Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
At the Submarine Birthday Ball Washington, D.C.
April 8, 1989
As you know, I have a strong attachment for the Submarine Service. I’ve been associated on and off with submarines for more than 40 years–mostly off the last few years. But you never shed your affection for and pride in the Silent Service.
It was nostalgic for me to prepare tonight’s remarks, as I recalled my own time in the boats. Inevitably my warmest memories are not of things, but experiences that have to do with people and human emotion–joy, sadness, triumph, even frustrations-and most importantly recollections of the men and women I served or associated with over the years.
Above all I have always treasured the opportunity to work with young American men and women–it’s the prime reward of a career in the service. I have watched them in every condition: combat, peace, excitement, boredom, good times and bad. They inevitably give 110%. As a result I have no question about the future of our country; it’s in good hands. Certainly, as submariners, you have a great deal to celebrate tonight. You belong to an elite element of the world’s finest navy.
• You undergo a rigorous selection process which assures quality throughout the force.
• As a group you probably enjoy the highest standard of education and training of any military organization on the globe.
• The men-of-war you operate and have mastered are pound-for-pound the most sophisticated and capable warships afloat today.
Your mission is not only important but vital. There is little question that if major war comes your role will be critical in fielding an invulnerable leg of our nuclear deterrent, in countering enemy submarines, in carrying war to places where no other units can go, in keeping the Soviet Navy bottled up in its own waters, and in fighting alongside the rest of the fleet in coordinated operations.
No one can tell you exactly what the next war will look like, but no one will deny that the submarine force will play a crucial front-line role.
Lastly, you have a magnificent heritage of courage and achievement on which to draw. I suspect most of you are familiar with it. I believe, however, that it is healthy to occasionally recall our heritage. In the annals of conflict, the U.S. submarine force’s achievements have seldom been matched.
U.S. boats sank over 5 million tons of Japanese shipping in World War II — 55% of all the merchant tonnage and 29% of all the warships destroyed in the Pacific War.
• This feat was accomplished with only 1.6% of the WWII manpower of the U.S. Navy.
• Out of a total of 315 boats, 52 were lost; out of 50,000 men, 3,500 gave their lives in this effort (374 officers, 3131 enlisted); 16,000 actually made war patrols and their casualty rate was 22%, the highest of any service.
• Seven Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded to this small group.
Brave men blazed the trail you tread today. They established the submarine’s worth in the only way it could be persuasively and irrefutably proved. Now you walk in their shoes and in their shadow. You can and should look to their example for inspiration and sustainment in times of trial.
While we honor their memory, as we rightfully should, their legacy is broader and a great deal more sobering than is normally acknowledged.
Preparing for war is a tough and uncertain business at best.
• Certainly our World War II submarine force success did not come quickly or easily.
• After Pearl Harbor it was soon clear that the demands and circumstances of war were a great deal different than had been forecast.
• The submarine force quickly learned that the best officers produced in peacetime were not necessarily the best fighting men. Books, inspections, tests and exercises simply don’t replicate the full challenge of wartime. One of the greatest tests the submarine service faced in 1942 was identifying those commanders with the aggressiveness, drive, tactical imagination, and coolness under stress that combat demands. This could only be done in the cauldron of war.
• Our submarines entered WWII with defective torpedoes. It took over two years to clear those problems up, and then it was only because Admiral Charles Lockwood, tired of foot-dragging in the Bureau of Ordnance, conducted his own tests at Kahoolawe which proved we were using malfunctioning weapons. Unfortunately the Navy had already relieved some very competent skippers for “nonperformance” when in fact a poorly designed torpedo had been at fault.
• Our strategy had to be altered a number of times before our boats were being used in the most effective fashion. Again, it took better than 18 months to arrive at a genuinely cohesive and effective deployment policy that selected the most profitable targets, and patrol areas that employed our resources to full effect.
• Successful tactics were equally long in developing.
Despite rigorous peacetime training they had not solved all their problems nor divined all the mysteries of subsurface warfare. No one believed that our boats could survive on the surface. Bold and imaginative skippers proved otherwise. Not only did they cut down transit times by using the surface, but many of the most successful night attacks were made on the surface. The rarest quality of all was a willingness to innovate — to try new tactics. Curiously enough, in many instances peacetime training killed that trait rather than encouraged it — a most important lesson for today’s nuclear submariners.
The bottom line: Training must be accompanied with emphasis on imagination, new ideas, constant vigilance, and the foresight to hedge your bets against an uncertain future. I cannot overemphasize this philosophy.
Even with alI that, you will never be completely prepared. Throughout history the unpredictability of war has confounded peacetime strategists, planners, soothsayers, and professionals. To acknowledge that simple truth is the beginning of professional maturity.
In my mind the most impressive tribute to the WWIT submarine force was not that it was perfect, or compiled an exceptional list of sinkings, but that its people were able to rock with the punches–were flexible enough to learn with experience, to correct their shortcomings, to hang in there in the face of adversity, to ultimately defeat the uncertainties of war, and to persevere until they triumphed.
Birthdays are for expressing pride, for anticipating the future, and of course for looking back–to take account. When you do look back I urge you to remember the whole picture and to profit from our forbearer’s experience, their problems as well as their victories, and strive to preserve their flexibility of mind and staunchness of purpose.
In saluting you I want to make it cJear that tonight is to honor the whole submarine force, not just those on boats. Those in logistics, staff, and maintenance posts serve also, and their contributions are vital to the overall force’s success. Likewise we can never forget the important bond between those who serve and their families. No ship sails, no sailor excels, no unit succeeds without the affection and support of loved ones.
I have always thought that from earliest times ships were referred to in the feminine gender for that very reason. So I want to quote from an authority on the subject.
Why is a ship called “she?” Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz said in a talk to the Society of Sponsors of the United States Navy: “A ship is always referred to as ‘she’ because it costs so much to keep one in paint and powder”
This is a tradition which has survived even the stem days of Admiral Rickover.
And as we consider such noble traditions, these festivities are also in accord with Navy tradition. Let me read you a description of a cruise of the Constitution.
On the 23rd of August USS CONSTITUTION set sail from Boston with 475 officers and men, 48,000 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shots, 11,000 pounds of black powder, and 79,400 gallons of rum. Aniving in Jamaica on 6 October, she took on 826 pounds of flour and 69,300 gallons of rum.
She then headed for the Azores arriving on the 12th of November. She provisioned 550 tons of beef, and 64,000 gallons of Portuguese wine.
On 13 November she set sail for England. In the ensuing days, she defeated 5 British men of war and sank 12 British merchant ships, salvaging only their rum. Nonetheless, she made a raid on the Firth of Clyde. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery transferring about 40,000 gallons of stagnant water.
You can see we have strong traditions to live up to. With that I wish the Submarine Service a hearty Happy Birthday, and many glorious returns of the Day!