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The Diesel Boat Named Tang
The diesel submarine first recognized as offensive predators during
World War I, the gray shapes stalked the enemy over the high seas.
By the close of World War II, they had wreaked havoc with their deadly
stings in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
On Feb. 8, 1980 the oldest diesel-electric submarine in the
Navy and the last operational one in the Atlantic Fleet, USS Tang
(SS 563), was decommissioned and the famous name retired from the
Navy's list of ships.
However, unlike the dinosaurs whose fossilized
bones are their
epitaph, the diesel boats' sea-battered hulls won't be their epitaph.
Instead, the submariners who served in them will be. In Tang's case,
the submariners are those who served in two boats bearing the name.
The first was USS Tang (SS 306), now lying 180 feel below the surface
in the Straits of Formosa. Most of its gallant crew perished when
an erratic torpedo from its own tubes sunk the boat shortly before
on Oct. 24, 1944, during a daring surface attack on a Japanese convoy.
Seven years later on October 25, 1951, the second USS Tang (SS 563)
was commissioned and was the first of the modern fast attack submarines
and surrogate parent of the U.S. Navy's nuclear power submarine force.
Both submarines have left indelible records for future submariners to
follow, to recall the fading, silent warriors of the deep. The
SS 306 served only one year before its untimely loss but etched into
the annals of naval history a record unmatched.
By 1948, the Navy's submarine force saw the
development of a
new hybrid submarine. The U.S. diesel boat and German U-boat yielded
the first fast attack submarine USS Tang
(SS 563). From its initial planning, the newTangintroduced
the fast attack concept to the submarine community with its streamlined
hull, integrated snorkel system, and increased speed and depth. The
SS 563's design incorporated the total submerged operation concept
from the U.S. Navy's World War II submarine experience as well as
the submarine experience of our enemies.
At the SS 563's commissioning, seven years
after its namesake's
sinking, a passage in the program by W. R. Anderson, the executive
officer, interlocked the soul of both boats. "We pay tribute
in assuming duties on the new Tang to our valored comrades, most
of who lost their lives on Oct. 24, 1944. Fate cut down your fighting
submarine at the very hour you deserved the greatest laurels of
victory. We cannot replace you, rather, we hope that we shall capture
some of your skill, some of your devotion to duty and country, and some
of your gallantry. We shall endeavor to be a credit to your memory and
we shall strive to justify our affiliation with the name you and your
heroic commanding officer have enscrolled in the history of fighting
ships of the Navy.... "
Thus began the 30-year career of a submarine
shipbuilders with the pattern for the first eight U.S. nuclear powered
submarines of the Nautilus, Seawolf, and Skate class. Tang
four of those submarines before being decommissioned.
The Tang quickly established itself as a submarine capable of meeting
operational commitments while remaining flexible. Even a fire in the
pumproom didn't prevent the crew from setting a diving record on their
first deep dive. After the initial sea trials and while in the midst of
cruise, Tang's submariners showed how flexible they could be by making
an unexpected transit from Panama to Pearl Harbor. The crew
of 563 was pretty proud of going from Panama to Pearl Harbor without
any major problems. Tang continued to answer all bells
from its Hawaiian home port and conducted the full range of
submarine operations for 20 years. During those years, its submariners
completed 11 Western Pacific deployments, 18 special missions including
the initial polar exploration for the Nautilus' Trans-Polar
voyage, and four Vietnam patrols. Tang earned six battleship efficiency
"Es," four ASW "As," and four engineering "Es." The last engineering
"E" was won in 1979 after 30 years' service, and almost four Years
out of overhaul. In addition, the SS 563 served briefly as the flagship
of the Commander U.S. Pacific Fleet Submarine Force. As Tang matured,
advanced technology brought vast sophistication to
submarine warfare. Tang constantly incorporated the improvements into
its hull including replacing the original 'pancake style' engines
with the present three Fairbanks-Morse engines. It also underwent
extensive sail modification and modernization and two 'hull stretches'
to provide space for an extensive sonar, electronic and ventilation
modernization. The 'hull stretches were engineering marvels in ship
overhauling as the boat was severed in half, pulled apart, and new
sections dropped into place. Tang measured more than
292 feet in length and displaced more than 2,000 tons, making it
600 tons heavier and more than 22 feet longer than the boat that slid
the New Hampshire waters in 1951.
In 1972, Tang 's crew found their boat and
themselves in a new
home port San Diego, and with a new mission: antisubmarine warfare
(ASW) research and training. The new job brought with it a new
"AGSS" for the 563. Under a heavy operational tempo, Tang dedicated
itself to ASW training and several special CNO research and development
projects for the next six years. But in 1978, Tang shifted
home ports once again. This time it went to New London, Conn., where
the 563 was redesignated SS" and became the only operational diesel
submarine in the Atlantic Fleet and was once again heavily used in
ASW training. With more than 5,000 dives, Tang's 'twilight
cruise' had been anything but slack. For two years, SS 563 and its
crew have lived day-to-day under a constantly changing operational
and an unknown future.
Once Tang retired from the U.S. Navy, it began a new career
with the Turkish Navy as the First modern class U.S. submarine in their
navy. The main significance of Tang's retirement is that it
is the first ship of the U.S, Navy's modern-designed submarine force,
it marks the end of the diesel submarine era for the U.S. Navy." For
the past crew members of 563, Tang's retirement marked the
of the diesel boat. On Tang, everybody was primarily
a diesel boat submariner first and their job specialty second."
The slogan "Diesel Boats Forever" seems
dated now, but
the diehard diesel submariners won't let it die.
Nevertheless, the era of- diesel-electric submarines has drawn to
a close. Only their contributions in war and peace and the men who
served on them are their legacy as the nuclear-powered submarine has
as the future of the U.S. Navy's submarine force.
But, even so, they were sired by a diesel boat
Excerts from: April 1980 ALL HANDS
article by JO1
James R. Giust