Portsmouth Shipyard Memories
  • Print
Written by Former Shipyard Workers


Gor a good story about the history of submarine building and repair at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard? Send it along and we'll consider publishing your memories on this web page. Express Yourself to SeacoastNH.com via email.




By Roger L. Fortier, PNSY Retired
X-1 Midget Subs & The Thresher and the Tang

USSX-1 Midget sub Books, newspaper articles and movies concerning submarines have been appearing frequently of late. In addition the publicity about the 200th anniversary of the local shipyard has jogged my memory a bit especially of the years between late 1951 and early 1963.

MinisubDuring this period the "Cold War" with the Soviet Union was in full swing in the submarine world. New ideas in submarine technology were being tried in an effort to attain or maintain a lead in components, in systems as well as in hull design. Much testing was needed and this is where we, a small group of test engineers came in.

I remember the TANG, ALBACORE , BARBEL, JACK and of course TTHRESHER and other in between whose names escape me. The uncertainty of first deep dives, the relief when the ballast tanks are successfully blown when needed, the precarious transfers at sea, the sickening surface runs, especially on Albacore, all come to mind.

None of the articles I’ve read mention the USSX-1, a miniature 2-man sub intended to carry frogmen. She was an oddity. Her skipper wondered where he went wrong to deserve such a command. If I remember correctly, she was built by Fairchild Aircraft and had an ordinary truck diesel. Someone in top echelon wanted to try using a very high concentration of hydrogen peroxide, also known as heavy water (H2O2) as a source of oxygen for combustion in the diesel. We were warned that H2O2 was very unstable and would react violently if contaminated by a foreign substance. To make a long story short, the unbelievably strong explosion that occurred during dry-land tests put an end to the idea of using H2O2 aboard ship. I believe the X-1 is retired on display at with the ship USS NAUTILUS at the museum in Groton, CT. .

Not much is reported about TANG (563) but as I recall she had some pioneer features among which was the first high pressure hydraulic system, double that of World War II fleet subs. The original system had noise and leakage problems but where perfected resulted in much smaller components such as rudder and plane operating rams.

Tresher on SeacoastNH.comOn the other hand, much is written about THRESHER (593) but nowhere have I read any mention of the very severe depth charging she underwent on sea trials. Perhaps it is only a coincidence that she was lost on her first deep dive some months following the depth charging. In any event I consider her a casualty of the Cold War for she was the prototype for the attack class of submarines designed and developed to counter the Soviet threat. I remember here especially because Dick Fisher was aboard her on that fatal dive. He had recently become a member of our group and had never been on sea trials. He wanted to go badly so he pleaded with me to take my place. . .

Those of us who remained in the office that dark day were stunned as word came to us from the message center that THRESHER had a problem and later that a dull thud was heard and then total silence. For us it was longest day. Mum was the word — we were not to tell anyone of the situation. The public and most of the shipyard were unaware. At the end of our shift we went home in complete unbelief, not mentioning anything about it, not even to others in the car pool. The awful news became official when it was broadcast in the evening that Thresher and all aboard were presumed lost.

Perhaps what I have written will rekindle the memory of others concerning the shipyard during those hectic years. Also it may for the first time make the reader aware of the little known facet of test and sea trial activity that was a part of making the shipyard the foremost designer and builder of submarines.

For more Submarine Info Visit THE SHIPYARD

USS X-1 photo courtesy of the US Submarine Force Museum in Groton, CT. Thresher photo from US Naval Historical Center, Dept of the Navy.

Copyright © 2001 SeacoastNH.com. All use must be attributed