It’s a crying shame that our submarine navy got tagged with the term “Silent Service,n If there was ever a valid reason for using such a term, that time has long since passed. “Silent Service” should be stamped out of the Navy’s vocabulary. It is counter-productive to the creation and maintenance of one of the nation’s greatest needs, a strong submarine force. In the first place, it undermines the sense of pride every submariner should have. Secondly, it prevents the submarine service from getting an adequate share of the national budget. Finally, it acts as a bar to the free exchange of tactical and technical information, without which we cannot develop the most modern and effective submarine service.
The Effect of a “Silent Service” on Pride
A first concern must be for the officers and men of the submarine service. As a World War II submariner, I know that true military power is achieved through the development of an efficient team. The crew is more important than the ship and all its equipment. The functioning of a submarine’s crew can be likened in many ways to that of a top notch football team. Its effectiveness depends upon the capabilities and actions of each man. They need confidence in their ability to meet and overwhelm the enemy; confidence in their team mates, confidence in their ship, and confidence in their submarine organization. With that confidence comes pride. Every submariner must be made PROUD to wear the submarine insignia. But how can anyone take pride in being a member of a “Silent Service”? Just to use the words makes one feel second rate. Do you think an aggressive fighter pilot would belong to an outfit labeled with that term? The high turnover rate for submariners since WW II bears out the fact that too few men want to select the submarine service as a career.
That feeling must be changed. Undoubtedly, the men of the submarine service have done things of national interest or importance within the ·past five years, but I can’t recall hearing about them. Quite the contrary; I have been sorely dismayed to hear only of collisions and groundings. Such stories make one wonder at what seems to be an unprofessionalism of those in command of our submarines. Can a sense of pride in submarining be developed from such a base? Groundings, collisions and other similar humiliating events reflect poorly on all members of a submarine team — from the commanding officer to the most junior man on board. What needs asking is: nis this biased news reporting the result of the ‘Silent Service’ policy?” I think it is. Everything seems to be kept secret except those unfavorable events that can’t be swept under the rug.
One cannot develop much pride without a public recognition of the good points. If others have pride in your organization. you will absorb it yourself. I was greatly impressed recently when a sportscaster at the Greater Hartford Open golf tournament interrupted his coverage of the game to don a Navy blue cap with the insignia “JPK CV-67.n He then announced to the world that he bad been aboard the JFK the previous week and the operations be bad witnessed made him “proud to be an American.” How do you think that made the crew of the JFK reel? . Mighty proudl The carrier Navy will never be saddled with the “Silent Service” appellation.
The Effect of a “Silent Service” on the Budget.
Let’s face the facts. We live in a world in which all the tax supported organizations of the United States are competing for budget money. And, . as Vice Admiral Griffiths also pointed out recently, when it becomes necessary to balance the budget, the Gramm-Rudman legislation “mandates equal percentage cuts down to the level of individual line items.”
Decisions on Defense Department allocations should be based on improving the nation’s oQibat capability. The navy’s combat capability lies in its ability to utilize the vast ocean areas of the world — to get within attack range of prime targets. To exploit this major operating area, the navy must buy the maximum combat capability it can get for its share of the national budget. This is where submarines should play a greater role. The submarine is the only type of naval combatant that has a reasonable chance of survival in an environment of an all-out, all-oceans war. In this age of satellite reconnaissance and communications, computerized command and control systema, long-range nuclear armed ballistic missiles, and other advanced weapons and delivery systems, our surface ships are not likely to survive long enough to be usefUl in a prolonged war.
Simply put, defensive measures are not likely to effectively protect our surface combatants in a major war. Despite all the ballyhoo about the 600-ship, mainly surface navy, the lite expectancy in war ot surface ships in today’s world should probably be measured in minutes, Moreover, the Navy’s •big stick” cannot be provided by surface combatants but rather by ballistic missile launching submarines.
In addition, our Navy’s ability to destroy enemy ballistic missile launching submarines -the DELTAs and TYPHOONs — on their stations cannot depend on our surface ships. What the navy needs is a stronger anti-submarine capability composed or ASW submarines. And there are other navy missions, that are best performed by submarines in areas close to enemy shores; for example, close-in intelligence collection.
In brief, under a “Silent Service” policy, the greater combat value or submarines as compared to surface combatants will not be recognized, and under Gramm-Rudman the situation will become even worse. If we don’t tell people of the greater value of submarines they cannot be expected to recognize it, and submarines will not be adequately budgeted.
The Effect of a “Silent Service” on Open Communications.
When the u.s. entered World War II there was an inadequate knowledge of submarine tactics and equipment. It had been taken for granted that while being an externally silent service there would nevertheless be adequate dissemination of classified information — internally. But the “Silent Service” consistently bred an environment of ignorance of things that needed to be known. This is illustrated by the two examples which follow. While these are examples from history, I assure you that similar cases exist today. Further, as more and more sophisticated equipment is plaoed aboard ships and aircraft, I predict that the situation will worsen.
Mariveles Corregidor 1941, as
Bay — a good stone’s throw from had been chosen early in December, a dispersal site for some of the fleet submarines or the Asiatic Fleet. During the night of December 7th-8th, my boat, the USS PIKE, lay at anchor in the Bay. About four in the morning on the eighth, the below-decks watch roused me, the Exec, rrom my sleep. The desk light was turned on and I was handed an ALNAV message reading “EXECUTE WPL-48 AGAINST JAPAN.” PIKE did not hold, and I had no knowledge of WPL-48, but I knew that WPL stood for “War Plan” and that the designation “Japan”, meant to go to war against Japan. I immediately ordered the General Alarm to be sounded to awaken all hands, and then ordered the ship to be rigged for dive. Shortly thereafter word of the Jap attack on Pearl Harbor was reported by radio stations around the world.
PIKE was well fueled and provisioned, except that she did not have a full load of torpedoes. The last six were held aboard a tender anchored nearby.
Shortly after dawn, COs and Torpedo officers from the submarines present were summoned to the tender. Soon arter, our CO returned from the tender with orders to depart that evening for a war patrol off Hong Kong. About mid morning the Torpedo officer returned in a motor launch with the torpedoes which were quickly struck below without interference from the Japs.
An hour later the Torpedo officer came to the bridge. In a whisper he asked me to come to the forward torpedo room to look at something. When I asked about the nature of his problem, all I got was “Shh, just come with me.” It was clear that something serious was troubling the Torpedo officer, so I followed him below. Shortly I saw a torpedo with war head attached, resting on a skid in the middle of the forward torpedo room. At first glance it looked like any other torpedo. But a closer look revealed what appeared to be a ten-inch section of curtain rod protruding from the nose of the warhead. “What’s that?”, I asked.
The Torpedo officer put his finger lips and again in a whisper said, “Shh.” continued in barely audible tones, “it’s the magnetic exploder.”
“What magnetic exploder?”
I was again hushed. “We were told on the tender that we are to replace the contact exploders with these,”the Torpedo officer explained. “It’s TOP SECRET!”
A closer inspection revealed that the rod protruding from the warhead was surrounded by an opening about an inch and a half in diameter. “Isn’t sea water going to get in through that hole?” I queried the Torpedo officer.
“Yes, that’s the problem. We have a plug to put in there. but we can’t insert the plug with that rod sticking out.”
“What’s the purpose of the rod?” I asked. “what would happen if you got a hack saw and out ott enough of the rod so that you could put the plug in?”
“I don’t know,” replied the Torpedo officer.
Together we examined the base plate holding the exploder mechanism in the warhead and jiggled parts of it around. After a while we concluded that there was no way the entire device could be assembled so that the rod would not protrude through the hole in the nose.
“Reinstall it as a contact exploder,” I directed. “We 1re leaving on patrol shortly and these torpedoes still have to be secured in the racks.” And so, USS PIKE’s torpedoes went on patrol for several months with contact exploders.
PIKE’s problem with the magnetic exploder was not the only problem with that exploder. However, it is not the purpose of this article to rehash the exploder problem. Its prime purpose is to point out that the end users of the exploder knew nothing about it until after the war had started and at a time when it would have been impossible “to install it as received, even if it bad worked properly.
A second example or “Silent Service” secrecy with its lack of disseminated information involves the initial installation of the SD radar, the device that in time became our best protection against Jap air attacks. In late February, 1942, I beard that SWORDFISH had had an SD radar installed. As both PIKE and SWORDFISH happened to be in port in Fremantle, Australia, at the same time, I made it a point to talk to the skipper about bow his SD had performed. His answer, to the point, “it was no good.” He told me that, for example, they had passed within two miles of a 5,000 ton freighter just off Perth and that the SD had failed to detect it. I didn’t learn until months later, after the Battle of the Coral Sea, that the SD was an air search radar and was not effective against surface ships. I can only assume that whoever installed the SD in SWORDFISH knew nothing about its use, or if he did, there was no attempt to convey any information on the radar to the SWORDFISH personnel. I often wondered how long it took for the people on the SWORDFISH to find out that they bad an air, and not a surface search radar. Failures of communication such as that in wartime can be disastrous.
Secrecy is counter-productive in this age of rapid technological advance. It is absolutely essential that new ideas be freely presented, discussed, rebutted or reinforced. At the turn of the century, the recommendation of Lieutenant Sims (later Admiral Sims) relative to the installation of telescopic sights on naval guns, is a case in point. His brash idea was rejected on the grounds that the recoil of a gun on firing would drive the telescope through the pointer’s eye.
Silence is not Golden.
The submarine force needs to have its capabilities advertised. Public interest in the submarine service needs to be generated. It won’t be easy, but with these objectives, enough brains within and without the submarine community can make the public sit up and listen. This is not to deny that there are a few aspects of submarine warfare that must still be cloaked in secrecy, But as with the sportscaster, mentioned earlier, there were no secrets revealed when he announced that his trip aboard the JFK made him feel “proud to be an American.” (Cannot the Submarine League sponsor trips on submarines for selected members of 8 the public?”)
William P. Gruner