Has the Dive
by Don Ennis ETCS(ss) USN(ret), USS Stonewall Jackson SSBN-634
It will do no good to try to convince me that this story did not happened or that it did not happen in just this way. I could pass a polygraph on this one and I would sooner give up my delusions of young Candice Bergen and me that change a word of this story.
In the early days of Polaris submarining each crew had it’s own doctor: not a hospital corpsman but a real doctor. That this was true indicates how important the mission of those boats was and how willing the Navy was to commit it’s resources too that mission. Those of you who made patrols on the Stonewall Jackson during the 80’s and 90’s when port calls, medivacs and even humavacs were made possible by MRVed missiles may not recognize that when we had one bomb per tube, when you went on patrol you were there to stay. It you died on patrol and there were fatal accidents on patrol, you got body bagged and stored in the refer until the boat completed it’s patrol commitments. I never saw anyone die on patrol but John Simmons, one of our nuke electricians developed what we thought was appendicitis, which turned out to be kidney stones. We were at least two weeks from the end of our patrol and our doctor “Butch” Sampson sedated John , packed him in ice and fed him intravenously until we got in.
Butch was a great shipmate and it was a lot of fun to stand control room watches with him. I’m sure that there must be some Geneva Convention prohibition against medical personnel engaging in combatant duties and it is only by stretching imaginations and rules to come to the conclusion that standing Diving Officer watches is consistent with the duties of a non-combatant. Butch was anything but conventional. To qualify on submarines someone who drove a desk for a living decided that doctors need to do a project. While other doctors were doing great doctor stuff to determine the affects of submarine life on major human anatomy, our doctor did a study to determine if dandruff was more prevalent on SSBNs than in the general population. The term “in your face “ didn’t start with Butch Sampson, but the thought may have. I learned two phrases from Butch that run the gamut of usefulness. Shimelbushes disease:
Bilateral, polycysistic mastopothy associated with the blue domed cyst of Osgood. Thanks a lot Butch. That useless bit of information floating about in my brain probably displaced the beginning of the great American novel I never wrote. You redeemed yourself however by teaching me:”Primum non nocere”
First do no harm. The first law of the doctor’s Hippocratic oath. Not a bad slogan for any vocation.
The doctor had the dive and I was the Chief of the Watch on the mid. We were running at 400 ft. answering a 1/3 bell and making 4 knots. Our normal patrol depth was much more shallow, but we were experiencing some rough weather topside so we were at that depth for creature comfort and mostly to keep the night baker from producing angle cakes for the next day’s noon meal. Even at 400 ft the boat could feel the action on the surface and even at that depth we could determine which way the sea was running by maneuvering into or across the wave troughs.
When you do periscope operations on a submarine it is standard procedure to flood water into the depth control tanks and to keep a 3 to 5 degree up angle. This gives the boat negative buoyancy and reduces the affects of what is described as “surface suction” on the boat and helps the Diving Officer control depth and prevents the boat from broaching or coming out of the water. Technically a broach has occurred when any part of the sail is exposed to the atmosphere. If the sailplanes come out of the water you no longer have depth control and technically you are surfaced. The long flat missile deck on an SSBN accentuates these affects. We didn’t have a problem with any of this at 400 ft but as the bad weather topside turned into a full-scale typhoon the boat’s attitude went from a gentle roll to an aggressive roll and pitch. By the time we passed 300 ft we were feeling roll, pitch and yawl. It was kind of like one of those big Alaskan brown bears reaching down into the water, snagging a king salmon and shaking the fish loose from the water. The typhoon was the bear. We were the fish. At about 350 the conning officer began imploring “mark your depth “ to the diving officer. This is usually a useless gesture of the conning officer to gain control over a situation he can’t possibly control. In this case everyone knew where we were and where we were headed. I had already lined up and was flooding depth control to slow and possibly stop our ascent by bring water through HOV 3 a relatively small hull valve.. The doctor ordered flood with 4 (i.e. HOV 4) a relatively large hull valve. The planesmen were pushing their planes controls forward. And the doctor requested speed. There is this dumb psychology among junior submarine officers newly qualified on their watch station that if the diving officer can’t control depth it is probably his own fault and to relinquish speed to save the D.O.’s ass is somehow a breach of the officer enlisted relationship since the diving officer station is normally manned by a CPO or a senior 1st class Petty Officer.
By now we where at 250 feet doing all that could be done and the conning officer was still calling for depth reports and asking what the doctor was going to do . At 150 ft the conning officer ordered a standard bell, but I calculate he was about 100 ft too late. “Mark you depth” the conning officer demanded.
“Passing 100ft” the doctor replied. “What are you going to do about it came a shaky voice from the Conn.
The doctor looked at me and I looked at the doctor. We both looked at the green switch with the square handle. The doctor operated the diving alarm three times. I passed the word on the 1MC “Surface, surface, surface.” I took at least a half hour of flooding and pumping and driving into big waves too get back down.
BULLSHIT! There I said it for you. I hope you feel better, but I was there and I would rather give up my delusions of young Candice Bergen and me than change a word of this story.
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