Eternal Patrol and Sacrifice
On this day, April 10, 1963, USS Thresher (SSN-593) began a series of sea trial exercises, accompanied by the submarine escort ship Skylark. The exercises were conducted at the end of a major ship overhaul performed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard during a Post Shakedown Availability (PSA), much like those completed at Electric Boat. After a series of shallow dives to validate the ship’s readiness for deep-dive testing, Thresher began a slow and methodical descent to the ship’s maximum test depth. At periodic depth intervals, Thresher reported its status to Skylark through an underwater sound telephone. At 9:13 a.m. Skylark received a “garbled message” from Thresher, though some words were recognizable: “[We are] experiencing minor difficulty, have positive up-angle, attempting to blow.”
By 09:15 am, the officers and crew of the USS Thresher (SSN-593) the lead ship of her class, were in the final throws of of a life-and-death struggle with the unforgiving sea. Within minutes, members of the naval escort vessel USS Skylark, heard sounds that were described as those of a ship breaking up, the cruel sea had won.
Over the next 13 days, dozens of vessels joined in the search. On June 24, the bathyscaphe Trieste made its first dive in search of Thresher. Trieste was a deep-diving research vessel that had recently returned from a trip to the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in any of the world’s oceans. Trieste began its eighth dive on Aug. 29, 141 days after Thresher went missing. As Trieste proceeded near the ocean floor, it found a torn cable, twisted pipes and scattered battery plates. Finally Trieste came upon large numbers of jagged metal plates roughly 20 square feet in size that were twisted, warped and spread over hundreds of yards. Using a newly installed mechanical arm on Trieste, the crew grabbed a piece of brass pipe from the ocean floor and brought it back to the surface. This pipe had the number “593” printed on it as well as part and job order numbers.
Thresher’s shattered remains had been found, some 8400 feet below the surface. The ensuing deep sea photography, recovered artifacts and an evaluation of her design and operations permitted a Court of Inquiry to determine that she had probably sunk due to a piping failure, subsequent loss of power and inability to blow ballast tanks rapidly enough to avoid sinking.
While the question of what led to Thresher’s demise has stirred controversy across the decades. However, some hard lessons were learned, emergency systems, EMBT blow, and a safety system emerged, SUBSAFE. Since the institution of these measures, no SUBSAFE designed submarine has been lost.
The Electric Boat Employee newsletter, published in 2013, offers some conjecture as to the possible demise of the submarine.
The Arlington Memorial summarizes the event and includes a list of the ship’s crew and a separate list the of non ships members who were lost on board the Thresher.
Please take a moment and remember those Sailors and Shipyard workers who are and will always be on Eternal Patrol. We offer a toast as we salute and remember your Sacrifice
1 oz dark rum
1 oz light rum
1/2 oz white creme de cacao
1 tsp coconut cream
2 oz pineapple juice
1 oz cranberry juice
1 oz orange juice
2 dashes orange bitters
1 cup crushed ice
Pour the rums, creme de cacao, coconut cream, juices and bitters into a blender with one cup of crushed ice. Blend well at high speed, and pour into a collins glass. Garnish with a slice of orange and a maraschino cherry, and serve.0
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