Wednesday, May 18, 2011

De luxe boat.

Over at Lagniappe's Lair is a wonderful photo tour of the USS Requin, a Tench-class fleet sub. One of the neatest photos shows the lever switches for three alarms on boxes on the wall. Not only is each of the three boxes a different color so you can distinguish them quickly, but each of the handles has a different-shaped knob on the end so you can distinguish it in the dark. Launched in 1944, and state of the art for its time, it's nonetheless a pretty cramped and incommodious little boat.

But what struck me was the difference between it and the last sub I toured, the U-505, a captured WWII German Type IXC U-boat. The Type IX's dated from the mid-'30s, and are a good sixty feet shorter than the Tench-class boats. The Requin is cramped, but it's cramped like a cabin cruiser or sailboat, whereas the U-505 is cramped like a space capsule. One is crowded while the other is a claustrophobe's nightmare, even brightly lit and safely parked inside a Chicago museum, let alone a hundred feet down in the freezing North Atlantic.

That has got to have an impact on the effectiveness of the crew on a long cruise; the less time you spend having to peel guys off bulkheads, the more time they can spend running the boat. I wonder how much time and skull sweat have gone into trying to figure out the optimum cubic-feet-per-man on a Virginia-class attack sub?


McVee said...

Very cool. I'm amazed at details like the centrifuge to remove sea water from the engine oil that were engineered in. I find myself wondering "how did they know they would need a centrifuge, what is it about the design that allows sea water to enter the oil bath?".

If you ever get up to Muskegon, Michigan you should check out the USS Silversides. It was used as a training sub at Great Lakes Naval academy for a while before being decommissioned. Another nice boat.

Murphy's Law said...

Thanks, Tam. I'm honored.

@McVee, the centrifuges were necessary because some of the fuel tanks were also used interchangeably as additional ballast tanks once emptied of fuel. This helped the boat dive faster, and gave it additional safety by allowing it to purge even more water weight to surface if damaged and partially flooded, but it also meant that there would always be a seawater residue in those tanks.

Silversides is one of the best museum boats out there. It's on my list for another visit.

@Tam, The old German Type IXC boats like the U505 were actually the larger of the U-Boat fleet, much roomier than the older Type VII boats that were the mainstay of the Kriegsmarine. Still, even the Type IX didn't have even a single shower for the crew or and refrigeration for the crew's food. US Fleet boats at least had these amenities. U-boats also made do with smaller crews by working the men more hours than the US Navy's "4 on, 8 off" shifts and having even fewer bunks so that each bunk was split between two or three sailors on different watches (same linen though--one set of sheets per bunk for the whole cruise--Yuk!)
I might be able to go to sea in a Fleet boat, but I'm thinking that a U-boat cruise would be a bit much for me.

Keads said...

Nice! Another boat in good shape is the USS Clamagore SS-343 at Patriots Point in Mt. Pleasant SC. A Balao class boat that was extended 15 feet forward of the control room (Guppy III).

Ed Foster said...

Going down to Fleet Week next weekend in New York, at the USS Intrepid museum with the Marine Corps League. Special Jarhead ceremonies on the Iwo Jima I think the kids should see.

I particularly want to see the new (for them) F9F Panther. Real nostalgia there. I grew up watching the reservists flying them and the FJ-3's on weekends and summers, at several Navy strips down south.

They have an old missile boat there called the Growler, and you can wander around inside all you want. Oddly enough, the longer she was out to sea, the bigger she got.

They stored the canned goods on the decks, and the more the crew ate, the higher the overhead got.

Ken said...

Allow me to throw in my two cents for USS COD (SS224), preserved at the naval reserve station in downtown Cleveland, OH (I! O!). First-rate set of volunteers running the place, and Labor Day weekend when the Air Show is in town, the WWII re-enactors set up on the lawn by COD's mooring.

The Buffalo Naval Park is great too -- they have USS CROAKER (SSK246), USS THE SULLIVANS (DD537), and USS LITTLE ROCK (CLG4, formerly CL92, and the last CLEVELAND class cruiser in captivity). My older son and I got to participate in a sleepover on LITTLE ROCK a few years ago.

Owen said...

Battleship Cove in fall River MA has a couple good ships too. USS Massachusetts, USS Joseph P Kennedy JR USS Lionfish, a pair of PT boats, and IIRC, A Russian missile frigate.

Owen said...

oh, and there is now an LST in Evansville, IN.

Bubblehead Les. said...

Keep in mind, that under the Obama Administration, that one now has to factor in the Cubic-Feet -per-Women into Submarine Design. I'm surprised that the Navy Wives Club hasn't tried to shoot down the idea of locking up a 140 guys with 5-10 Women for 2-3 months at a time like they did in the '80s.

Guess the days of running around in one's skivvies on Halfway Night while underway are over.

Ditto the Cod.

Weer'd Beard said...

I was impressed with the racks. man I thought I had some shitty births on the fishing fleet!

Steve C said...

I was once touring the USS Nautilus, following a couple of new submariners. They were remarking about how cramped it was. The boat has a stair, not a ladder but an actual stair. The young really have no idea.

Cond0011 said...

"...whereas the U-505 is cramped like a space capsule. One is crowded while the other is a claustrophobe's nightmare, even brightly lit and safely parked inside a Chicago museum, let alone a hundred feet down in the freezing North Atlantic"

Huh... this sentence and fragment spun me off to a tangent thought: The short story segment called 'The Stars my Destinaton' found at American Digest:

It really speaks of the claustrophobes nightmare trapped inside a derelict space 'capsule'. Makes you think about those 'survivors' in a sunken submarine.

NotClauswitz said...

Interesting to see the sail-differences between the Gato (USS Cod - 1942), and similar Balao (USS Pampanito - 1943), and the Tench (USS Requin - 1944) boats.
You casn also see the different alarms on the Pampanito here (flash tour: and how they are not physically distinct like the Requin.

Rabbit said...

My uncle served on a Tench boat of similar vintage, the USS Trutta, before she was decommissioned. Sending the link on to him. Thanks!

mariner said...

If memory serves, the green box was the collision alarm, the yellow was the chemical alarm, and the red was the general (everything else) alarm.

WRT the centrifuge: I'd be surprised if lube oil tanks were used for ballast. The seawater would come from leakage in the oil cooler, and fresh water from condensation.

At sea in those days everything was cooled by seawater; even today most things are. Electronics are cooled by chilled fresh water.

Will said...


diesels tend to fill their crankcases with fuel blown past the piston rings. One of the reasons big rigs dump their drained engine oil into their fuel tanks when they change it (or they did, smog regs might have changed that practice).

This problem may have been one of the factors driving the use of that separator.

Jeff said...

I grew up in SW MI and I've been out to the Silver sides a number of times, My dad actually volunteered to work on it a number of times and I got to tag along and pretty much had free reign to go wherever I wanted. Lots of fun for a 10 year old. I actually spent the night on it once as a boy scout.

If you can get up there its very cool. Its much better than the 505 because its American and its not in Chicago.

John Venlet said...

I don't care how little space a sub has, if you're gonna serve in the Navy, go subs.

Those diesel sub sailors were special men, Tam. Any nuke boat is a Taj Mahal compared to a diesel boat. If you haven't watched Das Boot, do so, and be sure to do so in German, with subtitles enabled. Dubbed versions just don't cut it.

Warthog said...

I was going to suggest the Silversides but someone beat me to it.

Since I saw it mentioned a couple times, maybe we should discuss having a blogmeet in Muskegon followed by a tour?

I'd be happy to research the possibilities since I'm only a couple hours from Muskegon.

Old NFO said...

One thing about diesel boats- they stink- very little fresh water, so "navy" showers at best, no real laundry capability, so you just wear the same clothes until even you can't stand em, and throw them away when you come back off cruise. As far as space design, the personal space today is, I believe, 36"X72"X24" plus a 6" deep locker (under the bunk, and a 6" deep half size hanging locker per man. And that flows across not only subs, but CRUDES/Carriers. Mess decks are designed to feed 1/3 of crew compliment at a time, and sized as such. I know on subs, officer staterooms are STILL 3 to a space, and about the same size as pictured with the exception of bigger racks.

Tommy Atkins said...

Did you read the story about the high seas capture of the U505? Admiral Gallery wrote a good book on it. He was the captain of the USS Guadalcanal, the escort carrier that did the job. Pretty brave undertaking to board an enemy sub, that had been scuttled, was sinking, and save it.

Anonymous said...

From a good friend who liked the link and was a officer on these boats.
"By the way, the Requin's three bunk Officers compartment is known as "Boy's
Town," and is identical to the one on the Pampanito.
I slept in Boy's Town on the Pampanito, as well as on the Salmon, the
Ronquil, the Menhaden, etc. These three bunks are so close
together on a vertical basis that the occupant must choose to sleep on his
stomach or his back -- it is NOT possible to roll over."


NotClauswitz said...

Gerry - Thank your friend for me. No rolling over... No wonder my dad rowed crew at Annapolis, his shoulder-size kept him out of teeny-tight places.

og said...

In my woodworking days, I installed and serviced machines in Peterson Shipbuilders. They built Avenger and Aggressive class minesweepers for the navy. They are small, by navy standards, a couple hundred feet, thirty foot beam. They were spartan and clean and small, but they did the ery best they could to make sure the crew were as comforttable as they could be made to be. 81 people on a little wooden boat in the middle of the ocean, must have felt very fragile indeed.

greg said...

I'm not sure how much time they have spent calculating an optimum cubic footage per person on the Virginia Class.

From personal experience, I know from a crew comfort point of view, the Seawolf Class boats were a step backwards from the 688 class boats. I haven't been on one of the Virgina Class boats, but I would be surprised if it was back up to 637 or 688 class standards.

Still, I would rather be on one of our modern boats than anything else(except a Wet British Boat) I got a quick tour of a Swedish Sub when one pulled into Groton...teeny, tiny.

Anonymous said...

My Navy time (1956-1959)
was spent aboard USS Toro, SS 422, out of New London, CT.

Toro was a Tench class boat, commissioned in Jan 45. She had two WWII patrols in Japanese waters serving mostly as air crew rescue. Her most notable action occurred during her second patrol, when she was attacked by US surface vessels - who thought her an enemy sub - and was depth charged by friendlies.

Very soon after reporting aboard Toro, I was designated Ship's Swimmer. Great, I thought, I'm moving up in the world of sub sailors. Little did I know how "up". Later I was told I got the job because no one else wanted it, and because I was from Southern California and everyone assumed I could swim.

"What," you ask, "does a Ship's Swimmer do on a submarine?" Swim to a practice torpedo after the end of its run through the ocean at a practice target. See, the Mk 14 torpedo practice torpedo warhead had no explosive. In its place was an equivalent weight of water. At the end of the run, compressed air blew the water out and the torpedo floated. My job was to swim to the torpedo, attach a retrieval line through a hole in the nose of the thing using a knot I've long ago forgotten. Trouble was, the torpedo was not all that bouyant and it floated vertically. Completely underwater now, two feet of the nose above the water next.

The boat was maneuvered a safe distance away from the torpedo, and over the side I went dragging the retrieval line towards the last spot I saw the torpedo. Swells or waves often blocked my view. A sailor on deck would point: Straight. Left. Right. Stop. The nose of the thing would pop out about two feet and I mounted it, Slim Whitman-like, tied the mystery knot while my head was two feet underwater half the time, and got out of the way while shipmates hauled the torpedo alongside the boat. It was there that things got interesting. Swells mashed 3,000 pounds of machinery into the boat's hull, while heavier rigging was attached to the torpedo. The torpedo was lifted onto deck, down the loading hatch, and made ready for the next run.

In the Gulf Steam this exercise was a piece of cake, except when I asked why some shipmates on deck were carrying rifles and was told, "Shark watch." Peachy. In the North Atlantic, in Winter, not so much. It just me and my skivvies. And the cold water.

As a bonus, I guess one could call it, the corpsman was called to the forward torpedo room to tend to the swimmer. He offered me two small bottles of medicinal brandy. Criminently. I was only seventeen and the first time I declined. Boy howdy, that caused a stir. Thereafter, I traded the hooch to the thirsty sailor who bid the highest number of leave days in exchange.

We were indestructible then. And skinny. Cramped spaces went unnoticed.

Thanks for posting De luxe Boat, Tam, and the link to Lagniappe's place.

Vinosaur said...

The centrifuge is a lube oil purifier and was mainly to remove contaminants from the oil. But can also be used to transfer oil from one tank to another. They are still used today on boats and the design hasn't really changed. The lube oil purifier has a center "three wing" assembly that looks like the Mercedes star when viewed on end. The unit is started, spins at 15,000 rpm. On current boats, the purifier is the second fastest piece of rotating equipment. The purifier's rotation causes the oil to slam into the outer wall and heavier contaminants stay stuck on the outer wall, lighter oil flows out purified. A neat system; especially when you need to maintain clean lubricating oil when no means of resupply are readily available to you.

While a lot has changed, even more has stayed the same. Take the diesel engines... Fairbanks-Morse still makes the diesel engines used today. The "Christmas tree" in control to show hull openings are still used as are the alarm switches. Same colors and handles which, as you pointed out Tam, allow the Diving Officer of the Watch to know by feel which alarm he (soon to be or she) has grasped.

Justthisguy said...

Ah, I remember watching Das Boot, twice. The second time I watched it, my German was coming back to me, and when the guy asked to hand him that wrench...

What y'all must understand, is that whatever else Das Boot was, it was a very seriously insidiously sneaky irresistible Becks Bier advertisement.

Remember the scene toward the end, after the Captain said, "Half a bottle of beer per man?"

All the guys were holding bottles of Becks Bier, with the labels carefully pointed at the camera.

Hey, it worked on me! After I got out of the movie theater and my pulse-rate and blood pressure went to smaller numbers, we drove past a billboard advertising Becks Bier. I immediately started salivating, and thought "I must have a bottle of Becks Bier right now!"

Justthisguy said...

Murphy's, I think that was also addressed in Das Boot. One or two guys had crotch crabs, and after a while, lots of them had crotch crabs, without even having to rub genitals with each other.

U.S. Fleet boats were quite luxurious compared to what the Germans had. They don't call 'em Pig Boats for nuthin!

P.s. I have read that the wives of some United States Navy submariners, even though they are all nukes these days, have been known to have their husbands undress, hose off, and change clothes in the garage, before being admitted to the female-run olfactorily-sensitive household.

WV: shockene. Yes, it is shockene, but true; people have been known to smell very bad, from time to time.

Crustyrusty said...

My ex used to talk about how her dad stank after he came off a diesel boat back in the 70s. She loved the smell, though, 'cause it meant her Daddy was home...

NotClauswitz said...

Nut crabs come from hot racks?
Robert Kaplan's book, Hog Pilots and Blue Water Grunts has a good chapter (Geeks with tattoos, the most driven me I hav ever known - p.138) on his brief stint/travel in a fast attack nuclear sub.
Current nuclear boats and crew are reportedly very-very clean, as much as they can be, again in very tight and intense spaces -- but still there remains an issue of "submariner-smell."
From my understanding its a unique odor that permeates the ship and its inhabitants as a result of the chemical scrubbers and amine (monoehtanolamine) used to get the CO2 out of the O in the atmosphere. Apparently they are working on a solution to it.

RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Ah, amine....

Hot-racking is still common on US boats doing weekly ops, but boats on deployment aren't supposed to do it. And I haven't been on a 774, but I heard that the berthing spaces were much more cramped than on 688s.

WV: beavolv. The world needs more volvs....