John B. Arnold, M.D.
The use of gunboats and other modern weaponry at the 1898 Battle of Omdurman illustrated the changing face of warfare. As noted in Brigadier General Raymond E. Bell Jr.’s article (“The Gunboats of Omdurman”), when the 21st Lancers charged using Napoleonic methods (lances and swords), they were handled roughly by the formidable Dervish troops. In his autobiography My Early Life, Winston Churchill recounted how he sheathed his sword and drew his ten-round Mauser C96 semiautomatic pistol (the famous Broomhandle model) to keep the fierce fighters at bay. The photograph in the article shows the pistol on Winston’s right hip.
Ed Offley’s fine article on 1983’s Operation Urgent Fury (“Fortunate Victory”) caught my attention because I toured Grenada with a friend in 1992. She was ex–Air Force, and we found the population friendly toward Americans with some lingering evidence as well. Among the sometimes-elaborate graffiti was a huge boulder bearing the red, white, and blue emblem of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Among my previous colleagues was a former Army Ranger who had jumped into Maurice Bishop Airport during Urgent Fury. He’s huge, with 19-inch biceps, but he said that as he flattened himself on the runway with blue tracers snapping overhead, “All I wanted was to be small!”
We met Grenadians at both ends of the airline routes. Grenadians were lined up at a Miami International food court, stocking up on pizzas, and their counterparts were deplaning in Grenada with American pizzas to sell. I was too bashful to ask about the markup, but it must’ve been considerable, given the business overhead!
Requiem for the Sealion
Captain Edward L. Bartlett Jr., USN (Ret.)
I greatly enjoyed Thomas Wildenberg’s article regarding the USS Sealion (SS-315) sinking the Japanese battleship Kongō in November 1944 (“To Sink a Battleship”). This is a story I know well, for I both sailed the Sealion and sank her in the summer of 1978. In her final contribution to the Navy and the nation, her sink exercise (SINKEX) validated an important then-developmental modification to the Mk-48 torpedo, which was then (and remains, now along with Tomahawk) the main battery in our nuclear-powered attack submarines.
I was assigned to my first boat, the USS Bergall (SSN-667), homeported in New London, Connecticut, at that time. May 1978 was a very eventful period for us. Early in the month we completed our annual Operational Reactor Safeguards Exam (ORSE); during that inspection my mother very unexpectedly passed away up in New Hampshire. At the same time, the always-troubled USS Jack (SSN-605) suffered yet another main engine failure (she had an experimental main engine system) and was unable to meet an operational commitment in the western Atlantic. The Bergall’s planned post-ORSE standdown was canceled, and she was assigned to deploy immediately until the Jack could get underway and relieve her. I went to New Hampshire for the funeral, and the Bergall got underway—supposedly for a brief period. Unfortunately, the Jack’s problem was worse than anticipated, and the Bergall ended up on an emergency six-week no-port-visits deployment. I ended up at Squadron (then Submarine Development Group 2, now SUBRON 12).
The assigned shooter for the SINKEX was the USS Glenard P. Lipscomb (SSN-685). It was to be a stationary submerged SINKEX, with the Sealion suspended from two buoys. As an unassigned individual at Squadron, I became part of the team that towed the Sealion out to the exercise area and deployed her. Long story short, one of the buoy cables snapped during the Sealion’s submergence, and we almost lost the ship—but were able to “emergency blow” her to the surface and tow her back to port.
The Bergall returned from a very successful emergency deployment—I was sorry that I had missed it—and I went back to the boat. The Glenard P. Lipscomb also had moved on to another tasking. On 8 July 1978, with the Sealion’s deployment rig modified to absorb sea swells during submergence, I was at my Battle Stations watch station when, with a single Mk-48 warshot, we in the Bergall proved the effectivity of the weapon modification and put the Sealion to the bottom.
I held, and always will hold, the Sealion in great reverence. Amazing boat, incredible achievement—as were the achievements of all our World War II submarines and their sailors. My generation in the submarine force fought and won the Cold War—a very different kind of war—always seeking to meet the standards of our predecessors. Today, as the sine wave of history comes back to this elevated threat level, it is more important than ever that stories like this be told, both as examples and as inspiration for today’s warfighters.