NR-1: The beginning

In honor of the museum’s newest upcoming exhibit, we will be sharing stories of the Research and Recovery vehicle, NR-1 and the crew that sailed on her.

After the tragic loss of the USS THRESHER (SS 593) and all that served on her, the Navy designed rescue vehicles that were built with one mission in mind – to “find and save the lives of sailors trapped on crippled subs.” This led to the creation of the Deep Submergence Systems Project and its centerpiece, the Deep Submergence Rescue Vehicle (DSRV), a piloted mini submarine
In the early 1960’s, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover began kicking around the idea of a making a nuclear powered DSRV that could drive (yep, drive) along the ocean floor. Rickover believed that the inclusion of nuclear power would blow the doors open on the future possibilities of the submarine force. He knew that the usage of compact nuclear reactors would lead to vehicles that “would not depend on batteries and could be entirely self-contained.” There was only one question – would it be logistically possible? To find out, Rickover “ordered parameters drawn up for a small submarine that could go deeper than any current manned sub, and with a nuclear reactor powering it, could stay underwater indefinitely.”
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CDR Richard H. O’Kane, Medal of Honor Recipient

CDR Richard H. O’Kane

Richard Hetherington O’Kane was born in Dover, NH, on February 2, 1911, the son of Dr. and Mrs. Walter O’Kane. After attending Phillips Academy and the University of New Hampshire, O’Kane entered the U.S. Naval Academy, graduating in 1934. Following his graduation, O’Kane served aboard the USS Chester and USS Pruit, before reporting to sub school at Sub base NLON.

Upon completion of his training in 1938, he served aboard the USS Argonaut until reporting for duty in fitting out USS Wahoo at Mare Island, California. He served as Executive Officer of Wahoo from her commissioning in May 1942, after which he saw her through five war patrols, until July 1943 when he was detached, (just before she was announced overdue and presumed lost in November 1943.) O’Kane was awarded the Silver Star Medal with 2 gold stars, a Letter of Commendation with accompanying medal, and Presidential Unit Citation ribbon for his outstanding service on Wahoo.
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The Sinking of the Imperial Japanese Supercarrier Shinano by USS Archerfish (SS 311)

On 11 November 1944 B-29 air strikes against Tokyo were cancelled and Archerfish, originally assigned to lifesaving duties, was free to patrol the waters near Tokyo Bay. On the night of 28 November she spots what is believed to be a tanker leaving the bay. Lookouts later determine that it’s a large aircraft carrier with three destroyer escorts.

Archerfish CO, CDR Joseph F. Enright, begins a six-hour surface track on the carrier in anticipation of a submerged attack. When the carrier turned into the sub’s path six torpedos were fired. They were set for shallow running in order to increase the chances of a hit in case they ran deeper than set. Two torpedo hits were seen and four more were heard. The carrier sank in 5 hours.

Enright believed the target to be, and was credited for, a Hayataka-class carrier weighing 28,000 tons. Post war accounting identified the target as the Shinano, a 72,000 ton supercarrier, originally laid down as a Yamato-class battleship, the first of its kind. It was so secret it was being transferred from Yokusuka to Kure for final fitting out. One of the items on the list for installation were her watertight doors. Once the torpedos hit, the inexperienced crew could do nothing to save her. As of 2014, Shinano remains the the largest warship ever sunk buy a submarine. Archerfish earned the Presidential Unit Citation for this patrol.

Dec 1, 1943: Loss of the USS Capelin (SS 289)

Capelin put out on her second war patrol on 17 November 1943, in the Molucca and Celebes Seas, and was to pay particular attention to the trade routes in the vicinity of Siaoe, Sangi, Talaud, and Sarangani Islands. She was to end her patrol on 6 December.

USS Bonefish (SS 223) communicated with Capelin on 1 December 1943 in the area assigned to Capelin at that time. Bonefish warned Capelin about a convoy they had just attacked. Capelin acknowledged the message was never heard from again.

Japanese records studied after the war listed an attack by minelayer Wakataka on a supposed United States submarine on 23 November, off Kaoe Bay, Halmahera. The Japanese ship noted the attack produced oily black water columns that contained wood and cork splinters and later a raft was found. This is the only reported attack in the appropriate area at that time. Also, Japanese minefields are now known to have been placed in various positions along the north coast of Sulawesi (Celebes) in Capelin’s area, and she may have been lost because of a mine explosion. Gone without a trace with 76 crew members, Capelin remains in the list of ships lost without a known cause.

The Loss of USS CISCO (SS-290)

On 10 May 1943, the U.S. Navy commissioned USS CISCO (SS-290) at Portsmouth Navy Yard in Kittery, Maine. Soon after, the boat set out for Darwin, Australia, arriving in the middle of September. While there, Chief Radioman Howell B. Rice became sick and was sent to the local Navy hospital. On 18 September, his boat set out on her first war patrol without him. A leak in her hydraulic system forced her to turn back for repairs, but two days later CISCO headed back out. She was never heard from again.

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Medal of Honor Recipient Howard Gilmore

Howard Walter Gilmore was born in Selma, Alabama, on 29 September 1902. He enlisted in the Navy at the age of eighteen; two years later he scored high enough on the entrance examination to be accepted into the Naval Academy. He was commissioned in 1926 and sent to a battleship; in 1930 he volunteered for submarine duty. He served as executive officer of USS SHARK (SS-174), during whose shakedown cruise Gilmore and another officer had their throats slashed during a stop in Panama; although scarred, both survived. He took command of SHARK in 1941, but was transferred to the not-yet-commissioned USS GROWLER (SS-215) the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He and his new boat began their first war patrol on 29 June 1942, just three months after GROWLER joined the fleet.

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The Loss of USS S-51 (SS-162)

On 24 June 1922, USS S-51 (SS-162), a fourth-group S-class submarine, was commissioned. She was homeported in New London, Connecticut, just up the coast from where she was built at the Lake Torpedo Boat Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. S-51 operated normally and uneventfully until the night of 25 September 1925. What follows are excerpts from a history of S-51 written by the Ships’ Histories Section of the Naval History Division.

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The Loss of USS POMPANO (SS-181)

By the summer of 1943, USS POMPANO (SS-181) was already an accomplished submarine, a veteran of six war patrols. On 20 August, she left Midway with high hopes for further success. She had been ordered to patrol off the east coast of Honshu, Japan, until sunset on 27 September. Then she was to return to Midway and continue to Pearl Harbor to undergo maintenance.

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Medal of Honor Recipient Samuel Dealey

Samuel David Dealey was born in Dallas, Texas, on 13 September 1906. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1930 and was subsequently commissioned as an ensign. He served aboard several surface ships and was promoted to lieutenant (jg) before reporting, in the summer of 1934, to Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut. After graduation he was assigned to several subs in quick succession: USS S-34 (SS-139), USS S-24 (SS-129), USS NAUTILUS (SS-168), and USS BASS (SS-164). Then he was off to Pensacola Naval Air Station and another surface vessel before returning to submarines as Commanding Officer of USS S-20 (SS-125), where he remained for two years.

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Medal of Honor Recipient John Cromwell

USS SCULPIN (SS-191) began her ninth war patrol on 7 November 1943, departing Johnston Atoll, where she had stopped to fill up on fuel after leaving Pearl Harbor, for the Caroline Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. The United States was about to mount a massive attack on the Gilbert Islands and SCULPIN was charged with intercepting any Japanese naval forces that might be on their way to oppose the invasion. She was supposed to remain on station until 14 December and then return to Pearl Harbor. But after leaving Johnston Atoll she was never heard from again.

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