Dark Waters Book Review

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Dark Waters: An Insider’s Account of the NR-1 The Cold War’s Undercover Nuclear Sub

By Lee Vyborny and Don Davis

Hardcover in dustjacket, 243 pages, appendices, photographs, and index

Published by New American Library January 2003

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-451-20777-7

ISBN-13: 978-0-451-20777-7

Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.0 x 9.2 inches

The NR-1 was a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, unique in many respects.  Its stated purpose was scientific research, survey, and rescue, but it also performed clandestine military operations, many of which remain classified today.  It was the smallest nuclear-powered vessel in the world, displacing only 400 tons with a length of less than 150 feet (45 meters).  It was never commissioned into the U.S. Navy but was administered through the Nuclear Reactors department, one of several manipulations which kept the program firmly under Admiral Rickover’s control.

Author Lee Vyborny was one of the commissioning crew (a “plank owner” in Navy parlance) personally selected by Rickover.  As such he was present during the construction and fitting out of the ship and was part of the crew responsible for developing her operational procedures during her first missions.   He is uniquely qualified to record the story of the construction of the ship and training of her crew.  Vyborny pulls no punches in discussing the technical obstacles and budget over-runs which delayed the NR-1’s construction, and he relates Rickover’s controlling nature and infamous temper.

Only a select few of the NR-1’s operations are described here for security reasons.  Her well-known retrieval of an F-14 Tomcat and the AIM-54 Phoenix missile she carried from 2,000 feet (610 meters) below the North Atlantic is related, along with routine aspects of shipboard life which give the reader a good feel for what it was like to serve aboard her.  I was surprised at how vulnerable the tiny submarine was and how close it came to disaster on several occasions.  Her reactor was only able to produce 160 HP which gave NR-1 a maximum speed of five knots, barely enough power to get her out of trouble.  Getting entangled in nets or cables or stuck in the muddy sea floor could have proven fatal.

This account is interesting and well-written, and provides an insight into the guarded world of the submarine service and covert operations.  I was constantly aware that the author was leaving out as much of the story as he was able to tell, but what is there is fascinating.  Perhaps someday the NR-1’s entire history will be open to the public but I doubt I’ll still be around to read it.  This is a good book with a great story, recommended.

Martin PBM Mariner Color Photographs Part I

PBM_01_RA
The Martin PBM Mariner was a two engined flying boat which supplemented the Consolidated PBY Catalina In U.S. Navy service during the Second World War. The first Mariner was delivered to the Navy in September 1940, the last came off the production line in April 1949. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

PBM_02_RA
A fine side profile of PBM-1 Bureau Number 1259. Twenty PBM-1 were built, distinguishable by their round gun positions on the fuselage sides. The first Mariners were issued to Patrol Squadrons VP-55 and VP-56, this is a VP-56 machine. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

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A PBM-1 pictured in the yellow wings and aluminum dope finish. VP-56 received their Mariners in December 1940, just in time for the Yellow Wings era which officially ended in January 1941. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

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A PBM-3 on the ramp in the Dark Gull Gray over White Atlantic scheme. This camouflage was found to be more effective for anti-submarine patrols.

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A PBM seen from the rear being towed. Note the mix of camouflage schemes carried by the PBMs in the background, both the Atlantic ASW scheme and the graded scheme are represented.

PBM_06_NickleBoat
The most famous Mariner was the PBM-3C “Nickle Boat” of VP-74, so named because of her formation number “-5”. She was credited with helping to sink two German U-boats of the coast of South America, U-128 on 17MAY43 and U-513 on 19JUL43.

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A close up of the forward hatch of Nickle Boat showing her U-boat kill markings. U-128 had sunk twelve Allied merchant ships, U-513 had sunk six.

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A PBM-5 in overall Sea Blue finish is hoisted aboard the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound (AV-11). The Mariner is assigned to VPB-26. The Norton Sound supported Mariners operating from Saipan before moving to Okinawa.

PBM_09_Martin_PBM-5_Mariner_of_VPB-26_aboard_USS_Norton_Sound_(AV-11)_off_Saipan_in_April_1945_(80-G-K-16079)
A PBM-5 on the deck of the Norton Sound. The seaplanes could be hoisted aboard the tender for maintenance, but took off and landed from the water.

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A service boat refuels a Mariner. The flying boats would moor to a buoy in a sheltered anchorage, the crews and aircraft would be supported by a tender anchored nearby.

New York City Vintage Photographs Part V – Color Photos

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The aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) arrives in New York Harbor to celebrate Navy Day at the end of WWII, 27OCT45. Enterprise was one of three Yorktown-class aircraft carriers in the U.S. Navy at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the only one to survive the first year of the war. For a time she was the only U.S. fleet carrier in the Pacific, leading some to comment that it was the Enterprise vs. the Imperial Japanese Navy.

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Three Naval Aircraft Factory N3N primary trainers fly over Manhattan in February 1941. The N3N was one of the primary flight trainers in U.S. Navy service, pilots referred to it as the “Canary” or the “Yellow Peril” due to its high-visibility paint scheme. (NASM Rudy Arnold collection)

NYC_43_FromJerseyCity_byCharlesCushman
A beautiful portrait of the Manhattan skyline taken from Jersey City by Charles Cushman in 1941, showing the ever-present ferry and barge traffic in the harbor. Coupled with the ocean going shipping it was a very busy port.

NYC_44_FranklinCV13
USS Franklin (CV-13) arrives in New York on 28APR45. On 19MAR45 she was on the other side of the world, just fifty miles off the coast of Japan when she was hit by two 550 pound bombs which engulfed the after portion of the ship in raging fires. Over 800 of her crew were killed, but she managed to steam home under her own power.

NYC_45_Franklin_EastRiver_28APR45
A view aft from the Franklin’s island in the East River showing the devastation on the flight deck. The bombs landed among fueled and armed aircraft preparing for a strike, the numerous holes visible in the deck were caused by the planes own bombs detonating in the fire. Franklin was the most severely damaged aircraft carrier to survive. While she was fully repaired, she never went to sea again and was decommissioned on 17FEB47.

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The Fletcher-class destroyer USS Renshaw (DD-499) alongside the USS Missouri (BB-63) for Navy Day celebrations, October 1945. Missouri was the site of the Japanese surrender ending WWII on 02SEP45 in Tokyo Bay, having been selected for the honor by President Truman who was from the state of Missouri.

NYC_47_Harry_S._Truman_aboard_USS_Renshaw_(DD-499)_during_the_Navy_Day_Fleet_Review_in_New_York_Harbor,_27_October_1945_(80-G-K-15861)
President Truman departs the Missouri aboard the destroyer USS Renshaw. Flying above are formations of Navy aircraft.

NYC_48_6F7UFsoLlQjHpciNzzcbUdt-mYyWMYdNVb4T5s2xItk
The USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) commissioning at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, 28OCT45, dwarfed by the monstrous hammerhead crane. In the background the USS Franklin (CV-13) is undergoing repair.

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USS West Point (AP-23) enters New York Harbor with the Statue of Liberty in the background, returning U.S. troops from Europe in July 1945. She was the former liner SS America, converted into a troopship for the war. She set a record for the largest total of troops transported during the war at 350,000.

NYC_50_color French ocean liner SS Normandie (USS Lafayette) lies capsized
Salvage operations on the USS Lafayette, the former French liner Normandie which sank at her moorings after a fire at Pier 88. Although she was refloated, she never returned to service.

Naval Aircraft Factory N3N Color Photographs

N3N_01_NAS Pensacola
Superficially very similar to the N2S Stearman primary trainer, the Naval Aircraft Factory N3N shared the same role and paint scheme. The two types were used side by side throughout the Second World War training Navy and Marine aviators.

N3N_02
The Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia was unique in that it was owned and operated by the U.S. Navy. The Navy even purchased the production rights for the Wright R-760 radial engine which powered the N3N.

N3N_03
The production run lasted from 1935 through 1942, 997 examples being built. Here an upper wing is being transported to a repair shop.

N3N_04
An interesting perspective as a sailor cranks the engine. One way to tell an N3N from a Stearman is the Stearman used wire supports between the vertical and horizontal stabilizers while the N3S used struts.

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The Marines also flew the N3N. This example is being readied to tow gliders at Parris Island in 1942.

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Like many U.S. Navy aircraft of the late 1930s the N3N could trade its fixed landing gear for floats and operate as a seaplane. Here a pilot poses with his foot on one of the wingtip floats at NAS Pensacola.

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Another pilot strikes a pose in front of an N3N with floats. The propeller tips are marked in the pre-war convention.

N3N_08_NAS Pensacola
A fine study of an N3N floatplane on the ramp. The floats were painted in Aluminum dope. Unofficially the N3N was called the Canary due to its paint scheme.

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An N3N ready to be hoisted clear of the water. The style of the national insignia indicates the photograph was taken prior to May, 1942. Note the markings and anti-glare paint on the back of the propeller blade.

N3N_10_Annapolis
The N3N was the last biplane type to serve with the U.S. military. The type was used for familiarization flights at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis until 1959. The underside of the lower wing has been marked “U.S. NAVY”.

Ship of Ghosts Book Review

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Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors

By James D. Hornfischer

Hardcover in dustjacket, 530 pages, bibliography, notes, crew list, and index

Published by Bantam Books, 2006

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0-553-80390-5

ISBN-13: 978-0-553-80390-7

Dimensions:  6.1 x 2.0 x 9.4 inches

The USS Houston (CA-30) was a Northampton-class heavy cruiser commissioned in 1930.  She had a reputation as a spit and polish ship, and became a favorite of President Franklin Roosevelt, who was embarked several times in the pre-war years.  At the beginning of the Pacific War she was the flagship of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, stationed in the Philippines.  She joined the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) naval force at Java under the overall command of Admiral Karel Doorman of the Royal Netherlands Navy.  She was bombed by Japanese aircraft during the Battle of Makassar Strait on 04FEB42, destroying her after 8” gun turret, which could not be repaired locally.  On 26FEB42 ADM Doorman dispatched the ships of the ABDA to intercept a Japanese invasion fleet bearing down on Java.  The ABDA force was badly mauled, loosing two cruisers and three destroyers while inflicting no meaningful damage in return.  Houston and HMAS Perth survived and returned to the port of Tanjong Priok, but were unable to resupply their depleted fuel and ammunition stocks.

The Houston and Perth were ordered to withdraw south through the Sunda Strait under the cover of darkness.  Unknown to them at the time the Japanese were in the process of conducting landing operations in Bantam Bay.  The two cruisers wandered into the midst of the Japanese invasion force.  In a confused close-quarters engagement both Allied ships were sunk.  Approximately one-third of the complements of the cruisers were eventually taken prisoner by the Japanese.

The first third of the book details the history of the Houston and her actions with the ABDA against the Japanese.  The remainder follows the story of the Houston’s survivors while in Japanese captivity.  The Houston’s sailors and Marines were held alongside the crew of the Perth and soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery Regiment, a Texas National Guard unit which had been captured on Java, the three groups sharing the same fate.  The prisoners were moved to Burma, packed onto ships at the ratio of one man per ton of the transport’s displacement.  There they were used as slave labor constructing the infamous “Death Railway” of Bridge Over the River Kwai fame through the Burmese jungle.  The work was all done without the aid of machinery, the jungle offering no hope of escape.  Approximately 20% of the prisoners there died of disease and starvation.

 Hornfischer is a great author and a diligent researcher, most of the material for this book comes from interviews with survivors of the Houston’s crew or their records, and those of the Perth and the 131st Field Artillery as well.  The fates of the Houston and Perth were mysteries to the Allies for most of World War Two and are little know even today so this work fills a gap in the record.  The experiences of the prisoners are grim, readers should not expect anything uplifting there other than the resilience of the men in the face of overwhelming adversity.  Recommended.

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Boeing Stearman N2S PT-17 Primary Trainer Color Photographs

Stearman_01_N2S-2
Commonly called the Stearman, this aircraft was known by several names and designations depending on the contract, country, and engine type fitted. It was one of the major primary trainer types used by the United States and its Allies before and during the Second World War.

Stearman_02_Group_RA
This beautiful 1942 photograph from the NASM Rudy Arnold collection illustrates some of the major designations. Furthest from the camera is a Royal Canadian Air Force PT-27, the Canadians called them Kaydets. Next is a USAAC PT-17, which is almost touching wingtips with a Navy N2S-3. Nearest is a PT-17 in Chinese Air Force markings.

Stearman_03_NAS, Corpus Christi, Texas
The American pilot training program was a massive undertaking and utilized almost 10,000 Stearmans along with several other types. Here a group of Navy instructors and trainees walks along the apron at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.

Stearman_04_N2S Yellow Perils, 1942-43
Pilots of the Morning Wing get their flying assignments by class. The leather flight jackets were a status symbol. Undoubtedly hot in the Texas sun, they would be needed in the Stearman’s open cockpits.

Stearman_05_Rodd Field, Corpus Christi, Texas
Sailors wait atop the upper wings to fuel the aircraft in turn. The Stearman was a rugged design, fully aerobatic and simple to produce and maintain.

Stearman_06_N2S and N3N NAS Corpus Christi
One of the more derisive nicknames for the aircraft was the “Yellow Peril”. This swarm of N2S and similar N3N trainers taxiing for take-off at NAS Corpus Christi would certainly represent a significant hazard to air navigation once aloft!

Stearman_07_HG
This early 1943 photo shows USAAF PT-17s in overall aluminum dope. U.S. aircraft had previously carried the national insignia in six positions, but the insignia under the port and over the starboard upper wing were removed at the start of 1943. The removal job was perhaps a little overzealous on the higher aircraft, the “ARMY” lettering has also been painted over leaving only the “U.S.”. (NASM Hans Groenhoff collection)

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A clear view of the undersides as this Army Stearman banks away. The single-strut landing gear is shown to good advantage. (NASM Hans Groenhoff collection)

Stearman_09_HG
The Stearman found its way into the civilian market, and they were sold off by the hundreds as surplus after the war. Their robust construction and simplicity make them very popular, often with the same pilots who had earlier learned to fly at their controls. Here a Stearman is being used for crop dusting, the forward pilot position having been converted into a hopper for the payload. (NASM Hans Groenhoff collection)

Stearman_10_HG
An atmospheric scene and an excellent diorama subject. Several Stearmans are still flying today, with many more preserved in museums. (NASM Hans Groenhoff collection)