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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060

The Silent Service

This exhibit on the submarine service in World War II was put together by Abbott Laboratories in 1943 to tour the United States as part of their contribution to the war effort. This introduction was written for the original exhibition. The captions to the paintings, with minor alterations, were those originally written by the artists themselves.

The American public has come to regard the submarine force of the United States Navy as the "Silent Service." In some respects, this definition is accurate.

It is true that, since the war began, news of the operations of U.S. submarines has been under specific restrictions. The usual communique from the Navy Department, concerning U.S. submarine activity, tells briefly of the amount of damage done to the enemy, and that is all.

But it is also true that the news policy of the Submarine Service is exactly the same as the policy of the U.S. Naval forces in general. Namely, to keep the American public as fully informed as is possible within the limits of national security.

That is why the submariners of the Navy are particularly proud of the paintings and drawings exhibited in these pages. They tell, we believe, a full and vivid story of our undersea Navy and they give expression to many ideas which mere words could not convey.

Have no doubt about the authenticity of this work. The artists who created it were, in fact, submariners themselves during the time of its creation. They ate, slept, and laughed with the submariners. They worked with the men and stood watches with the officers. They lived and cruised aboard our ships and shared in every submarine experience, short of actual combat with the enemy.

And that, unfortunately, is the point at which most submarine news stops, and silence begins.

For the submariner's battle area is the enemy's doorstep. In theory, and almost practically, our submarines are in contact with the enemy, from the time they leave their base until they return. At the present writing, the Navy Department has reported the sinking of 461 Japanese ships by our submarines, with an additional 150 possibly sunk or damaged. These are mortal blows to the enemy. And you can be sure he would spare nothing, and give much for the smallest facts of how our submarines operate and what their methods are.

Therefore, the graphic stories told by the drawings and paintings presented here are all the more remarkable.

Here, in rich paintings is the colorful life of the men who wage their war close to the enemy but out of sight.

Here, in fine detail, is a full and expressive story of the Silent Service

F.A. Daubin, Rear Admiral, U.S.N.
Commander Submarines, Atlantic Fleet.


Loading Tin Fish
Georges Schreiber #9
Watercolor, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-JB

Sleek and cigar-shaped like the submarine itself, marine torpedoes are loaded aboard the undersea warship in dock. The greatest care must be exercised in this operation-- not only because of the danger, which is comparatively slight, but because a slip might injure one of the immensely valuable "tin fish".

 

Conning Tower
Georges Schreiber #19
Watercolor, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-JL

 
There is no surcease in the vigilance aboard a submarine. Vulnerable to depth charges and bombs, eternally a "lone wolf" on a mission, the submarine must be ready to crash-dive at an instant's notice. The skipper and executive of "old 204" augment the regular lookouts on the conning tower between submerging.

 

All Hands Below
Georges Schreiber #2
Watercolor, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-IU

Relieving the tension of hours below surface, crewmen on board a U.S. Navy submarine play a round of cards while a shipmate kibitzes from his bunk. While pondering his cards, each player also listens for the call to battle stations. In the foreground, the bulbous warheads of twin torpedoes seem to peer balefully in quest of targets.

 

War Isn't All Mechanized
Thomas Hart Benton #11
Pen and ink on paper, circa 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-BC

 

The lowly mule still pulls guns and supply wagons, the foot-soldier still fights hand-to-hand with the foe...and the mess cook must still peel potatoes by hand. Some U.S. Navy ships have automatic peelers--but don't mention it to this man!

 

Up Periscope
Thomas Hart Benton #24
Oil on canvas, circa 1944
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-BP

 

Sweater-clad U.S. Navy submarine men blend into the gloomy background of their ship, illuminated in eerie fashion by a light in the overhead, as they go about their duties far below the surface while on a patrol mission. An officer keeps his eyes glued to the periscope as he scans the horizon for the outline of an enemy ship.

 

Sighting the Target
Georges Schreiber #16
Watercolor, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-JI

A smudge of smoke on the horizon reveals the presence of an enemy ship, pray for the submarine's hungry torpedoes. Only her periscope shows as the sub races below surface to get within target range of her next victim.

 

Up Periscope
Georges Schreiber #1
Watercolor, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-IT

 
Men and machinery jam the tiny conning tower of a navy submarine, tense yet cool as they await a report from the officer peering through the periscope. Navigators pore over their charts at the left, beside them a "talker" awaits a command, while at the right a crewman climbs up the ladder from the control room below.

 

Eighty Feet Below
Georges Schreiber #18
Watercolor, 1943
Gift of Abbott Laboratories
88-159-JK

Specialists of the Silent Service -- the submarine fleet of the U.S. Navy-- eye their gauges and instruments with calculating care as their ship slides through the dark water eighty feet below the surface. Heart of the undersea vessel, the control room contains the giant wheels which operate the diving planes. Here also is the "Christmas Tree",where green or red lights, constantly gleaming and blinking, reveal whether valves and hatches are safely rigged for diving. At the right a "talker" inputs vital information to other parts of the ship, while at the left a crewman goes up the ladder to the conning tower, located just above the control room.

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01 August 2001