Our fourth nuclear submarine, USS SWORDFISH (SSN 579), was built at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, New Hampshire (now Maine). I was in the fourth nuclear class in New London (Jun-Dec 1956). followed by prototype training in Idaho (Jan-May 1957). I reported to the SWORDFISH pre-commissioning crew in the summer of 1957. During sea trials ( 1958) we were operating submerged off the New Hampshire coast when quite a few members of the crew reported headaches along with other physical discomforts. The atmospheric monitor in the control room was checked and the meter for carbon monoxide (CO) was found to be pegged high. The ship was ventilated and the atmosphere was returned to normal. None of the crew had any lasting adverse effects. The cause of the problem was investigated with most disturbing results-the shipyard had provided us with containers of charcoal, rather than hopcalite. We had loaded the charcoal into the CO burners and proceeded to see. When the CO burners (with emphasis on the bum) were started, the temperature of the charcoal was raised to the ignition point and a large amount of CO began to be introduced into the ship’s atmosphere. So much for quality control in the early days of submarine atmosphere control. Thereafter, every new supply of hopcalite received a torch test before it was loaded into the CO burners.
SWORDFISH departed the building yard on March 19, 1959, and joined Squadron Ten at State Pier in New London, Connecticut. After a period of shakedown training, the ship departed for the North Atlantic and its first involvement in submarine special operations. Returning from this operation, while running submerged at high speed of North Cape, the ship struck an uncharted pinnacle, our next unusual experience. We damaged our pit sword and the skipper wanted to retain it for inspection purposes. I was selected to go over the side to tie a line onto the damaged sword so that when it was ejected we could bring it aboard. Needless to say, the water was quite cold, but we successfully replaced the damaged sword with a new one and restored the system to operation, submerged and continued our transit back to New London.
Completing the special operation and refitting in New London, the ship started its transit from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. After a brief port call in Cape Canaveral, in July, and then Naval Station Balboa, during passage through the Panama Canal, the ship arrived in Pearl Harbor, home port for the next many years. Gunboat diplomacy was still a part of the political scene in Washington, and so SWORDFISH was tasked to head to the Western Pacific in order to demonstrate the significance of submarine nuclear power to President Garcia of the Philippines and President Chiang (Kai-Shek). SWORDFISH was the first nuclear submarine to enter WestPac waters.
SWORDFISH arrived off the port of Keelung on the northern tip of Taiwan (Formosa) in the early morning of March 8, 1960. The Commanding Officer, Commander Shannon D. Cramer, had organized the wardroom officers to ensure a smooth handling of the day’s visitors. I was assigned the tasks of surface 000 and tour officer when submerged; Carlisle Albert Herman (Carl) Trost, as Auxiliary Division Officer and Diving Officer, was assigned as submerged OOD; and the other officers, not on watch, were assigned as tour officers. We entered the harbor and moored alongside a wharf. On the wharf was a warehouse, the roof of which was lined with soldiers armed with machine guns and rifles. Similarly armed soldiers were placed a considerable distance up and down the wharf, presenting an impressive display of security. With appropriate pomp and circumstance we boarded Vice Admiral C.D. Griffin, the new Commander Seventh Fleet, and Generalissimo Chiang, along with the official party. The crew manned the rail, side-boys were in place and all were piped aboard. This was a special occasion as it was only the second time a head of State had embarked in a nuclear submarine-the first being when President Eisenhower rode SEA WOLF out of Newport.
Once the official party was aboard and below, I got the ship underway and proceeded to the diving position. Upon arriving, I turned the deck over to Carl Trost , secured the bridge and went below to assume my tour duties. Carl submerged the ship and I proceeded to tour General Peng Meng-Chi, Chinese Army, Chief of General Staff (the top military leader); Vice Admiral K.K. Liu, Chinese Navy, Naval advisor to the President, and Mr. Joseph Yagan, Deputy ChiefofMission, American Embassy, Taipei. The CO conducted the tour for Vice Admiral Griffin and President Chiang. After a 45 minute tour through the ship, during which I explained how we operated and the functions of all the equipment, we returned to the Attack Center where the President, and subsequently Vice Admiral Liu, took the bow planes as SWORDFISH performed its angles and dangles.
During the tour period other wardroom officers had been touring Major General S.K. Hu, Chinese Army, the President’s interpreter (and incidently a graduate of the University of Michi-gan), Vice Admiral Smoot, USN, Head of Taiwan Defense Forces, Major General C.C. Doan, USA, Chief of MAAG Taiwan, and several other ranking officers.
Upon completing all the touring and indoctrination, the senior visitors were escorted to the Wardroom and the ship prepared to surface and return to port. Carl Trost took the ship to periscope depth and ordered the diving officer to “surface without air.” The surfacing alarm was sounded and the ship angled to the surface. The lower bridge hatch was opened, I proceeded to the upper hatch, opened it and proceeded to the bridge with a lookout. The lookout and I put our binoculars to our eyes and proceeded to scan the horizon for contacts. It was then that a serious chain of events began to unfold as a result of a valve mispositioning on surfacing.
While scanning the horizon with my 7 x 50 binoculars, I suddenly noted that the horizon was elevating in my field of vision. I took the binoculars from my eyes and realized that the ship was submerging-the bow and forward deck were already completely under water. Immediately I dropped down to the upper hatch to attempt to close it, arriving there slightly behind the surface of the ocean. Fortunately the hero of the day, QM-1 S.J. (Stanley) Schmel had been on watch at the chart table at the rear of the attack center. He had sensed the abnormal down angle of the ship and ran forward to the bridge trunk. He slammed shut the lower hatch just as about 15 gallons of water came through the hatch. Fortunately most of the water was contained by the grating and drain sump, and very little made its way forward toward the wardroom-where Shannon Cramer was entertaining the distinguished guests.
When Carl Trost had ordered “surface without air,” a crucial error had been made. Rather than directing the discharge of the Low Pressure Blower to the ballast tanks, the valve was opened for overboard venting via the sail exhaust pipe. As a result, no air entered the ballast tanks and the ship assumed a surface configuration with only neutral buoyancy. As luck would have it, the slightest imbalance would send the ship back down to a submerged condition.
Fortunately the coordinated actions of all the watchstanders saved the day. Stanley Schmel had shut the lower hatch in time to keep all but a small amount of water out of the ship, I had shut the upper hatch in time to keep the bridge trunk from filling completely (but barely), and Carl and his diving party had reversed the angle on the ship with the planes, getting the ship back to the surface before the water reached my head and that of the lookout (but both of us were standing high in the sail). The discharge of the low pressure blower was shifted to the ballast tanks, positive buoyancy was achieved, the ship was placed in a surfaced condition, the bridge trunk was drained (eventually) and I relieved Carl as OOD and proceeded to conn the ship back toward Keelung harbor and make the landing.
Throughout this excitement Shannon Cramer and the distinguished visitors in the wardroom had been unaware of any abnormality. The discussions of submarine nuclear power had continued and as we approached Keelung Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek was invited to go to the bridge. He and Major General Hu came to the bridge for a brief time and enjoyed the view of a serene ocean-unaware that we had almost given them more of an indoctrination in submarine operations than they would have wanted.
In less than a year, SWORDFISH had steamed over 50,000 miles, of which over 90 percent was submerged. The crew had conducted the first of its many special operations and experienced several of its many unusual events. The book of Lessons Learned was filling rapidly, as was the record of significant accomplishments. Returning from our WestPac deployment and looking forward to some import time, we received a message advising our schedule had changed drastically. We were advised that we would be in Pearl Harbor for only four days before deploying to the southern Pacific on a special operation relating to the return of a Russian space flight. Shortly after returning from WestPac special operations, and again looking forward to inport time, USS SARGO suffered her oxygen explosion and SWORDFISH was tasked to take her assignment to WestPac. Lieutenant Dave Johnson kept tract of the at-sea time and as my memory serves me, SWORD-FISH was underway almost 300 days of that year. So went the early days of attack nuclear submarine operations.
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW
THE SUBMARINE REVIEW is a quarterly publication of the Naval Submarine League. It is a forum for discussion of submarine matters. Not only are the ideas of its members to be reflected in the REVIEW, but those of others as well, who are interested in submarines and submarining.
Articles for this publication will be accepted on any subject closely related to submarine matters. Their length should be a maximum of about 2500 words. The League prepares REVIEW copy for publication using Word Perfect. If possible to do so, accompanying a submission with a 3.5″ diskette is of significant assistance in that process. Editing of articles for clarity may be necessary, since important ideas should be readily understood by the readers of the REVIEW.
A stipend of up to $200.00 will be paid for each major article published. Articles accepted for publication in the REVIEW become the property of the Naval Submarine League. The views expressed by the authors are their own and are not to be construed to be those of the Naval Submarine League.
Comments on articles and brief discussion items are welcomed to make THE SUBMARINE REVIEW a dynamic reflection of the League’s interest in submarines.
Articles should be submitted to the Editor, SUBMARINE REVIEW, P.O. Boit 1146, Annandale, VA 22003.