Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

Sub School

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Mar 18 2010

Sixty-Six years ago today, the Flier is still up on blocks, the Redfin is about to leave, and the Robalo is getting repaired and a good deep cleaning while her crew is on R&R somewhere all over Australia.

I want to return to Al Jacobson, where he is currently (sixty-six years ago that is) located in New London’s Submarine school, in the final stages of his training and getting ready for his first assignment.

Al Jacobson at 22 years old and entering the Navy as an Ensign.

The American Submarine Force only takes volunteers, and maintained that policy even in the depths of WWII.  Submarine duty is hazardous.  During WWII, nearly 20% of the submariners went down with their ship, and many others died in various incidents that did not cause the loss of their boat.

It was hot, cramped, uncomfortable, and often submarines operated alone miles away from the nearest Naval ship.  The Calvary could not often be called in.  Under such circumstances, the Navy believed that volunteers would be the least likely to crack under the pressure.

However, volunteering only got you so far.  Once in Submarine School, the Navy did the best they could to make you crack, to get rid of those who might not be able to handle the physical, mental and emotionally rigorous life of the submarine sailor.

There was the Pressure Chamber, where potential submarine candidates were locked in with a doctor, while the chamber pressurized to the equivalent depth a submarine could reach underwater.  Usually a volleyball or some air filled object joined them.  By the time the chamber was fully pressurized, the volleyball resembled a bowl, and the candidates would have to equalize the pressure in their ears several times.  (Think about the pressure you feel in your head as a plane takes off or lands.  It’s apparently similar).  The chamber would also feel very warm.  Anyone who couldn’t equalize the pressure in their ears or showed signs of distress would be safely removed from the test and rejected as unfit for submarine duty.  Those whose eardrums burst because they could not equalize also were rejected.

Then there was the escape tower, where candidates learned to escape a sunken submarine using the Momsen Lungs or Steinke Hoods (nicknamed “Stinky Hoods”)  that would be stored aboard.  (Despite the fact that less than 1% of the ocean is at a “rescuable” depth).  Starting from a pressurized chamber beneath the 300 foot tower, a candidate would learn to ascend to the top without bursting or damaging their lungs.  Anyone who didn’t want to would be released to the surface navy.  (According to one source I found, completing this test earned you the name “bubblehead”)

The Submarine Escape Training Tower still stands in New London's Submarine School. There was a second one built in Pearl Harbor Hawaii, but it has since been drained. It apparently still stands as a landmark.

The School itself was tough:  generally there were classes in the morning, and afternoon exercises in either simulation chambers or training patrols on the old R and S class boats.  Officers and Enlisted both attended, but would also have specialized classes pertaining to their specific jobs.

Once graduated from Submarine School, a man was considered a “non-qual”, whether he was an officer or enlisted man.  The last stage of his training took place on board a working submarine, where he had a year to learn every pipe, valve, cog, and dial onboard.   When he felt he had learned enough, he would be given a written and oral test by that submarine’s officers.  Upon passing, he would be awarded his dolphins, the official insignia of the Submariner.  Those who couldn’t pass in a year were reassigned to the Surface Fleet.  Many submariners in WWII completed their qualifications in one patrol.  (They were not permitted much leisure time until they were fully qualified.  So every waking moment most non-quals were either working on duty or studying for their qualifications).

Today, submarine school apparently still bears a strong resemblance to the WWII version Al would have undergone.  Classes in  the morning, exercises in the afternoon, studying in the evening, and every man (and perhaps soon women) a volunteer.  Most of what they learned is strictly classified, so after volunteering for Submarine Duty a potential candidate is also background checked for security classification.
Al was approaching the end of his training, and likely spending his days on an old S-boat doing short patrols learning the rhythm of a working boat and wondering where he was going to go.  Would he be asssigned to a new construction which meant it might be another year before he went to sea?  Would he be assigned to one of the stars of the Submarine Service like the Trigger, the Tang or the Harder, or a boat just beginning to earn her stripes.

One thing he wasn’t thinking about was the danger.  They all knew the odds, and while no submariner ignored them as such, they didn’t dwell on them.   You’d go crazy otherwise and break down.  One thing Al did say later was the Submarine Service was an all-or-nothing proposition.  There was little risk you’d come back missing an eye or a limb.  You either came back whole, or you didn’t come back at all.

For more information: US Navy Submarine School


Uncategorized | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

Originally Posted February 2, 2010

Flier flying away

The USS FLIER has been found!!!!!

In the sixty-six years after the war ended, only a handful of non-grounded submarines have ever been found.  Due to the secrecy of most of their missions, some of their fates have never been known, and some some simply disappeared in the depths.

Since the USS Flier had survivors, there was a good general idea of where the Flier might be located, but the water where she went down was near a deep channel.  The Flier could have been located in water only a couple of hundred feet deep to nearly one thousand feet deep.  In any case, the Navy, knowing the Flier was lost, announced her loss with most hands, and closed Balabac Channel to keep other submarines from Flier’s fate.

In 1998, Al Jacobson, the youngest officer who survived the sinking, traveled back to the Palawan archipelago with his younger son Steve,  to visit the places where he had “involuntarily visited”.  He asked to be taken to the place where Flier likely sunk.  The ocean was too cloudy that day, but native fishermen told them that on days when the water was crystal clear, they had seen a submarine down there, but it was too deep to dive on.  (Moreover, the wreck was “guarded” by two dangerous fish).

Al never gave up finding the Flier, and started to research where, precisely, she may have come to rest.  He died of brain cancer in 2008, but his family and two sons kept going.

In the spring of 2009, Steve and his son traveled to the Palawan group with YAP Films and found a submarine right were Al’s research indicated she would be.  As is normal, no one announced this find because, though it may be obvious that what has been found is a US submarine, only the Navy, looking a photographs and film of a wreck and comparing it to the last-known configurations and photographs of submarine, can confirm which one it is.  It takes several weeks to several years, which is why, though found last spring, it has taken this long to officially confirm that the wreck found last year is indeed the Flier!

No photographs as of yet, but here is the official press release!

I knew Al for close to three years, and this was his greatest wish was to find her to give the families of his friends the gift of knowing where their loved ones laid.    He always talked about wanting to see her again, and finding out if someone had opened the aft escape hatch, and just to see her one more time.  I’m sorry he wasn’t able to do so, but it is AMAZING that his dream has been fulfilled.

THIS certainly changes the floorplan and the exhibit!  I was going to post a bit about the exhibit floorplan in the next day or so, but now I have to re-write it to include this new development!

Sixty-Six Years Ago…the Jinx Begins

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Feb 04 2010

Originally Posted on January 30, 2010

Sixty Six years ago today, the USS Flier, towed by the Submarine rescue ship USS Florikan, and guarded by two escort ships, was towed back to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Her hull was smashed and dented, though it did hold water.  Her shafts and propellers were so damaged they couldn’t turn and leaked.   Unable to dive, unable to run, she had been hauled back to Pearl under guard, destined for either the dry dock or scrap heap, her commanding officer’s career on the line after only three months in command, and the whispers began to pick up pace…

“She’s a jinxed boat…”

Eighteen days earlier, Flier left Pearl for her first war patrol in the Pacific.  Like many ships and subs, she was supposed to stop at Midway Island to top off her fuel.  The canal into Midway was tricky, and incoming vessels always took on an experienced pilot/navigator from Midway who helped guide the ship in.

arrived during one of the worst winter storms on record.  It was too dangerous to transfer the pilot from the waiting tugboat, so the tug turned and signaled Flier to follow.  Flier’s Captain, John D. Crowley, took Flier in slowly and carefully, determined to thread the canal.  What he didn’t know is there was a strong cross current, and unless you took it fast enough, you’d be thrown to the side.

Flier got caught, and the storm whipped waves threw her further up the coral reef that ringed Midway.  The tug got back to base, and sent out the USS Macaw, Midway’s brand-new submarine rescue ship to help them off.  But soon she too, was aground.  Trying to drop the anchor so Flier wouldn’t go any higher on the reef, two men were washed overboard, and another dove in after his buddy.

A week later, the storm blew over.  Word reached them that one of the men who had been swept overboard, Clyde Gerber, and the man who went in after him, George Banchero, were in the hospital.  The other man swept overboard, James Francis Peder Cahl, had been found washed up on shore, dead, and had already been buried at sea.  Sadly, he was one of the few married men on board.

It took the Florikan, the original tug that tried to guide them in, and a floating crane to free Flier from her perch, but no amount of lift would budge the Macaw.  To add insult to injury, on the way back, another winter storm hit the Flier and Florikan, and snapped the tow line, leaving Flier at the mercy of the waves for hours.

Three months old, she limped back to Pearl sixty-six years ago today.  She had already been fired at by a friendly ship who mistook her for a U-Boat, had been torn up on a coral reef, lost a crewmember, and still had yet to see war.  The whispers began…is she jinxed?

Some men said they could tell if a sub was lucky or not.  It might not have helped that the wounded Flier likely passed or moored near the USS Silversides who was resupplying in Pearl Harbor between her infamous patrols.  Her nickname was “The Lucky Boat”, and she still floats today, a museum ship.

But Flier only had eight months left.