Museum documents an operating US, WW II built submarine in Taiwan.
The San Francisco Maritime National Park Association operates USS Pampanito (SS-383) a WW II submarine museum and memorial in San Francisco, CA. Pampanito made six patrols in the Pacific during World War II during which she sank six enemy ships and damaged four others. Today Pampanito hosts as many as 250,000 visitors a year and is one of the most popular historic naval ships in the country. In addition to day time visitors, thousands of children each year participate in her day and nighttime educational programs. Pampanito is a leader in ship museum preservation and restoration programs with over half its equipment restored to operation. Pampanito is a National Historic Landmark.
Taiwan, R.O.C. has the last two operational WW II built submarines in the world. Both ex-USS Tusk (SS-426), and ex-USS Cutlass(SS-478) were built during WW II, modernized (Guppy II) during 1949 and continued to be operated by the USA before being transferred to Taiwan in the early 1970s. These are the worlds oldest working submarines. (The next oldest US submarines are in Turkey.) There are numerous sights and sounds unique to fleet type submarines that will be lost forever when these last two boats are retired. For security reasons, very little color film was created of the interior operations of this class of boat, and almost no sound recordings. Surprisingly, far more access has been given aboard modern nuclear submarines. Taiwan's boats represent the last chance to capture the essence of the WW II and Cold War U.S. Fleet Submarine experience. They are also symbolic of the complicated political and military situation in the straits. During 2002, the museum crew of USS Pampanito requested and received permission to document these historic boats.
With the generous cooperation of the Taiwanese Navy, in February of 2003, USS Pampanito restoration volunteers Terry Lindell and Rich Pekelney visited Taiwan to document the historic boats. They were given unprecedented access to the boats, including the opportunity to take photographs and video. The video was augmented by underway video created by Taiwanese Navy photographers. All the photos and video were subjected to security review by the Navy. Very few of the hundreds of photos where deleted and 3 were slightly edited. The photos at the link below are from Hai Shih (SS-791), ex-USS Cutlass (SS-478) and were taken Feb 17, 18 and 19 of 2003. The exterior underway video from helicopter and boat was taken in Jan 2003. Hai Shih's sister ship Hai Pao (SS-792), ex-USS Tusk (SS-426) had just returned from drydock. We were able to quickly tour her, but were unable to take pictures without disturbing the work that was preparing her for sea. We can report that she is very, very similar to ex-USS Cutlass and also in excellent condition. The link below will give you a first detailed look at this historic boat, up to now there have only been one or two photos of the boat released. We have more photos and a 20 minute video that includes the sights and sounds of the submarine including the control room during diving and surfacing that will be used in our museum. Some still images taken from that video are at the end of the photos.
Below is a narrative describing our trip that was written while on the plane as
we returned to San Francisco. We updated it a bit after our pictures cleared
security in Sep 2003.
Terry Lindell and I have had an wonderful time in Taiwan. The Taiwanese are friendly, industrious and incredibly generous. The genuine warmth we have experienced from people on the street, government officials, and Navy personal has been remarkable.
Terry and I arrived in Taiwan on Wed. evening without problems, the R.O.C. Government Information Office escorted us through formalities and took us to the hotel. We met Thu. with an Admiral, three captains, two LTs and a photographer in the morning to complete formalities. This was followed by a visit to the Martyr's Shine, their place of honor for those (military and civilian) that have died in war. Then we were taken to lunch in the Grand Hotel, both the shrine and the hotel are thoughtful and beautiful interpretations of traditional themes built in the 1960s. Lunch was in the large restaurant that is used for state dinners. Then we met with the Government Information Office officials and the local film crew we hired at the GIO offices.
Friday morning we met with our A.I.T. contacts. Friday afternoon we traveled north to Keelung harbor for lunch on the way to a lantern festival celebration. The occasion started as a trip with some book publishers. However, during lunch we saw Navy ships visiting the Keelung harbor and giving tours to visitors. We left the book publishers behind and toured a Lafayette class destroyer and a Taiwanese built destroyer that is based on the US Perry class.
I should mention without boring everyone that the food was wonderful. We did not manage to find less than a great meal in either a street vendor or fancy restaurant. During the tour of the modern warships, we ran into primary R.O.C. Navy contact visiting as well. Although he was off duty, and with his girlfriend on Valentines Day, he still explained to us his theory of inverse correlation between Navy quality and quality of food while we toured the ships. His theory is that the French and Italians are better for food, but that the US and Britain have better Navies. He had numerous other examples, but we knew at this point that we would get along well. It turns out that Taiwan has good food and a good Navy. This could not be explained by anyone during the next week, even though the subject came up many times during our visit.
During our tour of the destroyers, we could look across the small Keelung harbor and see at least one of the WW II era Gerhing class destroyers (FRAM upgrade, additional Taiwanese upgrades) that they still operate. We also saw a WW II era rescue/salvage ship still in service. We were assured there are several other classes of WW II ships still in service. We left Keelung and headed up into the mountains to visit the Lantern Festival in Ping-shi, where we re-joined the book publishing group. Ping-shi is a tiny town in a beautiful narrow, steep walled valley. We arrived at dusk and as we walked up the quite valley (no cars during the festival) we could see small numbers of hot air lanterns floating above. As we walked higher and the night fell more and more lanterns were launched. Soon the nigh sky was filled with lanterns drifting upwards. We helped build, write wishes on, and launch lanterns with everyone else. Each lantern has the wishes of its sender written on the side and it is said that the higher the lantern goes the more likely the wish will be fulfilled. We saw everyone from the very young to the very old participate and we felt very lucky to share in this celebration.
On Saturday we visited the National Palace Museum in the morning. The museum collection was brought to Taiwan by the Nationalist as they fled the Communist in 1947. They took all the smaller objects, books, scrolls they could from the imperial collections of the forbidden city. This is the finest collection of imperial Chinese art in the world. In the afternoon we visited the Chang-kai-shek memorial which was also decorated for its lantern festival celebration.
Sunday we flew down to the other end of the island and landed in Kaohsuing where the submarines are based. We stayed at the Navy guest house just outside the base. After we settled in we took a ferry across the bay to enjoy dinner in the night-time fish market.
Finally, on Monday morning we met with the officers of the submarine command. I did not count how many captains, commanders, and Lts where in the room. We received a security briefing that repeated the agreements we previously had signed back in Taipai. There were lots of Powerpoint slides, most in Chinese, some in English. Then they laid out the filming schedule. It did not include leaving port. The explanation was that the message about filming while underway never got through. They had scheduled 3 days of shooting in port. It would be impossible to clear anyone for at sea operations that had not undergone submarine safety training. They pointed out that they do not even allow their own surface officers to go out on a submarine.
Even with this change in plans and schedules, we were the first non-Navy persons ever to be given unlimited access to take film and photographs inside their submarines. We were among a very small number of foreigners ever allowed aboard up to this time. They pointed out that everyone was trying very hard to work with us as best they possibly could under the constraints of their own safety rules. All those present were impressed that even this much access had been allowed. We were very grateful for their generosity and support.
We left and headed to ex-Cutlass, now SS-791 Sea Lion. All our work was done on ex-Cutlass as ex-Tusk had just returned from a 4 month shipyard maintenance period. They were very busy finishing up, with workmen all over the ship, getting her ready for sea. As a side note, we were permitted a quick visit ex-Tusk without cameras. We had to be careful to not slow down the workmen. We can report she is in excellent condition, and nearly identical to ex-Cutlass. As a result, all the technical observations we can make about ex-Cutlass would apply to ex-Tusk equally well.
Walking up to the boats was like entering a time machine and setting the date to 1973 (or maybe even 1949). Virtually nothing has been added or removed, and the very few upgrades were small. Because of this care, these two Guppy II conversions have as much WW II equipment and material aboard as any of the Fleet Snorkle, SSK, Guppy I, Guppy II or Guppy III conversions on display as museums in the USA. It was absolutely stunning how little has changed. Equally stunning, is the high grade of operational condition.
My favorite example was that both boats have Arma Mk 7 gyrocompass up and running in perfect condition. The last of these in the US was repaired in the US in 1975. Virtually all examples of these compasses were removed from the boats in the late 1950s and replaced with a smaller, easier to maintain (although less accurate) Sperry Mk 18s or later, modern Mk 19s. When we entered the control room there was the Arma gyrocompass, right where it should be, spinning, pointing north, and in use. Because of this trip we can now report that there are three of these working worldwide (Pampanito's was recently restored after 50 years of inactivity). Over and over again this would happen during our time on these boats. We would find equipment running in perfect order that we had not imagined was retained, or maintained.
Our first afternoon, the film crew got to work on their list of shots. They were seasoned professionals and worked within a schedule that allowed time for only two cuts on most of the shots. The sailors performed their duties, posing and acting as requested by the film crew. The submarine crew worked very hard to give us what we wanted, working well with the film crew, and never complaining. We were able to leave the film crew to their jobs.
Terry and I were free to move about the boat, in the process we got to know the officers and crew. I took photographs of every compartment throughout the boat. Only the radio room was off limits. There were some interesting moments. In the lower flats of the engine room, they looked puzzled when I did not accept the white gloves passed down to me. I thought they wanted some kind of "white glove clenliness test" of the lower flats, actually they use the white gloves as work gloves and would normally wear them below to keep their hands clean. They laughed when I explained my mistake. Everywhere I went I saw the same equipment that exists on our 1943 boat, only here all of it was operational, with much of it running while I toured the boat.
As Monday continued we got to know and respect the dedication and professionalism of this crew. They were as curious about us and we where about them. The education, skill and pride of this crew is the equal of any I have met anywhere. For example, Tuesday afternoon our visit was interrupted when they left to perform their most frequent mission, training war games with the ROC destroyers. The ROC Navy includes some effective and modern destroyers. Some they have built themselves in their own shipyard, while others are from the US and France. Tuesday afternoon this Guppy II prepared to go to sea and play cat and mouse. We had been talking with the crew about the upcoming mission, and they assured us that they are always able to hold their own. In training with the destroyer crews this 60 year old Guppy II boat always gets the "drop" on the much newer destroyers. They are good at what they do.
Tuesday morning the film crew continued their work and a new dynamic started. Terry went off with the Weapons Officer and started discussing Torpedo Data Computer's design, its history, trading techniques and useful tricks of the trade. I was in the wardroom talking with the Captain and some of the officers. By the time they left for their afternoon mission, both Terry and I had ideas of how our museum skills might be able to help these current day warriors. It was as unexpected as it was obvious in retrospect. Our respect for the crew became even stronger and they now understood our museum mission and the passion we hold for preserving the history and technology of the boats.
Tuesday afternoon while the boat was out war gaming we briefly visited the R.O.C Naval Academy Museum. We toured the museum, its Italian made mini-submarines and discussed HNSA (http://www.hnsa.org/). I hope they join. We then went to the Academy's video studio to view the underway, exterior shots of ex-Cutlass that they had taken for us in January. The footage is really wonderful, shot from both helicopter and surface ship it shows the boat diving, surfacing, as well as the periscopes, snorkle and other masts cutting through the water. Some of the film was quite dramatic including 30+ mile per hour winds with 4-5 foot seas. We felt a little guilty about indirectly having been the ones that made them to do it. Snorkeling in those waves could not have been much fun no matter how much the crew claimed it was not that bad.
Weds. morning began with the one of the officers showing us video that he shot on Tues. afternoon with his personal digital camera. He collected the sights and sound of the boat underway, just as we hoped we would collect with the professional film crew. The amateur footage is great, it was recorded in both torpedo rooms as well as the control room. It documents the diving and surfacing of the boat in the control room. Since he is a familiar part of the crew and this was not a simulation in port, the film really captures the sense of what it is like underway. He did a really great job and the final video released in September included much of this footage. We returned to the boat. The rest of the morning Wednesday became more and more interesting as the day progressed. Terry and the Weapons Officer disappeared. By about noon they reappeared with big smiles.
The two of them had gone off to fix a small problem in the TDC that had recently appeared. Given that any problem with a TDC is nearly as bad as a sick child to Terry, you might image the cheshire cat smile he surfaced with. It turns out that the TDC expert in their shipyard has recently retired. The crew aboard ship is doing the repairs and appreciated a little help from Terry's museum experience. While Terry was helping fix the TDC, he also sorted through the manuals on hand and offered to provide copies of some other unclassified material that they will find helpful. I was in the wardroom discussing manuals, hard to find parts, and some suggestions on where to look for them. It was a very successful morning for all involved.
Weds. afternoon we went back to the Naval Academy studio to transfer the digital video tape to the Beta SP that was needed for the security review. It was hard to pry Terry off the boat. He wants to stay and become qualified on the boat. He actually sat in on one of the chiefs giving a torpedo room qualification test, and found the process fascinating.
We returned to Taipai on Wed. evening and got on our plane home three days early on Thursday morning, We are very thankful to the many very generous Taiwanese that helped us with this project.