Anyway, I was so proud of that first class crow and my dolphins that I would have worn my uniform all of the time if I had the chance!

On my second patrol, we picked up the boat in Rota, Spain, flying into Torrejón airbase and riding buses to Rota. Rota was much more interesting than Dunoon because there was a “strip” outside the gate of the base. The prostitution or “freebees”, which actually existed, were all contracted in the bars. This was because the Generalissimo Franco regime was still in power, complete with an arsenal of Catholic dogmas to enhance credibility. The first time in Rota, I decided to find a typical, neighborhood bar because I was facinated by Spain. I found one and was not disappointed, a beautiful red wine was served up in a small glass for 5 pesetas, about 2 cents. There were people standing or sitting at the bar in conversation and a lively domino game in progress between some weather beaten farmhands. Every time they served up a drink you got either a piece of cured ham, or a bit of real Spanish Tortilla, (made with eggs, potatoes and onions), or something else, all of which are called “tapas”. Everyone was really friendly and open and I even tried to communicate with a couple of bar mates without much success however enough arm waving and you could get the idea! I did, however, manage to make it later to where the action was and ended up with a beautiful Brazilian who took me home with her.

The routine of turnover on the boat was always the same, the Blue crew distracted about going home and the Gold crew pumping them for info. I suppose that it was the same when we turned over to them, but I don´t remember it that way. Every time I had liberty I went to hook up with my favorite Brazilian and one night she forgot to set the alarm clock. I arrived at the boat just as quarters was ending. I was mortified and scared to death, but I changed and went to work. A few days later I went to Captain´s Mast and the E9 went with me and pleaded my case. Yes, he was late by about two minutes, he was not drunk and he put in a full day´s work. The Captain confined me to not leave the base for a month. Since we only had two weeks left on refit period I went to the club and the rest of the confinement was run out at sea!

On this second patrol I qualified as Engineering Watch Supervisor at the end of same. I also spent time with the new RO´s while I was on watch, and we got into a who´s heavier than who thing which led to questions and answers of historic time frames. ie.. question, answer, why?, answer, why?, answer, etc… etc… By the time a couple of more patrols went by I had completely digested all 7 volumes of the Reactor Plan Manual and with my special recall ability, became the Nº.1 teacher on board!

On my third patrol we got a new Captain, John Forsyth, he was a full commander and the word circulated that he had been a 1st class ET, (Nuke RO), on the Nautilus commissioning crew. The Nautilus commissioning crew was even more special than the already special nukes, they were hand picked and the majority went on to become commissioned officers just as our Captain Forsyth had, no university time, just a commission and innate intelligence did the rest! During that patrol I learned what nuclear submarines were all about. The Captain spent time aft during refit and during patrol would visit the midwatch every night. He would smile and talk to everyone and we did things on the midwatch that opened my eyes in wonder. It became a an anxious wait every time we had the midwatch to see when he was going to show up and challenge us with something new. When he first started, he stuck his head in the manuevering room where the Reactor Plant Control Panel, (RPCP), the Steam Plant Control Panel, (SPCP), and The Electric Plant Control Panel, (EPCP), were, along with the Engineering Officer of the Watch, sitting behind the watch standers, and behind a little desk on a barstool-like chair. Instead of “attention on deck”, our greeting, only on the midwatch, became “hi Captain”, there was even more respect in that greeting than jumping to attention. I was either standing Reactor Operator watches in the early parts of patrols or Engineering Watch Supervisor when we got enough people qualified RO. He would talk a little bit with everyone and then, usually would say something like, “I heard that you can operate this thing  just fine even if you lose half of the Primary Plant Instrumentation”, the first time we just stared at him open mouthed, and then we did it! Mainly, the RPCP goes a little strange and you have to assimilate and figure out why some indicators are at zero (port or starboard) and others were half way, (shared). He would come back in after instructing the AMR2 watch what to turn off, and we would answer a few questions as to controlling the reactor plant with this anomaly and many others. I really looked forward to those visits and looked at it as the opening of boundless new horizons to think about. He came back aft every night on the midwatch and when I had EWS I got to converse with this fountain of knowledge and ask questions that had occurred to me. I guess that he saw something that I didn´t know about, but at the end of that patrol he got me aside and asked me to qualify as Engineering Officer of The Watch, as a First Class ET and not even the senior ET in the gang! I didn´t hesitate to say “yes sir”, but added, I really don´t want to get called back to relieve an Officer just because he wants to do some paperwork in his state room. The reply was, “don´t worry, that will never happen, I want you to qualify because I know that you will become the best EOOW on the boat”.

So the next patrol I was designated as the lead Reactor Operator on the gold crew although there was another, more senior 1st class in the gang, Chief Weeks, our E9 had retired and the other 1st. class was an O.K. type, but not qualified other than RO. Between the Engineer and the Captain my EOOW quals went well and I studied long and hard again to try and anticipate the Captain´s incredible knowledge. I stood trainee watches as EOOW and they ran drills on me which I had seen before and in the past had prompted other EOOW´s on the next move! I qualified as EOOW with about two weeks to go on patrol and settled in as the mid watch EOOW. Our nightly visits from the Captain were more fun than ever for me and the watchstanders in the Engineering spaces were actually calling me sir when they reported in!

My fifth patrol refit period started with my designation as In-port Engineering duty Officer which I sucked up because it meant that I only had to stand duty once during the whole refit! The night in question the Captain held a repel borders drill which I had gone through before, but with one exception. Since the Nukes didn´t get issued guns for repel borders, we would stand around for the drill and grab a cresent wrench, a hammer or even a tweeker and say, “bring ém on!” This time since I had read about it, I realized that as Engineering Duty Officer I rated a 45! I went running to the firearms locker and a Chief Quartermaster was handing out 45´s and thompson´s, I demanded my 45 and he looked at me like I was a martian just as the Captain showed up and said “he is the engineering duty officer”, the guy anticipated everything! The premis was that Nukes could not be trusted with a weapon because they would most probably shoot themselves or somebody else, as they examined the piece to figure it out! The comments were classic when I showed up aft with the 45 a web belt and holster and nonchalantly said, “hi everybody”. Between, “holy shit, it´s GI Joe”, or “take it out, we have to shoot something”, I said no way am I going to take it out, the truth being that I have a huge respect for guns and was leaving nothing to chance.

We went out on sea trails at the end of refit and I discovered that the Blue Crew RO´s had left me a present. I was standing the manuevering watch RO and they had taken the handrail apart on the RPCP and stuck a ball bearing in the horizontal steel tube. When the boat rolled the ball bearing would go clunk, clunk, clunk, from one end of the tube to the other and smash into the end bracket with a huge “clang”! I had to call for a screw driver from machinery two and take one end bracket off to get it out of there! After a short time period on patrol I went to midwatch EOOW and we settled into our routine. We had an unusual amount of drills on all shifts and the Captain said, “we are preparing for ORSE “. ORSE was an operation readiness exam administered by Captains from other submarines all under the wing of an Admiral. We picked them up in Rota after patrol and turned around to go out and get drilled. The Captain did not change the watchbill and we stood watches just like normal except that I was standing EWS when the drills started. They started with a leak on Auxillary Sea Water aft, and I weaved my way through the myriad of ship´s Captains and shut the ASW hull valves, told the Chief who was on watch in AMR2 upper level to man the phones and report “sea water leak on ASW, hull valves shut”. With that I shifted coolers in about ten seconds and like a calf roper jumped up and asked if the leak had been isolated, they said yes, so I told the Chief to report that ASW leak has been isolated, Nº.2 Reactor Plant Fresh Water cooler was in service and requested permission to open the ASW hull valves. The order came to open the valves and drill over! They held a couple of more drills like loss of turbine generator and a PPIP problem which we dispatched, in fact cut off, because we knew our shit!

They had more drills on the next watch and I would run back and take charge on each one, including a reactor scram and subsequent fast scram recovery, which, as I came through the after hatch from the reactor compartment upper level, I could see immediately that the 1st class who was tweeking the Intermediate range Nuclear Instrument channel checker was going to screw up. I yelled, “don´t pull that, (he did, and we scrammed on high startup rate), meter out”. When we were doing a startup the intermediate range nuclear instrument channel checker was supposed to indicate continuity in the intermediate range circuit,the problem always was that it would dampen out as the power level went up, ie.. more neutrons available for fission and you had to stick a multimeter in and tweek it to satisfy the requirement to have the channel checker working throughout the intermediate range. The problem would go away immediately when the reactor got into the power range and the RPCP operator would turn off the intermediate range instruments, ie.. you leave them on and you burn them up! If you pulled the meter out before the RO turned the Intermediate range instruments off, you would unload the circuit and the intermediate range meter would peg, ie.. startup rate scram! I guess that the 1st class was rattled and afraid that the ORSE board guys would ask him why he didn´t take the meter out or something but since he did it, we just had to do it again to get the plant started up. All through that watch I would go back on every drill and make things work.

When watch change came around a messenger came and told me to report to the Captain in his stateroom. I was furiously thinking about what I had screwed up and when I got there the Captain and the Admiral were there and the Captain said, “the Admiral would like you to stay in my stateroom during the next set of drills in the engineering spaces, you have proved your proficiency but they would like to see somebody else perform”. I said Aye Aye sir, and got some sleep for the next six hours. At any rate we ended up with the battle efficiency “E” which we never painted on, and a Naval unit commendation, nice little ribbon to wear!

My sixth patrol was spent as usual training people and standing EOOW watches. The patrol was quite uneventful until we went to the southern missle range to shoot missles with old propellent in them, (they had an expiration date just like cottage cheese). We loaded the missles in Rota and headed south, crossed the equator, (first time for me, the arctic circle was old hat), we had a blast in the initiation party, looked like a mud wrestling contest with no girls! We didn´t shorten the patrol to do this, we just added on another 12 days on the boat! The plan was to do a ripple fire of six birds, one right after the other. They stuck me on the RPCP for battle stations and since it was the first time that we fired even one missle we were all excited. There was a destroyer about 3 miles away and another somewhere down range to track the missles. Every time a missle would leave a tube the rear end of the boat would bounce twice. That seemed normal until the last missle went out and the boat bounced about six times! I was asking the EOOW why it was different and he shrugged since we didn´t seem to be sinking it must be O.K.! Afterwards we found out that when the last missle broke the surface, the solid propellant exploded and we later saw film taken from three miles away, the fireball filled the whole screen. I guess that´s why the destroyer called on the underwater phone asking if we were still there right after the thing blew. When we reached port a quick inspection showed up shrapnel scrapes on the upper part of the tube doors and tank tops, (submarine sailors don´t think about what could have happened).

My last patrol was pretty calm until the 2nd from the last day. Our custom under Captain Forsyth was to take the boat to test depth to make sure that it didn´t break, and check all the systems under the huge pressure. Fact is, that probably the same as on other Nuke boats, we would run a taught string from port to starboard in Machinery room 2 upper level at about the level of your eyes and then watch it sag in the middle as we slowly eased down in the deep. The string would touch the deck right on test depth. This little experiment proved that when you went down to test depth the hull was squeezed by the pressure of the water and actually contracted about 5 feet in circumferance! The only thing that we did differently this time was to stop on the way back up at about 700 feet and do an emergency blow, ie.. blow main ballast tanks with 4500 psi air for an emergency surface. I had the Battle stations EWS watch for the deep dive and was standing in my normal position leaning my rear end against the Machinery room 2 upper level work bench and looking up the passageway between the electrical panels towards the after hatch of the reactor compartment. The word came across the MC, “emergency blowing main ballast”, I felt a little vibration and suddenly the boat took a huge up angle, and there was no blowing noise discernable aft, (I can still see that passageway going up and up almost like we were doing a back flip), it pressed me against the work bench and I was thinking, “the after group didn´t blow, got to throw open the manual blow valve”, just then the hydraulic fluid in the after capstain dumped on me, and really ruined my day! I tried to get to the blow valve on the starboard side but fell down in the oil and could not pull myself up to get there. It was over rather quickly because it doesn´t take long to break the surface with the bow from 700 feet when you stand the boat on end! It turned out that I was the only casualty and a half hour shower got all of the hydraulic oil off. During our few days turning over the boat to the Blue crew, the tender guys inspected the after blow valves and discovered that the internals were installed backwards allowing sea water to corrode them. The Captain said, “Glad you didn´t make it to that blow valve, we probably would have gotten wet”.

The old Escape Tank trick:

I happened to click on a submarine blog the other day and there was a presentation about the Escape Training Tank located on the Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut.

The Tank, a cylinder that stood about 150 ft. high and was about 25 or 30 feet in diameter. This thing was filled with 125 feet of water, climatized, of course. The idea was to teach would be submariners to escape from a disabled submarine. I should say that it was a requirement to do an escape from 50 feet to graduate from submarine school!

I learned one thing from climbing into the escape hatch, letting the water come in until it was up to your chin, pressurizing the escape hatch to the same pressure as the water at 50 feet down in the tank, opening the hatch, stepping out, and going through 8-10 seconds blowing the air out of your lungs like a lunatic, then popping almost your whole body out of the water when you hit the surface. (you have to blow the air out so that it does not expand too much and rupture your lungs). What did I learn? Real submarine sailors in a stressful situation, do not think about being scared, they react, do what they are trained to do and then, do not think about it afterwards.

The blog is: http://makeyourdepth.blogspot.com , the contributor of the presentation is ¨Cookie¨and his blogsite is Thecookshack@aol.com, There are pictures of the Tank inside and out and quite a good insight as to how we used to entertain ourselves. If you don´t want to use the link, type “bubblehead” in the Google search box, click “search” and you will find the address the second or third down.

The tank burned in 1968 or 1969, (don´t ask me how the Navy managed to burn a huge tank of water!), but when our requalification time came up they wanted us to practice in a swimming pool! I said “sure”, and never showed up.

1.- How does screwing around in a swimming pool match up with that tank?

On a 1  to 10 scale   -0

2.- How many places in the world does a submarine go where there is only a hundred feet of water under the keel?

Not even in most ports!

Take a look at the blog, it is quite interesting, also the Cookshack Blog author is an ex-bubblehead, Cookie, who lives at the other end of Onieda Lake from where I grew up and was actually aboard the USS Piper SS409 a couple of years before I went on board!

Take her down, take her deep, make your depth 55 feet!

Don’t ask, don’t tell?

Hi folks, back again cause something bothers me, not just to relate underwater exploits, but then again, maybe that’s what it’s about!

Apparently, don’t ask, don’t tell, means that the homosexuality oriented can’t openly display that they are homosexuality oriented. Like Bill Murray said in one of those funny army movies when he and his buddy were asked if they were homosexuals at the recruiting center, “Do you mean flaming?”

O.K., the Pentagon, in their infinite wisdom, says that very few, if any problems would exist if don’t ask, don’t tell, was repealed. The Joint Chiefs of Staff in their infinite wisdom, are a little less convinced, since the Marine Corps says that it would detract from its ability to prepare the Marines for battle, the Army, moderately and the Navy and Air force are in favor, sort of.

I can state that on the three submarines that I served on in the 60s and 70s, an openly gay guy would probably have been listed as “lost at sea”! Of course we have to try to classify “openly homosexual”, what the hell does that mean? I can’t really picture some dude flirting with “Lurch”, (every boat had one), big, able to lift a torpedo alone, those kind of things. Can’t really picture some dude patting someone’s ass on the way aft to man battle stations! So what is open homosexual behavior all about?

I have an aversion to the effeminate macho, maybe it is nervousness, because we all have some of that in us, maybe it is just disgusting, maybe we, as heterosexuals, are the mutants since there are oysters who can change sex at a whim!  Never did have a real clear idea on Oyster sex!

What I have observed is that gay couples appear, at least to me, to be just that, whether male or female. Yup, you can tell, although the subject never comes up. Lesbians, in my observations, are much more open and clear about these things, the macho partner does everything possible to appear macho, clothes, gestures, if they could grow a beard they would! Gay dudes seem to want to appear more normal, ie… like heterosexuals, (we still are the majority, right?), but they seem to be joined at the hip! Usually no limp wrist waves, but you get the feeling that it is coming. Maybe someone out there knows what I am trying to convey, or maybe I am acting like a red neck, ignorant, old bigot, something not totally out of the question.

So the question really is, what is open? Does it mean that they do the limp wrist, “oh, you’re so naughty” thing? It follows that a fellow combat soldier probably would take that into consideration before asking his homosexual fellow infantryman for cover fire. Or, maybe the homosexual has already proven that he is a trained killer and will react in the correct manner!

There appears to be too little information available as to what’s what, normal when the government makes everyone document everything, just so they can save us from ourselves. I think I would still be working on the SS2 radar on the Piper, (since 1966), to document everything that I had to fix to get it to work! The point seemed to me, was that it worked well and I came away from it as an expert on the SS2 radar, every bit in my head and the ability to make pictures out of thoughts, which helped a whole lot when I went to the Francis Scott Key as a Reactor Operator! So are our Armed Forces required to document their encounters with homosexuals? Maybe homosexuals have to document their encounters with straight dudes! At any rate I think that we all realize that don’t ask, don’t tell is probably some paper pusher’s wet dream and documentation is only used to be able to say, from some regulatory agency, “Aha, the problem is that the war shot torpedo that you guys shot at somebody during exercises was not properly documented!”