Having grown up as a Navy Junior, I cannot remember the first time I saw a submarine. It
might have been an “S” Boat or an “0” or “R” Boat. All I knew was that I lacked the fortitude, guts
and/or courage to even entertain the thought of being a Submarine Officer. Fortuitously, my premind-
set may well have saved me from the embarrassment of being turned down or out of Submarine School.
Fate has a way of dealing with both semantics and cowards, for it turned out in later life that I would become intimately involved in “small submersibles,” and worse, in the semantics of the words “small submersibles” vis-a-vis “submarines.”
The first small submersible (in .!!!l definition of the term) I ever saw was operating in an abandonded quarry at Halltown, West Virginia. It was early 1963 — now over twenty years ago. Bell Aerospace Corporation, my client, had bought the small submersible as part of an acquisition package.
In 1963 “oceanography” was becoming a “new kid on the block, ” and large companies were revving
up to capitalize on this phenomena. Having a mind totally uninhabited by technical dogma (skills, aptitude, knowledge, ability, training and/or education; less gentle descriptors used by engineers and scientists to describe my degree of technical expertise) , I had been forced to rely on attaining a reputation as a “doer.” My approach was sort of “show me what you’ve got, and I’ll figure out how to use it.” Bell Aerospace, in their infinite wisdom, retained me to help exploit what they had.
One of the things Bell had was the first truly practical “cruising” small submersible, built by John Perry of Palm Beach, Florida and sold to the Bell subsidiary for $18,000. It was not “small” in the sense an SSN is “small” compared to the SSBN “Ohio” class; or an old “S” boat to an SSN or the X-1 to an “S” boat. It was small — 19 feet overall and weighing in at something around 1,300 pounds.
But, like a “submarine,” it had a submersible hull, an engine (Sears-Roebuck) , diving planes, ballast tank~ fore and aft and trim tanks fore and art. Like the pre-guppies, it ran on batteries and had no snorkel.
Unlike a “submarine,” it was a logistician’s dream. It was conventionally transported over the
ground on a small boat trailer, and at sea, on an 11A11 frame on the stern of a 110′ trawler (or simply
towed). The support requirements consisted of an air compressor and a battery charger. The latter
has a very versatile piece of equipment which could plug into a 110 or 220 volt circuit or run
on its own engine and cost, as I recall, $189. These “rode” in the flat bed of the truck hauling
It was also unlike a “submarine” in that the two man crew, riding in tandem, could see 3600 around them and form a professional judgment as to what they saw. It happened that at Halltown, a flood light had been fitted to the bow (Perry built the boat with eighteen through-hull fittings a wealth of redundancy). It also had a television camera. Inside, a TV monitor had been mounted above the driver’s head.
The Halltown Quarry varies in depth from 35′ to 75′ and was full of sudden drops and sudden rises
(depending on one’s course) • A 2″ thick cable had been laid helter skelter under the water, and the
exercise was to determine whether the small submersible could trace the cable and inspect it
foot by foot. A hard hat diver would have had a tough time doing that. The “Cubmarine” as the
craft was called had no problems. Sure, they barrelled head-on into a couple of sudden rises,
but a “roll bar” protected the light and camera. The third day, the learning curve between the
passenger (who watched the TV monitor and conned the craft from the rear seat) and the driver was
down to a rather consistent 70′ to 90′ per minute examination of the cable.
Then, of course, the “nay sayers” got in the act. They’d never been in the Cubmarine and yet knew all the reasons it was “just a toy,” was inherently “unsafe,” and “had no practical use.” Hell, I would guess the salaries of all these people could have bought fifty Cubmarines a year.
I cannot claim any credit for originality since John Perry and his employees as well as the Bell employees had fine, sound imaginations. They ~ the limitations of the Cubmarine. They were only interested in its capabilities, and zealously in its safety. To this end, they had hired a totally professional “seaman” — a DD skipper who had grown up “on deck” with cranes, hoists, compressors, battery chargers and a deep understanding of the unforgiving sea environment. To assure his attention to detail, he was always in the Cubmarine when it operate~ and always personally “put it in the water.”
He knew the rules of free ascent. But he also knew his craft was pretty useless (save for a few meaningless exotic “instrumentation” experiments) unless he could see. If he couldn’t see the
bottom — be there a well head, a cable, a practice mine, a sunken vessel, a geological discontinuity, a habitat, a lost torpedo or missile or whatever — he wouldn’t consider the job.
He was also “not tied only to the boat.” If he thought it wise, he would work from a tether.
Conventionally, he towed an antenna buoy so he could send and receive.
In short, he had a tool, more analogous to a two dimensional small work boat than a “ship,” and only analogous to a “submarine” in that it could go underwater.
In our classic way of military analysis, the Cubmarine was as useless as teats on a bull. (Having never seen anyone analyze “small boats, 11 the situation is clear).
Unfortunately, the Navy couldn’t “Wilbur and Orville” Wright this kind of breakthrough. Engineers unborn when the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk were incapable of setting their sights lower (in analogy) to a 747. “Push the state-ofthe- art to its utmost!”, is their creed.
So, the Navy has never learned what this kind of easily handled, easily supported small submersible could do. Instead of learning to crawl first, the Navy set its sights on the DSRVs in order to break the pole vault record. If it can’t go to 3,000′, 15,000′, 25,000′ or whatever, it isn’t worth fooling with. Yet, 99 percent of the sea bottom — tens of thousands of square miles –at 100′ have never been seen by man. It is a lead pipe cinch that it is orders of magnitude cheaper to look at sea bottom at 100′ than at even 1,000′.
And that’s exactly what John Perry did. Before he finally gave up on the Navy, he had built seven
smalls submersibles that “went operational at a profit.” I have no idea how many he has built since.
My “mind set” was “military.” Hence, we operated with UDT swimmers, towing them faster
underwater than they could hold on (so we slowed down); feeding them air from the air banks;
“yelling at them” from inside the Cubmarine (they couldn’t talk back, but could obey the instructions); and giving them electricity from the batteries to warm them.
The nay sayers said “nay.”
We ran the mine detection and identification course at Panama City with 100 percent accuracy and in 1/Bth of the “normal time.”
The nay sayers said “nay.” The hull was steel. Why not build one of aluminum?
We picked up torpedoes at 600′ in Dabob Bay.
The nay sayers said “we must go the the Tongue of the Ocean.”
We took NAVOCEANO employees and let them look at the broken AUTEC cables laid on a “slope”
equal to the aperture angle of their fathometers, but really an over-hung cliff.
This shook the nay sayers so badly, they issued an order forbidding Navy personnel from riding in a Cubmarine on the grounds “it wasn’ t safe.”
My reclama as to what depth was safe — 100′, 50′ , 1 0′ , or 6′ was answered by “no depth is safe, period.”
When Jon Lindberg swam out and then swam back into one of the first four-man submersibles at
1 , 400′ , the naysayers insisted that even 6′ was not safe.
The “hang ups” were classical. First, not enough money was involved to titillate a GS-11 on
his drive to fame and fortune. Second, the operating forces had no funds to experiment or
learn the ropes. This left the idea to scientists and engineers dedicated to climbing Mount Everest and by-passing the foothills. Third, there of course was no “Operational Requirement” articulated in OPNAV; and hence, no “sponsor” to obtain money for a “claimancy” to spend. Fourth, there were the nay sayers who totally lacked the imagination to extrapolate capabilities in an orderly learning curve, and hence, unable to approve anything that didn’t promise to be all things to all men.
The Navy did use a 600 1-depth Cubmarine to help search for the H-Bomb off Palomares. The Task Force Commander gave it very high marks, and the logisticians were pleased that it was trailered out of its home plant in Florida to a C-130 cargo plane and delivered shoreside in less than two days from the opening request. Meanwhile, the Alvin and Aluminaut, the other two small submersibles available had to be readied for a long trip in an LSD. On site, the TF Commander thought it would take a cruiser to handle the Cubmarine. A minesweeper did the trick. Operating from the shore to 600′, the Cubmarine picked up several pieces of the aircraft, confirming the course during the crash phase. It did fail in one respect. For two of the days, it could not operate because of rough seas. The nay sayers were delighted.
It has been many years since I have had any contact with John Perry. However, his company is
operational in several undersea product lines and services, mainly because the oil companies are
“productivity oriented,” and use what is available and assist in bringing new systems along.
Cowardly me had no problems riding a Cubmarine. As a reasonably good swimmer, I was not afraid of
the risks from 0′ to 100′. Observing the full scale pressure tank tests, I was confident that as
long as the craft did not exceed 75 percent of its actual test depth, that it was reasonably safe.
When the insurance companies, recognized that the craft never operated in waters exceeding the 75
percent test depth figure, they wrote very modest premiums for the Cubmarine and another confidence factor fell into place. Unlike a large submarine, the Cubmarine never operated in waters as deep as its crush depth.
Under the Navy’s present RDT&E; Sponsor/Claimancy; and budgetary systems, I see no way the Navy will ever “learn by doing, 11 with small submersibles. The support and costs of operating the highly sophisticated DSRVs are prohibitive, and they ~, by definition, highly “mission oriented.”
The viability of small, simple, “three dimensional whale boats” for Navy use should not remain fallow. The “art” is known and proven and can be easily “pushed’ by putting seamen with basic mechanical, electrical and physics backgrounds in charge. “Let ’em play l 11 We built naval aviation doing just that.
Captain J.K. Taussig, Jr., USN (Ret)
Admiral James D. Watkins
Chief of Naval Operations at the
Launching Ceremony of the Hyman G. Rickover
27 August 1983