Half a 'Scope
Half a 'Scope is ...
"Back when I was serving on a fast attack nuke, we went on an exciting deployment. It was a longer trip than we usually took, and we were proud to have been sent on such an important assignment."
A surprisingly young First Class Petty Officer in our crew was telling us about an experience from earlier in his career.
"We used our equipment in ways that we had never anticipated. We found whole chapters in the operator's manuals that we had never noticed before, and we realized that we were on the cutting edge of fully deployed, operational, and highly capable military technology."
As we listened to this narrative we were submerged, standing watch on our old, obsolescent boat that was destined for imminent retirement, so it made this story even more exciting and poignant. When there are hours to spend with nothing much to do except be there, awake and alert, a lot of the Navy's oral traditions are passed on to new generations of sailors.
"Then we went beyond the leading edge. We tried something that our equipment was not designed for. Eventually, our periscope broke."
Remember, I'm still the listener, not the raconteur.
"We were trailing a Soviet submarine. They were submerged at a keel depth of 50 meters. Our periscope was fully raised, but the top of our periscope was also at a depth of 50 meters. Our keel was about 60 feet lower than that. We were positioning ourselves to take a photograph of their propeller. Something went wrong.
"On the one hand, we were excited that we had taken things to the design limits and beyond. On the other hand, there we were with a broken periscope exposed for the whole world to see. And the break in the periscope prevented us from properly lowering it, so the fact that it was broken could not be adequately hidden from view.
"The skipper decided that we would cut up the periscope into smaller pieces, small enough to hide below decks. Unfortunately, the weather was kicking up, and our guys with the hacksaws, jackhammers, and cutting torches were thrown about quite a bit by the gusting wind. Occasionally some salt spray made it even more miserable to work out in the open like that. The oxy-acetylene cutting flames were frequently extinguished by wind or sea water.
"Fortunately there was a low overcast, so the airplanes overhead could not see that our periscope was broken. After nineteen hours of arduous work by the Machinist's Mates and everyone who was helping them, we got the pieces below decks, and we got the periscope cut flush with the top of the sail.
"Actually, we threw many pieces of the periscope over the side rather than carry them below decks. Only the critical pieces were saved. From any distance at all we looked like a normal ship that was just not using its periscope at the moment.
"Every good sea story needs a good ending, though. We submerged again, back where we belonged, and tried to get back to normal. But then the Officer of the Deck took a look at the periscope and realized that we still had a problem.
"We woke up the Machinist's Mates, who then used plywood and wooden shoring beams from our Damage Control Locker to brace up the periscope in the raised position. It was being held up only by the operating pressure in the main ship's hydraulic system. If the bottom end of the periscope were to fall down, an enormous amount of sea water would have come down into the control room, with no way to stop it.
"Then the bureaucrats in the shore establishment got into the act. They decided that we could not tell anyone that our periscope had broken. Each crew member was taken into a private compartment and was made to sign a statement promising never to tell anyone that our periscope was broken. In fact, we were told to say that we had not even used our periscope much on that deployment. We got the impression that they even wanted us to deny that there had ever been a periscope aboard. But even they realized that it would have been silly to go that far.
"But we're still not finished.
"Then, very fortunately, as we proceeded on our deployment, one of our officers idly took a look through the eyepiece of the periscope. It was quite rare to have the periscope in the raised position while we were deep. He couldn't see anything, of course. But he suddenly realized that his naked eye was almost touching the lens, and on the other side of the lens there was sea water under lots of pressure. He jumped back and called to have the Machinist's Mates roused yet again so they could design and install a clamp on the eyepiece.
"But we're STILL not finished.
"All of the finger piers were full when we approached the submarine base in New London, so we had to tie up at State Pier, a commercial berth near downtown. I had to do a number of things to get my division's equipment properly stowed and secured, so I was one of the last sailors who got to go ashore, where our wives and others were waiting for us. There were also a number of curious civilians from the shipping district watching the activity as our duty section went about its normal activities upon returning to port.
"I kissed my wife, and we hopped into the car to hurry home for a little privacy. As we were driving away from the ship, she asked me, `What happened to your periscope?'
"I almost drove into the ditch. I sputtered, `NOTHING HAPPENED TO OUR PERISCOPE! WHAT MAKES YOU THINK SOMETHING HAPPENED TO OUR PERISCOPE?'
"She looked at me strangely and said, `While we were waiting for the last of you guys to come ashore, a crane came up and took half of a broken periscope off your ship.'"