Contact Us   |    Join   |    Donate


Admiral Fluckey, friends of submariners, submariners. I am very proud and pleased to be here today as we remember the history of the US Navy’s submarine service and honor submariners. Thank you, particularly Dana Raley, for the opportunity to address you today.

It is hard to believe it has been over eleven years since I had the pleasure of forming Submarine Group 10 here and more than ten years since I left that assignment. Ten years passes so quickly, but we are here to remember one hundred years of submarine history in our Navy.

While I will dwell on those one hundred years, it would be wrong not to mention some very real submariners who served well and died in the service of their country, a part of which we stand in today. Their service preceded the establishment of our Submarine Force in 1900 by more than thirty-five years. Of course, I allude to the gallant men of the CSA’ s HUNLEY. It is somehow fitting that this ship was finally raised from the depths of Charleston Harbor during this our centennial year.

In many ways that ship, while small and unsophisticated by today’s standards, was not deficient in many areas that have always marked our Submarine Force; dedication, service, gallantry, and just plain old heroism! I do not think it inappropriate at this time to salute them …. they, too are a part of our great heritage.

How does one begin to give the adequate due to the 100 years of submarine service to this great nation in a short speech? That answer is easy … one doesn’t; one can only hit a few highlights realizing that much gets left unsaid that merits coverage and many who deserve mention don’t get even one word of acknowledgment. I hope that these apparent slights are never interpreted as being due to lesser service or service of less importance …. nothing could be further from the truth. In my estimation, all who have served in our Submarine Force deserve mention, all are heroes to me; all of them from those lost in CSS HUNLEY to those currently serving alongside my son-in-law, Lieutenant Commander Oliver T. Lewis, Engineer Officer of USS PITTSBURGH (SSN720), now on deployment.

One obvious way to try to put some perspective on our service is to divide the past one hundred years into significant bits that provide a reasoned theme. Many could do this better than I, but here is my outline for today:

1900-1940 Our learning and formative years
1941-1946 The years of heroes, the years of finding our service’s soul
1947-1959 Post W.W.II, Cold War stirrings, Technological advances
1960-1989 The Cold War, Nuclear Years
1990-2000 Post Cold War, Draw Down and Over Commitment

Our Learning and Formative Years

… Or the early years spoken about so eloquently by Admiral William Crowe at the Naval Submarine League Symposium this past June. I would commend his speech to you if you have not read it. A copy of his text can be found in the July 2000 SUBMARINE REVIEW.

He stated that the story of our Submarine Force during this period is “not a well known story, but it is an amazing one”.

While other nations were starting to dabble in the submarine realm, it took two brilliant inventors in the U.S. to get us going. We owe much to J.P. Holland and Simon Lake. SS-1 was the HOLLAND, and we bought her in 1900. At 53 feet in length, 10 feet in diameter and a 63 ton displacement, powered by a 45 hp gasoline motor and having a test depth of 75 feet, it is no wonder she struck no fear in the eyes of the Navy’s leadership of the day. But some of those bred to battleship greatness, particularly the hero of Manila Bay, Admiral George Dewey, then head of the General Board, threw his weight behind the purchase of SS-1. His involvement was the start of what I call the submarine family concept. We all have submarine families, those who were and are closest to us and with whom our lives are forever entwined. Let’s look at this particular one … and call it the Dewey-Caldwell branch of the family. The first CO of HOLLAND was Lieutenant H.H. Cald-well, a former aide to Admiral Dewey. His son graduated from the Naval Academy in 1944 and served in submarines in WWII and the Cold War retiring as a Captain.

With the coming of manned, heavier than air flight and its’ impact upon warfare, it was hard in those early years for submarines to generate much interest and therefore money. But farsighted individuals like Frank Cable and L. Y. Spear kept our Force at the technological forefront, thus allowing our active duty submarines to start becoming a viable part of the fleet. We learned to operate these early boats, which we know as the letter classes. Operating and fighting are two separate things, however, and it took a later generation to learn to effectively fight our submarines. So the real history of these first 40 years was its’ people .. .isn’t that always the case? Admiral Crowe continued that “It took time to build a corps of people who were knowledgeable and dedicated advocates. They didn’t fully understand the future potential of their boats, but they were enthusiastic believers”.

Let’s look at some of them. Ensign Chester Nimitz took command of C-5 in 1910, this was the first of his five submarine commands. Charles Lockwood commanded eight different submarines including a captured German U-boat. Other names leap from the pages of this period in submarining; English, David Taylor, Denfield and more.

Our actual participation in W. W .I was nothing to write home about, however. We sent about 20 boats to Ireland and the Azores to assist the Royal Navy in Harbor defense. But, German U-boat successes in that war woke up many to the potential of submarines and stimulated the entire community.

In 1925 Captain Ernest J. King took command of Sub Base, New London. This assignment gave him a real appreciation of the potential in the boats. This stood the Force in good stead in 1941. He even recommended a special service device for qualified submariners. The dolphins we so proudly wear today was the result. We know that there was some design help from Admiral Nimitz.

We learned many things the hard way during this period, suffering 13 major accidents resulting in 146 casualties by 1927.

At the end of this segment of our history, in 1939, the year of my birth, we experienced the SQUALUS sinking and the saving of many lives through the personal efforts and inventions of Swede Momson. Wasn’t it wonderful and fitting that less than two months ago it was announced that a new Arleigh Burke Aegis destroyer is to be named in his honor? Fining, if somewhat tardy recognition to this great submariner!

The Years of Heroes and Finding Our Souls

It is altogether fitting and proper that more has been written and said about this period of just five years in our history than all of the other 95 years combined. As a Force and a brotherhood these were our defining times. You who participated during that time have been and always will be my heroes, collectively and individually. But my praise is somewhat shallow when compared to that of others, so let me pause here and quote to you some of what others have said of your service during this very difficult crucible of war and advancement.

At the recent Naval Submarine League Symposium, Admiral Bill Smith paid respects to al WWII submariners. In his remarks, Admiral Crowe noted this and praised Admiral Smith’s words by saying and I quote: “I found it a gripping moment. My generation came into the boats just as the golden age ended. We worshipped those men who had brought the submarine into the front line. They fashioned new and suitable strategies and tactics for the underseas force and proved that it could harass an enemy thousands of miles from our own shores. Their remarkable war record is well know to this audience and it certainly speaks for itself”.

Let’s pause here to remind ourselves just what is it that speaks foritself? It must be something quite extraordinary to do that. While these facts and figures are well known to you, they bear repeating again.

Ships sunk 1,314 which equates to a percentage of enemy ships lost of 55 percent
Tonnage credited 5,3000,000
Submarines lost 52, a casualty rate the highest of any part of any U.S. service in the war
Submariners who served 16,000, just 2 percent of the Navy
Submariners lost 3,506
Medals of Honor awarded 7
Heroes serving with courage 16,000

How can I say 16,000 …. that’s all that served. Let me quote the Captain of the USS TIRANTE, himself one of the 7 Congressional Medal of Honor winners, about the action that earned that singular honor. At the ceremony at the White House where President Harry Truman hung the medal around George Street’s neck, the captain allowed that the Presidential Unit Commendation given to TIRAN-TE for the same action was more important and meant more to him as it was awarded to the whole crew. Let me quote him exactly: “Every man of that ship’s company was there, all the way, and all of them have the right to share in the awards, too”. I know similar thoughts went through the minds of all of our WWII skippers. No captain at sea does it on his own, he relies totally on the dedication, expertise and hard work of his crew. And believe me I personally know this to be true. All share everything in submarines from the output of the galley, to the air breathed, to the very results of every patrol and action.

Captain George Levick Street Ill, whose first patrol on TIRAN-TE was so successful as to earn this award at a time when 70 percent of submarine patrols were failing to sink a single ship (there weren’t that many left), passed away this year. A great loss to our community, but so fitting that he went on eternal patrol during our centennial year. I was fortunate to have met Captain Street at a submarine binhday ball in Groton in the early 1960s when I was a junior officer on my first submarine, USS THEODORE ROOSE-VELT (SSBN600).

Admiral Gene Fluckey, author of Thunder Below and whom we honor later today with the naming of the headquarters building here at Kings Bay in his honor. was the head of the Electrical Engineer-ing Department during my time at the U.S. Naval Academy. Admiral Lawson P. (Red) Ramage was our Flotilla Commander in New London during the early ’60s and 1 had several conversations with him about his ham radio pursuits much later in my career. when I headed the Naval Telecommunications Command.

Who hasn’t marveled at the exploits of Admiral Dickie O’Kane. for whom another Aegis destroyer is named. as related in his books. Clear the Bridge and WAHOO.

I met them all and was awe struck by their presence and their down to eanh demeanor. I’m sure that if I could have had the honor of meeting Cromwell, Dealey and Gilmore, I would have felt the same way.

A wonderful article about the passing of Captain Street can be found in the July 2000 U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings.

Others have had things to say about the service of WWII submariners:

Historian Theodore Roscoe wrote that “He who lived by the Samurai Sword, died by the submarine torpedo … the atomic bomb was the funeral pyre of an enemy who had already been drowned.” From Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz: “We shall never forget that it was our submariners that held the line against the enemy while our fleets replaced losses and repaired wounds.”

Clay Blair simply called that period “SILENT VICTORY”

It would be wonderful to have the time to recount many tales of WWII submarine daring-do. I have read so many books and articles about these exploits. All are worthy of retelling here. But time does not permit such an exercise. Let me close this era by just saying that I have been blessed to have gotten to know so many WWII submariners over the years. Each has made a lasting impression on me and aided and inspired me in my career in the boats. You are a wonderful group and I salute you collectively and individually. Thank you for your service during our nation’s time of great need. I would like to close this period by reading a poem. I do not usually care for poetry. but this one written by one from a following generation to the WWII generation and lifted from the pages of your own excellent publication, Polaris. bears reading now as it well expresses the feeling of we submariners who follow in your wake.

WE KNOW by John Chaffey

Your numbers are dwindling,
but before you go.
Every sailor wearing dolphins,
wants you to know.
That you have passed down a heritage,
of honor and pride.
We know of the boats,
and submariners who died.
We know of the deeds,
of you World War II men.
We know of the bravery
in the Combat Patrol Pin.
We know you endured,
the “gut wrenching” fears.
We know of your courage,
We know of your tears.
We know the meaning,
to the rolling of the bell.
We know you have spent,
your time in hell.
When we travel to Groton,
to visit the wall.
We promise to walk softly,
we promise to stand tall.
So when your final orders are cur,
and you slip out to sea.
Remember this shipmates,
we will not forget thee.

Post WWII, Cold War Stirrings, Technology and Advances

While much can be said about this period in our history, let me fall back on a few recent quotes by a couple of friends, ship mates and contemporaries of mine. Admiral Skip Bowman, current head of Naval Reactors and Admiral Rich Mies, current Commander in Chief, US Strategic Command.

When asked in an interview recently what stands out in your mind as the most significant aspect of the Submarine Force’s 100 years, Bowman said “A century is a long time. Certainly on the teclmology side, there have been some amazing achievements. The advent of nuclear power and all of Admiral Rickover’s work ranks number one in my mind, but the submarine launched ballistic missile, the submarine launched cruise missile and even more mundane areas like improvement in sensors and antenna capability are all impressive developments.

But rather than the hardware, the most impressive thing to me over the past 100 years has to do with the submariner’s culture of adaptation. This can do spirit is an ability to respond to the world situation with new technology to accomplish new missions.”

Admiral Mies stated in a talk at the recent Naval Submarine League Symposium that “at the end of WWII, a second transformation took place. As the Navy downsized, the Submarine Force was in enormous turmoil. Many aviators and surface sailors thought the Submarine Force no longer had a mission. Once again, our submarine leaders had to reinvent themselves. They made an historic decision to pursue an anti-submarine warfare role. Why did they do that? What gave our predecessors the foresight and courage to undertake ASW against an emerging Soviet submarine threat? After all, there were no significant submerged sub-on-sub encounters during World War II. Why not exploit the successes of the war and continue to pursue anti-shipping as their main focus? I suspect that is because we were an island nation with huge dependence on our sea Janes for commerce, the threat posed by a potential enemy’s Submarine Force was considerable. Once again they succeeded.” Succeeded in making the correct decision that is. We will see in the next era just how important that decision was.

The Cold War, Nuclear Years

I reported to my first submarine in April of 1963. Two days later we lost USS THRESHER and 129 brave souls. Some of them were my U.S. Naval Academy, Nuclear Power School, Prototype and Submarine School classmates. We were in the midst of the largest expansion of the Submarine Force since the early ’40s. I lived and served as a full time submariner throughout this period and if allowed to ramble on I could say much about this time, a time when we once commissioned 12 FBM submarines in one year, built 41 of them in just 7 1/2 years, lost USS SCORPION and another room mate of mine and won the longest, most potentially devastating war in the history of mankind. Instead, let me give you just a few quotes that encapsulate the era.

Of this period, Admiral Mies said “There are many symbolic parallels between our submarine operations in World War II and those of the Cold War. Considering their size, the valiant subma-riners were probably the most highly decorated Force of that war …. 7 Congressional Medals of Honor, countless Silver Stars, 49 Presidential Unit Commendations, 53 Navy Unit Commenda-tions … the list goes on. And I would venture a guess that subma-riners of the Cold War years are the most highly decorated Force of the peacetime era.”

While I would disagree that it was a very peaceful era, I would agree that submariners were recognized significantly for their service during this time. The popular book Blind Man’s Bluff has a listing of unit awards given to submarines and submariners during those years that is most impressive. The individual awards that were earned during this same time is too exhaustive to be further mentioned.

Right here in Kings Bay, General Colin Powell, Chainnan of the Joint Chiefs had this to say about submariner’s of this era. “The Cold War was won especially by American’s blue and gold crews manning America’s nuclear powered ballistic submarine fleet. .. no one … has done more to prevent conflict.. .no one has made a greater sacrifice for the cause of peace … than America’s proud missile submarine family. You stand tall among all our heroes of the Cold War.

During that era, submariners served in both fleet ballistic missile submarines and fast attack submarines. Our ability to hold the Soviet’s under our missile gun from an undetected vantage point while at the same time holding their Submarine Force in our SSN torpedo sights finally convinced them of the folly of challenging the freedoms we hold so dear with the corrupt system that communism and socialism uses to destroy its’ own people and their will to succeed.

Post Cold War, Draw Down, Over Commitment

So what of our most recent decade of submarine service to the nation?

Well, we have once again had to redefine our missions. ASW faded somewhat to be replaced by near shore surveillance, Toma-hawk land attack, seal team insertion, active response and forward presence where ever and whenever needed. Of course, strategic deterrence remains a high priority as exemplified by the wonder-fully capable Trident submarines this base and one at Bangor, Washington were built around. You can be sure that whatever the need in the furure by our nation, our Submarine Force will stand alert and ready to fulfill it. Provided, of course, that our nation supports our military and Submarine Force. A resolution in Congress on 19 November 1999 commended us on our Centennial, BUT this current and thankfully soon to be completed administra-tion has asked much of our Submarine Force and all of our greatly depleted armed services. But has it supported them? I leave that to each of you to decide for yourself. As for me, I find this administration has over committed our forces and over taxed our troops, while at the same time both underfunding and what is even worse, under appreciating them. I trust that you all will work to remedy this as we all go to the polls next week.

Let me conclude with a few more appropriate words from Admiral Bill Crowe: “Put simply, over the last century, American’s submariners have risked, served, fought and on occasion died so that Americans might have a safer and freer life. In the process, they have given a full measure to the Navy, the nation and the free world. I can think of no higher price.”

May God bless you all, God bless our current submariners and God bless these United States of America.

Naval Submarine League

© 2022 Naval Submarine League