Keeping the blogosphere posted on the goings on of the world of submarines since late 2004... and mocking and belittling general foolishness wherever it may be found. Idaho's first and foremost submarine blog. (If you don't like something on this blog, please E-mail me; don't call me at home.)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Another Long, Boring Sea Story

So there I was... the first deployment of the USS Topeka (SSN 754) in November 1992. We were the first American submarine known to enter the Arabian (Persian) Gulf; the first Iranian Kilo-class submarine was on her way to Iran from Russia, and Big Navy wanted to see if the Gulf was suitable for submarine operations. (Iran currently has three of these submarines.) Here's how the Washington Report described this historic deployment:
In a demonstration of America's commitment to the region, the Navy sent the nuclear-powered attack submarine U.S.S. Topeka into the Gulf shortly after Iran's first Kilo submarine arrived in November 1992.
Here was an article in the USA Today on November 5, 1992:
TOPEKA HEADS INTO PERSIAN GULF: The USS Topeka, the first submarine known to enter the Persian Gulf, steamed toward the center of the strategic waterway Wednesday, days ahead of a sub that Iran has purchased from Russia. The nuclear-powered sub appeared to be heading to the gulf as a reminder of U.S. regional strength.
Okay, so the two articles don't agree on the timeline of Topeka arrival vs. Kilo arrival (Topeka was there first). Bottom line, it was an important deployment, so the Navy didn't want any junior officers messing it up.
So I'm standing Contact Coordinator as we're cruising west on the surface across the Central Arabian Gulf towards Mina Sulman, Bahrain. We're going there because the submarine tender USS Dixon (AS-37) was there, and we were going to tie up to her the next morning for a three week upkeep. (This throws a little cold water on the account of our deployment in Blind Man's Bluff. That book says we went into the Gulf to monitor the deployment of the Iranian Kilo, which I suppose we could have done if the Kilo had gotten lost and pulled up to the pier next to us. In all fairness to the authors, that's what most of the contemporary press reports said we were doing.) The sun is going down, there's a crescent moon out, and it's really, really dusty, even 100 miles from land. As Contact Coordinator, I'm responsible for keeping a lookout with the periscope, figuring out what all the other sea-going traffic is doing, and advising the Officer of the Deck how to avoid said traffic. There's not much traffic around, and we were pretty upbeat after having gotten rid of the Iranian P-3 that had been following us most of the day. As the sun finally sets, I find that I can't see the horizon at all, due to all the dust. Even worse, I picked up a light directly astern of us that hadn't been there before. Could it be an Iranian patrol boat coming to ram us at night? I did an observation (gave the bearing and range to the Fire Control Party) , designated the contact as Victor (visual target) - 38, and conscientiously reported the new contact to the bridge; I figured it was about 10 miles behind us, since that was about how far the horizon was. After another sweep, I did another observation. The light was still directly astern of us, coming straight from the Iranian coast. They must be following us! After I did a third observation, and the contact hadn't changed in bearing by even a tenth of a degree, a horrible realization came over me. Simultaneously, my FTOW asked, "Sir, are you tracking our stern light?" I was, and all I could say was "Drop Victor 38". I don't think I ever lived that one down, no matter how much I reminded the crew of my fellow officer who had tracked an island in the Tsushima Straits for half an hour, even giving it a speed of 5 knots.

OK, it was funny if you were there. It was either post this, or a discussion on how my suggestion for the ship's motto for the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) ("We regret that our enemies have but one life to give for their country") was better than the one actually chosen ("Arsenal of the Nation").

Bell-ringer 0911 10 Feb: Based on a comment, I added "American" to the second sentence to more closely reflect reality. Here's an account that discusses possible British submarine operations in the Gulf during the 1991 Gulf War.


Blogger ninme said...

Wait, don't stop there! How did you get rid of the Iranian P-3!?

And for the record, I think "We regret that our enemies have but one life to give for their country" is MUCH better than "Arsenal of the Nation." It's not. It's one of hundreds of thousands! Sheesh.

2/09/2005 11:32 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

I wish it could be more exciting, but I think the Iranian P-3 just ran low on fuel, or went home when they saw we were continuing away from their shore. Submarines on the surface really can't do too much to planes unless they get close enough for us to throw something at them. However, if we want to, we can blow up (or sink) their airfield.

2/10/2005 12:57 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Actually, the concept of the enemy having one life to give for their country I proposed refers to each individual enemy; we'd like to kill each one multiple times, but it turns out that once they're dead, they normally stay dead. That's what we regret; not that we can kill only one, but that we can't cause them to suffer the pains of death over and over. The Captain didn't like my suggestion; he thought it was too warlike. (This was in 1998, so it probably was then...)

2/10/2005 1:03 AM

Blogger half said...

Why were you surfaced?

2/10/2005 5:22 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

First time for a sub in the Gulf, not very good sounding data, show the flag to the Iranians, brass scared of having anything go wrong, lawyers maybe not sure that a submerged transit of the Straits of Hormuz being "innocent transit"; maybe all those reasons. We did have an escort whenever we were innocently transiting through the transit lanes less than 12 nm from Iran, however. We did submerge in the Gulf after the upkeep for a couple of hours with helicopters and destroyers surrounding us; they wanted to see if a submerged sub at PD could be seen from the air in the Gulf.

2/10/2005 6:29 AM

Blogger Zoe Brain said...

"The USS Topeka, the first submarine known to enter the Persian Gulf,"


I am, of course, referring to RN submarines from Aden back in the 60's, certainly nothing later, oh no.


2/10/2005 6:31 AM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Hey, I only put in non-personal information that's available elsewhere, and that's what the USA Today article said. Alan's right, it should be first American submarine.

2/10/2005 6:50 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Joel, there’s another story of tracking a possible visual threat contact non-threat. I was starting my first patrol as a newbe ET3 non-qual on the USS Simon Bolivar. We were transiting on the surface and had just left Kings Bay GA on the way to our dive point during the mid morning. Both scopes were up and being off-watch and the piloting party secured I asked the Chief Quartermaster if I could take a look for a while. This the first time I had used a periscope and was determined to find a visual contact. With clear visibility and the scope on high power I spotted something directly astern of us. It was only an occasional flash or splash I saw but I was sure it was following us. After a while I directed the Chief’s attention to my contact and he confirmed that I had something. We tracked for about a half hour and were not able ID the contact. Just then I had a curious thought “could it be another periscope?” and communicated this to the Chief. That got things going and pretty soon everyone is checking out my contact.

Soon the CO is in control and asking what is going on. The Quartermaster Chief tells the CO about my contact and theory. The CO gets this stern look on his face and tells the chief to look at his chart and confirm the sounding. Long in face the Chief confirms that if it were another Submarine at PD it would be dredging a new channel. 30 seconds later the CO coming off the scope comments “That’s one crazy redneck to bring a boat that small this far out.” He’s riding the lull in our wake.

After the CO went back to the Wardroom the Chief Quartermaster told me I needed to go back to the Navcenter.

Former NavET

2/10/2005 8:02 AM

Blogger ninme said...

No, I got that about the motto. That's why I liked it.

I didn't even notice the clever use of the word "known" that Alan pointed out. That's funny. And exciting. I love cloak and dagger stuff. It's terribly entertaining.

You guys should get together and write a book or a movie or something, if it weren't for all that derned security clearance crud.

Joel, do you ever actually blow anything up or sink anything in training or whatever? QC tests on the torpedo tubes? Or did you spend all your time tracking stern lights and spying on amorous yachters? It seems like an awful lot of high explosives to drag around otherwise.

2/10/2005 12:06 PM

Blogger John of Argghhh! said...

Heh. I should tell the story over at Argghhh! about the time that I demonstrated a "soldier proof" radar chronograph to the CG, whilst proving that it wasn't "Lieutenant proof."

Nah. Too embarrassing!

2/10/2005 12:46 PM

Blogger bothenook said...

joel, have you ever read Clear the Bridge by adm. Dick O'Kane? he tells of surface transiting to japan during WWII, and that there were more than one emergency dives caused by lookouts seeing venus rising, and calling it a japanese dive bomber.

2/10/2005 6:49 PM

Blogger Bubblehead said...

Yes, I have, along with his other classic book, Wahoo. Of course, back then, I think that the possible costs of being wrong even once the other way justified the extra dives.

2/11/2005 1:01 AM


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