The officer standing watch as a diving officer in a submarine has the very important job of taking the submarine to the depth that the Officer of the Deck or Commanding Officer orders and maintaining that depth until directed to change it. That position as diving officer is significant to the operation and control of the submarine, but, because of differences in configuration of the submarine resulting in the close proximity of the ship control station to the conning station in today’s submarines, the job is different in some aspects than it was in the diesel boats of yesterday. This essay attempts to describe the position of Diving Officer as it was in the Fleet Type submarines which preceded the nuclear submarines of today, and to portray what that meant to the young submarine officer.
Prior to the 1960s, officers did not go directly to submarines for duty. They first went to sea in the surface Navy, where they got their sea legs and received their early training after commissioning. When a young officer applied for submarine duty, he had to meet certain requirements. He had first to be recommended by his Commanding Officer and he also had to be designated as a qualified Officer of the Deck, in port and underway. If accepted for submarine officer training, he would then proceed to Submarine School for an intense course of instruction leading to his eventual assignment to an operating submarine, where he continued his education and training in the art of operating a submarine. This phase of his training was spread over the greater part of a year, after which, if recommended by his submarine Commanding Officer, he would go before one or more other submarine Commanding Officers for testing of his knowledge and his ability to operate the submarine in all of its aspects. If the officer got through aU this and the examining Commanding Officers recommended his qualification, his Division Commander would recommend to the Squadron Commander that he be designated “Qualified in Submarines.” The recommendation would then go to the Submarine Force Commander and the coveted DOLPHINS would become a part of his uniform and a part of his soul.
The officer graduating from Submarine School had gained a wealth of knowledge about submarines, their operations and the equipment and systems contained therein. In addition to the theoretical, he also gained important practical instruction on the propulsion system, the trim and drain systems, the communication and navigation systems, the electrical system, the high and low pressure air systems and weapons systems. Probably the most significant new field of knowledge and understanding that the young officer was exposed to was that of controlling the diving and surfacing of the submarine. When he completed Submarine School, he would be considered to be a qualified diving officer, but many hours in the Diving Trainer and a few at sea, leading the on-board diving teams, is not quite the same as it is when one gets to his first boat, and his Captain expects him to reach and maintain ordered depth.
The ship’s Diving Officer was usually the Engineer Officer. Other than the Captain and the Exec, the Engineer was usually the senior officer in the wardroom. He had been on board longer than the other junior officers and knew the boat better than any of them. This was not always the case, but generally so. At any rate, the junior officer on board had a long way to go to be considered a “diving officer” much less “THE Diving Officer.”
It took a Jot of watch standing to learn the individuality of the boat and how it reacted to the various stimuli imposed upon The answer to the junior officer’s question, “How do you know?”, was usually, “You feel it in your feet.” And this is what it finally boiled down to. You had to Jearn about it first hand. You had to be there, to feel the boat react, to understand your pJanesmen and how they would react to your commands and your prodding them to respond faster and more appropriately to the reactions of the boat. You had to learn to know the men and to be able to give them just the right amount of guidance or the right harsh word or word of encouragement at the right time in order to get their response transferred to the planes and then to the hull, so that the boat responded to your wiJl. It was more than just a position of leadership. It was more than just a man leading others to a particular task. It was as if you became a part of the very being of the boat. You did “feel it in your feet’ as well as with every part of your body and the very essence of your being.
When you really became a diving officer, in every meaning of the words, you became a part of the boat. When this happened, you were never going to be anything other than a submarine officer. You were captured forever. You were a part of the mystique, a part of a whole structure, greater than the sum of its parts. You were, at the same time, an individual capable of thinking for himself and making decisions, and yet an integral part of the submarine — a complex accumulation of machines and men integrated into a living organism. And this is what your Captain asked for.
This is what he demanded. This is what you must be to the man taking his ship into battle. When he raised the periscope to see his target, he had to trust that his “Battle Stations” diving officer would have the boat positioned at just the right depth for the scope to be out of the water, but not too much exposed. There was a certain independence in the position of diving officer, located as he was in a space separate from the conning station. The diving officer had to have one ear in the conning tower and the other listening to all the noises and information coming to him from below. He had to be in two worlds — the world of the control room, keeping track of the on-going ship’s evolutions and the control of the dive; and the world of the conning tower, where the battle was paramount and the Captain was the only link between the outside world and the life of the submarine. As the Captain was the link to the world above, the diving officer was the link between the conning tower and the rest of the submarine and the crew. He was a part of the boat and a part of the men he led in the control room and, during the pursuit and the attack, he had to anticipate the Captain’s every thought and command. He had to be ready to put that extra pressure on the sailors on the diving planes when the periscope was about to be raised to catch its fleeting glimpse of the target. He had to be ready, in a fraction of a second, to “take her deep,” or to bring her up an ever so little bit, to keep the scope just out of water, for the Captain’s one final look, before shooting. He had to keep the submarine ready to respond to the Captain, ready to continue with the approach, to make a successful attack and to escape from any counter attack.
Once the young officer had integrated into the life of the submarine through the process of learning and developing that special ability to “feel” the boat, until he got to be the Captain, no other job or position would quite measure up to being THE DIVNG OFFICER.