Poopie Suits Series, Book 7
History - US Submarine Force
Date Published: 12-09-2019
Exhilarating true stories from the history of the US Submarine Force. Life threatening sudden emergencies, fearless rescues, famous skippers, innovative ingenuity while at sea, a unique baseball game at the North Pole, a man with an indomitable will to survive in WWII, and a lot more.
Organized by themes, you can read any story alone. An Audio Version has been narrated by a professional narrator who rode 6 subs himself. The nuance, color, and sense of being there clearly comes out in this audio book. Since its inception, this book has been our Best Seller of our 7 books with true stories of the US Sub Force. It has 329 Global Reviews on Amazon, 88% 4 or 5 Star. If you want to learn something about submarines, read or hear true stories of men in extremis, and want to know about the men who volunteered to ride them...This book/audio version is for you.
This book is highly acclaimed by both submarine veterans and civilians for his readibility, accuracy, and the content.
Ranked in Top 10 by Amazon of books of Cold War Genre.
Ranked in Top 10 in Best Submarine Books of All Time by the Book Authority
The audio book is convenient for those who drive a lot, have vision impairment, or just want to sit back and listen while they do other chores.
This book is a winner!
READ AN EXCERPT BELOW...
About the Author
Charles Hood is the principal author, aided by his submarine veteran brother Frank. Charles is a physician who started helping Frank write his story (Poopie Suits and Cowboy Boots) and then became so enamored of all things submarine, he has dedicated 7 years of his life to collecting, editing, and publishing these fabulous stories so that they are not lost to time. These stories of the bravery, the mettle, the endurance of the men (and families) who volunteer to serve aboard a submarine will make you go "Wow".
Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Charles “Swede” Momsen had
pondered the thorny issue of submarine drownings for years. The year was 1939,
and in just the last 20 years after the Great War, the number of submariners
lost as a result of drowning had been alarmingly large—more than 800
casualties, and without a single successful rescue. In some instances, these
tragedies occurred in relatively shallow water. But then again, babies were
known to routinely drown in a few inches of water if left unattended.
Swede Momsen was a towering personality. With blond
hair, blue eyes, and a chiseled physique, he had struck an imposing figure as a
young submarine commander following his graduation from the US Naval Academy in
1920. He was a submariner through-and-through, and he was particularly
motivated to prevent the unnecessary loss of life within an inherently
dangerous occupation. Momsen loved baseball and dirty jokes, and he preferred
beer over Scotch, but he become most passionate about submarine safety after he
witnessed the aftermath of a particular tragedy near Block Island on 25
September 1925. That night, the USS S-51 (SS-162) sank in only 40 feet of water after a
collision with a merchant steamer. Only three of the 36 crewmen aboard the S-51 survived
The tragedy was indeed sobering, and Momsen determined
to dedicate his time and resources within the Navy hierarchy to finding
practical solutions to what he considered as unacceptable drowning risks. He
conceptualized the idea of a large bell-shaped device, open to the sea at the
bottom. If maintained in the upright position and carefully lowered down over a
cable from a surface ship positioned directly above a fallen vessel, the bell
could be secured to the escape hatch of a stricken submarine. Despite the
substantial hydrostatic pressures encountered below the surface, the upright
chamber could then provide a protective bubble of air inside for the retrieval
of men trapped underwater.
Momsen’s sketches led to prototypes and laboratory
testing over the following decade; in the meantime, he developed another related
rescue device called the Momsen lung, which was a personal escape apparatus
that allowed a submariner to safely perform a free ascent slowly to the surface
with titrated oxygen levels.
Although the Momsen lung was an important and publicly
hailed advance, Momsen remained obsessed with the idea of a group rescue
chamber that didn’t require individual breathing devices. After the initial
testing in the early 1930s failed to generate results, the real breakthrough
occurred in 1938 with the understanding of the physiological dangers of excess
nitrogen causing narcosis and “the bends” during rapid water ascents. By
replacing the nitrogen (by far the most common gas in the air we breathe) with
helium, the issue of decompression sickness was minimized. The bell concept
might just work after all.
On Tuesday morning, 23 May 1939, the telephone rang at
Momsen’s office at the Washington Navy Yard. Momsen was working with an
experimental diver on the proper gas mixtures for a hypothetical rescue at the
time. The news on the phone was grim: The USS Squalus (SS-192) had sunk off the
Isle of Shoals near Portsmouth, New Hampshire with 59 men aboard. Momsen’s mind
immediately raced ahead to the rescue plans that he’d be orchestrating, but
when he learned that the stricken sub was 240 feet down, his confidence lagged
considerably. No one had ever succeeded in a submarine rescue before, even in
much shallower depths of only 10% of that figure. This attempt was going to
stretch the might and mettle of the Navy rescue teams like never before. The
media worldwide turned its attention to the efforts underway, and people
crowded around their radios for the latest updates. The plight of the Squalus became an immediate national concern.
The Squalus was a brand-new Sargo-class diesel sub built and
commissioned at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Only a few
months earlier, she had been launched to great fanfare in the fall of 1938. On
that outing in May 1939, she had fallen victim to a malfunctioning open
air-induction valve during a routine dive—her nineteenth overall. The Engine
Room had taken on too much seawater for deballasting to overcome, and the
submarine descended inexorably to the seafloor. Fortunately, quick thinking by
the crew to kill the switches in the battery compartment prevented the
inevitable explosions that would have resulted had the batteries been shorted
out by flooding.
The men of the Squalus were in complete darkness
on the ocean floor. And it was getting cold very fast. Water temperatures
dipped below 40° F at that depth. The CO, LT Oliver Naquin, ordered a marker
buoy to be send up—a large yellow flotation chamber with a telephone inside, attached
by a cable to the Squalus below. Intermittent smoke rockets were also
discharged from the deck to draw attention to the Squalus’ exact position.
Meanwhile, Momsen and a team of specialized Navy
divers flew separately to New England that day, and the experimental submarine
bell that Momsen had labored over for years was transported concurrently to
Portsmouth. The bell was about to get its inaugural real-life test. The first
break in the rescue effort came early that afternoon, when the USS Sculpin (SS-191), another Sargo-class submarine and part of the search team,
discovered the rescue buoy shortly before 1300. Crewmen of the Sculpin used the phone inside the buoy to contact the Squalus, but only briefly: the
cable broke only moments after the conversation had been initiated. But at
least there was positive verification that men were still alive down there. The
location at sea was marked by a grapnel, and additional resources were moved
into position while preparations continued for a daring rescue attempt the
Americans held their collective breath as Wednesday
morning arrived. Fighting unpredictable and at times hostile weather at sea,
the minesweeper USS Falcon (AM-28)—with the diving bell on board—moved into
position at the site of the grapnel over the Squalus shortly after sunrise on 24
May 1939. An intrepid volunteer Navy diver, wearing enough equipment to double
his body weight, first dove down alone to the Squalus with the task of attaching
a steel cable to its escape hatch. The secured cable would then be used to
thread the diving bell down, preserving its vertical orientation as it came to
rest over the hatch. This incredibly dangerous mission took just over 20
minutes to complete, and the diver successfully returned to the surface for
transfer to a recompression chamber. He had just completed one of the most
daring sea dives in history.
After the diving bell was threaded onto the cable, two
Navy men were loaded into the upper chamber of the bell with blankets, food,
and extra soda powder (spread inside the stricken submarine to absorb excess
carbon dioxide). The bell was carefully lowered over the cable. Around noon,
the bell arrived at the escape hatch of the Squalus, and the two men
successfully bolted it down to create a watertight seal. Mutual banging on the
hull from both the outside and inside communicated word that rescue was
It was now time to open the hatch and begin the
evacuation of the crew, several men at a time. Here’s where the nonchalance and
wit so typical of the men of the Submarine Force in the face of grave danger
revealed itself. As the hatch was opened, and the rescuers began to hoist over
the food they had brought (pea soup and sandwiches), the first remarks uttered
by the trapped men to the rescuers were, “Where the hell are the napkins?”
followed by “Why the delay?” That biting and irreverent submarine humor
reminded everyone that panic was not an option and helped to take the edge off
the sense of extreme danger under such trying circumstances. The first several
men were quickly loaded into the bell; the order of rescue was determined by a
makeshift triage system based on physical condition. The sickest sailors were
brought up first.
And so, during a total of four trips back and forth
that day, the 33 survivors were successfully evacuated from the Squalus to the Falcon. The final run at dusk was nearly a catastrophe as
the cable became frayed and nearly snapped. But in the end, all men who had
survived the initial disaster aboard the Squalus were rescued. The mission
was completed shortly after 2100, and by all accounts, it was a resounding
success. The world audience, which had been hanging on every new broadcast
update, celebrated the wonderful news.
Unfortunately, the word from the rescue site was not
entirely positive. There was grim news to report as well. Of the 59 men aboard
the Squalus when she left Portsmouth the preceding day, only 33
returned. The other 26 men had drowned during the initial period of flooding
inside the after compartment of the submarine. Tragically, the fate of these
souls was cast when the watertight door of the after compartment was closed to
isolate the flooding and protect the remaining crewmen, lest they be lost as
well. A fifth and final run of the diving bell had been conducted before dark
from the Falcon to remove any doubt that the men had indeed perished.
Believe it or not, the Squalus was raised, repaired and
recommissioned. (The arduous task of recovery from the ocean floor saw the use
of techniques originally deployed for the salvage of the F-4 in 1915;
see the accompanying story included in this book.) The refitted submarine saw
new life in 1940 as the USS Sailfish (same hull number—SS-192), which went on to conduct a
dozen war patrols during WWII, sinking 40,000 enemy tons and earning nine
battle stars as well as a Presidential Unit Citation. (The Squalus/Sailfish also participated in a startling coincidence during her service in the
Pacific in 1943; for details read the chapter about George Rocek elsewhere in
this volume.) The Sailfish was decommissioned in 1948.
Swede Momsen was promoted to the rank of commander
following recognition of his role in the Squalus rescue. His Momsen lung
device remained as standard equipment aboard submarines for several more decades
before being supplanted by the Steinke hood in the early 1960s. The only known
instance in which it was used during an emergency was aboard the USS Tang (SS-306)
in October 1944. (In the book – this
story has actual photos taken during this rescue – a piece of history.)