That’s it. That’s the tweet. Or, is it? I’m not sure it is. It’s funny to think about luck. Okay, I’m getting to the point, I promise.
(I’m old and some of the stats may be a tad off.)
Picture the following scene: it may be midday, somewhere on the coast. In this case, we’ll say the east coast. Tensions are high. So much has been done to get to this point. All the repairs, possibly hundreds of manhours worth. Even then, not all have even been completed. It’s an odd description, but we’ll call it controlled chaos. It may seem like a mess to the casual observer; to the trained eye, everything is happening just as it should. Every man(sorry new navy) and woman is on board. Each person has his or her assigned station and it’s now manned. The CO has his orders and Sublant, in this case, has given the greenlight. This old girl has places to be in order to maintain peaceful patrols. The tug or tugs are alongside and their ropes are in place. The thick ropes on the port side are loosened and hauled onto the pier. The boat begins its transit to the dive point. This can be a relatively short journey or take an hour.
She is pretty to those that call her home. Much like your first car, you never forget your first boat. On the surface, she is ungainly and less than sleek, for she is made to glide beneath the waves and not above them. All the topsiders have slipped below, some to watch stations and some to the mess deck. By now, the tugs have turned back to port, and the Officer of the Deck, sometimes a junior officer who is qualifying and two lookouts, one on each side of the sail. The term is a carry-over from old sailing days. It’s the part of the sub that rises some 20 or so feet above the water. When the sub approaches the designated spot, the lookouts climb up into the sail and one lays below. The other usually helps dismantle all the railings and ephemera from the top of the sail. Everything is buttoned up, hatches are sealed, and so is the fate of every soul on board, for good or bad. The CO is on the conning tower watching through the scope to ensure all the ballast tank vents are operating as hundreds of pounds of air rush in bringing in the sea to help her sink. What an odd thought, a vessel designed to sink… The indicator lights all turn green as all the masts are lowered and hatches, etc. seal. Our girl silently sinks below the waves into the depths with only slightly churning water to mark her passing. Very soon, there will be no indication she was ever here, as that is her mission. We jokingly said, “We hide with pride.”
Way back in 1775, John Bushnell created the first submersible that has a documented history of being used in combat. It holds a special reverence in the Sub community along with the Hunley and Nautilus. In effect, Mr. Bushnell was the first submariner. Technically, she was a failure and never really fulfilled her intended purpose. You can read more here.
The Turtle gave way to more advanced submersibles. The first up was made with efforts by the likes of Horace L. Hunley. To me, he is the father of the submarine service. He failed at the first several attempts. As fate would have it, he decided to command the fateful mission in which all hands were sadly lost. The vessel was later raised and used again in 1864 in the first successful sinking of an enemy vessel (USS Housatonic) by a submarine in naval history, it sank again and for the second time all hands were again lost. From the wiki.
There is something about the submarine sailor. It doesn’t matter under whose flag he or she sails. To us, he is a brother or she is a sister. There are still some 50 + American subs still on eternal patrol. The sea can be a very unforgiving mistress. She is always searching for ways to get past the hull. If she does somehow gain access, she can wreak havoc in a matter of seconds. This is why we trained all the time, probably more than our surface counterparts ever did. As I said above, once the hatches were sealed, so was our fate. We relied not only on the skill of the men and women that built and maintained our floating home, but also on each member of the crew. Should anything bad happen, there was no one coming to save us. Each person was trained, at least to some degree on each part of the sub. When you put on the “phish” (Submarine warfare insignia pin) or dolphins, it showed that you knew your stuff. Training was never ending, even when in port. There were training exercises and classes to attend. We knew that if something happened in the deep black, only we could save ourselves. Sure, in rare cases, we may have been shallow enough for the Navy to try and effect a rescue. Most of the time, this was not an option. If we couldn’t fix it, the sub would turn from home into a tomb stuck at the bottom somewhere. Oftentimes, and particularly in my case, the number of surfaces was equal to the number of dives. The crew would exhale as one in relief when we heard “Station the maneuvering watch”. It meant we were all but home and would be tying up in port soon, our mission complete for now at least.
Several subs have had catastrophic events in very recent years. In 2018, the ARA San Juan S42 was lost at sea with all hands on board. Officials believe there was an electrical issue. Later, it was reported an acoustic anomaly was heard, indicating an implosion had happened, there’s that cruel mistress again. The most recent happened just a few days before this post was written. It also prompted me to talk about it. The Indonesian Navy Sub KRI Nanggala 402 was lost at sea, in very deep water. All 53 hands were lost. It will be a while before they can determine exactly what happened if they can ever really know 100%. Why do I care? Well aside from caring as a human being, these people were part of the brotherhood. I didn’t know any of them personally if at all. That doesn’t matter. They went to sea in a sub, much like I did in my youth. They were bubbleheads. We take these losses a little more personally. We think back to our days beneath the surf. How many close calls did we have? For me, only a couple as I recall. I don’t know that I would have volunteered for Sub duty if I had served in WWII. I’d like to think I would have. All those guys were the reason for phrases like Steel ships and iron men. They were all true badasses with very short life expectancies. If you want to get a feel for what it was like, watch movies like Das Boot or Run Silent Run Deep. The former made me feel like I was back on my sub.
Thank you for indulging in the ramblings of an old bubblehead.
As always, just my .02¢ worth. YMMV