This will hopefully be the final segment in my saga of how the Submarine Dolphin insignia came to be. Each stage along the way has been a lot of fun as I have sifted through magazines, articles on line, historical societies, the Library of Congress and a source which contains electronic copies of nearly every book that has been printed in the world for the past hundred plus years.
The Medal of Honor is often the pinnacle of an individuals’ path from modest and unassuming beginnings. In the case of WW2 submarine legend Eugene Fluckey, the prestigious award was but one of many significant events in a proud career of determination and courage.
The attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 left the United States Navy at an extreme disadvantage. The total loss of four battleships and the considerable damage to four more stunted the offensive capability of American naval forces at the start of the war.
Untouched, however, were the submarine base and the four submarines moored there. If the United States was to jump back into the fight as quickly as possible it would take men like Eugen Fluckey to lead the way.
O Class Submarine: Laid down, 27 July 1917, at Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, WA.; Launched, 24 May 1918; Commissioned, USS O-2, 19 October 1918; Designated (SS-63), 17 July 1920; Reclassified a 2nd line submarine 25 July 1924 and to a 1st line submarine, 6 June 1928; Decommissioned, 25 July 1931, at Philadelphia Navy Yard, Philadelphia, PA.; Laid up in the Atlantic Reserve Fleet; Recommissioned, 3 February 1941, at Philadelphia; Decommissioned, 26 July 1945; Struck from the Naval Register, 13 August 1945; Final Disposition, sold for scrapping, 16 November 1945.
Partial data submitted by Yves Hubert.Specifications: Displacement, Surfaced: 521 t., Submerged: 629 t.; Length 172′ 4″; Beam 18′ 0″; Draft 14′ 5″; Speed, Surfaced 14 kts, Submerged 10.5 kts; Operational Depth Limit 200 ft; Complement 2 Officers 27 Enlisted; Armament, four 18″, torpedo tubes, 8 torpedoes, one 3″/23 deck gun; Propulsion, diesel-electric, New England Ship and Engine Co, diesels, 880 hp, Fuel Capacity, 21,897 gal.; New York Navy Yard electric motors, 740 hp, Battery Cells 120, single propeller.
Source: Submarine Photo Index
Komsomolets sank in 5,250 feet of water, complete with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear-armed Shkval torpedoes. Between 1989 and 1998 seven expeditions were carried out to secure the reactor against radioactive release and seal the torpedo tubes. Russian sources allege that during these visits, evidence of “unauthorized visits to the sunken submarine by foreign agents” was discovered.
In the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union constructed a super submarine unlike any other. Fast and capable of astounding depths for a combat submersible, the submarine Komsomoletswas introduced in 1984, heralded as a new direction for the Soviet Navy.
Five years later, Komsomolets and its nuclear weapons were on the bottom of the ocean, two-thirds of its crew killed by what was considered yet another example of Soviet incompetence.
The history of the Komsomolets goes as far back as 1966. A team at the Rubin Design Bureau under N. A. Klimov and head designer Y. N. Kormilitsin was instructed to begin research into a Project 685, a deep-diving submarine. The research effort dragged on for eight years, likely due to a lack of a suitable metal that could withstand the immense pressures of the deep. In 1974, however, the double-hulled design was completed, with a titanium alloy chosen for the inner hull.
K-278 was 360 feet long and forty feet wide, with the inner hull approximately twenty-four feet wide. It had a submerged displacement of 6,500 tons, and the use of titanium instead of steel made it notably lighter. It had a unique double hull, with the inner hull made of titanium, that gave it its deep-diving capability. The inner hull was further divided into seven compartments, two of which were reinforced to create a safe zone for the crew, and an escape capsule was built into the sail to allow the crew to abandon ship while submerged at depths of up to 1,500 meters.
The submarine was powered by one 190-megawatt OK-650B-3 nuclear-pressurized water reactor, driving two forty-five-thousand-shipboard-horsepower steam-turbine engines. This propelled it to a submerged speed of thirty knots, and a surface speed of fourteen knots.
The sub had the MGK-500 “Skat” (NATO codename: Shark Gill) low-frequency passive/active search and attack spherical bow array sonar system, the same sonar used in today’s Yasen-class attack submarines, which fed into the Omnibus-685 Combat Information Control System. Armament consisted of six 533-millimeter standard diameter torpedo tubes, including twenty-two Type 53 torpedoes and Shkval supercavitating antisubmarine torpedoes.
The submarine joined the Red Banner Northern Fleet in January 1984 and began a series of deep diving experiments. Under Captain First Rank Yuri Zelensky the submarine set a record depth of 3,346 feet—an astounding accomplishment considering its American equivalent, the USS Los Angeles class, had an absolute maximum depth of 1,475 feet. Crush depth was estimated at approximately 4,500 feet. The submarine had a special surfacing system, “Iridium,” which used gas generators to blow the ballast tanks.
The Soviet Navy considered K-278 invulnerable at depths greater than one thousand meters; at such depths, it was difficult to detect and enemy torpedoes, particularly the American Mark 48, which had a maximum depth of eight hundred meters. Although the submarine was originally to be a test ship, it was eventually made into a fully operational combat-ready ship in 1988. It was given the name Komsomolets, meaning “member of the Young Communist League.”
On April 7, 1989, while operating a depth of 1266 feet, Komsomolets ran into trouble in the middle of the Norwegian Sea. According to Norman Polmar and Kenneth Moore , it was the submarine’s second crew , newly trained in operating the ship. Furthermore, its origins as a test ship meant it lacked a damage-control party.
A fire broke out in the seventh aft chamber, and the flames burned out an air supply valve, which fed pressurized air into the fire. Fire suppression measures failed. The reactor was scrammed and the ballast tanks were blown to surface the submarine. The fire continued to spread, and the crew fought the fire for six hours before the order to abandon ship was given. According to Polmar and Moore, the fire was so intense that crewmen on deck watched as the rubber anechoic coating tiles coating the outer hull slid off due to the extreme heat.
The ship’s commanding officer, Captain First Rank Evgeny Vanin, along with four others, went back into the ship to find crewmembers who had not heard the abandon ship order. Vanin and his rescue party were unable to venture farther—the submarine was tilting eighty degrees headfirst—and entered the rescue chamber. The chamber failed to dislodge at first, but eventually broke free of the mortally wounded sub. Once on the surface, the abrupt pressure change caused the top hatch to blow off, throwing two crewmembers out of the chamber. The chamber, as well as the captain and the rest of the rescue party, sank under the waves.
Only four men had been killed in the incident so far, but after the submarine sank many men succumbed to the thirty-six-degree (Fahrenheit) water temperatures. After an hour the fishing boats Alexi Khlobystov and Oma arrived and rescued thirty men, some of whom later succumbed to their injuries. Of the original sixty-nine men on board the submarine when disaster struck, forty-two died, including Captain First Rank Vanin.
Komsomolets sank in 5,250 feet of water, complete with its nuclear reactor and two nuclear-armed Shkval torpedoes. Between 1989 and 1998 seven expeditions were carried out to secure the reactor against radioactive release and seal the torpedo tubes. Russian sources allege that during these visits, evidence of “unauthorized visits to the sunken submarine by foreign agents” were discovered.
Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.
We the USS Buffalo, ALUMNI are raising money to ship the SCP/BCP from the USS Buffalo, in Washington state to Naval Park in Buffalo, New York. This will help cover the cost of fuel and any needed items along the trip.
Disclaimer: That neither the USS BUFFALO, the Department of the Navy, nor the Department of Defense is soliciting any funds. This donation and all related expenses that are at no cost to the government.
Japan’s advanced Soryu-class diesel-electric submarine program crossed an important milestone on Thursday. The country has launched JS Oryu, the first submarine in the class to use long-endurance lithium-ion batteries, accomplishing a long-sought capability designed to give the submarines an extra acoustic edge during sensitive operations and combat operations, Nikkei Asian Review reports.
The addition of the capability also speaks to the innovative capability of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation. The two Japanese firms have worked to promote the Soryu overseas since Japan’s lifting of its decades-long self-imposed ban on arms exports in 2014. In 2016, Japan’s Soryu offering was edged out by French submarine maker DCNS’ Shortfin Barracuda-class in Australia’s Collins-class replacement program.
JS Oryu was launched on Thursday in Kobe, ahead of its planned delivery to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in 2020. The 84 meter, 2,950 ton vessel is the first of the Soryu-class to use lithium-ion batteries on board. According to open source estimates, the vessel can reach speeds of 20 knots.
The head of naval forces in Europe warned that Russia is preparing an underwater battlespace in the Northern Atlantic and that U.S. naval presence is more important now than any time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Adm. James Foggo said in the second episode of his “On the Horizon” podcast that Russia’s national security policy seems to be to challenge the U.S. and its allies, and the U.S. must do all it can to ensure a rules-based international order remains in the waters in and around Europe.
Foggo, who serves as commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and commander of U.S. Naval Forces Africa, discussed how the European theater has evolved in recent years.“Russia has renewed its capabilities in the North Atlantic and the Arctic in places not seen since the Cold War. For example, Russian forces have recently reoccupied seven for their former Soviet Union bases in the Arctic Circle,” he said.“The improved capability of Russia to be able to project power into this region and these strategic routes from the Arctic into the North Atlantic and the GIUK Gap is something that we need to pay particular attention to.”As for the technology the Russians are using, Foggo said “I think Russian submarines today are perhaps some of the most silent and lethal in the world, with the exception of our own – I think we still in the United States Navy hold the edge.” The Kalibr missiles that Russia has deployed from coastal defense systems, aircraft and submarines have “shown the ability to reach pretty much all the capitals in Europe from any of the bodies of water that surround Europe.”