A Look at Life Aboard a US Submarine

 

I was seven years old when my dad left the Navy. He served in the Submarine Service as an enlisted sailor in WWII. After the war he earned a university degree and was offered an officer’s commission. As the Navy began to transition to nuclear submarines, he did not have a science degree so he transferred to the ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence).

When he left his last submarine, he was the only officer on that boat that had experienced submarine combat. 

There are two types of nuclear submarines in the US Navy. Fast attack submarines and the larger Ohio class submarines.

Total Submarines in Fleet: 64
Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs): 14
Nuclear-Powered attack submarines (SSNs): 50
Diesel-electric attack submarines (SSKs): 0
Air-independent propulsion submarines (AIPs): 0

The Ohio class subs will be replaced by the new Columbia class subs in the future.

The endurance range of a nuclear submarine is only limited by the amount of food it can carry. The diesel-electric WWII Balao class boats, submariners call them boats, not ships had an 11,000-mile range and capable of a 75-day patrol. Nuclear subs will carry enough food for approximately a 90-to-120-day patrol.   

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  1. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Whenever I wonder about submarine life, I just watch “Down Periscope” again. :-)

    • #1
  2. Lunchbox Gerald Coolidge
    Lunchbox Gerald
    @Jose

    Submarines are fascinating, but I never had a bit of desire to serve on one.

    • #2
  3. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    I admire the people who serve on them, but my galloping claustrophobia would prevent me ever being one of them. Maxime Faget, who designed the Mercury and Apollo capsules for NASA, was a submariner; that’s why the doors were sealed by internal pressure up until the Apollo 1 fire. 

    • #3
  4. Comfortably Superannuated Inactive
    Comfortably Superannuated
    @OldDanRhody

    Doug Watt: The endurance range of a nuclear submarine is only limited by the amount of food it can carry. The diesel-electric WWII Balao class boats, submariners call them boats, not ships had an 11,000-mile range and capable of a 75-day patrol. Nuclear subs will carry enough food for approximately a 90-to-120-day patrol.

    The tactical advantage of submarine vs. surface vessel was also much different in WWII: especially in the early part of the Pacific war, a submarine combat cruise had much in common with a suicide mission.

    I also didn’t volunteer for submarine service, but I know guys who did.  One told me that the only time their cigarette lighters would work would be immediately after they had charged the batteries (not during the actual charging operation, of course, because of the danger of explosion).  After that there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air to support a flame.  I said, “So you couldn’t smoke then?”  He answered, “Oh, we smoked all right.  We’d light our cigarettes off of soldering irons.”

    • #4
  5. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic? Admiral Dan Gallery, who was the living embodiment of “sea story” and a wonderful writer, detailed it in his biography, “Eight Bells.” He was commanding the Navy base in Rekjavik that was responsible for patrolling for German subs, mostly flying PBYs. They worked out a “hold down” plan. When a patrol plane came across a U-boat surfaced to run it’s diesel to recharge the batteries, they would shoot at it until it was forced to submerge. Then they would work out a circular search pattern to spot it when it surfaced again. They kept that up until the U-boat had to surface and scuttle. When they saw the Germans abandoning ship, they landed the PBY, taxied up to the U-boat, and dropped an anchor chain down the hatch to keep them from submerging. Then a team of incredibly brave men went into the boat to find and defuse the scuttling charges that were meant to send the boat to the bottom. They knew the U-boats had 12 such charges; they only found 10. The Germans were so sure that the boat was going down, they had only armed two of the charges. And unbelievably, the Germans didn’t throw the code books overboard. The U-505 was an incredible intelligence haul. The Americans rescued all the Germans they could, and towed the U-boat home. It is now at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

     

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Comfortably Superannuated (View Comment):
    I also didn’t volunteer for submarine service, but I know guys who did.  One told me that the only time their cigarette lighters would work would be immediately after they had charged the batteries (not during the actual charging operation, of course, because of the danger of explosion).  After that there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air to support a flame.  I said, “So you couldn’t smoke then?”  He answered, “Oh, we smoked all right.  We’d light our cigarettes off of soldering irons.”

    • #6
  7. Doug Watt Member
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Comfortably Superannuated (View Comment):

    Doug Watt: The endurance range of a nuclear submarine is only limited by the amount of food it can carry. The diesel-electric WWII Balao class boats, submariners call them boats, not ships had an 11,000-mile range and capable of a 75-day patrol. Nuclear subs will carry enough food for approximately a 90-to-120-day patrol.

    The tactical advantage of submarine vs. surface vessel was also much different in WWII: especially in the early part of the Pacific war, a submarine combat cruise had much in common with a suicide mission.

    I also didn’t volunteer for submarine service, but I know guys who did. One told me that the only time their cigarette lighters would work would be immediately after they had charged the batteries (not during the actual charging operation, of course, because of the danger of explosion). After that there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air to support a flame. I said, “So you couldn’t smoke then?” He answered, “Oh, we smoked all right. We’d light our cigarettes off of soldering irons.”

    One of dad’s stories about his time in the Pacific during WWII involves “torpedo juice”. When R&R for submariners took place on some of smaller islands late in the war alcohol that was used for torpedo’s would be used with fruit juice for parties.

    Prior to being dumped into 50-gallon vats used to fuel the torpedoes, the 180-proof alcohol was stored in five-gallon containers, which the sailors would smuggle off-board in port cities to redistill in inconspicuous locations, mainly hotel rooms. The alcohol, still sitting at 180 proof, was then brought back onboard and mixed 2:3 with pineapple juice. The operation was extremely dangerous — as operating makeshift stills typically is — and resulted in a number of explosions and subsequent fires. In addition to the obvious health issues that come with consuming anything containing 95 percent alcohol, Torpedo Juice was also associated with mild to severe reactions to the croton oil that still remained post-distillation.

    The beverage fell out of popularity among Navy officers after the 1943 introduction of the Mark 18 torpedo, the U.S.’s first electric storage battery torpedo, which didn’t need high-proof to power it. While the crude cocktail may not be found onboard Navy ships these days, a few spirit brands still make their own version of Torpedo Juice today, including Pendelton, Ore.’s Oregon Grain Growers. Their iteration bottles distilled vodka with macerated pineapple, and if you get to try it, proceed with caution: While it may not contain any toxic substances, it’s still bottled at 100 proof and still packs a sailor-worthy punch.

    Do not try this at home! PT boats and destroyer crews also distilled torpedo juice in the Pacific during WWII.

    • #7
  8. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic? Admiral Dan Gallery, who was the living embodiment of “sea story” and a wonderful writer, detailed it in his biography, “Eight Bells.” He was commanding the Navy base in Rekjavik that was responsible for patrolling for German subs, mostly flying PBYs. They worked out a “hold down” plan. When a patrol plane came across a U-boat surfaced to run it’s diesel to recharge the batteries, they would shoot at it until it was forced to submerge. Then they would work out a circular search pattern to spot it when it surfaced again. They kept that up until the U-boat had to surface and scuttle. When they saw the Germans abandoning ship, they landed the PBY, taxied up to the U-boat, and dropped an anchor chain down the hatch to keep them from submerging. Then a team of incredibly brave men went into the boat to find and defuse the scuttling charges that were meant to send the boat to the bottom. They knew the U-boats had 12 such charges; they only found 10. The Germans were so sure that the boat was going down, they had only armed two of the charges. And unbelievably, the Germans didn’t throw the code books overboard. The U-505 was an incredible intelligence haul. The Americans rescued all the Germans they could, and towed the U-boat home. It is now at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

     

    Read the story? I went onboard when I was eight years old!

    I read the story too. One of the accounts pointed out that Gallery gave an order that no officer had given a US Navy crew in over a century: “Away all boarders!”

    • #8
  9. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The U-505 coming ashore on its way to the Museum of Science and Industry (above) on the 57th Street Beach. (Going to have to close Lake Shore Drive next.)

    • #9
  10. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Percival (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic? Admiral Dan Gallery, who was the living embodiment of “sea story” and a wonderful writer, detailed it in his biography, “Eight Bells.” He was commanding the Navy base in Rekjavik that was responsible for patrolling for German subs, mostly flying PBYs. They worked out a “hold down” plan. When a patrol plane came across a U-boat surfaced to run it’s diesel to recharge the batteries, they would shoot at it until it was forced to submerge. Then they would work out a circular search pattern to spot it when it surfaced again. They kept that up until the U-boat had to surface and scuttle. When they saw the Germans abandoning ship, they landed the PBY, taxied up to the U-boat, and dropped an anchor chain down the hatch to keep them from submerging. Then a team of incredibly brave men went into the boat to find and defuse the scuttling charges that were meant to send the boat to the bottom. They knew the U-boats had 12 such charges; they only found 10. The Germans were so sure that the boat was going down, they had only armed two of the charges. And unbelievably, the Germans didn’t throw the code books overboard. The U-505 was an incredible intelligence haul. The Americans rescued all the Germans they could, and towed the U-boat home. It is now at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

     

    Read the story? I went onboard when I was eight years old!

    I read the story too. One of the accounts pointed out that Gallery gave an order that no officer had given a US Navy crew in over a century: “Away all boarders!”

    Calling Gallery “a character” is like calling the Atlantic Ocean “damp.” When he was in charge of the USN base in Puerto Rico he heard a steel band, and decided that sailors could play like that too. I think that “Admiral Dan’s Pandemoniacs” is still in existence.; I saw them on a concert schedule in DC in the Nineties. 

    And of course there are the Cap’n Fatso novels. 

    • #10
  11. Comfortably Superannuated Inactive
    Comfortably Superannuated
    @OldDanRhody

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    PT boats and destroyer crews also distilled torpedo juice in the Pacific during WWII.

    I’ve been told (cough cough) that the practice didn’t end with the war.

    • #11
  12. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    My uncle was on the USS Parche during WWII.  My dad didn’t tell me until after he died.  I feel like I missed a lot of good stories.

    • #12
  13. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic?

    Well, yes. As a matter of fact. I won’t say it is a better story than the one Gallery told, but I had access to information he lacked when he wrote his accounts. Even Eight Bells was written before Ultra was declassified.

    • #13
  14. Old Bathos Member
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    I have visited old subs–the Torsk in Baltimore and a visiting West German sub (a converted old US sub) back in the 1980s.  The latter was intolerably tiny.  On both, I was awed by the array of pipes, wires, dials, and gauges everywhere.  That anybody knew how to maintain that or address emergency repairs is unbelievable.  

    • #14
  15. John Park Member
    John Park
    @jpark

    My Dad served on the USS Cod for its seventh and eighth patrols in 1944-45. The Cod was the first boat to reach the Dutch sub O-19, which had run aground on Ladd’s Reef in the Philippine Sea. The Cod tied to tow the O-19 off the reef without success, then evacuated the crew, and tried to torpedo it or shell it again without success. The Cod took the Dutch sailors to Australia, where they had a party, leading to the placement of a martini glass on the Cod’s battle flag,

    Here’s a video:

    The Cod is  now in the Cleveland, OH harbor.

    • #15
  16. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Percival (View Comment):

    The U-505 coming ashore on its way to the Museum of Science and Industry (above) on the 57th Street Beach. (Going to have to close Lake Shore Drive next.)

    I’ve toured it a couple of times, the last being in the early 90s.  I wonder if they’ve done anything different with the display and tour since then.    

    • #16
  17. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic?

    Well, yes. As a matter of fact. I won’t say it is a better story than the one Gallery told, but I had access to information he lacked when he wrote his accounts. Even Eight Bells was written before Ultra was declassified.

    Oh, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing that!

    • #17
  18. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    The U-505 coming ashore on its way to the Museum of Science and Industry (above) on the 57th Street Beach. (Going to have to close Lake Shore Drive next.)

    I’ve toured it a couple of times, the last being in the early 90s. I wonder if they’ve done anything different with the display and tour since then.

    The last I heard, it is carefully maintained, and they run the diesels every couple of weeks just to keep them in good order. That’s one thing I like about diesels; their fuel is mostly kerosene, which is a preservative.

    • #18
  19. Bob Armstrong Thatcher
    Bob Armstrong
    @BobArmstrong

    Percival (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic? Admiral Dan Gallery, who was the living embodiment of “sea story” and a wonderful writer, detailed it in his biography, “Eight Bells.” He was commanding the Navy base in Rekjavik that was responsible for patrolling for German subs, mostly flying PBYs. They worked out a “hold down” plan. When a patrol plane came across a U-boat surfaced to run it’s diesel to recharge the batteries, they would shoot at it until it was forced to submerge. Then they would work out a circular search pattern to spot it when it surfaced again. They kept that up until the U-boat had to surface and scuttle. When they saw the Germans abandoning ship, they landed the PBY, taxied up to the U-boat, and dropped an anchor chain down the hatch to keep them from submerging. Then a team of incredibly brave men went into the boat to find and defuse the scuttling charges that were meant to send the boat to the bottom. They knew the U-boats had 12 such charges; they only found 10. The Germans were so sure that the boat was going down, they had only armed two of the charges. And unbelievably, the Germans didn’t throw the code books overboard. The U-505 was an incredible intelligence haul. The Americans rescued all the Germans they could, and towed the U-boat home. It is now at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

     

    Read the story? I went onboard when I was eight years old!

    I read the story too. One of the accounts pointed out that Gallery gave an order that no officer had given a US Navy crew in over a century: “Away all boarders!”

    During one of my submarine patrols, we conducted a surface transit of the Straights of Malacca off the Malay Peninsula. The shipping lane was crowded with small vessels and some of them would not give way or wave off, instead approaching quite close abeam. At the narrowest point of the Straight the crew was in modified general quarters with all hands awake and at their posts when a very unusual call came over the main communication circuit: “Security response team lay topside, stand by to repel boarders.”

    A sight I never expected to see underway was young men with shotguns hustling up the hatch from the command passageway. Repel boarders, on a nuclear submarine?

    • #19
  20. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic?

    Well, yes. As a matter of fact. I won’t say it is a better story than the one Gallery told, but I had access to information he lacked when he wrote his accounts. Even Eight Bells was written before Ultra was declassified.

    Oh, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing that!

    I’ve got one on USN Subs vs Japanese Aircraft Carriers coming out later this year.

     

    • #20
  21. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Bob Armstrong (View Comment):
    A sight I never expected to see underway was young men with shotguns hustling up the hatch from the command passageway. Repel boarders, on a nuclear submarine?

    We had to do a “repel borders” in St. Croix when the topside watch spotted a man walking down the pier swinging a machete.  Once the crew with M-16s came topside, he turned around and ambled away . . .

    • #21
  22. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    When I was in the Navy (submarines), our watches were 6 hours long.  If we were in three section watch, it was 6 hours on and 12 hours off.  Of course, that wasn’t 12 hours off-duty.  You still had routine work to do, qualifications, etc.  Sleep was a precious commodity.  I loved a four section watch because you had 6 hours on and 18 off.  This made it easier to get sleep.  The only downside was you stood watch the same period every day, but that didn’t bother me.  In fact, I loved the midnight-to-six watch because it was typically quiet . . .

    • #22
  23. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic?

    Well, yes. As a matter of fact. I won’t say it is a better story than the one Gallery told, but I had access to information he lacked when he wrote his accounts. Even Eight Bells was written before Ultra was declassified.

    Oh, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing that!

    When the U-505 was captured, the last thing the Allies wanted the Germans to know was that it hadn’t been sunk. That would have called into question whether or not its Enigma machine was in our hands. The Navy kept the sub hidden. The crew had been taken prisoner, but they were kept isolated from other POWs and their status was not reported to the Red Cross. Gallery was called in by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King who told him to tell his crew that the capture needed to be kept secret for the time being. 

    Fortunately, D-Day was two days later and the Germans had bigger fish to fry.

    • #23
  24. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic?

    Well, yes. As a matter of fact. I won’t say it is a better story than the one Gallery told, but I had access to information he lacked when he wrote his accounts. Even Eight Bells was written before Ultra was declassified.

    Oh, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing that!

    I’ve got one on USN Subs vs Japanese Aircraft Carriers coming out later this year.

     

    If it comes up, I hope you get the spelling of “Strait(s)” right.  :-)

    • #24
  25. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    There are plenty of submarine videos online  I recently watched this chick:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YeVsxF-MVQE

    • #25
  26. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    The U-505 coming ashore on its way to the Museum of Science and Industry (above) on the 57th Street Beach. (Going to have to close Lake Shore Drive next.)

    I’ve toured it a couple of times, the last being in the early 90s. I wonder if they’ve done anything different with the display and tour since then.

    The museum moved it into an indoor pen in 2004, so it’s no longer exposed to the elements.

    • #26
  27. kedavis Coolidge
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Percival (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Has anyone else read the story of the capture of the U-505, the only submarine captured during open warfare, in the north Atlantic?

    Well, yes. As a matter of fact. I won’t say it is a better story than the one Gallery told, but I had access to information he lacked when he wrote his accounts. Even Eight Bells was written before Ultra was declassified.

    Oh, that’s fantastic. Thanks for sharing that!

    When the U-505 was captured, the last thing the Allies wanted the Germans to know was that it hadn’t been sunk. That would have called into question whether or not its Enigma machine was in our hands. The Navy kept the sub hidden. The crew had been taken prisoner, but they were kept isolated from other POWs and their status was not reported to the Red Cross. Gallery was called in by Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Ernest J. King who told him to tell his crew that the capture needed to be kept secret for the time being.

    Fortunately, D-Day was two days later and the Germans had bigger fish to fry.

    Reminds me of:

    https://ricochet.com/1078444/classic-movie-the-incredible-mr-limpet-starring-don-knotts/

    • #27
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