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.)

Thursday, April 07, 2011

"Locks Keep Honest People Honest"

So there I was... back on my JO tour on the good ship Topeka, getting ready to get underway for some exercise, probably support for a JTFEX or something. In any event, I had been part of the team that had got the boat regenerated for carrying "special" weapons back when we did that sort of thing. As a result, we had one of the "special" safes -- you know, one of the two-lock ones where you aren't allowed to even write down the combination anywhere. I was one of the guys who had one of the combinations, and we had just changed it the week before.

Anyway, we had to inventory the "cookies" or whatever it was we called them at the time before getting underway that afternoon, and wouldn't you know it -- the lock I was responsible for wouldn't open. The CO ("He Who Must Not Be Named") was understandably perturbed, and told us to "get that #$%#&$@ safe open; I don't care how you do it". We called up the tender to send over the locksmith, but he wasn't going to get there for several hours. So, being industrious young officers and gentlemen, we took to cracking the safe. Despite having no training, we got it open within a couple of hours; I think it was supposed to be rated for either 6 or 12 hours. The locksmith showed up a couple hours later and put in new locks, and we were good to go.

As it turns out, it was probably my fault the lock didn't open. The CO had accused me and my partner of forgetting the combination, which was untrue; we had used one of the two most common submarine methods of remembering combinations you can't write down. The first and, I think, most common way back in the early '90s was to convert an easily remembered six-letter phrase to the telephone keypad equivalent, and use that as a safe combination. (38-25-63 was fairly common; this translated to "F&ck Me".) We had used the other method -- using the level/frame/item designation from the brass placard of a nearby piece of electrical equipment. This is where we went wrong. Since a submarine is fairly narrow, the last number is normally fairly low, as there are only a limited number of pieces of equipment that can fit on each level and frame. (The first number has the same problem, with only 3 levels on an SSN.) It was the last number that got us; as we were reading the lock instructions when trying to open it, we found a prohibition against making the last number between 01-05; since this was one of the locks that you rotate back to zero before opening, last numbers this low didn't give the lock enough time to always engage the opening mechanism. It worked when we tested it after setting the combination, but apparently not thereafter. (I never did tell HWMNBN exactly what we'd done wrong.) After that, we always added a certain number to the placard code we used.

Have you ever had a problem with a lost key or combination on the boat?


Anonymous 4-Stop said...

we (FT's) had the lower lock on the TS safe and we set it to "Bombshell" code word for 36-24-36. 50-25-50 was a clasic one we would use when multiple FT's were transfering.

4/07/2011 8:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the special safes (SSBN type) we seemed to use the numbers of the valves that were operated for certain procedures in the plant, that way you could look up the combo in an RPM.
As an ssbn commo I loathed dealing with those safes and materials.... screw up in the plant and you get DQ'd, screw up with that stuff and you go to jail...

4/07/2011 9:21 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No need to ever have to panic over a lost combo. We have all outsmarted ourselves more than once with excess cleverness.

Claiming amnesia in some navies can get you shot. In others it only assures early releases or pay reduction.

A solution for 38-25-63 could be Erika Andersch, if you knew to subtract the hips measurement (38-25-37) from 100.

4/07/2011 11:28 PM

Blogger reginald57 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/08/2011 2:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Startup morning. A nub JO from the opposite crew is down there with us to get some plant experience. He's helping to install [important rod control component] when he drops one and breaks it. Chop's not on board yet, and nobody has the key to get into the locker where the spares are - we cut that lock in a hurry.

4/08/2011 4:56 AM

Anonymous NHSparky said...

Doing "Tiger Teams" on other boats when I was doing my radcon tour, I was amazed by the lack of imagination of some divisions for their calibrated gear lockers back aft. 6969 seemed to be an almost universal choice. Go figure.

4/08/2011 4:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a Department Head on an SSN tagged with doing nuclear regeneration. Weps somehow convinced the Captain he needed to be off the watchbill for the entire regeneration time because he was working so hard on regeneration. Good fun when he bitched to the CO about me not running a security drill as off-going duty officer on a Sunday while his lazy butt was at home in bed (one of his reasons for being off the watchbill was that he was coming in for all the security drills on the weekend, but never did).

Anyway, same fine officer calls me six months later while I was on shore duty asking for the combinations to the same safes bubblehead talked about. Somehow I didn't remember the combinations when talking with him but many years later I still remember thrity three thirty three (30-3-33) and forty four forty four (40-4-44).

4/08/2011 5:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My stateroom desk had one of those tiny safes with a combination lock on the front of it. Since we were a boomer, the combination was typically set to FlyAway date...something you were not likely to forget and something that even the other crew would know as the combination.

The safe also had one of those signs warning you to "immediately notify the OOD if the safe was found open". Which we always thought was stupid since the damn safe was not big enough to contain anything worth locking up. I kept pens and paperclips in mine and left it open all the time, usually only closing it for Angles and Dangles.

One of my final Patrols I had to give up my bunk to one of the Squadron thing you know the prick was running up to me telling me that the safe was open and asking me what I was going to do about it??? I calmly walked back into my stateroom and pried off the offending sign with my fingernails. I stuck the sign in my pocket and walked away from the clown from Squadron.

Problem solved.

4/08/2011 6:01 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's funny. Although we are probably giving away a lot of SECRET's (or higher) here. We always use the international 36-24-36. I know of at least 3 currently in use right now. I have opened a couple "by accident" using that number while palying around.

Sme things never change.

4/08/2011 6:34 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing worse than getting home Sunday morning, ready for another couple hours in bed after Saturday duty, and realizing you still have the reactor safety keys and need to hop back in the car and drive 45 minutes back to the boat.

4/08/2011 7:15 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Somewhere, some staff weenie just spit coffee all over his monitor...

captha: ptinis

4/08/2011 7:32 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best Lock story... One time Mulligan got ahold of his cage keys and was let out by accident. He hit the Banana's too much and when we put him back in his cage he pooped all over his cage. That Damn Mulligan. TO this day, we try to keep him locked up, but sometimes he gets out.

4/08/2011 7:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nevada had some fun times with their super secret cookie save back in 2007/2008 time frame. Note: Commo's going to PNEO should not write down combos to give to their temporary relief, especially if that relief has the combo for the OTHER safe.

4/08/2011 8:36 AM

Anonymous LT L said...

I used to put them into my mobile phone address book under the names of ex-girlfriends and the like (with a B.S. area code and the last digit being a checksum). It took a while to finally clear all those out.

And the hull number twice was always a popular choice (e.g. SSN571 = 57-15-71).


4/08/2011 9:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

IN this new age we are not going to be able to use 36-24-36 with all the broads coming aboard... not PC correct.

4/08/2011 9:28 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not truly a lock story, but . . . coming out of a refueling at PSNS, the yard was turning over living spaces to ship's force. During the process the yard birds were labeling lockers in birthing and leaving keys in the locks. Before long, E-Div had appropriated a half dozen lockers, created our own labels, and used the lockers for dividion personal storage. For whatever reason, the SKs didn't notice and we kept the lockers for about two years before a COB figured it out.

4/08/2011 9:35 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Birthing" space? Gotta love the new navy.

4/08/2011 10:26 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Birthing" space? Gotta love the new navy.

Oops, ya got me on that one. But now that I think about it, it could actually be appropriate.

4/08/2011 11:10 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was the duty officer I always hated wearing all the damn keys all day, so I locked all of them up in a safe, and just wore the key to the small arms locker.

One Sunday morning, my relief, who was a bit of a prick came back to maneuvering to relieve me where I was supervising some work with the electrical plant and the hydraulic plant.

He was all fired up and wanted to relieve me immediately for some reason (either breakfast or a football game, I forget which).

Since the duty officer had to be in the engineering spaces to supervise the evolution, he relived me back aft, and I left.

Just as I was stepping onto the pier, I heard a "Repel Boarders" announcement. I thought about going back, but the hatches were already swinging shut, and this guy wasn't worth helping anyway. (Besides, there was beer and a sailboat waiting for me at Mission Bay).

On Monday, I found out what happened. The A-Ganger (My relief's division) running the test of the hydraulic plant lifted one of the relief valves (the 4500# relief valve) aft of maneuvering, which sounded like naval artillery going off inside the hull. This startled the electrical operator while he was shifting the electrical plant, de-energizing the bus that powered that alarm circuit down in the torpedo room.......

The duty officer panics and runs forward as fast as he can, just in time to meet the weapons shipping hatch as it was closing. Caught him square on the forehead and knocked him silly.

Took one hell of a long time for him to come to his senses and get things under control. The duty section thought it was pretty funny. He ended up with a little red dot on his forehead for about 2 weeks. Being back in the non-PC days, he took a lot of shit for his "conversion" to Hindu.

4/08/2011 12:15 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the chicks arriving the new standard combo will be 7-4-12.

7 - length her boyfriend(s) tell her it is.

4 - Actual size

12 - what she really wants to fill that gash

4/08/2011 4:09 PM

Anonymous said...

TINS. I was a newly reported CTM3 in Pearl Harbor in the early 1980's and I was helping onload Specop gear on the USS Bonefish (SS-581)for her WESTPAC. We were installing a set of R-390 receivers in SUPPRAD (off the radio shack) using aluminum angle to create a mini-rack. We could *almost* fit a stack of 3 receivers in place except for this small safe that was welded to a piece of angle iron in the overhead. It was the middle of the night, due to get underway the next day and the chief (our chief, not the boat's) was really hot to get the job done. Being ambitious and enterprising, and with no one from ship's company to ask, we just got busy with a sawzall and cut the safe down and stuck it in the corner and proceeded with the installation.
A couple of days later we were underway (with me as the maintenance rider) and I was in radio talking to the radio LPO. He was looking around and noticed the angle stub in the overhead and asked what had happened to the safe. I explained the problem it presented to the installation and pointed out its new location in the corner.
I had read about but had never seen anyone blanch before, his face just drained of color, he tucked the safe under his arm (like a football, coincidentally) and sprinted for the wardroom (just aft in that class). Thirty seconds later the XO is standing in radio, breathing heavily and asking me for another retelling of just what the hell was going on.
When we pulled into Yokosuka a couple of weeks later one of the first happenings was a yardbird came down to weld the safe back up to the stub (but above the receiver stack this time). I found out that that particular safe happened to be the two man control safe that for the MK-45 ASTORs that we would neither confirm nor deny were aboard. In my defense I didn't know anything about such things, I was just tasked with getting the stuff installed. It's not like the safe was labelled or something.
Later in my career, after being commissioned as a Strategic Weapons Officer, and finding out what was really involved in two-man control and authentication, and serving on a boomer, it really struck home how really, incredibly dumb that bright idea in the middle of the night actually was.


4/08/2011 5:02 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hopefully you denied the MK-45 ASTOR was onboard in the early 80's since it was taken out service in the mid-70's.

4/08/2011 5:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Bonefish was homeported in Charleston SC by late 70's. Me thinks your off by a decade.

Anon, correcto on MK 45 ASTOR withdrawal from service. I was N6121 on SubPac Staff in 1977 and wrote a first draft of the ASTOR withdrawal from service message six weeks before I retired on 20. N612 changed a lot, added a lot, Message released about a week later after chop through N61, N6, CSP COS, signed by CSP. You could hear a collective cheer from the waterfront when it was received.

Keep a zero bubble..........


4/08/2011 9:01 PM

Anonymous said...

DBFTMC(SS)and the preceding ANON are correct, I slipped a decade. The Bonefish deployment was Feb to Aug 1971. Apologies.


4/09/2011 10:30 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


did you ever ride Barbel?? I was Chief torpedoman onboard 1970-75. I made three WesPacs on her, 70-71, 72, and 74. If memory is correct, we always picked up spooks in WesPac.


4/09/2011 4:16 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

RE: dfkling's R-390's gave me a WTF?

I tried to keep my finger in the pot just for the ratings exams and was pretty sure only R-1051's remained by probably the mid 70's.

I was happy see he was off by a decade as I thought my CRS was really starting to get bad!!! (-;

Old chief from the dark agea

4/10/2011 2:39 PM

Anonymous said...


Sorry, never rode the Barbel. I was only at Pearl for a 2 year tour, and rode the Bonefish and USS Wahoo (SS-565) for two Westpac's in 2 years. But as a young single PO it was great, all the benefits of a 6 month Westpac, but none of the workup, local ops, inspections, etc. I was the maintenance rider and rode the entire Westpac. Before each SPECOP the boat would onload the other CT branches for the duration of the run. I don't know when they started that as a policy, but we all just accepted that was how things were done.


4/10/2011 3:32 PM

Anonymous said...


The boat's native receivers were all R-1051's by then, but we loaded up R-390's because of the continuous tuning. With the R-1051's you could set the individual frequency that was desired, but with the R-390's the intercept operator could just scan across the band looking for signals. On the down side they were all vacuum tube driven and a real pain to align the gearing if they got screwed up.


4/10/2011 3:43 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Dean,

Pre-nuc school I was the R-390 tech for ship's force on the Nereus. Mechanically they were a nightmare but they were fun to play with when they were working (-;

It had occurred to me that the continuous tuning might have been the reason for using them sans some of the "other" WLR gear.

Thanks for the ride down memory lane.

Old chief from the dark ages

4/10/2011 11:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Re: your 1971 Det on Bonefish, you guys were our (Barbel) relief in WesPac. We were due to start return to Pearl late February 1971 from Subic Bay via a stop in Manila. Fairwater planes broke before trim dive on the way to Manila and we turned around for repairs in Subic. took ten days to sort out (ah gee!!) and was connected to collision with and sinking of North Viet Nam largest merchant ship in 1966 (check it out in Blind Mans Bluff).We did a 21 day snorkel transit home on two engines (#2 was broke permanently). Skipper would not advance clocks when went through time zones on way back until hit Hawaii time. Watch reliefs and meals went by the clocks. It drove everyone nuts!! Control rigged for red, clocks are 1200 just had lunch. 0000 on clock just had mid soup down, control rigged for white. that shit just made you want to go out and get drunk!!

Good times though!!

keep a zero bubble...........


4/10/2011 11:39 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many of us have used the "FBM Overide" on a locker locked with a padlock? On the old boomers, there were lots of little lockers outboard of the bunks. They all belonged to either the COB or Deck Gang. They were the type that had an oblong vertical handle in a recessed circular frame. The handle had a hole at one end for the lock.

One time the COB was in Berthing conducting a zone inspection. The COB pointed to one of those lockers and asked me to retrieve something from it. I asked him for the key, and he said "Just use the FBM Override." He must have seen my quizzical expression, and said "Like this.". He lifted the lock, turned it to the side to get the longest clearance on the haft, and turned the handle on the locker. Viola, the locker, she is opened. He looked me in the eye and said; "Keep that to yourself, son, and don't let me catch you going in any of these lockers."

From that moment on, no padlock I saw ever went untested. Except for personal lockers of course. Everything else was fair game.

4/14/2011 11:22 AM

Anonymous CatRapesDog said...

One of these days, Jablonski will come out of the closet and be the most flaming homo outside of E-Div.

4/14/2011 11:16 PM


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