‘ Submarine History ’ Archive

Swimmer Delivery Vehicles

You don’t have to walk through the doors of the Submarine Force Museum to begin your experience. Outside you are met with several large artifacts that allow the visitor to quickly jump right into Submarine and Naval history. For instance, outside of its doors, hung towards the sky are the hull rings of the Holland and Ohio class submarines. These give the visitor a taste of how far submarine development has come from 1900 to now. A recent addition is the NR-1 whose bright orange paint can’t be missed. But alongside these large representations of submarine history is a smaller vehicle. It can be passed right over due to its size but plays a key role in military missions, many of which are still kept top secret today. The Swimmer Delivery Vehicle or SDV is used on clandestine operations by a group that is shrouded in mystery just as much as the Silent Service.

SDV in front of Submarine Force Museum.
Picture Credit: Erica Ciallela

Looking inside the SDV from above. at the Submarine Force Museum.
Photo Credit: Erica Ciallela

The U.S Navy Seals are a volunteer unit, just like the Submarine Force. Part of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Special Warfare Command, the number of Seals is small when compared with other forces. Officially established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, Seals stands for Sea, Air and Land, the fronts that any seal member must be prepared for on any given mission. Today’s SEALS find their heritage dates back to five groups that played large roles in World War II and the Korean War. These groups were the Army Scouts and Navy Raiders; Naval Combat Demolition Units, Office of Strategic Services Operational Swimmers, Navy Underwater Demolition Teams, and the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons. These groups were used in missions that included reconnaissance, explosive destruction of underwater obstacles, and marking mines for minesweepers. During their time, they made advancements in closed-circuit diving, underwater demolitions, and mini-submarine operations. While established by Kennedy, the modern SEALSs come from a long evolutionary line of forces that shaped the group to its current state. Today’s SEAL teams spend much of their time getting as close to the enemy as possible without being detected. This calls for special equipment that not just any team can have. Enter the SDV. Today’s submarines are large enough to cover entire football fields. And while they are extremely quiet and are great at remaining hidden, there are just some jobs that require a much smaller vehicle. The SDV allows Navy SEALs to exit a submarine and get up close to an enemy.
According to the Navy SEAL Museum, the purpose and need for SDV’s was explained in a 1952 report titled “Underwater Swimmers.” It stated that “Whenever it is necessary to operate near an enemy-held shore in as complete secrecy as possible, the approach to the object must be made under water. The first part of the approach can be made in a fleet-type submarine, but these 1500-ton vessels cannot operate submerged in water shallower than 60 feet, and depths less than 150 feet are considered hazardous. The final submerged approach must be made by swimming or in a small submersible. On many coasts throughout the world, depths less than 60 feet extend out several miles from shore. In these areas even, men equipped with SCUBA would not have enough breathing gas to swim the distance and return. Moreover, they would be seriously fatigued when they reached their objective after their swim of several hours. To supplement their swimming, they must have a small, powered submersible.” The SDV is a manned submersible that allows Navy SEALS to execute their missions. The submersibles are free-flooding which means that the unit is filled with water during the whole mission. Team members breathe compressed air from an internal life-support system or from Scuba equipment. The predecessor to the SDV was developed by the British during World War II. This original design, while used in training and exercise, never saw combat. It could only carry one crew member and its military potential was minimal. However, a similar concept would be used to help create the design for today’s SDV’s. Out of the approximately 2600 active-duty SEALs, only around 230 are qualified to operate or serve on SDV missions. Besides being filled with water, the vessels have no windows. Navigation is done through sonar. Having to work in tight conditions and extremely cold temperatures, only a few SEALs are qualified to handle these circumstances.
Officially commissioned in 1983, the first modern SDV was the MK 7. There were six different models of this type, each one changing and adapting as new upgrades were found. This first design could carry a pilot and three additional crew members. The instruments and battery compartments were kept in water-tight compartments that were pressure-proofed to deal with variable depths. The early models were operated with an electric motor, powered by a rechargeable silver-zinc battery. The first model began experimental service in 1967 and had its first mission in 1972.

A Mk VIII Mod 1 minisub operated by members of a SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team maneuvers into a dry dock shelter fitted to USS KAMEHAMEHA (SSN-642), a U.S. Navy submarine.
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle

Following the MK7, the MK8 and MK 9 made electrical improvements but since the beginning, the design has mainly stayed the same. Today’s SDV’s run on lithium-ion batteries and utilize state-of-the-art navigation systems. Newer models carry a crew of six. The SDV is a clear example of how each unit within the military depends on each other to accomplish its missions. We may joke about being surface or submariner or Army or Navy, but each branch plays a vital role and are intertwined, just like the SDV and the submarine.

SEAL divers from SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two (SDVT-2) getting ready to launch a Mk VIII Mod 1 SDV minisub from the back of Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Philadelphia (SSN 690).
image sourced from public domain | U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle

the X-Craft and D-Day

Last week marked the 74th anniversary of Operation Overlord. Also known as D-Day, Codenamed Operation Overlord saw 156,000 American, British, and Canadian forces land on the northern beaches of France. The invasion, which began on June 6, 1944 and lasted until late August, saw the liberation of Northern France. The landing at Normandy has come to mark the “beginning of the end” of the war in Europe. Many facts about the fateful day are widely known. The Higgins landing craft has become synonymous with the invasion as the boat that won the war. But first-hand reports from the day recount so many different boats waiting to take the beaches. However, one type of vessel that is often forgotten from the narrative is the British midget submarines that played a key role in the landing efforts.

Figure 1 Credit: Imperial War Museum

Preparation for D-day had been extensive. Operation Neptune, the codename for cross-channel portion of the invasion, was pushed back 24 hours due to bad weather. But by June 6th, paratroopers and glider troopers were already in position behind enemy lines. U.S. Forces would go in at Utah and Omaha Beach. The British and Canadian forces were to capture Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. Under Neptune was Operation Gambit, the use of two X -class British submarines that would mark the ends of the British and Canadian invasion beaches. The X-craft submarines were built at a secret submarine training base at Lock Erisort on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. By 1943, the Royal Navy had developed a 52-foot midget submarine they called X-craft. The submarine could carry a four-man crew and remain at sea for days. She could dive up to 300 feet. Due to her small size, the X-craft had only one access hatch and a small periscope that was mostly unreliable. Navigation was done through a Browns A Gyro Compass and Auto Helmsman. The X-craft could either be towed by a conventional submarine or launched from the deck of a submarine to reach its intended target. Two 3,570-lb mines were attached to its sides. A hand crank could release them when they were positioned below the hull of an enemy ship. The small crew consisted of one commanding officer, a first lieutenant, an engineer, and a diver.


Figure 2 Figure 3 Inside an X-craft submarine http://ww2today.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/x-craft-interior.jpg

In the months leading up to Operation Overlord, it was up to the x-20 to gain as much recognizance as possible to prepare for the mission. During the day the submarine would monitor the beaches using its periscope and at night divers would swim to shore. Echo sounding measurements were taken to find distance and landing positions. Over two nights, the divers surveyed the beaches at Vierville, Moulins, St. Laurent and Colleville- the beaches that made up “Omaha” beach. Plans were to have the divers make a third trip. However, bad weather and lack of food forced the commander to return to the HMS Dolphin where she would be towed to Scotland. Two X-class submarines would return to the beaches of Normandy leading up to the invasion to help aid in what would become the eventual downfall of the German troops. HMS X-23 and HMS X-20 would be the first vessels off the shores of Normandy leading up to the attack. Arriving on June 4, the X-crafts fixed their positions and waited for nightfall to surface to begin their mission. It wasn’t until they surfaced that they received the message that the operation had been postponed due to bad weather. According to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, “On 6 June at 0445 the submarines surfaced in rough seas. They set up the 18 feet high navigation beacons that each were carrying and switched them on. These shone a green light indicating their position away from the coast, visible up to 5 miles away although undetectable to anyone on land. They used the radio beacon and echo sounder to tap out a message for the minelayers approaching Sword and Juno beaches. The incoming fleet appeared on time and roared past them.” Sailing out of Hayling Island in Hampshire, the two submarines were nervous hearing that the mission had been delayed. The conditions inside were cramped and there was not even enough room to stand. There was fear that their oxygen levels wouldn’t last them another day. The men survived on rations of tea and baked beans as they waited for word. The crew would sleep in four-hour rotations in the battery compartment. Each evening they would surface to receive the secret code worded message on the BBC broadcast that would tell them when it was time. At the darkest of night, they would surface so the men could walk on the deck to get some air. Leading up to June 6th, the crews watched the German troops play football on the shore through the periscope. And then the message came to be ready to surface at 4am on June 6th.
Operation Gambit was a success, the British and Canadian forces were able to land on their respective shores without falling off course or hitting any rocks, thanks to the beacons from the X-crafts. In 2011, the small crews of X-23 and X-20 were honored with a granite memorial donated by Prince Charles on Hayling Island, Hampshire. Today, only one X-craft vessel remains- the X-24 which can be seen at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum. While the X-20 and X-23, served only a minor role in the D-Day invasion, it shows the vital role a submarine can play in a nation’s arsenal.

Figure 4 X-24

PT Boats

When it comes to U.S. Navy boats, you often think of aircraft carriers and destroyers. Here in Groton we automatically bring up the large list of Submarines. But throughout the Navy’s long and proud history, there have been an array of different types of vessels used to help support war efforts. One such type of boat are the PT boats of WWII. Nicknamed “Devil Boats” by the Japanese, these small torpedo boats helped the U.S. Navy in its war in the Pacific.

In 1938, the U.S. Navy realized its need for a mobile attack boat. PT’s or Patrol Torpedo Boats were small, fast vessels that could be used for scouting. They were armed with torpedoes and machine guns to cut off enemy tankers and transports. Their effectiveness at targeting Japanese armored barges that were used for inter-island transport gave them the “Devil Boat” nickname. During the war, there were forty-three squadrons with 12 boats each. The work was dangerous, and the squadrons suffered a high loss rate during the war. On board each boat were four Mark 8 torpedoes. Two M2 .50cal machine guns were mounted for anti-aircraft defense. Throughout the war, Elco (Elco Moto Yachts) in Bayonne, New Jersey and Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana would become the dominant builders of the PT boat.


The Elco boat was 80 feet long and the Higgins came in slightly smaller at 78 feet long.   Elco’s design was based off a purchase of a Scott-Paine motor torpedo boat. They shipped the boat to Electric Boat in Groton and began working with the prototype that would be dubbed PT-9. Over two years the PT-9 would go through numerous sea trials in order to improve the design, eventually meeting Navy standards. To keep up with the production demand, Elco would employ more than 3,000 men and women during the height of the war. The Elco company would build 399 PT boats and Higgins Industries would end up producing 199 PT boats by war’s end. Andrew Jackson Higgins is said to be the man who built the boat that won the war. The famous Higgins Boats were used during the storming of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The use of his LCVP’s (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel) are what allowed the allied troops direct access to the beach on D-Day. But before this, Higgins’ PT boats were used against the Japanese in the Battle of Aleutian Islands and in the Mediterranean against the Nazis. For most of the war, PT boats would provide fire support for landing troops and carry out rescue missions.

Today very few PT boats survive. Most were destroyed shortly after the war’s end. Stories about their missions and crews can be hard to find. One of the best-known PT boats was the PT-109, skippered by the late President John F. Kennedy. According to NPS.org,”PT-109 was operating in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific and joined 14 other PT boats for a nighttime ambush of 4 enemy destroyers and supply ships of Japan’s “Tokyo express”.   Most of the PT boat attack force fired their compliment of torpedoes and headed for home, but three boats stayed behind including the 109.  In the confusion and darkness at sea, Lieutenant Kennedy noted a vague shape approaching him.  He assumed it was a sister PT boat, but soon discovered it was a Japanese destroyer.   Kennedy attempted to swing his boat into position to fire a torpedo, but was not fast enough.  The much larger destroyer hit the 109 broadside at full speed nearly splitting the much smaller wooden boat in half.   Kennedy and the survivors swam nearly 3 miles to a small island.   After a week of surviving on small islands with the help of natives, Kennedy and the 109’s surviving crew were rescued by PT-157.”[1]

While stories about PT boats are less common than larger vessels, the number of physical PT boats around today are even fewer. The PT-658 which was built but never saw action is housed in Portland, Oregon at the P-658 Heritage Museum.  She was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

PT-658 Heritage Museum located at the Swan Island Industrial Park in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office/National Park Service

She is fully functional and up until recently was the only restored and operational US Navy PT boat.  At the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, you can take a ride on the PT-305, a Higgins PT boat that has been fully restored after being in dry dock in Texas for a number of years.

The December 8, 1944, commissioning photograph of PT-305’s first crew. Top row: Leonard Martyr, James Nerison, Benedict Bronder, Joseph Cirlot, Percy Wallace, William Minnick, William Borsdorff. Second Row: George Miles, Frank Crane, Donald Weamer, Fernando Ferrini. Bottom: William Schoonover. Gift of Mitchell Cirlo https://pt305.org/history/

The PT-305 served in European waters from 1944 to 1945. According to the National WWII Museum website the “PT-305, along with PT-302 through PT-313, was assigned to Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 22 (Ron 22). Ron 22 was commissioned on November 10, 1943 under the command of LCDR Richard J. Dressling and was assigned to the Mediterranean. MTB RON 22 operated in the Mediterranean along the coast of Southern France and Northern Italy. Boats from Ron 22 participated in the Invasion of Elba on June 18, 1944, where PT-305 sank a German Flak lighter. The squadron acted as a diversionary force in Gulf Juan, and as an anti-E-boat screen in the Nice-Cannes area. Ron 22 was part of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France on August 15, 1944. They landed French Commandos on the coast of France in preparation for the invasion. The squadron was also involved in action around Leghorn, Italy. To harass the enemy Ron 22 fired torpedoes into harbors between Genoa, Italy and the French-Italian border. On the night of April 24, 1945, PT-305 sank an Italian MAS boat. In late April 1945, the squadron was returned to the United States to be overhauled in preparation for deployment to the Pacific. The war however ended while the squadron was still in New York Harbor. The Squadron was decommissioned November 15, 1945 still under the command of LCDR Richard J. Dressling. On June 18, 1948, PT-305 was sold along with the rest of the squadron.”[2] After the war, PT-305 was used as an oyster boat until 2001. Transferred to the museum in 2007, she is now fully restored.

Ensign Bleeker Morse (left) and Lieutenant Junior Grade Allan Purdy on the bridge of PT-305 in Leghorn (Livorno), Italy, on March 16, 1945. The “kill plaques” on the chart house signify the two enemy craft sunk by PT-305 prior to that date. Gift of Joseph Brannan. https://pt305.org/history/



[1] https://www.nps.gov/articles/ptboats.htm

[2] https://www.nationalww2museum.org/visit/plan-your-visit/pt-305

Torpedo Junction

America has seen little war fought on its shores. For the most part, the major battles have been brought to the enemy leaving little destruction in the U.S. While many times our forces have gone overseas, this does not mean that America was left unscathed in the World Wars. Besides Pearl Harbor, there were U-boat sightings off the Atlantic Coast for much of World War II. In fact, German U-boats were so common in areas of the Atlantic that the area became known as Torpedo Junction (Torpedo Alley).

World War II was not the first time that German U-boats creeped along the Atlantic shores. During World War I, a U-boat came dangerously close to the coast of Cape Cod. Three U-boats sank ten ships off the coast of North Carolina and navigated along the coast asserting German power. The Outer Banks of North Carolina would become a hot spot for German U-boats, leading to the nickname of “Torpedo Junction” in World War II.  The name U-boat comes from the German word “unterseeboot” meaning submarine. Despite being categorized as submarines, u-boats were technically warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could only submerge for limited periods of time which was usually to avoid enemy detection. When they would attack, U-boats were usually above the surface and used deck mounted guns. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Germany came up with a plan they called Operation Paukenschlag. The plan called for a submarine assault on the American seaboard. The operation was the brainchild of German rear-Admiral Karl Donitz. He believed that the Germans could take advantage of an unsuspecting American coastline. The plan focused on the North Carolina coast line near Cape Hatteras due to its large merchant ship sea lanes. Without wasting any time, the Germans took advantage of America’s vulnerability after the attack on Pearl Harbor and sent five submarines to begin the operation in late December 1941.

Why pick the Carolina coastline? The Atlantic Coast was unprepared for a U-boat assault. Merchant ships had no training in defensive maneuvers, and onshore no preventions such as blackout restrictions were put in place. Coastal lights provided easy targeting for the German Navy. U.S. Naval patrols in the Atlantic were few due to the needs in the Pacific. Only one vessel, the Dione, patrolled the area. Designed to catch rum-runners, she would be no match for the might of the U-boat. The German crews had already been at war for two years by 1941, leaving them highly trained compared to the few defenses left on the Atlantic coast. Between January and June of 1942, 397 merchant ships were sunk. It was said that the attacks off the Outer Banks were so frequent that “Flaming tankers burned so brightly…one could read a newspaper by the glow at night, while the grim flotsam of war-oil, wreckage, and corpses- was strewn across local beaches.” Authorities kept reports of the attacks classified in order to not strike fear with the rest of the American public. Even after the war, many people had no idea how close the war had come to them. In a report by Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, it was said that “The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort….I am fearful that another month or two of this will so cripple our means of transport that we will be unable to bring sufficient men and planes to bear against the enemy in critical theaters to exercise a determining influence on the war.” The U.S Navy was in a difficult position. It could not afford to take men away from the frontlines in Europe and the Pacific. However, after months of assaults on the merchant lanes off the Atlantic Coast, it was clear that if something wasn’t done, the rest of the war effort would mean nothing.

Marshall’s plea would not go unnoticed. As time passed, little could be done to keep news of the attacks from circulating. One attack that struck the fear of those along the coast line was that of the Canadian Steamship “Lady Hawkins.” Because of the U-boats’ aggressive attacks, the steamship stayed close to the coast throughout its trip from Canada to Bermuda. It was around Cape Hatteras that she would make the turn towards Bermuda.  On January 19, 1942, U-66’s searchlight briefly lit up the Canadian Steamship. Within moments two torpedoes were bringing down the vessel carrying some 300 civilians. Only 130 miles from land, six of her life boats were destroyed and only 76 survivors were able to make it to the remaining life boat. It would be five days before the S.S. Coamo would rescue the survivors.  The same day that news broke of the steamship, a Coast Guard ship arrived in Virginia with the survivors of the American merchant ship ‘Francis E. Powell.”  The Powell had been headed to Providence, Rhode Island from Texas when it had been attacked on January 27. Something needed to be done about the U-boats before mass panic spread across the country. The U.S. Navy (along with British assistance), sent long-range aircraft patrols to the area along with a deployment of anti-submarine vessels. The defenses would quickly come in handy.

On January 28, 1942, Donald Francis Mason, a pilot with Patrol Squadron Eight-Two, and his crew took off for a continuing series of patrols over “Torpedo Junction.” At first the mission took on its quiet scanning of the waters with nothing much to see. But shortly after 1:00pm, Mason spotted a flash of light. The crew saw a periscope appear above the surface of the water. Mason, without thought or hesitation, began his attack on the U-boat. Here is an excerpt from a report filed on the attack:

 Plane turned and attacked at once.  Submarine was apparently completely surprised, as periscope was visible throughout entire attack.  Approach was made from astern submarine on a course about 20 degrees across submarine’s course.  Bombs were released at estimated altitude of 25 feet, indicated air speed 165 knots.  Two bombs were dropped with a spread of about 25 feet.

Plumes of the explosions were seen to spread, one on either side of periscope, estimated distance 10 feet from wake line and nearly abreast the periscope.  The submarine was lifted bodily in the water until most of the conning tower could be seen.  Headway of submarine seemed to be killed at once and she was observed to sink from sight vertically.  Five minutes later, oil began to bubble to the surface and continued for ten minutes.  At this time it was necessary to leave area in order to return to base by dark.  Plane landed at 1628.

Detailed employment of crew during bombing attack was as follows:
(1) Pilot at the controls:
(2) Co-pilot in the cockpit alongside the pilot, armed bombs, stood by manual release.
(3) Plane Captain attempted to take photographs of target with F-48 camera during glide approach and after attack. Pictures of this attack were poor because of greatly reduced lighting conditions.
(4) Radioman in bow at the Navigator’s Desk, acting as lookout with binoculars.[1]

While an official report of the incident was not released publicly until April 1, 1942, A Time’s article in February about the sinking of “Lady Hawkins” alludes to the attack. In the closing of the article, it was quoted that a report radioed by Mason saying “Sighting sub, sank same” [2]

By the summer of 1942, the anti-submarine patrols had done their job. While merchant ships were periodically lost throughout the rest of the war, it never compared with what had occurred in the early days of 1942. By the end, more than eighty ships had been lost with hundreds of innocent lives lost off the coast of North Carolina. In most discussions of WWII, the U-boat attacks of the Atlantic coast are often forgotten. While history is quick to focus on the larger battles that were waged, these few months in early 1942 kept the people along the Atlantic coast, and especially in North Carolina, in constant fear. For them the war was at their doorsteps, giving these citizens a much different way of remembering the war.

[1] http://www.homeofheroes.com/footnotes/2007/01January4-mason.html

[2] In post-war records it was discovered that Mason had not sunk the U-boat on January 28, 1942. He would go on to sink a German U-boat on March 5th, which he would receive a Flying Cross for. Despite the records correction, his quote of Sighting sub, sank same has lived on and is no in the list of famous naval quotes.

Memorial Day

Today marks the unofficial start of summer. In backyards around the country, barbeque grills will be fired up and children will get to play outside in the late spring sun. But Memorial Day is much more than cookouts, beach trips and an extra day off from work. Memorial Day honors all those who fought and gave their lives for this country. While we should remember our fallen heroes every day of the year, Memorial Day gives us the ability to come together as a country and send out a collective thank you for their sacrifice. But like so many American traditions, the origins of Memorial Day have faded away. So how and when did Memorial Day begin?

This poster from 1917 shows the name change and honors the memory of the dead from the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War. Honor the Brave Memorial Day, May 30, 1917. Poster, 1917. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g08122

The Civil War claimed more lives than any previous conflict that the United States had been involved in. The death toll was so large that it created the need for the first national cemeteries to be opened. Because the war had ended in the springtime, towns across America began holding small ceremonies in the spring to honor the fallen. These small events would find townsmen collecting together in cemeteries placing flowers and reciting prayers. Originally known as Decoration Day, General John Logan, the national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic proclaimed on May 5, 1868 that a national day of remembering would be had. The General Order No. 11 stated that “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.”http://www.usmemorialday.org/?page_id=2 The name Decoration Day was used because of the “decorating” of graves. The date was chosen because no specific battle fell on May 30th. By choosing a random date, it could honor all those who fought, not just those in a specific battle. On this first Decoration Day, General James Garfield made a speech at Arlington National Cemetery where some 5,000 people came to pay their respects and decorate the graves of 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers. Garfield’s speech in part states – I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion. If silence is ever golden, it must be here beside the graves of fifteen thousand men, whose lives were more significant than speech, and whose death was a poem, the music of which can never be sung. With words we make promises, plight faith, praise virtue. Promises may not be kept; plighted faith may be broken; and vaunted virtue be only the cunning mask of vice. We do not know one promise these men made, one pledge they gave, one word they spoke; but we do know they summed up and perfected, by one supreme act, the highest virtues of men and citizens. For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue. For the noblest man that lives, there still remains a conflict. He must still withstand the assaults of time and fortune, must still be assailed with temptations, before which lofty natures have fallen; but with these the conflict ended, the victory was won, when death stamped on them the great seal of heroic character, and closed a record which years can never blot….What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love! https://garfieldnps.wordpress.com/2017/05/30/james-a-garfields-decoration-day-speech-may-30-1868/
The first state to officially recognize the holiday was in New York in 1873. By 1890, all the Northern States recognized the holiday. Southern States would not recognize Decoration Day until after World War I. It was at this point that the holiday changed from honoring only those who had died in the Civil War to honoring all those who had died in any war. In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, New York as the birthplace of Memorial Day. Johnson would officially change the name of the holiday to Memorial Day and set its date as the last Monday in May. With the Congressional passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971, Memorial Day was given the insurance of a three-day weekend for being a Federal Holiday. Waterloo was given the honor of its birthplace because it held the first formal, village-wide observance on May 5, 1866. Organized by Henry C. Welles (a native of Glastonbury, CT). the town was decorated with flags at half mast, draped with evergreens and mourning black. Veterans and residents marched to the village cemeteries to place flowers at the gravesites. The event was repeated in 1867 and in 1868 moved to May 30th in accordance with General Logan’s orders.
In 1915, in response to the poem In Flanders Fields, Moina Michael conceived the idea of wearing red poppies on Memorial Day to honor those who died. Michael would sell poppies to her friends and co-workers and then donate the money to servicemembers in need. Before Memorial Day in 1922, the VFW became the first veterans’ organization to sell poppies nationally. In 1948, the US Post office honored Michael by issuing a red 3 cent postage stamp with her likeness.


Today the red poppy is a recognized symbol of remembrance, not just in the United States but in many countries around the world as well. In 2000, a resolution was passed that marked the “National Moment of Remembrance”. This resolution asks that all Americans observe a moment of silence at 3 pm local time to pay their respects. The resolution states that the moment can either be in silence or while listening to ‘Taps.”
Today Memorial Day has become more about fun than about its true meaning. Memorial Day is the day when we can stand together as a nation and thank those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. This can be done in many ways. We can visit a cemetery and place flowers a veteran’s grave, thank a family who lost a servicemember and join at 3 pm in the moment of silence. But while we do these things on Memorial Day, let’s remember to hold the same respect and gratitude throughout the rest of the year. These men and women deserve more than one day to be remembered. As summer begins and you plan your vacations, take note of a memorial that may be on your travels. Take a moment to visit and thank those that died long before their time. One such memorial is the National Submarine Memorial in Groton, CT. Just down the block from the Submarine Museum and Naval Base New London stands a memorial for World War II submarine veterans and the 3,600 submariners who lost their lives in the conflict. The memorial consists of the conning tower of the USS Flasher (SS-249) and was credited with sinking the highest tonnage of Japanese ships.


Along with the conning tower is a Wall of Honor listing the 3,617 submariners who died during the war. Also, at the site is a monument honoring the 52 submarines lost between January 1941 and August 1945. Bronze plaques list the names of the boats along with the dates of their sinking. The memorial was commemorated in 1964, moving to its current location in 1974. The Wall of Honor was dedicated in 1994.


We wish everyone a Happy and Safe Memorial Day.

U.S.S Triton

Throughout history, civilization has been fascinated with what lies beyond what the eye can see. This idea that there is always more to explore led many explorers to the edge of the earth- and beyond. When Galileo announced that the world was round and not flat, a new challenge came into existence. The race was on to see who could circumnavigate the globe and in the fastest time. In 1960, a newly built nuclear submarine followed in the steps of explorers like Magellan to become the first nuclear submarine to circumnavigate the globe.

Born in 1480, Ferdinand Magellan is known for being the first to circumnavigate the world. The Portuguese explorer was living in Spain in 1519 when King Charles I of Spain agreed to fund Magellan on his mission to explore the world. On September 20, 1519, Magellan and his fleet of five ships and 200 men set sail. By November 20th, the crews had crossed the equator and stopped in Brazil to resupply in December. In a search for a passage that connected oceans, Magellan’s fleet continued down the coast of South America. The trip was a difficult one with food and water scarce at times. While in port at St. Julian, in April of 1520 three of the captains on the mission called their crews to mutiny. Magellan crushed the rebellion with the loyal crew continuing the journey. Near Santa Cruz, one of the vessels was wrecked during a scouting mission. On October 21, 1520, Magellan found what he was searching for. A passage that would connect the oceans. The passageway would eventually be named the Strait of Magellan at the tip of South America. Another ship was lost at this time when it deserted the mission after entering the passage. By this point only three of the five ships remained, the Trindad, Concepcion, and Victoria. On November 8, 1520, the three ships reached the “Sea of the South” now known as the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, Magellan would not get to see his journey come to fruition. It is recorded that, “Throughout the Philippine Islands, Magellan and his men regularly interacted with the natives. At Cebú. The native chief, his wife, and several of the natives were baptized and converted to Christianity. Because of this, Magellan thought he could convince other native tribes to convert. But not all interactions with the natives were friendly. Chief Datu Lapu Lapu of the Mactan Island rejected conversion. So, Magellan took a group of about 60 men to attack Mactan. The Mactan’s had about 1500 men. On April 27, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan was killed during battle on the Philippine Islands. The Trinidad and Victoria soon made it to the Spice Islands. The Trinidad needed much repair. So, the Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastian Elcano continued on. On December 21,1521, the Victoria sailed across the Indian Ocean to Spain. September 6, 1522, they arrived with only 18 men at Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the coast of Spain.” Despite Magellan’s death, the trip was completed in his name, leaving him as the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. His discoveries during the voyage allowed for a greater understanding of the earth, new passageways, and the understanding of “trade winds” that allowed for better and safer voyages.

After Magellan’s journey, the question went from wondering if one could go around the world to how fast one could do so. Jules Verne addressed this question in his 1873 work, Around the world in 80 Days. It would be less than a century later, when the U.S. Navy would once again use something of Verne’s as a milestone. First, they named the first nuclear submarine Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. In 1960, the U.S.S. Triton would beat Verne’s time of 80 days – and do it entirely underwater.

The U.S.S. Triton was commissioned in 1959. At the time, she was the largest, most powerful, and most expensive submarine ever built. She was 447 feet long and powered by two nuclear reactors. SSRN-586 would leave for an assigned shakedown like no other in 1960, named Operation Sandblast. Following the path of Magellan, Triton would map the ocean floor during her journey as well as deploy small buoys in order to trace the currents. Triton left her home port in New London on February 16th, 1960 with a stop at some small islands to mark the exact beginning of the trip. In just 60 days and 21 hours, Triton would make history, becoming the first submarine to circumnavigate the globe completely submerged. During the journey, the boat had to poke its sail out of the water just enough to let a sick crew member to be taken off. Despite this, the hull remained completely submerged during the entire trip.

Captain Beach mapping the circumnavigation. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/10/uss-triton-circumnavigates-the-globe

Because it was known that his shakedown cruise would be different from others, the crew was given special instructions to document the trip in non-restricted and non-technical language. Efforts were taken to include descriptions and conversations of the crew’s morale during the trip- including stories about birth announcements received by crewmembers while away. These notes were donated by the family of CAPT Carl E. Pruett, USN, MC to an archive in order to preserve the historic journey. Below are two passages from the transcript:

Wednesday, 24 February 1960 (All times Papa, Time Zone Plus 3)
Today we expect to make our first landfall. This also will be the spot to which we shall return upon completion of our circumnavigation of the globe. Though the Sailing Directions describe St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks as bare and useless, interest has run high anyway.

Monday, 25 April 1960 (All times Zulu, GMT Zero) 0754
Crossed equator for the fourth and final time this cruise at longitude 28°-03 ? West. 1200 Position 00°-53’ North, 29°-01 f West. We are within a few miles of St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks, at which point we will have completed the first submerged circumnaviga- tion of the world. It has taken us exactly 60 days by our reckoning, though as pre- viously stated a person marooned here would have counted 61. But the number of hours would have been the same. 1330 St. Peter and St. Paul Rocks in sight, bearing due west. 1500 First submerged circumnavigation of the world is now complete. We are circling and photographing the islet again, as we did just two months ago. The weather is nice and the sun is shining brightly. Our mileage (Rock to Rock) is 26,723 nautical miles and it has taken us 60 days and 21 hours (days calculated as 24 hours each). Dividing gives an average overall speed of just over 18 knots. No other ship – and no other crew could have done better. We are proud to have been selected to accomplish this under- taking for our Nation. Our total mileage for the trip will be a little more than 36, 000 nautical miles (including the 2, 000 -mile mercy mission for our ill crewman) and it now looks as though our over- all time since departure from New London will be 85 days (New London computation). We have been instructed to proceed to a rendezvous point off Cadiz, Spain where the destroyer WEEKS is to meet us. WEEKS will send aboard the completed bronze plaque we designed in tribute to Magellan, but it is our understanding it is to be presented at a later date, possibly by the U. S. Ambassador. For the time being we are still to avoid detection, making our rendezvous off Cadiz beyond sight of curious onlookers.

U.S.S Triton’s submerged circumnavigation stood as a testament to the ongoing military dominance of the U.S. Submarine Force. It also showed the scientific and engineering superiority that had been created by the nuclear propulsion program. Following in the footsteps of the brave explorers from centuries before, Triton’s mission takes its place among the true adventurous stories of sailing around the world.

Letter from Captain Beach to Commander Greene of the US Naval Institute in 1960 during Triton’s voyage. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/05/10/uss-triton-circumnavigates-the-globe

Drebbel and the Rowboat Submarine

The modern submarine is an engineering marvel. Submarines are powerful underwater cities that can move undetected throughout the water. However, today’s silent giants are the result of centuries of hard work based off man’s thirst for knowledge. The idea for a submarine came from the need to understand and explore what lay beneath the surface of the water. What was lurking and what treasures could be found. In 1578, William Bourne designed the first known recorded plans for what would become a submarine. His design was a completely enclosed boat bound with waterproofed leather.

Bourne’s Design

It could be submerged and rowed beneath the surface. Unfortunately, Bourne’s design never became a tangible work. But it would inspire others including Cornelius Drebbel.

Cornelius Drebbel was born in Holland in 1572. In his early life he was said to have been an artist and engraver- a common profession for a Dutchman at this time. In 1604, he made his way to England with Hendrick Golzius who introduced him to alchemy. It was during this time that Drebbel began his career as an inventor.


He is credited with the invention of a perpetual motion machine, compound microscope and the mercury thermostat. In 1610 and again in 1619 he was invited to Prague to show his Perpetual Motion Machine which could tell the time, date and season. It was while working for the King of England and the Royal English Navy, that Drebbel began working on his concept for an underwater rowboat or submarine.  There is no surviving sketches of Drebbel’s 1620 submarine, and accounts are few. But from the ones available, it is said that the submarine was “covered in greased leather, with a watertight hatch in the middle, a rudder and four oars. Under the rowers’ seats were large pigskin bladders, connected by pipes to the outside. Rope was used to tie off the empty bladders. In order to dive, the rope was untied and the bladders filled. To surface the crew squashed the bladders flat, squeezing out the water. [1] In total, Drebbel would build three working submarines. The final model had six oars and could carry 16 men. To create an air supply, tubes were held above the water’s surface with floatation devices allowing the submarine to stay underwater for longer periods. Accounts suggest that the submarine could travel from Westminster to Greenwich and back underwater. The trip took three hours with the boat traveling 15 feet below the surface.

Painting of Drebbel’s submarine in the Thames.

Over the centuries, scientists have questioned how Drebbel truly created a supply of fresh air on a submarine. While highly doubted, some suggest that he might have had the technology to generate oxygen from heated Potassium Nitrate. Drebbel’s work in alchemy could have led him to such a discovery, and his work with thermostats could have caused such a reaction. Along with the debate on fresh air, there is also debate over whether King James I rode in the third of the submarines built. It is believed that during a trip under the Thames in 1626, that the King may have been aboard. Despite the King’s interest in Drebbel’s work and a development period of 15 years, the Royal Navy would not move past the trial stages with the boat.

While a great inventor, the recognition for Drebbel’s work would not come until after his death. During his time in the English court, he was mainly used for his experience in alchemy and his knowledge of fireworks.  Despite his numerous patents for inventions that have ties to groundbreaking innovations, during his lifetime Drebbel experienced little fame or fortune. In 2001, a replica of the boat was built for BBC programming by boat builder Mark Edwards. Edwards was to closely follow the possible techniques used by Drebbel in creating the craft. A crew of two, using oars with folding leather blades, operated the boat. The oars were fitted with greased leather seals, which were clamped to the hull to prevent water from entering. Lead weights were used to ensure that the craft would stay partially submerged. Water was pumped though ballast tanks to keep her at a constant depth. Like the original, the two-man crew had to rely on a compass to navigate and used a large rudder for steering and braking. The vessel only had a half hour of breathable air before carbon dioxide levels became dangerous. Despite the abbreviated air supply, the replica proved that Drebbel’s design was functional and indeed the beginning of submarine development, securing Drebbel’s place in submarine history.

Replica of Drebbel’s submarine

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/drebbel_cornelis.shtml

Cape Cod and The Submarine

Orleans, Massachusetts is a quiet town in Cape Cod with a population a little over 5,000 and is known for its bass and blues fishing. Nauset Beach at the edge of town is today known as a great place for off-road-vehicle fans to drive through dunes and catch the sunset. But in 1918, Orleans became the site of something far less tranquil. Orleans, Massachusetts became the only part of the Continental United States to be attacked during World War I.

In July of 1918, the quiet town of Orleans was enjoying the hot summer on a Sunday morning. While great war was raging in Europe, those in Cape Cod truly felt that it was millions of miles away. Three miles off the coast of Nauset Beach, the tugboat Perth Amboy was pulling four barges in the morning fog. The U.S. Navy was aware that an attack could happen on the coast of New England. The German U-boat SM-U156 had been off the coast of the Eastern seaboard for some time. It was on July 21, 1918, when that fear of attack would come to fruition. According to “Attack on Orleans” author Jake Kilm, “Right around 10:30am, a deckhand on the Perth Amby sees something either skimming across the water or flying across the water. Just as he’s about to yell, ‘submarine’, a third projectile comes screaming through the sky and crashes right into the pilothouse.”[1]


Figure 1 Lifeboats being pulled in. https://www.orleanshistoricalsociety.org/single-post/2018/04/09/Attack-on-Orleans-Centennial-is-coming

There were 32 men, women and children aboard the tugboat and barges who were quickly moved to lifeboats as the shelling continued.  Kilm continued, saying, “The aim from the German guns apparently is not very good and some of these shells go wild and some actually land on the beach and the marshes, and that makes the event significant.” A crowd gathered along the beach to watch the event unfold. Twenty minutes after the incident had begun, a single Navy plane flew past, dropping a single bomb on the U-boat. Unfortunately, the bomb didn’t explode. Had it worked, the U-boat would have been in trouble.  A little while later, some more planes arrived dropping bombs near the U-boat’s location. This was enough to scare the German submarine away after 90 minutes of shelling.  By the time the lifeboats made it to shore, over a thousand people were on the beach. The news quickly reached Boston, when Dr. J Danforth Taylor called the Boston Globe and said, “This is Dr. Taylor of East Boston, I am at Nauset [Beach] on Cape Cod. There is a Submarine battle going on just off shore.”[2] To the tiny town, it was the most excitement they had ever seen.

Figure 2 One of the sunken barges. https://www.orleanshistoricalsociety.org/single-post/2018/04/09/Attack-on-Orleans-Centennial-is-coming

By the end, no one was killed and only two men were injured. Three of the four barges were left sunk. The Perth Amboy, while badly damaged, would be able to be repaired and keeping working. She would end up being sold to Great Britain during World War II and would help evacuate French citizens during the evacuation of Dunkirk. The SM U- 156 would eventually hit a mine of the coast of Norway while returning to Germany and sink to the bottom.  Before heading back, she would sink allied merchant ships off the coast of Maine and Canada for a few weeks.

The dramatic event on that Sunday morning would leave an impression on the tiny Cape town. The continental United States would not see another attack on its shores until September 11, 2001. World War I clearly showed the powerful capabilities submarines could have during wartime. Submarine development would quickly advance and by World War II, submarines would be powerful components for both the Allied and Axis sides of the war.

[1] https://news.wgbh.org/post/attack-orleans-when-world-war-i-hit-cape-cod

[2] https://www.boston.com/news/history/2017/07/21/99-years-ago-world-war-i-arrived-on-the-shores-of-cape-cod

Colt and the Submarine Battery

Samuel Colt is best known for having produced a revolver that was able to fire multiple times without being reloaded. His work in firearms made him a pioneer in the fields of advertising, product placement and mass marketing. Samuel Colt was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814 and began an early career in the firearm business. By the age of 15, Colt had found a passion for explosives and began work on a pistol.  In 1836, Colt would open his first factory in Paterson, New Jersey.  These early years were not very lucrative with multiple issues plaguing his designs and company. In 1843, Samuel was forced to close his plant and sell most of his company’s assets at auction. But Colt did not stay away from manufacturing for long, and being a true Connecticut native, he turned his attention to the water.

The mid-nineteenth century in undersea warfare was built on the work that came from such people as David Bushnell and Robert Fulton. Their work in mine and submarine development was something that people like Colt saw to surpass. Colt began creating and selling underwater electrical detonators and waterproof cables. He would eventually team up with Samuel Morse and petition the government for funding. Morse used one of Colt’s mines to transmit a telegraph message from Manhattan to Governors Island. After this endeavor, Colt would move towards underwater explosives, an idea that had been of interest to him from the time he was a boy. He believed that these mines would be of great economic value to the country as a coastal defense. In an account he gave to Congress, Colt said, “The idea of Submarine explosions for the purposes of harbor defect was conceived by me as early as the year 1829 while stud[y] in the laboratory of a bleeching and colouring establishment at Ware Vilage, Massachusetts, and I made sundry experiments on a small scale at that time and repeated them in various ways for several successive years theareafter” [1]. Even while working on his revolver, the idea of underwater mine warfare intrigued Colt. While in New Jersey, he sketched an idea for tracking the movements of a man-of-war by a means of visual cross-bearings of shore observers. He would eventually refine this idea to a single-observer system. Colt’s idea included that “Within shore observation post would be installed a ten-foot convex mirror, positioned above and behind the galvanic operator in order to reflect the image of an adjacent minefield onto the mirrored control grid before him. Embedded in this control panel, as suggested in Colt’s later overhead perspective of the observation post and nearby river minefield, were envisaged numerous individual metallic terminals from several score anchored mines, each terminal being located upon the control grid’s equivalent of its mine’s watery position.” [2] The hoe would be that the observer would be able to trigger selective groups of mines as a target moved across the area.

In 1842, Colt’s submarine battery or electric mine was successfully used to sink the gunboat Boxer and the brig Volta. However, in a first for an underwater mine operated by an electric current on April 13, 1844, he blew up a schooner on the Potomac River in a demonstration held for President John Taylor and his cabinet. Colt pushed for the demonstrations, feeling encouraged by the news that an armored floating battery was under construction for the defense of New York Harbor. For years Colt dealt with a government wry on his ideas and found achieving funding difficult. He believed that the demonstration in Washington would be exactly what he needed. On March 19, Colt was given anchors, boats, timber, and mooring lines from the Washington Navy Yard to aid in his demonstration preparation. On April 1, 1844, he reported that, “I have fortified the river leading to the Navy Yard & the ship is to be got under way with all her sails set & blown up while at her greatest speed.” [3] The plan for the day was that Lieutenant Junius Boyle of the Navy Yard was to maneuver the target vessel to the vicinity of the minefield. At 4:30pm, Colt would signify that he was ready with a pistol shot, at which point Boyle would respond by lowering the vessels topsail three times. Once the national ensign was removed, Boyle and his small crew would leave the target vessel in a small boat and get clear of the target area. When in position, the crew would fire a rocket signaling their safe distance. An account from the Daily National Intelligencer covering the event wrote that, “A little boat advanced and removed certain buoys which had been floating near the spot where the battery lay; and soon after a low and peculiar sound was heard, when a most beautiful jet, of mingled water, fire and smoke, rose to a considerable height near the opposite shore, and as the water fell back in white translucent masses, the smoke, colored by the sub’s rays with all the dyes of the prism, slowly melted into the air, while the grains of we powder, ignited and smoking, fell in soft showers upon the bright surface of the river…..The Ship held on her course, and in a few minutes another mountain of water, larger and blacker than the first, rose on her larboarded bow, and so close to her that she rocked under the undulation. ‘Oh, he has missed her!’ But it was very near’ The words were scarcely uttered when a third explosion took place-the bows and bowsprit of the ship, instantly shattered to atoms, were thrown into the air.” [4]

Figure 1 he Last Experiment of Mr. Colt’s Submarine Battery. 1844 painting by Antoine Placide Gibert. For a long time, this was assumed to be in New York harbor. However, the building to the left of the doomed ship is clearly Coningham’s brewery, and the Washington Navy Yard can be seen to the Styx‘s right. (Google Books)

During the demonstration, Colt’s position for setting off the explosions was never found. While not being detected was a key part of the demonstration, for professional evaluation of the system, the fact that his precise location has never been told has led the Submarine Battery demonstrations to be somewhat of a mystery. Colt’s papers leave no evidence indicating a second observer, a reflecting mirror, or a control grid to help pinpoint accuracy of the explosions. Despite the success of the demonstration, military officers were skeptical of the battery and had little confidence of its use in war.

In the end, Colt would suffer a similar fate as Robert Fulton did with the British government. In the early 1800’s, the British government had not rewarded Fulton for advancements he had made in underwater mining while working with them. Secretary of the Navy, John Y. Mason did not attend the demonstration, nor did he try to understand how Colt’s battery worked so well. Without professional military evaluations and without all the key components to the system, Mason decided to end the Navy department’s role with the submarine battery. The secret of the Submarine Battery would lead to an eventual ongoing debate in Washington that played a major role in holding back submarine mine development in the United States for over a generation. Colt would end up pulling his application for a patent thus keeping the secrets of his Submarine battery with him forever. The inventor would not be reimbursed for the funds he used to build the battery and the situation would leave him almost bankrupt. Colt would eventually see success with his revolver and government arms contract. During the Civil War in the following years, a variety of underwater systems comprised of mines, obstructions, and semi-submersible torpedo crafts convinced military engineers that it was an absolute necessity to use undersea warfare in coastal defense, which was the very idea that Colt had had been pushing for so long. While Colt’s Submarine Battery may not have ended up as a part of the Navy’s system, the idea of hidden undersea defenses was the key motivation to submarine development. These early developments were the stepping stones to the powerful, silent service we have today.


[1] Lundeberg, Philip K. Samuel Colt’s Submarine Battery: The Secret and the Enigma. Pg 8. Sil.si.edu


[2] Lundeberg, Philip K. Samuel Colt’s Submarine Battery: The Secret and the Enigma. Pg 15. Sil.si.edu

[3] Lundeberg, Philip K. Samuel Colt’s Submarine Battery: The Secret and the Enigma. Pg 40. Sil.si.edu

[4] Lundeberg, Philip K. Samuel Colt’s Submarine Battery: The Secret and the Enigma. Pg 43-45. Sil.si.edu

Submarine Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Now you may be wondering what that has to do with submarines. Poems, ballads and music have a long history in the naval world. In 1798, two musicians, a fifer and a drummer were put to sea on the USS Ganges. By the mid-1820’s, ship’s bands were extremely common. The USS Constitution had a 20-piece band onboard in 1825. The songs, poems and ballads sung by the crews, also known as “sea shantys” were set to a specific rhythm for hoisting the sails of a ship in unison. In 1865, in an early publishing that carried the term shanty, it was written that “Every man sprang to duty. The cheerful chatty was roared out and heard above the howl of the gale. The cable held very hard, and when it surged over, the windlass send the men flying about the deck, as if a galvanic battery had been applied to their hands” (G.E. Clark). The arts have played an integral role in naval tradition just as much as the strict codes and time-honored ceremonies have. This past January, we wrote a blog about New Year Eve’s deck logs. This is one manner in which poetry has found its way into the workings of a vessel. But poetry and music have long been a part of telling the stories of life on the sea. Below we have shared some of the submarine poems we know and love. Please share with us poems or songs you know, remember hearing or ones you may have even written yourself.
In 1915, Rudyard Kipling wrote the poem “Submarines”. The work was set to music by the English composer Edward Elgar as the third in a set of four war-related songs. The title of the whole work was called “The Fringes of the Fleet.” The piece goes as follows:


The Ships destroy us above

And ensnare us beneath,

We arise, we lie down, and we move

In the belly of death.

The ships have a thousand eyes

To mark where we come…

But the  mirth of a seaport dies

When our blow gets home.


The work Submarine comes from a larger piece by Kipling which was called Sea Warfare.  This book holds a poem titled The Trade which is also about the submarine service. It reads:


They bear, in place of classic names,

Letters and numbers on their skin.

They play their grisly blindfold games

In little boxes made of tin.

Sometimes they stalk the Zeppelin,

Sometimes they learn where mines are laid,

Or where the Baltic ice is thin.

That is the custom of “The Trade.”


Few prize-courts sit upon their claims.

They seldom tow their targets in.

They follow certain secret aims

Down under, far from strife or din.

When they are ready to begin

No flag is flown, no fuss is made

More than the shearing of a pin.



The Scout’s quadruple funnel flames

A mark from Sweden to the Swin,

The Cruiser’s thund’rous screw proclaims

Her comings out and goings in:

But only whiffs of paraffin

Or creamy rings that fizz and fade

Show where the one-eyed Death has been.

That is the custom of “The Trade.”


Their fears, their fortunes and their fames

Are hidden from their nearest kin;

No eager public backs or blames,

No journal prints the yarn they spin

(The Censor would not let it in!)

When they return from run or raid.

Unheard they work, unseen they win.

That is the custom of “The Trade.”


Another poet who wrote about submarines was Cale Young Rice. Born in Kentucky in 1872, Rice witnessed the birth of the United States Submarine Force and the beginning of submarine development as a part of the US Navy. Rice describes the idea of sailing beneath the ocean waves only as an outsider would. His poem titled Submarine Mountains was written in 1921.


Under the sea, which is their sky, they rise

To watery altitudes as vast as those

Of far Himalayan peaks impent in snows

And veils of cloud and sacred deep repose.

Under the sea, their flowing firmament,

More dark than any ray of sun can pierce,

The earthquake thrust them up with mighty tierce

And left them to be seen but by the eyes Of awed imagination inward bent.


Their vegetation is the viscid ooze,

Whose mysteries are past belief or thought.

Creation seems around them devil-wrought,

Or by some cosmic urgence gone distraught.

Adown their precipices chill and dense

With the dank midnight creep or crawl or climb

Such tentacled and eyeless things of slime,

Such monster shapes as tempt us to accuse

Life of a miscreative impotence.

About their peaks the shark, their eagle, floats,

In the thick azure far beneath the air,

Or downward sweeps upon what prey may dare

Set forth from any silent weedy lair.

But one desire on all their slopes is found,

Desire of food, the awful hunger strife,

Yet here, it may be, was begun our life,

Here all the dreams on which our vision dotes

In unevolved obscurity were bound.

Too strange it is, too terrible!

And yet It matters not how we were wrought or whence

Life came to us with all its throb intense,

If in it is a Godly Immanence. It matters not,—if haply we are more

Than creatures half-conceived by a blind force

That sweeps the universe in a chance course:

For only in Unmeaning Might is met The intolerable thought none can ignore.


While these two poets wrote beautifully on submarines, nothing can compare to a poem written by a submariner himself.  Written by Tim Butterfield while deployed on the USS Houston in 2000, Ode to the Submariner is a wonderfully written piece telling the story of a submariner as only a submariner could.


Take her Deep, Take her Low
May you never have to Emergency Blow

Out in the Ocean’s Deep
Without even a Peep

You track both Man Made and natural things
Without even emitting a ping

Your shaft and screw run around
And run others into the ground

Your weapons are harnessed in racks
Just waiting for the word to target their tracks

Back during the Cold War
We tracked the enemy both near and far

The skimmers all wonder
How they could make such a blunder
When they think they see a periscope’s glare
But all it is a submariner’s Green Flare
The submariner outfoxed them again
And showed them who owns the Ocean’s Great Den

We sometimes take Seals
And feed them a great meal
Then off they go
To put on their own show

The Boomers patrol out there
In places no one else knows where
Silent and Deadly
But Smooth and Stealthy

When submariners return to port
Coming from places of every sort
They go from bar to bar
Just to see how much and how far
And how many and how much
They can outdo one another

In this and that way
So they can tell all on the boat
That they beat their sub brother

They also make new friends
Both yonder and here

Though they sometimes get wild and go bare
Are up until the crack of dawn or beyond
They are all quite fond
Of the sex that is so fair
Some people call it crazy
But never call a Submariner lazy
’cause come what will and what may
He knows how to make the enemy pay!

The Quartermaster plots our course
Through Nav Hazards both many and few
He keeps his calm even through ORSE
And we always arrive inport ahead or when we are due

The MS’ forever slave to get us our grub
Which is served with a flare by an FSA nub

The A-Gangers are always busy
Keeping their systems fixed so we get underway
Though their workload would make the rest of us dizzy
To them it’s just another part of the day

The Radioman makes sure we get our e-mail
Through State 5 seas, hurricanes, and tsunamis, without fail
They also ensure we receive all pertinent news
Like Sports, news, and the occasional birth news

The nukes back aft work as a team
So efficiently with a full head of steam
That we keep getting the Engineering “E”
For all to know and others to see

The IC men and NavETs work as a group
To ensure we never get out of the loop
From navigation and CAMS to monitoring and RADAR
They also ensure we pull in safe whether near or far

The Store Keepers
Are always the keepers
Keeping us up and running
So we have more time for funning

The Sonar Techs
Try to prevent all the wrecks
Listening for ships
Or the big bios blips

The FTs plot all our contacts
So none end up jumping on our back
The Torpedomen can’t wait for the day
When the weapons come out of their tray
And go for their targets out in the Great Way

The JOs are always in the Wardroom training
With knowledge they are a’gaining
Will help them in quals to join the halls
Of the qualified members of the Submariners band
Our Engineer owns the Reactor Plant
With all the power for the ship

To go at a mighty good clip

The smokers complain
Because they have only one lane
With which to enjoy
The sweet taste of nicotine

Out at sea we run out of milk, fresh fruit, and juice
Until we pull in and get us some more

The COB and XO love to make us clean
But they don’t do it just to be mean
For all the cleaning keeps dirt and dust out of machines
And also helps the crew from getting migraines

The Captain looks out for us one and all
And ensures we all have time with our families in the Fall.

We run silent, we run deep
We may get little sleep
But our pride runs just as deep
But in the end it is all worth it
When those we protect tell us how proud they are
Of the way that we did it[1]

[1] http://www.submarinesailor.com/poetry/OdeToSubmariners.asp