Whatever their fate, submarines from all nations continue on patrol, and whatever their nationality, in time of peace, we hope for all humanity’s sake that their crew’s do not add themselves to the roster of Submarines on “eternal patrol.”
After hearing the report from Sub Brief of Submarine USS Connecticut’s near loss from an undersea collision with terrain below, we believe posting this fascinating analysis here, and also comparing that to the Submarine Losses of 1968. Though we focus on Aerospace, in many way Submarines operate in a manner similar to aircraft, in a 3-Dimensional Environment. The challenges Submariners face mirrors that of Aviation, with the added hazard of the nuclear teakettle which powers every boat in US Service. Thus when news concerning an operational incident occurs, it behooves us to listen to the lessons learned. Lives just might be saved that way.
Sub Brief is probably the best channel on Submarine Operations out there. It is run by a former Sonarman, Aaron Amick, who knows submarine operations from a career spent aboard various boats. Thus his perspective of the Official Report is quite useful from an operator’s perspective.
As the Sub Brief Video clearly shows, the Connecticut Incident was a clearly defined chain of catastrophe. The near loss of the Connecticut is a sad tale of faulty seamanship, navigation, equipment failure, consistent violation of Standardized Procedures, and a Command Climate which ignored lessons and protocols paid for by the blood of Submariners on eternal patrol. The fact that a Nuclear Submarine could hit a dock and yet her Captain could escape being relieved is a rather unique thing in a peacetime Navy. The fact that the Boat’s squadron commander could be the only individual in the Chain of Command to attempt to censure the Boat’s Skipper, and yet was transferred from his command before Connecticut deployed by apparent order of Commander, Pacific Fleet Submarines (COMSUBPAC) is equally amazing.
It is our sincere hope the US Navy has taken these lessons to heart in order to ensure such an incident does not happen again. The loss of a submarine and her crew is already a catastrophic event, should such a sub be Nuclear powered, it can present an environmental radiation hazard for centuries to come. Getting back to the masthead title of this post, 1968 was the worst year for submarine operations since the Second World War. That year, FOUR Submarines were lost, two conventional diesel boats from France and Israel, a Soviet diesel-electric Nuclear Missile Sub, and the nuclear-powered USS Scorpion. What led to these losses is subject to endless speculation, but suffice to say, 4 submarines lie on “eternal patrol” in the ocean depths. Rather than analyze all 4 losses, about which entire books have been written on each, we choose to simply link the wikis on all 4, to memorialize them.
Subs lost in 1968.
Minerve and Dakar’s losses remain mysteries, while K-129s is subject to endless speculation over her final patrol. Scorpion may or may not be linked to her loss, but at any rate, has entered US Submarine lore and her true tail is classified at a level far deeper than is likely to see the light of day for the foreseeable future. What these losses teach us all is that the ocean remains an unforgiving environment in Peace AND War, and the sea severely punishes errors made in her depths.
Other losses such as the loss of Kursk and San Juan show that complacency can truly be the enemy of Submariners, and the US has hopefully learned its lesson from the loss of Thresher, which caused it to implement its SubSafe Program. The fact that the US Navy has lost only Thresher and Scorpion while the Soviets have lost 4 Nuclear powered Submarines during the Cold War, plus Kursk thereafter, and a Charlie Class Cruise Missile Sub which was subsequently recovered. These losses clearly show the US has a much better safety record operating nuclear submarines than the Soviets, a tribute to Admiral Hyman Rickover’s comprehensive Nuclear Submarine training program. When the Soviet Union fell, other nuclear submarine hulls were dumped carelessly disposed of, and sometimes merely dumped into the ocean.
The most recent known US Nuclear Attack submarine incident prior to Connecticut was the San Francisco Incident of 2005, where she experienced a similar underwater collision with a seamount which left 98 of her crew injured, and Machinist’s Mate Second Class Joseph Allen Ashley dead of injuries sustained during the collision. Sadly, the lessons learned in that incident were not able to prevent the Connecticut Incident, though both varied widely in terms of what actually occurred.
Upon decommissioning, US nuclear powered vessels undergo a long and drawn-out scrapping program. Whatever their fate, submarines from all nations continue on patrol, and whatever their nationality, in time of peace, we hope for all humanity’s sake that their crew’s do not add themselves to the roster of Submarines on “eternal patrol.”
Be sure to check out William Cobb’s Facebook Page Pensacola Aerospace Museum for awesome aviation’s photos and stories.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy, CIA and Unknown