Posts Tagged ‘USS Bowfin’

Under the Golden Gate

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 16 2010

So where was Flier 66 years ago today?

She was passing under the Golden Gate Bridge and churning the final few miles to the Naval Base at Mare Island.  Mare Island was the West Coast’s submarine base, they were building and launching several a month, in addition to the scheduled overhauls most long-serving submarines were scheduled for every two years or so.  They had building ways for the new construction, dry docks for the overhauls and repairs of any kind.  Every kind of laborer, shipwright, welder, metalsmith, and technician was employed at Mare Island, and they churned out submarines, ships and any kind of naval vessel you could think of at an amazing rate.

The USS Silversides and USS Trigger under contruction at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, where Flier was headed. (Though in actuality, these photographs were taken over two years before Flier's grounding.)

Mare had been a Naval Base since shortly after California’s entrance into the US.  It built and repaired boats for the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII (it was built up immensely to handle the demand for services by the Navy), Korea and Vietnam.

Flier would spend the next two months up on blocks, being thoroughly checked, overhauled, and made fit again.

It would not be cheap, nor easy, and Crowley, like any other submarine captain, would be right there every day overseeing all of it.  Submarine captains were allowed and encouraged to make numerous decisions about their submarine and her fittings every time they were in port.  Where the guns the sub was assigned would be mounted.  How the ladders going up and down the floors would be mounted (I once lead a Trigger veteran through the Silversides and he remarked how rare it was to see a ladder mounted on the long side of the hatch, instead of on the short side, as the Trigger’s was) or anything else they wanted.

While Flier was in port, she would have the latest technology installed in her if any of her systems were out of date (they were, computers then being like computers now, on the cutting edge for the blink of an eye), and anything else desired.

A Pen and Ink Drawing by Sckirken showing a submarine in Dry Dock #1 at Mare Island. Flier would have looked soemthing like this while undergoing repairs.

Most of the crew, since they had not been out for a patrol yet, would remain attached to the Flier, though many of them would be sent home to visit for several weeks while she was up  on blocks.  In retrospect, that was probably a good thing.

Al, meanwhile, was still in Submarine School, still wondering who his first sub would be.  An established warrior with a record like the Bowfin, or the Barb, or the Finback, or one of the dozens of submarines under construction at New London, Mare Island, or Manitowoc?

While we leave Flier up on blocks in California, we’ll start meeting two other submarines that ended up being vital to the story of the Flier: the Robalo and the Redfin.

Exhibit Update

The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 09 2010

Well, the formal proposal is finished.  11 custom graphics for it.  And of course, as is normal, I realized after I sent it that I forgot a few things and had to send several addendums in follow-up e-mails.  Oh well.

One of the fun things to do with the proposals is establish a basic exhibit, then build layers on top of it.  It’s rather like a menu.  If you get past the baseline you can start to pick and choose what you want for additions.  Whether you want floor graphics, or touchscreen interactive documentaries or quizzes, or what.  It’ll be interesting to see what this will end up looking like.  Once I get clearance to show what we have in mind, I’ll post it here.

One of the most interesting things about this exhibit is working with the crew of the USS Redfin, the submarine that not only rescued the Flier survivors, but who also, four months previously, dropped off the Coastwatchers that sheltered them and set up the rescue.   The Redfin survived WWII, then went on to serve until 1969.  Her crew gets together every year to tour, swap stories, and in general, have a good time.  They’re very good at that, and very welcoming (not to mention, hilarious).

When they had their 2008 reunion in Muskegon, they asked me to talk about the Flier and Redfin’s rescue.  It was one of the best evenings in my life.  The next year, they contacted us to say that one of their number had located the Redfin’s bell and, on the condition we put it on display, they wanted to donate it to the museum and in particular, to the long-talked about Flier exhibit.

Submarines tended to leave their bells behind when they left on patrol.  If they remained mounted to the exterior of the submarine, it could ring during the concussions of a depth charge attack, allowing their enemy to hone in and target the sound.  If they brought it inside, it would just use up valuable storage space.  Moreover, if they never came back, their bell could serve as a memorial.  Some of these bells are used for that purpose today.  Some, due to the fact they’re made of nearly 100 pounds of solid brass, were sold and melted down.   (The bell for the USS Narwhal was rescued from the scrap metal heap only a few years ago and is now at the Bowfin Museum inPearl Harbor,  Hawai’i:  http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/09/24/news/story19.html )

It is tradition to ring a bell in memory of lost boats and their crews.  The Redfin bell will do that for the lost Fliers and nearly 3500 men who have given their all in the submarine service.

The Flier’s bell is still missing.  It may have been destroyed decades ago.  It may exist somewhere, long forgotten in someone’s attic.  If anyone ever finds an old brass bell engraved “USS Flier 1943 (or possibly 194)” we would love to hear from you so she can sit next to her sister.

And where was Flier 66 years ago today?  About halfway back to the United States.