Trash and Garbage
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Trash and Garbage

You probably have a good idea of how much garbage you create at home each day. Many of you have an idea of how much garbage you create at work, also. Eighty people on an old submarine create garbage, too. Lots of it. Perhaps as much as a landlubber creates both at home and at work. There was not much room for anything on the boat, much less garbage. So we tossed it over the side.

There were true stories from World War II of the Japanese finding the garbage that was tossed overboard from American submarines in the western Pacific. Tokyo Rose made good use of the information, trying to score propaganda points. Her best was when she could find a "Dear John" letter. This incident was included in one of the bad movies about submarines that Hollywood gave us in the 1950s.

Ever since then, submariners have weighted down their garbage so that it sinks.

Twice a day, just after breakfast and just before supper, we threw the garbage overboard. First, we collected the boat's garbage in the crew's mess, where most of it was generated in the first place. Then, the garbage crew formed a "bucket brigade" to get the stuff from the crew's mess past the galley, into the control room, past the radio room, past the air manifold, around the corner past the main gyrocompass, up the hatch into the conning tower, across the helmsman's back, up another hatch into the sail, across the sail, and out the small side door into the sea.

The military does not provide janitors for active duty soldiers and sailors, so the garbage detail consisted of the regular crew. Submarines did not carry any untrained young sailors, so the garbage line consisted of, say, a Seaman passing to a Third Class Fire Control Technician, who passed to a Second Class Machinist's Mate, then to a Fireman, then to a Second Class Radioman, then to a First Class Engineman, then to a Second Class Sonarman, then to a Seaman, and so on down the line. Eighty bags was a common garbage haul for one of these drills.

Then, sometimes, we were submerged, and it was not a good idea to open the door and toss the garbage out. That was when it got really quirky.

Adjacent to the galley, which is where most of the garbage was produced, there was a Garbage Disposal Unit (GDU). The GDU was a small bronze tube, ten inches in diameter, and six feet long, that was added to the boats at the same time that the snorkel pipe was added. The GDU stuck through the pressure hull and through the soft outer tank so that its muzzle door was flush with the outer hull. Yes, the GDU had a lot in common with a torpedo tube.

The cook operated the GDU. The cook was typically a Second Class Commissaryman. He placed a torque wrench on the end of the operating shaft for the muzzle door, to verify that the outer opening was fully closed. Then he opened the drain valve, to allow the sea water left in the GDU to drain to the bilge in the pump room. Next, he opened the vent valve to allow any residual air pressure in the GDU to bleed into the galley. Then and only the, he then used the torque wrench to open the breech door of the GDU.

There was a mechanical interlock to prevent the muzzle and breech doors from opening at the same time. A ten-inch opening through the pressure hull can allow a lot of the ocean into the submarine in a very short length of time.

With a flashlight, the cook inspected the GDU. Then he put a couple of scoops of crushed ice down the GDU, to provide a cushion for the weighted garbage that was to follow. Then several bags of garbage. Say, three or four bags.

At that point the GDU was full, so the cook closed the breech door, carefully, using the torque wrench. He shut the drain valve. He shut the vent valve. He placed the torque wrench on the operating shaft for the muzzle door, and he tried to open it. When we were shallow, he could do it easily. At somewhat greater depths, it took a lot of strength. But if we were really deep, the torque wrench did not transmit enough force to open the muzzle.

At that point the cook put his head through the watertight door into the control room, and he yelled at the Diving Officer that he needed to flush the GDU. The Diving Officer ordered the Trim Manifold Operator to "pump sea to GDU". The Trim Manifold Operator opened and shut a series of valves, then he started a large pump that filled the GDU with sea water under pressure, so that the cook could open the muzzle door.

After a few minutes of pumping, to flush all the garbage out of the GDU, the pump was secured and the cook began the process all over again, by using the torque wrench to shut the muzzle door.

A dozen or more times through the ritual was usually enough to get rid of all the garbage, and the cook returned to preparing the next meal.

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