Crush Depth


That February morning under the sea in 1967 began just like any other for the handsome 20-year-old submariner. He was a quartermaster (navigations) on a old-style conventional submarine somewhere in the Atlantic.


His shift ended, so he joined his mates in the tiny dining hall to play five-card stud. An appropriate game for men in uniform. They did not know, as the game progressed, that the on duty crew received instructions from the Captain to test the boats handling stability in reverse direction.


Initially they did not feel forward or backward movement at the slower speed, so they dealt their cards, unaware that the officer of the deck had ordered an all back 1/3 speed.  The boat was moving with ease and maintaining a constant depth. The sailor reviewed his cards and discarded two.


Although huge diesel engines propel a submarine on the surface, it relies on electric motors powered by batteries while submerged. Two sailors with hand wheels independently control the bow and the stern plane systems, which regulate depth changes. One is responsible for small adjustments and the other for major changes. When the boat was traveling in reverse, the two sailor’s jobs also reversed. The small plane adjuster would now take on the job of major plane control.

When the crew responded to an all-back two-thirds order, they were barely able to maintain a level plane. The stern, now acting as the bow in the submarine’s reverse direction, was dropping slowly. The card game came to a halt as they sensed the cavitations from the changed rotation of the propellers.

He doesn’t know how it happened. There may have been a miscommunication. Perhaps an order given or misunderstood. In any event, the boat went to an all-back full even though problems were already manifesting.

The situation turned ominous as the stern began to nose-dive rapidly.

The table tilted and the men and cards slid with it. A pitcher of milk fell from a kitchen counter and hit the dining room wall without touching the floor. All four men braced against the wall, fear evident in their faces but not overruling their thoughts.

In order to qualify in submarines, a sailor must demonstrate knowledge in all systems: electrical, torpedo, engine, damage control, etc. The well-trained young and seasoned submariners mentally began to rehearse the emergency scenarios and responses.

There was an immediate order to blow the ballast tanks, which forces all the water out around the hull providing positive buoyancy. The plunge continued.

The Captain then ordered an emergency blow of the negative tanks for maximum ballast.

The weakest part of a conventional sub is where the drive shaft passes through the stern to the propellers. If the boat reached a certain (classified at the time) depth, the projection was failure (crush) in the packing around the shaft.

The young sailor was keenly aware of the popping and creaking metal of the hull. When this uncontrolled descent halted, (it was later calculated that) the lowest end of the acutely angled boat was forty feet below crush depth.

Then the boat began to rise. It picked up speed as it headed for the surface. The momentum of the massive steel monster popped it far enough out of the water that when it settled back his stomach dropped like it does on the first dip of a roller coaster.

Not all of the crew were aware of the potential risk they had encountered until after surfacing.

There were incident reports to file, and other possible ramifications to the officers in charge. Fortunately, there were neither injuries to the men nor any known structural damage to the boat.

The most important information of all: The future of my children and grandchildren was secure -- still twinkling in the eyes of a handsome sailor.

Comments

What a tale! Thank goodness the story had a good ending.
Tammy said…
Oh wow...you sure know how to tell a riveting story! Even the true ones!

Was he your husband's father?
Thank you for sharing this piece of history with us, Pamela!
Pamela said…
tammy
My husband.
Peter said…
That was a riveting tale (pun intended) Pamela, fortunate that it ended so well.
Debs said…
Pamela you are a great story teller especially knowing they are true. :)

I look forward to reading more!! :D
Jeanette said…
Hi Pamela,Nice story kept me on the edge of my chair with a good ending.
Susie said…
My husband worked on submarine repair at our shipyard for many years.
He is fascinated with submarine history. Thankfully this incident did not end like the Thresher.
xo
Tiggerlane said…
You are a great writer - I was on the edge of my seat!
melissa said…
whew.
Jodi said…
I felt much better once I read the ending... you had me worried!!
Karmyn said…
I'd never heard that story before!
Kelly - PTT said…
What an awesome story - I'm so glad you told it! I'm going to read it to my kids - they toured a U505 sub, so I bet they could picture some of what you write about.

So great!
Kila said…
Excellent writing!

Glad it had a happy ending!
swampy said…
You are such a wonderful historian, not to mention a talented writer...am home for just a few hours and wanted to fly by to say hi and to see if I could comment.
swampy said…
Yea ! Happy Dance ! I can communicate with you again.
ChrisB said…
I just love a gripping tale with a happy ending and even more so when it's a true life one.
judypatooote said…
Wow, your right to let the dust wait, for you are a wonderful story teller....I am so happy that it ended well.....make sure you put that in a book for a tale to tell your grandkids.....thanks for sharing it......Memories are made of this.....
Hazel said…
I held my breath throughout. Good thing it was a short story!
Very nicely done, Pamela. Kudos for actually doing the writing. I have good intentions and then I don't sit down and do it. I did write a page yesterday - but I'm not happy with it and think it will remain a fragment!
wendster said…
Wow, Pamela! That took me back to the days when an elderly navy veteran friend who has now passed on would sit and share his tales of the sea for hours on end. I loved them so. The milk added a great visual image for us land-walkers. A challenge for you: re-tell the story in first person PRESENT tense ... my painting teacher says it's excellent exercise to repaint the exact same picture in a different palette, and then another palette, and then another palette... You are an excellent writer! I'll bet you would enjoy the "exercise". After all, the dust can wait.
rose said…
Pamela, My Brother was on submarine duty. And Ma worried about him a lot. He's the one playing the Banjo with my two boys on the guitar in the "Gospel Rap" I think that's what Jae called it. I called It "Gospel Hoedown" She would tell Me "Rose don't forget to pray for your brother he's in a lot of danger." Rose
Susie Q said…
Amazing writing dear Pam...you know I LOVE a handsome sailor's tale!

Hugs,
Sue
Sally Lomax said…
Glad it ended well. My hubby was on submarines too a few years back!
willowtree said…
That's funny, I was sure I left a comment here the other day. Anyway, phew! That was close!!
kailani said…
Wow, what a great story! Thank goodness it ended well!
Amanda said…
I hadn't heard it either!! Cool story. I am sure Dad has a lot of them that I've never heard. Thanks mom
Stephanie said…
Once again you prove what an amazingly gifted writer you are.
wolfbaby said…
that is so neat... thank you for putting htat last in i was thinking the whole time that you had to have known who this happened to... don't know why

what a way with words!!
Myrna said…
Wonderfully written story. So glad Tammy sent me your way!
Sunrunner said…
Wow!!!! Good story, Pamela!
Mert said…
Wonderful story! I loved the last paragraph :D It brings back memories of being in the Navy, not on a sub thank goodness.
MarlaQuack said…
Wow! What a story!
angel said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
angel said…
hhhhhhhooooowow!!!!

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