l am long since the last member of the commissioning crew of DRUM on active duty. It is fortunate for me that this traditional ceremony is taking place before 1 July because I too shall then join the ranks of Retired Drununers.
It is most appropriate to make this occasion a bringing together of the past and the future, the old and the new.
Frequently submariners have had the honor of speaking at submarine commissionings. Now and then, a former commanding officer of the namesake submarine has had the pleasure of opening a new chapter in the long line of U.S. submarines. Perhaps never before has there been a speaker who was so much a part of a predecessor as I was of DRUM I. I intend to take advantage of this circumstance to tell a few tales about DRUM never told before.
One such story appears in a new little booklet published by the Submarine Wives called Dolphin Tales. I commend that volume to all submariners, wives and friends for it clearly demonstrates why the submarine family is different and special.
DRUM I was the first new construction submarine to arrive at Pearl Harbor after the attack on 7 December 1941. She was of course the result of a submarine design which was initially approved in 1937. She was an accident, but a most fortuitous one! Fleet Submarine was the general nomenclature applied to these boats because they had been conceived to support the fleet. They were to be scouts which could precede the battle force ranging ahead far and wide with maximum surface speed just about the same as the battleships, but with the capability to submerge for relatively short periods-at slow speeds. They had excellent sea keeping qualities even if all the watchstanders on the bridge spent a good part of their four hours wet from neck to shins. They bad tremendous endurance … and this characteristic was perhaps the most significant.
When World War II broke out, the United States Navy found itself with an enemy in the far Western Pacific and almost no forces capable of doing battle with him except these fleet submarines. By sheer good fortune, the requirements of the battle line scout were identical to the demands of a distant submarine campaign against an enemy whose very existence depended upon sea going supply of an island homeland; and, who, because of faulty planning, failed to develop an anti-submarine warfare capability up to the task of protecting that lifeline from DRUM I and the other fleet submarines.
It had been pre-war doctrine that all submarines on war patrol wherever located operated submerged by day, surfaced by night, and were expected to attack in daylight using the periscope to obtain needed data.
The war quickly shot holes in these procedures and soon all submarines were spending considerable time on the surface in daylight-and more significantly firing torpedoes at night even without one of the miracles of war radar!
Thus it was that DRUM’s first attack, south of Tokyo Bay, was at night against a large Japanese seaplane tender. Captain Bob Rice provided needed data by intuition from the bridge and our small torpedo salvo sank the target. The Japanese were not happy with this tum of events and clearly demonstrated this with the initial depth charging of DRUM-some 18 hours sporadically from midnight to dark. By that time DRUM’s endurance submerged was approaching exhaustion and surfacing in the face of whatever the Japanese would have in the area was becoming our only course of action.
In one of those incidents which leave an indelible mark, Captain Rice talked to the officers in small groups telling us of his decision (not that it wasn’t obvious to all of us) and expressing hopes that we would somehow survive our ordeal. But he was more poignant in his words about the ship. He regretted, he said, that this fine ship, a tribute to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Shipyard, would meet her end before she would pay for herself in destruction to the enemy.
The surfacing did take place as planned-but no Japanese were insight. DRUM survived to pay for herself!
But her career wasn’t entirely grim and jammed with drama.
In early 1943 DRUM was assigned to the Southwest Pacific Submarine Command, operating out of Brisbane, Australia. Commodore Jimmy Fife, a famous no-nonsense submariner, was in command. The opportunity which DRUM’s arrival in the area offered was more than he could pass up. His first message started Fife to DRUM. All subsequent messages were so headed and many contained martial words and phrases. Our response was in kind, “DRUM to Fife”, and later Admiral Bull Halsey, in overall command at sea in the area, joined the party.
Perhaps it is fact that DRUM is the only musical instrument that is also a fish!
There were many other depth chargings for DRUM. We had one quartermaster who took delight in keeping an accurate count with one of those little devices normally used to count attendance. I can’t recall his final tally, but I can still recall the closest charges we ever received-north of New Guinea-following a successful attack against a Japanese convoy, while DRUM was under Bill Williamson. A small, tenacious and accurate patrol boat laid several strings of big charges right on top of us. He put a crack in the steel plating of our conning tower causing a small stream to squirt in. A call for technical assistance quickly brought the repair man with his wrench on the theory that if “if it leaked, tighten it”. But, instead, the incident ended our career in the Southwest Pacific and we returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs.
On the subsequent sea trials I was calmly watching our descent to our test depth (not much by today’s standards) when I noted the sides of the repaired conning tower bending inward. That was deep enough! And away we went to Mare Island for a new conning tower-and reunions with our families.
By that time, early 1944, submarines were being built with heavier steel and our new conning tower had a test depth some 100 feet greater than the rest of the ship. Mare Island did an excellent but all too quick job of replacement and we were off again. The rest of my time on board was spent in trying to do submerged oops so the strongest part of the submarine would be on the bottom! We never made it.
Although DRUM never won any unit citations, she was a proud ship that bore a proud name.
Even before the end of the war, the Germans showed that submarine design could be considerably improved. The snorkel and a submerged speed approximately double the DRUM’s gave the submarine far greater capability but it was not until 17 January 1955 that evolution became revolution in submarine warfare. That was the day NAUTILUS was “Underway on nuclear power”.
Since then, there has been steady progress in every phase of submarine design. The hull is now highly streamlined, the reactor core life has been tripled, extending the interval between major overhauls, the speed has been markedly increased, the ship is quieter and more difficult to detect by a wide margin, the sensors are capable of far longer ranges and provide data of great accuracy to a very sophisticated weapons control system and torpedo armament.
DRUM II is no accident! But she will need all the capability built into her to best her competition.
I need not tell this audience that the United States has a world challenge unmatched in history. The Soviet Union has demonstrated that it has a clearly defined strategic posture in which it seeks parity with the United States.
The government has set priorities within the Soviet Union which place the attainment of an adequate military strength above consumer products and the well being of the people.
They have built highly mobile and effective ground forces with integrated armor and close air support. It is especially designed for the heartland position which the USSR enjoys with respect to Europe and Asia.
The continuing strengthening of the Soviet strategic forces has received much media coverage. The combination of ICBMs with massive nuclear warheads in very hard underground silos and the large fleet of Yankee class ballistic missile submarines identical in appearance to our early Polaris ships apparently nearly meet the goals of the Soviet planners.
In this connection, remarks by two senior DoD officials are pertinent. At DRUM’s launching just short of two years ago, ASD(PA) Daniel Henkin said, “We cannot be unmindful of the fact that within the next two years the Soviets are expected to have between 400 and 500 operational launchers on Polaris-type submarines. And we cannot ignore the fact that at present construction rates of six to eight submarines a year, the Soviet Navy by 1974-75 could match or exceed the 41 U.S. Navy Polaris/Poseidon submarines”.
But in his testimony before Congress in January 1972, Secretary of Defense Laird stated, “The Y-class ballistic missile submarine force of the Soviet Union could be as large as our Polaris/Poseidon force by the end of 1973, rather than 1974 as I predicted last year.”
The Soviet Navy is their showpiece of progress. From a fleet built around a large force of conventional submarines tasked with defense of the homeland, their Navy has exploded into a worldwide organization operating in all the important ocean areas. They have put to sea not a few, but many, new classes of sophisticated surface ships armed with highly effective surface-to-surface anti-ship missiles.
Their submarine force is slowly decreasing in size. But more than making up for that is the rapid introduction of second and third generation nuclear powered ships, including the Yankees I mentioned before in the strategic role, and attack types of very high speed, armed with anti-ship missiles. These new submarines challenge us and threaten to decrease the wide margin of qualitative superiority which we enjoyed in the earlier days of nuclear power.
This challenge is now today, tomorrow, and next month.
What is the United States doing about it? We are streamlining and modernizing our armed forces, tailoring them to deter war, and to work with our allies around the world as they build their own forces to the point where they are capable of defending their own lands. We are planning for an all volunteer force, reduced in size as it is improved in quality.
Our strategic forces will be a combination of land and sea based missiles of high accuracy supplemented by safeguard anti-ballistic missile systems deployed on a selected basis.
Our general purpose forces will be an integrated combination of highly effective aircraft armed with potent tactical missiles, an army supported by mobile armor, battlefield missiles and close support aircraft, and a Marine Corps capable of rapid movement to distant trouble spots followed by entry into action using helicopters of modem design.
Our Navy will be shorn of all fat. It will provide the seagoing element of our strategic forces-Polaris/Poseidon today with ULMs to follow. It will be capable of projecting power overseas, if need be, in concept with the Marines. It will contain many new classes of ships designed for the unique tasks the Navy faces, including sea control ships with air power, hydrofoils, surface effects ships, multi-year buy destroyers, patrol frigates, agile and numerous, and highly effective attack submarines of great versatility.
All these new forces, coupled with modernized older units together provide the counter to the Soviet challenge.
DRUM is a part of those new forces, and she knows it! She knows that her systems must be capable of performing to specifications and then some. She knows that she must provide the wherewithal for her commanding officer and ship’s company to execute complex, vital missions in support of her country.
And Captain Jim Willis knows this too. His career spans more than 15 years during which he has gained a broad appreciation of Navy missions and tasks. He viewed the problems from the surface in a destroyer; saw complex air operations from his engineering job in our nuclear powered attack carrier; and developed the skills of a well rounded submariner as a result of tours in both attack and Polaris submarines.
This background and keen sense of responsibility have been key factors in Captain Willis’ leadership as DRUM progressed from a series of unconnected pieces to the point where she was ready for sea trials. DRUM’s crew has now met the rigid standards which Vice Admiral Rickover has enforced in nuclear power matters since before the days of NAUTILUS. His insistence on nothing short of perfection in nuclear design, construction and training makes it certain that DRUM will never be towed home from sea as was one of the Soviet’s nuclear submarines in a recent drama in the rough North Atlantic.
She is fully groomed for the challenge which her forthcoming tactical training will bring training which will prepare her for vital missions in the deep ocean.
DRUM is the outstanding platform I’ve described because thousands of people have had a part in producing her. The skill and dedication of the men and women of Mare Island Naval Shipyard-from designers to welders to the fire watches-have made it all come to reality and one of them also is a link between the past and the future.
Rex Pettigrew of Shop 38 was a motor machinist mate in the old DRUM with me. He is here today as he was when Mrs. Rindskopf and I rode the ship down the ways on her launching. To him, to Captain Barnes and to all hands in Mare Island, I say, “Well done.”
To Captain Willis, his officers and his men go my admiration and best wishes as they take DRUM to sea as a ship of the United States Navy.
But there is a pang of jealousy in my words. I wish I were young enough to have a part in making history!
A SUBMARINE IN A BATHTUB?
My wartime home for three years, USS DRUM (SS 228), spent some 20 years as the Reserve submarine in Washington, DC. Since 1969 she has been moored at the Alabama Memorial Park in Mobile, alongside the namesake battleship USS ALABAMA, as an effective visitor attraction. DRUM has suffered the ravages of saltwater and damage from a hurricane. On 1 August 2001 she got underway for the final time, moving a few hundred feet into a specially prepared dry basin just off the waterfront. There her badly deteriorated stem section will be repaired, ensuring her years of service as a memorial to all who sailed in submarines in World War II.