The prodigious feats performed by U. S. submarines have been well documented. The more modest achievements of one component of the undersea force, however, have not received widespread notice. I speak of the tenders, which really do specialize in services and render them, for the most part, silently.
Like many active submariners, I have, for some twelve years, heaped invective upon AS’s (which is their type designation) or paid them the supreme indignity of taking them for granted. Despite popular deference to the maxim to the effect that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, you will find that in military groups with high morale and unit pride (the two go hand in glove, incidentally), the fields on the far side of the fence invariably lie fallow. It has recently been my privilege, since having been bodily pushed by the Detail Desk across the fence, to learn just how bad my figurative astigmatism was from the vantage point of an operating boat.
“Why is a submarine tender a practical necessity in this day and age,” one may fairly inquire, “when the fleet boat is well publicized as a type which can operate independently thousands of miles at sea for periods of up to sixty days?” To answer this, we must first recall to mind that the design of all combatant ships is a compromise among horsepower, firepower, and manpower. The latter, having the least voluble representation (if, indeed, any) at preliminary design conferences, usually fares the worst. In the submarine, the balance is even more critical than in other types; for, if the requisite machinery, electronics, and weapons systems are to be squeezed into a hull of manageably submersible size, the barest margin of acceptable habitability remains for a minimum number of men. Thus, the complement is only just sufficient to operate her, day-in, day-out, on a three section basis. There simply is not room for contingency ratings. As a result, repairs accomplished at sea are done so dearly. The watches must go on and so the man-hours devoted to repairs are superimposed upon eight inexorable hours per man per day of watch-keeping, which of itself is taxing enough.
In wartime, it is small wonder then that on their return from patrol the crew is well nigh exhausted and should not, if they are to return to sea an effective unit, be held aboard to attack an accumulation of upkeep items which the patrol days were too full to accommodate. In peacetime, with heavy operating schedules, routine maintenance and training absorbs all the effort one can reasonably expect of a man during any protracted period short of an all-out national crisis. Furthermore, although repair and adjustment are possible on board the submarine, the facilities are the bone-bare essentials. Working conditions are cramped and the smallest job encroaches upon the already modest degree of living comfort. The work can be dispatched more efficiently and with better, more lasting results in base shops laid out for that purpose.
Beyond purely material considerations, the balance between hull size and the bulk of vital operating equipment imposes a severe limitation upon a submarine’s administrative, stores, housekeeping, and personal services capabilities. She is the epitome of operating design, and by the time she girds and gorges herself to the point of being self- sufficient for sixty days, life on board offers little more than the few indispensable creature comforts. Some of these are makeshift, for the crew must literally eat its way into legroom. The anxiety to shoot torpedoes is, of course, born principally of zeal to accomplish an assigned mission, but it must be admitted that that ardor is fanned by an urgent desire to enjoy the space the torpedoes vacate. And so it is that her non-operating needs must be satisfied at a base. The base must house the division and squadron staffs, the link with other types and with force, fleet, and Navy Department policies. The base must stock heavy spare parts and expendable stores. It must supply food, clothing, water, fuel. And, finally, it must offer the myriad personal services the human being demands.
Accepting the premise that bases are needed, why go to the expense of building them into ships? Simply because the essence of twentieth century U. S. naval strategy is mobility. We are not so fortunate as the Germans in having fixed in advance the theater to which we will have to commit our subsurface strength. It is still a big world when you are sitting on top of it trying to preserve the peace. The advantage to be realized from mobile bases is tangible—measurable in extra patrol days on station in productive combat areas. Let us examine how the tender not merely keeps submarines physically on the line but puts them there at peak military effectiveness, consisting of the best possible material condition and top-notch morale.
To begin with, through considered policy, the tender is very much a part of the submarine family and is made to feel her status as such. She is staffed with personnel having a future as well as a past in submarines. The commanding officers are men who, having completed a tour as division commander, are on the waiting list for squadrons. The executive officers are erstwhile skippers aspiring to command of a division. On down the roster, “qualified” officers are preponderant. Even in the tender’s enlisted complement, among those ratings eligible for submarine duty, many “qualified” designations are found. The importance of an administration of this character as it affects willingness to accommodate and understanding of submarine problems cannot be discounted. It results in a team which transcends the necessary and forcefully attacks the desirable. So many and varied are the services provided that, when outlined in an information pamphlet, they cover fourteen type-written pages of condensed summaries covering an index of roughly one hundred items. They may be categorized conveniently by cognizant departments within the tender organization.
First and foremost, of course, is Repair, subdivided into about twenty discrete shops. Possessing the capabilities of a small navy yard, the various metals shops can do anything from rolling and shaping f inch mild steel down through sheetmetal and pipefitting work. The machine shop boasts the best automatic tools for turning, planing, grinding, threading, pressing, or balancing. The foundry can cast aluminum, zinc, copper, or iron from patterns fabricated in the carpenter shop. The weld shop proffers acetylene and arc welding, heat treating, forging, and blacksmith work. A battery gang can remove from a submarine one of its huge main storage battery cells and replace the elements. The battery shop has facilities for cleaning battery ventilation ducting and coating it with paraffin to make it impervious to acid vapors. The hull repair gang excels in problems peculiar to submersibles, such as watertightening fittings which must pass through the pressure hull and adjusting mechanisms which are subjected to the most severe of corrosive conditions, alternate immersion in salt water and exposure to air. In some cases, there is a rubber shop capable of moulding and finishing diaphrams and miscellaneous watertight gaskets. Electronics shops can cope with the most complex of radars. The optical shop can swallow a defective one ton, fifty foot periscope, disassemble and fully adjust its delicate optical system. The ills of electrical motors, gyro compasses, hydraulic equipment, mechanical devices (such as diesel engines), refrigeration systems, fire control gear, and sonar sets succumb to skilled articifers of various other shops. In addition, there is a printing shop, a complete photographic laboratory, and a technical library, not to overlook the canvas shop nor the drafting room. Perhaps the most spectacular manifestation of the tender’s ingenuity and resourcefulness in Repair, though, is the changing of a waterborne submarine’s propeller with a skilled crew of diving rigger-machinists. These same men, of course, are available for other underwater work on diving planes, strainer boxes, sonar heads, mine clearing cables, and the like.
Next is Ordnance Repair, a department which must assume added importance as the Bureau of Ordnance enlarges its stable of increasingly intelligent torpedoes, mines, advanced undersea weapons, and special devices. In ordnance, as in humans, temper- mentality is proportionate to intelligence, and modern weapons require the ministrations of a finished technician. The oscilloscope has replaced the lead maul as torpedo tool number one. It is possible, therefore, in the light of keen competition from other phases of technological warfare, to obtain only a modicum of men conversant with all the details of complex submarine weapons arid these few must be concentrated. The thousands of war shots as well as peacetime exercise shots receive all but a few final adjustments aboard a tender or at a base. The reason for this is apparent and is well illustrated by an experience of one boat on patrol during the last war. Before she had an opportunity to fire any of her twenty-odd torpedoes, a dispatch from headquarters required that an alteration be accomplished on all torpedoes immediately. The struggle which ensued can best be likened to that familiar childhood puzzle consisting of a flat square box containing twenty-four numbered little square blocks and one blank square space the same size as the blocks, the idea being to reverse the numerical sequence of the numbered blocks without lifting but by sliding and utilizing the blank space. In this case, however, the units were two-ton ones and the only method of creating the blank space was to dismantle all the bunks in the torpedo room and to suspend one torpedo from the overhead. The ears of the Bureau of Ordnance should have been burning during the three days it took to complete that job. This incident points up, however, that although extensive adjustment is not practicable on board, it is mandatory that there be men in the ship’s company possessing a considerable degree of familiarity with the weapons. To this end, Ordnance Repair, in the course of routine work, conducts periodic on-the-job training for submarine torpedo and AUW personnel.
The functions of Supply are assorted. First, stock accounting and budgetary control for all of the squadron are maintained. General issue rooms and spare parts storerooms are operated and an unending stream of requisitions and incoming shipments must be processed. Secondly, the well publicized submarine diet dictates as one of the tender’s secondary characteristics that of minor provision and reefer ship. Further than that, the tender general mess can feed entire submarine crews on short notice, if need be. Next, and in some respects most important from the standpoint of morale, are the personal service items. Small stores, ship’s stores, fountain, laundry, barber shop, tailor shop (including on-board dry cleaning)—all are operated for submarine personnel as well as ship’s company. The boats’ operating schedules necessitate shift work in practically all instances. Some tenders, for example, have no less than three ship’s stores so that, in spite of directives which decree a single operator per store, at least one can always be open between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Lastly, in Supply, not the least formidable chore of all, is the complete handling of disbursements— regular pay, special pay, allotments, travel money, per diem—and all that that entails. Because eighty men could not fully occupy one disbursing officer, the arrangement is the only realistic one but it is trying to all concerned. The submarine commanding officer has no direct control over the disbursing officer and that harried individual has no direct line of appeal to any of, perhaps, fifteen skippers. With all due apology to the Bureau of Supplies and Accounts, ironclad disbursing procedures are more often than not incompatible with quick, flexible operation and very few people aside from disbursing officers themselves can absorb enough of the myriad regulations to recognize that fact. Suffice to say that all hands do get all money due them and the inconvenience which the elaborate system of checks and balances ordains is minimized. That it is done through sheer doggedness is attested by the following quotation from a tender services bulletin, “Disbursing Office hours are from 0800-2300 daily except Wednesdays (0800-1530). A duty DK will handle all emergency cases outside of office hours.” (italics mine) That, to put it mildly, is by way of making an honest effort to serve.
Moving on to Deck, it is well to note that next to food, boating might well be adjudged one of the most important single items affecting morale of officers as well as enlisted men. As a consequence, in peacetime when the squadron is berthed offshore, not an inconsiderable portion of the deck department’s total strength is channelled into running what is probably the Navy’s most liberal and accommodating boat schedule. It is effort well spent, for a submariner is unquestionable more effective during a long day at sea if he harbors the comforting thought that irrespective of the time, day or night, ten minutes after his ship “doubles up” her mooring lines, a special boat will be ready to take him home. In the matter of marlinespike seamanship, the submarines are handicapped by lack of tools and expert boatswain’s mates. The first lieutenant’s rigging loft and paint locker are available to alleviate this shortcoming. Even the bos’n’s punts are at the disposal of submarine side cleaners. Another deck division, Gunnery, is probably the least set upon by submarines, but it is called upon to stock and issue ammunition, pyrotechnics, and special explosive devices. While not acting alone in other aspects of service, the deck department gives vital assistance to Repair in rigging and unending crane lifts, both aboard the tender and in the nest alongside. Its cranes and its boats work with Supply to systemize provisioning in the following manner: stores ordered by a submarine are palletized in the tender issue room and moved to a hatchway; there they are picked up by crane, swung over the side and lowered into a motor launch; the motor launch then proceeds to the boat in question where a working party strikes it below. The manhours devoted to the task when so organized are a fraction of those employed by the old system involving a long line of men, each lugging one carton all the way from the tender’s hold, up ladders, through hatches and cramped companionways, over narrow brows to the submarine deck.
The Engineering Department proffers fuel oil and lubricating oil plus potable water and distilled water for thirsty submarine main storage batteries. In an emergency, the tender’s generators can be connected through portable cables led out over the side, down a submarine hatch, directly to her battery for charging, the electricians on either ship conferring directly by sound powered telephone.
As for Communications, it would be folly for six to eight submarines moored together each to stand radio and visual guard even if they had sufficient personnel to do it. Accordingly, the operations department assumes that responsibility for all boats in port as well as standing radio guard for routine administrative traffic addressed to those conducting local submerged exercises. Operator training in both radio and signalling is prosecuted by the tender, which maintains a pool of qualified communications personnel upon which the boats can draw. Comparable pooling technique is extended even as regards competent quartermasters and corrected hydrographic charts and publications.
Medically speaking, eighty healthy men in their prime do not pose a continuing problem. Any man, commissioned or otherwise, who is not usefully busy at least eight hours a day is deadweight and so submarines are allocated only a single enlisted hospitalman who must double in brass as a radar operator or helmsman or lookout. His pharmacy and sickbay consist of a couple of good-sized steaming lockers. The tender affords sick call, emergency service, bed space, and dental chairs for all squadron personnel. Hospitalmen in the sick bay constitute a reserve of “qualified” men to furnish instantaneous reliefs for those assigned to the boats. Part and parcel of the medical department is the recompression chamber which in addition to processing divers and new volunteers for submarine school (all of the latter must pass a compression test of fifty p.s.i.) is called upon to succor civilian and service divers.
Even in the field of welfare and recreation, the tender takes charge, administering a composite recreation fund derived from profits on sales in the ship’s stores and apportioned among the units of the squadron on a per capita basis. She maintains an athletic storeroom bulging with golf clubs, fishing gear, baseball equipment, tennis rackets, shot guns for skeet shooting, and equipment for about every other conceivable sport. In the hobby shop are facilities for woodworking, leather work, ceramics, and model building. A library, a mammoth television set, ping pong tables, and nightly movies are for the enjoyment of all squadron - personnel. Transportation, supplies, and even music are readily furnished for ship’s parties and picnics. A squadron newspaper covers events of interest to all hands. The chaplain is, in reality,. a squadron chaplain and masterminds such functions as combined children’s Christmas parties and smokers.
At the conclusion of this exhaustive list, come such odds and ends as the post office, brig space, officers for courts martial and investigations, storerooms for excess material, bins for scrap metal, berthing space in wardroom country to afford more comfort to bachelor submarine officers, and training aids in the form of an attack teacher, a sonar trainer, and a periscope trainer.
These multitudinous services, large and small, in aggregate are more than trivial indulgence. They constitute a working application of the profoundly logical tenet of the concentration of effort. The needs of all the units of a squadron are consolidated, coordinated, and processed by specialized groups, and the submarine complement is relieved of a vast amount of detail so that it can devote substantially all its time to arduous, realistic, operational training. The over-all result is superior undersea strength, maintained economically dollarwise and manpowerwise.
The modern submarine tender stands a monument to farsighted men who recognized the solution to logistical problems long before logistics, as such, was dignified as being a military science in its own right.