According to old time submarine sailors they used to be referred to as sewer pipe sailors by the surface Navy types, allegedly because of the odor in the boats. That odor came from diesel oil, lubricating oil, sweat and unwashed bodies. At sea most diesel submarines only opened the showers once a week since they carried so little fresh water and were leery about wasting it. Every bit of fresh water had to be distilled from sea water and that took juice from the battery, limiting the submarine speed and submerged endurance. The distillers also made noise and thus the commanding officer frequently wanted to minimize their use while operating submerged on the battery lest tell-tale noises reveal the submarine’s position to an opposing force. That era ended with the advent of nuclear power and the ability to generate almost unlimited amounts of fresh water. But during the 1950s when there were very few SSNs in commission it was still possible to find a sewer-pipe sailor.
It was late 1956 just before the November Suez Crisis that took USS CAIMAN (SS 323) on an unplanned excursion to Westpac (along with many other ships and submarines). We were up in the shipyard at Hunter’s Point for battery replacement. I was the engineer officer. Late one night the duty officer on CAIMAN got a telephone call from another submarine moored nearby. Their topside watch had spotted a sailor in uniform coming down the pier seemingly under the influence of intoxicating beverages- from his wobbling pace and meandering from side to side. Their topside watch saw the man stop, pull up a manhole cover and disappear down the hole. He didn’t recognize him as one of their sailors so decided to alert CAIMAN.
The duty chief and another man from CAIMAN duty section went up the pier, came to the still open hole and found one of our enginemen, a first class petty officer as I recall, at the bottom of the ladder, sound asleep with his head pillowed on his neatly folded blue blouse. They roused him and took him back to the CAIMAN after battery compartment and put him in his bunk.
Word got around the boat rapidly and it was a long time before he lived down the humorous charge that he couldn’t distinguish the after battery compartment ofCAIMAN from a sewer