Tag Archives: tour guides

Swordfish

14 Oct

USS Swordfish

I love when former submariners
take a tour of the boat.

It’s not because I get
a tour off, it’s not less work for me. I learn, I learn about life on the
submarines from those who actually served on them, went to see in them,
entrusted their lives and futures in the designs and decisions of others.
These are the people who actually operated these vessels, in times of war or
peace. These are the people who had
to deal with the little things, who had to sleep, eat, breathe, work, brush
their teeth,  study, serve aboard these vessels.

I am just a tour guide,
a teacher of sorts, a story teller really.

These people, submariners teach me,
give me material to work with.

I had no idea who he
was when he came to the museum; he was told I would take him through the boat
and when I asked him and the woman with him, if they had ever been aboard one
of these before, I was thinking about warning them about the size of the
vessel, warning them of tights spaces….

He toldme, “Oh, yeah,
I was aboard one of these in the Pacific, USS Swordfish….”

Here was someone who actually knew what this thing, the Ling
was, who knew what the later boats were capable of, knew what they could
accomplish.

Of course, I began with
my usual; pointing out parts of the superstructure, the hydrophone and he told
me what it was like to be riding on the nose of his boat as it rode out of
Pearl Harbor.

In forward torpedo
room, I leaned about Pound Puppy sheets.

On a submarine, even an
early nuclear one, water is a sparse commodity and even the older nuclear boats
needed a great deal of water, not just for their batteries, but for their
reactors as well. Clean sheets, therefore, were a commodity. Crew members would
buy their own sheets when they were in port and, in order to easily identify
them; they would by sheets that had cartoon characters on them.

In forward battery, I learned
about the Goat Locker. The senior chiefs aboard the Ling and other Balao class
boats, used to sleep in the forward batteries, where the officers slept as well.
As I pointed this room out to him, he smiled and referred to it as the “Goat
Locker”. This, according to him is because the chiefs were generally older and
crankier.

Our control room, built
in the 1940’s was fairly familiar to him. The Skate class was not
that much different from the WWII boats in some ways; he was able to identify
many of the parts on his own and he mentioned a little trick they liked to play
with the new crew members coming aboard.

When a submarine dives deeper into
the water, its hull is subjected to growing pressure of the water surrounding
it. And while I know this, I did not think it was as visible as he described
it. For as the boat was diving, they would tie a string to each side of a
compartment as tightly as they could and as the boat submerged, they would
watch as they string began to sag in the middle. Once at their depth, say seven
hundred feet, they would tie another string as tightly as they could to both
sides of the compartment. As the boat would rise, the tension on the string
would increase and the string would latterly snap.

They ate well on the
submarines, they ate very well, that he confirmed. The only problem was the
fresh items, things like the real milk, would go very quickly and then they
would have to go to the powdered milk, not as good. Eggs, however, were
preserved for a period of time by dipping them in wax.

Many books do not
convey the type of people that were aboard these vessels, the human element
that we, people typically remember. Few people ask me about the Ling’s maximum
depth, her speed, and all the other statistical items that are so easy to find
and memorize.

He came aboard
Swordfish during her last four years. He and his fellow new crew members walked
down the pair, they saw one modern submarine after another, the lower sitting,
darker, larger, more advanced vessels, they marveled at their size, their
advanced shape.

Then they got to
Swordfish.

There was rust in her
hull. She had a wooden deck, teak wood, just like the older boats, the World
War II boats. They wondered if she was a museum ship, if there was one kind of
mistake. There of course, was not, Swordfish was simply an old boat.

His chief kissed him,
all part of a test. He passed it by requesting another kiss.

A man was ducted taped
to the ceiling. There was also a body building cook that would congratulate
those who earned their dolphin by hitting them as hard as he could, right on
the pin. He liked to sneak up on his victims, that made it all the more fun.
Our guest would be prepared for that and would catch the cook, frustrating him.
Then, one day, the cook simply walked up to him and hit him as hard as he could
over those dolphins.

Of course, hazing never
happens in the Navy.

Shorter than the Ling,
a Balao class WWII boat, but deeper, it had a second deck. The Ling has mainly
crawl space below the deck within her. He told me how when they would go out on
training exercises against the modern Los Angeles class attack boats, Swordfish
had no real chance. Against the boats of other nations, Swordfish dominated.
But they never went chasing after Soviet boats in the 80’s; Swordfish was
mostly on costal defense work, her time as a deep sea predator was long gone.

Still, she does have an
unofficial, disputed claim to fame.

This Wikipedia quote says
it all:

“On 8 March 1968, K-129, a Golf-II class submarine, sank northwest of Oahu. On 17 March, Swordfish
put into Yokosuka, Japan, for emergency repairs to a bent
periscope. The United States Navy states that Swordfish
was damaged in an ice pack and that K-129, with her nuclear missiles and
crew of 98, was destroyed by an internal explosion, perhaps hydrogen from
its batteries, perhaps a torpedo, while some 2000 miles (3,000 km) distant from Swordfish.”

The Navy attempted to
salvage the K-129 in a secret operation with the CIA and Howard Hughes. The
vessel, Glomar Explorer was used to literally reach down with a massive scoop
and bring the vessel into its massive hold. This, however, failed as K-129
broke up in the grip of the grabber halfway up.

But, did Swordfish
trigger this incredible journey and loss of life? It was not uncommon for
American Nuclear submarines to quietly follow Soviet Missile boats, watching,
gathering intelligence on their actions and capabilities and waiting for
orders, telling of the beginning of world war III and clearance to kill the
missiles boats before they launched their deadly payload.

According to our
submariner visitor, the truth will never be known for certain.

Swordfish no longer
exists; she was cut up into razor blades as everyone likes to say. It’s up to
tour guides like me to carry on the story of these vessels, the people aboard
them.

That’s what we tour
guides do.

We convey the stories
of those who lived, those who did.

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