Tag Archives: museum

Sea Bodies

9 Jan

The submarine has gone through a variety of changes and alterations over twentieth century though they still vaguely resemble the first modern submarine, the USS Holland (SS-1). Certainly they are far more advanced than the old Turtle, the Revolutionary War submersible that looked more like a barrel with a propeller, rudder and screw driver attached to it. And they have become far more powerful, more dangerous than the first submarine to sink another vessel, the CSS Hunley, which ironically sunk itself moments after destroying USS Housatonic.

When we are asked to sketch up a submarine, draw a basic understanding of what one looks like, most will likely put down a long body with a little tower sticking up top toward the front of the vessel. This basic shape has remained to stay in most military submarines all the way into the twenty-first century with the USS Virginia (SSN-774). The shape of the hull has a reason behind it, just like everything else on these deep-sea vessel, when one looks at a diagram of a World War II submarine or one that happen to be out of water, they see it has more in common with a surface vessel, while a modern one seems to have more in common with a torpedo.

Function and Technology Determine Form

The World War II submarine hulls were designed to travel through the water where they would spend the most time in their careers, on the surface. The drawback to this design was that they were significantly slower underwater.

It runs against popular thinking to say that a submarine, any submarine would spend all that much time on the surface; there were several reasons for this, the primary being that the batteries.In the case of the Balao class submarine, like the USS Ling (SS-297), a museum vessel in Hackensack, New Jersey, all electricity was generated from for electrical generators, each attached to a diesel engine.

  • While running the diesel engines, the vessel had to be on the surface to draw in fresh air through main induction, the main intakes of the vessel and any open hatches.
  • The electricity created would be utilized in several ways; some of it would go to the four electric motors arranged two to a drive shaft and used for propulsion, as well as other systems such as lights, radars, air conditioning, etc.
  • The electrical batteries for storage, used up when the vessel was submerged. In the case of the Balao class, there are two batteries each with 126 cells.


These batteries were large, a little over five feet tall and the cells weigh about five hundred pounds each. They were filled with a chemical, part water and had copper strips extended into them. As the batteries were charged, they created a byproduct of hydrogen which had to be vented overboard; not doing so would create a serious explosion risk, one which resulted losses of submarines like the USS Cochino (SS-345).

Meanwhile, the batteries needed the water element of the chemical replenished. Fresh, salt free water was drawn aboard the vessel, boiled in the distillers in the back of forward engine room, purified, and pumped into storage tanks around the batteries. Because only a certain amount of water could be distilled at one time and because, especially during wartime, things could change very quickly, water was conserved and rationed. This meant that submariner did not shower in fresh water, if at all while at sea.

It was also critical that the water be absolutely free of salt. Any salt in the batteries would create chlorine which would filter up into the vessel poisoning the crew.

Limits and Changes

Forty-eight hours was the limit one could stay underwater in one of these WWII submarines, at least these American submarines.

If, for whatever reason, the vessel’s captain needed to get somewhere fast underwater, they would be out of power in six hours driving those motors full power. Toward the end of the war, the German developed more powerful, more advanced submarines, the Type XXI being the most useful. This boat nicked-named the Elektro-boote could say under water on batteries for about a week.

Reflecting this new capability was the hull design.

Much sleeker, more refined than the American and British submarines of that era; even the German’s own earlier submarines did not have the sleek lines like the Type XXI. When the war ended, the United States took a couple of those submarines home as war booty and began to learn from them. Submarine hull design began to change; existing boats were modified under the GUPPY program, the acronym for Greater Underwater Propulsion and Power with a “Y” thrown in for pronunciation. But by the 1950’s, a new revolution in submarines were underway.


Many saw hull design of the day to be a combination of other ideas; nothing really new and certainly nothing that took advantage of the seemingly unlimited supply of electricity that nuclear power offered. Even the first of our nuclear submarine, USS Nautilus (SSN-575) had a very convention hull, conventional for that time, reminiscent of the Type XXI and the GUPPY altered WWII submarines. A new teardrop shape hull was devised and would be tested out on the diesel-electrically powered USS Albacore.

The next vessels that followed, the Skipjack class and the George Washington ballistic missiles submarines would take advantage of this design. In the years to follow, this would evolve into the longer shape of the Thresher/Permit class and the way to the new Virginia class nuclear submarines. These sleek underwater vessels are, interestingly enough, significantly slower on the surface than under the water, but this is fine as these rarely ever surface and do not have to surface while underway under nuclear power.

These vessels are true submarines; they are most at home underneath the waves of the ocean, on the hunt for anything they are ordered to destroy, spying, patrolling, doing what submarines are known for in the Silent Service.


USS R-12, A Submarine Lost at Sea

21 Jul

Everybody has a story, everybody lived a life, everybody will die, yet there is so little of that remains behind. 2011, internet, supposedly limitless information and we still have to dig, truely dig to find out anything meaningful on lesser known people and topics that are truly meaningful. My case in point for this blog is submarine USS R-12 (SS-89), lost at sea June 12, 1943, taking with her approximately 43 men. Forty-three men, they were born, they were children, they laughed, played, they went to school, they grew up, joined the Navy, some even served for a while, and then, one day, they were gone. I can find the very basic information on this boat and I can find a good list of her crew. Still, I am missing alot, I am missing alot about these people.

Who were they?

R-12 (R-12’s deck gun. This is a photo of the wreck, 600 feet underwater, off Key West, Florida)

The only reason I know about this boat is because of my United States Submarines Veterans, Inc. calendar I have, tacked up the window frame right next to my desk. June 12, a Sunday, simply reads “R-12 (SS-89) 1943”.

A disclaimer, if I may. The author of this blog is not complaining about a lack of interest in history in this nation, a terrible insensitivity to lost submariners, or some kind of injustice or failure of our system. People are busy meeting their own needs and history is a real subject requiring real effort and dedication, much like other interests, pursuits and hobbies. The author accepts this and is at peace with the reality that not everyone and their brother has to be an expert on history to be considered a productive human being.

My purpose in this blog is to collect information already in existence on the internet and in my books, put it together in a manageable form, and put it on display. If I find anything new, I will be happy to share it, but do not be surprised if what you see here is repeated on the first pages of Google.

I volunteer at a submarine museum, I give tour guides, I answer a, excuse the pun, boat-load of questions on them. I like to answer them correctly and effectively, so I research submarines of various types and designs as well as specific ones. R-12 was built at the end of World War I and, back then, most submarines in the US Navy were not given names. The first submarine in the US Navy, SS-1 was named USS Holland after the creator of the modern submarine and there was a period where they were being named after fish. The system changed and many boats that did have a name, lost it and was simply given a letter and a number. This happened long before R-12 was launched.

USS R-12 being launched

The specific dates can be found on Wikipedia, where I got much of her historical data from. Up until 1932, her crews conducted patrols with her and participated in training exercises. In 1932, she was taken out of service, decommissioned is the formal saying in the Navy, and placed in the Reserve Fleet. This usually amounts to a vessel being tied up at a port, closed up and unused until a need arises. That need came in 1940 with Germany, Italy and Japan becoming more and more aggressive, and much of the worldly population feeling that war with these countries, the Axis powers was imminent.

Many of the old vessel of WWI were pulled back into service, these included the old “Flush Deck” destroyers, fifty of which were leased to England in a deal that would give the US access to British bases in the Caribbean. In the United States, on July 19, 1940, Congress passed the Two-Ocean Naval Act which authorized an increase in size of the US Navy by seventy percent and, among many other things, authorized the construction of forty-three new submarines. This bill was based on a request by Admiral Harold Stark, after German troops entered Paris. The United States had formally declared neutrality, but it was gearing up for the potential of a war, granted, one that would not take us by surprise.

In the meantime, however, the US made do with what they had, including old submarines. Newer, more advanced submarines with greater range had long come online, these boats having a range of approximately ten thousand miles. Called the “Fleet Boats” these would be the vessels that would take the fight to Japan and the rest of the Axis powers, particularly in the Pacific where the surface fleet had been devastated. The smaller, older boats, the short ranged boats known as the S-boats would see a little action, though they would be hampered by their lack of range. Most of these boats would be used as trainign vessel and crews would see thier first action on the larger, more advanced and far more comfortable Fleet Boats. The R-boats would never see action, despite being used for coastal patrols.

R-11 on the left, R-12 on the right. This was taken in 1920.

And perhaps it was better that way. These vessels, despite the hard work of their crew and the men who brought them out of the Reserve and back into commission, were not much of fighting ships. One former skipper, who would later go on to captain USS Halibut (SS-232) would say they spent more time trying to keep the R-boat he was assigned to floating than searching for potential targets, in his case, German U-boats. R-12 was twenty four years old when it went down, middle aged to say the least and this factor may have contributed to her sinking.

Once R-12 was back into service, she conducted war patrols off the east coast of the United States and down in the Caribbean and served as a training boat. When she was lost, she was serving as a training boat working out of Key West, Florida. On June 12, 1943, R-12 was about to engage in practice exercises for torpedo attacks. There is no evidence that there was anything to be concerned about when the diving alarm was sounded, but within moments of that, flooding was reported in a forward section of the boat, known as forward battery. The main ballast tank was ordered blown immediately, but so much water must have flooded in so quickly, that the action did nothing. Fifteen seconds after sounded that diving alarm, R-12 sank under the ocean for the last time. We know what happened because there were survivors; the commanding offer, the first officer and three enlisted crewmen were swept off the bridge of the boat, atop of the superstructure and were rescued some time later.

Gone, just like that.

One minute, a crewman is working, preparing for the dive, just like so many others. The next moment, panic, water comes pouring in, the lights fail, everything goes black, and the boat begins to descend out of control, water flooding in the compartments….

Is that how it was?

Amazing really, simply amazing.

R-12 was the oldest of all US submarines lost during the WWII, again, that age may have attributed to her loss, in my opinion at least. Last I heard, the cause of her loss is still unknown; she was recently discovered in 600 feet of water off of Key West, however, and a future expedition is to be launched in the spring of 2012.

Here is a link to a memorial site listing all of the men lost on this vessel: http://www.oneternalpatrol.com/uss-r-12-89.htm

All photos in this blog are from navsource.org.

July 4th Submarine Tours and Thoughts on History

10 Jul

Bow and Stern Plane Wheels in the Control Room

I’ll be the first to admit this is a little late, but our July 4th opening, a last minute decision by museum staff worked out very nicely. I, personally, did a total of three tours alone, two for visitors, one for a fellow tour guide with questions. Quite a day, I will say. I love giving tours through that boat and I will keep giving them until I cannot give them anymore!

Interest in history is alive and well; since beginning my time at the Ling as a tour guide, I have talked to many people who have said they love history, they love reading about it, they love to know more about it. That, for many reasons, makes me happy, and not just because it will mean more people visiting our unique exhibit. The study of history starts out as a simple retention of facts about the nation around us, about our planet, but then, as we delve deeper into it, we start to see connections, pathways ways, and a much greater story. Why something happened can be lost; the American Civil War, according to US News Magazine (I think) reported, during the Anniversary of the Civil War, that the actual origins of the Civil War, the definite origins are unknown. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin recently started some controversy and argument over the origins of Paul Reveres’ Ride before the American Revolution began. And sometimes, even events that have shaped a culture can be forgotten by a large group of people even by those who are direct descendants. I read in an aviation history magazine that a sizable portion of London Citizens have do not know about the Battle of Brittan.

But when I hear people say they love history, when I see parents and grandparents bringing their children and grandchildren to New Jersey Naval Museum to see USS Ling, I am filled with joy! No more do I feel that we are doomed to ignorance and forgetfulness, actually, I gave up that depressing fear about the time I joined the museum. No, each tour is filled with questions and interest, be they little ones, parents, grandparents, or veterans themselves. Ladies and Gentlemen, I am proud to declare once more the interest of history is ALIVE AND WELL!

All we have to do is preserve the piece of it that are left standing. Reading about it is one thing, but to actually touch it and interact with it is something completely different, something that will stay with a person for a long time. Many years ago, my Father took my brother and I to the Ling and I can still remember the two of us making a run for the bow and stern plane wheels in the third compartment of the tour, the Control Room. Many years later, I think it was toward the end of high school, he would take me to see the boat once more. The kids going through it are as amazed as I was when I was a kid and the kids going through the other museums are also as amazed and excited. These places are not just nice little places of antiques, expendable during a time of budget cuts or in the face of financial gain, these are holy places of memory, honor, intelligence, learning, places that are as important as schools and hospitals, places where an appreciation of knowledge, a love of learning and sense of patriotism can be fostered. These are our museums and we must, every now and then, give them a loving hug!

Depth Charged By the Russians

25 Jun

The following article was in the second issue of the Ling Log, official newsletter of the New Jersey Naval Museum. I , Matthew Milsop, conducted an interview with John O’Meally, a twenty-two year US Navy veteran whose last see assignment was USS Halibut (SSGN-587).

Anyone who has read the book Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of the Submarine Espionage, will remember the story and accounts of the USS Halibut. The only Nuclear Powered Regulus boat of the US Navy, she was modified and used as a spy vessel and had some pretty hair raising experiences keeping an eye on the Soviet Union. One of our newest volunteers was assigned to Halibut for three years, while she was a Regulus Missile boat and had a few interesting experiences to share with us. For even as a missile
boat, Halibut was doing quite a bit of snooping. Just goes to show you how truly diverse our Submarine
Force is.
The best way to learn about history is to hear it straight from the source, that is, the source of a person who was actually there! John O’Meally came to us as a volunteer to give tours through the Ling and had, perhaps, some of the best credentials to do so. John served in the United States Navy for about 22 years, many of those years on submarines, seven of those years on a very unique: USS Halibut SSGN-587.

The first name, the first book that comes to mind when this name is mentioned is Blind Man’s Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage , written by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew with Annette Lawrence Drew. Read this book. I say again: read this book! It runs like a spy thriller, it sounds like a spy thriller, it might as well be a spy thriller similar to Tom
Clancy’s work. All of the events in this book, all of the missions, the events, the people, all of it was real, all of this was and continues to be the mission of the submarine force, this and more still happens today under an impenetrable blanket of security! What’s in a name?

This was the second submarine to bear the name Halibut; the first one, a Gato class diesel electric submarine was depth charged 250 times during the War in the Pacific and still returned to base. The account of this and more can be read in
Take Her Deep, by Admiral I.J. Galantin, USN (ret). Halibut, SSGN-587, meanwhile, was a Regulus Boat, commissioned in January of 1960. Carrying five of the winged Regulus type missiles, like the one seen in New Jersey Naval Museum’s park, a Regulus Boat’s job was to conduct Nuclear Deterrence Patrols against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. In the event of war, a Regulus Boat would surface, load and begin to fire its big blue nuclear armed missiles at various Soviet targets. The Regulus boats and surface ships equipped with such weapons were eventually replaced by the Polaris missile boats; these submarines could fire their missiles from below the sea at much greater ranges from their targets. In 1965 she entered Pearl Harbor to undergo refit and reconstruction for her new role as a spy submarine. Halibut’s exploits as a spy sub can be read about in Blind Man’s Bluff and they are, to say the least,
impressive. But what makes Mr. O’Meally’s relation to the Halibut so interesting is that he did not serve on her when she was a spy submarine, but a Regulus Boat.

Don’t stop reading.
I know, I know! Missile boats, deterrence patrols, long, long patrols of nothing, absolutely nothing!
No missiles were fired in anger, missile boats don’t hunt submarines and there is no way a missile boat would do something like spy missions. Halibut may have been a missile boat, but this missile boat was busy and its crew was gutsy, and it had its share of danger and discovery. John O’Meally too, is a rather interesting man; in his mid seventies, he still works for a living, volunteers at our museum to give tours and loves to talk about his time in the Navy and in the Submarine Force.

 John joined the Navy in 1954 for several reasons. The influence of the Navy had been great on him, for he and friends had older brothers who had been Navy and had been in the war. In addition, he had gone to a high school that had also doubled as a Navy school to teach students skills they could use in the Navy when they graduated, should they decide to join. He was also a member of the Navy Club and would meet with fellow students every Thursday. What really did it for him, though, were the post cards from his brother who was in the Navy and on a world tour. Every post card was from another part of the world and John, who already had a good job as an electrician, was inspired to join.

His first few years were not on submarines, but surface ships like destroyers. Despite the fact he was already an electrician, a member of the union, had a Journey Man’s card, the Navy ordered him to go to Electrician School. I asked him if he learned anything new there and he laughed; it was an easy school for him, an opportunity to relax. Later on, he volunteered for the submarine force because of increased pay. He said sailors in the Submarine Force who were doing the exact same job he was doing were doing it for $50.00 more. At the age of 19, that seemed like it would solve all of his money problems. Well, it did more than that. Because he never looked back once; he said to me he was glad he volunteered for the submarine force and you can tell just by listening to him, his voice that he is genuine in that feeling. This man truly enjoyed his time in the Submarine Force!
Another motivation was his station at the time, Key West, Florida. John is an African American and as anyone with a very basic history of our nation knows, the Deep South in the 1950’s was not very hospitable toward African Americans I did not press John for detail about what Key West was like for an African American in the 1950’s, but I know when I say uncomfortable, I am probably making a terrible understatement.

 This was a time before the Civil Rights Movement, when schools were still segregated, a different world from what we live in today. I asked him if he ever had any problems with prejudice in his time in the service and, with regards to the Submarine Force. He said he encountered no prejudice on his boats that he was ever aware of. He did relate one story, which gives younger readers an idea of what that world was like and how tough this man really is. On his first Destroyer, before his time in the Submarine Force, out of training, John’s Chief Petty Officer, a man who was not described in very favorable or nice terms by John informed him that he did not believe that, “Colored Boys” did not make good electricians. As a result, John was forced to do mess cook duty for six months. Normally all new sailors did mess cook duty for three months, but upon completing that, the Chief Petty Officer put him on for another three months. Following that, he was made to do another three months of compartment cleaning. In the meantime, he would work in the electrical shop on his off time as he truly enjoyed electrician work. But at the end of his tour cleaning compartments, he was promoted to Petty Officer Third Class and was no longer eligible to do those kinds of jobs. There was nothing the Chief Petty Officer could do or did about it.
His first boat was a diesel-electric submarine on its way out of commission. Later, he would go to New London, Connecticut to attend the submarine school and serve on two other diesel electric boats. Meanwhile, technological advancements were beginning to gain momentum, advancements that would change the Submarine Force forever. During this period, the Navy was in the process of expanding its nuclear powered submarine force. Starting with USS Nautilus, they were developing a fleet of vessels that could remain under the water for months at a time without surfacing, travel underneath the water much faster provide better defensive and offensive power for the Navy. The diesel-electric boats of the time were excellent designs and many of the boats, like the Ling, had been modified and rebuilt, providing them with better batteries for underwater travel, streamlining for smoother, more efficient underwater travel, and improved sensor equipment. The newer diesel boats built after the war were excellent models. Yet, these boats principal disadvantage was their power source; diesel engines requiring hundreds of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and batteries with the capacity to hold two days worth of electricity before running out and forcing the boat to surface and run the engines. The most immediate remedy had been the snorkel system, where a pair of pipes would be raised above the water and air would be drawn in to replenish the boats air supplies, while another pipe serving as an exhaust, would allow the submarine to run its engines. This system had its problems, one of them being that it was highly taxing on the engines. What was needed was a power supply that would allow the submarine to stay submerged. That was found in harnessing the power of the atom. But men were needed to control and maintain these vessels, and the Navy was having a hard time finding qualified individuals in the ranks of volunteers. Therefore, men like John were ordered to go. As long as their grades and service records had been good, they were eligible enough to train. Upon completion of his training, John was sent to one of his more memorable boats, the USS Halibut.
He spent seven years on Halibut, from 1960-67, and did three patrols in three and a half years. On his last year, the Halibut was undergoing conversion into the spy submarine she is best known as. Despite its unusual design and shape, many of the Regulus Boats had an unusual design and shape, the boat was really no different from the Skate class nuclear powered submarine. The difference came forward of Officer Country, the part of the vessel with sleeping quarter reserved for officers only, where the hanger and launch equipment for the Regulus missiles were stored. This section, known as the “Bat Cave” was notable for having a large, 18 foot hatch atop of it, a hatch much bigger than any other in the Submarine Force. In Blind Man’s Bluff this hatch was said to be a source of concern to those serving aboard her, as well as her noise and ballast tanks. None of these concerned John and the rest of the crew, though when
he did see Halibut’s huge missile bay hatch, he had to wonder, “what the hell kind of submarine is this?”

 By the time he was serving on Halibut, he was an Electrician 1st Class and qualified to stand watch in Engineering. This meant, when ordered to by the Engineering Officer, he was in charge of the Engine Rooms, the Reactor, the Electrical Panel etc. In addition, he had electrical specialists under him and, just like any other submarine. He had to have, at the very least, a basic understanding of all the boat’s systems. While it may have been a far more complex beast, a nuclear crew is still responsible for knowing all of their systems just like on the World War II boats. The isolation, the enormous depths and pressures they were subjected to, combined with the immense firepower, requires the crew to be able to react quickly and replace any loss of deficiency as quickly as possible. Halibut engaged in Nuclear Deterrence Patrols as well as spy missions of her own.

One of those spy missions had an ironic twist to it. Halibut sat 50 miles outside of Pearl Harbor gathering information on the US Navy’s own ships as they came in and out of the base and there is no indication that Halibut was ever detected. This was, in a sense, a warning, that if they could do this, the Soviet Union, in all likelihood was doing the same.

Halibut also observed the Soviets firing one of their first intercontinental ballistic missiles from a submarine. The Soviet vessel launched the missiles from the back of its sail structure from what would be called the fairwater on the Ling. In watching this launch, the crew found the missiles were actually so long, that their bottoms actually rested deep in the Soviet boats. This ran counter to what the Navy believed prior to this, that the missiles were only as tall standing as the sail they were launched from.

The patrol area for Halibut was near the largest Soviet Naval base in the Pacific. In the Kamchatka Peninsula and even there, they got so close to the Soviets, Halibut actually slipped underneath a surfaced Soviet Submarine and photographed its propeller, or what naval people refer to as the screw. A screw’s shape and design are closely guarded secrets. Normally when a boat is in dry dock, the screw is covered up as the shape can actually determine how quiet the boat is underwater. On submarines, the quieter the boat, the better.

 But while they were conducting their intelligence gathering missions, Halibut was always ready to receive the orders that would correspond with a terrible breakdown of peace, orders that would come at the beginning of World War III, orders that, thankfully, never came. Halibut would then have to surface and fire its terrible nuclear payload and destroy the base with its Regulus missiles. The Soviets, meanwhile, were always on the lookout for boats like Halibut and the other nuclear boats of the US Navy. Their destroyers constantly trolled the surface, listening, watching for any sign of any Americans spying on their operations. There are several occasions where American boats were discovered, and Halibut was one of them.

 On a Monday, the Russians had pulled their fleet out of the base to conduct training exercises and this provided an enormous opportunity for the Halibut to gather some excellent intelligence on these vessels. Pictures were taken and, even more importantly, the sounds of the vessel’s engines were recorded by Halibut’s sound sensors. Each ship’s engines have a very specific sound; all engines do not age and deteriorate exactly the same way even if they are the same model and these unique variations in sound are like fingerprints and are a good way to identify each vessel. The force the Russian had deployed consisted of two of their own submarines, several destroyers and a larger ship. At some point, the Russians suspected that another submarine was in the area and they ordered their two submarines to surface. As the sound of a submarine was still audible, clearly they had an uninvited quest. Halibut promptly dove deep and hid.

 By Thursday, the Russian fleet had completed their exercises and was on their way back, but several of the Russian destroyers remained behind. Once more, Halibut had been detected and those destroyers were on the hunt for the snooping vessel. At this time, Halibut had been “rigged for patrol quiet”. There was to be no excessive noise in the boat, but showing a movie was permissible. John was one of those men in the forward torpedo room watching a movie and, half way through, the order, “rig for ultra quiet” was given. The movie had to be shut off as well as many other systems. Soon, he could feel the boat beginning to submerge deeper and deeper. The order “rig for deep submergence” was given and several of the movie viewers in the forward torpedo room got up immediately and began to go from compartment to compartment carrying out their assigned task to make sure each compartment was ready for deep submergence. Then came the order John heard for the first time and would never hear again: “Rig for depth charge.”

 He was up and out of the torpedo room, practically jumping. He went to the battery well with someone else and began securing battery buckets by tying them down. That was when the first depth charge went off. Next, he made his way aft to Engineering to see if he was needed. As a qualified officer of the watch, he had skills that would be needed in the event of an emergency. In addition, this was his battle station.

Then the second charge went off.

The Captain had yet to call Battle Stations. Battle Station is such a high state of readiness. Adrenaline flows, focus is laser sharp, and, forefront on everyone’s mind is the reality, unbelievable as it may have seemed, that they were about to go into combat against the Russians. In addition, on a more immediate level and an immediate concern to Halibut’s forward thinking Captain, he had no idea how long he would have his crew at Battle Stations. Instead of wearing everyone out, therefore, those not on duty or watch were ordered to their bunks to get whatever sleep they could.

On the second day of this, however, Battle Stations was called and the Russians were still hunting Halibut.

They dove deep, very deep. Halibut’s test depth had been 710 feet. In other words, that was the depth the official documents and experts said the boat could safely operate at. As a submarine, dives deeper and deeper into the ocean, it is subjected to more and more pressure, above, below and on the sides of the boat. All submarines have their limits, known as the crush depth, the depth which water pressure becomes so much that the steel of the boat can no longer hold back the pressure of the water. When there is so much water around the boat it will squeeze the hull and crush it like an empty soda can in the hands of a heavy weight wrestler. Halibut’s captain, like many captains trying to escape relentless Japanese attacks during World War II, took a page from their books and drove Halibut a little deeper. They continued on somewhere between 805, 810, the Russians still tracking them. There were ways of escape, methods, tricks that would through the Russians, any anti-submarine warfare team off and allow a submarine to escape. The Russians, according to John were not too skilled, but they had a good learning curve and were getting close. The best way for a submarine to escape was to
find what was known as a thermal layer, enter it, and hide there. A thermal layer is an area of ocean, varying in size, where the temperature has suddenly increased. It is not by much, usually about five degrees or so, but the effects this temperature change has on sound is profound. Sound equipment cannot detect much outside the thermal layer, likewise, hunter sound equipment will usually lose track of a submarine when it enters this layer. Research into thermal layers during the war had resulted in the addition of a small piece of equipment onboard submarines called the bathythermograph, a small device that displayed the temperature of the water around the boat which was instrumental in detecting these layers. Many a crew saved themselves from further torment and possible destruction by finding one of these and slipping their boat into it, confusing and eventually loosing hunting vessels above.
Cold War boats had lost hunters in a similar way. They would drive the boat at high speed, find a layer, enter it, shut the engines down while using hard right rudder. It literally threw the sound of the boat like a decoy and sent the hunting vessel on a wild porpoise chase.
The problem was the weather. Above sea it had been a perfect week for exercises for the Russian Navy with clear skies, calm winds, and nice weather, which allowed Halibut to gather all that data as well. But that also meant there would be few thermal layers in the ocean and, therefore almost no cover. It was not until later that the weather began to pick up and Halibut was able to find its
thermal layers, hide and lose the Russian destroyers.

With their escape complete, and the Russian destroyers returning home, Halibut could drive away to a safer distance. But this was not the end of their seventh patrol, not by a long shot. They still had seven more weeks to go and much more snooping to do in addition to serving as a reminder as to what the Russians would face in retaliation if they decided to begin WWIII. That was a deterrence patrol.

 About 25 to 30 miles away from their patrol area, they cleaned up the boat, fixed what they had to and returned to what would be the last patrol of the USS Halibut as a Regulus missile boat. Next would be her yearlong metamorphosis into the pure spy boat written about in Blind Man’s Bluff. This was neither the first time nor the last time a US submarine would be depth charged by Russian surface forces, but little came of this politically. Rare, if ever, is the story such as this in popular media. The Russians never sank one of our boats and the charges they were using were not very big or powerful ones. This was intentional. These depth charges, smaller ones, were never designed to sink a submarine, but to serve as a warning shot to let the US submarine know that they were found, the jig was up, come up and show yourself.

It may seem like a dirty writer’s trick to drop that little piece of information at the end, as if to say, “oh, but Halibut was never in any kind of danger.” One has to remember, that crew was cut off, and crew did not have the benefit of foresight. That crew, at the moment those charges were falling, did not know what was to follow after the next charge- another warning or the real thing.

Had WWIII begun?

All they knew was that there were explosives being dropped around them and they had no idea when it would end. Perhaps the best indicator of this was in the forward torpedo room.

 They had two of the tubes flooded down, loaded each with a very real, very live torpedo, ready to shoot if the need presented itself.

Thankfully it never did.

My Opening Posts

21 Jun

My greatest two loves in life are writing and history. I write almost every day, finding excuses to do so, before my paid job, and I work at a museum as an unpaid volunteer. My fiction just excercises my mind, gives a bit of life and purpose for learning, my volunteering at the museum allows me to give others a little inspiration and knowledge. New Jersey Naval Museum is the home of a truely great historical artifact, a WWII United States Navy Submarine, USS Ling (SS-297). The Submarine Force of the US Navy was the first arm that struck back at the Japanese, in the days after Pearl Harbor. They would continue to strike at the Japanese for the rest of the war, growing in size, in power, refining tactics and weapons. In the opinion of the writer, they did half the work out in the Pacific War as they sunk about fifty-four percent of Japanese cargo shipping and about a third of thier surface ships, strangling Japan itself. Consider the dangers they faced; depth charges, aircraft, being rammed by friendly or enemy ships, malfunctioning equipment; they are one of the most amazing and understudied groups in WWII history.

Here’s a shot of my boat; I’m proud of her and proud of what she has accomplished. No war record; she did not complete her first war patrol because the war ended and she was used as a training boat after fourteen years in the reserves. She is a teacher to the young and old and a memorial to those who braved the depth of the seas for our country and for freedom.


The fairwater/superstructure of the USS Ling