USS Casimir Pulaski (SSBN-633)

The Story Of A Cold War Warrior

Feeding The Beast - Refit

Refit starts in earnest once the opposite crew leaves.  There's list after list of things that need repairing, replacing, repainting, etc.  Like ants swarming over a dropped piece of food, the crew takes on hundreds of tasks and chores at a breakneck speed.  Technical  representatives ("tech reps") come down to lend a hand to the tender.  These tech reps are normally ex or retired Navy who are familiar with the submarine systems and what it takes to repair them.  The company's that make the systems we use will normally headhunt these sailors as they retire or leave the Navy.  In some instances, you meet guys who were just onboard your very submarine a few years ago.  The tech reps are called "Tiger Teams" and here in this photo, one of the teams from Norfolk, Virginia is down along side us with their barge for maintenance.

At this point in time, USS Canopus (AS-34) IS the submarine base. As time goes on, the base will become one of the biggest submarine bases in the world.  As sad as the Pulaski's passing into the pages of history is, the plight of the tenders is even more depressing.  It seems that their contribution to our nation's defense is not worth so much as a page in a book or a monument.  Only one or two of the U.S. Navy's proud tender fleet has survived.  Here is USS Canopus in happier days...


Repairs of all sort are affected and maintenance is undertaken on virtually every system.  The boat is normally fitted with a scaffold straight away to facilitate antenna/mast work and work on the sail top itself.  During Cold War hysteria with stories circulating of Russian "Spetnatz" special forces teams, the scaffold also serves as a watch tower with anti-swimmer lights and shooting stands for the sail sentry (photo courtesy of RM2 Pat King).

All coamings and fairings are frequently and throughly inspected to ensure optimum mast performance.  Remember, a submarine lives "blind" and therefore, reliance on periscopes and antennae is mandatory.  Cleaning and preservation work will be carried out up until the day patrol starts.  The cycle is truly exhausting.  Here, FN Groves takes a break during sail maintenance.  The metal tube frame is the "flying bridge" which is set up to protect crew that are topside in the sail when the submarine is out at sea.  In port, the flying bridge is rigged out to attach safety harnesses to as well as provide safety for some mast workers.

Stores load is truly an amazing adventure.  It is astounding to the untrained observer just how much "stuff" is needed before we can go to sea.  How many burgers does our freezer hold?  How many reams of paper, pencils and pens do we have?  The constant din of the tender's cranes drown out everything as pallet after pallet of everything from soup to nuts is brought onboard.  Several of our crew are onboard the tender helping them load pallets and directing pallet traffic down to the submarine below. 

Here, members of a Gold Crew stores load working party take a breather next to some food destined for the Pulaski.  Judging from the fact that the crew are on the pier, it looks like the tender had enough submarines tied up to her (up to two on each side).  In that case, food would be trucked to the pier and loaded that way.  Notice the barracks barge in the background (photo courtesy of Scott Thon).

Once the food is placed on the deck of the submarine, the "real fun" begins: humping the boxes and cans below decks.  The modern submarines of the Ohio Class have special pallet-sized elevators: no such luxury here!  Just plain old MK-1 muscle power.  Stores load is an all-day evolution and those crew not tasked with critical maintenance or operations are soon moving boxes.  Gold Crew team members are moving stores to the forward, side sail access hatch.  The AMR1 Upper Level hatch is also used (photo courtesy of Scott Thon).

Here, Master Chief Bauer of the Gold Crew helps bring boxes to the AMR1 Upper Level access hatch.  Note the derrick rigged out for lowering really heavy boxes and cans.  The heaviest items are the boxes of ten pound weights that are used to weight down the trash cans that we eject from the submarine while underway.  Note also that Pulaski still has her scaffold around the sail.  Notice also the orange fire hose draped on the deck.  Follow the hose and you'll see it comes from the tender who supply all of our water and power while we're in port (photo courtesy of Scott Thon).

Here's some of Pulaski's crew that ended up onboard the submarine tender assisting their supply department.  Judging from the heavy jackets and leather gloves, this looks like a winter stores load.  These crew will manhandle pallets and crates to the tenders numerous cranes, which will then lower the items onto the Pulaski's deck where it will then be loaded accordingly (photo courtesy of Scott Thon).

Once the food gets below decks, it then has to be stored.  Once food is loaded and safely stowed, other supplies need to be loaded.  Pencils, paper, spare parts and other items will be procured either from the tender's storage areas or the large "Servmart" area onbase.  In the event that the tender or base did not have what we needed, there was always local stores downtown.  On more than one occasion, Ace Hardware provided paint brushes.  Here's a view of the tender's supply lockers (photo courtesy of Scott Thon).

Occassionally detailed weapon maintenance is required which necessitates removal of some or all of the missiles from the boat.  In their place, concrete cylinders are placed in the tubes to replace the weight lost when the missile was removed.  Here, the Pulaski gets a load of concrete bombs.  We are outboard of USS John C. Calhoun.  Note the "wilderness" in the background.  Years later, this land will be filled with buildings, repair docks, etc.

After every so many patrols, some further tweaking and preening is neccessary and a trip to the dry dock is in order.  The King's Bay dry dock was a floating dry dock, the USS Alamagordo.  Here she is waiting for our arrival.  Situated downstream from the tender, USS Canopus, she will handle our needs and those of all other King's Bay stationed SSBN's prior to completion of permanent base facilities. 

The dry dock notifies us when she's ready.  Then, she opens her stern gate and floods to receive us.  The whole procedure takes most of the day and involves a lot of waiting.  The lines spread across the water will be picked up by our topside crew and fed into cleats and bollards.  The dry dock will then reel us in like a fish.  The bravo flag is flying to signify flooding and the fact that a submarine will be in and using her diesel engine.

The topside crew is comprised of deck gang and volunteers.  It may seem strange that people would volunteer for work, but the advantage is that one gets to be topside and unless you've experienced being topside on a moving submarine, it really is a unique experience.  There was never a shortage of volunteers.  As ship's photographer there was never a shortage of cameras floating around either as everybody wanted photos.


The rope strung across the floating drydock, gets picked up by the deck crew and fed through the "bull ring" on the bow.  The slack will then be taken up and the tender crew will pull their newest customer into the dock.  At a precise moment, the side ropes will steady the boat as the dock closes it's stern and drains the water.  The waiting is the longest part but in nice, cool weather, it's not a bad deal.

The lines are now attached and the topside crew can relax while the USS Alamagordo reels us in.  The side lines will steady us and position us right above the keel blocks that we will sit on.  Divers are in the water at this time verifying our position.  Once the lines have positioned us, the stern gate will close, and the dock will drain slowly, leaving us to rest on massive blocks of wood.  Divers will verify our angle of descent to ensure that we rest straight and true on top of the blocks as no one wants to reflood all over again.

The dry dock stay will blast algae and other muck off of our hull.  Any repairs to our hull can be made at this time.  This also affords a good opportunity to see how massive the boat is.  The ship's commissioning plaque in the wardroom boasts her length, width and height, but it's a humbling experience to be on the floor of the dry dock and look up at the massive hull.  The blade sticking out is a log rodometer which tells how fast and deep the Pulaski is traveling.

Nice composite Port side view.  As we have no power and no ocean, we have no fire water.  So fire hoses are played over from the dry dock and connected to our fire main.  Should there be a fire, we now have ample sea water with which to fight the fire.  The special web netting replaces the standard submarine force safety line as a fall to the bottom of the dry dock is a lot harder than a fall into the water.  Note the welded ladder rungs on the hull and the shape of the plexiglass windscreen on top of the sail.

Starboard side view.  Check out the sunlight; it's now mid afternoon.  It's taken all morning and most of the afternoon to transit from the tender to the dock, drain the dock and start rigging hoses and netting.  Notice the curve of the turtle back and the free flood area.  The greenish brown lower hull color is the result of sea water and the elements on the once shiny, red anti-fouling coating.

It's a long way up.  A good chance to view the underside and all the ports and openings as well as see the sickly green hull color and various sea things that have attached themselves to the hull.  Divers and underwater engineers are busy poring over the boat with the crew looking for things that need fixing and repair.  Jobs that could only be accomplished when the hull is out of the water. 

Moving forward, the opening behind the torpedo muzzle hatches is a water intake for flooding the torpedo tubes.  This space will be blown out with hi-pressure water to clear it of sediment and other neat stuff like dead sea creatures.  "Diving the tank" is a job that will take an hour or two.  Once done, the tank will be checked and one more task the Pulaski needed will be crossed off of her repair list.   

The sight of the huge brass propellor is equally impressive.  The tube coming out of the stern plane is for the towed sonar array.  Notice the heavy wear and tear on the underside rudder and the area where the propellor attaches.  It's at this point in your walk around that you realize just how big a submarine is.  The parts where the black paint are, show the parts that stick out above the water.  It's then that you get a feel for how little of the submarine is visible above the surface.

Another view aft.  Here you can see a better view of the shape of the rear of the boat and the prop (or "screw").  Special attention was given by the crew and dry dock staff to keeping this area clean and free from barnacles, etc.  Naval model builders will want to note the green-ish brown tint of the hull and prop.  This is caused by sea water wear and weathering on the original hull color.

While in dry dock, our power for essential systems, air conditioning, etc, is provided by our diesel engine.  Here, our snorkel mast is extended and blowing exhaust.  The sound is extremely noisy below decks.  Additionally, that diesel smell gets everywhere and into everything.  Here, RM2 Jeff Cook and TM2 Maurice "Dex" Fowler stand topside watch amidst the noise and chaos of snorkelling. 

After the days activities end, liberty will commence for the watch sections not on duty.  Here, the Gold Crew Supply Officer ("Chop" - so named because the Supply Officer symbol resembles a pork chop) Scott Thon, poses near the sail while on his way off the boat.  Note the ship's awards board, known in Navy terminology as "fruit salad."  The Pulaski's awards are the Meritorious Unit Commendation ("MUC") on top and then from left, the Battle Efficiency "E" award, the National Defense Service Medal and an award who's name escapes me.  Underneath the board is a blue "E" with a single hash mark, which indicates two awards of the Battle Efficiency "E" award (photo courtesy of Scott Thon).

Eventually, we will break free from the tender's side and move to the pierside.  This will free up the tender to handle other submarines at this time and allow us to move about more freely.  A crane ship stands by to help us get into position outboard of USS Atlanta.  Although King's Bay was an SSBN base, the fast attack subs of Submarine Squadron EIGHT fell under Submarine Group SIX's administrative umbrella and as such, came and went as needed.    Notice the heavy shore power cables on the pier.

Further down the pier, USS Francis Scott Key and USS John Adams take up space.  The USS Francis Scott Key has her hull number painted on her sail as she has just come from an extended refit period in a ship yard.  As all boats look the same in the yard, the hull number will normally be painted on for the benefit of the shipyard workers.  Now back from refit and having rejoined squadron SIXTEEN, the hull number will soon be painted over.  We used to joke that she was the second sub named for a Polish person.  Get it?  Francis Scotki?  Oh well...

A diver's barge moves in to being inspection of any work we had done in dry dock.  During such operations, it will be imperative not to turn the screw, blow anything to sea or activate the sonar to prevent injury to the divers.  They will fly the standard diver's flag to let us know when they are in the water.  Once done with their maintenance we either go back to the dry dock or are given the all-clear. 

A torpedo exercise is ordered.  The Tactical Readiness Exercise (TRE) is a lot more fun than the monotony of nuclear reactor and engineering casualty drills (well, at least it is to anyone not related to the engineering department...) that the Pulaski undergoes during every refit and patrol.  Exercise torpedos, recognizable by their orange warhead sections or bodies, come alongside to be loaded by crane truck.

Before they can be loaded however, the live fish have to be removed to make room for them.  Rope and pulley plus manpower equals torpedo load.  The Torpedomen (and anyone "lucky" enough to be on the reload party) will earn their pay on this day...  Notice the fire truck on the pier.  Won't do much good if the torpedo goes off, but I guess (like the safety speech on an airline) it's purpose is to make you "feel safer."

And in the unlikely event that no torpedoes can be loaded from the tender or pierside then, using true Navy ingenuity, the torpedoes come to YOU.  Old vintage Navy landing craft serve as lighters bringing MK-48 torpedo's for loading.  A crane ship or any vessel with booms will come alongside to assist.  In this case, one of the tender's cranes leaned over and provided the neccessary lifting power.

Finally, it's back alongside the tender for missile load.  Loading missiles is a huge evolution, taking up a huge chunk of time.  The missiles are stored in the tender and brought over via crane inside a special container.  The container sits over the empty tube and the missile is then lowered down in the waiting submarine.  The missile storage "garage" on the tender is what separated her and her sisters from the tenders built to handle fast attack submarines.

Here, MT2 Shawn Murphy, MT2 Leo Maurer and MT3 Woodley Frampton relax inside one of the open missile tubes during routine maintenance.  Notice the inside of the tube is painted with the Missile Technician rating badge.  The inside of each of Pulaski's tube hatches had a different Navy rating badge painted inside.  One submarine (the USS Francis Scott Key, I believe) had the insides of her tubes painted in the colors of pool table cue balls (Photo courtesy of Woodley Frampton).

At the other end of the "food chain" the radio gear is extensively tested and repaired as needed.  Here, the BRA-8 radio buoy is serviced outside of it's hanger.  This buoy is floated and contains equipment to maintain communications.  The size is impressive and newcomers are often told that it is the "Captain's escape pod."  You'd be surprised how many visitors and crew members fell for that one...