USS Squalus: Sinking, Rescue of Survivors and Salvage
7 June 1939
From: Harold C. Preble, Naval Architect
Portsmouth Navy Yard,
U.S.S. SQUALUS Survivor.
To: Lieutenant O.F. Naquin, U.S.N.,
Commanding Officer, U.S.S. SQUALUS.
Subject: Statement in regard to the U.S.S. SQUALUS Casualty.
1. On Monday, 22 May 1939, I left with the U.S.S. SQUALUS which made three very satisfactory dives. The trim of the boat on this day was excellent. The SQUALUS returned to Portsmouth Harbor for anchorage.
2. On Tuesday morning, 23 May, the vessel got underway around 0730 for the diving area in the vicinity of White Island. As the diving area was approached, the word was passed to rig ship for diving. I went to the control room around 0800 and stayed in the control room from then on. Lieutenant W.T. Doyle, the Diving Officer, was in the control room upon my arrival and remained there. The vessel's trial diving crew were assembled at their diving stations. While in the control room prior to the dive, I gave out the Trial Board Data Books and other information to those who were to be on data stations.
3. The procedure for the day was to go through the first day's work that would be undertaken on the first day of preliminary trials. As the vessel was rigged for diving in the various compartments, report was given to Lieutenant Doyle and he himself personally checked these off on the "Rig for Diving" check-off board. I personally noted that all H[igh].P[ressure]. banks were charged to 3000 lbs. I also checked to see that at least two banks were cut in and that on this block H.P. air forward and aft was cut in, two supply connections to 600-lb blow manifold were open, and H.P. air open to bow buoyancy and safety tank knocker valves. 600-lb blow manifold was rigged for blowing all tanks by means of the master valve.
4. Lieutenant J.C. Nichols, coming from forward, personally reported to Lieutenant Doyle that the vessel had been properly rigged for diving forward. Lieutenant J.H. Patterson, coming from aft, also reported to Lieutenant Doyle that the vessel was rigged for diving aft. Lieutenant Doyle reported to Captain Naquin on the bridge that the vessel was rigged for diving. Prior to this I had been standing on the after side of the chart desk and upon Lieutenant Doyle's reporting the ship ready for diving, I took my customary diving station, which is standing by the after end of the chart desk, leaning against the same, facing forward, with my left foot on the bottom round of the ladder leading to the conning tower and my right foot upon a tool box which I always have placed, which gives me an elevated height to be able to see clearly the kingston and vent and hull opening indicator boards and from this elevated position I could also see the diving rudder indicators, trim indicators, mamometer and Pitometer log indicator and shaft revolution indicators. This dive was a 16-knot dive and at the start of the dive all kingstons and main vents were closed and pressure had been vented in the ballast tanks. Captain Naquin requested that the diving message be sent out and when this had been done, report was sent up to the bridge that diving message had been sent and receipted for.
5. Shortly after this, word came from the Commanding Officer to stand by to dive, this word being passed throughout the ship. The following valves and openings showing "open" were:- the conning tower hatch, Nos. 1 and 2 engine exhaust valves, Nos. 3 and 4 engine exhaust valves, and ventilation valves. I had two combination, double-action stop watches, one in each hand, and held the same at eye level. We then got one blast on the diving alarm, conning tower hatch indicator light went green, Nos. 3 and 4 engines were shut down in 5 seconds and Nos. 1 and 2 engines were shut down in 7 seconds. Word came by telephone from each engine room that engines were shut down and on top of this the exhaust valves showed closed by lights going green. Engine air inductions valve was closed in 9 seconds and showed green. With the induction valve showing "shut," Lieutenant Doyle held up two fingers to Campbell, C.T.M. of the boat, who gave two blasts on the diving alarm, and at the same time Lieutenant Doyle ordered pressure in the boat. Lieutenant Doyle reported to the Captain that pressure was in the boat. Upon the first blast, all kingstons were opened, safety tank vent, bow buoyancy vent, and No. 1 main vent. Immediately following pressure in the boat, Doyle ordered all vents open, both bow and stern planes were on 25 dive, and the boat assumed her customary down angle, hanging up normally at 28-30 feet, and at 35 feet I remarked that we were making our time as I had my records of previous dives in front of me, glancing at them. At 35 feet our diving time was 38 or 39 seconds. At 50 feet, our diving time was 58 seconds flat by my stop watch. Down angle was as usual 9º. The Commanding Officer told Doyle to level off at 50 feet and he walked from back of Doyle [word indistinct] the chart desk to man his periscope, at the same time stating the time that he had taken on his watch and complimenting Doyle upon the nice dive. Doyle at approximately 40 feet ordered closed safety tank vent and bow buoyancy vent. At approximately 45 feet, had the rudders eased off and before we reached 50 feet had ordered all vents closed. The ship was leveling off as usual and I believe the maximum depth the boat would have reached would have been around 70 feet. All during this time the SQUALUS appeared to be acting perfectly, following our previous dives and the dives of her sister ship, the [U.S.S.] SCULPIN. At approximately 60 feet word came by telephone that engine room was flooding and the Commanding Officer ordered all tanks blown, and the ship for a short space of time seemed to respond as usual. We immediately lost power and main lights. The only lights we had were emergency lights. Realizing that we needed more H.P. air than two banks, I knew then that the only thing to do was to cut in another bank. I wedged myself between the chart desk and the H.P. air manifold, sitting on the desk, and took the handle for opening up H.P. air banks and started cutting in another bank. While I was doing this I felt a sudden terrific increase in pressure and while I was in this position, trying to open this bank, I was struck on the back with a volume of water coming in the ventilation line directly over me, this volume of water driving my head and shoulders down. This same volume of water knocked down the trim manifold man and he, in turn, fell on me. While in this position I saw them close the door into the after battery room. Water was then flowing through this door. The man closing the starboard bulkhead ventilation valve over the door to after battery seemed to be experiencing considerable trouble in closing this valve as water continued to come. Emergency lights went out when Gainor pulled the battery switches. The vessel in going to the bottom assumed more of a down angle by the stern and I should judge it to be approximately 45º. We struck the bottom easily and finally settled at 11º up by the bow. A hydraulic line up over the steering gear spurted a considerable amount of oil in the control room and after the oil there was heard a hissing sound of air from the same line.
6. Throughout the time of this extreme emergency the officers and men on the ship acted as if the same emergency arose on every dive undertaken by the ship. There was absolutely no excitement. Captain Naquin, his officers and men were very cool and I cannot think of one single detail that was left undone. The Commanding Officer, officers and men, from my observations while operating with them, knew their ship very well. In my estimation, Gainor's quickness in noting the high rate of discharge and his bravery in entering the battery tank and pulling the switches to prevent fire in the forward battery can by no means be overlooked.
7. The U.S.S. SQUALUS is the second boat of her class and during our previous sea operations she had experienced practically no difficulties. In fact, on our fifth dive we were making times corresponding approximately to those of SCULPIN on the Saturday prior to her preliminary trials. I believe this is due to certain modifications made to the boat and training of the ship's officers prior to our sea trials.
8. There was no communication aft after word came that engine room was flooding. Captain Naquin immediately made a survey of the entire situation. All bulkhead doors and ventilation valves forward had been closed at sometime during this trouble. We were in total darkness except for portable emergency lanterns and hand flashlights. Every one in the control room and forward were O.K. This was found out by means of telephones forward. There was no water forward. Captain Naquin ordered Lieutenant Nichols to release the marker buoy forward from the forward torpedo room. He then ordered a recognition signal ejector fired. Captain Naquin told those in the control room that we had nothing to worry about, only just wait for time and help would be at hand. I told Captain Naquin and those in the control room that in 5 hours we would know that help was at hand above us and that in 35 hours we would be on the surface and gave the following reasons:- I told them that we were most fortunate in having Admiral Cole, who had been head of submarines, as our Commandant, as I remembered distinctly what he did at the time the [U.S.S.] POLLACK was delayed from sending a surfacing message to the [Portsmouth Navy] Yard due to a flooded radio trunk. I cited how he ran from the pump well to berth 5 where the [U.S.S.] PIKE was berthed and asked how quickly they could get underway, ordering them to be ready for getting underway immediately. He had salvage equipment moved aboard the PIKE and prior to doing this he had messages already to be released at his command. I also told them that the SCULPIN was in our neighborhood and she would be despatched immediately to our diving area. I checked with Powell who had recently been on the [U.S.S.] FALCON as to the length of time it would take the FALCON to reach us. This check for time was approximately 14 hours.
9. Captain Naquin ordered Momsen lungs passed back to the control room from the torpedo room and ordered those forward to get their lungs also. A Momsen lung was given each man and Captain Naquin re-instructed his men in its use. He gave me personal instructions in regard to the use of the same, as I had never used a lung before although I knew the principles. After receiving the Momsen lungs a few of us went forward to the torpedo room in order to more nearly equalized those of us in each compartment. While in the forward torpedo room Gainor asked that the valve in back of the of the I.C. board for battery fresh water tanks be closed as he feared that the battery fresh water tanks in the after compartment would collapse, causing salt water to get into the forward system and thereby rupture battery fresh water tanks in the forward battery space to such an extent that salt water would be admitted to the battery. As I passed through the battery space, I noted how warm this compartment was. Captain Naquin told the men to make themselves as comfortable as possible by lying down, not to exert any energy, and to refrain from talking. In the forward torpedo room some hours later, Lieutenant Nichols obtained dry mattress covers and spread out soda lime in order that the CO2 in the compartment would be absorbed. From time to time the soda lime was replenished as necessary. During our stay in the forward torpedo room Captain Naquin was always in touch with us. On several times during our stay he came through to the forward torpedo room and made personal inquiries about our condition and made cheery remarks which broke the monotony of our waiting. The mere presence of our Captain and his smile, seen by the aid of flashlight, certainly gave every one a lift in spirits and confidence. While in the forward torpedo room Lieutenant Nichols reinstructed us in the method of escape by the use of the escape chamber. Oxygen was released as necessary.
10. True to prediction, we heard the propellers of the SCULPIN overhead and it was my impression that she first circled the marker buoy and then the sound of it being hauled onto the deck of the SCULPIN. We then heard the voice of Captain Wilkin of our sister ship, the SCULPIN on which I had previous duty. Lieutenant Nichols told him our condition and of the 33 men accounted for. During Nichols' conversation, Naquin came forward to talk to Wilkin and during his conversation with Wilkin the buoy line broke. I was much surprised that this line did not break before because I know how difficult it is to maneuver a submarine on the surface in a seaway.
11. I think that after this conversation the SCULPIN laid a little off from us and charged batteries and air banks. I heard the arrival of a ship and from the sound of her oscillator I believed it to be the [U.S.S.] WANDANK, and later in the early morning hours the arrival of the FALCON. I knew it was the FALCON by the sound of her oscillator; also I knew that the FALCON was anchoring directly over us because you could hear the boats going back and forth which I presumed to be putting out port and starboard anchors fore and aft. From then on we were in communication by means of Morse code messages.
HAROLD C. PREBLE.
Source: USS Squalus file, World War II Command File, Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center
21 August 2000