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Rated: E · Essay · History · #1886711
Submarine warfare during World War 2 was primitive at best. It wasn't like the movies
War stinks.  I know that probably wasn’t in those old John Wayne movies, but that is the reality of these things.  This is an olfactory as well as a metaphysical issue.

Consider World War Two submarines.  They could collect and desalinate enough water to have drinking water and to top off their batteries.  That was about it.  Showering was rare.  They would go for weeks without one.

To get around this, some would take sponge baths.  Others would bathe using pink lady alcohol used to power their torpedoes.

The subs were equipped with four diesel engines.  These would run the ship at about twenty miles per hour when they were at the surface.  Below the surface, the ship ran on batteries.  There was no oxygen to run the diesels.  Conserving energy, they could stay submerged for about 48 hours.

The coolest place on the ship was the forward torpedo room, which ran about 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  The engine room ran 140 degree.  They drank lots of water and took salt pills.  Sweating was pretty much the way of life.

Space was never waste on a sub.  They had what was called a hot bunk system where different sailors were allowed to sleep in the same bunk at different times.  Imagine sleeping in a bunk that was just vacated by a hot sweaty sailor, often with skin problems due to heat exposure.

Added to the malodorous mixture of air was the fact that smoking was rampant in the culture and present in the submerged sub.  At home, they smoked in restaurants, buses and movie theaters.  It was the way things were.  Submerged smoking was going on.  Captains described it as a way of relieving tensions after long periods of being submerged.

There were times that they could not smoke.  When batteries were being charged, they admitted hydrogen gas.  The chance for fire was imminent and the penalties for smoking while the smoking  lamp was out were severe.  Imagine trying to light a cigarette when the oxygen content was so low that even the match won’t light.

Not only do I paint a picture of hot sweaty bodies in stale, smoky air, the duty was extremely hazardous.  Between thirteen to sixteen percent of them did not survive the war.  If an enemy destroyer found them and locked on to them with sonar, the kill rate for subs was about 70%.  Any ship of value had destroyers with it.  It took courage to target a high-value ship like an aircraft carrier and perhaps a little luck to survive.

We talk about service and commitment when we honor are war veterans.  Most of us have no idea what was involved.  War stinks.  It always has.  It is not for the faint of heart.

Was it worth it?  The two percent of Navy personnel involved with subs sunk 55% of Japanese vessels.  That was more than the air corps and surface ships combined.  Service men looking back would say that submarining was in their blood.  They certainly made a difference.
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