Weapons Cert

One of the tasks we performed during our shakedown cruise was to demonstrate proficiency with our new magic Mk 48 torpedoes and the new Singer (sewing machines?) MK 11? torpedo fire control equipment.   

(Disclaimer #1:  Yeah I know, anyone “qualified ship’s” should remember these details, but come on, I was a nuke and that was over 25 years ago.  I brain then my damage since.) 

Our base of operations was Charleston SC, either the main base or the weapons station.  Captain “Overhaul”, in preparation for our sojourn to become weapons certified, scrounged up two WWII Mk 14 relics.  These were the steam powered, alcohol fueled, gyro guided, mechanical marvels that John Wayne used to beat the Japs back in the ’40s movies.  The machinery history books with these fish read like a Who’s Who of WWII fleetboats. 

The intent was that two extra torpedoes would provide extra training opportunities, and as we all know, the FBM fleet ran on training – “Forty for Freedom and One for Training.” 

One major concern was; who could make these things work?  Our saltiest (oldest) torpedoman remembered seeing one of these things, way back when he was in “A” school.  So apparently that was covered.   

The second biggie was that the gyro guidance mechanisms were FUBAR.  No problem, we would lock the control surfaces and shoot them line-of-sight.  So off we went, on our merry way to AUTEC and the torpedo range in the Tongue of the Ocean off the tropical paradise of Andros Island. 

Normally, a submarine would arrive at the range, bright and early on Monday morning, spend the morning shooting her ten or so magic Mk 48s, then bee-line-it for St. Thomas for the rest of the week.  The range staff would spend the day providing target services, tracking and grading the shots, and retrieving the practice torpedoes.  They would have easily completed their work by Monday afternoon, and would be done for the week.  The submarine crew would be drunk, broke and sun burnt by Friday.  Everybody wins. 

Captain Overhaul’s training plan did not support this agenda.  Instead, the Ship’s Control party and Target Tracking party and Torpedo Room party would man battle stations “T”, while everyone else manned their normal steaming watches and rotations.  Each and every officer would perform a classic “diesel boat” target approach and develop a targeting solution for each and every torpedo.  Maximum training.  This didn’t sit well with the range staff since we only fired two or three torpedoes a day, which required them to support us for the full five days of range time we had scheduled. 

(Disclaimer #2:  This next part was told to me as I was in the rack while it transpired.  It is hearsay, and therefore not admissible in court of law.  The court of public opinion is another matter.  See Disclaimer #1) 

Friday afternoon, we fire our last Mk 48. Halleluiah!  But wait!  We have our relics to shoot.  So Captain Overhaul is on the Con, eye glued to the attack scope. Observe and dip. Dip and observe.  Finally, he gives the command  “READY”.  The Weapons Officer takes the fire control switch from SAFE to READY.  The Captain gives the command “SHOOT!”   WEAPS goes to the FIRE position and nothing happens.  Seems the new fire control equipment doesn’t recognized the relics in the tube.  WEAPS reports that nothing happened, so the Captain orders the system be place in SAFE.   NOW the new fire control system decides to shoot.  

The torpedo room calls up the Con and reports that the tube cycled properly. Sonar calls the Con and starts giving range and bearing reports on the torpedo.  Captain Overhaul is incredulous.  “What’s wrong with these people?” he demands.  “The torpedo is still in the tube.  I’m the Captain. I know!” 

So while Captain Overhaul berates the weapons officer and sonar officer and everyone else in the Control Room, the bearings that Sonar is reporting begin to change.  From zero to high three hundreds, then to low three hundreds.  From high two hundred to low two hundreds and so on until they were back to zero.  Then repeat.  Mean time, the ship is at PD, steady on course, doing three knots.  Captain Overhaul is vainly trying to get his officers to understand that “his” torpedo is still in “his” tube.  This tirade rages on until reality announces its presence in the Control Room with a loud, boat shaking thud.  The relic that is still in the tube has impacted the forward messenger buoy at about 45 knots. 

Captain Overhaul, in a stroke of Command Presence, commands, “Diving Officer.  Emergency Blow the ship to the surface.” (from periscope depth). The Dive acknowledges, rises and turns to face the Emergency Blow valve operators.  He places his hands over them and … hesitates.  The Chief of the Watch sees this hesitation, jumps up from the BCP, elbows the Diving Officer out of the way, opens the emergency blow valves, then sits back down, secure in the knowledge that he has personally saved the ship from certain disaster. 

One of the changes implemented with the conversion from Polaris to Poseidon missiles was the launch mechanism.  Instead of using high pressure compressed air to blow the missiles out of their silos, steam was generated in the bottom of the missile tube to expel the missile.  The missile launch HP air tanks were retained in the HP air system and on that glorious day, happened to be cross-connected with the emergency blow headers. 

With the boat at PD doing three knots, all of the HP air in the ship was released into the main ballast tanks.  It must have been impressive to see a four hundred plus foot long, eight thousand ton submarine leap to the surface, and then froth and foam for several minutes.  However, the range staff was not amused. 

For the next several days, we drove circles on the ocean, on the surface, while recharging our HP air banks.  When we exceeded the minimum allowable pressure, we submerged and slinked transited back to Charleston.

Charlie Winterfeldt

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