Unmanned Underwater Vehicles

On July 3, 2018, the Kitsap Sun reported that Keyport, WA had become home to the Navy’s first unmanned undersea vehicle squadron. Keyport, WA has been home to much of the Navy’s research and testing facilities for many years. In fact, so many test torpedoes have been developed here that the town has earned the nickname “Torpedo Town, U.S.A. It only makes sense that this new development In the Navy’s forces would begin in Keyport. But what is an unmanned undersea vehicle or UUV’s. in the Kitsap Sun, Cmdr. Scott Smith called them “pre-programmed, small submarines.” However, these vehicles are much more complex and constantly changing the landscape of undersea defense as we know it.
In simple terms, a UUV is an underwater drone. They operate without a person being on board. They can be divided into two categories – ROV’s (remotely operated underwater vehicles) which are controlled by a remote operator and AUV’s (autonomous underwater vehicles) which operate on there on like a robot. In 2015, as the idea of these vehicles were still in the early test stages, Bryan McGrath, a managing director of The FerryBridge Group and assistant director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for American Seapower was asked about what these vehicles meant for the Navy’s Submarine Force. He went on to say the following:
“We’ve only begun to scratch the surface on the utility of UUV’s. I’m impressed with the degree to which the Navy’s Submarine Force is innovating in this area, and I’d like to see the surface force begin to work more closely with them to leverage what is quickly becoming a vast undersea information architecture. We will someday see UUV’s doing a great number of things that manned submarines currently do- not replacing them but extending their power and reach the way helicopters have for the surface force. Doubling down on our mystery of the undersea environment is a no-brainer.” 

Figure 1Knifefish Surface Mine Countermeasure Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (SMCM UUV)
(Picture: Bluefin Robotics) http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3616

McGrath isn’t wrong when he says that working to understand the oceans is a no-brainer. While much of the ocean has been mapped, there is still plenty we are unaware of. As we saw in 2005 when the USS San Francisco hit an underwater sea mountain, having an extra pair of eyes in the deep black water doesn’t hurt. For the most part, UUV’s up until this point had been used for ocean surveillance and mine clearing. The new squadron in Keyport will utilize 10-inch torpedo-shaped tubes to large ones around 80 inches in diameter. The squadron will develop ideas and procedures that will shape how UUV’s can best be utilized by the Navy. According to Cmdr. Smith, while the UUV’s will be extremely helpful in reducing diver risks and sensory capabilities, they will never take away the vital importance of manned submarines. Despite the formation of this squadron and its growth over the past year, UUV’s are not currently deployed from submarines, something Smith sees changing in the next five years. Tests have been done using Virginia-class submarines to prove the viability of UUV’s in submarine missions. USS North Dakota, (SSN 784) which is homeported in Groton, finished a mission deploying and retrieving a UUV from the ship’s dry dock shelter in 2015. A dry dock shelter is a removable module that can be attached and allows ease of entering and exiting from a sub while it is submerged. The newly formed squadron is part of Submarine Development Squadron 5. This is the same command that oversees the Seawolf-class submarines- USS Seawolf, USS Connecticut, and USS Jimmy Carter.

Figure 2Dry-Dock Shelter open, the attack submarine Dallas (SSN-700), departs Souda harbor 19 July 2004, following a brief port visit. USN photo # N-0780F-070, courtesy of Paul Farley. http://www.navsource.org/archives/08/08700.htm

The biggest issue with UUV’s that make them different from their aerial counterparts that have been in use for years now is that due to the ocean’s depth, controlling the drone is difficult. Singles and Wi-Fi cannot reach the drone, meaning that the entire mission would have to be programmed into the vehicle before it is launched. Small UUV’s can gather surveillance and sea conditions. They can also extend the sensor reach of a submarine. Submarines rarely use active sonar in order to remain unseen. UUV’s would allow submarines the use of active sonar without giving away their location, essentially allowing the crew to be in two places at once. Rear Admiral Joseph Tofalo was quoted in 2015 as saying, “Now you are talking about a submarine CO who can essentially be in two places at the same time – with a UUV out deployed which can dull, dirty and dangerous type missions. This allows the submarine to be doing something else at the same time. UUVs can help us better meet our combatant command demand signal. Right now, we can only meet about two-thirds of our combatant commanders demand signals and having unmanned systems is a huge force multiplier.” The innovative work on how UUV’s can aid submarines and surface ships alike is taking place in Barb Hall, a building named after the World War II Gato-class submarine USS Barb. The USS Barb knows a thing or two about being the first of a kind- having been the first and only submarine to have “sunk” an enemy train when sailors snuck ashore and took out a Japanese supply train.
Viewpoints on UUVs vary and research is still ongoing to determine the long-term use of them to the submarine force. However, the tests done so far have shown significant reasoning for submarines to be equipped with the new technology. The fear that these vehicles would take away from the effectiveness and need for submarines is unfounded when you see how UUVs can make submarines a more stealth and formidable opponent to enemy forces.




The Original Sea Devil Submarine

The Balao-class submarine SS-400 and Sturgeon-class submarine SSN-664 both have something in common. They are named The Sea Devil after the largest ray in the ocean. Known for its power and endurance, the name is, of course, fitting for some powerful pieces of machinery. But these submarines also share their name with another submarine that helped begin submarine development. The original Sea Devil is considered one of the groundbreaking early submarines.
Wilhelm Bauer was an engineer in Bavaria during the German/Danish war between 1848 and 1851. Fascinated by the Danish Navy’s ability to block the Prussians, Bauer began to study ship construction and hydraulics. He was inspired through his research to create a new type of submersible ship that would be better than those that had come before. His first construction was Brandtaucher or Incendiary Diver. At the time, in order to break blockades, ships with explosives were set adrift towards the blockading. Once the vessel would explode, it would either sink the blockading vessels or cause them to move. The ships that carried the explosives were called incendiary ships. Bauer took this idea and applied it to his first submarine. He believed that his submarine could attach an explosive to the underside of a blockading ship and break through that way. His design was about 28 feet long and weighed around 35 tons. Two sailors on a treadmill powered the vessel while a third would operate it. On February 1, 1851, his first public demonstration was a disaster. The submarine began to leak and ended up on the bottom of the harbor. For six hours, Bauer and the other two sailors had to wait for enough water to leak into the submarine to equalize pressure, so they could open the hatch and escape. The submarine itself would not escape the river until 1887. Despite the terrible first run, this did not stop Bauer.

Sketch of Brandtaucher https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/06/28/constructed-1850-wilhelm-bauer-brandtaucher-first-submarine-project-germany/

Due to the failure of his first submarine, Bauer had difficulty finding patronage and a crew in Bavaria. Word had gotten out that while underwater, Bauer and his fellow crewmembers of his first craft had gotten into a physical fight over how to handle the situation. He had little success trying to find a sponsor in England. It was not until he traveled to Russia that he had some success. Tsar Alexander II funded the development of the next submarine- Le Diable Marin or the Sea Devil. This design was more advanced than her previous counterpart was. The Sea Devil was twice as large and could carry a crew of twelve. The same premises existed, with four men on a treadmill to power the vessel. After his previous incident, Bauer decided his new model would contain a lockout chamber. The Sea Devil carried out 134 successful dives, with some reaching a depth of 150 feet. The Tsar was so impressed that a four-piece orchestra was put onboard and played on board during a coronation from beneath the surface of Kronstad Harbor.

Drawing of the Sea Devil on the ocean floor. (Credit: ullstein bild/Getty Images)

When Le Diable Marin was first launched, it was described in the following manner: “The Russian submarine, ‘L.E. Diable Marin,’ resembled a dolphin in outward shape. It had a lent of 15m. 80. A beam of 3m. 80 and a depth of 3 m.35. The framework of the hull was of iron and the hull was credited with the power of resisting a 45 m. 50 column of water.…In the bows was a hatchway for entrance and exit. That the weight might be the more easily distributed, the forward part of the ship was 6 inches less in height than the middle portion. Pumps were used for forcing water into the cylinders, and longitudinal stability was obtained by reducing or augmenting the volume of water carried as ballast. In the bows was fixed a large mine, containing 500lb of powder and other combustible matter; on either side of this mine protruded a thick Indiarubber glove, to allow of fixing it to the keel of the vessel to be attacked. A door by which divers might descend to the bottom of the water was also provided, and this is not unnatural when one considers that Bauer’s very first submarine was intended for industrial purposes.” Unfortunately, this excess attention from the Tsar was not appreciated by the Russian admirals who devised a way to sabotage him. Bauer was ordered to do a demonstration and sink a dummy ship a distance away. However, the admirals misled Bauer on the exact depth of the river. While submerged, the Sea Devil hit a mudbank and became stuck. Bauer was forced to release the hatch and he and his crew were able to escape. However, just like his first vessel, the submarine was left on the bottom. This time, it is where the submarine would rest. This would be Bauer’s last attempt at submarine development.
Despite what many might view as a failure, Bauer greatly advanced submarine development. His work played a key role in advancing the science and engineering of future vessels. The successful dives of his second vessel proved the ability to successfully navigate underwater and with the four-piece orchestra from the Tsar’s coronation, proved it could be done comfortably. This original Sea Devil set the stage for those that came after. Just like the submarine’s namesake, Bauer had extreme endurance and fought hard for what he believed in. Today, Bauer’s first submarine that was rescued from the deep is on display in Dresden, Germany.

Figure 2 Brandtaucher on display at the Bundeswehr Military History Museum, Dresden https://www.thevintagenews.com/2016/06/28/constructed-1850-wilhelm-bauer-brandtaucher-first-submarine-

His name is also attached to the only German U-boat that is still floating today. Never used during the war due to its late production, The Wilhelm Bauer was originally scuttled after the war but rescued and refitted. In its second life, she served as a training vessel, shedding the connotation of her U-boat origins. Today she serves as a museum ship at the German Maritime Museum.


Submarines at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

This summer will mark the 60th anniversary of Nautilus’ historic journey to the North Pole. After making the journey, USS Nautilus sailed into New York harbor to reunite crew members with their families and meet the president. Only three short hours from her first home in Groton, CT, Nautilus would dock in one of the most famous cities in the world at the Brooklyn Navy Yard- a piece of New York and Naval history. Today, the Brooklyn Navy Yard no longer welcomes celebrated ships but has been converted into a hub of business where the community can come together. While now home to a countertop manufacturing company, a distillery, and a produce farm, in its early days, the Brooklyn Navy Yard played a vital role in the Navy and would see its fair share of submarines pass through her docks.

Figure 1 Navy Yard workers in the 1940’s. Image courtesy of Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The land the Brooklyn Navy Yard sits on today was originally purchased by Dutch settler Jansen de Rapelje in 1637. The 335 acres on Wallabout Bay was purchased from the Lenape Indians that were Native to New York harbor. During the American Revolution, Wallabout Bay was occupied by the British. According to the Brooklyn Navy Yard website, the most famous of British ships, the Jersey was moored here where American soldiers, merchants, and traders were imprisoned for disobeying the British embargo. It was 1801 when President John Adams saw the potential in the Wallabout Bay area. A New Englander, Adams knew the importance of the sea and of having a strong Naval Force. He established the first five Naval shipyards, including the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 1833, Commodore Matthew C. Perry founded the Naval Lyceum (the predecessor to the U.S. Naval Academy) at the Yard. The first Naval publication was published there in 1836 with contributors such as Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper. It was 1872 that the Brooklyn Navy Yard saw its first submarine.

During the Civil War, the Union Navy was looking for ways to counter the CSS Hunley and Pioneer. They looked to a prototype submarine aptly titled Halstead’s Folly or, the Intelligent Whale.  In 1863, Scovel S. Merriman, Augustus Price and Cornelius Bushnell began work on the Intelligent Whale in New Jersey.  In 1864, the American Submarine Company replaced Price and Bushnell. Due to soaring costs and legal battles, control of the boat went to trustees of General Nathaniel Halstead and Col. Edward W. Serrell in 1865.

Figure 2 The Intelligent Whale in the Brooklyn Navy Yard circa 1898 https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3b04942/

Despite ongoing financial issues, Halstead finished the project by April of 1866. The submarine was staffed by four men who turned cranks attached to a propeller. Compressed air was kept in two tanks that allowed for ten hours of submerged operation. “Two large ballast tanks fore and aft were connected to the air tanks and to the water surrounding the craft. A rudder and aft trim planes allowed the pilot to control the boat’s course, diving, and surfacing. A short conning tower with bull’s eye glass provided the skipper with limited visibility while partially submerged. Other navigational aids included a compass, a depth gauge, and air pressure indicator. The crew embarked via a central hatch topside, but the craft’s divers deployed through two wooden “gates” in the floor. To submerge Intelligent Whale the crew filled the water tanks by opening a valve. To anchor the submerged craft the crew deployed two 15-inch shot (weighing 350 pounds each) by working windlasses attached to wire cable in two watertight boxes. To maintain air quality while submerged, the craft had a device for spraying water through the air, and thumb valves at the top of the boat, which could be opened to release foul air. To surface, the crew pumped the water from the tanks by hand or forced it out with compressed air.”[1] Halstead’s bad luck would follow the Intelligent Whale. Despite legal battles, The Navy purchased the vessel from Halstead. However, before official trials could be done, Halstead passed away. Due to personal issues in his life, his death lead to a scandal and a tainted name for his submarine. This along with the small number of people who knew how to operate the vessel, caused tests to be delayed. Once they were able to commence, flooding saw her short career end as the Navy marked the vessel a failure. Despite this fact, Intelligent Whale became a curiosity and would be displayed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. She would remain at the Yard until 1968 when she was moved to Washington D.C. and then finally to her current place in New Jersey. This means that the Intelligent Whale was in view of the Nautilus as she returned home from her historic journey marking the coming together of two vital points of submarine history.

While no submarines were ever built in the Yard, the dry docks were a frequent home for repairs and short stays. The USS Porpoise and the USS Shark, built in 1903, spent time being refitted in the Navy Yard dry docks. It was also here that they were disassembled in 1908 to be transported to the Philippines where they served until 1919. During World War I, German U-boats were brought to the Yard to be dismantled and gain valuable information on how German submarine technology worked. This work allowed U.S. Forces to strip away German dominance in the submarine field at the time. The early 1900’s was still an experimental time in submarine development. While today’s vessels see few accidents, this was not the case for the early boats. In June of 1915, the USS Sturgeon (also known as E-2 and SS-25) arrived at the Brooklyn Navy Yard to complete a refit. E-2 was the first submarine to be equipped with a diesel engine.  However, this new engine had problems. The vibrations caused damage to the battery system which could leak lead acid that, when mixed with salt water, could create a deadly chlorine gas. When she entered the yard that June, E-2 was supposed to have its engines replaced and batteries upgraded. A new battery system had been created by Thomas Edison that would allow the boat to travel further while submerged. The unit was also made of nickel iron instead of lead-acid, getting rid of the chlorine gas issue. However, this new battery did create hydrogen gas. Tests run on December 7th, 1915 found the batteries to seem to be a better fit. Initial reports found that they ran faster on less fuel.

Figure 3 Crewmembers atop the (E-2) submarine’s conning tower, after returning from a patrol during World War I.
Courtesy of the Submarine Force Library and Museum, Groton, Connecticut, 1972.

E-2 was in Dry Dock No. 2 in January of 1916 still undergoing tests. On January 15th, an explosion in the battery compartment claimed the lives of five crew members. Investigations found the hydrogen gas to be the culprit of the explosions. Once repairs were completed, E-2 went back into service as a training vessel. This incident caused the Navy to abandon the Edison technology and redesign a safer lead-acid cell battery. These redesigns would become the foundation for the technology that is still used in submarines today. As a side note, the chief of submarines at the Navy Yard who oversaw the investigation was one Chester W. Nimitz- Fleet Admiral of the Pacific Fleet. We remembered those who lost their lives that January day, as their names are Guy Hamilton Clark Jr. (Machinist’s Mate), Roy B. Seaber (Electrician, third-class), Joseph Logan (Navy Yard plumber), James H. Peck (Navy Yard plumber) and John P. Schultz (Navy Yard Workman).

Figure 4 USS E-2 (Submarine # 25)
Fine screen halftone reproduction of a photograph of the submarine underway prior to World War I. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/OnlineLibrary/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-e/ss25.htm

The Yard would triple during World War II in order to help with the war effort. Despite the numerous ships built during her years and the historic moments she witnessed, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara closed the Yard for good in 1966 after announcements about base closures came out in 1964. At the time, the Yard had over 9,000 workers and was the oldest active industrial plant in New York State. In 1969, New York City along with a non-profit group took control of the property turning it into a large scale industrial plant which it continues to operate as today. There are still dry docks at the Yard to service ships, continuing its legacy for years to come. Today, Bldg 92 serves as an exhibition center and reminds visitors of the property’s historic past. For those of us here in Groton, we will always remember the Nautilus sailing into New York Harbor, headed to the Yard to greet family and friends after one of the most historic trips ever made. Thus, solidifying a place in history for the Brooklyn Navy Yard.


For more in-depth information on the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s history and current business you can visit https://brooklynnavyyard.org/


[1] http://www.public.navy.mil/subfor/underseawarfaremagazine/Issues/Archives/issue_38/whale.html

Swimmer Delivery Vehicles

You don’t have to walk through the doors of the Submarine Force Museum to begin your experience. Outside you are met with several large artifacts that allow the visitor to quickly jump right into Submarine and Naval history. For instance, outside of its doors, hung towards the sky are the hull rings of the Holland and Ohio class submarines. These give the visitor a taste of how far submarine development has come from 1900 to now. A recent addition is the NR-1 whose bright orange paint can’t be missed. But alongside these large representations of submarine history is a smaller vehicle. It can be passed right over due to its size but plays a key role in military missions, many of which are still kept top secret today. The Swimmer Delivery Vehicle or SDV is used on clandestine operations by a group that is shrouded in mystery just as much as the Silent Service.

SDV in front of Submarine Force Museum.
Picture Credit: Erica Ciallela

Looking inside the SDV from above. at the Submarine Force Museum.
Photo Credit: Erica Ciallela

The U.S Navy Seals are a volunteer unit, just like the Submarine Force. Part of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Command, the number of Seals is small when compared with other forces. Officially established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, Seals stands for Sea, Air and Land, the fronts that any seal member must be prepared for on any given mission. Today’s SEALS find their heritage dates back to five groups that played large roles in World War II and the Korean War. These groups were the Army Scouts and Navy Raiders; Naval Combat Demolition Units, Office of Strategic Services Operational Swimmers, Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, and the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons. These groups were used in missions that included reconnaissance, explosive destruction of underwater obstacles, and marking mines for minesweepers. During their time, they made advancements in closed-circuit diving, underwater demolitions, and mini-submarine operations. While established by Kennedy, the modern SEALSs come from a long evolutionary line of forces that shaped the group to its current state. Today’s SEAL teams spend much of their time getting as close to the enemy as possible without being detected. This calls for special equipment that not just any team can have. Enter the SDV. Today’s submarines are large enough to cover entire football fields. And while they are extremely quiet and are great at remaining hidden, there are just some jobs that require a much smaller vehicle. The SDV allows Navy SEALs to exit a submarine and get up close to an enemy.
According to the Navy SEAL Museum, the purpose and need for SDV’s was explained in a 1952 report titled “Underwater Swimmers.” It stated that “Whenever it is necessary to operate near an enemy-held shore in as complete secrecy as possible, the approach to the object must be made under water. The first part of the approach can be made in a fleet-type submarine, but these 1500-ton vessels cannot operate submerged in water shallower than 60 feet, and depths less than 150 feet are considered hazardous. The final submerged approach must be made by swimming or in a small submersible. On many coasts throughout the world, depths less than 60 feet extend out several miles from shore. In these areas even, men equipped with SCUBA would not have enough breathing gas to swim the distance and return. Moreover, they would be seriously fatigued when they reached their objective after their swim of several hours. To supplement their swimming, they must have a small, powered submersible.” The SDV is a manned submersible that allows Navy SEALS to execute their missions. The submersibles are free-flooding which means that the unit is filled with water during the whole mission. Team members breathe compressed air from an internal life-support system or from Scuba equipment. The predecessor to the SDV was developed by the British during World War II. This original design, while used in training and exercise, never saw combat. It could only carry one crew member and its military potential was minimal. However, a similar concept would be used to help create the design for today’s SDV’s. Out of the approximately 2600 active-duty SEALs, only around 230 are qualified to operate or serve on SDV missions. Besides being filled with water, the vessels have no windows. Navigation is done through sonar. Having to work in tight conditions and extremely cold temperatures, only a few SEALs are qualified to handle these circumstances.
Officially commissioned in 1983, the first modern SDV was the MK 7. There were six different models of this type, each one changing and adapting as new upgrades were found. This first design could carry a pilot and three additional crew members. The instruments and battery compartments were kept in water-tight compartments that were pressure-proofed to deal with variable depths. The early models were operated with an electric motor, powered by a rechargeable silver-zinc battery. The first model began experimental service in 1967 and had its first mission in 1972.

A Mk VIII Mod 1 minisub operated by members of a SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team maneuvers into a dry dock shelter fitted to USS KAMEHAMEHA (SSN-642), a U.S. Navy submarine.
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle

Following the MK7, the MK8 and MK 9 made electrical improvements but since the beginning, the design has mainly stayed the same. Today’s SDV’s run on lithium-ion batteries and utilize state-of-the-art navigation systems. Newer models carry a crew of six. The SDV is a clear example of how each unit within the military depends on each other to accomplish its missions. We may joke about being surface or submariner or Army or Navy, but each branch plays a vital role and are intertwined, just like the SDV and the submarine.

SEAL divers from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two (SDVT-2) getting ready to launch a Mk VIII Mod 1 SDV minisub from the back of Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Philadelphia (SSN 690).
image sourced from public domain | U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle

the X-Craft and D-Day

Last week marked the 74th anniversary of Operation Overlord. Also known as D-Day, Codenamed Operation Overlord saw 156,000 American, British, and Canadian forces land on the northern beaches of France. The invasion, which began on June 6, 1944 and lasted until late August, saw the liberation of Northern France. The landing at Normandy has come to mark the “beginning of the end” of the war in Europe. Many facts about the fateful day are widely known. The Higgins landing craft has become synonymous with the invasion as the boat that won the war. But first-hand reports from the day recount so many different boats waiting to take the beaches. However, one type of vessel that is often forgotten from the narrative is the British midget submarines that played a key role in the landing efforts.

Figure 1 Credit: Imperial War Museum

Preparation for D-day had been extensive. Operation Neptune, the codename for cross-channel portion of the invasion, was pushed back 24 hours due to bad weather. But by June 6th, paratroopers and glider troopers were already in position behind enemy lines. U.S. Forces would go in at Utah and Omaha Beach. The British and Canadian forces were to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. Under Neptune was Operation Gambit, the use of two X -class British submarines that would mark the ends of the British and Canadian invasion beaches. The X-craft submarines were built at a secret submarine training base at Lock Erisort on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. By 1943, the Royal Navy had developed a 52-foot midget submarine they called X-craft. The submarine could carry a four-man crew and remain at sea for days. She could dive up to 300 feet. Due to her small size, the X-craft had only one access hatch and a small periscope that was mostly unreliable. Navigation was done through a Browns A Gyro Compass and Auto Helmsman. The X-craft could either be towed by a conventional submarine or launched from the deck of a submarine to reach its intended target. Two 3,570-lb mines were attached to its sides. A hand crank could release them when they were positioned below the hull of an enemy ship. The small crew consisted of one commanding officer, a first lieutenant, an engineer, and a diver.


Figure 2 Figure 3 Inside an X-craft submarine http://ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/x-craft-interior.jpg

In the months leading up to Operation Overlord, it was up to the x-20 to gain as much recognizance as possible to prepare for the mission. During the day the submarine would monitor the beaches using its periscope and at night divers would swim to shore. Echo sounding measurements were taken to find distance and landing positions. Over two nights, the divers surveyed the beaches at Vierville, Moulins, St. Laurent and Colleville- the beaches that made up “Omaha” beach. Plans were to have the divers make a third trip. However, bad weather and lack of food forced the commander to return to the HMS Dolphin where she would be towed to Scotland. Two X-class submarines would return to the beaches of Normandy leading up to the invasion to help aid in what would become the eventual downfall of the German troops. HMS X-23 and HMS X-20 would be the first vessels off the shores of Normandy leading up to the attack. Arriving on June 4, the X-crafts fixed their positions and waited for nightfall to surface to begin their mission. It wasn’t until they surfaced that they received the message that the operation had been postponed due to bad weather. According to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, “On 6 June at 0445 the submarines surfaced in rough seas. They set up the 18 feet high navigation beacons that each were carrying and switched them on. These shone a green light indicating their position away from the coast, visible up to 5 miles away although undetectable to anyone on land. They used the radio beacon and echo sounder to tap out a message for the minelayers approaching Sword and Juno beaches. The incoming fleet appeared on time and roared past them.” Sailing out of Hayling Island in Hampshire, the two submarines were nervous hearing that the mission had been delayed. The conditions inside were cramped and there was not even enough room to stand. There was fear that their oxygen levels wouldn’t last them another day. The men survived on rations of tea and baked beans as they waited for word. The crew would sleep in four-hour rotations in the battery compartment. Each evening they would surface to receive the secret code worded message on the BBC broadcast that would tell them when it was time. At the darkest of night, they would surface so the men could walk on the deck to get some air. Leading up to June 6th, the crews watched the German troops play football on the shore through the periscope. And then the message came to be ready to surface at 4am on June 6th.
Operation Gambit was a success, the British and Canadian forces were able to land on their respective shores without falling off course or hitting any rocks, thanks to the beacons from the X-crafts. In 2011, the small crews of X-23 and X-20 were honored with a granite memorial donated by Prince Charles on Hayling Island, Hampshire. Today, only one X-craft vessel remains- the X-24 which can be seen at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. While the X-20 and X-23, served only a minor role in the D-Day invasion, it shows the vital role a submarine can play in a nation’s arsenal.

Figure 4 X-24

PT Boats

When it comes to U.S. Navy boats, you often think of aircraft carriers and destroyers. Here in Groton we automatically bring up the large list of Submarines. But throughout the Navy’s long and proud history, there have been an array of different types of vessels used to help support war efforts. One such type of boat are the PT boats of WWII. Nicknamed “Devil Boats” by the Japanese, these small torpedo boats helped the U.S. Navy in its war in the Pacific.

In 1938, the U.S. Navy realized its need for a mobile attack boat. PT’s or Patrol Torpedo Boats were small, fast vessels that could be used for scouting. They were armed with torpedoes and machine guns to cut off enemy tankers and transports. Their effectiveness at targeting Japanese armored barges that were used for inter-island transport gave them the “Devil Boat” nickname. During the war, there were forty-three squadrons with 12 boats each. The work was dangerous, and the squadrons suffered a high loss rate during the war. On board each boat were four Mark 8 torpedoes. Two M2 .50cal machine guns were mounted for anti-aircraft defense. Throughout the war, Elco (Elco Moto Yachts) in Bayonne, New Jersey and Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana would become the dominant builders of the PT boat.


The Elco boat was 80 feet long and the Higgins came in slightly smaller at 78 feet long.   Elco’s design was based off a purchase of a Scott-Paine motor torpedo boat. They shipped the boat to Electric Boat in Groton and began working with the prototype that would be dubbed PT-9. Over two years the PT-9 would go through numerous sea trials in order to improve the design, eventually meeting Navy standards. To keep up with the production demand, Elco would employ more than 3,000 men and women during the height of the war. The Elco company would build 399 PT boats and Higgins Industries would end up producing 199 PT boats by war’s end. Andrew Jackson Higgins is said to be the man who built the boat that won the war. The famous Higgins Boats were used during the storming of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The use of his LCVP’s (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel) are what allowed the allied troops direct access to the beach on D-Day. But before this, Higgins’ PT boats were used against the Japanese in the Battle of Aleutian Islands and in the Mediterranean against the Nazis. For most of the war, PT boats would provide fire support for landing troops and carry out rescue missions.

Today very few PT boats survive. Most were destroyed shortly after the war’s end. Stories about their missions and crews can be hard to find. One of the best-known PT boats was the PT-109, skippered by the late President John F. Kennedy. According to NPS.org,”PT-109 was operating in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific and joined 14 other PT boats for a nighttime ambush of 4 enemy destroyers and supply ships of Japan’s “Tokyo express”.   Most of the PT boat attack force fired their compliment of torpedoes and headed for home, but three boats stayed behind including the 109.  In the confusion and darkness at sea, Lieutenant Kennedy noted a vague shape approaching him.  He assumed it was a sister PT boat, but soon discovered it was a Japanese destroyer.   Kennedy attempted to swing his boat into position to fire a torpedo, but was not fast enough.  The much larger destroyer hit the 109 broadside at full speed nearly splitting the much smaller wooden boat in half.   Kennedy and the survivors swam nearly 3 miles to a small island.   After a week of surviving on small islands with the help of natives, Kennedy and the 109’s surviving crew were rescued by PT-157.”[1]

While stories about PT boats are less common than larger vessels, the number of physical PT boats around today are even fewer. The PT-658 which was built but never saw action is housed in Portland, Oregon at the P-658 Heritage Museum.  She was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

PT-658 Heritage Museum located at the Swan Island Industrial Park in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office/National Park Service

She is fully functional and up until recently was the only restored and operational US Navy PT boat.  At the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, you can take a ride on the PT-305, a Higgins PT boat that has been fully restored after being in dry dock in Texas for a number of years.

The December 8, 1944, commissioning photograph of PT-305’s first crew. Top row: Leonard Martyr, James Nerison, Benedict Bronder, Joseph Cirlot, Percy Wallace, William Minnick, William Borsdorff. Second Row: George Miles, Frank Crane, Donald Weamer, Fernando Ferrini. Bottom: William Schoonover. Gift of Mitchell Cirlo https://pt305.org/history/

The PT-305 served in European waters from 1944 to 1945. According to the National WWII Museum website the “PT-305, along with PT-302 through PT-313, was assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 22 (Ron 22). Ron 22 was commissioned on November 10, 1943 under the command of LCDR Richard J. Dressling and was assigned to the Mediterranean. MTB RON 22 operated in the Mediterranean along the coast of Southern France and Northern Italy. Boats from Ron 22 participated in the Invasion of Elba on June 18, 1944, where PT-305 sank a German Flak lighter. The squadron acted as a diversionary force in Gulf Juan, and as an anti-E-boat screen in the Nice-Cannes area. Ron 22 was part of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. They landed French Commandos on the coast of France in preparation for the invasion. The squadron was also involved in action around Leghorn, Italy. To harass the enemy Ron 22 fired torpedoes into harbors between Genoa, Italy and the French-Italian border. On the night of April 24, 1945, PT-305 sank an Italian MAS boat. In late April 1945, the squadron was returned to the United States to be overhauled in preparation for deployment to the Pacific. The war however ended while the squadron was still in New York Harbor. The Squadron was decommissioned November 15, 1945 still under the command of LCDR Richard J. Dressling. On June 18, 1948, PT-305 was sold along with the rest of the squadron.”[2] After the war, PT-305 was used as an oyster boat until 2001. Transferred to the museum in 2007, she is now fully restored.

Ensign Bleeker Morse (left) and Lieutenant Junior Grade Allan Purdy on the bridge of PT-305 in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, on March 16, 1945. The “kill plaques” on the chart house signify the two enemy craft sunk by PT-305 prior to that date. Gift of Joseph Brannan. https://pt305.org/history/



[1] https://www.nps.gov/articles/ptboats.htm

[2] https://www.nationalww2museum.org/visit/plan-your-visit/pt-305

Torpedo Junction

America has seen little war fought on its shores. For the most part, the major battles have been brought to the enemy leaving little destruction in the U.S. While many times our forces have gone overseas, this does not mean that America was left unscathed in the World Wars. Besides Pearl Harbor, there were U-boat sightings off the Atlantic Coast for much of World War II. In fact, German U-boats were so common in areas of the Atlantic that the area became known as Torpedo Junction (Torpedo Alley).

World War II was not the first time that German U-boats creeped along the Atlantic shores. During World War I, a U-boat came dangerously close to the coast of Cape Cod. Three U-boats sank ten ships off the coast of North Carolina and navigated along the coast asserting German power. The Outer Banks of North Carolina would become a hot spot for German U-boats, leading to the nickname of “Torpedo Junction” in World War II.  The name U-boat comes from the German word “unterseeboot” meaning submarine. Despite being categorized as submarines, u-boats were technically warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could only submerge for limited periods of time which was usually to avoid enemy detection. When they would attack, U-boats were usually above the surface and used deck mounted guns. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Germany came up with a plan they called Operation Paukenschlag. The plan called for a submarine assault on the American seaboard. The operation was the brainchild of German rear-Admiral Karl Donitz. He believed that the Germans could take advantage of an unsuspecting American coastline. The plan focused on the North Carolina coast line near Cape Hatteras due to its large merchant ship sea lanes. Without wasting any time, the Germans took advantage of America’s vulnerability after the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent five submarines to begin the operation in late December 1941.

Why pick the Carolina coastline? The Atlantic Coast was unprepared for a U-boat assault. Merchant ships had no training in defensive maneuvers, and onshore no preventions such as blackout restrictions were put in place. Coastal lights provided easy targeting for the German Navy. U.S. Naval patrols in the Atlantic were few due to the needs in the Pacific. Only one vessel, the Dione, patrolled the area. Designed to catch rum-runners, she would be no match for the might of the U-boat. The German crews had already been at war for two years by 1941, leaving them highly trained compared to the few defenses left on the Atlantic coast. Between January and June of 1942, 397 merchant ships were sunk. It was said that the attacks off the Outer Banks were so frequent that “Flaming tankers burned so brightly…one could read a newspaper by the glow at night, while the grim flotsam of war-oil, wreckage, and corpses- was strewn across local beaches.” Authorities kept reports of the attacks classified in order to not strike fear with the rest of the American public. Even after the war, many people had no idea how close the war had come to them. In a report by Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, it was said that “The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort….I am fearful that another month or two of this will so cripple our means of transport that we will be unable to bring sufficient men and planes to bear against the enemy in critical theaters to exercise a determining influence on the war.” The U.S Navy was in a difficult position. It could not afford to take men away from the frontlines in Europe and the Pacific. However, after months of assaults on the merchant lanes off the Atlantic Coast, it was clear that if something wasn’t done, the rest of the war effort would mean nothing.

Marshall’s plea would not go unnoticed. As time passed, little could be done to keep news of the attacks from circulating. One attack that struck the fear of those along the coast line was that of the Canadian Steamship “Lady Hawkins.” Because of the U-boats’ aggressive attacks, the steamship stayed close to the coast throughout its trip from Canada to Bermuda. It was around Cape Hatteras that she would make the turn towards Bermuda.  On January 19, 1942, U-66’s searchlight briefly lit up the Canadian Steamship. Within moments two torpedoes were bringing down the vessel carrying some 300 civilians. Only 130 miles from land, six of her life boats were destroyed and only 76 survivors were able to make it to the remaining life boat. It would be five days before the S.S. Coamo would rescue the survivors.  The same day that news broke of the steamship, a Coast Guard ship arrived in Virginia with the survivors of the American merchant ship ‘Francis E. Powell.”  The Powell had been headed to Providence, Rhode Island from Texas when it had been attacked on January 27. Something needed to be done about the U-boats before mass panic spread across the country. The U.S. Navy (along with British assistance), sent long-range aircraft patrols to the area along with a deployment of anti-submarine vessels. The defenses would quickly come in handy.

On January 28, 1942, Donald Francis Mason, a pilot with Patrol Squadron Eight-Two, and his crew took off for a continuing series of patrols over “Torpedo Junction.” At first the mission took on its quiet scanning of the waters with nothing much to see. But shortly after 1:00pm, Mason spotted a flash of light. The crew saw a periscope appear above the surface of the water. Mason, without thought or hesitation, began his attack on the U-boat. Here is an excerpt from a report filed on the attack:

 Plane turned and attacked at once.  Submarine was apparently completely surprised, as periscope was visible throughout entire attack.  Approach was made from astern submarine on a course about 20 degrees across submarine’s course.  Bombs were released at estimated altitude of 25 feet, indicated air speed 165 knots.  Two bombs were dropped with a spread of about 25 feet.

Plumes of the explosions were seen to spread, one on either side of periscope, estimated distance 10 feet from wake line and nearly abreast the periscope.  The submarine was lifted bodily in the water until most of the conning tower could be seen.  Headway of submarine seemed to be killed at once and she was observed to sink from sight vertically.  Five minutes later, oil began to bubble to the surface and continued for ten minutes.  At this time it was necessary to leave area in order to return to base by dark.  Plane landed at 1628.

Detailed employment of crew during bombing attack was as follows:
(1) Pilot at the controls:
(2) Co-pilot in the cockpit alongside the pilot, armed bombs, stood by manual release.
(3) Plane Captain attempted to take photographs of target with F-48 camera during glide approach and after attack. Pictures of this attack were poor because of greatly reduced lighting conditions.
(4) Radioman in bow at the Navigator’s Desk, acting as lookout with binoculars.[1]

While an official report of the incident was not released publicly until April 1, 1942, A Time’s article in February about the sinking of “Lady Hawkins” alludes to the attack. In the closing of the article, it was quoted that a report radioed by Mason saying “Sighting sub, sank same” [2]

By the summer of 1942, the anti-submarine patrols had done their job. While merchant ships were periodically lost throughout the rest of the war, it never compared with what had occurred in the early days of 1942. By the end, more than eighty ships had been lost with hundreds of innocent lives lost off the coast of North Carolina. In most discussions of WWII, the U-boat attacks of the Atlantic coast are often forgotten. While history is quick to focus on the larger battles that were waged, these few months in early 1942 kept the people along the Atlantic coast, and especially in North Carolina, in constant fear. For them the war was at their doorsteps, giving these citizens a much different way of remembering the war.

[1] http://www.homeofheroes.com/footnotes/2007/01January4-mason.html

[2] In post-war records it was discovered that Mason had not sunk the U-boat on January 28, 1942. He would go on to sink a German U-boat on March 5th, which he would receive a Flying Cross for. Despite the records correction, his quote of Sighting sub, sank same has lived on and is no in the list of famous naval quotes.

Memorial Day

Today marks the unofficial start of summer. In backyards around the country, barbeque grills will be fired up and children will get to play outside in the late spring sun. But Memorial Day is much more than cookouts, beach trips and an extra day off from work. Memorial Day honors all those who fought and gave their lives for this country. While we should remember our fallen heroes every day of the year, Memorial Day gives us the ability to come together as a country and send out a collective thank you for their sacrifice. But like so many American traditions, the origins of Memorial Day have faded away. So how and when did Memorial Day begin?

This poster from 1917 shows the name change and honors the memory of the dead from the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War. Honor the Brave Memorial Day, May 30, 1917. Poster, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08122

The Civil War claimed more lives than any previous conflict that the United States had been involved in. The death toll was so large that it created the need for the first national cemeteries to be opened. Because the war had ended in the springtime, towns across America began holding small ceremonies in the spring to honor the fallen. These small events would find townsmen collecting together in cemeteries placing flowers and reciting prayers. Originally known as Decoration Day, General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed on May 5, 1868 that a national day of remembering would be had. The General Order No. 11 stated that “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”http://www.usmemorialday.org/?page_id=2 The name Decoration Day was used because of the “decorating” of graves. The date was chosen because no specific battle fell on May 30th. By choosing a random date, it could honor all those who fought, not just those in a specific battle. On this first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where some 5,000 people came to pay their respects and decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Garfield’s speech in part states – I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot….What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love! https://garfieldnps.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/james-a-garfields-decoration-day-speech-may-30-1868/
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was in New York in 1873. By 1890, all the Northern States recognized the holiday. Southern States would not recognize Decoration Day until after World War I. It was at this point that the holiday changed from honoring only those who had died in the Civil War to honoring all those who had died in any war. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Johnson would officially change the name of the holiday to Memorial Day and set its date as the last Monday in May. With the Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971, Memorial Day was given the insurance of a three-day weekend for being a Federal Holiday. Waterloo was given the honor of its birthplace because it held the first formal, village-wide observance on May 5, 1866. Organized by Henry C. Welles (a native of Glastonbury, CT). the town was decorated with flags at half mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans and residents marched to the village cemeteries to place flowers at the gravesites. The event was repeated in 1867 and in 1868 moved to May 30th in accordance with General Logan’s orders.
In 1915, in response to the poem In Flanders Fields, Moina Michael conceived the idea of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died. Michael would sell poppies to her friends and co-workers and then donate the money to servicemembers in need. Before Memorial Day in 1922, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to sell poppies nationally. In 1948, the US Post office honored Michael by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness.


Today the red poppy is a recognized symbol of remembrance, not just in the United States but in many countries around the world as well. In 2000, a resolution was passed that marked the “National Moment of Remembrance”. This resolution asks that all Americans observe a moment of silence at 3 pm local time to pay their respects. The resolution states that the moment can either be in silence or while listening to ‘Taps.”
Today Memorial Day has become more about fun than about its true meaning. Memorial Day is the day when we can stand together as a nation and thank those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. This can be done in many ways. We can visit a cemetery and place flowers a veteran’s grave, thank a family who lost a servicemember and join at 3 pm in the moment of silence. But while we do these things on Memorial Day, let’s remember to hold the same respect and gratitude throughout the rest of the year. These men and women deserve more than one day to be remembered. As summer begins and you plan your vacations, take note of a memorial that may be on your travels. Take a moment to visit and thank those that died long before their time. One such memorial is the National Submarine Memorial in Groton, CT. Just down the block from the Submarine Museum and Naval Base New London stands a memorial for World War II submarine veterans and the 3,600 submariners who lost their lives in the conflict. The memorial consists of the conning tower of the USS Flasher (SS-249) and was credited with sinking the highest tonnage of Japanese ships.


Along with the conning tower is a Wall of Honor listing the 3,617 submariners who died during the war. Also, at the site is a monument honoring the 52 submarines lost between January 1941 and August 1945. Bronze plaques list the names of the boats along with the dates of their sinking. The memorial was commemorated in 1964, moving to its current location in 1974. The Wall of Honor was dedicated in 1994.


We wish everyone a Happy and Safe Memorial Day.

U.S.S Triton

Throughout history, civilization has been fascinated with what lies beyond what the eye can see. This idea that there is always more to explore led many explorers to the edge of the earth- and beyond. When Galileo announced that the world was round and not flat, a new challenge came into existence. The race was on to see who could circumnavigate the globe and in the fastest time. In 1960, a newly built nuclear submarine followed in the steps of explorers like Magellan to become the first nuclear submarine to circumnavigate the globe.

Born in 1480, Ferdinand Magellan is known for being the first to circumnavigate the world. The Portuguese explorer was living in Spain in 1519 when King Charles I of Spain agreed to fund Magellan on his mission to explore the world. On September 20, 1519, Magellan and his fleet of five ships and 200 men set sail. By November 20th, the crews had crossed the equator and stopped in Brazil to resupply in December. In a search for a passage that connected oceans, Magellan’s fleet continued down the coast of South America. The trip was a difficult one with food and water scarce at times. While in port at St. Julian, in April of 1520 three of the captains on the mission called their crews to mutiny. Magellan crushed the rebellion with the loyal crew continuing the journey. Near Santa Cruz, one of the vessels was wrecked during a scouting mission. On October 21, 1520, Magellan found what he was searching for. A passage that would connect the oceans. The passageway would eventually be named the Strait of Magellan at the tip of South America. Another ship was lost at this time when it deserted the mission after entering the passage. By this point only three of the five ships remained, the Trindad, Concepcion, and Victoria. On November 8, 1520, the three ships reached the “Sea of the South” now known as the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, Magellan would not get to see his journey come to fruition. It is recorded that, “Throughout the Philippine Islands, Magellan and his men regularly interacted with the natives. At Cebú. The native chief, his wife, and several of the natives were baptized and converted to Christianity. Because of this, Magellan thought he could convince other native tribes to convert. But not all interactions with the natives were friendly. Chief Datu Lapu Lapu of the Mactan Island rejected conversion. So, Magellan took a group of about 60 men to attack Mactan. The Mactan’s had about 1500 men. On April 27, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was killed during battle on the Philippine Islands. The Trinidad and Victoria soon made it to the Spice Islands. The Trinidad needed much repair. So, the Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano continued on. On December 21,1521, the Victoria sailed across the Indian Ocean to Spain. September 6, 1522, they arrived with only 18 men at Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the coast of Spain.” Despite Magellan’s death, the trip was completed in his name, leaving him as the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. His discoveries during the voyage allowed for a greater understanding of the earth, new passageways, and the understanding of “trade winds” that allowed for better and safer voyages.

After Magellan’s journey, the question went from wondering if one could go around the world to how fast one could do so. Jules Verne addressed this question in his 1873 work, Around the world in 80 Days. It would be less than a century later, when the U.S. Navy would once again use something of Verne’s as a milestone. First, they named the first nuclear submarine Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. In 1960, the U.S.S. Triton would beat Verne’s time of 80 days – and do it entirely underwater.

The U.S.S. Triton was commissioned in 1959. At the time, she was the largest, most powerful, and most expensive submarine ever built. She was 447 feet long and powered by two nuclear reactors. SSRN-586 would leave for an assigned shakedown like no other in 1960, named Operation Sandblast. Following the path of Magellan, Triton would map the ocean floor during her journey as well as deploy small buoys in order to trace the currents. Triton left her home port in New London on February 16th, 1960 with a stop at some small islands to mark the exact beginning of the trip. In just 60 days and 21 hours, Triton would make history, becoming the first submarine to circumnavigate the globe completely submerged. During the journey, the boat had to poke its sail out of the water just enough to let a sick crew member to be taken off. Despite this, the hull remained completely submerged during the entire trip.

Captain Beach mapping the circumnavigation. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/10/uss-triton-circumnavigates-the-globe

Because it was known that his shakedown cruise would be different from others, the crew was given special instructions to document the trip in non-restricted and non-technical language. Efforts were taken to include descriptions and conversations of the crew’s morale during the trip- including stories about birth announcements received by crewmembers while away. These notes were donated by the family of CAPT Carl E. Pruett, USN, MC to an archive in order to preserve the historic journey. Below are two passages from the transcript:

Wednesday, 24 February 1960 (All times Papa, Time Zone Plus 3)
Today we expect to make our first landfall. This also will be the spot to which we shall return upon completion of our circumnavigation of the globe. Though the Sailing Directions describe St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks as bare and useless, interest has run high anyway.

Monday, 25 April 1960 (All times Zulu, GMT Zero) 0754
Crossed equator for the fourth and final time this cruise at longitude 28°-03 ? West. 1200 Position 00°-53’ North, 29°-01 f West. We are within a few miles of St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, at which point we will have completed the first submerged circumnaviga- tion of the world. It has taken us exactly 60 days by our reckoning, though as pre- viously stated a person marooned here would have counted 61. But the number of hours would have been the same. 1330 St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks in sight, bearing due west. 1500 First submerged circumnavigation of the world is now complete. We are circling and photographing the islet again, as we did just two months ago. The weather is nice and the sun is shining brightly. Our mileage (Rock to Rock) is 26,723 nautical miles and it has taken us 60 days and 21 hours (days calculated as 24 hours each). Dividing gives an average overall speed of just over 18 knots. No other ship – and no other crew could have done better. We are proud to have been selected to accomplish this under- taking for our Nation. Our total mileage for the trip will be a little more than 36, 000 nautical miles (including the 2, 000 -mile mercy mission for our ill crewman) and it now looks as though our over- all time since departure from New London will be 85 days (New London computation). We have been instructed to proceed to a rendezvous point off Cadiz, Spain where the destroyer WEEKS is to meet us. WEEKS will send aboard the completed bronze plaque we designed in tribute to Magellan, but it is our understanding it is to be presented at a later date, possibly by the U. S. Ambassador. For the time being we are still to avoid detection, making our rendezvous off Cadiz beyond sight of curious onlookers.

U.S.S Triton’s submerged circumnavigation stood as a testament to the ongoing military dominance of the U.S. Submarine Force. It also showed the scientific and engineering superiority that had been created by the nuclear propulsion program. Following in the footsteps of the brave explorers from centuries before, Triton’s mission takes its place among the true adventurous stories of sailing around the world.

Letter from Captain Beach to Commander Greene of the US Naval Institute in 1960 during Triton’s voyage. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/10/uss-triton-circumnavigates-the-globe

Drebbel and the Rowboat Submarine

The modern submarine is an engineering marvel. Submarines are powerful underwater cities that can move undetected throughout the water. However, today’s silent giants are the result of centuries of hard work based off man’s thirst for knowledge. The idea for a submarine came from the need to understand and explore what lay beneath the surface of the water. What was lurking and what treasures could be found. In 1578, William Bourne designed the first known recorded plans for what would become a submarine. His design was a completely enclosed boat bound with waterproofed leather.

Bourne’s Design

It could be submerged and rowed beneath the surface. Unfortunately, Bourne’s design never became a tangible work. But it would inspire others including Cornelius Drebbel.

Cornelius Drebbel was born in Holland in 1572. In his early life he was said to have been an artist and engraver- a common profession for a Dutchman at this time. In 1604, he made his way to England with Hendrick Golzius who introduced him to alchemy. It was during this time that Drebbel began his career as an inventor.


He is credited with the invention of a perpetual motion machine, compound microscope and the mercury thermostat. In 1610 and again in 1619 he was invited to Prague to show his Perpetual Motion Machine which could tell the time, date and season. It was while working for the King of England and the Royal English Navy, that Drebbel began working on his concept for an underwater rowboat or submarine.  There is no surviving sketches of Drebbel’s 1620 submarine, and accounts are few. But from the ones available, it is said that the submarine was “covered in greased leather, with a watertight hatch in the middle, a rudder and four oars. Under the rowers’ seats were large pigskin bladders, connected by pipes to the outside. Rope was used to tie off the empty bladders. In order to dive, the rope was untied and the bladders filled. To surface the crew squashed the bladders flat, squeezing out the water. [1] In total, Drebbel would build three working submarines. The final model had six oars and could carry 16 men. To create an air supply, tubes were held above the water’s surface with floatation devices allowing the submarine to stay underwater for longer periods. Accounts suggest that the submarine could travel from Westminster to Greenwich and back underwater. The trip took three hours with the boat traveling 15 feet below the surface.

Painting of Drebbel’s submarine in the Thames.

Over the centuries, scientists have questioned how Drebbel truly created a supply of fresh air on a submarine. While highly doubted, some suggest that he might have had the technology to generate oxygen from heated Potassium Nitrate. Drebbel’s work in alchemy could have led him to such a discovery, and his work with thermostats could have caused such a reaction. Along with the debate on fresh air, there is also debate over whether King James I rode in the third of the submarines built. It is believed that during a trip under the Thames in 1626, that the King may have been aboard. Despite the King’s interest in Drebbel’s work and a development period of 15 years, the Royal Navy would not move past the trial stages with the boat.

While a great inventor, the recognition for Drebbel’s work would not come until after his death. During his time in the English court, he was mainly used for his experience in alchemy and his knowledge of fireworks.  Despite his numerous patents for inventions that have ties to groundbreaking innovations, during his lifetime Drebbel experienced little fame or fortune. In 2001, a replica of the boat was built for BBC programming by boat builder Mark Edwards. Edwards was to closely follow the possible techniques used by Drebbel in creating the craft. A crew of two, using oars with folding leather blades, operated the boat. The oars were fitted with greased leather seals, which were clamped to the hull to prevent water from entering. Lead weights were used to ensure that the craft would stay partially submerged. Water was pumped though ballast tanks to keep her at a constant depth. Like the original, the two-man crew had to rely on a compass to navigate and used a large rudder for steering and braking. The vessel only had a half hour of breathable air before carbon dioxide levels became dangerous. Despite the abbreviated air supply, the replica proved that Drebbel’s design was functional and indeed the beginning of submarine development, securing Drebbel’s place in submarine history.

Replica of Drebbel’s submarine

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/drebbel_cornelis.shtml