As many already know, Wally Bishop was the Chief of the Boat in USS SCORPION (SSN589) when it sank in May of 1968. The name is also familiar to the residents of Bishop Hall, an enlisted living facility on Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor. What follows is a Wally Bishop story that is perhaps not quite as well known.
In the Fall of 1961, SCORPION was on the blocks in a Newport News Dry Dock. She was having her main shaft replaced, since another of the 588 class had twisted hers off (fortunately outboard of the shaft seal) during a surfaced Back Emergency bell. While in dock, some other work had been done involving the watertight integrity of the Torpedo Room, and a 15psi air test of the compartment was in progress. TM1(SS) Wally Bishop was the individual on watch in the Torpedo Room during the test.
Lieutenant Jerry Holland was the Duty Officer, and Ensign Patton, aboard only a month or two, his Duey Officer Under Instruction.
Following the successful air test of the Torpedo Room, the bleeding down of pressure was started. At about 5 psi, there was an explosion in the room, and sound-powered phone communications were lost with Petty Officer Bishop. Looking into the room through the watertight door’s deadlight was like looking into a jar of Grey Poupon mustard. Here is where Jerry and my recollections of the events of 40 years ago diverge. I seem to remember that Jerry swung the ventilation system bulkhead flapper open to depressurize the Torpedo room, and that the flapper’s 0-ring headed for the Engine Room. Jerry recollects that he managed to get bis back into the watertight door itself and crack it open. Neither bulkhead flappers, nor even more so watertight doors, are easy to operate with any differential pressure across them, and Jerry Holland isn’t one who comes to mind as a big and powerful man. In any case, however, adrenaline served its purpose one way or another, the Torpedo Room was depressurized, and we entered to find Torpedoman Bishop.
He was unconscious, was removed and quickly revived, was dazed but apparently unhurt and was sent to the shipyard’s hospital for observation. When the smoke was literally cleared, it became apparent what had happened. The pyrotechnic locker had exploded, blowing its door off, and Petty Officer Bishop had flooded it, extinguishing an intense fire before more of the many other signals, flares and smokes ignited. It remains very credible that he had saved the ship, and that Jerry Holland bad, by whatever means, saved him.
The mechanics of the explosion proved to be simple. There were then devices called deep SE/S (believe it stood for something like Submarine Emergency Indication Signals). After a safeing wire was removed from these SEIS, they would arm on increasing pressure-as seen when a signal ejector was flooded and equalized, and subsequently ignited on decreasing pressure-about 5 psi-some 10 feet from the surface as it floated up. One of the Yellow smokes had had a defective safeing wire, allowing it to arm as the Torpedo Room was pressurized, and it went off as designed as air pressure was being bled down.
The final bit of the story is that TMl(SS) Bishop was subsequently made SCORPION’s Chief of the Boat as a First Class Petty Officer with the unanimous consent of the Goat Locker which, in those early top-heavy days, probably had as many as twenty Chief Petty Officers attached. As far as I know, he continued in that position through the tragedy of May 1968. I think others who knew him would agree with my intuition that if SCORPION had been savable that day, Wally Bishop would have saved it again.