Mr. Bob Hamilton is a journalist who is a frequent contributor to THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. He has long reported on defense issues and currently writes on submarine-related subjects for The New London Dav.
Lieutenant John Adkisson of Wylie, Texas, was thrilled to report to USS SUNFISH (SSN 649), in time to make its 1000th dive in January 1996. One thousand dives is a mile-stone that most nuclear attack boats never reach. But at 5:39 p.m. on December 4, 2003, at an undisclosed location on the equator, he did it again.
“I would like to announce that USS PHILADELPHIA has just made her l ,0001h dive, Adkisson, who was serving as officer of the deck for PHILADELPHIA’s l,0001h dive, said over the IMC as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. “Very few boats in the Submarine Force have completed this task, and the PHILADELPHIA is the first 688-class submarine to reach this milestone, and probably the only one to have dived directly on the equator. As ship’s diving officer, I’m very proud of everyone’s participation on the PHILADELPHIA ‘s 1OOOth dive. Carry on.
And so PHILADELPHIA became the first Los Angeles-class submarine, and one of only a handful of nuclear submarines, ever to make 1,000 dives.
“If anyone in the future ever asks me what one of the most memorable moments in my life was, I can proudly say “I was driving the submarine USS PHILADELPHIA when she made history by diving into the depths of the ocean for the 1OO0th time, said Yeoman Seaman Aaron D. Phelps, who was controlling the diving planes at the time. “This is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life, and that I may never get to see again for the rest of my career.
Phelps and other crewmen on PHILADELPHIA were inter-viewed via email for this story because PHILADELPHIA remained on deployment for about six weeks after the momentous event.
Commander Steven M. Oxholm, captain of PHILADELPHIA, said the l ,0001h dive “is exciting because it is such a significant milestone not only in the ship’s life, but also in the Submarine Force heritage … The ability of a submarine to withstand the demands of 1,000 dives is a tribute to the excellent design, exacting construction and careful maintenance inherent in the Submarine Force.
“In USS PHILADELPHIA ‘s 26 years of commissioned service, approximately 1,000 men have dedicated their lives to her mission as part of the ship’s crew. The magnitude of this selfless dedication is daunting, Oxholm said. “Today’s l,0001h dive is a tribute to all those who sail on her today and have sailed on her in the past. I am personally humbled to be part of this historic event.
Three of the crewmen were also on board USS SUNFISH (SSN 649), a Sturgeon-class submarine, when it reached the 1,000-dive milestone in January 1996-Lieutenant Adkisson; Chief Electronics Technician Larry Sabotta; and Electronics Technician 1” Class Michael S. Conn.
“It was different on SUNFISH, Conn said. “It really didn’t click in my mind with the significance of the moment. It was just another underway. PHILADELPHIA was different. Seeing the excitement in the junior guys’ eyes, it had an effect on me I really did not expect. This really is something special and meaningful that we do.
Conn recalled the orders being passed over the I MC: “‘All stations Con, going deep. Dive, submerge the ship to one-five-zero feet.’ This is something that you hear on a regular basis as a submariner. You don’t really think about it much, other than it’s the beginning of another chapter in your life under the sea. Until you realize it’s the 1,000’h time that this modem marvel of engineering and teamwork we call a submarine has done it.
“That’s saying a lot, (because) out of all the submarines that have been in our fleet, only four have dived for the depths that many times, Conn said.
Among those in the “done 1,000 dives club were USS NAUTILUS, USS TREPANG and SUNFISH of the Sturgeon class, and USS FLASHER of the Permit class. Crewmen were particularly pleased PHILADELPHIA, one of the oldest boats in the undersea fleet, has proved its continued worth as the first Los Angeles-class boat to make it over the bar.
“USS PHILADELPHIA has demonstrated that there are no bounds for man and machine when she plunged into the depths performing her 1OOO’h dive, wrote Senior Chief Sonar Technician Robert J. Grismer. “The quest for man has always been to make a difference in the world we live in and PHILADELPHIA has done just that. She first plunged into the depths during the fierce Cold War battle between the United States and the USSR. She mastered her environment through the use of the latest technology, HY-80 steel and the sweat and blood of hundreds of crew members who served aboard her. Slicing through the cold Atlantic waters to bear her weapons and technology where needed, she made the difference that maintained peace in the world. She saw the end of the Cold War from the front lines, serving as the force behind our victory, and she fights on today in the war against terrorism … I am proud to be on board, helping to make a difference in the world, as we take her down for the 1,000 th time.
Most of the sailors said it would be easy to become preoccupied with the numbers and lose track of the technological achievement that 1,000 dives represents.
“I have done quite a few dives in my 12 years, said Senior Chief Machinist Mate W. Michael Marion, the engineering department master chief on PHILADELPHIA. “Something so complex yet because of our training it seems routine. Yet there is nothing routine about it. I could not believe the Philly was actually going to make her 1OOOth dive. Who would have thought that a submarine whose keel was laid 30 years ago would still be on the front lines going strong? Certainly a testament to her builders and the men who maintained her all these years.
The Navy can only say that PHILADELPHIA was “conducting an important operation when the 1OOOth dive was performed, but could disclose that it took place December 4 at 5:39 p.m. local time, directly on the equator.
The weather was sunny and 85 degrees, what Lieutenant Matthew Valle of Alpharetta, GA., the off-going officer of the deck, called “a perfect day to conduct the 1OOOth dive.
“A sense of anxiety spread across the crew in the days leading up to the dive, according to one email from the submarine. “Certain crewmembers were less excited than others. However, when the day finally came, the l ,0001h dive was the (topic of) everyone’s conversation.
“Crewmembers were spread throughout the control room and some overflowed into the command passageway, the email said.
“This is a true Philly dive, quipped one crewman.
As the submarine dove, crewmembers not on duty retired to the mess hall for a dinner of barbeque ribs, seasoned potatoes and chocolate cake.
USS LOS ANGELES (SSN688), the first of the class, was built at Newport News (Va.) Shipbuilding, commissioned in November 1976, and made its first deployment, to the Mediterranean, in 1977. Seven months after LOS ANGELES commissioning, on June 25, 1977, Electric Boat built USS PHILADELPHIA and Newport News built USS BA TON ROUGE (SSN689), were commissioned simultaneously.
LOS ANGELES still operates out of Pearl Harbor, but because of the vagaries of mission requirements was still dozens of dives short of the 1,000 mark as PHILADELPHIA closed in on four figures. BATON ROUGE collided with a Soviet Sierra.class submarine, the Barracuda, while on patrol in the Barents Sea in 1994, and was taken out of service less than a year later. The cost to repair and refuel BA TON ROUGE proved too great in an era when the Navy was downsizing the SSN fleet.
So PHILADELPHIA, though tied for second in the LOS ANGLES class in terms of length of its life, nevertheless made it first to the 1OOO-dive mark. Nuclear submarines, which make their own air and water, can submerge for as long as the food holds out, so they tend not to dive as much as the old diesel submarines that surfaced frequently to run their diesel engines and charge their batteries.
Some diesel submarines, in fact, made as many as 10,000 dives-the Groton-based USS SPIKEFISH, which was formerly a school boat that brought students out into Long Island Sound and made several dives each day, became the first to reach that milestone in 1960. And Robert F. Marble, a retired Senior Chief Torpedoman living in Port Charlotte, Fla., said USS PIPER (SS 409), has claim to the title “the divingest boat ever, with 13, 724 to its credit.
“We’ve even had a patch made with that number on it, 13,724, Marble said. “We’re pretty proud of it.
Marble said PIPER, too, was a school boat in Groton, often make 24 dives in a single day as it cycled Basic Enlisted Submarine School students through the various stations.
“That’s how you rack up that many dive numbers, you play yo-yo all day long, giving everyone a shot at the helm and all the other stations, so they can find out what submarining is all about, Marble said. He added with a laugh that modern submarine school students today don’t need school boats, “because they’ve got more brains than we had and they learn it faster.
Commander Emil C. Casciano, deputy Commander of Submarine Squadron Two, which includes PHILADELPHIA, said Los Angeles-class submarines are certified to operate for 33 years, and the hull is inspected periodically to make sure it is structurally sound anyway.
Casciano commanded PHILADELPHIA before Oxholm, and did more than 150 dives during his time at the helm. PHILADELPHIA left port more than six months ago with 973 dives to its credit, and was at 988 by mid-September. On December 4, it hit the 1,000 mark.
There was considerable thought given to who would be on the ship control party that conducted the historic dive.
Oxholm said Senior Chief Machinist Mate Thomas E. Wright of Sandpoint, Idaho, the longest-serving member of the PHILADEL-PHIA crew, was named diving officer of the watch, and Adkisson was officer of the deck in recognition of his participation in the SUNFISH record-setting dive.
Three volunteers were picked: Phelps, of Newalla, Ok.; Electronics Technician 3rd Class David A. Fritz of Groton at helm control; and Machinist Mate l 11 Class Harry M. Allison of Ashville, N.C., as chief of the watch.
Senior Chief Storekeeper Nicholas E. Parham II of Seabrook, N.H., was picked as “phonetalker, who coordinates communications during the dive, because he had served on PHILADELPHIA previously as leading storekeeper.
Rounding out the ship control party were Wright, Adkisson, Lieutenant JG Christopher G. Raymond of Londonderry, N.H., as junior officer of the deck, and Electronics Technician 1st Class James G. Campbell of Boise, Idaho, as quartermaster of the watch.
The PHILADELPHIA Recreation Committee is working on several different items to commemorate the dive, the first being a T-shirt of a design that will be put to a vote by crewmen.
Master Chief Electronics Technician Patrick D. Agnew reported to PHILADELPHIA last August, for his first tour as a Chief of the Boat and his first operations with a drydeck shelter (an enclosure that allows Special Forces to exit the submarine without fully surfacing). Now he can add being on the first Los Angeles-class submarine to reach the 1,000-dive mark.
“I have never experienced so many firsts in such a short time aboard a submarine, said Agnew, a 23-year veteran of undersea warfare. “This 27-year-old submarine and its crew is one of the best that I have ever served with.