Reporting to USS TRITON (SSRN-586)

Upon completion of school, I went to Electric Boat, Groton and reported to the USS TRITON (SSRN-586) in May 1959. When I was transferred to DEPCOMSUBLANT the detachment consisted of one LT Norm Brand, Chief Burchard and six enlisted. By the time I left, it had expanded to 24 enlisted and making 12 to 13 installations per year.

Our shop was located adjacent to one of the boat piers, which enabled us to spend more time on the boat rather than traveling between them. I quickly understood why Norm wanted me transferred so quickly. Chief Burchard liked to supervise and did not like any criticism of how he installed equipment in the boats. Once Chief Burchard left, I had a meeting with the crew and explained how I would like the work to go. When I was a very cocky first class, I thought I knew everything until one very sharp seaman busted my bubble. From that time forward, I encouraged input of ideas until it was finally decided how things would go. I noticed the men had a couple of bunks in the loft hidden behind some lockers. They acknowledged they would often sneak up there to sleep rather than take the long walk back to their barracks. I had a talk with Norm about it and he gave them permission to officially sleep there. In no time at all they moved all their gear in and a couple of hot plates for when they were hungry. Typically, they preferred to eat on the specific boat we were working on rather than travel back to the chow hall.

I discovered in removing a couple of the Chief’s installations why some of the sub crew were upset with him. He tended to impede access to some of the valves which the crew routinely needed to access. Thanks to my experience on the TRITON, I was able to stop that and even expand the amount of equipment that could be installed. I knew what equipment of theirs we could remove and still rely on ours for the same function and our own mission. Initially, the first two teams were not too happy with my installations since I had every input and output terminated at a patch panel rather than hard-wired to the designated equipment. However, after they came back from their mission they understood why I did it. It really made it lot more flexible for them to adjust to a higher priority signal or compensate for a sudden malfunction of equipment. Initially they were not too willing to spend time with us to debrief them on how everything worked. Nevertheless, it took only a few missions before they realized I wanted to improve their capability and equipment reliability.

Additional CTMs Need to Deploy

About this time, we started installing equipment that submarine ETs and RMs were not able to repair and began receiving additional Mat men to go on the mission. During my last year, a number of my technicians attended school at the factories where the equipment was being built. This necessitated Norm or me periodically visiting E.G.&G, Sanders Assoc, etc. for special criteria on how to install the equipment on a boat. My policy was to let the Mat man going on the trip have free rein on the quantity and scope of parts to bring on the trip. The person making the trip was in a better position than I to ensure everything installed worked properly. The work tempo quickly reached such a level that we were working on one scheduled for a mission, removing equipment from another just returned, and have one on mission location. This required us to travel extensively between New London, Norfolk, Charleston and Key West. One of our problems away from New London was a lack of suitable secure shop working space. Norm finally went to Mechanicsburg and picked up a 1951, 10-Ton Mack truck with a seven-ton four-wheel trailer configured as an Army mobile transmitter site. We drove it up to New London, had it reconfigured to drive on highways, and installed two 50-gallon saddle tanks to augment the 30-gallon seat tank. The truck’s gas mileage was only six miles per gallon with a max speed of 45 mph without power steering. After my first trip driving this rig to Norfolk, I realized why all the old truck drivers were big men. We took State route 17 but we discovered there was a 20-mile stretch of road configured like a snake constantly turning left, right and at 45 mph required the driver to pull hard on the wheel left or right against the gyro effect of the wheels. By the time we got through that section of road our speed was down to barely 30 mph and I was tired along with my passenger helping pull the steering wheel left/right. That was the last time we took that route. We had the trailer outfitted with workbenches and even a refrigerator with the bulk equipment carried in the truck.

Have a Beer and Talk about Tomorrow

On our trips, I would take everyone to the local Chief’s club in civilian clothes the day we arrived and upon completion of the installation. Then we would stock the refrigerator with beer and other snacks for when we stopped work late every night. We would sit around inside the trailer discussing what had been finished, the schedule for the following day, and just relax. Late one evening, an officer noticed all of us getting into the trailer parked on the pier. He came over and opened the door, and discovered us drinking beer. Guess what? He had a baby, so to speak, took our names and told us to be prepared for Captain’s Mast. Thankfully, Norm was on the base and I called him. He told me not to worry and would get back with me. That was it.

I Work for the Admiral

Speaking about authority, one time LT Brand and I attended a briefing at COMSUBLANT with Vice Admiral Grenfell in attendance. After the meeting, the Admiral asked me what I thought of the Submarine Force and their tenders. I told him some tenders were lousy and others outstanding. He asked me how the USS ORION (AS-18) stacked up and I replied that it was the worst! He wanted to know why and I told him they spent all their time walking liberty chits through channels and making plaques instead of doing their job. Admiral Grenfell instructed me the next time I experienced problems with his tender to give him a call personally. When I was scheduled to begin work on the USS SHARK (SSN-591) in Norfolk, I went to the Engineering Office and wrote a number of shop work requests, and gave them to the E-9 Chief. He looked them over and told me I would get them in a few weeks rather than days requested. I said, “I work for the Admiral,” to which he replied, “we all do.” So I asked if I could use an outside phone, dialed the Admiral’s office and his yeoman answered. I explained that

I was to call the Admiral if I had problems with the tender so the yeoman told me to hold. The Admiral’s chief of staff came on the line and I repeated what the admiral told me. He asked where I was and I informed him I was in the Engineering Office.

He told me to stand by. After a few minutes, over the intercom the Captain screamed for the Engineering Officer to report to his stateroom on the double. After a period of time the LCDR came back red in the face, looked at me and asked me if I was Chief Hadley to which I said, “Yes.” He turned to the E-9 and directed every shop supervisor report on the double. When everyone had arrived he pointed at me and told them anything he wants you will get him or else. The E-9 passed out the work requests and after everyone was gone, I reminded him I did work for the Admiral. Of course, after that incident whenever I went to any tender’s EO office I got special attention.

By the time I left this detachment, it was almost routine for our people to either talk to the Squadron Commodore or Admiral’s office to direct the boat to let us take our equipment off. I guess all the patrol reports really hammered BUSHIPS about their selection and installation of communication equipment on subs. A member of headquarters heard about my photo album on our installations and borrowed it for a few weeks.

One trip scheduled for the SHARK required some major shipyard modifications at the local shipyard. The boat was scheduled for departure in five weeks’ time and at the high-level meeting, some members doubted we could do it. When they asked me if I could, I told them that if I got maximum cooperation from yard personnel we could. Thus, every day I had to attend the 0800 briefing and present a status on the project. After the meeting, I would drive over to the shipyard and check on the crew. Our working hours were quite long, typically from about 0800 to 2400. We would then go over the next day’s schedule and I would drive back to the Chief’s quarters. On the last day, instead of opening my presentation with what had been completed, I said we made a mistake about the completion date. LT Brand kicked me under the table before I could finish my remarks but I said we should be finished by the time I returned to the yard, two days ahead of schedule. When I suggested they come and inspect the completed project, I was instructed to inform the CO he would have visitors that afternoon.

Featured Image: USS TRITON (SSRN-586), photo courtesy William Hadley

Source: NCVA CRYPTOLOG Spring/Summer 2012