1939 USS Squalus Rescue Group
Back in the 1930s, my father and his two brothers joined the Navy. My Uncle Frank was an avid swimmer, and he became a deep sea diver. In that process, his diving team, which I understand was an experimental team at the time, were called on to rescue the Squalus, which was a Navy submarine that sunk off the East Coast. And I brought some of the carvings that he did while he was on board the ship, and for his effort with the Squalus, he and his team each received the Navy Cross.
It's a wonderful grouping of artifacts from one of the seminal moments in the history of the development of submarine warfare. The Squalus disaster was unfortunately the biggest accident to happen in the U.S. Navy prior to World War II. The U.S.S. Squalus suffered a catastrophic failure on her shakedown cruise. Of course, the idea of the shakedown cruise is to make sure that everything's operational, and in one of her first test dives, they thought that they had all of the openings of the boat closed. They did not. There was a fault in the main induction valve, and water came pouring in. Instead of a controlled descent, it was an uncontrolled descent with the boat filling with water. The main goal of any submariners is to have as many surface operations as you do dives. You want that number to come out equal in the end. For a while there, it was looking like the Squalus was going to have a bigger number of dives than surfaces. If not for Swede Momsen, who was the leader of that unit, a very forward thinking officer, those 33 individuals that were rescued from the Squalus would not have had a chance. And there were two separate operations. There was a rescue operation that they led immediately after the sinking to get the guys out, and then there was a salvage operation after that to raise the Squalus. Do you know when he carved the diving suit?
Because he was on the ship so much, he had a lot of spare time, and so he began carving. This was one of the pieces that I received because he was a deep sea diver, and it's something that I've had a particular attachment to throughout my life.
It makes an excellent accent piece to the group. One of the things that helps to document the group is his Navy Good Conduct medal, which is engraved with his name and the date. But of course, the key piece to the grouping is the Navy Cross. The Navy Cross is the second highest award in the United States Navy, second only to the Medal of Honor. It is unlike its Army counterpart, the Distinguished Service Cross, in that it's typically not engraved, but in this case, where we have a chain of custody and provenance, we know exactly who earned the Navy Cross and why. And in the rescue action of the Squalus, there were four Medals of Honor that were awarded for that action, and also 46 Navy Crosses. Being a salvage diver is an incredibly dangerous occupation, and what those guys did in order to rescue the crew and even the subsequent salvage was all extremely hazardous duty.
I understood that after they rescued the Squalus, after they salvaged it, they did refit it and put it back to sea.
As the Sailfish.
As the Sailfish. Ok.
It became the U.S.S. Sailfish. Interesting twist of history, part of the group assisting with the rescue of the Squalus was from the U.S.S. Sculpin. The Sculpin was sunk in the Pacific in World War II. Some of the survivors were captured by the Japanese, and they were on board one of the hell ships on the way to work camp when it was torpedoed by the U.S.S. Sailfish.
Oh, really? Oh, my.
And they were sadly sent to the bottom by the very boat that they had helped to rescue just a few years earlier. One of those ironic twists of World War II. A Navy Cross on its own in 2014, a retail price for one would be around $500 or $600 for a World War II Navy Cross. That's really not what serious advanced collectors are pursuing. They're pursuing groupings where you have an interesting story involved, and there are few more interesting stories in the history of the United States Navy than that very unfortunate shakedown cruise of the Squalus. You have a photo album of the salvage operation. We have a picture of the individual who earned the award, and then the citation from President Roosevelt. As a complete group, a retail price today would be between $6,000 and $7,000.
Wow. Much more than I anticipated.
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