NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Submarines, Secrets, and Spies
Site Map


Dennis Splane Dennis Splane
Dennis Splane
(back to Life on a Submarine)

Every 14 to 18 months, we would make a patrol in the Northern Pacific. We'd leave Pearl Harbor, steam on the surface to the Aleutian Islands, top off the fuel and load up with fresh food at the Navy port in Adak, Alaska, then leave. Once we got on station, we submerged, and unless we had an emergency, we would stay on station, totally submerged, for 60 days.

You get into a routine and just grow accustomed to it. The hardest thing I had to cope with was the cold. Up there it is always cold, and since energy on a diesel submarine was very critical because of the power, we couldn't run our heaters. So we would just be freezing most of the time.

And there were absolutely no showers. Nobody took a full, hot shower except the mess cooks. You'd just take the old douche from the sink and wash your underarms. When you made the northern runs, it wasn't too bad as far as body odor. Of course, everybody pretty well kept that under control. If anybody didn't, we took care of them.

Dennis Splane Dennis Splane in 1961.

At night, we would have to come up and "snorkel." Snorkeling is when you come up to 58 to 60 feet, and you raise two masts, the induction and exhaust masts. The induction mast comes up about 18 inches above the surface and allows you to start your main engines and charge your batteries and take in fresh air. That took anywhere from six to seven hours. We did that at night to stay undetected. If the seas were rough, water came over that induction valve and it shut down automatically. If it didn't come open within a few seconds, the main engines would shut down, and you'd have to start the cycle all over again. Got a lot of fumes in the boat.

When you're snorkeling submerged, you're really running blind, since the noise makes your sonar essentially ineffective. It is one of the most dangerous periods, so you always have a periscope watch. That way you can at least keep an eye on what is happening on the surface so you don't happen to run into anything. But you never know even in charted waters when you could hit something.

We did have a collision once. It could have been a whale, or it could have been an obstacle such as land. Our depth chart could have had a slight error. The collision damaged our sonar dome, but fortunately it didn't puncture the hull of the boat. But we were charging batteries at the time and the lights went out and a spark started a fire in one of the main rheostats in the maneuvering room. That was pretty scary, but we were able to get the fire out and go off station and surface.



When the collision alarm goes off, everybody has a certain job to do. That's why it is important that you know other jobs in a compartment, because one of the first things you do is seal off the watertight doors in each compartment. Say you're in the forward torpedo room. Well, there might not be a torpedoman up there when something like that happens. So any crew mates that happen to be up there should be familiar enough with the compartment to handle any emergency situation.

—Dennis Splane was an Electrician's Mate, 2nd Class when he left the USS Tunny (SSG-282), a diesel sub refitted to carry Regulus missiles, after serving from 1958 to 1961. He lives in Grapevine, Texas.


Continue: Tippy D'Auria

Printer-Friendly Format   Feedback

See Inside a Submarine | Can I Borrow Your Sub?
Sounds Underwater | Life on a Submarine
Resources | Transcript | Site Map | Submarines Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule | About NOVA
Watch NOVAs online | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Search | To Print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated May 2002

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site

Join Us/E-Mail NOVA Site Map NOVA