CLINTON — Comfortable weather greeted the crowd for Clinton’s Memorial Day observance on Monday as U.S. Navy submariner veteran Gregory Lux talked about the history of American submarines and the importance they still have to the nation’s defense.
Lux said when he was a boy, his father took him to see the USS Cod, docked at Cleveland.
“That, combined with my father’s stories of his time in the Navy, planted the seed that would later grow into a brief but successful career in the United States Navy,” Lux said.
Lux’s father served aboard the submarine USS Nereus, stationed at San Diego during the Korean war.
“He has always said that his time in the Navy was one of the greatest influences on his life,” Lux said. “And, as it turned out, I would have a similar experience.”
He said his appreciation for “this largely unknown,” part of America’s military force has increased over the years.
When the U.S. bought its first submarine on April 11, 1900, there was little understanding about the potential it represented, Lux said. It was just 53 feet long, 10 feet wide and was powered by gasoline and lead-acid batteries.
John Philip Holland, an Irish-American engineer, developed that first American submarine as well as the first submarine used by the Royal Navy.
President Theodore Roosevelt rode in America’s second submarine, the USS Plunger.
“…Who declared that, ‘I went down in it chiefly because I did not like to have the officers and enlisted men think I wanted them to try things I was reluctant to try myself’,” Lux told the crowd.
Roosevelt issued an Executive Order directing submarine crews to receive hazardous duty pay, which continues today.
Although the U.S. continued to develop submarine technology during the years leading up to World War I, America still was behind countries such as Germany, Lux said.
Germany’s legendary and menacing Wolf Packs wreaked havoc during the first and second world wars.
Kaiser Wilhelm II’s drive to create a navy that rivaled the British Royal Navy caused much of the tension between the two countries prior to World War I.
Lux said Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 led to the U.S. declaring war on Germany.
“American submarines were not much of a factor in World War I and were just beginning to develop ocean-going capability.”
Ruthless German submarine warfare in the first world war led to a number of naval treaties in the 1920s and 1930s to prevent a naval arms race, Lux said. By 1939, the U.S. had started producing a reliable, successful ocean-going submarine called a “Fleet-Type” submarine, Lux said.
“These designs were continually being improved throughout World War II.”
Although the Japanese largely destroyed the U.S. Pacific Fleet on December 7, 1941, the American submarines, along with its aircraft carriers, were untouched, Lux said.
“Right around the corner from “Battleship Row” was Sub Base Pearl Harbor, where the USS Tautog and three other submarines were moored.”
Lux said the Tautog was able to shoot down a torpedo bomber and helped the Narwhal shoot down a second. The Tauton went on to complete 13 war patrols, sinking 26 Japanese ships totaling 72,606 tons, the second highest shipping sunk by a U.S. submarine in the war, earning it the nickname, “The Terrible T,” Lux said.
The day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations issued a directive to use unrestricted air and submarine warfare against Japanese forces.
“Many of the submarine commanders were not used to the type of tactics required and had to be replaced with younger, more aggressive skippers,” Lux said.
Other issues included problems with detonators on Mark 14 torpedoes preventing them from exploding on contact with enemy ships.
“This put the firing submarines at extreme risk, since they were not fast enough to escape on the surface, and it required skill and a bit of luck to escape while submerged.”
Bureaucrats in Washington initially refused to believe the torpedoes were defective, “believing it was the inexperience of the new commanders causing the failures,” Lux said.
But, Commander of Submarine Forces, Admiral Charles Lockwood, got involved in testing the torpedoes and confirmed problems with the detonators.
“Three boats, the Tullibee, the Tang and the Grunion were lost to this defect,” Lux said. U.S. submarines were frequently mistaken for Japanese submarines and often came under attack by our own air and surface forces.”
Dorado and Seawolf were lost to friendly fire, and several others had close calls.
However, as American submarine crews gained experience and developed new tactics, their effectiveness grew, Lux said. American subs began attacking merchant ships and tankers supplying Japan with imported fuel and materials for its was effort.
The U.S. also broke Japan’s primary navy codes early in the war.
“This provided our forces with intelligence that led to convoy locations and dates,” Lux said.
Still, he said, the Pacific Ocean is a vast area, and locating enemy forces required hard work.
“While comprising only 2 percent of our nation’s navy, our submarines sank over 30 percent of Japan’s navy, including eight aircraft carriers, one battle ship, four heavy cruisers, nine light cruisers, 38 destroyers and 23 submarines.”
U.S. submarines sank over five million tons of Japanese shipping, over 60 percent of the Japanese merchant fleet and prevented approximately 85,000 Japanese troops from reaching their destinations.
U.S. subs also spent 3,272 days on lifeguard stations, saving 504 airmen, including future President George H.W. Bush.
“All of this came at a price.”
Fifty-two American submarines were lost. Of the 30,000 submarine sailors, comprising just 1.6 percent of all naval forces, 16,000 made war patrols. Of these, 3,484 died, a casualty rate of over 21 percent, among the highest casualty rates of any component of the armed forces, Lux said.
Seven commanding officers received the Congressional Medal of Honor, including Capt. John P. Cromwell, of Henry, Ill.
“Many others received the Navy Cross, Silver Star or Bronze Stars for their acts of courage and daring.”
Lux said many tactics developed for the Pacific war are still in use today.
“Creative, imaginative men like Gene Fluckey revolutionized submarine warfare and pioneered what would ultimately become the missile submarine,” Lux said.
He also cited important developments, such as radar, sonar and radio technologies.
“Since World War II, the advent of nuclear-powered submarines has made these fearsome weapons even more formidable.”
Do we still need submarines, Lux asked.
“My answer is an emphatic “yes.”
Lux said the single most effective anti-submarine weapon today remains the submarine.
“America is still a maritime nation, relying on the world’s oceans to trade with others,” he said. “Many nations who seek control of the sea lanes may try to use submarines to deny our access to them. Our Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia Class submarines are out at sea at this moment, ready for action.”
And, he noted the Trident submarine continues as a survivable, nuclear deterrent.
“I got to see the Cod again a few summers ago,” Lux said. She is still in Lake Erie, although Cleveland has changed a lot.”
“It’s right across the street from the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, a few blocks from Progressive Field. I hope to take my son there this summer.”