Onboard HMC Submarine Onondaga

Story by Nick Unknown Submariner

For weeks they go without seeing the light of day or taking a breath of fresh air.

Sometimes they don’t shower for a month.

The taste of fresh bread, milk and vegetables is a luxury.

And their clothes always smell of diesel.

They are the men who man Canada’s three submarines.

“Submariners have a tremendous esprit de corps” says Commander Ray Hunt, 44, the man in charge of our submarine fleet.

“But they have to. It takes an unusual man who doesn’t mind having a foot thrust in his bacon and eggs first thing in the morning as a colleague gets out of his bunk.”

Bunks are co cramped on board the 98-metre vessel that many of the crew of 65 can’t turn over. The forward torpedo room also serves as a bedroom, mess and cinema. At battle stations some 20 men work in a space no bigger than a good-sized family kitchen. Because of the unusual demands on men who serve below the waves, every rating is medically and psychologically tested.

But still there is a high turnover in personnel and a team permanently recruits across the country for volunteers to man the vessels.

This submarine last year spent 238 days away from her home port of Halifax and 170 of those days were submerged.

The vessel also recently set a Canadian warship record for staying at sea for 38 days. But some think the life has its compensations.

“You can never grow old on the seabed because so many youngsters come and go that you keep up with all if life’s trends and fads” says bearded, pipe-smoking Lt. Issac Brower Berkhoven, 40 , of Kimberley, BC. The engineer, the father of 5, is one of the oldest serving Canadian submariners with over 17 years to his credit.

Canada bought three British submarines and spares from Britain at a cost of $50 million in 1965.

“Water is the bane of my life,”says the Lieutenant. “We can make our own-but we never seem to have enough.”

It’s on his command that water pressure is reduced-or sometimes shut off completely. Submariners take this deprivation in their stride and traditionally don’t shower or shave..

They asleep with their clothes on. “Only when you wash do you notice the stench from those around you,”says Master WO Lloyd Blagdon, 32, of Fortune Bay, Nfld. “And they think the smell of soap on you smells awful.”

Engine room artificer Fred Fry, 30 , from Kincardine, Ont says two things attract most men to submarines. “There’s a bit of extra money involved but the main thing is being treated like a tourist in ports,” he says.“We stay in hotels while men off surface ships have to go back to them.”

A qualified submariner earns an extra $320 a month.Qualification is everything in a vessel which expects Every man to know everything there is to know about it.

“In an emergency any man might be called on to do any task and his action may save everybody,” says Lt.-Cedric Frank Scherber, 29 , of Edmonton, the submarines executive officer.

After a six-week course ashore , ratings learn on-the-job with penalties-usually a loss of some kind of privilege-falling on the “delinquents” who fail to keep up to a schedule.

Study for qualifications must be made during the six off-duty hours, hard on a man who just worked six.

It’s common on a submarine to find the cook taking a turn at the planesman’s position, from which the vessel is steered-or the”scribe” loading a torpedo tube.

The name of the game in submarines is to find and be capable of striking without being detected.

And it’s the sonar men who must know what they are hearing.

“We have no eyes and so must live by our ears,” says PO Brian Cooper, 31, of Halifax, senior weapons man and torpedo instructor.

“A ships engine gives it away because each ship makes a different sound as it moves through the water. Sonar and radar equipment also have signatures. When we hear it-we can tell from where it came. Even a dropped spoon could give away the submarine’s position. Everything is mounted rubber to kill noise. Keeping fit on board is hard because of space limitations.”

One man had an exercise bicycle installed but gave up when the handlebars and then the pedals disappeared.

“The sound kept people awake,” says Lt. Graham Day, 28, of London, England, a Royal Navy exchange officer.

Navigating is done by “dead-reckoning” or mathematics, when the submarine is submerged because, of course, there is no sun or stars to take a sighting on.

“It can be pretty tricky knowing exactly where we are because of currents,” says navigator Barry Houle, 26, of Halifax. “Especially when you consider I know one guy who missed Bermuda-on a destroyer…..”

To help keep up a high moral, Capt. J.M.”Mitch” Ewan recently began a daily newspaper. “Most contributions are published, including character assassinations,”says the skipper..“I think the paper helps keep everyone informed about what’s going on-and gives anyone who
wants a chance to let off a bit of steam.”

Two other morale-raisers on board are self-styled comics AB’s Pete Heppleston, 24 , from Brockville, Ont., and Douglas Liebrock, 24 , from Halifax.

AB Heppleston, who does marvelous imitations of a stampeding herd of elephants and a rotary floor polisher, worked out on a recent 10-week cruise in the Caribbean that he had dumped 70,000 gallons of human waste over-board.

AB Liebrock has just been informed he has won a distinguished conduct medal for jumping overboard to save a colleague’s life.Although unable to swim himself , he jumped to save a man who had fallen in and then been knocked out by a lifebelt thrown to help him.

“I couldn’t let the man drown,”says the submariner. “He owed me $2. Seriously.”

Natural diversions, such as The Great Pancake Contest, happen regularly.In the contest, radar plotter Marc” Mad Dog” Pallard, 23, from Vancouver, was pipped at the post by AB Mike Fraser, 22, of Sydney, NS.

AB Fraser gulped three pancakes in the last minute to record 25 1/2 pancakes swallowed in 30 waterless minutes. AB Fraser won several other awards when he went on to finish all the pancakes after the contest.

“Being crazy doesn’t help in this job,” says OS David Bell, 18, of Edmonton “You have to be crazy to survive”

Photos courtesy of forposterityssake.ca. Original source is unknown.

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