In the early days of the SSBN Polaris Patrols each crew was assigned a medical officer. They were good shipmates and provided some interesting interactions with the crew. The medical community required the assigned medical officers to complete a project during their time aboard. During the 16th patrol of USS ROBERT E. LEE (SSBN 601) (Gold) the medical officer embarked on a project to investigate a reported problem that wounds were slow to heal in a closed submarine environment.
The project involved the use of white rats. About 30 rats were procured. Fifteen were quartered on the tender, moored in Holy Loch, Scotland, in an open air environment during refit. The other fifteen were to be aboard during the patrol. Both groups participated in an identically controlled experiment. (The first in the open air environment on the tender and the second in the submerged environment of the submarine during patrol). Each regimen included the following protocol. After about 10 days each rat was put to sleep, an incision was made on the stomach, and the wound was sutured. After about two to three weeks each rat was euthanized and the scar tissue was excised and tested for strength.
This was done by attaching a small container to the scar tissue and measuring the amount of milliliters of water poured in resulting in the rupture of the tissue. The two results were then to be compared to evaluate the reported problem. When the ship got underway the rats were quartered in cages in the missile compartment. Our Captain made it absolutely clear to the medical officer that he was responsible to assure the rats were properly secured.
The rats got a lot of attention from the crew. Each was appropriately named and there was much concern voiced about their future. To the amazement and sport of the crew the rats got particularly annoyed and angered when a crew member stood in front of the cage and opened the velcro on their submarine coveralls making a ripping noise. Unfortunately this was done a lot and resulted with the rats becoming agitated, snarling, and
charging the cages. While the medical officer did his best to retain
order, his control was brought under question during one battle
stations drill. Over the 1 MC was heard “Doctor to the missile
compartment. Rats are loose.” Fortunately he did manage to
capture the errant rats. The retrieval of all the rats was of vital
The ship was to return to the continental US after the patrol for overhaul and the Captain had to certify that no rats were aboard. A Deratting Certificate was required to be submitted to the quarantine inspecting officer on arrival. This also required that each carcass was accounted for after the test and fully documented. As we were good nukes a procedure using a two man verification and sign off at the trash disposal unit was put in place when each rat carcass was returned to the deep. The results of the test, although performed under the most stringent circumstances, was not conclusive in determining the fact that wounds healed more slowly in the enclosed environment of a submarine.