What a pleasure it is to be with submariners once again after so long a time. And how fitting that the Nimitz Museum should be the agency that sponsors this Submarine Symposium and its accompanying Sam Dealey exhibit. My father was a confirmed submariner. His career included commands of the A-1 and the PLUNGER, as well as a squadron of our earliest really big submarines — NAUTILUS, NARWHAL, PLUNGER, POLLOCK, PORPOISE and others whose names I can’t remember. It was from the experience with the submarines of that squadron that the wwn so-called fleet submarine evolved. When Dad assumed command of the Pacific fleet, following Pearl Harbor, he chose to hoist his flag on a submarine — the ORA YLING.
From this very distinguished group of submarine veterans, with so many, such outstanding performers, it seemed odd to me that I was asked to give the Keynote Speech. I have decided there were probably three reasons: first, it would have been awkward to have to choose from among the four living Medal of Honor submariners we are privileged to have with us; second, I am the last living person to have talked with Texas’s great Medal of Honor submariner, Commander Sam Dealey, lost on his sixth patrol, about whom I shall have more to say later; and third, my name !§. Nimitz! Herewith, then, is one old submariner’s periscope view of the U.S. submarine campaign in the Pacific as viewed a long time after U.S. submarine operations in the Pacific in WWll can quickly be put in dramatic perspective. Some 15,000 submariners, a minute fraction of the U.S. naval personnel in the Pacific Theater, with 288 submarines, sank 2/3rds of Japan’s merchant fleet, and 1/3rd of its navy. And they did it with losses of only an approximate 1/Sth of the people and submarines involved – a remarkably favorable comparison to the horrendous losses incurred by German WWII submariners, who waged a similar campaign in the Atlantic. They lost 28,000 of the 41,000 men they sent to sea –a 68% casualty rate.
It would be wrong to make any invidious comparisons with the performance of the rest of our Pacific naval forces. There were many different functions to be performed by many different kinds of forces. The 15,000 submariners were directly supported by thousands more, and indirectly supported by an even greater number. The war with Japan was the perfect opportunity for unrestricted submarine warfare — an island enemy, poor in natural resources, with widely scattered bases and supply sources, not to speak of a vulnerable code. Submarines were not very useful when or where they were denied the element of surprise. In the presence of determined enemy forces, concentrating on a specific objective such as landing at Balikpapan or Lingayen Gulf, submarines could not keep the enemy from achieving his objective. Sink a few ships, yes, but drive them off, no. Nor could they defend Midway against a Japanese carrier strike force and landing attack group. Nor could they force the fanatical Japanese government to throw in the towel. But I will aver, that in the performance of their primary mission, interdiction of supplies to Japan, U.S. submariners, and in particular those of you here today, accomplished their important assignment in a manner that has to be rated outstanding. In short, although you didn’t win the war singlehandedly, you almost certainly eliminated any Japanese chance to win, and contributed greatly to their predisposition to quit. Hail to submariners! It is interesting to consider why our submarine forces ~ so successful. I believe there were two principal reasons — the People and the Boats. The nucleus of personnel, officers and men, with which we started the war simply has to have been our single greatest strength and asset. Their morale and their training were diluted and rediluted over and over again as the many new submarines were manned and commissioned. If the concentrate had not been of the highest quality, soundly trained and highly motivated, the subsequent successful results could not have been achieved. There were some — but comparatively few — combat failures among submarine skippers in the initial stages of the war and the service itself quickly replaced them. In defense of those replaced, many of them had contributed greatly to the training of others in peacetime, and many were instrumental in the materiel design and development of our almost perfectly suited, so-called “fleet” submarine. And, I believe, some of the less than aggressive postures demonstrated by a few early skippers can be traced directly to a loss of confidence from attacks they tried and failed to consummate due to the culpably ineffective state of their torpedo armament. Peacetime prediction of who would or would not become an aggressive wartime commander is still, in my opinion, a highly uncertain gamble. I submit Sam Dealey’s case as an example.
One of the greatest skippers of our initial submarine officer pool, although he was certainly not so recognized before the war, was CDR Samuel E. Dealey, a native son of Texas, who put the USS HARDER in commission and completed five outstanding patrols. He was awarded Navy Crosses for each of his first four patrols, and the Medal of Honor for his fifth and epoch-making patrol for sinking five Japanese destroyers, in about as many days. I last spoke to Sam on August 23rd, 1944. We lay-to side by side, my HADDO and his HARDER, about five miles off the west coast of Luzon, some 20 miles north of Manila. I pointed out the lights and activity in a small coastal indentation directly inboard from us, where the Japs had tried to tow and beach the remains of a destroyer whose bow I had blown off early that morning. I being out of torpedoes, Sam said “leave him to me: and sent me off to an advance base to get more torpedoes. HARDER was lost the next morning as she approached the beach submerged. Subsequent intelligence information indicated that HARDER was depth charged repeatedly, at successively greater depths, by Japanese Patrol Boat No. 102 — which was, ironically, the old four-piper USS STEW ART (DD224). As part of the combined Dutch-American striking force, STEW ART was badly damaged by Japanese bombs, and then captured as the Dutch East Indies fell. the Japanese rebuilt her and sent her to sea as Patrol Boat 102. And she destroyed one of our greatest submarine skippers and his crew.
Second to the concentrate of submariners with which we began the war, I would have to credit our success to that remarkably appropriate “fleet” submarine, the 314 fool long surface raider with its tremendous cruising range, quite high surface speed, great logistic endurance and the useful ability to dive very quickly. Its submerged capabilities were minimal, but sufficient for that war. Consider the limitations. At maximum speeds, grinding down the battery to its low voltage limit, our WWII submarine could go all of about 2S miles, at an average speed of some 5 knots. Or it could skulk along at 1.8 knots for about 72 hours until the battery or the atmosphere in the boat, was exhausted. I can’t help but contrast this with today’s 688 class attack submarine that is a tub on the surface, but submerged can whip around the world at speeds well in excess of 20 knots! That we ended WWII still building essentially the same sub we started with, attests to its basic virtues, enhanced by a few significant improvements – such as the electric vapor still, the bathythermograph, negative tanks, radars, somewhat deeper diving hulls, and, the Fairbanks Morse engine. Thus far, you understand, in discussing this fine boat and its improvements I am referring only to those material features that were the responsibility of the Bureau of ships, and its submarine desk.
It could possibly be alleged that our wwn submarine was such a success for the wrong reasons. Until that early morning of December 8th, 1941, in STURGEON, in Manila- when I decoded that urgent message in the wardroom, telling us that Pearl Harbor was under attack, and to execute war plan orange and wage unrestricted warfare! I never heard of any planning or specific training for that sort of warfare, or any speculation on how best it might be done. The fact is, we were known as “fleet” submarines, and our surface characteristics were designed to enable us to run with, and scout ahead of our own surface forces. Goodness, can you imagine anything ~ from an anti-submarine warfare point of view: We couldn’t identify ourselves submerged – we really couldn’t communicate! There seems to have been an almost hypocritical acceptance of the rules for knightly (spelled with a K) behavior, by refusing to plan for patrols in enemy waters, to attack unarmed merchant ships without warning. I wonder, if the Japanese had been more gentlemanly in the way they started the war, how long it might have taken the U.S. to recognize our proper employment – to release us to do our thing. Because the logistics of unrestricted warfare were neither faced nor planned for, when the war started we were still hogging out and machining 2 foot diameter, 10 years cured, solid steel cylinders for airflasks for our steam torpedoes! Left to the methodology of the Naval Torpedo Factory, we could never have gotten enough torpedoes for the war we actually fought. Which brings me to the dismal part of our readiness for WWII — that of its faulty torpedo armament.
A false kind of economy and an unscientific reliance on laboratory bench-type tests had the unfortunate result that real exploders in real warheads didn’t get tested. Almost unbelievably, when they went to war, neither the magnetic exploder nor the impact exploder worked reliably. My guess is that, in the beginning, before we cottoned on to the fact that the fish were running up to 20 feet deeper than their setting, neither device exploded as much as half the time. When you think of the costs, risks, and efforts to find a target and get a sub in firing position, and then shoot the equivalent of water slugs, you can appreciate the heartrending frustration of the early skippers. And who knows what boats may have been lost because their attacks had failed for this reason. I personally, on three successive submarines, well up into 1943, observed examples of ghastly torpedo failures. Everybody here knows all the reasons and the ftxes, the binding of the contact exploder firing-pin block, the depth anomalies, the probability of the magnetic exploders prematuring. That’s not all though. At the war’s outset, our automatic gyro angle setter motors were 1/4 horsepower – they were never required in exercises to set angles on more than two exercise torpedoes. When confronted with the task of driving gyro pots on four or six torpedoes the gyro setters overheated and stopped driving -usually just when the command “final bearing and shoot” was being given.
Of course all these things did get ftxed ultimately, and in almost every case by the operating forces in the forward areas. Overcoming them, and carrying on notwithstanding, only adds lustre to the records achieved by our people. Hopefully that sad weapons experience has been grasped and digested. There should be a bumper sticker for submarines — “Have your fired a war-shot today?”
I must admit, when I read of our modern day submarines I can scarcely comprehend their fantastic capabilities. They are simply different vessels from those of our day, with speed and depth characteristics that make them seem invulnerable, and with far deadlier weapons for use against targets beneath and above the seas. I just hope to goodness they test them. Nonetheless, it is a curious sort of fact that there are in this room today Medal of Honor winners who could not have used a 688 class boat to do what they did in the shallow harbors into which our unrestricted warfare had driven a desperate enemy.
In another example of my warped and twisted thought processes, I wryly note that while our WWII performance was seriously jeopardized initially be weapons that failed to go off after they had been fired, we have, in the ballistic missile monsters, a completely different situation. So long as the enemy thinks the weapons will work, these boats accomplish their mission — if their firing should ever be ordered. Whether they work or not, their mission has probably failed!
To close on a happier note. The submarine is clearly here to stay. Submarines have become even more important as time has passed — not surprising, since they exploit much more of the sea than just its surface. Admiral Christie once told me that he had been brought up with a round tum at an arrival debriefing of the CREV ALLE, in Fremantle, just in from a patrol in which she had done a lot of damage on the surface, hardly diving at all, except to establish daily trims. He told me he pointed out to Frank Walker that CREV ALLE’s tactics seemed to ignore the salient feature of a submarine –its ability to submerge. Walker, however quickly pointed out that his experience taught him differently – that all vessels could submerge — but only the submarine could surface.
Chester Nimitz, Jr.