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Thu May 23, 2019, 05:32 AM

80 Years Ago Today; USS Squalus sinks during test dive; 24 sailors lost

Wikipedia: USS Sailfish (formerly Squalus) SS-192


Part of the heroic crew of the Squalus (SS-192), later trapped within the disabled craft 240 feet beneath the surface of the sea, are pictured when the underseas boat was commissioned 1 March 1939. The Squalus was making a routine dive on the morning of 4 August 1939, when a defective air induction valve flooded the after part of the sub, quickly sinking her. All or a large portion of the crew were believed alive and were being sought to bring to the surface on 5 August 1939.

USS Sailfish (SS-192), was a US Sargo-class submarine, originally named Squalus.

As the Squalus, the submarine sunk off the coast of New Hampshire during test dives on 23 May 1939. The sinking drowned 26 crew members, but an ensuing rescue operation using the McCann Rescue Chamber saved the lives of the remaining 33 crew members. The submarine was salvaged in late 1939 and decommissioned.

The submarine was recommissioned as the Sailfish in May 1940, and conducted numerous patrols in the Pacific War during World War II, earning nine battle stars. The submarine was decommissioned in October 1945 and later scrapped; the conning tower remains on display at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

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Sinking of Squalus and recommissioning
On 12 May 1939, following a yard overhaul, Squalus began a series of test dives off Portsmouth, New Hampshire. After successfully completing 18 dives, she went down again off the Isles of Shoals on the morning of 23 May at 4253′N 7037′W. Failure of the main induction valve caused the flooding of the aft torpedo room, both engine rooms, and the crew's quarters, drowning 26 men immediately. Quick action by the crew prevented the other compartments from flooding. Squalus bottomed in 243 ft (74 m) of water.

Squalus was initially located by her sister ship, Sculpin. The two submarines were able to communicate using a telephone marker buoy until the cable parted. Divers from the submarine rescue ship Falcon began rescue operations under the direction of the salvage and rescue expert Lieutenant Commander Charles B. "Swede" Momsen, using the new McCann Rescue Chamber. The Senior Medical Officer for the operations was Dr. Charles Wesley Shilling. Overseen by researcher Albert R. Behnke, the divers used recently developed heliox diving schedules and successfully avoided the cognitive impairment symptoms associated with such deep dives, thereby confirming Behnke's theory of nitrogen narcosis. The divers were able to rescue all 33 surviving crew members from the sunken submarine. Four enlisted divers, Chief Machinist's Mate William Badders, Chief Boatswain's Mate Orson L. Crandall, Chief Metalsmith James H. McDonald and Chief Torpedoman John Mihalowski, were awarded the Medal of Honor for their work during the rescue and subsequent salvage. (The successful rescue of Squalus survivors is in marked contrast to the loss of Thetis in Liverpool Bay just a week later. )

The navy authorities felt it important to raise her as she incorporated a succession of new design features. With a thorough investigation of why she sank, more confidence could be placed in the new construction, or alteration of existing designs could be undertaken when cheapest and most efficient to do so. Furthermore, given similar previous accidents in Sturgeon and Snapper (indeed, in S-5, as far back as 1920), it was necessary to determine a cause.


SS-192 in drydock after salvage.

The salvage of Squalus was commanded by Rear Admiral Cyrus W. Cole, Commander of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, who supervised salvage officer Lieutenant Floyd A. Tusler from the Construction Corps. Tusler's plan was to lift the submarine in three stages to prevent it from rising too quickly, out of control, with one end up, in which case there would be a high likelihood of it sinking again. For 50 days, divers worked to pass cables underneath the submarine and attach pontoons for buoyancy. On 13 July 1939, the stern was raised successfully, but when the men attempted to free the bow from the hard blue clay, the vessel began to rise far too quickly, slipping its cables. Ascending vertically, the submarine broke the surface, and 30 feet (10 m) of the bow reached into the air for not more than ten seconds before she sank once again all the way to the bottom. Momsen said of the mishap, "pontoons were smashed, hoses cut and I might add, hearts were broken." After 20 more days of preparation, with a radically redesigned pontoon and cable arrangement, the next lift was successful, as were two further operations. Squalus was towed into Portsmouth on 13 September, and decommissioned on 15 November. A total of 628 dives had been made in rescue and salvage operations.

Operational history of Sailfish
Renamed Sailfish on 9 February 1940, she became the first ship of the U.S. Navy named for the sailfish. After reconditioning, repair, and overhaul, she was recommissioned on 15 May 1940 with Lieutenant Commander Morton C. Mumma, Jr. (Annapolis, Class of 1930) in command.

With refit completed in mid-September, Sailfish departed Portsmouth on 16 January 1941 and headed for the Pacific. Transiting the Panama Canal, she arrived at Pearl Harbor in early March, after refueling at San Diego. The submarine then sailed west to Manila where she joined the Asiatic Fleet until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

During the Pacific War, the captain of the renamed ship issued standing orders if any man on the boat said the word "Squalus", he was to be marooned at the next port of call. This led to crew members referring to their ship as "Squailfish". That went over almost as well; a court martial was threatened for anyone heard using it.

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Reply 80 Years Ago Today; USS Squalus sinks during test dive; 24 sailors lost (Original post)
Dennis Donovan May 2019 OP
Sherman A1 May 2019 #1

Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Thu May 23, 2019, 05:39 AM

1. It was a tragic incident

Yet much was learned from the recovery.

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