July 15, 2010

Sub Sailors — Men of Incredible Courage.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:53 pm

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to serve aboard a World War 2 submarine? I have, and I simply cannot fathom the courage it took to volunteer to live (and possibly die) inside a steel tube, where, in terms of space, the crew is incidental to the miles of pipes and wires, and the electronics, engines, batteries, torpedoes, and machinery of all kinds.

Life was cramped beyond description, and the air was invariably foul (diesel fuel and human stink, as water was too precious to use for showering and shaving), and everything was in a constant state of drippy or damp. Of course, all those things take a back seat to the unimaginable terror of sitting silently in virtual darkness while a surface ship drops depth charges, any one of which, has the potential to bring on instant death, or worse yet, damage to the ship, which would result in a slow, agonizing death.

A while ago, I took a tour of the USS Pampanito (SS-383) in San Francisco and saw firsthand the space, which housed and fed upwards of eighty men at a time.

Take a look at the webpage for the USS Pampanito, a World War 2 attack sub, and be sure to click on the virtual tour. While I suppose there is no substitute for actually touring the boat, I found the virtual tour to provide the advantage of allowing me to spend as much time as I wished marveling at the complexity of the equipment on the sub and considering the caliber of the men who served aboard her. (Note: You can also take the same virtual tour here, which may be easier to navigate.)

During World War 2, submarines comprised less than 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, but sank over 30 percent of Japan’s navy. The success of the submarine force did not come without a heavy price. Fifty-two subs were lost, along with more than 3,500 sub sailors. (Link)

These were very special men.


  1. You had to be a special kind of person to survive those conditions.

    I saw enough of this just watching “Das Boot.”

    Comment by Mike R. — July 15, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

  2. Take a tour of the U S Merchant Marine and sit at the bottom of the ladder in the engine room of an unarmed cargo, tanker ship and wait for the axis powers to put a torpedo into your ship. We lost more men than the entire U S Navy during WW II

    Comment by JD — July 15, 2010 @ 11:29 pm

  3. Jim, thanks for remembering these incredible men. I’m fortunate to have known one of them — my grandfather — who was deployed in the Philippines on 12/7/41 while his wife and infant son were at Pearl Harbor waiting for his return.

    Comment by Ken Adams — July 16, 2010 @ 9:24 am

  4. Wow. That was an amazing visual tour. I didn’t know the technology existed for that, much less that it was being used by this section of the US government.

    I interviewed to join the US submarine service in 1979. Got to tour a boomer, which I recall as the USS Grant. Of all the services, I wanted the sub service. I’m about 5’7″ and the spaces on a sub fit me beautifully.

    Comment by Carl Brannen — July 16, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

  5. If you’re ever in Charleston, SC, be sure to take a tour of the USS Clamagore, housed at Patriots Point near the USS Yorktown. Claustrophobics need not apply.

    My hat is off to anyone who served on a sub. A friend of mine is a retired sub commander, and he has a pile of interesting stories…

    Comment by Elisson — July 16, 2010 @ 9:41 pm

  6. Coinkydink! We (Mrs. OWW, Chickie, MeelieNoh, and Myself) went up to Cleveland and toured the USS Cod (SS 224). Mrs. OWW and I toured a fast-attack in San Diego in the ’90s, Da Gurlz have toured a boomer (USS Tennesee). Big comment: “60 day patrols, by 90 guys, in HERE???” See pics on http://www.MoogiesWorld.com. I’m the one sitting a table with a cuppa in the Crew’s Mess.

    See http://www.USSCod.org

    Comment by Ward Gerlach — July 17, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

  7. I have always said that the one thing I could never be was a submariner. Not only are those guys the top of the top, the smartest of the smart, living in a tube would make me insane. I’d absolutely go mad, as if I’m not a big fruit loopy enough.

    I was TDY in CT for 3 weeks when my husband and I first got married. He came up for the weekend to visit and we went to Groton, CT, where we toured the Nautilus. It was post WWII, I think the first nuclear powered sub, and I found that to be fantastic. I can’t imagine touring a WWII vintage sub.

    Amazing men…

    Comment by Bou — July 18, 2010 @ 10:10 pm

  8. If you want to read a really good book on submarine warfare during WWII read: “Iron Coffins” by Werner. It was published in late 60’s. He was a U-Boat Captain that served for 4 years on 5 different subs…how he survived is a miracle.

    Comment by Big Geek Daddy — August 21, 2010 @ 11:15 pm

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