On 27 September 2002 Rear Admiral John D. Butler was the featured speaker at the re-dedication of the newly-restored submarine memorial at the Washington Navy Yard. The memorial is the submarine sail from the ex-USS BALAO (SS 285) which had undergone a top to bottom overhaul and preservation through the services of Unidyne Corporation prior to its transport to its new location. The restoration project incorporated. five and a half tons of steel, 4000 rivets, 1, 900 feet of teak wood, and 7, 100 manhours of labor.
The ceremony was held in NAVSEA Headquarters at the Navy Yard, the production of which was a joint effort between the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval District Washington, the Naval Historical Center, the Naval Historical Foundation, the Naval Submarine League, Submarine Veterans of World War II, and the U.S. Submarine Veterans, Inc.
We are all participating in history today. What we have before us is much more than a symbol it is a relic-a treasure of our heritage. This structure represents so much more than just another artifact from World War II. Upon these decks stood the best our nation could offer in a war that began as a threat to our very existence as a free country. The skippers and the crews that leaned against these rails during World War II came from all walks of life, but were united in a common purpose to defeat the Axis powers. Those who commanded BALAO displayed an uncommon courage needed to fight the enemy with brilliance. They inspired their officers and men to give their utmost, which they did, and more. Reading of their achievements and war record still inspires us today. I am in awe of their accomplishments.
It would be impossible to characterize BALAO as just another fleet submarine-no such creature exists. Every submarine is unique, special, and remembered. One hundred nineteen Balao class boats were built by five shipyards, making it the largest class of submarines ever built by the U.S. Navy. As the lead boat in very large class of 1500 ton submarines, BALAO was bigger than life in many respects. BALAO introduced several new concepts to the Submarine Force when she was commissioned in 1943. The most important of these being the thicker pressure hull, using 7 /8 inch high tensile steel plates rather than the 5/8 inch plate used in the earlier Gato class. During their lifetime the Balao class introduced new sophisticated electronic gear for detecting targets, a Torpedo Data Computer (TDC) for working out and setting torpedo firing angles, new Mark 18 electric torpedoes, and a Bathythermograph for detecting cold water layers, or thermoclines, under which she could slip to deflect enemy sonar pings and make the boat hard to detect. These technological advances gave the Balao class a level of reliability and battle survivability that had never been experienced by submarines of any nation to that time. And survive she did with an illustrious record. BALAO received nine battle stars for her World War II service.
After Pearl Harbor, we had only a handful of submarines that were able to respond. By 1943, however, the numbers of Ameri-can submarines operating in the Pacific had increased by an order of magnitude. This offered a new strategy to submarine commanders-the ability to operate in groups-three to four boats at a time. These small packs multiplied the effectiveness of their patrols, increasing their options and reducing their vulnerability to counterattack.
For her first four patrols BALAO operated out of Brisbane, Australia. After that she homeported out of Pearl for the next six war patrols. During that time BALAO served with two small patrol groups during the war-Post’s Panzers-consisting of SPOT, ICEFISH, and BALAO and led by Commander W .S. Post. And Barney’s Boxers, with TENCH, SEA DEVIL, BALAO, and GROUPER and led by Commander W.B. Seiglaff.
This is one submarine doctrine that did not carry over from World War II. There is something about the personality of submariners that doesn’t lend itself toward group operations. Some of that is, of course, due to the fact that communication and coordination between submarines and other naval vessels while underway is not the easiest thing in the world to do. But that part is changing-I’ll say some more about that in a moment.
It is also interesting to note that the last sea action of World War II was performed by BALAO. In the closing days of the Pacific war, BALAO sighted two Japanese patrol boats off the west coast of northern Honshu. BALAO made a surface run and attacked both boats with her deck gun, sinking one and damaging the other. Early the following morning the crew learned of Japan’s surrender.
These new fleet submarines were purpose built for taking the fight to the enemy-designed with food, fuel, and weapons sufficient for Jong-range independent patrols. BALAO and her sisters enabled the Navy to shift its submarine doctrine from coastal defense to open ocean attacks on enemy warships and convoys critical to enemy logistical support. This doctrine of forward presence and strike warfare by the submarine remains with us today.
While it has been nearly 40 years since BALAO was stricken from the rolls, it is altogether fitting and proper, and a bit ironic, that we are gathered here today to rededicate this memorial. During the past 40 years and more, we have seen the mission of the U.S. Submarine Force come full circle. During the first half of the twentieth century, the mission of the submarine was one of strike, intelligence, reconnaissance, and covert operations. During World War II BALAO and her sister ships waged war against the Axis powers, amassing a record of devastation and sheer killing power that was unmatched by any other land or sea assault platform. American submarines like BALAO supported deployment and recovery of raiding parties and the insertion and removal of intelligence assets as a matter of course-the submarine was the perfect platform for this mission.
Then came the Cold War, and for the rest of the century the mission of the submarine fleet was primarily centered on anti-submarine warfare in the open ocean. The submarine was endowed with two assets that made it supremely capable in this mission-stealth, and endurance from nuclear power. But this mission, while vital to the nation’s security, barely tapped the potential of the submarine and largely ignored its earlier warfighting heritage.
Now the Cold War is over, and the missions of the U.S. submarine fleet have largely returned to their roots. Once again we submariners find ourselves sailing into shallow waters, occupied with strike warfare and land attack. The ASW mission remains, now vastly complicated by the littoral operating environment. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have once again become core missions of the submarine. And the support of special operations forces and strike warfare has now become such a high priority that we are transforming four of our giant Trident submarines into platforms dedicated to those missions.
Symbolism abounds here. Sixty years ago BALAO was built by the Bureau of Ships at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Not long after BALAO was partly dismantled and eventually sunk in the ’60s, so too was BUSHIPS. By 1966, BUSHIPS was no more, having been split up into two Naval Systems Commands, NAV-SHIPS and NA VELEX. NA VSHIPS eventually merged with the Naval Ordnance Command, and the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) was born in 1974.
While NAVSEA was busy building ships and submarines to fight the Cold War, what remained of BALAO sat here in the Washington Navy Yard. Time and weather took their toll-the sail was literally crumbling into scale before our eyes. As the Soviet Union dissolved, so was this memorial.
As the ’90s drew on, we in the Submarine Force, as well as the rest of the nation’s military, soon realized that we had to reinvent our boats, our missions, and ourselves. We had to transform ourselves from a blue water fleet to one more closely resembling the Submarine Force of 1945. We are even rediscovering the benefits of coordinated strike that Post’s Panzers and Barney’s Boxers explored during World War II. Critical advances in communications technology between submarines and other fleet assets as well as the Nation’s command structure make the submarine a team player. Today we call this Joint Operations and the Navy is fully committed to this doctrine.
Along with the Submarine Force, the entire military went through a huge restructuring process through the ’90s. Consolidation and realignment were the watchwords of the decade. That process was directly responsible for the Naval Sea Systems Command’s return to the Washington Navy Yard as we began the twenty-first century.
And the result of that brings us here today. We are here to re-dedicate this memorial to the memory of the submarines and their crews that have sailed into harm’s way. We in the Naval Sea Systems Command are proud to accept the duty, challenge and responsibility of restoring and maintaining this memorial. It speaks volumes to who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.
CAPT Edward L. Ned Beach, USN(Ret.)
RADM John S. Coy, Jr., USN(Ret.)
CAPT David G. Harscheid, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Paul Lee Humel, USN(Ret.)
Capt Paul C. Keenan, Jr., USN(Ret.)
CAPT Arland W. Kuester, USN(Ret.)
CAPT Charles B. Momsen, Jr., USN(Ret.)