Tag Archives: history

22 May 1968, Loss of USS Scorpion SS-589


On 27 May 1968, for the second time in just over five years, the United States Navy announced the disappearance of a modern nuclear attack submarine.  The Skipjack-class SSN, USS Scorpion, disappeared on 22 May as she transited near the Azores.

589 sail

The cause of the loss of Scorpion continues to be a subject of fierce debate.  The recorded acoustic signature of the event has been analyzed extensively, and expert opinion is divided regarding what the SOSUS data points to.  Several recent books have addressed the subject, positing that the Soviets had targeted Scorpion and sank her with assistance from ASW helicopters, and intelligence gained from the capture of USS Pueblo (AGER-2) and the John Walker spy ring.  Other theories included a battery fire which caused a Mk 37 torpedo to detonate in the tube in the torpedo room, or an inadvertent launch of a Mk 37 which came back and struck Scorpion.  Other analysis points to a possible explosion of hydrogen gas, built up to unsafe levels during a charge of batteries, that doomed Scorpion.

Much has been made of the abbreviation of her overhaul and the postponement of the SUBSAFE work (initiated in the wake of the loss of Thresher, SSN-593, in April of 1963) by the CNO, and the tagging out of the Emergency Main Ballast Tank system.   However, there seems little that points to any neglected maintenance or repair being responsible for the loss of the boat.

Regardless of the cause of the loss of Scorpion, the submarine carried 99 US Navy sailors to their deaths.  Her loss should stand as a reminder that plying the sea is a dangerous occupation, and that there is a a cost in lives for vigilance and readiness for war, even a Cold War.   It should also serve as a warning, that a Navy without sufficient ships and sailors to meet mission requirements in peace must compromise that readiness and vigilance, which has a far higher price in the unforgiving occupation of war at sea.

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The USS Stark

On this day in 1987, the USS Stark (FFG-31) was operating in the Persian Gulf near the exclusion zone declared because of the ongoing Iran-Iraq War. An Iraqi Mirage F1 launched two Exocet anti-ship missiles at the Stark. Both impacted the port side of Stark. The first failed to explode, but flaming fragments of its unburned propellant ignited fires. The second missile’s warhead exploded.

The Stark was badly crippled. It would take 24 hours to extinguish the blaze. 37 American Sailors died, and a further 21 were injured.  The Stark’s captain, Captain Glenn Brindel, would be relieved of command for failure to defend his ship. He shortly thereafter retired.

The Stark would limp under her own power to Bahrain, where she underwent temporary repairs alongside the destroyer tender USS Acadia (AD-42).

She would then travel to Pascagoula, MS for her definitive repairs.

After repairs, Stark rejoined the fleet until her decommissioning in 1999, and scrapping in 2006.

The Stark was non-mission capable after the attack. But she should have been a loss. The sterling damage control efforts of her crew were very closely studied by the Navy. Many lessons had been learned from the loss of HMS Sheffield in the Falklands, and had been incorporated into US Navy damage control training. And those lessons, as well as new lessons learned the hard way aboard Stark would be further tested in later years, notably aboard USS Princeton, USS Tripoli, and USS Cole.

Update: Here’s the report from the investigation.


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USS Constitution Drydocking

It’s rather fitting that the drydock that USS Constitution is using for its major overhaul is the one at the former Boston Naval Shipyard. She was both the first ship to use the drydock in 1833, and the last to use it before the yard was decommissioned in 1975.  While most of the yard is now a historical park, the Navy specifically kept the drydock portion to service USS Constitution and the former USS Cassin Young, a museum ship also displayed at the yard.

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Military Leadership versus Politics

Just a random thought over my morning coffee. Once in a while, you’ll see something to the effect, particularly in conservative circles, that General X or Retired Military Y should run for president.

I’m not so sure.

Generals tend to be people who flourished in big government. If you’re a conservative, is that really where you want to look to find someone who believes in limited government? The military is a highly centralized organization. While many veterans tend to be quite focused on civil liberties, let us not forget that career military personnel have spent an entire career in an organization where their civil liberties were circumscribed, and in which they circumscribed the civil liberties of everyone who worked for them.

That’s not to say they don’t genuinely believe in the Constitution and honestly and genuinely seek to uphold and defend it. It just means their first inclination to view an issue might not automatically be from a perspective of individual liberty. They’ve spent a career focusing on achieving goals for an organization. You know who else tends to think of political goals in terms of group good? The political left.

Generals tend to make lousy politicians. At its heart, politics consists of a series of compromises, with leaders building consensus from often quite disparate groups. Military leaders simply don’t have to do that. In the end, the people they lead have to follow the leader’s agenda. They may do it enthusiastically, or they may do it grudgingly. But do it they will. Politicians, on the other  hand, can propose an agenda, they can work to build support for it, via both carrot and stick, and sell it in numerous ways. But in the end, that agenda has to have some basic level of support from the polity, or it is dead in the water.

The last time we elected a general officer to the Presidency was when Eisenhower won in a landslide in 1952, and coasted again in 1956. And he was a successful President. Why?

Let’s take a look back at Eisenhower’s role in World War II. Beginning in the Torch invasion of North Africa, through the Mediterranean campaign in Italy, to the invasion of Western Europe on D-Day, through the final defeat of Germany, Eisenhower served in a series of commands of Allied forces. Eisenhower quickly grasped that his role was not to defeat the Germans, but rather to hold together the Allied coalition. He was certainly no slouch at the tactical and strategic generalship required for the war, but his greatest strength was to be able to maintain some level of unity of effort between the forces of the British Empire (and later France and a host of other nations) and those of the US.  And while Eisenhower was nominally in command of those foreign forces, that command was more nominal than real. Eisenhower had to persuade his British subordinates to follow his  proposed courses of action (or quite often, adopt a proposed British course of action as his own).

That same skill at forging consensus and achieving compr0mise served Eisenhower quite well in office.

I cannot think of another general officer since then who has had a similar background that would serve as well in high elected office.


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The Army Air Forces in 1944

A US propaganda film showing the various numbered air forces of the USAAF in early 1944. Lots of good footage of some of the more obscure theaters. It’s about 40 minutes, so grab a cup of coffee.

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A Trouncing by Conservatives in Britain


Yesterday’s headlines screamed that David Cameron’s Tory government was “on the brink”, and Britain was in the midst of a “significant move to the Left”.  Of course, in most US media outlets, such tidings were reported with barely-concealed glee.  Except, it didn’t happen.  Cameron’s Tories won 331 seats, more than enough to form a majority government.  The Labour Party won a mere 232 seats.  Is anyone surprised that the Labour Left hired none other than David Axelrod, the leftist American political strategist, to help them?   In any event, it was not a “close” race.  The UK did not “move to the left”.  On the contrary.  It was a trouncing for the Left at the hands of David Cameron and the Tories.

A vote on further participation in the European Union is in the offing.  The British Pound has shot up against the Euro already.  This could get interesting.  One has to wonder whether Cameron will be as shabbily treated by Obama as Israel’s Netanyahu, winner of his own recent election.



“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

That message, sent 70 years ago by  General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Forces Europe, to the American and British governments, signaled the end of World War II in Europe.

<br />
&ldquo;The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.<br />
<p>Top secret document sent by General Eisenhower to his superior officers to inform them that his mission was fulfilled - Germany was defeated and the war in Europe was over. <br />
-from the Eisenhower Library

Alfred Jodl would sign the instruments of surrender for Germany at Rheims.

File:German instrument of surrender2.jpg

On May 8, a similar instrument was signed in Berlin, ending the war with the Soviet Union. The US and most western nations celebrate Victory in Europe on May 8. The Russians celebrate on May 9.

On May 6, 1945, the focus of the entirety of the Allied forces in Europe was the defeat of Germany. On May 8, the focus was on getting out of the damn Army and getting home. It would take some time for that to pass, and indeed, to this day, Americans are stationed in Germany, though since 1955, as guests and allies of their former enemies.

Of course, the War in the Pacific remained to be won. But with the defeat of Germany, it was seen as a foregone conclusion that Japan would fall to the combined might of the Allies. There would be a great deal of death, destruction and suffering to come, but the end game was all that was left to play out.

Tomorrow, to commemorate this 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe, among other events, there will be a huge flyover of the US capitol by more than 40 World War II era aircraft.

More than 40 vintage aircraft of World War II will fill the skies over the nation’s capital Friday in tribute to the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (V-E) Day.

Fifteen flying formations will form up near Leesburg, Virginia, and follow the Potomac River southeast toward Washington. But unlike the usual “river run” of modern commercial flights into Reagan National Airport, the venerable war birds will bank over the Lincoln Memorial, overflying the National World War II Memorial, head east past the Washington Monument along Independence Avenue, turning south as they pass over the National Air and Space Museum near the Capitol.


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