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In the introductory editorial, last issue (THOUGHTS ~ S08MABINE ~. April, 1985) it was speculated on what might have inhibited the 751 of submarine skippers who collectively sank only 251 of the merchant ships. I contend that no special reasons are required to explain the fact that most of the ships were sunk by a small fraction of the submarine crews; this seems to be a typical distribution of performance for all human efforts.

“One-tenth of the people involved in a given endeavor produce at least one-third of the output, and increasing the number of participants merely serves to reduce the average performance.”

That quote comes from Norman Augustine, a former Under Secretary of the Army, and Chairman of the Defense Science Board in a book Augustine’s Laws and Hajor System Developement Programs. In his chapter “On Striving to be Average,” Mr. Augustine shows a graph of “percent of total output” plotted against “percent of total contributors” for: authors of scientific papers, patents in an industrial firm, arrests by Washington D.C. police, air to air victories of the BAF in WW II, and staff actions in the JCS. The points all lie quite close to the line suggested by the above law. He points out that the results on the graph are understated since his data base considers only those who made at least some contribution.

On careful examination (three seconds with a navigator’s three-by-five card) we find that the number quoted above for merchant ship sinkings also closely fits the plotted line. (Well, almost; a few more data points would be useful.) It is instructive to think about the submarine skippers you have known. There is a great range of variability in their performances as measured on any scale you might desire to use; reenlistments, Legions of Merit, ORSES passed, number of groundings, whatever. The issue should be what can be done to raise tha average performance level, not what causes some of us to be less than average. Augustine notes, “It must, in fairness, be pointed out that a very small fraction of the population also produces a very large fraction of the problems.” The variability will always be there, and we should not seek to prove things by its existence; rather we should cultivate the high performers, and seek ways to raise the average performance.

Some years ago the Air Force conducted a set of instrumented tests called AIHVAL/ACEVAL (to those in the Air Force who know what these acronyms stand for, or even how they are actually spelled, my apologies.) These pitted the toP-ofthe-line fighter, F-15, against the smaller and considerably less sophisticated F-5. The results are still being debated, for, given the special ground-rules of the test, there is a great deal of room for argument about which aircraft did the best. The F-Ss generally shot down more F-15s, but the F-15s were not allowed to shoot until they had visually identified the target even if they had radar contact at longer ranges, and the F-Ss were smaller and less smoky planes. The F-15s had far better radar.

There is one unambiguous result, however; the pilots of the F-5s learned to use their aircraft effectively much faster than did those of the F15s. All the pilots were experienced before they were assigned to AIHCAL/ACEVAL, but the learning curve in this almost-combat situation was much steeper for the smaller aircraft. (Carping about even this finding is possible, since the learning came from thinking about incidents of being ‘shot down;’ something which, in war, one frequently does not have the luxury of reviewing.)

The point of this meandering example is that, although there will always be a great variability in the wartime performance of submarine crews, there are probably ways to raise the average performance of the force. Moreover, one should also look for ways for those ten percent who are really outstanding (not just on fitreps, but in reality) to be supported by those or us who are just average. We should decide what are the characteristics that make a good peacetime skipper, and what are those that make a good wartime skipper. Experience bas shown that both sets of characteristics are not usually found in the same person. We must then decide how to keep our ships in shape and our crews trained with those who excel in peacetime, and how to keep those with the other set of traits around for when the war starts.

CDR Ralph Chatham, USN


The 1940 edition of the Bluejackets Manual, a bible or sorts for new Naval Recruits, established priorities on Navy matters. Chapter 57 of 58 Chapters, under an inauspicious title “Miscellaneous,” presented the Submarine Service and all its enticements for new seamen. The chapter was shared with other “high priority” topics of a peacetime Navy, including Naval Reserve, Naval Training Courses, Duties of a Petty Officer and not least of all Disposition of Effects of Deserters, Deceased Men and Hen going on Leave.

The Submarine Service was described:

“The modern type submarines, which are now named after fishes, are about 310 feet in length, displace 1,500 tons when on the surface, and carry a crew of 5 officers and 55 men. They are equipped with torpedo tubes on both the bow and stern, and mount a 3-inch gun which may be used against either surface targets or aircraft. Their maximum speed on the surface is about 21 knots, using Diesel engine-electric drive, and about 8 knots submerged, using storage batteries and motors.

“They are attached to certain units of the fleet, and also operate from submarine bases located at Coco Solo, C.Z., and Pearl Harbor, T.H.

“For training the men in this service there is a submarine school at New London, Conn., which offers special instruction in submarines, including courses in Diesel engines, radio, electricity and sound.

“Enlisted men assigned to duty aboard submarines receive pay in addition to the pay and allowances of their rating and service as follows:

“a) When regularly attached to in commission based at shore bases: submarines submarine

  1. Unqualified men, $5.00 per month.
  2. Qualified men, $20.00 per month.
  3. Chief Petty officers and petty officers, first class, after one year from date of qualification, $25.00 fer month.

“b) When regularly attached to submarines in commission, not based at shore submarine bases and when attached to submarines under construction for the Navy from the time the builder’s trials commence:

  1. Unqualified men, $10.00 per month.
  2. Qualified men, $25.00 per month.
  3. Chief petty officers and petty officers, first class, after one year from date of qualification, $30.00 per month.

“To qualify as a “submarine man,• certain requirements must be fulfilled. He must have served at least six months on submarines. Before presenting himself for examination, the candidate must submit a notebook. This book must contain all data specified by “Submarine Instructions.” The examination is an oral and practical one. It consists in going through the boat and operating all apparatus in the boat and answering any questions pertaining to the same. A commissioned officer conducts the examination.

“On a submarine, a wonderfUl opportunity is offered for getting much practical knowledge of electricity, particularly in regard to storage batteries. These batteries are the largest of their kind found anywhere today. Nearly all apparatus are electrically operated, including the main motors for under-water propulsion, steering and diving rudders, gyrocompass, pumps, galley range, and anchor gear. A submarine also is the best place in the Navy for obtaining valuable experience with Diesel engines, which are used for its motive power on the surface. This type of internal-combustion engine is becoming prevalent in the merchant marine service and many or our shore radio stations.

A 19~0, peacetime submarine force at the end or a long and non-combatant period emphasized propulsion, communications and sonar. Monetary remuneration was described in detail and opportunities to gain skills in fields related closely to ·non-military preoccupations were punched hard to the new recruit.

In 1985, the same emphasis continues in vogue. Note that the 1940 total submarine combat suite was given but a single line in the text. No mention was made or the torpedo that would later prove so totally inadequate at the onset or war. No stress was given to the importance or ncombat readinessn in the sense or having to shoot or be shot at. The article’s tone rings uncomfortably familiar.

It can be concluded in view or the esteem with which today’s Navy holds its submarine force, that things have indeed changed. Or is it, as a long forgotten cynic once wrote, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

CAPT Don Ulmer, USN(Ret.)

Naval Submarine League

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