Monday, May 29, 2023

Sub Tales : Stories That Seldom Surface - Book Tour


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.

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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!



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".


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Excerpt from "Sub Tales"

The Daring Squalus Rescue of 1939


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 impact.

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 following morning.

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 imminent.

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.)


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