Sea Stories – Scuttle Butt – Poems - Interesting Stuff
“My Heart’s at Sea Forever”
Long ago I was a Sailor.
I sailed the Ocean blue.
I knew the bars in Olongopo…
The coastline of Peru.
I knew well the sting of salt spray,
the taste of Spanish wine,
the beauty of the Orient…
Yes, all these things were mine.
But I wear a different hat now,
no tie and jacket too.
My sailing days were long ago…
with that life I am through.
But somewhere deep inside of me…
the sailor lives there still.
He longs to go to sea again,
But knows he never will.
My love, my life, is here at home,
and I will leave here never.
Though mind and body stay ashore…
my heart’s at sea forever
Contributed by Luis Duran
For I Am a Submariner
by John Chaffey Powell, Wyoming
This is a WWI poem found by a submariner at the Submarine Base Groton, CT in 1966 Author unknown
Born in the shops of the
Designed in the brains of a fiend
Filled with acid and oil
And christened “a submarine”
The poets send in their ditties
Of battleships spick and clean
But never a word in their columns
Do you see a submarine?
I’ll try and depict our story
In a very laconic way
Please have patience to listen
Until I have finished my say
We eat where’re we can find it
And sleep hanging up on hooks
Conditions under which we’re existing
Are never published in books
Life on these boats is obnoxious
And that is using mild terms
We are never bothered by sickness
There isn’t any room for germs
We are never troubled with varmints
There are things even a cockroach can’t stand
And any self respecting rodent
Quick as possible beats it for land
And that little dollar per dive
We receive to dive out of sight
Is often earned more than double
By charging the batteries at night
And that extra compensation
We receive on boats like these
We never really get at all
It’s spent on soap and dungarees
Machinists get soaked in fuel oil
Electricians in H2SO4
Gunners mates with 600W
And torpedo slush galore
When we come into the Navy Yard
We are looked upon with disgrace
And they make out some new regulations
To fit our particular case
Now all you battleship sailors
When you are feeling disgruntled and mean
Just pack your bag and hammock
And go to “A Submarine”
Written by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
Contributed by Don Tetschlag
If you never rode the boats, this is going to sound silly and make absolutely no damn sense to you. If you did, you will remember the damn things and probably smile. The contraptions were simply called bunk bags. Not ‘U.S. Navy Bags, Bunk, Type II Mod 6, Unit of Issue, One Each’. Not ‘Shipboard Personal Gear Storage Pouch (Submarine) with Zipper’… Just gahdam ‘bunk bags’. They were elongated bags, designed specifically for horizontal passageway storage, hung from the tubular bunk frames on diesel boats. They were ugly, a sickening shade of lime-green (which indecently, closely resembled the color of barf after a three-day drunk) and had four snap straps that connected them to the bunk rail. It is my understanding that they were intended to eliminate the noise level created by Gillette safety razors, Zippo lighters, busted Timex watches, dice, flashlights, coins, and shrunken heads, purchased as gifts for wives, from rattling around in an aluminum sidelocker and giving away your position. They were either that lime-green or some kind of gray tweed and they were uglier than a blindman’s bride. But they had many desirable qualities if you were a nomadic resident of a submersible septic tank. First, they increased the allowable storage space and damn near doubled it. In layman’s terms, an E-3 could accumulate worldly goods amounting to those on par with migrating Mongolians and folks doing life on Devil’s Island. Next, and this can only be appreciated by an idiot bastard who never had the wonderful experience of a surface battery charge in a state five sea, the damn things hanging down on the passageway side of a berthing compartment, kept you from being beat to death, bouncing off inanimate objects bolted to the pressure hull. They serve to pad the piping surrounding the bunks known as bunk rails. Your ribs were very grateful. But the best thing about bunk bags was their ability to be converted into instant short-range luggage… Sort of a ‘submariners Samsonite overnight’ bag. By snapping the two center straps ogether, you could create what passed for a luggage handle… A poor excuse for a carrying device, but usable. A bunk bag full of the supplies needed for a 72-hour excursion into the heartland of the civilian population, was the worst of all possible choices. Mentally picture the left leg of a fat woman’s panty hose filled with jello and stitched up at the open end and at midway from thigh to toe, attach a sea bag handle and you have the most unwieldy AWOL bag ever created and the ugliest gahdam contraption ever invented by man… A floppy sausage full of the meager possessions of a long-range boat bum. The damn things had one distinct advantage that no other personal gear conveyance had. If you saw some fleet untouchable standing beside the highway with one of the fool things at his feet, you knew immediately that the hitchhiking sonuvabitch was a boatsailor. A fellow submarine sailor would burn flat spots in a new set of tires, stopping to pick you up. To every old white-haired smokeboat vet, the words ‘bunk bag’ bring a smile to his weather-beaten face. You would find it damn hard to come across an old petroleum-powered submersible resident who didn’t have fond memories of the worthless sonuvabitches.
The Thinning Ranks of Lockwood’s Iron Men
by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
Do you remember them? The old rascals with the red hash marks and rate chevrons? Five or six rows of damn meaningful ribbons… Dolphins and a Combat Patrol pin? Back in the days when those forged in combat, case-hardened bastards roamed the piers of submarine bases and butt-buffed barstools in establishments throughout the world no self-respecting devil would be caught dead in… We called them simply… the World War II guys. They had not only ‘seen the elephant’, they saddle broke him and rode him all the way to Tokyo. If you melted down all the gold hash marks and rates in their submarine service, you wouldn’t have had enough material to have hammered out a Birmingham bus token. Gold geedunk and good conduct medals were not a big defining area of consideration in the world of these red blooded American giants… Men, who had gone to sea in iron sharks and chewed the heart out of the Japanese naval war machine, didn’t require any additional credentials to reinforce their personal reputations.
The rollicking bastards had written their saga in a trail of rusting hulks and busted bar furniture from Hell to Hokkaido… And had sent an endless stream of oriental miscreants off to Buddha amid fire and the smell of burning Torpex. In 1945, they were the unquestioned hairy- chested jungle kings of the Pacific…’Uncle Charlie’s, get the hell out of my way’ card-carrying rascals… Admiral Charles Lockwood’s iron men. In my day, they were the men who held the senior leadership positions… The proven and seasoned leadership of the submarine service. They were the ‘old men of the sea’ to us. And all we wanted… All we aspired to be, was to be like them and worthy of their acceptance. As we grew old… They grew even older. I am not sure they mellowed, just grew long in the tooth and spent more and more time burying each other and cussing hearing loss and the pros and cons of Polygrip, Viagra and Metamucil. Every year, some idiot jaybird would show up on their TV tube and tell about this wonderful World War II Memorial, that was to be built in their nations capital. Then, mister TV man would disappear until next Groundhog Day. There was the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the World War II Memorial. The ‘eternal patrol’ sailing list grew longer and longer and no national recognition for the “Greatest Generation”. We built monuments to honor the participants of lesser ‘wars’, conflicts… Conflicts that never really ended… Ones we lost… But we just never got around to honoring the ‘quiet generation’ that fought and won a world-wide hell raiser and handed this nation its last two fully Unconditional Surrenders against two of the most insidious regimes Satin ever gave birth to. Old Gringo, Capt. Ned Beach & Capt. George Street are numbered among those who got their final orders and couldn’t wait. They are numbered among those who will never see the Memorial built to honor them… Every day the list of eligible and deserving wearers of the combat pin, shrinks. Of the sins of man, indifference and ingratitude are the most difficult to survive. Bureaucratic indifference compounds the shameful nature of our national failure to extend to these very non-demanding warrior giants a long overdue national handshake. Shame on us… Shame on us all. What we do or not do, will not change the record they wrote in valorous deeds and sublime self-sacrifice so many years ago. They will always be the men who went to sea and stuck their blows for freedom, liberty and our American way of life from beneath the sea. Men who shared bad air, depleted rations, and the deafening sounds of enemy depth charges, together. Men who wore sweat-soaked dungaree shirts and repeatedly pinned the tail on Hirohito’s donkey. No, they created their own memorial… The one signed by the little grinning buck-toothed monkeys on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor… A harbor totally absent of Nip war vessels that missed the terminal festivities because of U.S. Submarine prearranged dates with Pacific Ocean floor oxidation. Many of the still remaining World War II boat sailors will miss the ceremonies and hoopla attending what effetist artists and fawning politicians have created as a national thank you. Again…
Shame on us. Your true ‘thank you’ will rest with history’s accounting of what you did, why you did it and the magnificent legacy you passed to the down line members of the United States Submarine Service, and the appreciation of the yet unborn, who will mature in free air without the weight of the despot’s heel on their necks. You were iron men who took iron ships to sea and left an unparalleled record of courage and duty, faithfully performed. A record that should serve to inspire every lad who enters his country’s Navy in search of adventure in a service with an extremely proud heritage. What you did makes what came before and since pale to bullshit by comparison. Somebody needed to say that… Somebody who wore Dolphins and simply wanted to drink beer in your company, listen to your history, ride your boats and feel your handshake of acceptance… You were, are and ever will be, heroes in every sense of the term, to that lad. Your self-sacrifice was unparalleled in the annals of naval history. So thanks from an old gray haired sonuvabitch who danced with the Goddess of The Main Induction, long after you left her to us. She had holes in her stockings, strands of white hair and sagging tits, but she could still do that North Atlantic saltwater fandango and bounce around like a twenty-year-old fan dancer. God bless anyone who slammed hatches on the iron monsters that went to periscope depth and sent the saltwater valentines that kept me from ending up eating fish heads and rice, listening to Tokyo Rose bring me the news and saying the pledge of allegiance to that goofy-looking meatball flag.
Proud to have been a “smoke boat” submariner….
THE DBF PIN by Patrick Meagher TMC(SS) USN RET.
Probably none of today’s submariners know the origin or the significance of the Diesel Boats Forever (DBF) pin. Most former Diesel boat sailors are also ignorant of its origins even though it is worn with pride on many SubVets vests. The last diesel attack boat built for the US Navy was commissioned in October 1959 (1). At that time, there were five classes of nuke boats along with two “one off” designs in various stages of construction and pre commissioning trials along with USS Nautilus SSN-571, and the four Skate class boats in operational status (2). The diesel boat force made up predominantly of modernized fleet boats (Fleet Snorkels, Guppy 1A’s, Guppy 2’s, Guppy 2A’s, Radar picket, Regulus missile, troop carrier, and hunter-killer conversions), six Tang’s plus Darter, Growler, Greyback, the two Salmon’s and the three “B” girls had become the source of pre-commissioning crews for the nuke boats.
There was a steady stream of 9901’s passing through the diesel boat force, spending seven months onboard learning the boat and earning their dolphins before departing for nuke school. A smaller number of career enlisted electricians, machinist mates, enginemen, and electronic technicians also volunteered for the nuke program. Admiral Hyman Rickover personally interviewed all officers applying for the nuclear power program as well as many of the senior enlisted submariners. Tales of Rickover’s interviews consistently reported on his efforts to intimidate and discredit the accomplishments of the officer interviewee’s, alienating many who interviewed with him. Disturbing reports from senior enlisted veterans of the nuke boat navy in favorite submarine “watering holes” ashore indicated Rickover’s new operating philosophy was at work in the engineering spaces. “Don’t trust enlisted engineers”. Nuke trained officers consistently checked, double checked, and triple checked the work and system lineups of the enlisted engineers, a major change to the long standing professional relationship between enlisted and officer submariners. In addition, “front-enders” the non-nukes, were reporting excessive wardroom focus on the engineering plant at the expense of the historic mission of the submarine. They were also describing the “no-touch” rule from the reactor compartment aft. If you were not a nuke, you couldn’t touch any part of the engineering plant-period. You could learn it in theory, identify major components, valves and panels, but that was it. Gone was the traditional submarine qualification program that demanded standing all watches under instruction as well as rigging all compartments for all evolutions. Lost on most submariners was the reason Rickover imposed the new operational Philosophy which is best summarized by Gary E. Weir (3) “The potential for major disaster in the nuclear propulsion program caused him (Rickover) to elevate professional competence, discipline, and responsibility to the rank of absolute virtues required of every naval and private participant….Unfortunately for a great many people, Rickover’s personal and professional manner made the lesson difficult to learn. ” (pg. 168) By early 1967 total nuclear submarine crews numbered in excess of one hundred counting blue and gold SSBN crews with sixty-four nuke boats (forty one of which were SSBN’s) in commission. The thirty-seven Sturgeon class nuke boats would start to commission with the lead ship in March of that year. The Diesel boat fleet in contrast numbered slightly over one hundred in commission with most of the modernized fleet type boats nearing the end of their useful lives. Former SSR’s, SSK’s, and Fleet Snorkels would start to decommission within eighteen months to be followed shortly by the guppy conversions. More and more Rickover trained officers were appearing on squadron and force staffs bringing with them Rickover’s operational philosophy.
It was apparent to all that the diesel boat
navy were dinosaurs soon to be extinct along with their officer community who
were either unwilling to become nukes or passed over by Rickover as unfit to
become nuke boat engineers in order to ascend to command
of a nuke boat (4). Diesel
boats were still conducting most of the non-deterrent submarine operations including “special missions”. Nuke attack boats were “wowing” many with their
performance and potential along with occasional contributions such as “a
mission of great value to the government of the United States of America”.
The nukes were not without their teething problems however. It was not
uncommon for a nuke boat to be unable to get underway as scheduled due to an “engineering problem”. A refueling every three to four years also required a shipyard stay of from eighteen months to two years again reducing the number of nuke boats available for operations. So it was left to the diesel boats to pick up the slack. ‘D ex’ Armstrong (5) describes the thinking of the
enlisted smokeboat sailor during these years. “We were it…One crew. Nobody took over our boats when we came in. When the old girl went to sea, we were there. The same names, same faces, same officers forward. If someone failed to maintain a system or piece of equipment, the Chief of the Boat knew precisely what butt to put his boot into when ass-kicking time rolled around. Those were great days… Didn’t know it then, that came later…much later. We knew nuclear boats represented progress but we didn’t think much about it……We could see the future of submarining floating in the after nest. The big, fat, black monsters getting all the attention. High speed, deep-diving ugliness rapidly sending our smokeboat fleet up the river to the scrapyard. To us nuke boats were like elephants… They were big as hell, uglier than sin and none of us had any idea what went on inside of the damn things. They were just there” (pg.5). This brings us to the DBF pin.
In 1969 USS Barbel
SS-580, the lead ship of the last class of diesel boats built for the US Navy
was deployed to WesPac. While on a “special
mission” in early 1970 the control room gang got into one of those nuke
boat vs. diesel boat discussions. It was pointed out during the discussion that
on a number of occasions a diesel boat would have to
get underway for a “broke-down” nuke boat again proving the
superiority of smokeboats over unreliable nuke boats. Someone suggested there
ought to be a pin for smokeboat sailors, something like the new Polaris
Deterrent Patrol Pin for “boomer” sailors, for the times you had to
take a nuke boat commitment because they were broke- down. A contest was
commissioned to design the pin. ETR3(SS) Leon Figurido’s
winning design was a broadside view of a guppy boat with SS
superimposed on the North Atlantic sail. There were two bare breasted
mermaids, one on the bow and one on the stern facing in with arms extended. Completing the design was a ribbon underneath the boat with holes for stars, and centered on the ribbon the letters “DBF”. ETR3(SS) Figurido received
appropriate recognition for his winning design along with a prize of some
sort, now long forgotten. Upon Barbel’s return to Yokosuka the design of the DBF pin was hand carried to a local manufacturer of nautical gewgaws where a batch were cast and brought back to the ship and sold at cost to Barbel
crewmembers that began to wear them ashore.
As the DBF pin grew in popularity within the
diesel boat community it continued to be cast and sold in shops around Yokosuka
eventually making its way to Pearl Harbor, San Diego, and on to the east coast.
Most “smokeboat” sailors assumed a gold star would be placed in the
ribbon for each diesel boat served on. However, it was confirmed to the author
years later by Capt. John Renard, USN RET. Skipper of Barbel
at that time, a star was to be placed on the ribbon for each time a diesel boat
you served on had to get underway for a broke-down nuke. The DBF pin continued
to gain in popularity among current and former smokeboat sailors who wore them
with pride as either a pin or on a belt buckle, all the while collecting the
ire of the senior nuke officer community. As the wholesale decommissioning of
the fleet type boats occurred during the early 70’s scores of career
electricians and enginemen were forced to “surface” as there was no
room for them on Rickover’s boats. Their designation was changed by
BUPERS from “SS”
to “SQ” indicating they were excess to submarine force manning requirements although they were still allowed to wear their dolphins. Soon they too would be gone along with their collective histories.
In 1973 Rickover issued an edict that Midshipmen would no longer go on summer cruises on diesel boats. Rumor had it that too many were showing up at his interviews with “bad attitudes” about nuke boats picked up on their summer cruise on the smokeboats. It was reported in favorite submarine hangouts ashore that on more than one occasion nuke boat skippers banned the wearing of DBF pins by their crew members, typically “front enders” the non-nukes, implying that to do so would indicate disloyalty to the nuke submarine force. In the mid 70’s the DBF pin went into the display of submarine insignia maintained at the Pacific Submarine Museum then located at the Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor. The caption alluded to an “unofficial” insignia worn by a disappearing breed of submariner nostalgic for the days of diesel boats.
In July 1975 the last guppy submarine in US
service, USS Tiru SS-416, decommissioned in Charleston
SC. A handful of the guppies sailed on in foreign service into the late
90’s with two, ex-USS Cutlass SS-478, and ex-USS Tusk SS-426 continuing
to serve today in the Republic of China (Taiwan) navy as training boats. The
last diesel attack boats in US service were USS Darter SS-576, USS Barbel SS-580, USS Blueback SS-581,
and USS Bonefish SS-582. They decommissioned between 1988 and 1990. Two Tang class boats, ex-USS Tang SS-563, and ex-USS Gudgeon SS-567, recently decommissioned in the Turkish Navy with ex-Gudgeon slated to be Turkey’s museum submarine. The Turkish skipper of ex-Tang when asked about the difference between the German designed and built replacement boats for their retiring ex-US boats is reported to have said, “American submarines are built for war, German submarines are built for export.” (6). It’s ironic that 15 years after decommissioning of USS Blueback SS-581 at the Submarine Base in San Diego, a Swedish Navy Type A-19 Gotland Class Air Independent Diesel Boat is conducting weekly ops there to “familiarize” US Navy ASW forces with the operating characteristics of advanced non-nuclear submarines. When the Swedish crew comes ashore on Friday after a week at sea they still look and smell like the smokeboat sailors of old. Our current crop of submariners avoids them.
The DBF pin, originally designed by a USS Barbel SS-580 crewmember as an unofficial insignia to recognize the diesel boats ability to fill-in on very short notice for broke-down nuke boats, now resides with pride on the blue vests of Submarine Veterans who qualified and served on smokeboats. Today the DBF pin is the unique symbol of the professionalism, discipline, and maraderie of American smokeboat sailors who sailed on, unloved, unwashed, and underpaid as their era was coming to a close. DBF!
page was last reviewed/modified on June 30, 2017.