USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)

The Story Of A Cold War Warrior

So Ya Wanna Be A Bubblehead...

Well, there's some things you might want to know and learn before you can get your dolphins and start making port calls, eating fine food and watching movies all night!  This page will deal with some common and little known evolutions that we all had to go through at some point in our submarine lives.  If you have any ideas for future pieces, please feel free to email me at the normal mailbox (

Smooth sailing!

Nuclear Power 101

It doesn't get much more basic than this folks!  Nuclear power is what gives a submarine it's stealth, it's unlimited fresh water and electricity.  A heat source and water.  Not as simple as that, but close enough.  The boat is generally divided into "forward pukes" and "nuke pukes."  The nukes are the nuclear trained crew who feed and care for the teapot.  The average submarine nuclear reactor is good for many years of hassle free sailing.  Unlike the forward guys, nuclear trained submariners have six year initial enlistments.  Nuclear power school is one of the hardest courses on the face of the earth and the washout rate is not as bad as it could be, but it's a tough subject nonetheless.  The results are worthwhile though, producing some of the most highly intelligent men in any armed force, let alone in any Navy.  Study this diagram hard, there will be a test afterwards...

"The Engineering Department had billets for 33 people, divided into three Divisions: M Division (Machinist Mates) E Division (EM’s and IC’s) and RC Division (ET’s).  The training for these positions included the basic technical school for the rate, a cruise of 6-9 months on a conventional ship, six months in Nuclear Power School, six months at a Prototype, two months in Submarine School, and the watch stander qualification program, which had to be repeated every two years.  For example, by the time a man was qualified as a Reactor Operator, he had already gone to at least two years of school, spent six months at sea, and qualified as an RO at Prototype.  Then, after he transferred to the boat, he began qualifying in three areas: basic engineering (learning the whole power plant), a watch station, and submarines.  While in the shipyard, during the overhaul, we had an opportunity to watch the power plant being assembled.  When I came aboard, the reactor did not yet have its new core, so I had the privilege of working in the reactor compartment as well as other Engineering spaces, and I got to see it put together.  Since there were only a few of us who had qualified on that specific reactor core at the prototype, and since everyone else on board had only experienced the old core, we “newbees” were chosen to give our advice when it came time to start up the reactor for the very first time.  We were assigned different shifts to work, so no matter what shift of the day the reactor startup came in, one of us would be there to give our advice.  My shift actually started the new reactor for the first time, and I advised the ship’s Reactor Operator when to call the reactor “critical” for the first time (“Critical” means the nuclear reactor is sustaining a chain reaction; in a sense, it is like starting the engine in your automobile).  Once the reactor had been brought critical, many days of special nuclear testing took place.  That was a fascinating time, as we then began to get to know our new reactor and what it could do.  For the next twenty years, that reactor was the source of the power which made every other system on the ship function."

Background information courtesy of Jim Braden

Baffle Clearing

The area directly behind your propellor is known as the "baffles" and it is filled with all kinds of noise, such as bubbles from your prop.  This makes this area a brilliant hiding spot for another submarine!  To eliminate the risk of being followed, there are two things a submarine can do.  The first is to use a towed sonar array which is an extension of the submarine's main sonar suite.  This array, consisting of a hydrophone attached to a long cable, trails the submarine at a considerable distance past the source of propellor noise.  This way, the sonar technicians can hear what's going on past the propellor.  The second thing a boat can do is "clear it's baffles."  This maneuver involves a course change, much like a surface ship's zig-zagging.  The Captain or Officer Of The Deck will order the boat to slow in order to make as little noise as possible.  When the boat's condition is fairly quiet, the order will be given to "clear the baffles" and a directional heading of a few degrees will be given to the helmsman.  Once the helmsman gives notification that the boat is at the required heading, a few minutes will be given to settle things, noise wise.  Another search will be undertaken to see if any hostile submarines were in the area previously occupied by the boat.  Assuming that the area is clear, the boat will return to it's previously plotted course.  The frequency of baffle clearings is at the Captain's discretion and will normally be listed in the Captain's Night Orders book or in the SOP (standard operating procedures).  Although violent maneuvering, such as favored by the Soviet Navy with their "Crazy Ivan" tactic, have a better chance of catching a prowler unwares, the risk of accidental ramming and subsequent sinking is not worth it.  So it has never been tested or considered in US service.