Submarine school in New London was as much about being determined suitable for underwater duty as it was about learning the dynamics and physics of a submarine. We spent long days listening to lectures and watching video and hearing stories from old sea goats telling of their misfortunes underway – because they hadn’t remembered their training! If a sub student wasn’t making the grade, then he received the privilege of going to night school, too. Students who were excelling in school had the privilege of teaching the tutoring classes. Either way, it seemed, we all ended up getting a double-dose of training – hear it again or teach what you just heard. I suppose there was a method to all of this madness. We spent many hours in the classrooms.
The instructors were serious – before going to sea a sailor must know about his ship. This knowledge was for his own safety and for the safety of his crew and boat.
Yes, we took some psychological tests and had some interviews about what we felt about being underwater for extended periods of time, how we felt about being in enclosed and tight spaces, and how we could get along with people in pressure or crisis situations. We weren’t sure what the ‘cut’ was but we pretty much figured that it was actually the crazy people that they let through and had found suitable for sub duty. Normal people simply weren’t eligible for this kind of madness.
We had to do some actual water and pressure training, too. Click on underwater escape (warning – there might be a commercial) to get a feel for what we did in our escape training.
All I remember is that I was scared, it happened fast, and there were so many instructions that I didn’t hear that I thought that I was going to die. Of course, once we made it to the top of the tank we were all “that was fun” and “let’s do it again” and “that was crazy”. Much bravado from a bunch of previously scared, wet, and silly kids.
I understand that procedures may be a bit different now but we – in order to expel the air in our lungs while ascending – had to yell “ho ho ho” from the bottom of the tank to the top of the tank. We had to yell loud and for the approximately 10 – 15 seconds going up. If we weren’t yelling loud enough, some friendly scuba divers would basically punch us in the gut to make us exhale the air faster. Or, if someone somehow seemed to be running out of air too quick, the scuba diver would escort him on up to the top with some air from the diver’s tanks.
Learning how to prepare for escape and understanding the physics of ascent and realizing what would happen to our bodies during the ascent was both horrifying and amazing. We did it. Somehow.
The diving pressure tank was also disturbing. We were placed in a little but heavy metal bubble – maybe five or six of us with an instructor. We were in shorts and t-shirts. Slowly the pressure began to build – a little hiss in the background. In the bubble was a rubber ball. On one of the bulkheads was a depth gauge – as pressure was added we went deeper and deeper. The instructor would stop the pressurization at regular depths and make sure everyone was able to “pop” their ears – this was very important. Sure enough, several people couldn’t pop their ears and we would have to re-surface and let them out of the bubble. People getting out were very disappointed – it might be the end of their submarine career. Up and down was the hard part – we would dive and surface and dive until finally finally we made it to escape depth.
Once all the way down to depth, it was quite warm in the bubble – beads of perspiration was on everyone’s brow both from the descent and from anxiety of making the descent. What was weird – talking made us all sound like Mickey Mouse. Our ears, of course, had adjusted to the depth but sounds were very muted. And the rubber ball? It was now flat and deflated-looking sitting on the floor of our bubble.
Now it was time to surface – the instructor opened up the pressure valve and up we went (the inside pressure was equalizing with the outside pressure). We went shallower and shallower, according to the depth gauge. Interestingly, a fog developed in the bubble. It became very dewy and almost sticky. And it got cold – quite cold. But we made it back to the surface.
Unfortunately, several people couldn’t get their ears to equalize as we went down – they were out of the submarine service. I made it but actually sustained a “squeeze” in one ear. It wasn’t damaged seriously but, as the corpsman said, it was “bruised”. And for about a month I was mostly deaf in one ear. Thankfully, this didn’t keep me out of submarines.
Interestingly, one Sunday afternoon, I remember, a few of us were driving around Groton and snap crackle pop – my ear “opened”. Like when you are landing in an airplane and your ear “opens”. And my ears have been fine ever since.
Lots of interesting times and experiences in sub school in New London.