First of all, a disclaimer. I was a department head aboard USS BARBERO (SSG 317) in 1961and1962 when CAPT. McDonald was the Commanding Officer, and we made one deterrent patrol as shipmates in late 1961. That said we have had little subsequent contact except annual Christmas cards since 1962. Recently CAPT. McDonald contacted me by email to ask me to write a book review for THE SUBMARINE REVIEW. My name had been furnished to him by VADM James Sagerlwlm, USN(Ret) who penned the Introduction to CAPT. McDonald’s book.
THE SCORPION STORY is a thought provoking analysis of a tragedy that should not have happened. CAPT McDonald lays out a scenario of events that are highly possible and even probable that led to SCORPION’s loss.
SCORPION went missing on 27 May 1968. She was due to arrive at her berth in Norfolk at about 1300. The Squadron Commander and staff and her Division Commander, and dependents were all at pier side waiting. At the appointed time she was not in sight. As time passed messengers were sent to ComSubLant headquarters to query her by radio. Nothing heard, over. The Squadron Commander finally advised the waiting wives that there had been a delay for unknown reasons and he would use the telephone calling tree to notify them as soon as word about her arrival time became available. At ComSubLant headquarters, after repeated attempts to contact SCORPION by radio had failed, V ADM Schade declared SUBMISS at 1515. That set in motion a detailed series of procedures to locate the submarine. Later SUBSUNK was declared. The search now was for the SCOR-SCORPION’s wreckage. It was not found until October of that year.
I joined the Submarine Warfare Division of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OP-31) in January 1969. From my predecessor, CDR Paul Barnes, I inherited a number of bulging file folders connected with the loss of SCORPION, and including many letters from concerned citizens who proposed means of finding lost SCORPION. They ranged from idiotic to thoughtful. Later that year the question of a memorial service at Norfolk to mark the first anniversary of the loss came up. I had occasion to contact a number of close relatives of the lost crew to obtain their opinions. They ranged from thankful to bitter.
CAPT McDonald was in a unique position in the Pentagon to monitor the search for SCORPION, as Special Assistant for Submarines to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research and Development. That gentleman was placed in charge of the overall search effort. CAPT McDonald details the immense effort, both physical and mental, in determining a probable location for the lost submarine, and in October 1968, finally finding her wreckage resting in some 11, l 00 feet of water.
However his most thoughtful, and thought provoking analysis details the possible causes of the loss of SCORPION based upon all the evidence, both that was recovered from the scene and that which remains somewhat obscure even to this day. It has nothing to do with Soviet actions, but rather rests with probable U.S. Navy bureaucratic obfuscation of a dangerous situation that came to light just before SCORPION deployed in mid-February 1968.
Three days before SCORPION sailed, at the Naval Torpedo Station at Keyport, Washington, a Mark 46 Mod 0 torpedo battery for Mk 37 antisubmarine torpedoes blew up while being vibration tested. On 14 February 1968 the Torpedo Station sent an official letter to Naval Ordnance Systems Command relating the incident. SCORPION sailed on 15 February with a torpedo load that included four MK 37 Mod 0 and ten MK 37 Mod 1 warshot torpedoes.
CAPT McDonald references Blind Man’s Bluff. by Sherry Sontag and Christopher Drew, in stating that an order later went out to destroy all copies of the Naval Torpedo Station letter. Dr. ohn Craven, who was a major player in the search for SCOR-PION, was later contacted by Charles Thome, who had been at Keyport at the time of the battery explosion. Thome had been unaware that the group looking for Scorpion and later trying to determine the cause of her loss, had not been advised of the battery problem. Craven had long been convinced that an internal explosion had taken place in SCORPION’s torpedo room. Thome’s revelations about a torpedo battery problem confirmed Craven’s suspicions.
One nitpick. McDonald refers to the Mk 45 torpedo as being close to operational readiness in the fall of 1967. I deployed to Westpac as XO, USS PICKEREL (SS-524) in January 1963. We carried two MK 45 war shot torpedoes.
The book is a very interesting read. Those wishing to purchase a copy can do so by sending a check for $ 24.95 to C.A.K. McDonald, PO Box 3331, Bellevue, WA 98008-3331.
USS ETHAN ALLEN (SSBN/SSN608)
POC Herb Richardson
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USS L. Y. SPEAR (AS-36)
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