Friday, November 11, 2005

Are Submariners Superstitious?

originally posted at Ultraquiet No More

The first USS Maine was a "Second Class Battleship” designated an Armored Cruiser (ACR-1). The next two Maines were battleships BB-10 and the BB-69 (never built).

The third, commissioned USS Maine is the SSBN-741 an Ohio-class, Trident ballistic missile nuclear submarine. This USS Maine played a part in Tom Clancy's techno-thriller The Sum of All Fears. In the book, the Maine is destroyed by a Soviet submarine. Clancy used an author’s gimmick to inject realism, knowing some people were already familiar with the destruction of the first Maine, ACR-1.

In fact, the mast of the ACR-1 is displayed at the Arlington National Cemetery memorial honoring those lost when that ship mysteriously exploded in 1898, in Havana Harbor. The explosion and loss of life lead to the Spanish-American War. In 1976, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover published his research, How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed. The admiral applied modern science to determine the actual cause of Maine’s explosion. Using documentation from original courts of inquiry, as well as information on the construction and ammunition of Maine, his research concluded that damage caused was inconsistent with an explosion due to an external mine. The most likely cause, was spontaneous combustion of coal in the bunker next to the magazine.

Rickover is historically connected to the Maine disaster through his book, and to the submarine Maine as Father of the Nuclear Submarine Navy.

By necessity and selection, submariners are among the least superstitious and most cerebral of any branch in the armed forces. As Juan Caruso says in the first line of his poem Extreme Creatures, “... (they) Who suffer no attrition upon news their kind are sunk”.

The fact is reinforced too often during war, but sufficiently even in "peace." Ask those assigned to subs named the same as an earlier, sunk one or even earlier sunk two. Ask the nonquals in sub school when Thresher or Scorpion were lost with no convincing explanations forthcoming for months or years. Ask those who have transited the Bermuda Triangle submerged and often, who have slept under tons of thick ice and crushing water. Ask those who heard their ship creak under deep dives, and watch deck plates buckle. Ask those who fought real fires, leaks and vital system failures in near total darkness. You either remember these or get the picture.

We had one crewman need a sedative when a practice, MK 45 ASTOR dented our superstructure (in a friendly 'attack' exercise) just inches from the rack where he had been sleeping. A nuclear torpedo hit that close and personal was an alarm clock from hell for him. As you might imagine, we found humor and thought what our own reactions would have been.

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