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.