CHARR’s Troubles

Commissioned on 23 September 1944, USS CHARR (SS-328) completed three war patrols before the end of World War II. By July of 1951, she had been converted to a fleet snorkel submarine, meaning she acquired, in addition to a snorkel, improved air-conditioning and electrical systems; she then deployed to the Far East to support United Nations forces in Korea. In 1954, she took Chiang Kai Shek on his first submarine cruise. But one of the boat’s most dramatic moments took place not far from San Diego, her home port, on 26 September 1961, and is detailed in a 29 September New London Day article entitled, “Sailors Save Submarine As Compartment Floods”:

“Two sailors sealed themselves in a flooded compartment and saved their submarine from sinking in 12,000 feet of water, manning the engine controls until the sub resurfaced.

“Lt. Cmdr. Harold Skelly, captain of the submarine Charr, reported the heroic action of the sailors Thursday.

“He said John Joseph McGee of Chula Vista, Calif., and Douglass Webster of Kennewick, Wash., could easily have been electrocuted as they stood knee deep in water at the controls.

“ ‘There’s about 250 volts back there,’ said Skelly. ‘You could get fried standing knee deep in water, especially salt water.’

“The Charr had reached 100 feet in a dive about 150 miles west of San Diego Tuesday when its engine room flooded. A rubber coupling supplying cooling water to the four engines broke and poured sea water into the compartment.

“McGee gave this account of what happened:

“ ‘The first inkling of any trouble was a loud rush of water, which I attributed to the starboard [propeller] shaft. I found a break in a four-inch coupling that was allowing the water to fill the compartment very fast.

“ ‘The main thing was to seal up the compartment. I shut off the torpedo room hatch while Webster dogged [tightened] the after-engine room hatch. I immediately applied air pressure, letting it into the compartment through salvage valves set at both ends of the compartment. I was trying to hold the water. I got the air up to atmospheric pressure to slow down the flooding.’

“Skelly said he considered McGee’s action saved the submarine.

“When the submarine took a 40-degree up angle to surface, the water was seven feet deep in the engine room and knee deep in the control compartment. The compartment is just above the engine room.

“The sub was towed to San Diego. Skelly said McGee and Webster would be commended for action.”

John McGee, EM1, received the Navy Commendation Medal. Douglass Webster, EM3, received a Letter of Commendation.

A 1944 charcoal drawing by the artist Griffith Baily Coale entitled "Busy Fremantle--Busy Mother."

A 1944 charcoal drawing by the artist Griffith Baily Coale entitled “Busy Fremantle–Busy Mother.”

 

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