"Captain, Nine minutes at 8 knots is up..."
"Very well, bring her up to 55 feet."
"Coming up to 55 feet from 150 feet, Aye."
"Bearing should be 030, Captain."
"Very well, slow to 1/3."
Slapping the handles down the Skipper does the quick crouching spin to check all around before stopping at 030.
"Zero three zero."
"0ne four double 0."
The low to the water dark hull sails on in the scope seemingly unknowing and uncaring to its impending doom.
The Captain stares a thousand miles into the hydraulic oiled descending shaft, his mind locked onto the job at hand.
"Set depth at one zero feet"
"Flood tube four and open outer door."
"Next observation will be a shooting observation."
"Have the COB report to the Conn."
"COB will you hit the firing key on this one?"
The COB with a strained look on his face, "Aye Skipper."
The Captain with a kind of sad smile says, "It won't be the first now will it?"
"No Skipper, but I hope it's the last like this."
"Been a long time since we walked down the pier together to this boat as non quals, huh Chief?"
"Yeah me an E2 and you an O1, I outranked you even then didn't I?"
The Captain chuckles, which ease the strain on both their faces, "Yes, you always did outrank me in some ways. You took grumpy old chief lessons long before you were even an E5."
Smiling for a second the COB says, "We have both come a long ways since those days, and now they are nearly at an end."
"Yes, up scope"
Again the awkward spin around the scope to stop with the submarine in the cross hairs.
"Zero two zero"
"One One double 0"
"Solution checks, Captain."
"Very well, this will be for MOT, Shoot tube four."
The COB's hand comes up quickly then pauses over the firing key and wavers there. In a stern voice that cracks ever so slightly the Captain says, "Shoot the fish!" The tough hard hand of the chief that doesn't match the pain in his eyes smashes down on the key.
"Tube four fired electrically," The chief reports sadly.
"Fifty Five seconds, Captain."
"COB, I better not have missed."
"Yes Sir, sorry, but it's hard to sink your qual boat."
"Skipper, Sonar reports, Torpedo running hot straight and normal."
"5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Skipper, Plus 1, 2, 3,"
The Captain looks through the periscope his "Damn" to be rewarded with the violent geyser of sea foam under the engine room of the sub. Lifted high already broken in two by the Mark 16 torpedo's explosion she is doomed to the rest of forever on the sea floor. "COB take a look. It's a better end that being scrapped."
Looking, he sees the ends of the broken black hull disappear quickly into the deep blue sea. "Yes she will rest with all her sisters now where she belongs, Skipper. She has served us well again."
This is dedicated to those boats that gave the last final extra measure for us in weapons tests. S(T) Sunk as target from "US Submarines Through 1945" by Norman Friedman. Jim Christley did research in other places and kindly allowed its use here. Also comments have been added by sailors that rode the boat that sank them or have knowledge of the sinking.
Submitted by: James Geer
BY WILLIAM GALVANI
SAILORS HAVE BEEN TAKING DOGS TO SEA SINCE A PAIR OF canines shipped out with Noah. Nevertheless, the picture of the floppy-eared poodle, looking as jaunty and confident as the young submariners who surrounded her, surprised me. What was the dog's name? I wondered. Why was it on a submarine? A scrawl on the back of the photo revealed only that this was the crew of the USS Whale after its return from its eighth war patrol in the Pacific. The Submarine Force Library and Museum in Groton, Connecticut, where I'm the director, has thousands of books, documents, and photographs about U.S. Submarine operations but no file, I realized, about mascots. Were there dogs on board other submarines? If so, could we find enough information about them to perhaps mount an exhibit for the museum? For the next six months the curator, the archivist, and I kept a watch for pictures and stories of what we came to call sea dogs. Our finds were infrequent; once in a while we'd turn up a picture in a folder or a brief reference in a yellowed news clipping. Then I published an appeal in Polaris, the monthly magazine of the Submarine Veterans of World War II. In poured letters with photographs, ID cards, service records, and newspaper stories. The replies showed that after nearly fifty years the veterans' feelings for their pets remained strong. One wrote: "She was truly one of our crew, and we all loved her. She was a comfort. . . When we were in silent running and getting a good depth charging." Another recalled: "Some chief from one of the seven hundred-odd ships in the anchorage (at Ulithi) decided to abscond with our dog, and I interceded and got a broken nose for my efforts. Hope Garbo appreciated it!" A third remembered: "Since I left the boat before Betty did, I cannot tell you of her final fate. May her soul rest in peace." From this correspondence I discovered that during World War II many United States submariners carried mascots with them in the Pacific. We did put together an exhibit called "Sea Dogs: Mascots of the Silent Service." Still on display, it is as popular with the public as the mascots were with their crews and for the same reason: The dogs touched their hearts.
Submariners' pets were usually small and of mixed breed. Crews acquired them through purchase and gift or in trade for a case or two of beer. One dog even dashed aboard a sub as the boat was getting under way. The dogs cheered and amused the men during their long war patrols. They helped relieve the tension and weariness of hours of silent running or nights of surface attacks. The men doted on their dogs. They fed them steak and bacon; they gave them ID cards and service records; they took them on liberty all over the Pacific, and more than one mascot acquired a taste for beer. Crews made their pets leashes and collars, complete with combat submarine insignia and service stars. Some dogs wore special coats emblazoned with their boat's war record. At least one miscreant even went to captain's mast. Garbo was the perfect submarine mascot. A mongrel puppy so small she could be concealed in a white sailor's hat, she came aboard the USS Gar (SS 206) in Hawaii about the time of the boat's tenth war patrol. She and the crew took an immediate liking to each other, and she remained on board for the rest of the Gar's fifteen war patrols. The puppy made her home in the forward torpedo room. Whenever the sub got under way, Garbo stationed herself all the way forward on the bullnose and barked. Once each patrol she toured the Gar from stem to stern; as she arrived in each compartment, the crew there would come to attention. "She owned the boat and knew it," recalled Motor Machinist Mate Second Class Jim Bunn. Garbo earned the combat submarine insignia that she wore on her collar, along with a star for each successful patrol she made on the Gar. Under the heaviest depthcharge attacks, when the gauges were leaking, light bulbs breaking, and fires breaking out, Garbo remained as playful as ever. Bunn said, "She should have gotten a medal for keeping our spirits and morale up when we needed it most." Anyone was welcome to pet her, but only the skipper, Lt. Cmdr. George Lautrup, Jr., and the cook, Red Balthorp, could pick her up. The skipper would put her on his shoulder and carry her up the ladder to the bridge at night for fresh air.
One night while the Gar was running on the surface during a war patrol in the Palau Islands, Garbo stepped off the cigarette deck and vanished into the darkness. The C.O. Immediately began a dogoverboard search. With the boat making frantic circles in enemy waters, a lookout finally spotted the mascot below the bridge, safe on the main deck. Between patrols Garbo stayed with the crew at their hotel in Pearl Harbor. She joined in the ship's parties, and like some of her two-legged shipmates, she didn't know her limit. After lapping up too much beer, she tended to blunder into furniture. Garbo gave birth to two pups while the sub was en route to Ulithi; the father belonged to the USS Tambor (SS 198). The Gar's crew traded the pups to other submarines for cases of beer. At the end of the war, when the Gar returned to the States, Chief Motor Machinist Mate Jim Ellis took Garbo home with him. Skeeter's second trip to mast came when he mistook a chief petty officer's leg for a fire hydrant. Sugie joined the crew of the USS Besugo (SS 321) when he was six weeks old. At the sub's commissioning party in June 1944, the puppy, wearing a custom-made sailor's blue jumper, looked on from the arms of the exec. Sugie made the shakedown cruise and all five war patrols during which the Besugo sank more than forty thousand tons of enemy shipping. He liked beer and whiskey, disdained gilly (a vile beverage distilled from the alcohol in torpedo fuel), and would, in a pinch, drink a pink lady. Submarine food suited him fine, and he especially enjoyed sitting in a chair while the crew spoon-fed him. His appetite didn't stop there: he chewed gum (and swallowed it), he would eat soap if someone didn't keep an eye on him, and he liked to chew up socks whenever he could, especially the skipper's. Skeeter, mascot of the USS Halibut (SS 232), was a swashbuckler too. The crew acquired him in Lefty's bar in San Francisco while the sub was undergoing overhaul in 1944. During his tour on the Halibut, Skeeter appeared at captain's mast twice, perhaps a canine record.
He was first charged with disturbing the peace in the forward battery compartment and with being surly and belligerent. Cmdr. I. J. Galantin, the Halibut's C.O., dismissed the case with a warning. Skeeter's second trip to mast came when he mistook a chief petty officer's leg for a fire hydrant. But the dog eventually received an honorable discharge and was mustered out of the Navy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in July 1945. Others were not so fortunate. Potshot survived three war cruises aboard the USS Hoe (SS 258) only to be run over and killed by a torpedo truck during a routine stop at Pearl Harbor. Myrna, the mascot of the USS Sawfish (SS 276), another casualty of war, was one of a litter of six pups born to Luau, the mascot of the USS Spadefish (SS 411). Myrna still wasn't weaned when her crew smuggled her aboard the Sawfish; the corpsman fed her a formula of milk, Karo syrup, cod-liver oil, and vitamin pills. At the end of the Sawfish's ninth war patrol, the sub went to Camp Dealy on Guam for rest and recreation. Myrna was sleeping under a table on which several sailors were sitting; when another man joined them, the table collapsed, crushing their mascot. The accident left the crew depressed for weeks. Myrna's mother, Luau, was a plank owner on the Spadefish, having come aboard in February 1944, lured from the landlubber's life by a large, tender steak after the crew discovered her in a Vallejo, California, bar. She distinguished herself in the service. When writing up the Spadefish's first war patrol, Lt. Cmdr. G. W. Underwood noted that Luau "contributed greatly to the morale with her ready playfulness with all hands. She was a bit perturbed by the depth charges, but soon recovered with only a slight case of depth charge nerves." If Hollywood had dreamed up a sea dog, it would have been Betty, a white toy poodle who was the mascot of the USS Whale (SS 239). She came aboard in Honolulu in September 1943, prevailing over the protests of the Whale's executive officer by licking the captain's hand. She was then designated Dog First Class, issued service and medical records, and given the run of the ship. She avoided the noisy engine rooms and hid in the control room during gunnery practice.
The men liked to take their dog on liberty in Pearl Harbor because, as Lt. Emmett Fowler, Jr., recalled, Betty was a "girl getter"; it didn't take long for the poodle's escorts to strike up conversations with their mascot's attractive admirers. The weather was bad at Midway when the Whale returned from one patrol, and the port captain ordered the sub to remain outside the harbor till conditions improved. Unwilling to linger where his vessel might become a target for Japanese submarines, the C.O. entered port anyway. The irate port captain met the sub at the pier and yelled at the C.O. while the Whale was going alongside, then came aboard and continued to argue. Tiring of the stream of abuse, Betty slashed an eight-inch rip in the port captain's pants leg. A subsequent admiral's inquiry in Pearl Harbor exonerated the Whale's C.O. Betty had only been defending her crew. The port captain was relieved of his duties. Victory and the end of the war meant the breaking up of most submarine crews. Garbo, Skeeter, Betty, and other dogs went home with crew members. Porches, lawns, and the occasional cat replaced steel hulls, tile decks, and depth charges. Gabby, mascot of the USS Gabilan (SS 252), proudly represented all submarine sea dogs when he marched with his crew in a welcome-home victory parade in Mobile, Alabama, in October 1945.
Submitted by: Mike Tucker
October 20, 2004
On a dark and gloomy rain-filled day, a shroud of secrecy permeated the air on the Bremerton waterfront. It was the perfect setting for the final day in the top-secret career of the Bangor-based USS Parche, one of the world's most prolific spy submarines. By the time its life ended Tuesday in a decommissioning ceremony at the Bremerton naval base, the Parche was the most highly decorated ship in Navy history - even though most Americans have never heard of it. Commissioned in 1974, the Parche spent 30 years and 19 deployments as America's top espionage sub, reportedly tapping the undersea military communication lines of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, plucking lost Soviet weaponry from the ocean floor and gathering intelligence on other enemies afterward. The Parche (pronounced PAR-chee) was officially designated by the Navy as a "research and development" submarine. And it did plenty of that, testing new sonar and undersea warfare technologies. But its highly classified missions, none of which have ever been officially confirmed, are the most intriguing aspect of its history. Many of those missions were deemed to be of "vital importance to U.S. national security," earning the submarine an unprecedented nine Presidential Unit Citations. The vast majority of ships never receive even one. For being the most decorated ship ever, shouldn't more people be made aware of what it accomplished? "Those that need to know, know," said a matter-of-fact Rear Adm. Ben Wachendorf, who commanded the Parche from 1988 to 1993. Wachendorf, now U.S. defense attaché in Moscow, traveled from Russia to be at Tuesday's ceremony. "I wouldn't have missed it for anything," he said. "It means a lot to be able to say goodbye to an old friend." In fact, all but one of the Parche's nine former commanders were present at the Parche's decommissioning. In addition, about 130 former crew members, most belonging to the USS Parche Association, were on hand to witness the sub's inactivation. Those who returned to see their sub one last time said it was not only the camaraderie of submarine life that made Parche special, but also the exotic and extremely challenging missions it completed, which often involved excruciatingly long periods spent submerged with dwindling food and supplies. "It's the end of the life cycle," said Manchester resident Will Longman, chairman of the Parche Association. "It's very meaningful. The camaraderie does not go away. And the uniqueness of Parche imparts its own special camaraderie."
The Parche also was the last of the Navy's 37 Sturgeon-class fast attack subs to be deactivated - though it barely resembled any of the other ships of that class. That's because its hull was extended by 100 feet to accommodate extensive classified modifications in a four-year stay at Mare Island Naval Shipyard near San Francisco in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1994, the Parche and its crew of 190 moved from Mare Island to Bangor. It had already earned six Presidential Unit Citations by that time and earned another three after its transfer to Bangor, including a ninth for its final deployment that ended in late September. The Parche's final resume also included 13 Navy Expeditionary Medals and 10 Navy Unit Commendations - all unprecedented numbers. "Parche has had a career unmatched in the annals of submarine history," said Rear Adm. Paul Sullivan, commander of the Pacific Fleet submarine force. "Parche has gathered enough citations that are just truly remarkable ..based on her superb performance in critical national tasking. "She now ranks among the most legendary vessels to ever have sailed under our flag." Sullivan compared the Parche's storied past to other historic Navy vessels, such USS Constitution, USS Monitor, USS Missouri and USS Nautilus. "And now there is Parche," he said. The ship figured prominently in "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage," a nonfiction book published in the 1990s, which described how it spent its Cold War days spying on the Soviet Union. It's also been reported the sub, with a claw-like device, was able to pick up lost Soviet missiles or bombs from the sea floor. Later, it reportedly deployed unmanned drones to complete many of the espionage tactics. Following the Cold War, the Parche continued its highly classified missions, with many observers citing an even higher sense of secrecy. It's said the Parche spent plenty of time in the Persian Gulf, gleaning intelligence on Iraq and Iran, and traveled through the Western Pacific keeping tabs on China and North Korea.
Capt. Richard Charles, the Parche's first commander, traveled from Mobile, Ala., for Tuesday's ceremony. He took command while the sub was being built and went on its first deployment, a five-month journey in the Mediterranean Sea. After that, the sub transferred to the West Coast and began its spy missions a few years later. "Those guys in the Pacific had all the fun," Charles joked. "I just built it. It's always sad to see a ship retire, but after a while, they are like you and me; they wear out." Ironically, the name of the Parche's last at-sea commander, Capt. Charles Richard, was a mirror image of the sub's first. Richard was relieved in a change-of-command ceremony Tuesday after leading the Parche on two post-September 11th deployments, including one that lasted 122 days in 2002. "Being commander of this ship was an extraordinary experience and I was fortunate to be given the experience," he said. "I hope that each man who has served aboard this ship will look back and swell with pride knowing that he answered his country's call." Following the ceremony, the Parche, probably one of the least known subs to the general public because of its highly classified missions, silently shifted over to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. There, it will be torn apart and recycled over the next few years. And it's probably the first time in the Parche's history that its whereabouts will be known. "That just proves our success that nobody knows what we do," said Bremerton resident Curt Mathews, who retired off the Parche last year. "It's kind of fun. People say, 'The Parche? I never heard of it?' Well, that's good. And we like it that way and that's why we were successful in all of our missions."
Submitted by James Geer
During the Cold War with the Soviet Union from 1948 to 1991, the U.S. Navy launched more than 2,000 secret missions against the Kremlin. The men who manned these "underwater U-2s" have gone largely unheralded. It was an eerie throwback to the Cold War. On April 4, 1997, a Russian cargo ship spying on the USS OHIO off Washington's Puget Sound fired a laser beam at a Canadian helicopter. The new Russia was relying on an old Soviet tactic -- trawlers known as AGIs for Auxiliary General Intelligence. When the Cold War supposedly ended in 1991, the U.S. Submarine Force numbered 61,000 sailors, 34 missile subs and 89 attack subs. "The U.S. and Soviet Union had fought a vast, undeclared and sometimes chillingly violent Cold War under the sea," wrote Chris Drew and Michael Millenson in the Chicago Tribune. Movies like The Hunt for Red October brought that war home to unsuspecting Americans, but few knew how real the deep-sea struggle actually was. It was "the struggle for domination of the hydroscape of the world -- the Wet Cold War -- a war within a war that may well be the most significant theater of all," wrote Thomas S. Burns in The Secret War for the Ocean Depths, where "the ultimate naval weapon" was the submarine: "King of the Seas." The undersea conflict was waged beneath the ice floes of the North Atlantic, in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean and through the deepest canyons of the Pacific. It was carried on under the Arctic ice cap where U.S. attack subs stalked Soviet ballistic missile subs. It reached the coastlines of the U.S. and Soviet Union. Submarines sometimes snuck into harbors or lurked as they waited to shadow an adversary's boat. On the seafloor both sides positioned sophisticated listening devices. The more advanced U.S. system, called Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), consisted of strings of hydrophones planted at strategic spots on ocean bottoms. SOSUS was so sensitive that the Navy tracked Soviet subs thousands of miles from U.S. shores. The undersea Cold War began not long after WWII as hostility increased between the U.S. and Soviet Union. The Navy's subs were nothing more than upgraded WWII "Pigboats" -- their speed was as minimal as was their diving depth. As the Cold War intensified, the design and propulsion systems of U.S. subs changed radically. First came the nuclear sub, USS NAUTILUS, in 1954. Nuclear power was combined with a hydrodynamic, cigar-shaped hull design that revolutionized submarine warfare. American subs now cruised for months at depths of hundreds of feet at speeds sometimes faster than surface vessels. In 1960, the U.S. revolutionized warfare by introducing "boomers," guided missile subs (SSBNs) that replaced cruise missile boats (SSGNs). The first of the SSBNs, the GEORGE WASHINGTON, was a Skipjack class sub converted to carry 16 Polaris missiles. It was followed by the improved Lafayette class of Poseidon missile boats. The Ohio class subs, with Trident missiles, are reputed to be the quietest subs to ever go to sea. U.S. attack subs (SSNs) combined speed with quiet running. They were assigned to defend carrier battle groups, maintain the nation's sea lanes and to target Soviet SSBNs and attack subs. Skipjack, Permit and Sturgeon classes of the 1960s and 1970s were followed by the Los Angeles class subs of the 1980s-90s. The Los Angeles boats are "the greatest nuclear predator, Soviet or American, ever to take to the seas," wrote the editors of the Time-Life book, Hunters of the Deep. The improved Seawolf class will take the Navy into the 21st century. The Soviet Union's sub fleet was developed to counter the U.S. threat. The Russians struggled for decades to match the quietness and speed of U.S. subs. They ran through a series of classes, Novembers, Alfas, Victors, Akulas and Sierras. By the late 1980s, the Soviets had reached near parity with U.S. boats. Aggressive U.S. patrolling was necessary particularly since the Soviets maintained a fleet of some 350 boats of all types. The U.S. had about 123 subs.
Once both nations fielded SSBNs, assuring mutual annihilation, intelligence-gathering was paramount. Ascertaining the characteristics and capabilities of each country's submarines became crucial to national security. U.S. subs began spying on the Soviets in May 1948, when the USS SEA DOG conducted reconnaissance patrols along the Siberian coast. The USS BLACKFIN picked up where SEA DOG left off. A decade later these missions were more daring and essential. In 1957, the USS GUDGEON, the first sub to circumnavigate the globe, was caught snooping around the Soviet naval base at Vladivostok inside Russian territorial waters. For 30 hours the sub was cornered and depth-charged by Russian destroyers. GUDGEON finally was forced to surface to restore its air supply. It came up ready to fight, but was allowed to withdraw. Soviet actions in the Atlantic and Mediterranean gave impetus to operations to collect electronic communications and photographic intelligence. Soviet subs began patrolling in the Mediterranean in 1958-59 (by 1967, 13 Russian boats were on patrol duty there). In May 1959, the USS GRENADIER, off Iceland, detected, tracked and held down a Soviet sub until she was forced to surface. Operation Holystone, also known as Pinnacle, Bollard and Barnacle, was launched that same year. Its focus was intelligence-gathering. Sub commanders sometimes took extraordinary risks to obtain information on Soviet naval developments. USS HARDER in 1961 sailed into the channel at Severomorsk Soviet naval base on the Barents Sea. "It seemed like forever," recalled one crewman, "but the run was probably less than an hour." In 1963, the USS SWORDFISH slipped into the middle of a Soviet anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise in the North Pacific. The Soviets depth-charged SWORDFISH for two days. But SWORDFISH was nuclear-powered and did not have to surface for air. SWORDFISH survived and the mission provided the U.S. with an intelligence bonanza as the Navy recorded the Soviet's radio chatter and plotted their radar search patterns. For special operations conducted between 1963-65, SWORDFISH crewmen were awarded Navy unit commendations and the captain received the Legion of Merit. U.S. subs regularly took up station off Soviet ports to learn as much as possible about Soviet movements and capabilities. A favorite American tactic was to secretly shadow Soviet boats as they left port on a mission. "Some [subs] have passed less than 50 feet below the hulls of Soviet vessels to take photos of their propellers and tape the sound of the blades churning," the Chicago Tribune reported. In 1969, the USS LAPON tailed a Soviet sub in the North Atlantic for 40 days without being detected. LAPON's sonar operators became well acquainted with the daily sounds and habits on board the Soviet sub. They assigned nicknames to various Russian duty officers and could hear wrenches being dropped. Such close encounters occasionally became deadly. In June 1970, the attack submarine USS TAUTOG was shadowing a Soviet missile sub in the northern Pacific. The Russian commander became suspicious and made a looping turn to check for a trailing American. "All of a sudden Ivan was coming screaming at us," recalls one TAUTOG crew member. The Soviet boat's propellers struck the American sub as she streaked over TAUTOG's sail. The 4,800-ton TAUTOG's hull withstood the blow, but the Russian sub wasn't so lucky. The collision probably ruptured the propeller shaft seals and seawater gushed into the hull. TAUTOG's sonar operators listened to the ghastly sounds as the Russian boat broke apart and sank. Rumors persist that the USS SCORPION, lost near the Azores in May 1968, went down after colliding with a Soviet sub that may have been tailing the U.S. boat. In 1986, USS AUGUSTA, an attack sub, ran into a Soviet nuclear sub in the North Atlantic while testing a new sonar system. In 1992, the USS BATON ROUGE, collided off northern Russia's Kola Inlet with another Soviet nuclear sub. "We knew the Soviets were out there, probably sometimes right beside us as we patrolled the vast areas of the Pacific," says James Crenshaw who served on the SSBN JOHN MARSHALL from 1976-80.
By 1970, the U.S. developed submarines designed for complex espionage operations. USS HALIBUT, USS SEAWOLF and USS PARCHE were refitted to perform "special ops" missions in and around the Soviet Union. The missions were so secret and sensitive, said one former crewmember, that crews of the subs were segregated from each other on base and curtains were placed around the vessels while in port. To this day, sailors on those cruises are not allowed to speak about them. "I signed a paper that forbids me to talk about it for 80 years," said one sub vet. Details of the PARCHE's operations are classified, but special operations have earned the sub five Presidential Unit Citations and three Navy Unit Citations. But some aspects of the special ops missions are known. One of the most successful of these missions, code-named Ivy Bells, was the tapping of a vital Soviet undersea communications cable. The mission was carried out by USS HALIBUT, which crept into the Sea of Okhotsk, the bay separating the Kamchatka Peninsula from the Soviet mainland. Divers descended to the sea floor 400 feet below the surface to install a recording pod. HALIBUT and her sister special ops subs also carried robots that could explore the ocean floor. "We had capabilities similar to those used to find the TITANIC," one crewmember said. USS SEAWOLF and USS PARCHE also participated in recovering and replacing the recording device. According to one crewman, the subs would remain submerged on station for 30 days to record real time conversations, then leave the recording device behind for several months. The missions were so sensitive that at least one sub, SEAWOLF, was reportedly fitted with demolition charges fore and aft. If caught the crew would be given the option to leave the vessel before it was scuttled. "But with the water temperature at 28 degrees you're not going to live very long, so you might as well stay with the ship and go down," one crewman said. On one cruise, SEAWOLF released fouled air that bubbled to the surface. A Soviet cruiser streaked by the next day. "Everyone was sweating bullets, but we remained pretty well masked," the crewmember recalled. Ivy Bells continued until 1981 when its cover was blown by a U.S. spy. The Russians also attempted to tap a U.S. undersea communication cable, apparently unsuccessfully. In 1985, U.S. spy satellites detected a Soviet sub loitering in a shallow part of the Atlantic. The Navy dispatched the attack sub USS BALTIMORE to secretly observe. The Russian sub launched a sled and divers who probed the seafloor 300 feet below. The waters were too murky for the Americans to determine the Soviets mission, but they were digging and drilling, presumably to locate an undersea cable. The mission was believed to have ended in failure and tragedy when the sled and divers failed to return to the Soviet boat. The most publicized U.S. intelligence- gathering action -- secret for many years -- was the raising of a Soviet missile firing sub that sank in the mid-Pacific on March 8, 1968. SOSUS picked up the sounds of the sub exploding and later USS HALIBUT, specially fitted with thrusters to enable it to sit motionless, located the wreckage using special cameras. Roger C. Dunham, a second class petty officer aboard the HALIBUT during the operation, wrote a fictionalized account in his book, Spy Sub. Cmdr. Clarence E. Moore, who skippered it, received the Distinguished Service Medal for his work. The deep sea salvage ship GLOMAR EXPLORER recovered all or part of the sub for evaluation by the Navy. It says the sub broke apart and only portions of its hull were raised. Some observers claim the entire vessel was retrieved. "Rumor is the Navy got what it wanted," said one former submariner.
The U.S. lost three subs during the Cold War. A fourth, USS STICKLEBACK, sank after being rammed by destroyer SILVERSTEIN May 30, 1958, southeast of Pearl Harbor. All 82 crewmembers survived. The first Cold War-era loss was the diesel boat USS COCHINO, which sank in the Greenland Sea off Norway in August 1949 following a battery explosion. COCHINO had been on a reconnaissance patrol. The Soviet publication Red Fleet subsequently claimed it sank "not far from Murmansk." One crewman was lost on COCHINO and six others from the sub USS TUSK were swept overboard in the frigid waters while attempting to save COCHINO in an "epic of incomparable heroism." USS THRESHER went down 220 miles east of Boston in 8,400 feet of water with 112 crewmembers and 17 civilian workers aboard in April 1963. During search operations, Soviet "trawlers" passed through the area electronically sniffing for information. While THRESHER's loss was devastating to the Navy, her sinking lead to a thorough investigation uncovering numerous flaws in the sub construction program. Reforms may have saved other U.S. undersea vessels and their crews. SCORPION, with 99 men aboard, was lost 460 miles southwest of the Azores in 10,000 feet of water five years later. She had been assigned to Submarine Squadron 6, Division 62, with the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean Sea. At least 16 other U.S. crewmembers aboard submarines were lost to accidents during Cold War operations. No comprehensive figures, however, are available dating back to the end of WWII. Some six Soviet subs are believed to have been lost. These include S-117, Dec. 15, 1952; K-129, March 8, 1968; K-8, April 12, 1974; and KOMSOMOLETS (42 died), April 7, 1989. An unidentified nuclear sub is believed to have been scuttled in April 1970, and a Charlie class boat sank off Kamchatka in September 1983. More Soviet subs may have been lost, unknown to U.S. intelligence or kept secret by both the Soviets and Americans. No one knows the number of Soviet submariners who lost their lives, but the presumed number is greater than U.S. losses. Only now are deserving submariners receiving medals for their service. Wylie Miller served on classified missions between 1958 and 1962. "People on subs can't talk about where they've been - half of us didn't even know where we were anyway," he said after receiving an Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal 30 years after the fact. "Now that information is available [through recent declassification], the Navy's catching up with us. Many present and former submariners stand to benefit by receiving awards for previously classified military operations." Along with their prized Dolphin submariner insignia, since 1969 they also have earned SSBN Deterrent Patrol pins. These patrols lasted 90-105 days, with 60-70 days continually submerged. The Navy Expeditionary Medal is also awarded to sailors who "operated under circumstances which after full consideration shall be deemed to merit special recognition." This is the classic definition of sub intelligence-gathering operations. Individual decorations are even more guarded. Some received a "black" award: a medal that appears in the recipient's service file folder but which he is unable to wear on his uniform. Sub missions have always been fraught with danger. In fact, President Theodore Roosevelt, after going down in the PLUNGER in Long Island Sound in 1905, ordered that enlisted men detailed to submarines be granted an extra $10 a month in hazardous duty pay. "Life aboard Cold War-era subs was austere," remembers Senior Chief Sonarman Bob von Allmen, who served on the USS GROWLER, 1950-62. "Crews of 100 were crammed into small spaces for extended periods. Patrol lengths normally ran around 82 or 87 days. "The HALIBUT was nuclear-powered and it carried five missiles, but the other missile boats were diesel-electric with all the accompanying hardships. Diesel boat sailors were required to take sponge baths from a bucket." VonAllmen justifiably remains proud of his special service. Richard Smith, a sub vet of many Arctic patrols between 1952 and 1961, related what WWII Medal of Honor recipient Adm. Gene Fluckey wrote to him. He congratulated Smith for being a veteran of "the most important war since men first stood on hind legs -- the Cold War." "In this game of cat-and-mouse, the often narrow margin of victory goes to the proficient and the careful. A mistake -- the clang of a dropped wrench, the swish of cavitation made by the propeller's accelerating too fast, the pop of a light bulb can trigger an enemy torpedo. On these battlefields, warriors whisper." -- Vice Adm. R.Y. Kaufman, U.S.N. (Ret.)
Submitted by James Geer