Posts Tagged ‘USS Silversides’

USS Miami Fire: The Cause, the Damage, the Future

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 07 2012

One of these day’s I’ll be able to get back to the announcement of a new U-Boat wreck recently discovered (or re-discovered) near Scotland.  I’ve been enjoying researching that story because the U-1206 was one of those boats that we KNOW sank through mechanical failure, and we know how it happened because most of her crew survived (I’ll give you a hint: the seawater that sank the 1206 came in through something most of us sit on to let water OUT)

But some more news came out about the USS Miami this morning, and I wanted to strike while the iron was still hot, as the old saying goes.

And who would have thought a household(ish) appliance would be responsible?

After the Miami was vented, then explored, the Navy was able to assess the damage.  Among those that went through the Miami were Maine’s two senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and Maine’s representative from their First District (which includes Kitterey Maine, where the Portsmouth Shipyard is located) Chellie Pingree.  In addition, Joe Courtney, the representative from Connecticut’s second district (which includes nearby  New London and Groton Connecticut, each major submarine locations, including a submarine-equipped drydock and shipyard) spoke with Navy representatives at the Commissioning of the USS Mississisppi (SSN-782) on June 2. (And WELCOME Mississippi to the Submarine Force!  May you serve long and honorably, together with your crew!–more on her in another post)

First, the damage:  Most accounts agree that the following compartments were damaged:  The Torpedo Room, the Command and Control Center, and some of Crew’s Living Quarters.  Connecticut’s newspaper, The Day, states that crew’s berthing, specifically, was damaged.  Another newscast that specifically cites Sen. Snowe highlighted the “Sonar Room” as one of the highly damaged areas.  Together, that means the damaged sections of Miami are located (roughly) here:

The cross section of a Los-Angeles submarine with the allegedly damaged areas highlighted in red.

Thankfully, there were no weapons on board when this happened and it doesn’t sound like (at least no one’s mentioning it) that the batteries were in any way ruptured, even though they were just below the torpedo room.  In that interview that includes Senators Snowe and Collins, two of the firefighters talked about fighting the blaze–like going into a tin can where the fire’s temperatures are just intense.  Getting in and out of the sub, they said, was like descending into a chimney, but there is no choice.  The worst damage, from all accounts, is in the Control and Command Center and Sonar Compartment, located on the top level.

This is likely Miami's control room, as photographed by the Navy during her 1994 overhaul. According to reports, this room was likely one of the most damaged in the May 23 fire. The only thing I recognize, which hints that this is the control room, is the helm that's just there on the right of the photo. I have to smile when I see the tarps pinned over the dials on the helm's instrument panel. When a similar helm from USS Silversides (II) SSN-679 was delivered to the USS Silversides Submarine Museum, some of those same dials had been removed and replaced by covered wooden corks. Some things are just going to remain classified. Photo source: navsource.org

Miami has been drained and had temporary lights and staging equipment installed, and just late yesterday the cause of the fire was announced:

A Vacuum.

…..?!!!!!

The vacuum in question, whose name, make, model, kind, ect., is still unannounced at this time, was in an unoccupied compartment when the fire started.  Being in an unoccupied compartment probably helped the blaze to spread more quickly than if it had started in an occupied compartment.

But two details that I managed to find, located in the Boston Herald and The Day, added more details to this story.

The Boson Herald’s article states that the vacuum, when the fire started, was UNPLUGGED.  The Day, quoting Rep. Courtney, said that Courtney was told the Miami blaze started after burning embers in the vacuum ignited other refuse in the machine.”  Makes sense to me.  To complicate matters further and give the fire more time to settle in, the first responders initially went to the wrong level in the submarine, before locating the blaze.  It’s possible, though no one knows (or is saying publicly), that the fire alarm which initially alerted the Miami’s crew and workers to the fire, gave the wrong location of the fire, leading to the confusion.

So that’s how it started and got strong enough to require nearly 12 hours of suppression to put it out.

A photo of crew's berthing from Miami's close sister sub, USS Asheville. Modern US nuclear submarines practice "hot bunking" where two crewmembers share a bunk in alternating shifts. That aside, think about trying to fight a fire down here, two decks below the only way out! Likely in the dark! Source: navsource.org

While initial repair estimates varied (Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal quoted initial repairs at $700 million to $1 billion), the current (very) rough estimate the Navy cited is $400 million dollars, plus another $40 million for cost overruns, since Miami, if she’s repaired, will now be in Portsmouth much longer than her original scheduled release of November 2013.  That $40 million will cover rescheduling and reshuffling other repairs, other sub’s schedules, and possibly hiring other contractors to cover parts of various projects this will now cause or inconvenience.

The Navy and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is quick to point out that investigations are still ongoing and that quote may change.  Right now, Miami is having her internal and external hulls examined for more damage.  Any heat warping or damage here will be VERY expensive to fix.  JAG is still conducting its investigation.  NCIS, having concluded that the fire was not arson or any criminal involvement, has closed theirs.  The results of all the various investigations are expected to conclude soon with an announcement sometime at the end of next week (June 15 or so) about the full extent of the damage, Miami’s fate, and the costs of either recycling or repairs.  So we still have to wait for the conclusion of this story.

From Miami's close sister, USS Asheville, a torpedo room photo. Granted, the torpedoes were off the Miami during the fire, but this might give a hint and the close and cramped quarters a submarine really has. And by the time the fire fighters got this far down, they had to descend THREE decks. The battery, by the way, is just beneath this deck. Batteries which don't like heat. And do like to explode in the right conditions. Those are some firefighters! Source: navsource.org

And those firefighters were probably wearing gear similar to this. Again from the Asheville, taken in 2007 during a civilian dive day, the crew demonstrates fire fighting techniques. Each fireman would have to carry his own air, which, according to articles, only held a half-hour's air. You could carry two. (as an aside, it was December when this photo was taken, and you can get the sense how submariners decorate for the holidays on board) Source: navsource.org

The Navy has a general standing policy of fixing her boat and surface ships whenever possible.  It’s often cheaper to do so.   The Miami, with 22 years service under her belt, cost $900 million to build initially, and has already undergone at least two previous overhauls (1994 in Groton and 2002 in Portsmouth, which included extensive modernization).  The modern Virginia-class boats which are now rolling off the ways in Newport News (VA) and Groton (CT) each cost $2.6 billion, hence the reason we don’t build as many submarines as we used to.  I counted three under construction right now, with delivery dates varying from the Minnesota estimated to be commissioned late next year, to the North Dakota whose keel was laid only this past May 11.  Construction will take between 15-20 months, testing a further 5-8.) So, provided Miami’s repairs aren’t too expensive for the potential years the Navy could now get out of her, they’ll likely keep her.  Right now, that’s the scuttlebutt, that she will be kept, but the final decision is, of course, pending on those final results of the various investigations.

There is, as it turns out, one more resource at hand to help Miami: her older sister, MEMPHIS (SSN 691).  Memphis, who is also a Los Angeles submarine like Miami, served from 17 December 1977 to 1 April 2011.  She came to Portsmouth to begin the inactivation process, which includes de-fueling the reactor (and storing or reprocessing the nuclear rods), shutting down the sub and removing any usable equipment, removing the entire reactor COMPARTMENT before making her watertight and sending her off to be recycled.  So, Miami has a (kind of) twin full of spare parts, sitting in a drydock not too far away which could reduce the costs of bringing her back into service. (Both in money and in time)

Taken on her way to be decommissioned, this is the USS Memphis, whose parts may go back into service aboard the Miami. Source: navsource.org

That’s where the Miami stands for now.  Her future seems to be gleaming again, but the final decision is still coming.  Incidentally, while researching this post, I did some digging into what Miami has been up to for the last 22 years.  It’s always difficult (if not downright impossible) to figure out what and where a submarine is at any given time, but what I did find about her career is interesting.  More on that later.  And the U-1206.  And the mini Japanese submarine recently discovered outside SYDNEY harbor, Australia.  And the USS Mississippi…

 

For more information (besides the links in the article)

http://rt.com/usa/news/miami-nuclear-sub-blaze-254/  (This article also references a similar fire on Dec 29 2011 aboard the YEKATERINBERG in Russia.  YEKATERINBERG is being repaired and put back into service.)

http://portsmouth-nh.patch.com/articles/pnsy-officials-vacuum-cleaner-caused-uss-miami-fire 


 

What do you do in Muskegon anyway?

Memorial Ceremony, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jul 29 2010

I thought since the Flier Memorial services are on a Thursday and Friday, some of you might want to know what you can do around Muskegon other than hang at the museum (which is fine by us!)  A lot of visitors to the Museum have often asked me “What do you do around here anyway?”  Well, despite what the teenage locals will tell you, there’s quite a lot to do around Muskegon, especially in the summertime.  Following are some of my favorites.

There’s Michigan’s Adventure, the amusement park that’s half rollercoasters and half water park.  They’re constantly updating every year, and it’s amazing.  There’s the Summer Luge Track (If I remember correctly it’s the only one in the country, or it’s one of two), Muskegon State Park if your inclination is for hiking and swimming (You can hike beach, dunes, transition dunes and woodland all in the same area, or visit the Blockhouse, a replica of an 1812 lookout tower that guarded Muskegon during the War of 1812.  Hike far enough, and you can photograph the Silversides from her starboard side.). You can swim at Pere Marquette Beach, have a meal and  Ice Cream at RuthAnn’s.  (Ruth Ann’s Flirts with the boundary of the state park so you have gorgeous scenery to eat in. ) Visit the Muskegon Farmer’s Market on Thursday or Saturday for everything from fresh produce to candles, doughnuts, cheese, pet accessories, Amish or Mennonite items, handmade furniture, live plants, and other things.  My favorite Cheese Lady is there.   What’s there is different every time, and the place is very large.  If you lean towards Art, there is the Muskegon Art Museum which will be featuring the Regional Juried Art Exhibition.  During the Flier weekend, Muskegon will be hosting the Unity Christian Music Festival.  On $10/day and you have the opportunity to hear several bands that day for the price.  (If you’re near enough, Muskegon also hosts an Irish Music Festival, a Summer Celebration Festival, among MANY others.  Living there was often like getting a free concert every weekend as the music drifted across the lake.)

This is some of the places you'd have to drive to.

As mentioned earlier, there’s also the Hackley and Hume homes, built when Muskegon was a booming logging, sawmill and transport town.  During this time, Muskegon had more millionaires per capita than any other town in the WORLD.  (And that was back when being a millionaire was a BIG deal.)  This is why, when you look in the  several block radius around the Hackley Hume homes (two of the most beautiful and fanciful homes I’ve ever seen) there are so many gorgeous homes with multiple floors, porches, overhangs, turrets, and beautiful hand-carved details.  These men believed in philanthropy and helping the town so they also built many things for the people, such as the Hackley Public Library.  It looks like a castle, and has stained glass windows of many famous writers and authors.  It also has a precise replica of the Book of Kells, the famous seventh century hand-drawn book discovered in Ireland, with beautiful illuminations and knotwork.  Only a few exact replicas were ever made, and they cost thousands of dollars a piece.  The Muskegon Irish-American Society undertook a fundraiser to bring one of these replicas to the Muskegon Library.  It’s the only one on permanent display in a library in North America.  They turn one page a week.  It’s  a gorgeous building to visit.

This is the stuff near the hotels. Most of it is within walking distance.

There the Frauenthal, which is one of those theaters built in that era where they had real box seats in the sides of the walls and gilded carvings surrounding the stage.  Believe it or not, the Glenn Miller Orchestra will be performing on Saturday, August 14, at the Frauenthal.  (Glenn Miller, for those who don’t know, was a huge WWII era performer.  The men of the Flier, Redfin and Robalo probably listened to his records and certainly danced to it.)  There’s Hackley Park, a memorial for the Civil War era soldiers from Muskegon.

There’s the LST-393 Museum, dedicated to the Landing Ship Tank Ships, workhorses of the military in WWII.  Strange thing about those ships, despite the fact that hundreds of them served during WWII, only TWO still exist, one in Muskegon.  After WWII, they were sold to freighting companies all over the world.  They served, and most were eventually scrapped, scuttled, or abandoned, if they weren’t lost at sea.   The 393 was sold to a company in Muskegon who turned it into Highway 16, a ferry linking Muskegon and Milwaukee (much like the Lake Express Ferry today.)  After she was retired, she was moored in Muskegon and more or less forgotten, just like many of her sisters.  Unlike her sisters however, when her identity was discovered, she was not too far gone to restore, thanks to the fresh water of the Great Lakes in which she had traveled since 1946.  Her bow doors were re-opened (they’re the front door to the museum), and she has bee re-done from bow to stern.  If you’re interested in more Naval History in the European Theater, she’s a good stop.

I love Muskegon, in case you haven’t realized, and still miss it, years after my husband and I had to leave for our work.  I hope you do too during your time there for the Memorial.

And sixty-six years ago today, Flier is still in the drydock.  She will be until tomorrow.  She is scheduled to leave on 2 August, and has double exercises with the submarine Muskallunge between now and then, plus night training, and satisfactory completion of her sound test.  The men would be hard pressed to finish everything in time.

Just a quick update…

Memorial Ceremony, The Exhibit | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 19 2010

Snatching a few moments just now to update all of you Flier watchers out there…

After a meeting yesterday, we have some details about the Flier ceremony and the temporary exhibit which we’ll put up in time for the ceremony, and the future permanent exhibit.

If you are planning on coming to the festivities that weekend and you need a place to stay, the museum has reserved 70 rooms at the Holiday Inn downtown for Flier families.  Just mention that you are part of the group.  Don’t wait to reserve your spot, since Muskegon is a tourist town, AND that weekend is the Unity Christian Music Festival, and the hotels are telling us they are expecting to be full that weekend shortly.  If you find that place is full, give me or the museum folks a ring and we can see if we can help you locate another museum or bed and breakfast nearby.

While the memorial ceremony at 11 am on Friday August 13 is open to the public, if you are attending the entire weekend, you will need to register.  All those Flier family members should have received their packets by now.  If you haven’t, let us know and we’ll get them to you.

Between time and financial constraints, the permanent Flier exhibit will not be ready in time, we’re so sorry.  Since it won’t be ready in time, we have opted to not start it during the summer, which is our busiest season.  We do, however, have a traveling exhibit area prepped and ready and will be putting together an exhibit there.  In a way, it’s better, since we’ll be posting more of the original work than we otherwise normally would.  Since these items will come down and go into storage later,  delicate objects that shouldn’t be out in the light for long CAN be put on display here for the temporary exhibit.

Weather permitting, the ceremony will take place on the deck of the Silversides, Flier’s sister, where we will read each man’s name and then ring the bell in their honor, while throwing a flower into the water.  When it’s done, Silversides is surrounded by a cloud of flowers, it’s really quite striking.  The Navy is sending someone to make the address, but who this person is has not been announced yet.  (According to an inside source, this person won’t be announced until about a month before the ceremony.)

For those who have been wanting to see the film about the finding of Flier’s wreck, a copy of it IS scheduled to come and debut during that day.   From what I’ve been told, the rights to the film in the USA are still in question because they are still working on signing with a distributer for the whole six-part series.  There WILL NOT be copies for sale (due to the above-mentioned reason), but it will be shown.  Since we’re expecting about 200 people for the ceremony and our theater only seats 72, we’ll be running it all day.

The future exhibit will be located on the second floor of museum and is currently planned to have a place to show the Dive Detectives documentary, as well as some interactive exhibits.  The location and size of the exhibit changed recently, which means I’m re-drawing what it will look like, so take the images on the “Exhibits” page with a grain of salt.

And finally, my book will also debut that weekend!  If you’ve been interested to read more of the Flier’s story, you’ll have the opportunity.

I’ll try to post later this afternoon about what Flier’s up to today, and some interesting information I discovered about the last time USS Crevalle crossed Balabac Straits.  Why does it matter?  Because the Navy gave the path Crevalle took through Balabac to the Flier to help them navigate safely through, but there were some interesting quirks about that path…

Flier’s First Bite pt. 1

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Jun 06 2010

Sorry for the long delay, sometimes I just need about two more hours in the day, either that, or it’d be nice if my body could survive on less sleep, but I’m sure a lot of people understand that!

So to catch up with our boats, Robalo is in Fremantle and is enjoying their R&R for two weeks, and so she’s not in the map below.

Redfin has passed through Lombok the night of June 2, 1944, and then passed through Makassar Strait, and is getting ready to drop off her Special Mission.  To this end, if I’m not mistaken, Redfin is forbidden to approach or engage any targets they may find until that mission is over, lest they get themselves sunk and take the Signal Men/Coastwatchers with them.  The most she can do if she sees someone, is radio the position, speed and direction to HQ which will then see if they can find another submarine that will cross their general path and take them out.

Map of USS Redfin and USS Flier on 1 June 1944-6 June 1944. Robalo is in Fremantle, and is not shown.

Flier meanwhile, has had her first taste of battle and victory.

On 2 June, USS Silversides, on her way back home to Pearl, spotted a convoy heading northwest.  They were headed east, but Captain Coye knew (since submarine captains were informed of each other’s movements, not some super-stealth submarine psychic powers) that the Flier was a few miles north of them and headed west, he told Flier to be on the lookout for this convoy.

Flier changed her course to intercept, but after a few hours, spotted a different convoy headed southwest.  The sea was glassy calm, and the periscope would make a highly noticable wake, so Flier decided to stalk her prey from a distance and attack at night.

They tracked their prey, keeping just out of sight.  One of the advantages a submarine had was being so low to the water, they were difficult to see, but surface ships, with their high superstructures and smokestacks belching trails of smoke could actually be seen while technically over the horizon.

In the afternoon, their convoy dropped a number of depth charges, though they did not show any signs of having spotted Flier, so they continued their stalking.

Suddenly, there was a second ship approaching over the horizon, heading south.  Flier had a choice:  Convoy 1 or convoy 2?  They chose the new convoy for several reasons:  1.) they were heading right for them and would soon be in a favorable range and position 2.) their first convoy might be under attack already.

Complex map of the two submarine track and three convoy tracks over four days in June 1944. This map reflects only subs and convoys recorded in the War Patrol Reports of USS Silversides and USS Flier. There may actually been more than these in the area at that time.

Very soon, they could see that the convoy was made up of eight ships, and had a number of Able King Freighters available.  But they were heavily escorted and operating at top speed.  They didn’t seem to care about the other convoy, now clearly under attack and firing deck guns into the night.  Convoy 2 fired their deck guns once in the general direction of Convoy 1 but otherwise, charged headlong.  Whatever they were carrying was valuable, and they were heading right into Flier’s web.

The Distant and Lost Graves

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
May 29 2010

On Memorial Day Weekend, I thought I would take an opportunity to honor the men and women who have given their lives so that the rest of us can live in freedom.  From the original soldiers and rebels of the Revolutionary war, all of whom faced a torturous death if the war had been lost and they had been captured and charged as traitors (talk about courage of conviction!) to our modern men and women on numerous bases all over the world, not only keeping us safe, but helping those in need, rebuilding in places where nature or man have destroyed, or all the other innumerable jobs the military does without complaint…

Thank You.

One of the hardest things that the families of the Navy had to face in wartime was the likelihood that if their loved one lost his life aboard his vessel, or his vessel was destroyed, that they would not ever have a grave to visit and remember them by.  Only a little less difficult were those whose sons (and now daughters too) served in conflicts abroad and might be laid to rest in those lands rather than the family plot.

Today, with modern embalming and refrigeration techniques, as many bodies as possible are returned to their families in the States.

But during WWII, that was often not possible.

In the Navy, if a ship or submarine was lost, any men lost with the vessel were lost at sea, sometimes, with no records on either side to record where that may be.  If someone died aboard a vessel during WWII, they were often buried at sea with military rites.  The body would be sewn into a canvas sack, weighted, and slid over the side of the vessel during a formal ceremony.  Even a submarine would pause when it was safest to take care of their lost brothers.  In May 1942, Mike Harbin became the first gunfire casualty of the Submarine Force aboard the USS Silversides.  A round hit him in the head and killed him instantly.  Silversides was battling it out with a small boat at the time, and two more men took Mike’s body inside with them.  After the battle, Silversides left he area submerged, and several hours later, after the body had been prepared, and the men changed into the most formal attire they had, the crew went onto the deck and held a Navy funeral for their crewmate, before sliding his body overboard.  They recorded the latitude and longitude in the deck log that day.  But his family would never be able to visit the grave.

Providing the coordinates were accurate, this is the location of the burial at sea for Mike Harbin of USS Silversides. Japan is the closest country over 750 miles away.

USS Cobia also lost a man to enemy gunfire in 1945, Seaman Huston Ralph Clark Jr., who was buried at sea. This photograph was taken during his funeral on February 27, 1945, just before his body was committed to the depths.

For the land-based military, the Marines, Army and Army Air Force (during WWII, what would eventually become the US Air Force was a part of the Army.  The Air Force would be organized as an independent branch in 1947), the casualties would often be quickly buried in temporary cemeteries erected near the battlefield.

Following the conclusion of the war, the search for a permanent memorial began.  There were serious objections to all the temporary graveyards hastily created all over the Pacific Basin, so a new cemetery was sought.  in 1948, the Government of the Philippines granted the US the right to construct a cemetery on the former site of Fort McKinley, just south west of Manila.  A lot of grading and landscaping began to create a peaceful resting place for those lost in the Pacific.

The Cemetery as it appears from the air. The Chapel and Semi-circles are clearly seen in the center, as are the radiating bands of burials. Like all American military cemeteries abroad, this land was gifted to the United States in perpetuity, and is not taxed or charged any fees of any kind. It is American sovereign soil.

The next of kin for each man whose remains could be recovered were given four options for the final resting place of those remains: repatriation to the US for burial in a private cemetery; repatriation to the US for burial in a national cemetery (such as Arlington); or burial in an American Military Cemetery abroad which would be kept in perpetuity; or leaving them where they were found.  The next of kin had until December 31, 1951 to make that decision.  Approximately 40% of families requested that their dead be buried in the new Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

In the end, the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial covered 152 beautifully landscaped acres, and became the largest American cemetery outside the United States honoring WWII dead.  Its 17,100 headstones mark the graves of 17,206 men: 16,434 Americans and 570 Filipinos who were serving with the US Military.

13, 434 headstones mark the graves of a single, identified individual.

3,644 headstones identify the remains of a single unidentified individual (unknowns)

6 headstones mark the graves of a group of 28 men whose remains could not be separated into individuals

16 headstones mark the graves of a group of 100 men whose remains could not be separated into individuals.

But for those men buried at sea, lost with their vessels, or, for whatever reason, the resting place of their remains is known only to God, the cemetery erected a double semicircle structure called “The Tablets of the Missing” .  These immense tablets record the names of 36,285 men whose remains are lost or have not been identified.  (It is more than possible that some of the remains buried under the “Unknown” marker are listed on the Tablets.)  The names of the men of the Flier and Robalo would be engraved here.

A photograph of the "Tablets of the Missing". On the column on the right, near the top of the photo, you can see a dark dot on the name "Creighton, John", indicating that his remains have been discovered and identified. Photo taken from Google Earth's Panoramio Photos

In all, a symbol of 53,491 souls who gave all.

The last of the re-locations and burials took place in 1960, and the cemetery was dedicated on December 8, 1960, the 19th anniversary of the attack on Manila.  (The attack on Manila actually took place about eight hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but due to the International Date Line, it is recorded as happening on December 8, not December 7.)

Unlike a National Cemetery, where veterans and their families can be buried after a veteran’s passing whether he or she was on active duty or retired, died in the line of fire or of natural causes, the Manila Cemetery, like most of the military cemeteries abroad, is closed to further internments.  Family members of those buried there, or even those who fought alongside the men buried there cannot have their remains returned to Manila to rest with their comrades in arms.

That does not mean that there have not been burials and changes in the cemetery since 1960.

Any remains discovered in the Pacific theater and positively identified as belonging to an American military personnel from WWII are eligible for internment (though they are also eligible for repatriation to the states, just as if they had been found in WWII).

The Tablets of the Missing also have been slightly altered. Some of the names have a rosette attached to it, signifying that that serviceman’s remains have been found and his identity returned to him.

Many of these cemeteries became necessary starting with the Mexican-American war, the building of the Panama Canal, and the World Wars.  There are twenty-four of these world wide, all under the care of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Starting with the Korean War, all remains of American military personnel were returned to America.

Rest in Peace.

Pamphlet about Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

Frequently asked questions about Military Cemeteries abroad

Rounding out the Robalo for now

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 26 2010

We’ll finish the story of the Robalo today, though it will play out for a few more days.

Shortly after deciding to stay on patrol for 48 more hours to see if his radio tech could fix the Sonar, Robalo sighted a convoy and chased them for several hours, but were always too far away to set up an attack.  Given Robalo’s condition, that might have been a good thing!

Almost 36 hours after deciding to stay out, Robalo’s Radio Technician fixed the Sonar, and Kimmel decided to stay out for as long as the Sonar stayed fixed.  If something happened to the Sonar or the only semi-working periscope, they were going to turn around and head for home immediately.

Robalo stayed out for the remainder of her patrol, which ended up being very dangerous, but successful, and some said, overly agressive.  When she returned to Fremantle, she submitted SIX PAGES of items that needed fixing, most as a direct or indirect result of the APril 24 airplane bombing and a depth charge attack that later occured.

According to some sources, there were other submarine commanders and Admiral Christie were concerned that Kimmel might be a bit too eager to redeem his family’s honor, or too aggressive in attacking the enemy, or risking his ship.  After all, the argument went, most submarine commanders would have returned home after surviving a bombing like that. 

But, it could not be argued that Robalo had sunk a valuable freighter, and survived. 

In addition, submarine commanders were encouraged to be aggressive and take out the enemy.  The Wahoo had been commanded by Dudly “Mush” Morton who accomplished incredible feats, sinking 20 ships (including one patrol where they sank 8, ) and sucessfully invading the Sea of Japan before Wahoo met her fate in 1943.  The Harder was commanded by Sam Dealey who had taken out an impressive talley of 12 ships in three patrols and was in the midst of a very successful fourth patrol.  Creed Burlingame and later John Coye of the Silversides had ranked up 11 and 14 ships between them, respectively, and Coye showed no signs of stopping.  None of those scores came without significant risk to men and boat, and risks that were sucessful were rewarded with medals, commendations, and promotions, for the men of the boats as much as for the officers.  There were often more complaints from a submarine’s crew about a passive skipper who let convoys pass them by than there were captains who took semi-crazy risks to attack.

But where did the line that seperates a superbly aggressive submarine commander who knows just how far he can push his boat and crew (before either push back) from an overly aggressive and dangerous one, fall?

Kimmel came close to losing his command of the Robalo, partially for his own good and the safety of his crew, but the fact that Kimmel’s own writing showed that he was aware of his boat’s weaknesses and ready to turn if anything more happened, and likely recommendations from his men, allowed him to take the Robalo out again.

But the question of his possible aggressiveness would raise questions in September, when he couldn’t defend himself.

Exhibit and Book Update

The Book, The Exhibit, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 19 2010

Well, I am on track to have the book through its fourth/fifth/sixth draft (depends what section you’re reading) by the end of the week.  Some information I’ve received lately helped me to flesh out some more people and add some touches here and there.  Then it’s off to my editors, a final re-write, and off to the publishers!  Yay!

Now if only those chapters could edit themselves, because I HATE editing.  Oh well.

The museum where the exhibit will go has finished doing all the crazy stuff that generally comes up this time of year in preparation for the tourist season.  While we are open all year, our busy season is, of course, Memorial Day to Labor Day.  The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend will be the Lost Boat Ceremony, where we remember all 52 boats lost during WWII with a ring of a sub bell and a flower in the water.  Silversides looks so beautiful with all those carnations floating around her.  Then of course, she fires her engines at the close of the ceremony, and you can’t see anything but the black smoke!

But since that stuff has been moved out of the way, we’re back to working full-time on the Flier exhibit, and hopefully, I’ll have some updates here in the next couple of weeks.

Dive Detectives has now aired the USS Flier episode in Canada and the UK, but there are no officially announced plans to air it in the United States as of yet.  I’m not sure why there’s a delay in the States, but I hope that not only the Flier episode but all six are shown.  Two of those episodes cover Great Lakes shipwrecks: the iconic Edmund Fitzgerald, and two 1812 shipwrecks.

One of the fascinating things about ships that sink in the Great Lakes is the freshwater preserves many of those ships in nearly perfect conditions (minus a few tons of zebra mussles).  Unlike the ocean, where ships, especially wooden ships, will eventually wear away (or are eaten away) to nothing, Great Lakes wrecks remain standing, sometimes their ropes and riggings still intact.  What Dive Detectives found out about the Fitzgerald was apparently enough to cause Gordon Lightfoot to change one of the lyric lines of his legendary “Ballad of the Edmund Fitzgerald“.

So where was Flier, Robalo and Redfin 66 years ago today? Flier is starting her trials off the coast of California, to catch and major, or even minor, problems while she’s still within easy reach of one of the biggest and best repair yards in the country.  She’s diving deep, surfacing quickly, doing everything she can to shake any potential problems loose, because the last thing you want to find out during a depth charge attack is that you should have tested her a little harder when you had the chance.

Redfin is closing out her second patrol.  She patrolled around the south-eastern portion of the Philippines and has had a lot of successes.  She took out four frieghters, and one destroyer, survived a depth charge attack and radioed Fremantle that she was coming home.  Her patrol isn’t quite finished yet, as she’ll soon learn, and what’s about to happen would have a big impact on the Flier survivors.

Robalo is crossing into enemy territory near Timor Island.  She’s about to earn a few stripes.

Medicine without Doctors or Nurses…but with ingenuity

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 13 2010

Continuing on a previous post (See “No Atheists in Foxholes…or underwater?) Submarines don’t have any clergy aboard, or Doctors or Nurses.  Someone who is so highly trained is too valuable to place on a submarine, or so the theory goes.

Yet a submarine is a dangerous place, especially in WWII when a submarine could be under attack and people could suffer deep cuts, broken bones or other serious injuries, and that doesn’t include diseases that  could easily sweep through such a combined space.

Enter the Pharmacist’s Mate.  These men, fondly known as “Doc”, are trained to deal with first aid, routine and basic medicine, and they’re really good in an emergency.  A common analogy is they’re trained in a similar manner to paramedics.  They can handle most things well, but if something is serious, they will keep you alive and stable until a doctor or nurse can take over.

During WWII, the most famous Pharmacist Mates were probably Wheeler Lipes on the Seadragon, Harry Roby on the Grayling, and Thomas Moore on the Silversides.  All three of these men did something that was not expected of a Doc: They performed surgery   a patrolling submarine.  The same surgery actually, an Appendectomy.

Starting on September 11, 1942, with the Seadragon and ending on December 23, 1942 on the Silversides, a crewman on each submarine came down with acute appendicitis, and there was no one nearby enough to transfer the crewman before the likely rupture of the appendix.  Each Doc had scalpels and sutures and sulpha drugs for fighting infection, along with anesthetic and ether, and each rigged the rest of the tools he needed from the rest of the tools on their boats.  (Moore on Silversides used bent spoons as retractors.)

A submarine is NOT a sterile environment, and beside the Doc, few on board would have medical training.

On Silversides, a fireman named George Platter came down with appendicitis a few days before Christmas.  Captain Creed Burlingame and Moore studied Platter for several hours.  Moore had several months of nurse training and had assisted in many appendectomies at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, and as he watched Platter, he worried that the case wouldn’t resolve itself.  Finally, he told Burlingame that they would have to turn around or do an appendectomy.  Burlingame checked every schedule he could looking for someone who would have the proper medical equipment aboard, or a submarine headed back to port, but there was no one, and after a discussion with Platter (who was willing to do anything at this point), Moore was given the green light to operate.

The Silversides Wardroom, as it appears today. The fixtures, including three-quarters of the table, are original to the boat. This is the table the surgery took place on.

The Wardroom was the best room for the job: small, mostly covered in stainless steel, and, though cramped, the easiest to clean and keep isolated from the rest of the boat during the procedure.  The table wasn’t long enough for Platter’s frame, so an ironing board had to be fixed to the end to support his feet.  The stewards scrubbed the room, removed the light fixture globes, cleaned and inserted the brightest bulbs aboard (150 watts) into the sockets.  The room would get very hot, very quickly.

Silversides, despite the fact she only had a partial charge on her batteries, dove to 150 feet deep to keep the boat at an even keel for the surgery.

For four hours, the surgery continued, Moore leading a team of five assistants.  When he found the appendix, it was grotesquely swollen and gangrenous.  As he slowly and carefully cut it away, men would stop by for the latest update on the surgery to pass on to the anxious crew.

The Silversides Appendectomy, as photographed by XO Roy Davenport, who was standing next to the paitent's head. Thomas Moore is the dark-haired bearded man in the T-shirt.

Suddenly, Moore, who had been given a spinal anesthetic, said “I can wiggle my toes now,” and moments later, could feel the surgery taking place inside him.  He was quickly put back under using a can of ether, but the fumes filled the wardroom and forward part of the Officer’s Country.  (And as anyone who has worked with ether knows, it’s exteremly flammable as well…and Officer’s Country sits on top of one of the boat’s giant wet-cell batteries!)

Finally, the surgery was done and Platter was laid on the Wardroom’s only bunk to recover. Silversides, needing to charge her batteries, rose to the surface.  An hour later, a Japanese destroyer found them, and chased them down, dropping dozens of depth charges when Silversides tried to escape to the depths.  One of the charges blew so closely to Silversides, Platter was nearly thrown from his bunk, but Moore, ever watchful (and worried sick Platter wouldn’t survive) caught him.

Despite the attack, and the jury rigged hospital (which ended up including a custom made bedpan–the assigned one being used as an oil pan in the engine room) Platter was on the mend and back on duty.  When Silversides returned to port, the story quickly made waves, and the photographs XO Roy Davenport took during the procedure guaranteed the surgery became the most famous one during the war.

As it turned out, most Appendicitis problems will cure themselves with proper care, so the Navy quickly indocrinated the upcoming Submarine Officers and Pharmacist’s Mates to NEVER DO SURGERY UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.  The other two Pharmacist Mates that performed the surgeries, like Moore,  had assisted on many other surgeries prior to entering the Submarine Force, and the Navy worried that incoming Docs, who may not be as thoroughly trained may be lulled into a false sense of ease of surgery.

Despite that door being forcibly closed, sub Docs faced a wide and dizzying array of medical problems that needed attention: communicable diseases, diagnosis of everything from the cold and flu, to broken bones, internal injuries, gunshot wounds, ruptured eardrums, and even, at times, making the call, with the CO, to terminate the patrol early due to illness of the crew.  In addition to their own crew, a submarine’s Doc might have to treat a rescued pilot or sailor and even Prisoners of War who didn’t speak English.

On September 12-13, 1944, the USS Sealion, together with the Queenfish, Barb and Growler, sank the Rukuyo Maru, full of Allied POW's. The four submarines were able to pick up 141 survivors between them. Above, you can see the survivors being pulled out of the debris covered water, below, they are treated for malnourishment and exposure.

When the Flier grounded at Midway, Waite Daggy was smashed against the conning tower lacerating his side and jaw, breaking his jaw and losing several teeth, all of which the Doc aboard had to administer first aid before he could be transferred to Midway’s Hospital.  Joseph Lia,  a torpedoman, tied himself to a lifeline and threw himself overboard after James Peder Cahl, but was quickly swept back to the boat and hauled aboard by Kenneth Gwinn and Herbert Beahr.  Doc checked him out for any injuries and exposure.    During her second patrol, Flier’s Doc was Peter Adolph Gaideczka, and may have been the Doc aboard for Midway.

Flier's Doc on her second patrol: Peter Gaideczka, from Watervliet, New York.

Now  Independent Duty Corpsman, these men still serve aboard submarines, offering the medical attention that the men need.  Major surgery still very discouraged, a submariner that needs medical attention beyond what can be found aboard is evacuated off (sometimes by helicopter!) to the nearest medical facility.  Due to this potential breech in stealth, the health of submariners is obsessively monitored prior to leaving port.  Off the record though, I’ve been told by nuc sub vets that modern Corpsmen are at times just as creative and daring as their predecessors.

More information on Modern Independent Duty Corpsmen

Fascinating report detailing what Pharmacist’s Mates came up against during WWII War Patrols

Article about the first Appendectomy on a submarine

Article about the development of the hospital corpsmen, mentioning the appendectomies.

The best account for the Silversides appendectomy is found in Robert Trumbull’s book “Silversides”.  The only submarine book written during WWII  (but held for publication by the Navy until just before the war’s end).  It is difficult to find, but can be ordered for $19.95 through Silversides museum gift shop (call 231-755-1230) or its publisher Knutson & Co. (UPDATE 12/8/2010:  I’ve been notified that, upon the death of Paul Knutson, publisher Knutson & Co. has been closed.  However, Torpedo junction has purchased the book “Silversides” and has it for order.  It’s one of my absolute favorite books, and I’ve read a lot of them!  I’m glad that it will continue to be available.

No Athiests in Foxholes…or underwater?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 06 2010

The Submarine Service is dangerous.  No one has ever debated that.  Well, almost never.

In fact, early in the 20th century, submarine duty was considered safe shore duty and submariners were paid twenty-five percent LESS than those on surface ships.

But in 1905, at the invitation of the Captain and crew of the USS Plunger (SS-2), President Theodore Roosevelt spent about four hours aboard.  They dove, surfaced, porpoised and tooled around quietly beneath the storm tossed Atlantic, and even operated with the lights out, much to the delight of Roosevelt, who said, “Never in my life have I had such a diverting day, nor can I recall having so much enjoyment in so few hours as today.”

But he quickly saw that submariners, far from having a safe shore patrol duty, were, in fact, highly trained professionals who were in a dangerous job.  Being Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces has its advantages.  He raised the submariners pay, and gave them an additional dollar per day if the submarine spent any part of the day underway while submerged.  (This increased the rate of diving practice very quickly!).

An amusing cartoon from a 1905 paper talking about Roosevelt's experience on Plunger. The Plunger herself was a very small boat, holding only 7 crewmen. Taken from: www.goatlocker.org/plunger/ss-2.htm

Submarines, however, are so dangerous, that some people who are routinely assigned to bases and ships are left off of submarines, and the submariners must make do.

Two of these positions are the Chaplain and Doctor (or even nurse).  We’ll cover the medicos later.

Chaplains, regardless of the military affiliation, are valued members of the military, and called upon to offer guidance, counseling, conduct religious services, including marriages, funerals, and other religious rites.  (The most famous fictional chaplain is probably Father Mulcahy of MASH television show)  The position has been recorded as far back as the 1770’s.  Currently, the United States Navy has chaplains representing the Christian (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant), Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.

The Navy also had a strong tradition of holding religious services every Sunday for those interested to attend.

While there are chaplains assigned to surface ships, there are none on a submarine. So what to do?

During WWII, for regular services, many submarines would have men who would agree to lead the worship for those who wished to attend.  For Example, aboard the Silversides, the Executive Officer, Roy Davenport, a Christian Scientist, would lead services in the Forward Torpedo Room for their men.  (He later became known as the “praying skipper” and credited his prayers and faith with Silversides and his later commands, Haddock and Trepang surviving the war.  He even turned out to be the most decorated Naval Officer of WWII who didn’t win a Medal of Honor, having been awarded FIVE Navy Crosses!)  Other submarines would use the Mess Hall, the common area of the submarine.

An example of a church service lead by a common sailor, held in the After Torpedo Room, taken in the Spring of 1945. Sadly, most of the men in this photograph were lost when Bullhead went down near Lombok Straits ca. August 6, 1945.

Aboard a submarine, sadly, the only real service that might happen, would be a funeral, and usually, the Commanding Officer or Executive Officer would pray and conduct the services.  Sometimes, for holidays such as Christmas or Easter, or the Fourth of July (religious holidays weren’t the only ones celebrated!) the kitchen would also pitch in with special meals and treats.  Alcohol, however, was always strictly prohibited…officially.  Though strictly NEVER on duty.

Today, the tradition continues, though with specially trained lay ministers, meaning people who are trained to hold religious observances and services, but do not have the Master’s Degree and theological training that the military requires for its chaplains.

It takes a labor of love to volunteer to go above and beyond what your title is and minister to your fellow crewmen, but these lay ministers continue to volunteer for the good of their crews.

For more information on Roosevelt’s dive on the Plunger

More information about the role of the modern lay minister on submarines

Flier’s Midway Damage

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Apr 02 2010

I promised I’d post something showing just how badly Flier was damaged during her grounding at Midway Island, January 1944, and so here we go.

As far as I can tell, there are no photographs of the damage, it’s possible they were not taken, equally possible they were later destroyed or lost in the shuffle  (which anyone who works in archives or records keeping can tell you, misfiling a record is a good as destroying it.)

Red indicates major damage, yellow moderate damage, blue the engines and cooling systems clogged with coral sand. Original diagram taken from navsource.org, Submarine Archives, USS Gato submarine.

Above, this is a basic cutaway of a Gato-class submarine such as Flier.  Major damage was done to the Flat Keel, Vertical Keel and Bilge Keel, most of which doesn’t appear above.  What this means:  the entire bottom of the submarine had been bashed beyond use.  You can see the bilge keel on the above diagram, the red stripe just beneath the cutaway, so imagine Flier being dented and destroyed from bilge keel to bilge keel.  Significant segments of the outer hull plating on the sides (and probably towards the stern, since the stern took the lion’s share of the beating) were also destroyed.  So Flier essentially had her entire skin removed and replaced.

Admittedly, some of this damage HAD to be repaired at Pearl Harbor:  the engines and cooling systems had to be cleaned out of the coral sand that was clogging them, and the propellers replaced and the rudder and shafts restored so she could make the run.

But the delicate instruments, the liquidometer (sub speak for gas gauge) and fathometer (which tells you how deep the water is beneath you) and most troubling, the damage to the hull frames and ballast tanks was going to require a nearly entire rebuild.

Flier's sister sub, Silversides, under construction at Mare Island. Notice the circular construction of the submarine. These are the hull frames, which would keep the submarine from imploding on itself in deep depths. In many ways, they are like the ribs of a submarine. Since Flier's hull frames were damaged, they would have to be replaced.

Above you can clearly see the hull frames on the submarine Silversides, early in her construction.

Here, red indicates the major damage to the ballast tanks, and yellow the moderate damage to the hull frames. Not all the ballast tanks or hull frames were necessarily damaged, but my resources don't list the specific ballast tanks or frames that were. What is highlighted are frames and main ballast tanks that might have been damaged.

It was truly a massive amount of damage. A few submarines were retired rather than repaired if the damage was bad enough, but since Flier was a brand new submarine, and every submarine was needed at the war’s front, she was overhauled and quickly turned back out.

On a new front, while reading the transcripts of the investigation , I discovered that only four officers were left on the Flier when she was put back into commission after her repairs: Crowley and Liddell as CO and XO, Lt. John Edward Casey, Torpedo Officer, and Ensign Herbert (Teddy) Baehr, Asst. Engineering Officer.  All the rest, Jacobson, Paul Knappe, Bill Reynolds, Herb Monor, and likely one other, were assigned to Flier now, and would report around the 15th of April.  Why one more?  Because we know one more officer was assigned to Flier at Fremantle, so it’s more than possible that one was removed at Fremantle to make room for him, but his name is not known (at least to me).

But most of this is behind Flier finally.  She’s brand new again, better in fact, for anytime a submarine was taken to Mare for a scheduled overhaul (or emergency overhaul in this case) all her technology was updated to the latest available.   No doubt all her crew were anxious to take her to sea and earn her stripes.

And my apologies to anyone who got excited reading the former title of this post and thinking I was revealing Flier’s fatal damage that sent her to the bottom of Balabac.  I have not seen a wreck survey or photographs and would only post that with permission if I had.  My apologies.