Since the creation of the United States Navy the need to deliver warships to the often ill defined specifications of the war fighters by the professional naval engineers and naval architects and the designers/builders has been a challenge. One that continues today and will always be with us be we operators (OPNAV) or designers/deliverers of warships (NAVSEA).

In my career I was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity to work in both worlds in the operation of submarines and destroyers and in the design of both surface ships and subs. Hopefully I see the perspectives of both worlds and will relay a few experiences that shed light on the interfaces between operators and creators of warships.

To illustrate the point with respect and humor I reproduce here a pair of messages committed to the ether in 1964 ( I enlisted in the US Navy in June 1960 for the record and served in DDG 16 for four years as the MPA and Missile Fire Control Officer) . The first I must note was created by the Commanding Officer of the USS Gridley (DLG-21) on 10 July 1964 and answered by Chief, Bureau of Ships (now Naval Sea Systems Command – NAVSEA) on 10 August 1964. The exchange is priceless. I recall having these two messages fall into my hands at the Engineering Duty Officer School at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in 1975. As I recall RADM Malcolm McKinnon passed to the class. He had a great sense of humor and is fondly remembered by many of my generation.

Thus begins the exchange:

From: Commanding Officer, U.S.S. GREDLEY (DLG-21)
To: Chief, Bureau of Ships

Subj: Urinals,; height of

1. In a recent exchange of correspondence between Commander, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and the Chief, Bureau of Ships, the Commander, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, on the basis of


bu U.S.S. GRIDLEY (DLG-21) and U.S.S REEVES (DLG-24), recommended that in future constructions the urinals be installed at a height of 25 inches above the deck rather than the specified 23 inches. In response to the recommendation, the Chief, Bureau of Ships stated that the evidence cited did not justify the departure from the shipyard specifications on the height of urinal installation.
2. Since the original recommendation was made partly on the basis of GRIDLEY personnel and since there is an indication that GRIDLEY’s complaint was not adequately justified, GRIDLEY has caused a more thorough inquiry into the facts.
3. A survey of ship’s company has revealed that the tallest man in the crew 6″5″ and the shortest 5’4″. In a dry run these men have been poised at the urinals at their present height of 23″, and it has been determined that the tallest man has 15″ clearance and the shortest 4″.


Useful References:
Lessons Not learned: The US Navy’s Status Quo Culture by Roger Thompson

This post will examine the motivation of the USN to take highly proven Petty Officers post WWII and send them to the best engineering universities in America and then to NAVOCS to inject technical excellence into the operating officer corps.  I attended NC State 1964-1968 with sixteen sailors and marines in this program…..that year approximately 300 nationwide were sent to the universities.  That same year the Naval Academy was placed on probation for academic failure  by the Association of Southern Colleges and Universities…….USNA almost lost its accrediation as a four year college……it was that bad.

NESEPs saved the USN operating Officer Corps from itself……….remains a problem as an institution.  The nation ALSO suffers from a damaged culture that permits 110,000 H1B visas yearly for FOREIGN engineers because the American culture fails to provide the rewards and motivation for academic and technical excellence……..the military academies fall short…….CANOE U is a reality……..still…….






When Things Go Wrong



This item addresses if visual and open documentation info is available the submarine disasters that I can locate on line.   Examples, Scorpion, Thresher, San Francisco, Kursk, etc.  For the laymen—-the service has lost many boats since we started going under…..but a few have been photographed after the disaster…..only a few……and fewer still have actually been salvaged from the thousands lost by all nations.  The most complex salvage operation was the raising of the USSR boat from the Pacific by the CIA in……..






Salvage of the Kursk submarine. The salvage of the Kursk is a good example of the skills and ingenuity of Mammoet’s engineers and operatives. This nuclear submarine sank on 12 August 2001 in water with a depth of 108 meters, with the loss of all 118 navy personnel on board. The submarine then settled about two meters into the seabed mud.


In May 2001 the Russian government awarded the contract for the salvage of the Kursk to Mammoet and Smit Internationale. Mammoet provided the heavy lifting system while Smit provided tugs and the Giant 4 pontoon which was used as a working platform. This project required lifting a 9000 ton load from a depth of 108 meters and it was estimated that another 3000 tons force would be needed to pull the Kursk free.


Mammoet designed a salvage system based on a set of 26 of its powerful strand jacks which allowed accurate control of the high lifting forces. The jacks were combined with heave compensators to offset the wave motion of the pontoon for improved safety and better control of the lifting process. Twenty-six holes were cut in the hull of the Kursk to accommodate lifting plugs which expanded on the inside of the hull. Each plug was connected to a set of strands which rose to the surface where they were gripped by a strand jack.


On 8 October 2001 the Kursk was pulled free of the seabed and brought to just below the surface, hanging below the Giant 4. Tugs then towed the pontoon and the submarine to Murmansk where the Kursk was transferred to a dry dock. The Russian navy then recovered the bodies of the victims and the load of weapons.


The challenge of this project was to develop a safe and effective system for the recovery of the submarine in a short time and then implement the plans safely and efficiently.



USS San Francisco  SSN 571




Los Angeles Class Attack Submarine: Laid down, 26 May 1977, at Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Newport News, VA.; Launched, 27 October 1979; Commissioned, USS San Francisco (SSN-711), 24 April 1981. San Francisco is assigned to Bremerton, Wash.


Specifications: Displacement, Surfaced: 6,000 t., Submerged: 6.927 t.; Length 360′; Beam 33′; Draft 29′; Speed, Surfaced 25 kts, Submerged 30+ kts; Depth limit 950′; Complement 129; Armament, four 21″ torpedo tubes aft of bow can also launch Harpoon and Tomahawk ASM/LAM missiles & MK-48 torpedoes; Combat Systems, AN/BPS-5 surface search radar, AN/BPS-15 A/16 navigation and fire control radar, TB-16D passive towed sonar arrays, TB-23 passive “thin line” towed array, AN/BQG-5D wide aperture flank array, AN/BQQ-5D/E low frequency spherical sonar array, AN/BQS-15 close range active sonar (for ice detection); MIDAS Mine and Ice Detection Avoidance System, SADS-TG active detection sonar, Type 2 attack periscope (port), Type 18 search periscope (starboard), AN/BSY-1 (primary computer); UYK-7; UYK-43; UYK-44, WLR-9 Acoustic Intercept Receiver, ESM; Propulsion System, S6G nuclear reactor one propeller at 35,000 shp.





In Dry Dock  SS711


Close up view of the bow of the Los Angeles class attack submarine San Francisco (SSN-711) in dry dock in Apra Harbor, Guam, Jan. 27, 2005, to assess damage sustained after running aground approximately 350 miles south of Guam Jan. 8, 2005.
This was forwarded to me from a Submariner from his buddy who was the Diving Officer when they hit the sea mount. Interesting reading! There are quite a few amazing stories that have come out of this event.

Crewperson assessment……
To say that I’ve had a bad year so far would be a little short on the tooth I think. Last year was a good one for the boat. After spending 5 months away from home in drydock (Sandy Eggo) we got our second BA on ORSE (bad juju), received the highest score in PacFlt for a submarine TRE inspection, aced our mine readiness inspection with 4 out of 4 hits, completed 2 outstanding missions (will have to shoot you), and completed a early ORSE just before Christmas with an EXCELLENT. It was also the first year that Auxiliary Division had a Christmas standown since coming out of the yards in 2002. A-division also took the CSS-15 Red DC award for the second year in a row. My retention has been 100% since I checked onboard in Oct 2002 amongst 1st/2nd and turd termers.
We were going to our first true liberty port 2 weeks ago, heading for Brisbane and fun in the sun. As this WOG knows, we were getting ready for our crossing the line ceremony and the crew was really upbeat, and hard charging, we had just completed a great year for the San Fran
To say the world went to shyte in a hand basket would be an understatement. I would put it closer to a nightmare that becomes reality.
The seamount that is a large part of the discussion the last 2 weeks is un-named. The charts we carried onboard were up to date as far as we can tell. No modern geographic data for this area was available to us onboard as it is a remote area not often traveled by the Navy. We have one of the BEST ANav’s in the fleet onboard, a true quartergasket that takes pride in his job. We have RLGN’s onboard, when they are running, they are accurate as hell for our position, they also drive Tomahawks.
We knew where we were. All of my depth gauges and digital read the same depths as we changed depth to our SOE depth for flank. I can’t discuss alot, because I’m still a participent of at least 2 investigations….LOL.
I was the Diving Officer of the Watch when we grounded. If you read the emails from ComSubPac, you will get some of the details, from flank speed to less than 4 knots in less than 4 seconds. We have it recorded on the RLGN’s-those cranky bastages actually stayed up and recorded everything. For you guys that don’t understand that, take a Winnebego full of people milling around and eating, slam it into a concrete wall at about 40mph, and then try to drive the damn thing home and pick up the pieces of the passengers.
As for the actual grounding, I can tell you that it was fortunate that myself and the Chief of the Watch were blessed by somebody. I was standing up, changing the expected soundings for a new depth on the chart (yes, we had just moved into deeper water) leaning against the ship’s control panel with a hand grip, and the COW was leaning down to call the COB on the MJ.
The next thing to cross my mind was why am I pushing myself off of the SCP and where the hell the air rupture in the control room come from? I didn’t know it, but I did a greater than 3g spiderman against the panel, punched a palm through the only plexiglass guage on the SCP and had my leg crushed by the DOOW chair that I had just unbuckled from. The DOOW chair was broken loose by the QMOW flying more than 15 feet into it and smashing my leg against a hydraulic valve and the SCP. I don’t remember freeing myself from it. If I had been buckled in, I don’t think I would be writing this. The COW was slammed against the base of the Ballast Control Panel, and only injured his right arm. He could of destroyed the BCP, he was a big boy. Everybody else in control, with the exception of the helm, was severely thrown to the deck or other items that were in their way, and at least partially dazed. Within about 5 seconds of the deceleration, we blew to the surface, it took that 5 seconds for the COW to climb up the BCP and actuate the EMBT blow. We prepared to surface right away and got the blower running asap, I didn’t know how much damage we had forward but knew it was not good, I wanted that blower running.
I would say that about 80% of the crew was injured in some way, but do not know the number. We grounded in the middle of a meal hour, just after field day, so most of the crew was up. Once we got the boat on the surface and semi-stable with the blower running the rest of the ship conditions started sinking in to our minds. We were receiving 4MC’s for injured men all over the boat. I was worried that those reports were over whelming any equipment/boat casualties that could make our life worse. I had teams form up of able bodied men to inspect all of the forward elliptical bulkhead, lower level, and tanks below those spaces. I couldn’t believe that we did not have flooding, it just didn’t fit in. At one point I looked around in the control room, and saw the disaster.
The entire control room deck was covered in paper from destroyed binders, and blood. It looked like a slaughterhouse, we had to clean it up.
I knew that Ash was severly injured and brought to the messdecks, he was one of my best men, and one of our best sailors onboard, he was like a son to me. After surfacing I was the control room supervisor, I had a boat to keep on the surface and fight and knew that if I went below to see how he was doing, it would teeter me on the brink of something that the ship did not need, the ship needed somebody who knew her.
I have to say that the design engineers at Electric Boat, NavSea and others have designed a submarine that can withstand incredible amounts of damage and survive. We lost no systems, equipment, or anything broke loose during the impact. The damage to our sailors was almost all from them impacting into the equipment.
The crew is a testament to training and watch team backup. When a casualty occurs, you fight like you train, and train like you fight. It kept us alive during that 2+day period.
I’ve just returned from the honor of escorting my sailor home to his family. God bless them, they are truly good people and patriotic. The Navy is doing everything they can for them and they are learning how submariner’s take care of each other. During the memorial and viewing on Saturday, CSS-15 provided a video from the coast guard of us on the surface and the SEAL/Dr. medical team being helo’d in, the family had this video played on 2 screens in the background. It was a sobering reminder of what a hard woman the ocean can be. We had to call off the helo because of the sea state, it was becoming too dangerous for the aircraft, we almost hit it with the sail a couple of times. The sea would not allow us to medivac in our condition and that sea state.
I was one of the 23 sent to the hospital that Monday. I was fortunate, my leg was not broken, just trashed/bruised. I walked on that leg for almost 24 hours before it gave out on me and they had it splinted. The SEAL made me promise not to walk on it, how do you refuse a SEAL? LOL.
So I hopped around on a single leg for awhile, the other chief’s were calling me Tiny Tim, LOL. “God bless each and every one! Except you, and you, that guy behind you!”. The COB threatened to beat my @ss if I walk onboard before my leg is otay, he’s about the only man onboard that I’d take that from, hehe.
The crew is doing better, we’ve lost a few due to the shock of the incident. We will make sure they are taken care of. The investigation goes on, and I have a new CO. I will only say that the San Fran was the best damn sub in the Navy under CDR Mooneys leadership. We proved that.
God bless him and his family no matter what happens in the future, he is truly a good man.
I just need to get my leg healed and get back to fighting my favorite steel bitch.



SF In Dry Dock with New Sonar Dome 

Shipyards Design The Boats, Build Them and Fix Them….THE CONSTANT

 Official Position USN

USS San Francisco Investigation Completed

Story Number: NNS050509-14Release Date: 5/9/2005 3:11:00 PM

From U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) — The U.S. Navy announced May 9 the completion of the investigation into the Jan. 8 accident aboard the submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) that claimed the life of one Sailor.

San Francisco struck an undersea mountain about 360 miles southeast of its Guam homeport because its leaders and watch teams failed to develop and execute a safe voyage plan, the command investigation into the incident concluded.

“The findings of fact show that San Francisco, while transiting at flank (maximum) speed and submerged to 525 feet, hit a seamount that did not appear on the chart being used for navigation,” the 124-page report said of the incident in the vicinity of the Caroline Islands.

“Other charts in San Francisco’s possession did, however, clearly display a navigation hazard in the vicinity of the grounding,” it said. “San Francisco’s navigation team failed to review those charts adequately and transfer pertinent data to the chart being used for navigation, as relevant directives and the ship’s own procedures required.

“If San Francisco’s leaders and watch teams had complied with requisite procedures and exercised prudent navigation practices, the grounding would most likely have been avoided. Even if not wholly avoided, however, the grounding would not have been as severe and loss of life may have been prevented.”

Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Joseph Allen Ashley, 24, of Akron, Ohio, died aboard the submarine Jan. 9 from an “inevitably fatal” severe head injury sustained during the accident.

“Earlier evacuation or arrival of medical officers would not have changed the outcome for [Petty Officer] Ashley” the investigation said in regard to the two additional medical personnel flown aboard by helicopter and two attempts to medically evacuate him by helicopter.

Another 97 of 137 crew members reported injuries ranging from minor bruising and muscle strains to two who suffered dislocated shoulders. Sixty-eight of them were evaluated and treated aboard, while the remaining 29 were treated at Naval Hospital Guam when San Francisco returned to port under its own power Jan. 10. Just three of them were admitted overnight for further evaluation and treatment.

As a result of the collision, U.S. 7th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert relieved Cmdr. Kevin Mooney of his command of San Francisco Feb. 12 following non-judicial punishment proceedings in Yokosuka, Japan. Mooney also received a letter of reprimand.

But Greenert, in his endorsement of the investigation, also praised Mooney’s prior record and performance following the impact.

“Although the grounding incident compelled me to punish [him] and remove him from command, in my opinion it does not negate 19 years of exemplary service,” the admiral wrote. “Prior to the grounding incident, USS San Francisco demonstrated a trend of continuing improvement and compiled an impressive record of achievement under [Mooney’s] leadership. Moreover, the crew’s post-grounding response under his direct leadership was commendable and enabled [the sub’s] recovery and safe return to port.”

Greenert also criticized the executive officer and navigation team for their share of the responsibility, saying their “failure to adequately and critically review applicable publications and available charts led to submission of an ill-advised voyage plan and hindered the commanding officer’s ability to make fully informed safety-of-ship decisions.”

Six crew members were punished March 22 by Capt. Bradley Gehrke, commander of Submarine Squadron 15 on Guam, to which San Francisco was assigned. None were identified due to privacy reasons, but they included enlisted, senior enlisted and officer. The punishments included reduction in rate and punitive letters of reprimand.

San Francisco remains in drydock in Apra Harbor, Guam, under repair.

Author’s comment:   Because of the exceptional design and construction of this boat SSN 711 many lives were saved.  The training and professionalism of the crew also saved many.   A sub traveling a flank speed essentially hit a wall that did not move…….amazing the outcome.  The water depth below was thousands of feet…….no recovery would have been possible.            After repairs it rejoined the flee and served for many more years.







Until USS Natulus was operational, ALL submarines regardless of origion were “Smoke Bosts”…..certainly none were nuclear powered.   I will restrict info here to United States submarines, warships only.


USS Queenfish AGSS 393     CIRCA 1960

I qualified in Queenfish in December 1961….a time when most US submarines were diesel powered.   The nuclear boats were few but growing in numbers rapidly as we focused on the Cold War.  Essentially American submarines were the key to the victory over the USSR which fell in 1989 (approximately).  Diesel boats played an important role in the “HOT” war – Viet Nam working in Special Operations with UDT/SEALS throughout South East Asia.



“Smoke Boat” setting colors – JAP kills WWII.



German WWII U- Boat…Kills Merchant In North Atlantic



ForwardTorpedo Room – shetch. WWII Fleet Boat.

  Note Sailor in “Rack” left above.  I had a Rack in Forward Torpedo Room on SS 393.



WWII Fleet Boat Sketch -Control Room – Diving Control Station.










Under ICE Tech and Operations

USS Skate….FIRST At North Pole Surfaced.


 Nautilus (SSN 571) FIRST under Pole. 1958.


Uhhhhh…3 AUG 58.

MAP np 01


North Polar Maps

 1831B Jenette np 1831c Jenette NP 1831 Jenwtte NP

Loss of Jenrette

Basic CMYK

Playtime at The North Pole – Bears just wanna have fuh..nn.

Curious Bear

Where are you off to…..??


This – sailors – will never work….hope your boat is better designed   !!


Looking For The Pole

A highly recommended (Kindle available) work by Alfred McLauren, ex-skipper of USS Queenfish (SS651) is Unknown Waters addressing the 1970 maping of the underice view of the Siberian Coast.  Summary below:

Charting the Siberian continental shelf during the height of the Cold War

This book tells the story of the brave officers and men of the nuclear attack submarine USS Queenfish (SSN-651), who made the first survey of an extremely important and remote region of the Artic Ocean. The unpredictability of deep-draft sea ice, shallow water, and possible Soviet discovery, all played a dramatic part in this fascinating 1970 voyage.
Covering 3100 miles over a period of some 20 days at a laborious average speed of 6.5 knots or less, the attack submarine carefully threaded its way through innumerable underwater canyons of ice and over irregular seafloors, at one point becoming entrapped in an “ice garage.” Only cool thinking and skillful maneuvering of the nearly 5,000-ton vessel enabled a successful exit. The most hazardous phase of the journey began 240 nautical miles south of the North Pole with a detailed hydrographic survey of an almost totally uncharted Siberian shelf, from the northwestern corner of the heavily glaciated Severnaya Zemlya Archipelago to the Bering Strait via the shallow, thickly-ice-covered Laptev, East Siberian, and Chukchi seas.
The skipper of the Queenfish had been trained and selected by Admiral Hyman Rickover and, inspired by this polar experience, McLaren became one of the world’s foremost Arctic scientists, studying first at Cambridge University and then obtaining his doctorate in physical geography of the Polar Regions from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
A note: I liive in Bailey, Colorado above Denver, my son lives in Boulder and I qualified on Queenfish (SS393) in 1961.  Some connection here.
FYI a review from Amazon:  CAPT McLaren’s splendid account of USS QUEENFISH’s historic under-ice survey is well-written and gripping. As a former submarine sailor and arm-chair Antarctica junkie—I had little difficulty translating the submarine-speak and ice-speak. Some who have reviewed made the point of the “trade language”—I would offer the potential reader the following: CAPT McLaren’s explained (more than once) the more esoteric terms—and had the grace to include an exhaustive glossary. I plan to purchase this book for one of my children–who has never served on a boat—and advise marking the glossary for quick reference. The prose is somewhat repetitive, but the nature of their work was repetitive. CAPT McLaren managed to make a topic that had potential to be dull and boring into a riveting story of a time not so long ago when submarine skippers had no leash. Based on the story and a few people of acquaintance who know of CAPT McLaren, I could recommend this book for up and coming leaders—regardless the vocation. By all accounts, CAPT McLaren was/is thoughtful, honest, and courageous—good attributes for anyone, particularly anyone in a position of leadership.
 My Take:  The author from first hand experiences provides the layman with interesting information…..about as much as possible given the need for secrecy in our business.  Good read but he uses the first poerson a little toooo often.






I was privilege in 1978 to have been appointed Assistant Nuclear Power Superintendent (CODE 2301) for the defueling overhaul of USS Nautilus SSN 571. We also following the Nautilus defueling and decommissioning,  refuled USS Seawolf SSN  575. Both had similar nuclear plants and it was prudent to conduct the defueling of Nautilus and refueling of Seawolf at Mare Island.   Seawolf home port was at Mare Island.  The challenges at Mare was to conduct the defueling using antiquated equipment (cutting machines, barrells, hoists, etc) delivered from Electric Boat in Groton.  The equipment was prepared using existing standards of cleanliness and captivation in late 1970s(see above- the equipment was designed and fabricated in the early 1950s) and HGR gave no quarter on this set of requirements.  After defueling, Nautilus was towed to Puget Sound where she was placed in mothballs for several years until she was returned to her home in New London, Connecticut.  There today she lies as a historic site for all Americans to visit and enjoy.

The print below is in my private collection and was presented to me upon decommissioning of Nautilus at Mare Island.   Signed by the Commanding Officer.  Nautilus and I spanned the 60s and 70s as the US submarine service transitioned from a handful of diesel boats to over 100 nuclear submarines.




Below Sourced from Naval History Heritage Command





“In the beginning, God created……”  so the first passage in the Bible tells us.   A well known passage.   I am a past student and follower of Professor Noam Chompsky – Professor of Linguistics at MIT – and in a video circa 2012 at Princeton the good Professor says: “The passage is grammatically in error and the passage is incorrect in its translation.   Been so for 1000 years”.  So we should be very careful in our analysis of all written and spoken word today.  ALL THE REPORTS, SPOKEN WORD, PICTURES AND VIDEO OF SCORPION SHOULD BE VIEWED WITH INTROSPECTION AND CAREFUL EXAMINATION.  Any party that proports to have the causes “figgered out” probably does not.

I am getting ahead of myself but after reviewing a few old hard drives stored for my move last summer, I am encouraged to start this thread. The loss of USS Scorpion is still very controversial but because so much information has been developed the topic here may prove interesting to others .


Scorpion Surfaced Circa 1965


 Area of Loss May 1968



From  Ed Offley with full credit and some editing by myself – simply clerical:

“The nuclear submarine USS Scorpion received the top secret message shortly before midnight: Change course and head for the Canary islands, where a mysterious collection of Soviet ships had caught the Navy’s eye.

Thirty-three minutes later, the Scorpion surfaced at the U.S. submarine base in Rota, Spain, to transfer two crewmen ashore via a Navy tug. The men had emergency leave orders, one for a family matter, the other for medical reasons.

It was May 17, 1968, and it was the last time anyone saw the Scorpion. The submarine sank five days later.

More than five months later, the Scorpion’s wreckage was found on the ocean floor, two miles deep in the Atlantic. All 99 men aboard had died.

Spokesman Cmdr. Frank Thorp on Tuesday repeated the Navy’s position the Scorpion sank because of a malfunction while returning to its home port of Norfolk, Va. “While the precise cause of the loss remains undetermined, there is no information to support the theory that the submarine’s loss resulted from hostile action or any involvement by a Soviet ship or submarine,” Thorp said.

But in fact, the Scorpion at the time it sank was at the center of a web of espionage, high-tech surveillance and a possible Cold War military clash that resulted in an alleged agreement by both the United States and the former Soviet Union to cover up the full accounting of what happened.

A review of hundreds of documents and interviews with dozens of current and former military personnel presents a scenario dramatically different from the official Navy version:

~ The Scorpion was not on a routine crossing of the Atlantic, but had been diverted to a top-secret mission to spy on a group of Soviet ships, including a nuclear submarine.

~ Although the Navy’s official explanation was of a mechanical malfunction, that countermanded an earlier conclusion by a panel of senior Navy officials that the Scorpion was sunk by a torpedo. The panel concluded it was one at the Scorpion’s own torpedoes, gone awry. Experts still disagree about whether it could have been a Soviet torpedo.

~ The Scorpion believed it was operating in secret, but John Walker, the Navy’s most notorious spy, had given the Soviets the codes they needed to track the U.S. submarine in the hours before it sank. The Soviets had the ability to monitor an electronic transmissions to the Scorpion, including the encrypted orders sending it on its spy mission

Several Russian admirals say senior Navy officials in both the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to never disclose details of the Scorpion incident and the loss of a Soviet missile sub in the Pacific two months earlier in 1968. To do so, they say, could have seriously damaged U.S. – Soviet relations.

A senior admiral in the Pentagon at the time of the Scorpion sinking said in a recent interview that U.S. intelligence agencies feared the submarine was headed into possible danger, based on intercepted Soviet naval communications in the Atlantic.

“There was some communications analysis….that the Scorpion had been detected by the group she had been shadowing and conceivably they had trailed her,” retired Vice Adm. Philip Beshany said. “There were some speculations that not only did they track her but attacked her.”

Beshany at the time of the sinking was a rear admiral in charge of the Navy’s submarine warfare programs and had access to the most critical intelligence data. However, Beshany said to his recollection the intelligence of Soviet hostility was never confirmed.

There is evidence that indirectly supports Beshany’s assertion that the U.S. intelligence community learned of a possible confrontation between the Scorpion and the Soviet warships it had been sent to spy on.

The Navy mounted a secret search for the submarine within 24 hours of its sinking, several retired admirals told the Post-Intelligencer. The search was so highly classified that the rest of the Navy, and even a Navy Court of Inquiry that investigated the sinking later in 1968, were never told about it. Friends and relatives of the Scorpion crew were told nothing; they still assumed the sub was on its way home.

The deepest secret, however, was on the Soviet side.

No one in the U.S. Navy – including the top admirals who sent the Scorpion on its spy mission – knew at the time how deeply the Soviets had penetrated U.S. Navy submarine codes, thanks to Navy Warrant Officer Walker, the man behind the worst espionage scandal in Navy history, one that may have resulted in the sinking of the Scorpion.

Thorp declined comment on the Walker spy connection.

The Mission

Commissioned in 1959, the Scorpion was designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare against the Soviet nuclear sub fleet. It also carried special teams of Russian-speaking linguists to eavesdrop on transmissions by the Soviet Navy and other military units.

Its final mission began on May 17, 1968.

Led by Cmdr. Francis Slattery, the Scorpion had just completed a three-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea with the U.S. 6th Fleet and was on its way home to Norfolk, Va., when an encrypted order clattered out of a teletypewriter in the sub’s small radio room.

Vice Adm. Arnold Schade, commander of the Atlantic Submarine Force in Norfolk, had a new mission for the Scorpion.

The sub was ordered to head at high speed toward the Canary Islands, 1,500 miles away off the east coast of Africa, to spy on a group of Soviet ships lurking in the eastern Atlantic southwest of the island chain.

The Soviet ships there included an Echo II-class nuclear submarine designed to attack aircraft carriers but also armed with anti-submarine torpedoes.

For the next five days, the Scorpion sprinted toward its target.

What happened when the Scorpion arrived there remains a Cold War secret.

The Navy has never given an official explanation of its keen interest in the Soviet ship activity, and the Court of Inquiry that investigated the loss of the Scorpion in the summer and fall of 1968 said nothing about the sub’s spy mission against the Soviet ships.

The court described the Soviet presence as an undefined “hydro-acoustic” research operation involving two research vessels and a submarine rescue ship among others, implying the Soviets were merely conducting studies of sound effects in the ocean rather than a military mission.

But Beshany, the director of submarine warfare at the time, said in a recent interview that Pentagon officials had been concerned the Soviets were developing a way to support warships and submarines at sea without requiring access to foreign seaports for supplies.

‘This was absolutely something totally different (from normal Soviet procedures),” Beshany said. Until that time, the Soviet Navy had rarely conducted prolonged operations at sea far from home ports, he noted.

Beshany’s Pentagon assistant time of the sinking, Capt. W.N. “Buck” Dietzen, backed that up in a recent interview.

“We recognized the high desirability of getting….over there and taking a look at them (the Soviets),” Dietzen said. “I was salivating in the (Pentagon) corridors to find out what they doing.”

The Navy has yet to declassify details of the Scorpion surveillance mission.

The Navy said in 1968 that Schade sent a message to the Scorpion on May 20 assigning the sub a course and speed for its homeward trip once the surveillance mission ended.

Just after 3 a.m. on May 22 — the day the Scorpion sank — Cmdr. Slattery finished transmitting a message to Schade that the Scorpion would arrive in Norfolk on May 27 at 1 p.m., Navy officials said in 1968. Later in 1968 after revealing only that the sub had been on a “mission of higher classification” before it sank, Navy officials Slattery had reported his mission ended and was heading home.

The texts of both messages are classified top secret.

But was the Scorpion’s mission actually over?

One Navy officer at a key location in 1968 has contradicted the account the Navy gave that year that the submarine was nowhere near the Soviets at time it was lost.

Lt. John Rogers, a Navy communications officer working at the Atlantic Submarine Force headquarters sage center in Norfolk in 1968, was the duty officer the night Slattery’s message arrived.

Rogers said in a 1986 interview author Pete Earley that Slattery had actually announced he was about begin the surveillance of the Soviets, rather than reporting the mission’s completion. Rogers died in 1995, but his widow, Bernice Rogers, confirmed in a recent interview that her husband had told her the Scorpion had disappeared while actually carrying out the surveillance mission against the Soviets.

“My husband was at the (submarine force) message center as communications officer the night that message came in,” Bernice Rogers said. He would have known what was going on. We had talked about it since then.”

Scorpion: Both sides may be burying the facts

What is known is that fifteen hours after sending its final message, the Scorpion exploded at 6:44 p.m. and sank in more than 2 miles of water about 400 miles southwest of the Azores.

What brought the Scorpion down?

For nearly three decades, the Navy said it could not identify the “certain cause” of the loss of the Scorpion and refused to release the conclusions of the Court of Inquiry, citing security concerns and Cold War tensions. The seven-man court of high-ranking naval officers held hearings during the summer and late fall of 1968, and in January 1969 completed its report, which was kept classified for 24 years.

In late 1993, the Navy declassified most of the court’s conclusions. Headed by retired Vice Adm. Bernard Austin, the Scorpion court concluded that the best evidence pointed to an errant Scorpion torpedo that circled around and exploded against the hull of the sub. The court’s conclusion stemmed in part from records showing the Scorpion had a similar experience in 1967 with an unarmed training torpedo that suddenly started up and had to be jettisoned.

The court in its investigation reviewed photographs of the wreckage, the sound recordings of the sinking, and the detailed paper trail of records, including documents and reports mailed from the sub during the early part of its Mediterranean operation.

In its final 1,354-page report, the Court of Inquiry rejected two alternative theories for the loss of the Scorpion: the contention by Schade and his staff that an unspecified mechanical problem had set off a chain of events leading to massive flooding inside the submarine, and a scenario that an explosion inside the submarine touched off the sinking.

The court also concluded that it was :”improbable” the Scorpion sank as the result of “enemy action.”

In 1970, a different Navy panel completed another classified report that disavowed the Court of Inquiry’s conclusion. Instead of the accidental torpedo strike, the new group suggested a mechanical failure caused an irreparable leak that flooded the submarine.

That report said the bulk of the evidence suggested an internal explosion in the sub’s massive electricaI battery caused the sub to flood and sink.

However, two senior Navy officials involved in the initial Scorpion probe in the summer of 1968 told the Post-Intelligencer that the Court of Inquiry conclusion of an accidental torpedo strike remains the most realistic scenario because of the key acoustic recordings of the sinking.

Underwater recordings retrieved from three locations in the Atlantic – the Canary Islands and two sites near Newfoundland – captured a single sharp noise followed by 91 seconds of silence, then a rapid series of sounds corresponding to the overall collapse of the submarine’s various compartments and tanks.

John Craven, then a senior civilian Navy scientist and expert on underwater technology who led the team that found the Scorpion wreckage, said the acoustic evidence all but proves a torpedo explosion – rather than a hull collapse from flooding – sank the Scorpion and killed the 99 men inside.

“Once the hull implodes the other compartments are going to follow right along” in collapsing, Craven said. “There’s no way you can have the hull implode and then have 91 seconds of silence while the rest of the hull decides to try and hang itself together.”

Retired Adm. Bernard Clarey, who in 1968 was the Navy’s senior submariner, also dismissed the battery explosion theory. Such a mishap could not have generated the blast and acoustic energy captured on the hydrophone recordings, he told the Post-Intelligencer. Both Craven and Clarey said in interviews the evidence supports the theory that one of the Scorpion’s own torpedoes exploded inside the sub.

While several retired submariners over the years have speculated the Scorpion was ambushed and sunk by a Soviet submarine, no conclusive proof of a deliberate attack has appeared. The Navy concluded in the 1968 investigation there was “no evidence of any Soviet preparations for hostilities or a crisis situation as would be expected in the event of a premeditated attack on Scorpion.”

The Court of Inquiry report was silent on whether an inadvertent clash may have resulted in the sinking.

Thorp, the Navy spokesman, said the Court had found the Scorpion was 200 miles away from the Soviet ships at the time it sank.

The loss of the Scorpion 30 years ago remains a mystery to family members and friends of the crew. But it may not have been a mystery to a handful of senior U.S. and Soviet Navy leaders in the late 1960s.

The Post-Intelligencer has learned that the United States and Soviet Union secretly agreed decades ago to bury the facts about the Scorpion loss and a separate Soviet submarine tragedy that also occurred in 1968.

Two months before the Scorpion sank, a Soviet missile sub known as the K-129 sank thousands of miles away, in the Pacific Ocean, also under mysterious conditions. There have been assertions by Russian submarine veterans over the years that the K-129 sank after colliding with a U.S. attack sub that been trailing it. But U.S. military officials insist the Golf-class submarine went down with its 98-man crew after an internal explosion, based on analysis of the sounds of the sinking captured on Navy hydrophones.

Retired Capt. Peter Huchthausen was the U.S. Naval attache in Moscow in the late 1980s, two decades after both incidents.

Breaking his silence for the first time, Huchthausen told the Post-Intelligencer he had several terse but pointed conversations with Soviet admirals about the two sinkings.

One was in June 1987 with Admiral Pitr Navoytsev, first deputy chief for operations of the Soviet Navy. When he asked Navoytsev about the Scorpion, Huchthausen recalls this response:

“Captain, you are very young and inexperienced, but you will learn that there are some things both sides have agreed not to address, and one is that event and our K-129 loss, for similar reasons.”

In another discussion in October 1989, Huchthausen said Vice Adm. B.M. Kamarov told him that a secret agreement had been reached between the United States and Soviet Union in which both sides agreed not to press the other government on the loss of their submarines in 1968. The motivation, Huchthausen said, was to preserve the thaw in superpower relations. A full accounting of either submarine loss might create new tensions, he said.

“He (Kamarov) said the submariners involved and those few in the know on both sides were sworn, with the threat of maximum punishment, never to divulge the operational background of either incident,” Huchthausen said.

And in 1995, after Huchthausen had retired and was working on a book on Soviet submarines, he interviewed retired Rear Adm. Viktor Dygalo, the former commander of the submarine division to which the K-129 was assigned.

Dygalo told him the true story of the K-129 will never be known because of an unofficial agreement by senior submariners on both sides to freeze any further investigation of involvement of either side in the losses of the Scorpion or the K-129. “

ALL of the above is quoted from an interview Offley had with :

Seattle Post-Intelligencer Military Reporter
Thursday, May 21, 1998



Additional ED Offley interview:

Shortly before the submarine USS Scorpion sank on May 22, 1968, killing its 99-man·crew, U.S. intelligence officials learned that a group of Soviet warships operating in the Atlantic possibly knew that the sub was on its way to spy on them.

But the U,S. Navy did not know that the Soviets had the capability to learn in advance details of the Scorpion’s top secret mission. How? The Soviets had broken the U.S. Navy communications codes.

That Soviet Cold War victory remained a secret that U.S. intelligence experts would not learn for another 17 years. It has not been revealed publicly until now.

The Scorpion mission was compromised through a KGB intelligence operation that included Navy turncoat John Walker and the seizure of the American spy ship USS Pueblo.

U.S. intelligence officials told the Post-Intelligencer the seizure of the Pueblo was a direct consequence of Walker’s espionage. The connection between the Navy spy and the doomed spy ship has been a closely held secret within the Navy and intelligence community in the 13 years since Walker’s arrest.

Navy spokesman Cmdr. Frank Thorp declined comment on the possible connection between Walker and the Scorpion loss Tuesday, citing the classified nature of the reports.

However, the Navy 12 years ago conceded the severity of Walker’s espionage. The KGB-Walker operation was so successful it had the *potential, had conflict erupted between the two superpowers, to have powerful war-winning implications for the Soviet side,” said Rear Adm. William Studeman, then the director of naval intelligence, in a 1986 affidavit.

The KGB-Walker espionage network began in March 1967, when Navy Warrant Officer Walker contacted the Soviet Embassy in Washington, D.C., and offered to spy for the Soviets. A career submarine communications expert, Walker had just transferred to Atlantic Submarine Force headquarters in Norfolk, Va. There, he worked as one of four supervisors in the high-security communications center where messages to and from submarines on patrol were processed. That was also the communications center for the Scorpion.

Walker offered to sell the KGB top secret “keylist” cards and maintenance manuals for cryptographic systems used by the Navy, according to his confession, made after his arrest in 1985.

The Navy at the time used a series of encrypting machines to change messages into a garbled set of letters that would be impenetrable to its adversaries. When received in another machine, the message would emerge as clear English.

The insurance system was a different keylist – an additional code – entered into the machine each day.

It was the system used by the Scorpion on its final mission.

Walker’s delivery of the keylists provided the Soviets half the materials they would need to break the Navy codes. What was still needed was the encrypting machines.

On Jan. 23, 1968, 10 months after Walker first contacted the Soviets, North Korean military units captured the Pueblo in the Sea of Japan. Seized along-with the ship and its 82-man crew were at least 19 cryptographic communications machines used to encode and decode Navy messages.

The communications gear on the Pueblo provided the Soviets the other half of the material they needed to break the codes. U.S. intelligence officials agree it allowed the Soviets to unlock the top secret messages sent over each communications device.

Four months later, the Scorpion sank during its spy mission in the Atlantic. The three encryption machines installed on the Scorpion were among the systems broken by the Soviets through the Pueblo seizure, according to declassified Navy records and intelligence officials.

In particular, the Soviets had obtained a model of the KW-7 “Orestes” two-way teletypewriter, at that time the most modern encrypted communications machine for the Navy and other military services. More than 80 percent of the Atlantic Fleet ships and all of its submarines – including the Scorpion – relied on the KW-7 for secure messages in 1968, according to declassified Navy reports.

Seizing the machines from the Pueblo intact was relatively easy. A 1970 congressional hearing concluded the ship had failed to destroy much of its communications equipment before the crew was overcome by North Koreans who swarmed the vessel.

Don Bailey, then a 26-year-old communications specialist on the Pueblo, confirmed in a recent interview that the equipment was seized by the North Koreans.

Bailey was operating a KW-7 teletypewriter in the last frantic hour before he and his shipmates were captured, sending messages to a shore station in Japan pleading for air support or other military help. Bailey said he and his shipmates failed to destroy the cryptographic equipment because the ship had not been given emergency-destruct explosives. The machinery was installed in hardened steel cases designed to prevent them from being damaged.

“I was busy trying to destroy everything I could,” Bailey recalled. “But you can’t beat it up with a sledgehammer; the way it was built, this can’t be done.” The machine he was operating was “pretty much intact when they got us.”

Despite the loss of the equipment from the Pueblo, there was little concern then about the safety of coded communications, intelligence officials said. That was because the keylist system was assumed to be intact.

Only years later when Walker was captured did intelligence officials learn that the keylist system had been compromised by the typewriter, [and the Walker spy ring] at that time the most modern encrypted communications machine for the Navy and other military services. More than 80 percent of the Atlantic Fleet ships and all of its submarines – including the Scorpion relied on the KW-7 for secure messages in 1968, according to declassified Navy reports.

Walker admitted to investigators after his 1985 arrest that he provided keylists for the KW-7 and two other communications coding machines used by the Scorpion during his first deliveries of classified material to the Soviets, according to officials familiar with his account.

And Walker later admitted the Soviets told him they had engineered the Pueblo incident as the result of his espionage, an intelligence official said. “The Russians had given him reason to believe he was responsible (for the Pueblo incident)” because the Russians were looking for the piece of the puzzle Walker had not provided – the precise cryptographic equipment that used the keylists and operating manuals Walker had already begun delivering to them, the intelligence official said.

The KGB concluded the Walker spy ring was the most successful espionage operation in Soviet history, according to Vitaly Yurchenko, a senior KGB agent who defected to the United States in 1985.

Walker always maintained he started spying in 1968, but intelligence experts said they believe he misstated the date he began spying to avoid implicating himself in any Soviet operations that caused the loss of American lives. Experts who grilled Walker and compared supporting evidence of his treason concluded that Walker had actually begun spying for the Soviets immediately after he reported to Norfolk in March 1967.

Until his arrest 18 years later, in 1985, Walker and his accomplices earned several million dollars from the Soviets, U.S. officials have said. It was money that may have sealed the fate of both the Pueblo and the Scorpion.

In 1986, Walker pleaded guilty to espionage and is serving a life sentence in federal prison in Colorado.

Offley’s book “Scorpion Down” is highly recommended.  Next log will look at a theory that Scorpion was lost due to inadequate maintenance.



 January 19

Silent Steel Examination

Primarily because Johnson actually reaches no concrete conclusions in his offering “Silent Steel” but devotes much effort in exploring the documented evidence I highly recommend his work.  I do believe much effort in this excellent book is devoted to not addressing plausible scenarios that operators find “uncomfortable” and renders the book a bit ineffective.   Here I review the work in 2007 looking at the intersection of various forces that impact the conclusions in “Silent Steel”.

Commentary Silent Steel Installment ONE 2013

I will comment in three general categories as we work our way through Mr. Johnson’s offering: SCHOOL – non-technical comments based on experiences on the interface between two or more political or professional interest groups within the USN establishment.  OPERATIONS – unclassified comments on operational practices.   TECHNICAL – need I say more –  unclassified or declassified information addressing the Scorpion and other nuclear submarine design issues as highlighted in Silent Steel.   I am well aware that much classified NOFORN information is awash in the post Cold War world and active war with Islamic forces and will not knowingly use any of this information (any level of classification).


Machinist Mate Second Class David Stone’s remarks.  Because I served in the shipyards as an enlisted person (in Queenfish at San Francisco Naval Shipyard – was a Fireman and Machinist Mate Third Class in Queenfish (SS 393) for a battery replacement at SFNSY in 1961) and as a line officer during a major overhaul in Joseph Strauss (DDG-16) as a Lieutenant at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard (1970-1971) I also developed some self – serving “school” feelings about the yard personnel.  But I “got over it” rather quickly, matured to an extent, and never demeaned the yard personnel because I soon realized they had, as a rule, far more experience and skills than I in their areas of expertise.  Stone was not at all qualified to judge the performance of yard technicians that obviously had superior skill sets and completed the refueling of his boat with much praise from many of the officers in his chain of command (as you reported in later passages).  I feel Johnson should have not included his rather sophomoric remarks in that it does not reflect well on his reputation or that of the yard workers.  Trust me they did not regard him as a nuclear inspector but in all probability valued his presence and remarks (we in the Rickover Navy as a rule respected all opinion unless it was obviously self serving, ill informed, or outright demeaning to professionals) and he should have been honored to participate in a very complex process. Hopefully he took advantage of the overhaul and learned as much as possible about his boat from the experts in the yard.   Unfortunately Stone’s attitude must have also been reflected in the officers for whom he worked and this is far more agredious.  As a nuclear ship superintendent and Nuclear Repair Officer at Mare Island I saw a number of the line officers onboard ships in overhaul “go down the tubes” because of attitude problems and an inability to address the problems typically encountered in an extended nuclear overhaul.  Rickover (to whom I reported indirectly – he was the senior Engineering Duty Officer in the Navy at the time –  had a very good idea (from his yard representatives) which officers could handle the complexities and pressures of the yard environment and those who could not “cut the mustard”.  He had the good ones reassigned to another overhaul on many occasions….this was well known to the officers in the yards and the line officer operators.  A boat with a “solid” wardroom always received a much better overhaul and were as a rule out on schedule if not early.   If the wardroom had a negative attitude it was reflected in the crew, the crew’s work ethic and the interactions with the yard personnel.  If it is a major issue (crew performance) the type commander’s (SubPac or SubLant) representative on the yard and eventually the type commander intervened (usually after the shipyard commander and Rickover in some cases gets involved).  Some submarine commanders were reassigned (lost their commands).  Possibly, also, this is one reason submarine line officers dislike shipyards in general and Rickover in particular… much more.  If not yet read, I recommend reading The Rickover Effect ” by Theodore Rockwell and Rickover” by Norman Polmar. Rockwell worked directly for HGR 1949-1964 and I served “on his watch”. Shipyard environments are difficult…..I completed 13 boats in five years in one capacity or another at MINS…most line officers have difficulty with 1-2 years in a yard, consequently I have little enduring sympathy.  I counted the number of assets I worked on at Mare and it actually comes to over 20.


There is no two-strike rule based on technical reality.  Submarines are complex configurations, but no more so than a space shuttle, large commercial chemical plant or refinery, commercial nuclear power plant, modern airliner or modern military aircraft.  Operators often in most environments (me also when I fly) extrapolate unrelated events into unfounded phobia.  I had close shipmates that served on USS Barb (SSN 596 – Permit Class) who were very uneasy about that boat.  It survived and with distinction. Submarine crews are no different than any close – nit group with common dangers, but such “rules” are not commonplace.

The failure on Thresher prompted a program to devote additional design, fabrication and quality control effort for specific systems.  A simple, straightforward engineering systems reaction to a potential issue.  The American industrial complex was involved in a huge building program and while more focus on systems critical to safety was vital, the building program, because of national strategic needs, was also vital to national security….that is the pace was accelerated not slowed while safety was enhanced via the Subsafe program.

Page 6 -7 SS  -SCHOOL 

Given the shaft seal leaked and was replaced by the shipyard, why did not the CO request repair during the warranty period.  As a general practice the shipyard guarantees all work for a six month period after sea trials.  Defective work is corrected either in the yard or at a repair facility using yard personnel.  I was responsible to effect such repairs on many occasions and worked with the ship to meet the agreements.  If the type commander assigned repairs to the ship during overhaul (the TYCOM was the client and not the ship and each entity had to accept that throughout the yard period) of course the yard would not conduct a repair without additional man hours and TYCOM approval.  There was a Type Commander Representative on the yard (usually an ex-commanding officer of a boat –  Captain at my yard who worked closely with both the ship and yard to effect any needed repairs).  I served ay Mare Island for 18 months as the submarine type desk officer and am well familiar how work is assigned to the various parties responsible in a complex overhaul.


The results of Full Power Runs – common tests on all naval ships – I was as the Main Propulsion Assistant on USS Joseph Strauss (DDG – 16) responsible for four full power runs , and participated in sea trials on three nuclear boats of three classes after overhauls – are dependent on not only major power systems components but diligent monitoring by the crew and accurate instrumentation.  In that later the “lost” two knots “magically reappeared” leads an experienced engineer to question the later two (crew and instrumentation) .   Improved speed rarely “happens” – sort of voodoo stuff in my opinion.

The cavitation issue should have been addresses if the CO felt it would put his crew in jeopardy.  Johnson did not here explain the CO’s effective actions, if any, in this respect.


Seems the CO was prudent to have the Orion dive on the boat and check the propeller.  I have done this on two occasions (as an ED I was required to conduct such inspections on occasion) but I can tell you a visual underwater inspection to check for parameters that impact cavitation and/or loss of propeller performance is essentially useless unless there is a significant damage.    In my opinion the CO, if concerned should have requested a docking and had the propeller checked by competent experts from a yard.   This is not uncommon if the CO demanded the work be conducted and if credible information so warranted. Realize divers are qualified to only conduct cursory visual inspections in adverse conditions. In my yard days we pulled several propellers in the yard docks and in floating dry docks in remote locations…..on one occasion we flew a new propeller and shipyard crew to an advanced base because of major cavitation problems.

Page 13 SS  – SCHOOL

Yogi Kaufman was my Officer In Charge (OINC) at Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU) in Idaho and recommended me for the Naval Enlisted Scientific Education Program (NESEP).  I was there (NPTU) as an instructor (mechanical systems and Engineering Laboratory Technician (ELT) – this is also where I first met Hyman Rickover).  Two stories here for the record.

I was on watch on the grave yard shift (2400-0800) and had completed my radiological surveys and plant chemical analysis for the night with my fellow technician, Larry Straight (both of us were MM2 P2 (SS) at the time).  I walked down the hall in the support building to get a soda from a vending machine located near the entrance to the building.  I do recall it being a very cold night (nights on the Idaho desert routinely were 30 degrees below zero in the depth of winter).  As I bent over to retrieve the soda a figure came through the door from the outside and asked me what I was doing.  Admiral Rickover, on occasion, arrived unannounced at any and all of his ships (in port or at sea if accessible) and shore facilities for “visits”.  He rarely wore a uniform at the shore facilities and on this occasion was well bundled against the extreme cold.  He was alone.  We had Quonset hut bunk rooms on the site for trainees that wanted to stay overnight to study – many took advantage of this and when Rickover arrived he simply took a bunk as I recall.  He rarely demanded special attention from the shore facilities or shipyards but put wardrooms through hell on occasion especially if they had reputations as “hot dogs”.

I simply replied I was getting a soda and was on break at mid-shift.  He took off his heavy coat and I then recognized “the kindly old gentleman” – we all knew his face- and I  was of course quite taken aback.  He bought a soda, sat me down on a ledge adjacent to the wall, and proceeded to explain the inner workings of the vending machine.  I asked a lot of “dumb questions” was at ease immediately and had a very enjoyable discussion.  Straight, my watch-mate, came down the hall and yelled for me to come back to the ELT shack to help mix chemicals for steam generator addition.  I dismissed myself and Rickover went about his inspection. It was four thirty in the morning.  His diligence was well known and he trusted his enlisted staff (most of his representatives at shipyards and prototypes were ex-enlisted folks) far more than the line officers in his program.  Of this I am sure.  I will ask again that you read Rockwell’s book for insights in this area.  Categorically, the operating line disliked him and in my opinion it was because he set exceptionally high standards they felt were not necessary or demeaning to their position and rank.

Now, the NESEP program (Kaufman said I was indeed “a good petty officer” and sent me to NESEP prep school in San Diego in (1964)) was established (it no longer exists in its original form) because the Operating Line community (SCHOOL) after WWII was swamped with much more complex ships and aircraft and far too few engineers and scientists were being commissioned.  In fact the US Naval Academy was placed on academic probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Universities and almost lost its ability to award degrees.  During this period a USNA graduate could “get through” with one course in mathematics and no science to speak of at all.  The NROTC programs were better, but woefully inadequate to fill the need.  Basically, technically incompetent officers were filling cockpits and ships that were becoming exceptionally complex.  The Navy acted to fill the breach by taking well performing Petty Officers and sending them to good universities majoring in engineering, science, and mathematics, then through Naval Officer’s Candidate School in Newport, RI and back to the fleet.  I do not recall the numbers that went through the program, but it was 300-500 a year.   This program placed experienced, mature, well educated “mustangs” into the line at a critical time in the Navy’s history.  In the mean time a major effort to improve academic standards at USNA was pressed (Rickover was in the lead here, but the Line Community was not exactly pleased).  I will discuss later the unsuccessful attempt to prevent Rickover from being promoted past the rank of Captain by the Operating Line Officers which comprised the majority on officer  selection boards.

These young Petty Officers performed far above their contemporaries in school (as an example I received BOTH my BSEE and MSEE degrees in 45 months – and that was not untypical at all – today that work would take seven years in a good school – BTW MIT and CALTECH were NESEP schools – all were top schools at that time).  May I also say the Line Community was threatened by the NESEP folks and not at all pleased with the program…..and so it goes.  The USN Operating community was dragged “kicking and whining” into the post WWII realities (technical complexity)  of modern warfare.  Great shades of Billy Mitchell.

BTW this problem is quiet pervasive in the “operating communities” of most services.  It takes mavericks like Patton (tanks….not horses) Mitchell (air not battle wagons) and Rickover (nuclear  submarines and not German Diesel Boats) to make major breakthroughs.  Note I am well aware Patton was USMA……commissioning source is not at all an issue…..creativity, intelligence, courage and tenaciousness certainly are.  Recently the Air Force generals (prior to Desert Storm) fiercely resisted the strategies put forth by a Bull Colonel (who was not selected for One Star) who advocated pin-point munitions (now standard USN and AF approaches) rather that big plane dumps.  Donald Rumsfeld is catching hell from the sword swingers because he is smashing rice bowls long overdue in the Army (maybe they will at last get rid of the horse stables at many posts)……and he wanted to close the sub base New London that has little use except as a museum for Nautilus and a few antiquated schools.


Scorpion was put in a floating Dry Dock.  Did Ship Repair Facility Sub Base New London do the wqork on her at that time ??  SRF Sub Base had a reputation of being a poor facility manned by mostly sailors and line officers with minimal skills.  Hopefully folks from Portsmouth came down to look over the screw problem.  Nav Sea has and possibly had a requirement that folks that inspected screws be trained in a special course.  Niether Ship’s force  nor SFR sailors unless qualified could be depended upon to properly conduct an inspection.    The question is did the “propeller Shop” ask for help from EB technicians or PNSY experts ?  I have had “gouges” routinely repaired in MINSY shops…..piece of cake for a qualified facility.  If the CO felt it needed we must assume he was “correct”……or not


Design point:  The NAVSEA and Electric Boat designers for decades tried to get the operators to minimize the sail “volumes” but to no avail.  On Nuclear Boats the sail has evolved to merely be a platform for coastal navigation on the surface.  A hydraulic mast with a con is now all that is needed.  With three other USN officers, I participated in a submarine design project at MIT.  All three were line officers and two were qualified in submarines.  We determined that a sail was not needed at all and developed a design that incorporated a “con on a hydraulic mast”.  As I recall we improved the speed of the chosen hull/propulsion syatem by approximately 12 knots…..just a study, but possible you get the point here.

The Albacore was the first “real world” boat to evaluate the elliptical hull.  This was followed by three diesel powered “operating” boats we referred to as “The B Girls” – Bonefish, Blueback and Barbel.  Simultaneously we were wringing out the bugs on S1W in Idaho and planning to put a nuclear plant into the Albacore hull.  The operators actually had to be accommodated for a while until they got over Harder , Darter, Trigger, Trout – always in and never out (German designs favored by the WWII American submarine admirals) and we produced boats such as Skate, Sargo, Seawolf, Sea Dragon, etc. (had to keep those bow planes and German superstructures for a while).   This is not to say the operators were resistant, but you please “figger” it out.  We were also moving within the design world to modernize around the Albacore design but met resistance in BUSHIPS as well.  Rickover could handle BUSHIPS (now NAVSEA) but not OPNAV (these folks actually “vote” on design decisions…another story later).  Rickover always wanted responsibility for the entire boat aft of the forward bulkhead of the reactor compartment, but internal resistance at NAVSEA and in OPNAV precluded that until the 90’s.   Now the design aft is a NAVSEA 08 product… will cost a bundle but be exceptionally safe and rarely will we see a system fail in the reactor compartment, AMS or engine room on future boats.


 A final note here….the new Boeing Dreamliner is experiencing problems and all are grounded this day.  An excellent post on Bloomberg today addresses the problems that arise when engineering and quality are sacrificed for profit……the world seems to never change.   Rickover NEVER permitted cost or schedule to override technical excellence or schedules……NEVER.

I apologize for focusing today on the shortcomings of the Navy operators but what is……is.  Rickover diligently worked to instill excellence and conservative approaches and paid a price for his tenacity… it goes.  God Bless this exceptional Naval Officer.

January 20

NFL games today….will see if the web log warrants time….still need to address the contention that inadequate maintenance was the cause of Scorpions loss, among other scenarios such as GDU failure, battery explosion, hot running torpedo, sabotage, self kill by torpedo, and….oh yeah……lasso the shaft.  ALL have been discussed in other environs.


My time is limited today and I came across a summary discussion I developed a few years ago addressing the topic od sabatoge of the Scorpio.   Please also look over the list of references herein —-especially those with historical references to KGB activities.   Also a good review of USSR  – KGB activities over the years in Italy is warranted.

Loss of Scorpion – Rationale for Sabotage –

Because Scorpion was lost in 1968 at the approximate apex of the Cold War, because the Soviet intelligence service(s) were present in most US cities (and certainly placed in the important submarine facilities in the US and overseas) , because the US submarine fleet was a superior force to that being developed in the USSR at the time and the Soviets were (are) masters at “reverse engineering” and espionage, because the Soviets had no qualms concerning use of sabotage and assignations in their pursuit of world domination it is certainly plausible that Scorpion was sabotaged.   Stephen Johnson in “Silent Steel” points out that the boat was surveyed by an underwater crew prior to the fateful transit that ended in her final demise 450 miles southwest of the Azores in over 10,000 feet of water.  This “security swim” was conducted by divers from a submarine Tender which was helpful I am sure but not at all a complete safeguard.

Below contains quotes from Silent Steel (I use the excerpts as counterpoints in my discussion below)  with follow on discussion.

Here is, as best as I can tell, the rational (four major points) for sabotage not being a high probability (wise man he be, Stephen rules out no unproven scenario at this time) – thoughts follow each point that may be prudent to consider (my comments underlined):

1.  “The 589 only had visitors once in the Mediterranean since it was consistently anchored far offshore. It also had a “security swim” by Shenandoah divers in clear, offshore water following its only visitation by foreign civilians and just prior to its loss.”  A “security swim” is certainly not “perfect” and addresses only external charge placement……plastic explosives with waterproof detonators and timers work really well…..even in 1968.   Most certainly the Soviets had agents in Naples and all over Italy.  Recall Italy almost elected a communist parliament less than two decades before and in the three decades after WWII was at best a marginal ally.  A quick review of the maps of Europe in 1968 will tell us Italy had a border with the Communist world and was a short boat trip across the Adriatic from Yugoslavia.   Italy being a Communist leaning nation for many decades after WWII was possibly awash with Soviet agents.


2.  “In addition, a fully-manned boat would have given nearly zero privacy to the USO group which might be hard-pressed to bring aboard even a modestly-sized explosive device, or a device of any type, which would then be secreted aboard Scorpion a month before it was lost. I’m not a submariner, but I’d have to wonder how a device could avoid detection during ordinary maintenance and drills.”  In Silent Steel, which certainly seems well researched, a small USO group was as one witness explains at least 25 women and five or six musicians.  A picture on page 88 indicates they were in the forward torpedo room……..those of us that slept in a torpedo room (many have and do) know basically what is there and this one possibly contained nuclear weapons.  Silent Steel explains sabotage was dismissed by the court of inquiry due to a 23 day period between the party and the departure.  Of course Silent Steel does question much of this courts findings and this one should receive much scrutiny.  Many folks can design a detonator to be placed inside the hull that will activate based on time expired and “other operational parameters”.   I assume an enterprising person could indeed find a dark , rarely visited place adjacent to the hull to hide such a device in a torpedo room.


3.  “Add to that the issue of warning. Scorpion’s return to Napleswas spur-of-the-moment since it was originally headed to Turkey, a trip thwarted at the last minute by politics. Was an incredibly advanced device with a high-tech timer ready for use? Was there an agent available on the USO troupe which had no idea it would be boarding Scorpion? Why was such a decision made?”  Such devices certainly were available in the soviet “ditty bags”.  Also do not count on the Kremlin bureaucracy controlling the execution of such a call in the field……..recall decades later the loss of a Korean airliner by the hand of a zealot in the soviet employ.  As explained above Italy was awash with soviet agents.


4.  “My biggest reservation about sabotage of any type by the Soviets — and one probably should not even discount a highly unlikely act of madness by a crew member — is that the ability to perform such an act would tip the hand of Soviet ability to do so in wartime. (Why expose a capability that might actually count for something when it mattered?)”

This is IMHO the weakest point.  The Soviets possibly murdered JFK, initiated the Cuban missile crisis, attempted to murder the Pope, etc, etc……much mischief with little regard for “tipping their hand”.   Unfortunately this was not a “gentleman’s” war in the tradition of WW I or II.


I would reference John Lewis Gaddis works (“We Now Know – Rethinking Cold War History” – a good reference)  addressing Cold War History (Yale professor recommended to me by my cousin that completed his dissertation on Soviet history while pouring through the archives in Moscow) and Robert M Gates “From The Shadows – The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won The Cold War”.  Even today we see the gutsy ex-KGB hand in the Polonium-210 poisoning in London and the open arming of our enemies in the Middle East.


In summary, Stephen Johnson makes a solid argument, but much room for discussion remains.  IMHO, a casualty forward caused the destruction of Scorpion and that casualty could possibly have been a small charge (possibly shaped) placed in the torpedo room with an activation sensor tied to operational activities.  The motive could simply be as in most “terrorist” attacks to assure the US that we were venerable…..nothing more…..after all that was what 911 was all about.  With MAD in place when Scorpion was lost,  they(USSR)  knew there would be little open, visible retaliation.

Again I draw no conclusions but leave open this cause for serious examination.


I expand here in 2013 to examine (from SS) the activities that are reported on pages 74- 95   of SS.   Unfortunately I see a strain of naive assumptions and CYA for behavior of the crew that today would never be tolerated in a post 911 world.   The public is now just too “greened” concerning

Terrorist behavior…—.we grew up the hard way.  The war colleges around the world will be studying the economic carnage, deaths, and ensuing wars caused by twelve skinny little Saudis on a bright, sunny morn in 2001 for hundreds of years.   Over 3000 American KIA civilians and $$$$ trillions (still counting) plus the insidious imposition of a police state in the USA all caused by this exceptionally successful operation.  Today the party in Naples in the spring of 1968 hopefully would not be tolerated.

Recognize I have been closely associated with nuclear power plants, nuclear submarines, nuclear weapons, and highly classified operations for over four decades and am very conservative accordingly.  I find the relative permissive activities on board Scorpion to lead to much conjecture concerning the possibility of sabotage.  There is much smoke and the probability of fire is too great to ignore.   I have also served on a WWII submarine, been a part of the brotherhood and even hoisted a few brews at the Vallejo Sub bar “Horse and Cow” with the sailors from the boats…..I am no angel for sure.   I judge not but explore openly.  I feel strongly Johnson in SS is much too biased in defense of the crew and especially the officers that must share the responsibility for the loss of this great ship and its crew.  So, lets open the box and review the activities in Naples before the boat sailed it last time.

Tht Italian Communist Party (Source – Wilkipedia 2013):

The Soviet Union’s brutal suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 created a split within the PCI. The party leadership, including Palmiro Togliatti and Giorgio Napolitano (who in 2006 became President of the Italian Republic), regarded the Hungarian insurgents as counter-revolutionaries, as reported at the time in l’Unità, the official PCI newspaper. However Giuseppe Di Vittorio, chief of the communist trade union CGIL, repudiated the leadership position, as did prominent party member Antonio Giolitti and Italian Socialist Party national secretary Pietro Nenni, a close ally of the PCI. Napolitano later hinted at doubts over the propriety of his decision.[11] He would eventually write in From the Communist Party to European Socialism. A political autobiography (Dal Pci al socialismo europeo. Un’autobiografia politica) that he regretted his justification of the Soviet intervention, but quieted his concerns at the time for the sake of party unity and the international leadership of Soviet communism.[12] Giolitti and Nenni went on to split with the PCI over this issue. Napolitano became a leading member of the miglioristi faction within the PCI, which promoted a social-democratic direction in party policy.[13]

In the mid 1960s the U.S. State Department estimated the party membership to be approximately 1,350,000 (4.2% of the working age population, proportionally the largest communist party in the capitalist world at the time, and the largest party at all in whole western Europe with the German SPD).[14] The U.S. estimated the Party was receiving $40–50 million per year from the Soviets, significantly more than the $5–6 million invested by the U.S. in Italian politics.[15]

Declassified information from Soviet archives confirms that the PCI relied on Soviet financial assistance, more so than any other Communist party supported by Moscow.[16] The party received perhaps as much as $60 million from the end of World War II until the PCI’s break with Moscow in the early 1980s. The party used these funds mainly for organizational purposes.[16] According to the former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, after the Athens Colonel Coup in April 1967, Longo and other PCI leaders became alarmed at the possibility of a coup in Italy. These fears were not completely unfounded, as there had been two attempted coups in Italy, Piano Solo in 1964 and Golpe Borghese in 1970, by neo-fascist and military groups. The PCI’s Giorgio Amendola formally requested Soviet assistance to prepare the party in case of such an event. The KGB drew up and implemented a plan to provide the PCI with its own intelligence and clandestine signal corps. From 1967 through 1973, PCI members were sent to East Germany and Moscow to receive training in clandestine warfare and information gathering techniques by both the Stasi and the KGB. Shortly before the May 1972 elections, Longo personally wrote to Leonid Brezhnev asking for and receiving an additional $5.7 million in funding. This was on top of the $3.5 million that the Soviet Union gave the PCI in 1971. The Soviets also provided additional funding through the use of front companies providing generous contracts to PCI members.

Simply Google “The Italian Communist Party” to look more thoroughly at the activities post WWII.

The above summary certainly tells us that in the Spring 1968 when Scorpion was in Naples with the USO party thoroughout the boat that the KGB was exceptionally active in Italy.  In the mid 1960s the US State Department estimated the Italian Communist Party membership to be 1, 350,000. It was the largest  communist party in the capitalist world at the time as a percent og population.  It was the largest party at all in thw whole of Western Europe with the German SPD.  In today’s dollars the US estimated the party was receiving $600-700 million USD per year from the Soviets.  The Americans in comparison were sending less that $60 million USD in 2013 dollars.  This was just political contributions and not other aid for espionage, infrastructure and military support.

  In summary Italy was a hot bed of Soviet activity and rife with KGB agents.  Scorpion was at risk just being in Naples and exceptionally so inviting twenty female “dancers” and a five piece band on board for a party. “Flanked by twenty-three torpedos, two with nuclear warheads…..” page 88-89 Silent Steel……the sailors partied hardy on the evening of April 27.  Johnson does not mention the presence of alcohol …… that on board is a violation of Navy Regulations with stiff penalties for all involved.   In my experiences, essentially, security was completely broken….and the captain was totally responsible.   The crew also had purchased a number of pistols in Naples at great prices, Beretta being the weapon of choice, and these were sequestered in the boat….so we have two possible issues here from the last port call in Naples.

One – a discharge from a pistol accidentally in the spaces carrying sea water piping could have penetrated a sea water line under pressure or a hydraulic line that impacted control surfaces.   The high energy systems were there, the weapons were there……a recipe for disaster.

Two – easily a female KGB agent (many were in Italy) could have smuggled a shape charge device with a delayed timer on board and the Soviets knew the operational plans of the boat.  Set the timer to go off at some approximate day when the boat was transiting……the time is a minor factor….it would be an embarrassment to sink the Scorpion even at dockside in Rota or Norfolk…..point made by the KGB.

I do not at all say sabatoge was the cause of the loss….only that poor judgment by the wardroom could have played a role…….a cause or not ,  the decisions were imprudent and risky…..period…..


I will now quote passages directly from Silent Steel (I do believe Johnson did a good job of interrogiating crew members and family in obtainin these passages).  My comments in RED after each: