Thresher

Thresher

Launched in 1960 the USS Thresher was the fastest submarine of its day.  It was a nuclear powered attack submarine – a submarine hunter killer.

This was back in the early days of nuclear powered vessels and a lot of experimentation was happening.  In 1961 while docking in Puerto Rico the Thresher turned off its Nuclear Generator (standard practice in port) and ran on a backup diesel generator.  Unfortunately the diesel broke down and she had to resort to battery.  When it became clear the diesel could not be repaired the officers attempted to restart the nuclear generator, but the battery charge was too low.  So the embarrassed Captain had to ask another ship for a loan of some cables and then connected them to the diesel submarine, USS Cavalla, for a jump start.

In April 1963 the Thresher was engaged in deep diving tests off the coast of Boston.  The lives of 129 crew and shipyard personnel were lost in one of the worst submarine disasters in history.

Subsequent efforts to recover the boat failed.  All through 1963 and 1964 the shortcomings of the USS Navy rescue equipment for deep dive situation became evident.  The Thresher was found in 1964 in five major sections spread out over a 33 acre wide area of the sea bed, and was photographed to ascertain the cause of sinking.

I grew up with the tale of the Thresher because of a subsequent prank.  I was born in 1963 so I have no direct memory of the events, but a bit of detective work will turn up the newspaper clippings of the day dated March 29th to March 31st or thereabout in 1966, three years after the sinking.

Thresher2

In those days we used to spend every summer holiday in Kilkee, County Clare in the West of Ireland.  So it was big news in March 1966 when a mystery enfolded.  A three foot cylinder bearing the name Thresher and with radioactive markings was found on the beach in Kilkee the far side of the Atlantic from the sinking.

The Irish police informed the US Navy as a precaution, but had already established that the object was not radioactive.  Two US Navy officers stationed at the Nuclear Submarine base in Holyloch in Scotland were dispatched to retrieve the “object” and it was a mini-media storm.  The events were widely picked up by news media around the world.

The truth, as I heard it, was that some local wags in Kilkee painted up an old barrel and decked it up with markings to make it look like debris from the wreck.  They then placed it on the beach to be found by a local beachcomber, Jerry McDermott.  Nicknamed “Sailoil” this simple man was, as we say in Ireland “a bit touched”.  Today we would say he is on some spectrum.  The traditional Irish rendition is “leag Dia lámh air” meaning “God laid a hand on him” or “God touched him” hence “touched”.  He was the perfect innocent straight man to perpetrate the prank.

Sailoil proudly bore his prize home and stored it under his mothers bed.   The news of the fine percolated out into town and caused a bit of consternation when people saw the nuclear markings.  So experts were sent for, armed with geiger counters to scan the object.  The press showed up and the hoaxers celebrated with pints as they watched the whole thing unfold on the News.  In 1966 this was the equivalent of “going viral”.

As I say my memory of these events is third hand hearsay.  If you know better let me know!

What could go wrong?

Missilemail

Sometimes you look at ideas that people tried and wonder “what were they on?”

On this day in 1959 the US Postal Service and the US Navy cooperated in the one and only launch of “Missile Mail”.  The Submarine USS Barbero launched a Regulus cruise missile towards the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Florida.

US postmaster general Arthur Summerfield said “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”

Sadly the idea never took off (boom boom) much to the relief of the modern day Israeli Postal service.  Today mail travels from New York to California in the blink of an eye.  Email is faster than a rocket, safer than a rocket, not as exciting as a rocket.

Time of the Missile; by George Oppen

I remember a square of New York’s Hudson River glinting between warehouses.
Difficult to approach the water below the pier
swirling, covered with oil the ship at the pier
a steel wall: tons in the water,

width.
the hand for holding,
legs for walking,
the eye sees! It floods in on us from here to Jersey tangled in the grey bright air!

Become the realm of nations.

My love, my love,
we are endangered
totally at last. Look
anywhere to the sight’s limit: space
which is viviparous:

Place of the mind
and eye. Which can destroy us,
re-arrange itself, assert
its own stone chain reaction.

 

Commission Number 1

Irish_Stamp_John_Barry

Born on this day in 1745 in Tacumshane, County Wexford, Ireland.  John Barry was the son of a poor tenant farmer.  He was raised on stories of the butchery of the Irish by the English under Cromwell.   Evicted by their English landlord they went to live in Rosslare with an uncle who owned a fishing skiff.  Barry carried a hatred of the British with him for the rest of his life.

Barry signed up as a cabin boy and worked his way up through the ranks and across the Atlantic to the American Colonies.  He was a successful merchant captain sailing between Philadelphia and the Caribbean.  He commanded many ships including the Barbados, the Patty and Polly, the Industry, the Page and the Black Prince.

He lost his brother Patrick “lost at sea on a French frigate the limey’s sunk.”  His hatred of the British deepened further.

In 1776, prior to the declaration of Independence, he was awarded a commission in the Continental Navy by John Hancock.  He went on to command the Delaware, the Lexington, the Raleigh and the Alliance.

So successful was Barry that the British offered him the huge sum of £100,000 and command of any Royal Navy Frigate if he would defect.  Captain Barry responded that not all the money in the British treasury or command of its entire fleet could tempt him to desert his adopted country

After the war, in 1797 Barry was issued Commission No.1 in the US Navy by George Washington and became thereafter “Commodore Barry” and “Father of the American Navy”.

In placing Barry at the head of the Navy I have special trust and confidence in [his] patriotism, valor, fidelity and abilities” President George Washington