The SS 393 insignia.

About The
Diesel Boat Era

The SSN 651 insignia.

By Harry Hall
This is a collective attempt at recollection after the passing of a half-century so any errors or omissions hopefully forgiven as "senior frailties". Much of this is collective memory and is a compilation of boats in general. There is no pride of authorship so any comments, additions, corrections and/or deletions are welcome and appreciated. This is merely a historical comparison as best one can do and is in no way a negative reflection between "then and now".

There have been many major changes in the U.S. Naval Submarine Service since the WWII Diesel Boat Era. It might be interesting historically to note some of them.

Pay and Pay Grades

Initially there were only seven pay grades (actually eight). They ran from one to seven with Apprentice Seaman (AS) as seven, Seaman Second Class (S2/c) as six, Seaman First Class (S1/c) as five, Petty Officer Third Class (e.g. MM3c) as four. Petty Officers Second Class and First Class as three and two. Chief Petty Officers were initially promoted to A for one year (Acting Appointment) and then to Chief Petty Officer as pay grade one. There was no Senior, Master or Command Chief, etc. The C for Chief Petty Officers preceded the rate designation, for example CMM not MMC as today. For all of the seaman ratings there was a comparable Fireman (F)

The Officers' rank structure has remained consistent with minor exceptions. During WWII a five star Fleet Admiral rank was added and bestowed on Nimitz, Leahy and King. No one promoted to that rank since WWII. Another thing there was no Commodore rank utilized In the Submarine Force. Officers were promoted from Captain to Rear Admiral (lower half) and hence to Rear Admiral (upper half). The Rear Admiral (Lower Half) temporarily replaced the Commodore rank. As it is custom to call any Commanding Officer Captain it also was custom to call a Submarine Squadron Commander Commodore.

Before WWII an Apprentice Seaman's pay was $21.00 per month. Pays increased in WWII with Apprentice Seaman to $50.00 per month and $136.00 per month for a Chief. All personnel on Submarines got 50% submarine money and 20% sea duty pay. When added together added up to about 80% extra pay. The calculation was done by first applying the 20% sea duty pay to your basic pay and then applying the 50% pay on top of that. Consequently, if a you were getting $100.00 per month he would get $20.00 added for sea duty making his pay $120. And when you added the 50% sub pay on top of that ($60.00) to that it came our to an actual 80% increase to $180.00 per month. This caused some confusion and many thought that the other 10% was somehow included and called this dive and/or dungaree pay).

If you were married and/or had dependents your pay was reduced by $28.00 per month the U.S. Navy supplemented another $22.00 and your dependent was sent a monthly check for $50.00. Consequently, an Apprentice Seaman would get $22.00 per month. However, enlisted personnel below pay grade four could not marry without the permission of their Commanding Officer. This breached more often than observed and obviously many entered the service married.

At one time the Navy Paymasters would pay personnel with $2.00 bills so that when spent it would indicate to the local economy the impact of the service. Also when being paid by the Paymaster on board a tender you would line up with your pay chit to draw your pay. When you reached the pay desk you would salute the Paymaster, put your fingerprint on the pay chit and draw your money. There was a posted pay list indicating what you had on the books and you could draw all or whatever amount you desired.

Submarine and sea pay were a real boon especially when sea store cigarettes were six cents a pack and a bottle of beer on Bank St. (New London) was twenty-five cents. Bank St. was wall to wall bars and Army/Navy Uniform Stores. The largest bar was at the end of Bank St. (The Seven Lampareli Brothers). Later, when your patrol ended,  you came in off patrol you would have back pay and be really flushed.

Due to rapid expansion of every aspect of the U.S. Navy, if you could cut the mustard, promotions were rapidly forthcoming. Many a serving enlisted person was commissioned (called mustangs) or advanced in rating because of the enormous need to fill billets in new construction and replace casualties. Classes at the U.S. Naval Academy graduated early. Personnel with special qualifications were coming into the service rated and/or commissioned. You could see a Chief Petty Officer with no hash marks. These ratings were derided and called slick arms (no hash marks) and/or Tojo ratings by the old-timers. Some enlisted personnel commissioned as regular line officers, Warrant Officers and Limited Duty Officers (LDOs) in specific areas. Such commissions initially were considered temporary with reversion back to their permanent grades at the conclusion of hostilities yet many actually became permanent.

Ratings and Uniforms

They created many specialty ratings. If their Crow specialty designator was a diamond with a letter inside, e.g., the letter A would be for a coach or professional athlete who would conduct physical conditioning, etc. Most, if not all of these ratings, ceased to exist with the end of the war. Some referred to these as square knot rates.

There were right and left arm rates. Right arm rates were considered as Sea Going Rates@ (BM, QM. GM. SM, FC, TM, MN, etc) and the Crow was worn on the right arm. Left arm rates were ancillary MM, Y, EM, RM, MoMM, ET, etc. Right arm rates were senior to left arm ratings. There was no Boatswain Mate Third Class they were called Coxswains.

Seamen and Firemen wore a watch stripe round the shoulder, right shoulder and white for seamen, left shoulder and red for firemen. There were other colors of Watch Stripes for aviation, CBs, etc. Indication of rate was on uniform cuffs. One white for AS/FA, two for S2c/F2/c and three for S1/c and F1/c. The present diagonal 1, 2, or 3 stripe(s), in color, worn on the left upper arm, was originally for WAVE uniforms and after WWII were adopted for the present enlisted uniform and the watch stripe was eliminated.

The T-Shirt was a part of the enlisted uniform. Originally, it had colored stripes and has long left the U.S. Navy, but you can note it is still existent in some foreign services. It served two purposes. (1) It was to be worn without the Jumper on work details, especially in tropical locations. (2) It was meant to have the high white neckline to show in the V of the jumper. Some personnel, to enhance the appearance would cut the tab off and wore the AT-shirt backward for a better appearance especially if with age and washings the neck line seemed to sag. The popularity of the T-Shirt expanded into wide public acceptance after WWII and in now utilized, not only as an undergarment but as outerwear with various designs, logos, etc.

There were no Silver Metal Dolphins for enlisted personnel. Dolphins for enlisted personnel consisted of embroidered patches. (White for blues and blue for whites) sewn on the right forearm. Silver Metal Dolphins for enlisted personnel were authorized after WWII. (9/21/50)

All enlisted personnel wore embroidered patches as distinguishing marks e.g., if you were a designated striker you could wear the insignia for that specialty on the upper left sleeve as appropriate.

Other distinguishing marks for enlisted personnel were patches on uniforms, e.g., an Expert Lookout patch binoculars, a diver a diver's helmet (M for Master. with other degree of qualification indicated on the chest plate section of the helmet. These worn on the right upper sleeve and there were many of them. One perk that has persisted is the wearing of gold rating insignia and hash marks for those Petty Officers with 12 years of good conduct.

Chief Petty Officers merely pinned their fouled anchor hat insignia to the front top of their hat covers. The black band and background for the insignia was initiated after WWII.

Officers did wear Gold Metal Dolphins as they do today.

Unknown today was also the fact that prior to WWII there was a dress white uniform for enlisted personnel. The collar and cuffs were blue and were adorned with piping. The trousers had slash pockets and had a cotton lacing feature on the back waistband. What is worn today are undress whites. Pictures of dress whites can be seen in old Bluejacket Manuals.

Officers wore swords for ceremonial and dress occasions, as they do today, but little known is that back before WWII Chief Petty Officers had a cutlass for ceremonial and dress occasions.

Another uniform item that is now passť is the flat hat. Once the ribbon had the name of your ship but this discontinued for security reasons and all flat hats merely had U.S. Navy in gold on the ribbon.

In boot camp all of your uniform items were stenciled with your name and service number. There were no doors on lockers and each item had a prescribed method of folding and stowing. It was even prescribed as to how you would pack your sea bag.

Tailor Made dress blues were the uniform of the day for liberty. The jumper was skin tight with a zipper in the side so that it could be taken off. Accentuated bell bottoms were mandated. The inside of the cuffs were decorated with embroidered color decorations, usually dragons, etc., and were only visible when the cuffs were turned up (which was custom on liberty) along with the white or flat hat on the back of your head.

 Submarine Base & Submarine School, New London (Groton, CT)

Originally, the entire submarine base was literally below the railroad tracks. Later as the base expanded it was called lower base. Most of the upper base buildings, i.e., Morton Hall, Dealey Center, etc., were constructed for WWII. The road from the present main gate past the golf course was the Groton-Norwich road. About half way up the road was an overhead railroad bridge. On the river side of the railroad tracks a 12' high fence with barbed wire on top ran the length of the base. The entrance to the base was under the bridge and the Marine guard stationed there in a guard shack. During WWII besides the Main Gate Guardhouse the one to lower base was also manned by a U.S. Marine. The base commander's office was housed in a small brick building about half way between the training tower and the Torpedo Shop.

Submarine School - six weeks enlisted and three months for officers. The enlisted school was built into the side of the hill below the barracks area. The Officer's school was along side the base hospital across from Morton Hall.

Of some 250,000 men who applied for submarine duty less than 10% made it to Sub School and many of those washed out. Submarine School was the sole tyrannical domain of one Chief Torpedoman, Charles Spritz. Submarine School was called "Spritz's Navy". He ruled with an iron hand and was feared by instructors and students alike. He had little regard for rate whether you were a Seaman First Class or a Petty Officer First Class. To call him eccentric was a gross understatement. He did not smoke, did not drink and was single It is open to debate as to if he ever even pulled a liberty. His total devotion was to the Submarine School. It was universally conceded that he had gone Asiatic, not 100% stable and perhaps as a youngster he might have been dropped on his head.

He insisted that personnel, at all times, be properly and neatly attired in the regulation Uniform of the Day without exception. No "tailor mades", proper rolled neckerchief down to the V in the jumper with immaculate white T-Shirt showing, shoes well shined, etc. He did not permit smoking or any type of horseplay. He demanded that all personnel move at a fast pace. Navigating the steep stairs alongside the Enlisted Submarine School Building constituted a hazard.

Chief Spritz had the uncanny ability to be everywhere at all times and pity the poor individual who crossed his path. His discipline was swift and sure. He felt it was his personal mission to ascertain that anyone leaving sub school for submarine duty was in every respect ready. He had many axioms but his favorite was "there is room for anything on a submarine except a mistake". Sub school students were not boots, many, if not most, had time in the U.S. Navy and were rated.

There is an article in POLARIS issue of August, 2000 (Submarine Saga segment) which delves into more detail relative to Chief Spritz and is briefly plagiarized and incorporated here as it is a definite part of the Diesel Boat Era.

Sub Vets of WWII in recognition of respect and a fealty obligation to this once feudal lord and master wear a "Spritz's Navy" patch on their vests.

It would seem that the screening at Sub School served us well. Friction between members of the crew was unbefitting and unacceptable. If an individual demonstrated an inability to "get along" he could be transferred to another boat. If the same conduct prevailed there he would be transferred out of submarines.

The training tower caused many a wash out for both physical and mental reasons. If a person could not pop his ears it could cause pain, ruptured ear drum(s) and even bleeding from the ears. You voice changed dramatically to a high pitch under pressure (we all sounded like Donald Duck). All personnel had to qualify from the two intermediate locks and finally the 100' lock with the Momsen Lung.

Right after the war it was noted that some German submariners had made emergency escapes using free ascents. A number of crews from boats went to the tower and made free ascents from 100'. Later all submarine school personnel were required to make a free ascent from 100' as well as in the past with Momsen Lungs. It was imperative that you exhale all the way up to avoid lung damage or the bends. Much to the dismay of many of the "old timers" the Escape Training Tower was dismantled. It was a landmark and considered a right of passage into the submarine force. Recently, it has been rumored that the tower is to be rebuilt.

We had less pomp insofar as the ceremony observed when a member of the crew qualified than is apparent today. The individual, thrown over the side then sewed dolphins on his uniforms and wore them with pride. They have always been, and always will be, a badge of honor regardless of ceremonial manner in which bestowed. Going through Sub School and getting on a boat was merely the first step it did not allow you to wear "Dolphins".

Submarine Qualifications

Qualification was a real ordeal. You had to prepare a notebook with schematic drawings of all systems in the boat and as the final test you would go through the boat with a "Qualification Board". You had to be prepared to assume the duties of any rating on board and know the location and function of all systems, valves, etc. You were allowed one year to become qualified.

Awards and Advancement

There was less reverence on some other occasions also, e.g., when a "Good Conduct Medal" was awarded to a member of the crew it would be given by the Captain (or perhaps the Exec) at quarters amid hoots and hollers with cries of "Undiscovered Crime", etc. There was also a bonus system for awards ranging from $1.00 per month for the Good Conduct Medal to $5.00 per month for the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When made Chief you initially bought the cheapest hat you could find since it was also considered appropriate and properly respectful to have all of the crew urinate in your first hat.


Sad to note in this day and enlightened age all of the military services of the United States were segregated during our era. The practice abolished by President Truman over 50 years ago. Stewards, at that time, recruited from America territories and from American minorities. Even in such a tight knit group as American Submarines two racks in the Forward Torpedo Room hung off the overhead beneath The Torpedo Loading Hatch were reserved for the Stewards. They were called the "Honeymoon bunks" or "bridal suite". Rated Stewards wore uniforms similar to Chiefs.

The Submariners and Life on the Boats

The submarine sailor was a very irreverent individual with an avid distaste for regulations, etc. The average life span of a submarine sailor was four patrols (about a year). Despite bravado, that thought prevailed to varying degrees depending upon the individual. That premise however, was unsaid but used as an excuse for hell-raising. Rarely mentioned in tales of WWII submarine lore was the fact that going through minefields was as apprehensive as being depth charged.

Submarine Officers and crews were very young - anyone past thirty was a very old man. Admiral Charles Lockwood (Uncle Charley) ComSubPac was most forgiving, as were Skippers and Execs, of transgressions of both officers and men.

Returning from patrol crews were treated extremely well. "Relief crews" came aboard and all work and refitting in preparation for the next patrol was handled by them and base/tender personnel. Ship's Company was sent enmass for R&R.

Another perk of the submarine force was that any record of minor disciplinary action that a member of the crew suffered would be entered into the page 9 of his service record. Virtually all disciplinary action was handled internally on the boat. However, both the original and carbon copy (BuPers Copy) were retained in his personnel jacket. When transferred, the original and copy were removed by the Yeoman to be deep sixed. Unless there was a serious offense personnel transferred with a clean record.

Many friendships were formed in sub school, plus other training, schools and transfers were not uncommon due to the needs of new construction, promotions, etc. Consequently, the force became even more closely knit. It was the rare boat that did not have personnel who you knew.

Submariners were very independent and resourceful, both individually and as a group. Needs (and desires) of the boat as prescribed by the U.S. Navy, did not always coincide with what was considered proper or adequate. Therefore, a system of "midnight requisitioning" and "midnight small stores" developed to enhance efficiency. This avenue of acquisition was considered a solemn duty in promoting the war effort. Those proficient and innovative in this endeavor were greatly admired. It was an art as well as a science executed individually or as a group cooperative effort. Some of these escapades took great ingenuity as well as "brass balls". As a term of affection they were called scroungers and/or dog robbers. If a Skipper or Exec made an innocent passing remark that some particular thing might be nice it would appear mysteriously in due time. Also, if anything would be deemed convenient, add to efficiency, or enhance comfort, etc., it would be acquired. All for the "Good of the Service".

On board an informal, but professional, attitude prevailed. Although we had an evaporator to make fresh water, battery watering was primary. In the design and scheme of things, personal hygiene or washing of clothes did not seem to be considered. One Engineering Petty Officer, called the Water King ran the evaporator. Personal hygiene or washing of clothing was an afterthought. The use of after-shave lotions, deodorants (called Foo-Foo juice) and especially talcum powders prevailed. Large cans of Lilac were the norm, purchased inexpensively in local 5&10 stores and sprinkled liberally.

Since there were might not be adequate bunks for all of the officers and men there was a situation called "hot bunking" whence when an individual went on watch another took the bunk.

The Forward Battery was Officer's Country. Only the Skipper had his own "Stateroom" which would have passed for a small closet. There were the Spartan Officer's quarters, Wardroom, a Steward's Pantry, a small compartment for the Chiefs and a small office for the Yeoman. There was a head in the Forward Torpedo Room for the Officers.

Some enlisted personnel were relegated to bunking in the Forward and After Torpedo rooms (There was a head in the After Torpedo Room.) The majority however, had their bunks in the rear section of the After Battery. The forward section of the After Battery held the Galley, heads, showers (2) and the Mess. The Mess had four tables sitting 3 to a side for a total of 24 accommodations on the 8 bench seats. Therefore meals were served in shifts to accommodate all hands. Space was at a premium and one would have to see how efficiently it was utilized to believe it e.g., the bench seats were hinged and the interior was utilized as space for mess gear. There was a shelf over each of the tables to hold the dishes of what was being served. I understand that the Navy utilized information and ideas from the Pullman Railroad Co. in designing.

The Pharmacist Mate "Doc" had a medical locker in the crew's after battery berthing area.

Using the heads took a number of mandatory steps of levers and valves to blow the Sanitary Tank. One learned this quickly, as failure to "flush" properly resulted in "blow back".

The growing of beards was common practice amongst the crew and officers.

To the unacquainted it could appear that the rapport between Officers and men was quite informal, and to a large degree it was, but it in no way detracted from efficiency, military courtesy, tradition or discipline. There was a strong mutual respect. Aye-Aye Sir, Very Well and Well Done were accorded as appropriate. The vast majority of the crew was rated and competent in their skills. Obviously so were our officers. There was no such thing as stenciled ratings on dungaree shirts, if worn, so a person coming aboard a submarine at sea would have a difficult time determining any individual's rate. Also there was an axiom that in submarines "you left your rate on the dock". Ability was the hallmark. To add to the perceived informality was the fact that the uniform of the day generally was dungaree shorts, sandals and perhaps a T-Shirt.

When conditions approached that of a Chinese garbage scow junk with an over flowing head and with the crew in dire need of fumigation the Skipper might decide to allow showers piecemeal by sections. You lined up to enter the shower, the Chief of the Boat turned on the water for 2 seconds and shut it down while you soaped down. You were then allowed a correspondingly brief rinse. This was called a "sea shower".

Each member of the crew was allotted one locker which measured about 12" high, 18" wide and about 18" deep. You kept your uniforms under your mattress. Your rack had a plastic zip around cover. Your mattress was encased in a mattress cover which was akin to an oversized pillow case. Able to be turned over once and some even turned them inside out and got two more uses. Less the uninitiated be stunned by that you must be cognizant of lack of water for regular laundry.

Internal communications on board were conducted by the 1MC and 7MC phones and speaker systems. (Phones were sound powered.)

To reenter a submarine after handling lines etc. when returning to port was a shocking revelation. It was impossible to believe that you had survived that malodorous environment. Politely put the atmosphere was conducive to a shanty town house of ill repute that also was inundated by a back up of its sewer system. Pity the poor relief crew that had to come on board and make the boat shipshape again.

You could immediately identify an Electrician on a submarine. He was the individual with the most shredded moth eaten rotten dungarees from battery acid. Watering the batteries, located under both the forward and after battery compartments, was imperative and the Electricians had to crawl around on top of the cells to do this regularly.

Ribald humor was the tenor of the day. No topic or human frailty was off limits. Nothing was sacred. Horseplay and trickery were the order of the day. The antics and demeanor of the crew, both at sea and ashore, would not be socially acceptable or politically correct nowadays. I fear that Admiral Rickover would be aghast.

One real advantage was food, especially in port and when you first went out. Although they were ridden without mercy the cooks did an excellent job of feeding the crew. We ate family style off china plates. Our officers ate exactly what the enlisted personnel did. The stewards would come back to the After Battery Galley and fill their serving plates and bring it to the Forward Battery Galley for the Wardroom. A double "chow" allowance was accorded submarines.

When leaving for patrol the boat was stocked with the best possible rations which were stored in every conceivable space (including the shower since it wouldn't be needed). As a matter of fact we had to walk on some of the stores until they were used. However, as supplies diminished the cooks were hard pressed to come up with varied favorable menus. All boats had open icebox so you could prepare and cook anything you wanted at any time as long as you cleaned up after yourself. The coffee urn was always at the ready. The After Battery Mess was for chow, off duty recreation, meeting space and a hang-out.

This is a collective attempt at recollection after the passing of a half-century so any errors or omissions hopefully forgiven as "senior frailties". Much of this is collective memory and is a compilation of boats in general. There is no pride of authorship so any comments, additions, corrections and/or deletions are welcome and appreciated. This is merely a historical comparison as best one can do and is in no way a negative reflection between "then and now".

GOD BLESS ALL SUBMARINERS - Past, Present and Future.

Central Connecticut Chapter

U.S. Submarine Veterans World War II

Rev. 06-25-04

Note: Some paragraphs were re-ordered by the webmaster to facilitate the use of section headers.

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