Skip to main content
Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Related Content
Document Type
  • Ship History
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

Report of Rescue Operations



28 May 1939                   

From: Commander Rescue Operations, U.S.S. SQUALUS.
To: Chief of Naval Operations.

Subject: U.S.S. SQUALUS (SS192) - Report of Rescue Operations.

Reference: (a) U.S.S. SQUALUS Operation Order 4-39 with Annex.

Inclosure: (A) Comdt. Navy Yard, Ports. Communication Files covering Rescue Operations,
during 23-25 May 1939 inclusive. [not located]
(B) Extract from Diving Log, U.S.S. FALCON, for period of 24-25 May 1939
(C) Officer Organization.

1. Attention is invited to the fact that the times used in Inclosure (A) are zone plus five time, while those given in the remainder of the report are zone plus four time (Daylight Saving Time). The officer organization for the rescue operations is shown in Inclosure (C).

2. On 23 May 1939 the U.S.S. SQUALUS was operating off the Isles of Shoals in accordance with reference (a). On board the operating engineer regularly furnished by the machinery contractor, as well as two civilian representatives of the Navy Yard, who were assisting in preparation for trials. In accordance with the usual practice, the routine dive reports of the SQUALUS, which are the second and third despatches of Inclosure (A) were on the Commandant's desk for reference in order to keep in touch with operations. At about 1040 the Commandant noted that the expected surfacing report of the SQUALUS was then about one hour overdue. The Communication Officer was notified and directed to try to raise the SQUALUS by radio on the assumption that failure to receive a surfacing report was due to inadvertence of some sort.

3. Failure to communicate with the SQUALUS naturally caused some alarm. As it happened, the SCULPIN was due to leave the Yard for Newport at 1130, and the Commandant personally directed her Commanding Officer before she left to pass through the SQUALUS operating areas, endeavor to make contact with her and report results. At 1155, after the SCULPIN had left, the Commandant further directed her by despatch to make every effort to contact the SQUALUS and remain in the area until successful.

4. The operating schedule of the FALCON was then consulted and it was found that she was scheduled for upkeep at New London at the time, whereupon the Commandant called Commander Submarine Squadron TWO by telephone, informed him of the situation, and warned him that the FALCON might be urgently needed. Commander Submarine Squadron TWO stated that the FALCON would be sent to the Isles of Shoals at once.

5. At 1241 a despatch was received from the SCULPIN to the effect that a red smoke bomb had been sighted and that the SCULPIN was proceeding to the vicinity. The Commandant immediately called the Chief of Naval Operations by telephone, informed him that the SCULPIN was apparently down and in trouble, that he would personally proceed to the area involved and would keep the Chief of Naval Operations informed of developments. At the same time Commandant, First Naval District, was informed of the situation and requested to make the U.S.S. WANDANK available in the vicinity of the Isles of Shoals. Before embarking on the PENACOOK (Yard Tug) further messages were received from the SCULPIN that the marker buoy from the SQUALUS had been sighted and that the position was in Latitude 4253 N. Longitude 7037 W. This position was 4-3/4 miles to the westward from the reported diving position of the SQUALUS and in nearly the opposite direction from her reported diving course. This fact is pointed out in order to emphasize the extreme value of the alert lookout kept by the SCULPIN, which resulted in the sighting of the smoke bomb fired from the SQUALUS, and undoubtedly saved a tremendous amount of time which would otherwise have been expended in searching for the SQUALUS.

6. The Commandant, accompanied by Captain H.R. Greenlee, USN, Commander A.I. McKee (CC), Lieutenant Commander F.A. Tusler (CC), Lieutenant Commander E.L. Sackett, USN, and Lieutenant Commander A.M. Morgan (CC), embarked on the U.S.S. PENACOOK at 1330 and proceeded at best speed to the designated position, arriving alongside the SCULPIN at 1513 and assumed the status of Rescue Officer. The Rescue Officer directed the PENACOOK to drop one buoy 100 yards north of the designated position of the SQUALUS and another 100 yards south of it. He then embarked on the SCULPIN with other officers accompanying him.

7. The Commanding Officer, SCULPIN, reported that he had picked up the marker buoy, which was the forward one of the SQUALUS, and had held about two minutes conversation over the buoy telephone with Lieutenant J.C. Nichols and Lieutenant O.F. Naquin, Commanding Officer, SQUALUS, which was in substance as follows:

WILKIN: "What is your trouble?"

NICHOLS: "High induction open, crew's compartment, forward and after engine rooms flooded. Not sure about after torpedo room but could not establish communication with that compartment. Hold the phone and I will put the Captain on."

(About thirty seconds' delay to get Lieutenant Naquin on the telephone.)

WILKIN: "How are things?"

NAQUIN: "Consider the best method to employ is to send diver down as soon as possible to close high induction and then hook on salvage lines to flooded compartments and free them of water in attempt to bring her up; for the present consider that preferable to sending personnel up with lungs."

At this point the marker buoy cable parted. Later investigation by diver showed that a bight of the buoy cable had been caught on some sharp obstruction over the side of the SQUALUS, and pulling from the surface had caused it to part at that point, which was about 240 feet from the buoy. The Commanding Officer, SCULPIN, reported that he had located the SQUALUS with his supersonic equipment, and that she was about 350 yards distant, bearing zero six six degrees true.

8. The PENACOOK had been directed to start dragging for the SQUALUS with grapnel after planting position buoys. It was shortly found that the grapnels on board were not heavy enough to sink the line, and one of the SCULPIN'S boat anchors was then substituted for the grapnel. At 1720 the WANDANK arrived from Boston, and was also directed to start dragging. At 1726 the U.S.C.G. No. 991 brought out from the Navy Yard two divers, two diver's tenders, and two pipefitters, together with diving suits and equipment. At 1745 the privately owned tug CHANDLER arrived, bringing Lieutenant (jg) E.F. Slozsek (MC), USN, and three pharmacist's mates with fifty blankets from the Portsmouth Naval Hospital. At 1817 U.S.C.G. No. 158 reported for duty from Gloucester. At 1842 the CHANDLER and U.S.C.G. No. 991 were sent back to the Navy Yard for more diving equipment. At 1930 the PENACOOK reported hooking her drag anchor on what was believed to be the SQUALUS, and buoyed the line with a wooden grating. This buoy was on the line between the two buoys previously laid by the PENACOOK. The U.S.C.G. No. 158 was directed to circle the vicinity of the grating during the night, using her searchlight to keep watch for any SQUALUS personnel who might come up during the night with lung equipment. At 2145 the U.S.C.G. No. 409 arrived, bringing the following personnel of the Experimental Diving Unit who had been sent by airplane from Washington, D.C.:

Lieutenant Commander C.B. Momsen, USN.
Lieutenant O.D. Yarbrough (MC), USN.
Lieutenant A.R. Behnke (MC), USN.
C. Msmth. J.H. McDonald, USN (Diver).

At 2355 the Tug CHANDLER returned to Portsmouth.

9. No attempt was made to conduct diving operations during the night of 23-24 May because of the extreme depth and the difficulty of conducing such operations during darkness, and because of the fact that the FALCON was expected to arrive in the early morning in time to moor and conduct such operations with superior equipment and highly trained personnel. The personnel in the forward compartments of the SQUALUS appeared to be in no immediate danger. Satisfactory communications had been established by 1345 with the SQUALUS after being first heard at 1328, by tapping in Morse code with a hammer on the hull of the SCULPIN and hearing similar messages from the SQUALUS. Early messages indicated that 33 men were alive in the forward part of the ship. Conditions were reported satisfactory, but cold.

10. Operations on 24 May 1939 were as follows: At 0027 the U.S.C.G. HARRIET LANE reported for duty. At 0205 the U.S.S. SEMMES stood in and anchored close aboard, and Commander Submarine Squadron TWO (Captain R.S. Edwards, USN) reported on board for duty. At 0235, in response to a request from the FALCON that the position of the SQUALUS be cleared for a distance of at least 700 yards, the SCULPIN got underway and shifted berth to a position with Newburyport Aero Beacon bearing 241 degrees true, Wood Island Light bearing 359 degrees true, and Boon Island Light bearing 023 degrees - 45 minutes true. The estimated bearing of SQUALUS from this position was 040 degrees true, distance 1450 yards. At 0415 Commander Allan R. McCann, USN, and 12 divers of the Experimental Diving Unit arrived at the scene of operations. At 0425 the U.S.S. FALCON arrived and commenced laying out four point moorings. Divers from the FALCON were sent to the SCULPIN to familiarize themselves with the layout and equipment to be found on SQUALUS, which is a sister ship. At 0700 the Rescue Officer, Commander Submarine Squadron TWO, other officers of the Navy Yard, and officers attached to the Experimental Diving Unit embarked on the FALCON.

11. The FALCON was occupied unit 0840 in spotting herself between the four anchors laid out, in an effort to obtain a position over the SQUALUS. Due to wind and sea conditions, considerable difficulty was experienced in obtaining the desired position, and at 0840 the WANDANK carried out an additional five-ton anchor on the port beam of the FALCON and brought the line to the FALCON. However, this expedient was not effective, and it was necessary to shift the lines of the FALCON so that the wind and sea were brought ahead instead of on the beam, after which the FALCON quickly swung into position and was secured. At 1014, the first diver, Martin C. Sibitzky, B.M. 1c, USN, was put over the side, reporting himself on the deck of the SQUALUS at 1017. The descending line used was the buoy line which had been attached to the drag anchor by the PENACOOK, and this line was fortunately discovered by the diver to be only about 6 feet aft of the forward torpedo room hatch, leading over the port rail near the stub mast. At 1028 the rescue chamber downhaul wire was shackled to the descending line and lowered to the diver, who shackled it to the hatch at 1039, and started coming up, being placed in the decompression chamber at 1124.

12. The extremely skillful work of this first diver resulted in marked expedition of the whole rescue operation and contributed greatly to its ultimate success. In addition to shackling on the downhaul wire it was necessary for him to clear the bight of the marker buoy line, which lay across the hatch, and was still fouled somewhere over the side. Had this buoy line been allowed to remain, it would have endangered rescue chamber operations by possibly fouling the downhaul or preventing a tight seal on the hatch.

13. The rescue chamber was hoisted over the side for the first rescue trip at 1130 and reported on the submarine at 1212. The operator reported the SQUALUS to have a seven degree list and to be down by the stern. At 1240 the chamber had been securely attached to the submarine and the upper hatch opened. The lower escape hatch was found closed. This lower hatch was opened and contact established with the submarine crew at 1247. Provisions and dehydrating material were delivered to the crew, the submarine was ventilated through the chamber for several minutes, and seven passengers taken on board. At 1256 the submarine hatch was closed, and preparations made for the ascent. At 1342 the rescue chamber reached the surface, the hatch was opened, and survivors evacuated.

14. The first three rescue trips of the rescue chamber were made expeditiously, and equipment functioned as designed throughout these trips. The times at which detailed operations of the chamber were carried out are entered in Inclosure (B), together with the names of the survivors removed on each trip. This was the first occasion in which the rescue chamber has been used for other than training purposes, and the results achieved have fully justified the vision, faith, and hard work of those involved in the development of the equipment.

15. The fourth trip of the rescue chamber proceeded apparently according to schedule up to 2022, when during the ascent, with the last survivors on board, the air motor which drives the downhaul equipment stalled and could not be re-started. An attempt was made to continue the ascent by controlling with the brake instead of the motor, but at 155 feet depth the reel again jammed and no further downhaul wire could be let out, even with the brake released. A heavy strain was taken on the retriever wire with the deck winch, but the chamber was apparently fouled, and could not be broken loose without danger of parting the retrieving cable. The downhaul equipment could not be moved either up or down, therefore the decision was made to lower the chamber to the bottom and send a diver down to unshackle or cut the downhaul wire to free the chamber. The chamber was given negative buoyancy in order to lower it to the boom. The diver (Squire) was put over at 2113 and reported on the submarine at 2115. At 2118 he reported that he could not unshackle the wire, and at 2122 reported that he had cut it. An attempt was immediately made to heave up the chamber with the winch, but the strain on the retriever was abnormally heavy and at 2125, the retrieving wire stranded. The strain was quickly taken off, and the chamber lowered to the bottom, in order to prevent parting the retrieving cable entirely, as only one small strand of the cable remained intact.

16. At 2149 a diver (Clayton) was put over for the purpose of bending a new retrieving cable to the chamber. This diver became involved in difficulties shortly after reaching the bottom, probably due to entanglement in one of the lines, and had to be hauled to the surface without accomplishing anything. At 2247 a second diver (Duncan) was sent down to the chamber, who also became involved in fouled lines and had such difficulties with lights that it appeared hopeless to accomplish anything by this method. After conference, a decision was reached that the best method of getting the chamber up would be to adjust the buoyancy of the chamber as nearly as possible to neutral on the negative side and then haul in the frayed retrieving wire carefully by hand in order not to part the remaining strand. In using this method, the danger of acquiring positive buoyancy of the chamber, with resultant swift ascent to the surface, and the possibility of its coming up under the FALCON had to be accepted. However, as no alternative appeared practicable, this method was decided upon at 2400.

17. Operations on 25 May 1939 followed. At 0004, in compliance with instructions from the controlling officer, the main ballast tank of the chamber was partially blown three times for periods of 30 seconds, 15 seconds and 15 seconds respectively, and a light strain taken by hand on the retrieving wire, with result that after the last blowing, it was possible to lift the chamber without much strain on the stranded retrieving wire. By the exercise of excellent judgement, the chamber had been brought to exactly the condition of buoyancy desired, so that it could be hauled in with very little strain, this avoiding the imminent danger of parting the one strand of the cable which was left, as well as the danger of rapid ascent of the chamber out of control. After once being started, the chamber came up easily, reaching the surface at 0023, and the last known survivors were evacuated at 0025.

18. Rescue operations might reasonably have been considered complete at this point. The Commanding Officer of the SQUALUS stated that he was absolutely sure that all after compartments with the possible exception of the after torpedo room, were flooded, and that in the absence of any communications from that compartment, the indications were that flooding was complete throughout the after part of the vessel. All evidence obtainable from the surface pointed to the same conclusion. However, in order that all possibilities of finding further personnel on board the SQUALUS alive might be explored and eliminated, it was decided to make a trip in the chamber to the after torpedo room at the earliest practicable moment, and determine definitely whether or not that compartment was also flooded. Accordingly, After shifting moorings in order to place the FALCON in a position more favorable to reach the after torpedo room hatch and renewing the downhaul wire of the rescue chamber and checking over the operating equipment of the reel, diving operations were again resumed at 1341 in order to attach the downhaul wire to the after torpedo room hatch. The first and second divers sent down failed to attach the wire due to fouling of lines and great depth of water, but the third diver was successful at 1602 and was back in the decompression chamber at 1657.

19. At 1719 the rescue chamber commenced descent, and at 1745 reached the submarine. It was necessary in this operation to equalize the pressure in the chamber with that of the sea in order to enable the submarine hatch to be opened without flooding the chamber. This was done, and upon cracking the submarine hatch, water commenced to flood into the chamber from the torpedo room, proving that the after torpedo room was flooded. The submarine hatch was secured, and the rescue chamber started up, using the usual decompression schedule during the ascent because the operators had been subjected to full sea pressure. At 2107 the rescue chamber was landed on deck. Badders, W., C.M.M., U.S.N., was in charge of the chamber in this operation, and Mihalowski, J., T.M.1c. was his assistant. These men were fully aware of the great danger involved. If they became incapacitated, there was no way in which they could be rescued, as the chamber could not be entered from the outside. Considering all facts, it is felt that these men accepted the greatest personal risk of any during the entire rescue operations, and performed their duties in accordance with the highest traditions of the service.

20. Rescue operations were considered definitely at an end at this stage, and salvage operations started."

21. In concluding this report of Rescue Operations, it is desired to bring to the attention of the Department the efficiency displayed by all agencies taking part. The promptness of action of the Navy Department in getting personnel and material to the scene of the disaster undoubtedly had much to do with the success of the operation. During the operations, quick, thorough and efficient action was displayed without exception by all hands. Many difficult and unforeseen situations arose suddenly and were in all cases handled with a great display of efficient initiative. There was never any undue excitement or confusion.

22. The commander Rescue Operations, U.S.S. SQUALUS, desires to invite the Department's particular attention to the following, which are deemed worthy of the highest praise:

            The Commanding Officer of the SCULPIN, Lieutenant Warren D. Wilkin, U.S.Navy, for his alertness in picking up the distress signal of the SQUALUS and his efficient action in definitely locating the wreck.

            The efficient action of the Boatswain of the Yard, Navy Yard, Portsmouth, N.H., Chief Boatswain David L. Ullman, U.S. Navy, in placing the marker buoys and in so promptly grappling the wreck, which enabled the FALCON to moor in position to begin operations immediately upon arrival.

            The prompt arrival of numerous vessels of the U.S. Coast Guard and their inestimable usefulness and cooperation throughout the operations.

            The efficient work of the divers and rescue chamber operators throughout the period of rescue, particularly Martin O. Sibitzky, B.M. 1c of the FALCON, who secured the rescue chamber downhaul to the forward torpedo room escape hatch and cleared the hatch in 22 minutes from the time he landed on the deck of the SQUALUS. This was done at a depth of 220 feet of water at a temperature of 29 degrees.

            The exceptional coolness, judgment and initiative of Commander Allan R. McCann, U.S. Navy, in handling what was probably the most trying and difficult situation of the rescue period, viz: the fourth and last trip up of the rescue chamber with survivors. Their outstanding handling of this situation undoubtedly prevented severe bodily injury to the occupants of the chamber and the possible damage to the chamber, the FALCON, or both.

            The appearance and bearing of all SQUALUS officers and men as they stepped out of the rescue chamber to the deck of the FALCON indicated a high state of discipline and morale under the most trying conditions.

            The exceptionally courageous and efficient conduct of W. Badders, CMM., U.S.N., and J. Mihalalowski, T.M. 1c, U.S.N., as described in paragraph 19 of this report.

            The efficient administration of the Navy Yard, Portsmouth, by the Captain of the Yard, Captain William F. Amsden, U.S. Navy, and by the Commandant's Aide, Lieutenant Commander John J. Curley, Jr., U.S. Navy, during the conditions requiring the utmost energy and tact.

            The generous response of the individuals from all walks of life throughout the country.

C.W. COLE                        
Rear Admiral U.S.N.            

Enclosure C

Officer Organization
Rescue Operation - U.S. S. SQUALUS


Rear Admiral C. W. Cole, USN


Captain H. R. Greenlee, USN


Captain R. S. Edwards, USN

Technical Aide

Commander A. I. McKee (CC), USN

Technical Aide

Commander A. R. McCann, USN

Technical Aide

 Lieutenant Commander F. A. Tusler, USN

Aide (Recorder)

 Lieutenant Commander R. L. Sackett, USN

Diving Officer

Lieutenant Commander C. B. Momsen, USN

Assistant Diving Officer

Lieutenant J. K. Morrison, USN

Medical Officers

Lieutenant O. D. Yarbrough (MC), USN


Lieutenant A. R. Behnke (MC), USN


Lieutenant T. L. Willmon (MC), USN

Technical Aide

Gunner W. P. Barron, USN

Source: USS Squalus Rescue Reports, World War II Command File, Operational Archives Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command


Published: Fri Jun 24 07:18:06 EDT 2016