Qualification in Submarines
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Qualification in Submarines

You want to wear the dolphins. That is the insignia, quite similar to a pilot's "wings", that indicates that you are qualified to stand watch in a submarine.

For an enlisted sailor the requirements are based on a technical knowledge of the boat and its mechanical systems. It would be reasonable to trust a radioman with "dolphins" to stand watch in the torpedo room, for example, since he understood the basic physics of submarining and the importance of and a certain minimum competence with the emergency systems of any portion of the submarine.

One of the questions commonly asked of a submariner trying to qualify for his dolphins is, "How do you blow sewage through the ship's whistle?"

It is theoretically possible. But I have never heard of anyone actually trying to do it.

A sailor can get a pair of silver dolphins in ninety days, if he is diligent. An officer cannot usually get his gold dolphins for a year or more. The requirements are different.

An officer must be qualified to stand watch as the Officer of the Deck (Submerged) before he can wear his dolphins. An officer must reach the level of training where he can shoot an armed torpedo on a moment's notice, in a situation where the skipper simply does not have time to rush to the conning tower before the other ship shoots at you before you can shoot at it. The Division Commander, a former submarine skipper, must be involved in the process of giving a submarine officer his dolphins.

One of my training cruises was aboard USS Pomfret (SS-391), which had an unusual question on its qualifying exam. The trick question was, "What is the Pomfret valve?"

Years earlier, a section of 4-inch copper pipe had ruptured in the lower level of the forward torpedo room of the Pomfret, while they were submerged, deep. The boat survived, but they needed to make an emergency repair. They had iron and steel pipe available to replace the essential section of pipe, but that would not work, because they had no way to weld it in place, and even if they clamped it into place it would create major problems with corrosion due to galvanic action.

But they found, in the spare parts locker, a bronze valve for a 4-inch line. They had a sailor who was qualified at silver-brazing, and they replace the ruptured piece of copper pipe with the bronze valve. They opened the valve all way, then they sawed off the valve stem, so that the valve could never be shut by mistake.

Years later, the Pomfret valve was still there, between torpedo tubes #5 and #6. I saw it.

When I had been aboard my first submarine for a year or so, the skipper recommended me to the Division Commander for Qualification in Submarines, which would entitle me to wear those cute gold dolphins over my shirt or jacket pocket. The next time we went to sea, the DivCom came along for a couple of days to grill me, and to put me through my paces at sea. In preparation, I studied up on the details of wartime operations, which was the least familiar to me. With my technical degree and my mechanical inclinations, I did not bother to study the details of the boat's hull or machinery. I felt that I knew that stuff better than most people would.

It went about as I expected, as I was put through the wringer. After I had been subjected to a lot of drills, we sat down for the oral exam. The skipper and the exec sat in on it. The DivCom hit me with questions from all over the place, with no pattern to them. I was doing pretty well, and I was extremely alert. Too alert. He then asked, "Describe the construction and function a roller bearing, and give an example of its use aboard this boat." No problem.

Then he said "sleeve bearing?" Still no problem.

"Ball bearing?" "Thrust bearing?" "Needle bearing?" This was fun.

"Faired bearing?"

This stumped me. I knew that we used faired bearings. We used the term more than we referred to any other bearing, so it must be the most common type of bearing aboard. But I was choking. The silence got louder and louder. They waited, and they stared at me. Finally I said, "I don't know, sir."

When conducting a passive sonar approach, the only information available is the direction to the target. This direction information is plotted, and a smoothed line, known as a fairing line, is drawn through the data points. When it is time to shoot the torpedo(es), we do not shoot at the last raw bearing to the target, but at the faired bearing.

After they laughed for a minute, I realized that I had passed all the tests. Sure enough, I got my dolphins. As soon as we returned to port, a burly sailor turned to me on the forward deck and demanded "Give me your wallet." Other sailors pulled off my shoes and they threw me over the side. I scrambled to a place where I could climb back on the deck, and they never found out that I could not swim. I had cheated on the swim test to get my commission.

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