Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Can't See You..... I Can't Hear You!

Where are you? Come out - come out -where ever you are!



About a year ago I sat next to a gentleman on an airplane on the way to China. It was a long flight so we had the opportunity to talk about many things. I eventually learned that he had worked on an attack submarine in the U.S. navy during the seventies. That bit of information naturally fueled my curiosity. I've seen lots of submarine movies in my time; Crimson Tide, The Hunt for Red October, Run Silent Run Deep, Das Boot, U-571, Crash Dive, K-19, The Enemy Below, Torpedo Alley, and Torpedo Run to name a few. Now I'm not really a submarine movie junkie, but I can enjoy a good action drama with the best of them. I particularly liked Crimson Tide. Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington were excellent in their respective roles. Having seen those movies doesn't make me an expert in that field, but it did make me wonder.... so I had lots of questions for my incidental traveling companion and he eagerly tried to answer them. I was most curious about the lifestyle on board a submarine. I asked the questions and he provided the answers. He talked about the food and how great it was. At least for the first three weeks he said. Then, they ran out of all the fresh produce like milk, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. After that, everything was canned, dried, or frozen. He said the quarters were tight. Initially, they would start out with a full submarine. The floors were lined with canned food and supplies and all the storage compartments were full. He was a tall guy and was constantly ducking everywhere he went. Generally, the day was broken up into three 6 hour periods. One period on duty, one on break, and one in the bunk. The junior ranks shared a bunk with at least one other person. So maybe while you were working and/or breaking, someone was sleeping in the same bunk that you would sleep in during your sleep period. He called this a "Hot Bunk" system. He said they played a lot of cards, watched movies, read books, and ridiculed their colleagues at every opportunity. Occasionally, there were personality conflicts, but usually everyone got along. He claimed that you had to go through a special screening process to be certified to work on a nuclear/attack sub so most guys were pretty stable. Overall, It was pretty boring. There were no windows to look out and there was no sunshine. Oh yeah, showers were minimal and no girls (except for pictures) .... He said there was a unique smell that permeated everything. Your clothes, skin, hair, books, and personal items all smelled. He described it as a diesel smell only slightly different. Those were lonely times he informed me. He focused on completing his education and the mission which was "to hunt down, track, and kill the enemy" when called. They were attack subs and the Soviet subs were the enemy. It was their job to locate them and be in a position to destroy them should a conflict arise. Our primary target was their (the Soviet's) nuclear subs, he said. By this I understood him to mean the subs that carried submarine launched ballistic missiles, or SLBM's. Our guys were the proverbial cats and the Soviet SLBM subs were the mice. They played the "cat and mouse game" and the yard was the Atlantic Ocean. They would sail for up to 90 days sometimes tracking and following the mice.
I enjoyed my conversation with this gentleman very much and as you can read, I walked away with a wealth of knowledge and an appreciation for what these sailors go through. And naturally, when I read in the paper of the collision between a French nuclear sub and a British nuclear sub, I was instantly drawn to the story. Yes, the French sub Le Triomphant and the HMS Vanguard, the oldest vessel in Britain's nuclear-armed submarine fleet, were on routine patrol when they collided in the Atlantic this month. Officials said the low-speed crash did not damage the vessels' nuclear reactors or missiles or cause radiation to leak. But anti-nuclear groups said it was still a frightening reminder of the risks posed by submarines prowling the oceans powered by radioactive material and bristling with nuclear weapons.......


This event was brought to the attention of everyone when France reported that one of its subs had collided with a submerged object - probably a shipping container. Confirmation of the collision came when British media finally reported it leading some to speculate if France ever really knew about the presence of the British sub. Clearly there are some "secret" capability issues at hand here. If the Brits admit that they were aware of the French sub, and the French sub wasn't aware of the Brits, then that would be yielding that the Brits may have superior submarine technology and vice-versa. This also brings up the question of friends and allies. Are the Brits and the French allies? Granted the French generally march to their own drum, but if indeed they are allies, they should share some information that would prevent such a thing from happening. It really makes me wonder!


France said that Le Triomphant suffered damage to a sonar dome — where navigation and detection equipment is stored — and limped home to its base on L'Ile Longue on France's western tip. HMS Vanguard returned to a submarine base in Scotland with visible dents and scrapes, the BBC reported.

The obvious irony here is that these two subs are supposed to be stealthy and avoid the enemy or be in the position to evade the enemy at all times. It's critical to their survival. Perhaps they both failed in that endeavor.



There will be lots of research done on this accident. You can bet we won't be privy to the majority of the findings.



I'm posting a YouTube video of the story, a link to a slide show, as well as a link to a list of submarine movies.



Thanks for reading!















Slideshow:Nuclear submarines collide in Atlantic



Follow this link for a list of submarine movies.

9 comments:

Jane Turley said...

How fascinating! First hand info is always intriguing. I love those kind of movies too ( I know I'm peculiar for a woman!)- and there's a host more old black and white ones although the names escape me now.

Do you read Tom Clancy? I read all his the early novels - The Hunt for Red October was one of the best - and Red Storm Rising - and then later they got a little tedious...it's been a while since I picked one up though so maybe I should give him a try again.


Ps - Of course our subs are better than the Frenchies!

Footsteps said...

That is remarkable that they bumped into one another out there with so many "lanes" above, below and beside -unless there's a rush hour situation we're not aware of under the Atlantic...?
 
What an interesting seatmate! My last one of note was returning from a health mission in Belize and adamant about a conspiracy amongst America's wealthy and the drug companies to subvert disease cures. Your conversation had a little more reality in it (and you asked all the right questions)!

Summer said...

Very interesting post, Intrepid.

Undercover Black Man said...

Fascinating, intrepid. I've always wondered about the mental-stress aspects of submarine duty. I'd love to get a gander at the personality tests they use to weed out the majority of human beings who would crack under the strain... on day five or six.

Chris said...

That was a fascinating post! I especially like the stories of life on a submarine. I can't even imagine how hard that sort of life would be!

I like the movie, "The Hunt for Red October." I've not read the book, but I met Tom Clancy once at a big publishing trade show in Miami. Now, THAT was neat!!! :)

Sitting next to a person who can tell REAL-life stories is much more interesting, though! :)

Jane Turley said...

Oo Chris - you got to meet Tom Clancy? That's exciting for a bookaholic like me! Did you sit next to him at all? Cos I'm just wondering whether he give you an in depth analytical breakdown of how the chair was constructed... how the legs were at right angles to the plastic edged, MDF reinforced titanium seat with a molecular construction compatible with carbonized haemorrhoids......

Okay, just remembered you've not read Tom Clancy so you'll have no idea what I'm talking about...

Don't worry I don't either...but I'm sure Mr Intrepid will....well hopefully or he'll think I've got a screw loose....

WordSmith said...

This was absolutely fascinating. Had I been sitting next to that man on the plane I would have peppered him with questions as well.

It's truly frightening that these two subs ran into each other as they did.

Have you read American Prometheus -the biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer? It goes into great detail about his efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons years after the Enola Gay made that historic flight. A good, good read.

Oh, and thanks for the good wishes you posted on my blog re: my tummy. I'm feeling much better!

dickster1961 said...

The obvious irony here is that these two subs are supposed to be stealthy and avoid the enemy or be in the position to evade the enemy at all times. It's critical to their survival. Perhaps they both failed in that endeavor.

or perhaps they were so stealthy that neither could see the other and the collision was unavoidable. I'm just sayin' :-)

dickster1961 said...

oh, and you are correct. Denzel and Hackman rocked in Crimson Tide