The history of SUBRON FOUR had it’s very beginnings in the 1930s when the submarine S-1 was in the squadron. History books will record that the ships of SUBRON FOUR played an important role in the defense of our nation during World War Il, the post war era, and throughout the Cold War. What history books cannot do justice to however, is the can-do spirit, the vigor, and the lust for life of the individual SUBRON FOUR sailor.
Exactly 50 years before the squadron deactivated in March of 1945, it consisted of four submarine divisions, 23 submarines, and five surface ships. USS THRESHER (SS 200), USS SWORDFISH (SS 193), USS SEAPOACHER (SS 406), and USS SPRINGER (SS 414) were on war patrols in the Western Pacific. USS HOLLAND (AS 32), USS SKIPJACK (SS 184) and USS PARGO (SS 188) were conducting repairs in remote Western Pacific ports. In addition to sinking hundreds of thousands of tons of merchant shipping and many men-of-war, SUBRON FOUR ships also participated in shore bombardment, photographic reconnaissance, the rescue of downed aviators, the evacuation of personnel, and the landing of guerilla troops.
During this World War II era Alice Allen had a house near Waikiki beach which became a meeting place for many submarine sailors. Mrs. Allen sent me a copy of a World War II invoice from the SUBRON FOUR submarine USS SKIPJACK (SS 184). The invoice was for 150 rolls of toilet paper. Unfortunately, 11- 1/2 months later, the supply officer at the Navy Yard returned the invoice with the stamped notation canceled; cannot identify. The Commanding Officer of SKIPJACK replied to the Navy Yard Supply Officer in a short letter. The CO stated that despite their best efforts, the crew was unable to await delivery of the subject material and that the situation was quite acute, especially during depth charge attacks. He enclosed a sample of the desired material and asked what the Navy Yard personnel were using in place of the unidentified material. He finally stated that his crew had become accustomed to using the vast amount of incoming nonessential paperwork and in doing so complied with the Bureau of Ships desire to reduce paperwork, thus in effect, killing two birds with one stone.
Shortly after the war, the squadron moved from Pearl Harbor to Key West, Florida. In March of 1955, the squadron faced a much different world. Forty years ago, prior to the Communist takeover in Cuba the SUBRON FOUR submarine tender USS HOW ARD W. GILMORE (AS 16) visited Havana with USS SEA CAT (SS 399) alongside for a liberty call. About that same time, a National) Geographic magazine article entitled From Indian Canoes to Submarines describes Key West as an island paradise in which submarines, tankers, supply ships, fishing boats, turtle boats and visiting yachts share the clear waters. The fishing from the Naval Station was so spectacular that President Harry Truman’s winter White House was located there. The Navy and the Submarine Force were experimenting with various antisubmarine warfare techniques. The article describes in both pictures and words an ASW exercise in which a blimp attempts to keep track of a Guppy class submarine. The article also describes a marvel of modem technology called sonar which enables submarines to see underwater.
Upon arrival at the pier, the GILMORE engineer was disturbed to find that there were absolutely no pier services available. He found the Naval Station First Lieutenant and asked for shorepower. The First Lieutenant replied that no power was available, but he could build a bar for the officers. The engineer asked for pure water-again the reply was no, but we can build a bar. Two days later, no services were available, but the bar was built and functioning. Times have changed. Rear Admiral (select) Froman, the CO of Naval Station, now provides many pier services. This morning I asked her to build me a bar. She walked away giving me a puzzled look.
The 1960s brought big changes. The first nuclear powered ships joined the squadron. The Cold War became colder. ASW became a primary mission of the Submarine Force. Submarines from the squadron were on patrol throughout the world whenever conflict arose. For example, SUBRON FOUR ships were active in the Cuban missile crisis. But since the Cold War was for the most part a non-shooting conflict, life here in Charleston continued as normal. Mr. Vince Clifford, who served as an engineman and diver on board USS HARDER (SS 568) and USS DARTER (SS576} wrote to me about an event in 1962. He and his wife attended the South Carolina Water Festival in Beaufort. At the end of the ceremony, the official party departed and walked in between Mr. Clifford’s wife and the car door. After about 10 officials walked in between his wife and the car, one man stopped and opened the door for her. That man was L. Mendel Rivers.
In the 1970s the squadron was predominantly 637 class nuclear powered ships. These 637s were the backbone of the Submarine Force. Twenty years ago in March of 1975 the diesel powered USS TIRU (SS 614) had just returned from a Unitas deployment. The nuclear powered ships USS GRAYLING (SSN 646) and USS SAND LANCE (SSN 660) were on deployment in the Mediterranean. SAND LANCE is still attached to SUBRON FOUR and occupies the berth behind you. USS SUNFISH (SSN 649) bad just returned from the Mediterranean and USS TUNNY (SSN 682) was conducting a workup for her upcoming Mediterranean run. USS L. MENDEL RIVERS (SSN 686) had recently arrived in Charleston following new construction at Newport News in Norfolk.
In 1981 the Squadron Commander Captain Tom Maloney instituted an annual exercise called Operation Swamp Fox. The newly commissioned USS FRANK CABLE (AS 40), which is the submarine tender you see at the end of the pier, went to the Caribbean and conducted open ocean recoveries of Mk 48 torpedoes fired by USS BATFISH (SSN 681), USS L. MENDEL RIVERS (SSN 686) and USS SUNFISH (SSN 649). Following this exercise, CABLE and the three SSNs moored off of St. Thomas for liberty. While there, CABLE also provided repair services for USS AMERICA (CV 66} and the USS SOUTH CAROLINA (CGN 37).
That brings us to the 1990s, the end of the Cold War, and the end of Submarine Squadron Four. In the fall of 1993, I ran the last exercise Swamp Fox. In this operation the squadron returned to its World War II roots by emphasizing reconnaissance, search and rescue, delivery of covert special forces and shore bombardment utilizing cruise missile strikes. This last exercise also provided joint training opportunities with the participation of Army and Air Force units as well as naval aircraft, surface ships, SEALS and Marines. The squadron has come full cycle.
Although Submarine Squadron Four is officially inactivated, it will live on in the hearts and the minds of former SUBRON FOUR sailors. On the last morning, Vice Admiral Emery pinned on the last two sets of Submarine Dolphins, the last four sets of Surface Warfare pins, and presented the last Command Qualification certificates that will ever be given to the men of SUBRON FOUR. The squadron will also continue to live on as these men and others like them use their SUBRON FOUR training in seamanship and basic submarining to become the Navy leaders of tomorrow.