Dick Brown is a Cold War submarine veteran, having served aboard USS BARBERO (SSG-317) and USS LAFAYETTE (SSBN-616) in the 1960s. He is a long-time NSL member and avid collector of submarine stamps. He resides in New Mexico where he spearheaded a statewide grassroots initiative to name the 6 1 h VA-class submarine USS NEW MEXICO (SSN-779).
Nations across the globe, whether land-locked or not, whether they have a navy or not, have issued postage stamps honoring submarines. In fact, the last eight decades have seen over I 00 nations launch nearly 500 submarine stamps, not just depicting naval submarines, but also deep-sea research vessels and even Jules Verne’s fictional NAUTILUS. And behind each one, there is a great story, including one dating back nearly I SO years.
The hand-cranked Confederate submarine CSS H. L. HUNLEY was the world’s first successful combat submarine. After sinking the Union warship USS HOUSA TONIC during the American Civil War, she vanished with the loss of all hands.
Armed with a spar torpedo, HUNLEY’s mission was to break the Union naval blockade of Charleston Harbor by sinking the three-masted sloop HOUSATONIC. It was February 17, 1864 as HUNLEY with her 8-man crew made her way in the dark toward her target. She managed to attach the explosive to the sloop’s hull and slip away before the explosion. As HOUSATONIC sunk, HUNLEY began her return to base. But she never arrived and was presumed lost.
For the next 13 decades, the submarine lay on the bottom, somewhere outside Charleston Harbor. In 1995, the crusty 40-foot hulk was discovered and in 2000, coincidentally as the U.S. Naval Submarine Service celebrated its centennial, HUNLEY was raised. She has since been undergoing archaeological study and restoration.
That first successful attack by a submerged submarine was just the beginning of undersea warfare. Submarines have been used in other civil wars, in two world wars and as deterrents in cold wars. And their stories have been told through commemorative postage stamps beginning in 1936 when Romania honored its DELFINUL or DOLPHIN submarine. That submarine would complete nine war patrols in the Black Sea against the Soviet Navy during WWII. Then in 1938, Spain issued six submarine stamps that were actually used as postage on submarine mail during the Spanish Civil War. Poland followed with two stamps, one in 1941 honoring ORP ORZEL, (ORP or Okr~t Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej meaning Ship of the Republic of Poland and Orzel meaning Eagle), which was lost the previous year during her seventh patrol in the North Sea, and one in 1943 showing a Polish aircraft attacking a German U-Boat.
Gennany also issued a submarine stamp in 1943 – showing one of its Type VII U-Boats, just like U-552 which torpedoed USS REUBEN JAMES (DD-245) on convoy escort duty in the North Atlantic, the first American warship lost during WWII.
The experimental French leviathan, SURCOUF, named after the 18th century French pirate, Robert Surcouf, also saw service as a convoy escort during WWII. This submarine was designed for long-range commerce-raiding, and fitted with a prison capable of holding 40 captives, twin 8-inch naval guns in a single watertight turret just forward of the conning tower, and an after hangar to house a floatplane for scouting potential victims and spotting targets for her main battery. At the outbreak of WWII, she was the largest, longest, heaviest submarine in the world.
With the fall of France in June 1940, and to avoid capture by the Nazis, SURCOUF escaped from Brest where she was being refitted. She sought refuge in Plymouth where she was seized by the Royal Navy. Then in early February 1941, she was transferred to Halifax, Nova Scotia from where she patrolled for U-Boats that terrorized Allied shipping. In May 1941, she was reassigned to Bermuda to patrol for U-Boats. Plagued with continuous mechanical failures and dismal performance, she was dispatched to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine for repairs. SURCOUF was turned over to Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Naval Forces and returned to Halifax. In December 1941, she took part in the capture of the islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon off the south coast of Newfoundland, an overseas territory of the Nazi- controlled regime of wartime France. She was then ordered to the Pacific. While transiting the Bennuda Triangle, she was lost on February 18, 1942 under mysterious circumstances; some say she collided with an American freighter, others say she was lost by friendly fire, yet others say she went rogue and was destroyed. Like many mysterious pirate ships, her wreck has never been found.
While SURCOUF never made it to the Pacific, the U.S. Naval Submarine Force was there in a ferocious fight with Japan. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, they missed our submarine base. But the attack resulted in significant losses to the Pacific Fleet and immediately put the U.S. Navy on the defensive. The only weapon system available to take the war to the enemy was our Submarine Service.
Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau have all honored American submarines as they were vital in recapturing various Pacific islands from the Japanese. For example, the Republic of Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) issued a stamp showing USS NAUTILUS (SS-168), with USS ARGONAUT (SS-166) in the background, both undersea troop carriers, landing 221 Marines of the 2nd Raider Battalion, known as Carlson’s Raiders, at Butaritari (Makin Island) in mid-August 1942.
Among the most extraordinary accomplishments of American submariners is the impressive victory of our WWII fleet boats over the Japanese Navy and Merchant Marine. Our Pacific submarine campaign gutted Japanese industrial and military strength. One example is USS TAUTOG (SS-199). During the attack on Pearl Harbor, while moored at pier 2, she shot down a Japanese fighter bomber. Known as the Terrible ‘T’, she sunk 26 enemy ships, the most of any WWII submarine, and won 14 battle stars.
Another example is the Gato-class submarine USS PADDLE (SS-263) which won eight battle stars in the Pacific. Stationed off Nauru, she provided continuous weather reporting for the carrier task force attacking the Gilberts and the Marshalls, including the marine landings at Tarawa in late November 1943.
Destruction of Japanese merchant marine and naval forces significantly reduced Japan’s ability to project power throughout the Pacific. Our use of the submarine enabled the Navy to take the offensive in Japanese controlled waters and inflict disproportion- ate losses relative to the U.S. investment in submarines.
By the numbers, 273 U.S. submarines patrolled against the enemy in WWII. Although they comprised less than 1.6% of the total U.S. Navy strength, they caused more than half (54.6%) of Japan’s losses at sea. However, for all of these sinkings, we paid dearly.
Our successes aside, the Submarine Service sustained the highest mortality rate of any branch of the U.S. Anned Services. One out of seven American submariners died- a total of 374 officers and 3, 131 enlisted men. And one out of five submarines was lost. Consequently, 3,505 sailors and 52 submarines remain on Eternal Patrol.
Of the 52 losses, two submarines, USS R-12 (SS-89), which sunk while diving in June 1943, and USS DORADO (SS-248), which mysteriously disappeared in October 1943, were lost in the Atlantic. USS S-26 (SS-131) was sunk when accidentally rammed by an American subchaser off Panama in January 1942-our first operational submarine loss of the war. Another operational loss occurred in July 1944 when USS S-28 (SS-133) disappeared during training exercises off Oahu.
The remaining 48 boats were lost due to enemy action in the Pacific. One was the Gato-class boat USS TULLIBEE (SS-284) when 79 sailors were lost on March 26, 1944, but not by enemy action. She was sunk by one of her own torpedoes running a circular course. One sailor, thrown from the bridge, was taken prisoner and later repatriated at the end of hostilities.
Submariners will remember the 1955 novel, Run Silent. Run Deep about a WWII submarine skipper obsessed with sinking a certain Japanese ship. In 1958 it was made into a movie starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster. The author was then-Commander Edward Beach who served on two of our best fighting submarines. One was the Gato-class USS TRIGGER (SS-237) which Beach immortalized in his first book Submarine! in 1952. The other was USS TIRANTE (SS-420) where he was Executive Officer under Commander George Street. For their gallant action in combat on their first war patrol, Street received the Congressional Medal of Honor and Beach the Navy Cross.
In early 1960, under the command of Capt. Beach, the twin- reactor radar picket submarine USS TRITON (SSRN-586) journeyed to the South Atlantic, around Cape Hom, across the Pacific and Indian oceans, around Cape of Good Hope and back into the Atlantic, all the while submerged, essentially retracing Ferdinand Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe. The New York Times described TRITON’s voyage as “a triumph of human prowess and engineering skill, a feat which the United States Navy can rank as one of its bright victories in man’s ultimate conquest of the seas.” From an operations standpoint, it demonstrated the great endurance of nuclear submarines. Both PALAU and ANTIGUA issued stamps to commemorate the historic underwater global circumnavigation.
In the past decade, a multitude of submarine stamps have surfaced; even two popular submarine movies have been featured on stamps. Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 German epic U-Boat movie Das Boot based on exploits of U-96, a Type VU-class U-Boat, was featured on a stamp issued by the Republic of Tatarstan, a federal subject of Russia. Equally popular, the 1990 thriller The Hunt (or Red October, based on Tom Clancy’s novel, starring Sean Connery as Marko Ramius, the defecting Russian captain of a typhoon-class missile submarine, was featured on a Guinea stamp.
There have been a number of stamps featuring submarines of friendly maritime nations participating in joint sea operations with our Navy. Such exercises show a unique spirit of cooperation among allied Submarine Forces while strengthening diplomatic relationships, fostering cooperation in keeping sea lanes open for global trade, and testing joint-force interoperability. For example, in San Diego in the Spring of 2009, the Peruvian Type 209 submarine BAP (Buque Armada Peruana) ARICA (SS-36) participated in anti-submarine warfare training operations as part of the U.S. Navy’s annual Diesel Electric Submarine Initiative (DESI) program. BAP ARICA, homeported at the Peruvian Navy’s Submarine Headquarters in Callao, just a few miles from Lima, is relatively small at 180 feet in length and with a crew complement of only 36. She was built in Kiel, Germany in the early 1970s and placed in service in 1975.
In partnering with South American navies to employ conventional submarines in support of fleet readiness events, the DESI program serves to enhance the ability of the Navy to counter the growing threat of very quiet diesel-electric submarines. In June 2011, USS TOPEKA (SSN-754) and the Brazilian submarine TIMBIRA (S-32) operated in Peruvian waters as part of celebrations marking the Peruvian Navy’s Submarine Centennial. During a port call in Lima, the crew of TOPEKA participated in a parade as a salute to Peru’s 1OOth submarine anniversary. There is a long-lasting friendship and partnership between the submariners of Peru and the United States as they represent the two largest and oldest submarine fleets in the Western Hemisphere .
Peru’s submarine story goes back to 1864, the same year that HUNLEY sank HOUSATONIC, when the country was at war with Spain. A submarine was being designed for the Peruvian Navy but the war ended before it could be built. However, that is not the end of the story. When Chile declared war on Peru in l 879 and waged the Battle of Arica, Peru had secretly resumed work on an improved submarine design. The result was the 48-foot submarine TORO, built from a riveted iron boiler. Manually propelled by eight men, just like HUNLEY, she could reach a speed of four knots and a depth of 72 feet. In July 1880, Peru planned to torpedo one of Chile’s ironclads blockading the Arica stronghold. Unfortunately, news of their secret weapon leaked out and Chile moved her battleships out of range. By early 1881, with Chilean land forces surging north, Peru scuttled her ships, including TORO, to avoid capture. When new national boundaries were drawn, Arica was ceded to Chile.
Chile has always needed a strong Navy to protect her long coastline and submarines have been a part of her naval force since 1917. Currently, Chile has four diesel-electric submarines, two Type 209, CS THOMSON (SS-20) and CS SIMPSON (SS-21) and two AIP Scorpene-class, CS CARRERA (SS-22) and CS O’HIGGINS (SS-23). In October 2010, as part of DESI, THOMSON bottomed herself off San Diego at a depth of 450 feet to simulate a submarine in distress during rescue exercises.
Early this year, in the spirit of international cooperation, the Royal Navy’s HMS ASTUTE (SSN-20) went head-to-head with USS NEW MEXICO (SSN-779) in Friendship 2012. On board these two extremely high-tech nuclear submarines were the Chief of Naval Operations, ADM Jonathan Greenert, and First Sea Lord, ADM Mark Stanhope, both top naval officers and submariners in their respective navies. For the eight torpedo exercises, ASTUTE scored two hits, NEW MEXICO five hits and one miss.
Great Britain celebrated the Royal Navy’s submarine centennial in 2001 with the issuance of two 4-stamp mini-sheets in a souvenir booklet. Russia issued eight submarine souvenir sheets in 2005 and 2006 for her centennial. But before that, on March 27, 2000 in Groton, Connecticut, the U.S. Postal Service made history by issuing its first-ever prestige booklet containing two 5-stamp souvenir sheets in celebration of our own submarine centennial.
In recent years, souvenir mini-sheets, containing one or more postage stamps, have become extremely popular and serve as a revenue stream for small nations. Many countries have figured out a way to serve the philatelists of the world while creating some income, including 40 countries, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean, that have made submarine souvenir mini-sheets part of their export trade. Burundi, Brutan, Djibouti, Ginnea-Bissau, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, North Korea, Serbia, Somalia, Togo, Uganda and Zambia are among many who have issued such collectibles.
While most U.S. Navy submarines are depicted on mini- sheets, many have surfaced on individual postage stamps. To date, in the submarine stamp world, our Silent Service is represented by ALBUQUERQUE (SSN-706), ARGONAUT (SS- 166}, BOWFIN (SS-287), CHEYENNE (SSN-773), DANIEL BOONE (SSBN-629}, GATO (SS-212), HAWAII (SSN-776), HOLLAND (SS-1), HUNLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON (SSBN-598), JALLAO (SS-368), LOS ANGELES (SSN-688), NAUTILUS (SS-168), NAUTILUS (SSN-571), OHIO (SSBN- 726), PIKE (SS-6), PLUNGER (SS-2), PORPOISE (SS-7), PROVIDENCE (SSN-719), S-44 (SS-155), SAILFISH (SS-192), SALT LAKE CITY (SSN-716), SHARK (SS-8), SKIP JACK (SSN-585), TANG (SS-306), TEXAS (SSN-775), TRITON (SSN- 586), TULLIBEE (SS-284), VIRGINIA (SSN-774) and WYOMING (SSBN-742).
With so many nations launching submarine stamps, the collective global fleet continues to grow. Such commemoratives serve as great tributes to submarine navies worldwide and the undersea warriors who take their submarines to sea. What a great way to honor submarines, past and present.