USS Hull (DD-7)
USS Hull (DD-7) was a Hopkins class destroyer that spent most of her service career operating in home waters. After the US entry into the First World War she protected the Panama Canal Zone and then carried out anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic.
The Hull was launched on 21 June 1902 and commissioned on 20 May 1903. She was named after Isaac Hull, one of the most successful American naval commanders of the War of 1812.
In 1903-1905 the Hull was based on the US East Coast, and carried out patrols off Newport and in Chesapeake Bay. She took part in a cruise to the Caribbean in January-April 1905 and then was taken out of commission on 30 September 1905 (at about the same time the Bainbridge class destroyers were taken out of commission while their boilers underwent repairs).
The Hull was recommissioned on 14 November 1906. She took part in exercises around Cuba and then returned to Newport. In October 1907 she was selected as one of the escort vessels for the 'Great White Fleet', the sixteen battleships that circumnavigated the world between 16 December 1907 and 22 February 1909. The Hull accompanied the Great White Fleet on the first part of the world tour, the voyage around Central and South American. The fleet reached San Diego on 28 April 1908, where the Hull left the expedition.
The Hull was based around San Francisco for the next year, before leaving for a Pacific cruise that lasted from 24 August to November 1908. During this period she visited Hawaii and Samoa. She spent the next four years based on the California Coast, before being decommissioned into the Reserve Torpedo Division at Mare Island on 30 October 1912. This wasn't a total decommissioning, and the Division made a number of training cruises along the California coast. Early in 1917 the Hull underwent a refit, and this was still ongoing when the United States entered the First World War.
On 24 April the Hull sailed for the Panama Canal Zone, and for three months she patrolled off the western entrance to the Canal.
On 26 July the Hull left the Canal Zone and sailed for Norfolk, Virginia. From then until the end of the war she took part in the anti-submarine campaign in the western Atlantic. During this period she escorted ships heading to Bermuda as well as patrolling the western Atlantic. In August 1917 she helped escort the Battleship Force Atlantic as it moved along the coast. In June 1918 she successfully prevented an attack by U-151, although the submarine escaped. She also acted as a rescue vessel, recovering sailors whose ships had been sunk.
The Hull was decommissioned on 7 July 1919, as part of a general move to scrap the older coal fired destroyers. She was sold for scrap on 5 January 1921.
4 Thornycroft boilers
Two 3in/50 guns
21 June 1902
20 May 1903
Books on the First World War |Subject Index: First World War
USS Michigan: The US Navy’s First Iron-Hull Ship
Although ironclad warships—wooden hulls covered with metal plates—were a staple of both the Union and Confederate navies in the Civil War, the first US Navy ship to be made completely of iron had already been built some twenty years before, and launched on the Great Lakes.
Prow of USS Michigan, on display at the Erie Maritime Museum
In 1840, tensions were rising between the US and the British colony of Canada. The two countries had already come to blows in 1776 and 1812, and since then had signed the Rush-Bagot Convention to limit their military forces along the border in order to avoid another conflict. Now, however, small bands of Canadian rebels seeking independence had camped out on the US side and were launching cross-border raids. The British Government, convinced that the US was either unable or unwilling to stop the rebels, built two gunboats and launched them onto Lake Erie to protect their border.
This brought a swift protest from the US, and in 1841 construction began on a new American warship to counter the British presence on the Great Lakes. She would be christened the USS Michigan. But this would be no ordinary ship.
There had by this time already been some preliminary experiments with iron-cladding and iron-hulled ships, mostly in England where there was a serious lack of timber available for shipbuilding. But the Michigan would be the first US Navy ship to be made entirely from iron. Partly, this was done as an experiment. But the iron hull also had practical advantages for a freshwater vessel: iron hulls were lighter and stiffer than wood, so they could be built with flatter bottoms that drew less water and were better suited for shallow rivers and lakeshore harbors. The ship was designed to be 165 feet in length. It would take two years to build her.
But no one in the US had ever constructed an iron hull before, and nobody was quite sure how to do it. The iron hull ribs and plates were manufactured in Pittsburgh, hammered into shape by hand, and then transported by wagon to the shipyard in Erie. In effect, the shipbuilders simply built the Michigan in the same basic manner as a wooden hull: the thick keel and ribs were designed to take all the stresses, and the plated hull, riveted together by hand, was not intended to be load-bearing. This had the inadvertent advantage of making the ship exceptionally strong, but the thin iron plating also made her only one-third as heavy as a wooden hull of similar size.
The Navy also decided to try out another new innovation—the Michigan would be equipped with new side-paddle wheels powered by a 170-horsepower wood-fired steam engine with two copper boilers. As a supplement, she was also fitted with three masts and full sails. She would be one of the fastest ships in the Navy, with a speed of 13-14 knots.
Originally, the ship was to be equipped with an array of guns, ranging from 32-pound carronades to 8-pound swivel guns. This brought a diplomatic protest from the British, who argued that it violated the terms of the Rush-Bagot Convention. So when the Michigan was completed in 1843, she carried only a single 18-pounder cannon.
When the time came for launch, on December 5, 1843, things did not go smoothly. A large crowd had gathered on shore to watch—most people assumed that a ship made of heavy iron could not possibly float, and they had come to see her sink to the bottom. But instead of sliding down the ramp and into the waters of Lake Erie, the Michigan became stuck halfway down, and despite an entire day of pounding and leveraging, refused to budge. The shipyard workers gave up and went home for the night. The next morning when they arrived to try again, the Michigan was already floating on the lake: the wooden blocks had snapped off and she had slid down the ramp on her own.
In 1844, the ship began regular patrols on the Great Lakes, with a crew of 106. For the most part, her life was uneventful. But during the Civil War, a group of Confederates in Canada made an unsuccessful attempt to capture the Michigan and use her to free Southern POWs being held on Johnsons Island in Lake Erie. And in 1866 a group of Irish rebels (called “The Fenian Brotherhood”) in New York launched a cockamamie plot to invade and capture Canada—they were intercepted and captured by the Michigan. After that, she was used mostly to train new sailors, though at one point she was sent as a show of force during an iron-miner strike in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Periodically, the ship was outfitted with newer boilers and engines. She became a highly-prized assignment for young officer graduates of the US Naval Academy, since service aboard the ship offered sea pay but also had all the advantages of nearby lake ports.
In 1905, the Michigan underwent a name change. The Navy had decided to begin using the names of states exclusively for its fleet battleships, so the name Michigan was reassigned to a modern new warship, and the old iron-hull steamship now became the USS Wolverine. Shortly afterwards, she was transferred to the custody of the Pennsylvania Naval Militia, then was temporarily restored to active duty during World War One. After the war, the Wolverine continued to make training cruises on the Great Lakes until 1923, when she suffered an engine breakdown and limped back to port in Erie.
Now, the Navy decided that it wasn’t worth the money to fix the old ship, and plans were made to scrap her. A group of local officials hoped to save the historic ship, however, and after some negotiations, the ship was instead donated to the City of Erie in 1927 and became a floating exhibit in the harbor, run by the local Boy Scouts. But funding was always difficult, and by the time of the Second World War the now 100-year-old ship was neglected and rusting. (Though virtually all of the corrosion was coming from inside of the hull due to lack of maintenance—a testament to the solid integrity of her original iron plating). She also became officially nameless: the Navy reassigned the name Wolverine to an old cargo ship that had been fitted with a makeshift flight deck and converted into a Great Lakes aircraft carrier for training new Navy pilots.
In 1948, the rusted-out derelict that had once been the USS Michigan was sold to a nonprofit group that hoped to restore her. But despite a series of fundraising efforts, they could not raise enough money. A year later, the old hull was cut up and sold for scrap. The prow was donated back to the city by the salvage company and was placed on display in a city park, where it remained for the next five decades. Finally in 1998, the Michigan’s iron prow was moved to the Erie Maritime Museum, where it is on display along with the ship’s wheel.
Although the USS Michigan had demonstrated that an iron-hulled ship was indeed practical, she had seen no combat and never fired a shot, and with her military potential undemonstrated the US continued to build wooden-hull warships until the Civil War. It wasn’t until after the famous naval duel between the ironclads Monitor and Virginia that serious efforts were once again made to produce iron-hulled warships.
The Final Secret of the USS Scorpion
In an undated photo, members of the USS Scorpion’s crew leave the submarine while it is docked at its home port in Norfolk, Virginia.
Nate Anderson/Navsource Online Submarine Photo Archive
In 1968 one of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarines went missing in the Atlantic. Now, 50 years later, the full story of its disappearance can finally be told.
RADIOMEN 2ND CLASS MIKE HANNON WALKED TO WORK WITH A PALPABLE SENSE OF UNEASE on the morning of May 23, 1968. As a communications specialist at Submarine Force Atlantic Headquarters, he was responsible for processing dozens of messages each day from submarines at sea, ranging from routine announcements to top-secret operational dispatches. But hours earlier, when his eight-hour shift had ended at midnight, Hannon feared that one of the submarines on his watch might be in trouble—or worse.
The Norfolk-based USS Scorpion , one of the Atlantic Fleet’s 19 nuclear attack submarines, had been scheduled to transmit a four-word “Check Report”—encrypted to prevent the Soviets from intercepting it—that meant, in essence, “Situation normal, proceeding as planned.” In this instance, the Skipjack-class submarine was returning to Norfolk after a three-month deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. Its standing orders called for a burst transmission every 24 hours that, when decrypted, read: “Check 24. Submarine Scorpion .” But the previous day no message had come clattering out of the secure teletypewriter that Hannon used. As he prepared to leave for the night, Hannon had briefed Radioman 2nd Class Ken Larbes, the petty officer coming on duty, about the overdue message. He then tapped on his supervisor’s office door and asked whether any late word had come in from the Scorpion . Warrant Officer John A. Walker Jr. silently shook his head no. Was this the first hint of an emergency, Hannon wondered, or merely a delayed transmission caused by mechanical problems or stormy weather conditions?
Assigned to the message center at Submarine Force Atlantic (COMSUBLANT) headquarters in Norfolk, Hannon and a handful of other young sailors were responsible for processing all incoming and outgoing messages for submarines then operating with the Atlantic Fleet. They worked in a large room full of top-secret encryption machines that took clear-text messages, scrambled them into impenetrable gibberish, and then dispatched the blocks of seemingly random text in Morse code via high-frequency radio to submarines at sea. The radiomen reversed the process for incoming messages, taking encrypted transmissions from the submarines and “breaking” them back into clear text by using the same encryption gear. “All messages, incoming or outgoing, were routed through my desk,” Hannon recalled years later. “Nothing came in or went out that didn’t go through that desk.”
During the five-minute walk from his barracks to the COMSUBLANT message center that Thursday, May 23, Hannon was unsure what he would find. As usual, he thought about the abrupt change in atmosphere he and his coworkers encountered each time they went on duty. Walking up to the unassuming brick building, they would show their ID cards to the armed marine guards, then step up to the door at the ground-floor entrance to punch in the code to release the cipher lock. Inside, they would take the stairway up to the second-floor message center. Manned around-the-clock seven days a week, Hannon’s workspace was the solitary link between the three-star admiral commanding the Submarine Force Atlantic and the scores of nuclear- and diesel-electric-powered submarines that, on any given day, were engaged in operations ranging from routine training to top-secret reconnaissance missions at the edge of—and often inside—Soviet territorial waters.
Six to eight junior officers and radiomen typically tended various encryption machines under the supervision of a warrant officer ensconced in an office separated from the main work area by glass windows. On one wall, a large board tracked the current operational status of each of the 104 submarines assigned to Submarine Force Atlantic.
Despite the hushed ambiance, the message center was the nerve center of the U.S. Navy’s submarine operations during the Cold War. “These regular radiomen were privy to a lot of highly classified information that passed through their hands,” Harold Meeker, who was second in command at the message center, recalled. “They were all cleared for top secret.” Yet some messages were so sensitive that not even Hannon or his coworkers were allowed to process them. In one corner of the room stood a pair of encryption machines with a thick curtain that could be pulled for total privacy. Only three men—Meeker Lieutenant John Rogers, the director of the message center or his boss, Commander Charles H. Garrison Jr.—were authorized to process the orders to, say, an attack submarine shadowing a Soviet missile submarine or conducting surveillance on a Soviet naval exercise.
The launching at Groton, Connecticut, in 1959. (U.S. Navy/Naval Historical Center)
As he approached the marine guards, Hannon was still replaying in his head what he had told Ken Larbes the night before. “She was on a 24-hour Check Report,” Hannon recalled, but both petty officers thought there must be an innocuous reason for the silence. “It was no big deal because boats were always late for any number of legitimate reasons ranging from equipment malfunctions to ‘the radioman just forgot,’ ” Hannon said. Still, the two radiomen were aware of a top-secret situation involving the Scorpion that suggested potential danger. The submarine had originally been scheduled to sail straight home from the Mediterranean to Norfolk, but on Friday, May 17, it had been ordered more than 1,000 miles southwest, down toward the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa. A group of Soviet navy warships, including at least one nuclear submarine, were operating in the area, and the U.S. Navy wanted to check them out.
At the gate that Thursday morning, Hannon flashed his ID to the marine on duty, punched in the cipher lock code, opened the security door, and bounded up the stairs. Opening the door to the message center, he froze in his tracks. Instead of the normal half-dozen radiomen quietly at work, a large group of senior officers—including several admirals and a Marine Corps general—had taken over the workspace and were talking among themselves in hushed voices. Hannon had never seen any of them before.
Hannon instantly knew that something was seriously wrong. And when he looked past the high-ranking interlopers and saw the expression on his friend’s face, Hannon knew that something terrible had happened to the Scorpion .
Years later Larbes would describe how his overnight watch in the message center had begun at midnight in relative calm but had steadily become intense as more and more senior officers arrived on the scene. “I had never seen a captain or an admiral come into that place in the two and one-half years I worked there,” he told me in an interview for this story. “Now we had captains and admirals running around wanting more information [about the Scorpion ]. It was so crazy…they suspended all of the saluting and all that.”
Within minutes of his arrival that morning, Hannon overheard conversations among the high-ranking strangers that made it clear that the Scorpion had disappeared and that its crew of 99 officers and enlisted men were dead. Hannon, Larbes, and the rest of the radiomen didn’t realize at the time that they were witnessing the beginning of one of the greatest cover-ups in U.S. naval history: the burial of the truth of what had happened to the Scorpion .
THE U.S. NAVY’S SUPPRESSION OF THE FACTS SURROUNDING THE LOSS OF the Scorpion began in earnest five days after it disappeared, when the submarine failed to arrive in port as scheduled. The official narrative—as told in navy reports, news releases, and the transcript of a formal Court of Inquiry—is straightforward. A routine homecoming from sea suddenly escalated into a major crisis as the seven-year-old submarine inexplicably failed to appear at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 27. The story of the missing submarine soon made the front pages of newspapers across the country.
According to the official account, the incident began unfolding in the morning hours of May 27. Officials at Submarine Squadron 6 in Norfolk were expecting the Scorpion to surface off the Virginia Capes in late morning and establish ship-to-shore radio contact before entering port. The squadron staff had already arranged for a harbor tug to stand by and had mustered a working party of line handlers to tie the submarine to the pier on its arrival. Despite a fierce nor’easter that was lashing southeastern Virginia that morning, several dozen family members were huddled under umbrellas at the foot of Pier 22 with banners and balloons to welcome their men home from sea. Officials had announced the arrival time three days earlier. Theresa Bishop, the wife of Torpedoman Chief Walter W. Bishop, the Scorpion’ s Chief of the Boat, waited out of the rain with several friends in a car in the parking lot at the foot of the pier. She had left their three children at a friend’s house because of the storm. Nearby was Barbara Foli, the wife of Interior Communications Electrician 3rd Class Vernon Foli. This had been the first overseas deployment for the young family. Barbara was so eager for a reunion with her husband and their infant daughter, Holli, that she had come out despite the storm. “It was a very cold, very dreary morning,” she recalled years later. “The wind was sucking the umbrellas away.”
At the Submarine Squadron 6 office aboard the submarine tender USS Orion, no one yet suspected anything was wrong. Captain James C. Bellah, commander of the support vessel, was acting squadron commander while its skipper, Captain Jared E. Clarke III, was out of town on personal leave. In late morning, Bellah stopped by the squadron office to ask if the Scorpion had broken radio silence. “We haven’t heard anything from them,” a sailor replied. Bellah left to return to his own office elsewhere on the Orion . Years later, he would describe how the mood shifted from no concern to stark worry in a matter of several hours. “Up until 11 a.m., we weren’t that concerned,” he said. “We didn’t know there was a problem we got no indication there was a problem with that submarine at all.”
But when the 1 p.m. arrival time came and went without a sign of the Scorpion , senior officials across the sprawling naval complex started to grow worried. Informal alerts began going out to various unit headquarters. At the Atlantic Fleet’s Anti-Submarine Warfare Force Command, the telephone rang at 2:15 p.m., and the duty officer received jolting news: Submarine Force Atlantic headquarters was requesting that the aviation command immediately launch long-range patrol aircraft from Norfolk and Bermuda to search for any sign of the Scorpion along its expected course in the western Atlantic. An hour later Submarine Force Atlantic headquarters formally declared “Event SUBMISS” (submarine missing) and, further, ordered all “units in port [to] prepare to get underway on one hour’s notice.”
By nightfall, most of the waiting families had gone home, still unaware of the emergency. They’d been told only that the submarine had not yet broken radio silence to signal its approach to port and that bad weather was the most likely reason. None of them knew that the Atlantic Fleet was scrambling to sea to hunt for the submarine.
Then, shortly after 6 p.m., WTAR-TV, the CBS affiliate in Norfolk, citing anonymous navy sources, reported that the Scorpion was missing.
WHILE THE SUBMARINE WAS NEARING THE END OF ITS MEDITERRANEAN DEPLOYMENT, Sonar Technician 1st Class Bill Elrod, a crewman on the Scorpion since 1964, had received devastating news: his wife, Julianne, had gone into labor on May 16, but the baby had died at birth. Commander Francis A. Slattery had diverted Scorpion to the harbor at Rota, Spain, where Elrod and another crewman transferred to a tug and proceeded ashore to fly back to Norfolk. On Monday, May 27, Elrod had reported aboard the Orion and volunteered to help with his submarine’s pending arrival. In the late afternoon, with no word as to its status, Elrod returned home to their apartment in Norfolk, where Julianne was waiting for him. At 6 p.m. Elrod turned on the TV to the local news and heard the bulletin about the Scorpion . “It was over,” he later recalled saying to himself. “They never, never announced anything like that. When they announced it on television, I knew the boat was gone.”
Several miles away, Theresa Bishop was preparing dinner for her three children when her eight-year-old son walked into the kitchen and said, “There’s something on TV about the Scorpion missing.” “I went totally numb,” Theresa later recalled. “Nobody said anything. We just sat around waiting for the telephone to ring.” Friends and neighbors began arriving at the Bishop home for the first of many long nights of watching and waiting. At one point later in the evening, Theresa Bishop stepped out to listen to the storm that still raged overhead but then heard something else. From the naval station piers five miles away came a muted chorus of sirens, foghorns, and klaxon alarms as several dozen Atlantic Fleet ships began putting to sea to search for her husband’s missing submarine.
Unlike many of his fellow radiomen at the Atlantic Submarine Force message center, Hannon had actually served aboard a submarine, earning his prize Dolphins insignia in the one-of-a-kind nuclear sub USS Triton before his assignment ashore. Because of their familiarity with submarine operations and customs, Hannon and his boss, Warrant Officer John Walker, another submariner, were given the responsibility of handling a number of communications activities related to the submarine’s disappearance, particularly the massive search effort. “I encoded and decoded messages sent to higher command and to several ships and subs in approximate proximity to Scorpion’ s last known position,” Hannon later recalled. “However, there were [also] messages sent up the ladder seeking guidance on how to handle the event relative to the press.” From that vantage point, Hannon watched in growing dismay and anger as the navy buried the truth of what had happened to the Scorpion . He was particularly upset to learn that on Friday, May 24, COMSUBLANT officials—knowing full well the Scorpion was already lost with all hands—had announced that it would be arriving at 1 p.m. the following Monday, and worse, had said nothing three days later to dissuade several dozen family members from standing vigil for hours in the raging nor’easter.
By Tuesday morning, May 28, the story of the missing submarine led the front pages of newspapers all over the country. The previous evening, in an impromptu news conference at the Pentagon, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Thomas H. Moorer had offered a slender reed of hope to the families of the crew. “The weather is very, very bad out there,” Moorer told reporters. “But the weather may abate, the ship may well have been held back [by the storm], and she could proceed into port.”
This was another lie. Moorer, too, knew that the Scorpion had in fact sunk five days earlier, on May 22—less than eight hours before the panicked group of senior officers began cramming into the COMSUBLANT message center. For the next week, dozens of Atlantic Fleet ships and patrol aircraft scoured the open ocean. After several days, the search effort shrank to five destroyers, five submarines, and a fleet oiler proceeding in two groups down the Scorpion’ s course track from its last known location southwest of the Azores toward Norfolk. The two groups, positioned 12 hours apart for maximum surveillance, steamed in a line abreast measuring 48 miles wide as their lookouts peered intently through binoculars and their radar operators stared at their scopes for any sign of the missing submarine. They found nothing.
HANNON’S NEXT SHOCK CAME TWO WEEKS AFTER THAT LATE EVENING when he had told Ken Larbes about the submarine’s missed Check Report. Picking up the Virginian-Pilot newspaper on the morning of Thursday, June 6, Hannon read that the three-star admiral commanding the Submarine Force Atlantic had, the day before, testified under oath as the leading witness before a formal Court of Inquiry into the Scorpion’ s disappearance. The admiral’s account flatly contradicted what Hannon and his fellow radiomen had seen and heard. Rather than describing the overdue Check Report and the crowd of senior naval officers who had clogged the message center the next morning, Vice Admiral Arnold F. Schade’s sworn statement made no mention of any of the events in the five days before May 27. As Schade described it, the emergency had not begun until that rain-swept Monday afternoon when the Scorpion failed to arrive back in Norfolk on schedule.
No members of the Court of Inquiry challenged the three-star admiral’s testimony. Schade, 56, was a revered figure in the Submarine Service—a combat veteran of 11 submarine patrols against the Japanese in World War II and the recipient of a Navy Cross for extraordinary courage in combat. He was the perfect lead witness before the seven-member panel. It was Schade who had selected the Scorpion for the Mediterranean as a last-minute replacement for the USS Seawolf , the navy’s second-oldest nuclear submarine, which had suffered serious damage in an underwater grounding off the coast of Maine on January 30, 1968. His intelligence section provided Commander Slattery with vital information to carry out the Scorpion ’s various missions. Schade’s operations staff controlled the submarine’s every movement before and after its three-month deployment with the Sixth Fleet, including the last-minute assignment to spy on Soviet warships off the Canary Islands. If anyone could unlock the mystery of the Scorpion’ s disappearance, it was Arnie Schade.
After offering a lengthy review of the search for the Scorpion and a summary of its Mediterranean deployment, Schade revealed that COMSUBLANT had dispatched unspecified “exercise instructions” to Slattery once the submarine had entered the Atlantic, including a directive to report its position on or about Tuesday, May 21. The final message received from Scorpion dated 2354Z (7:54 p.m. EDT) on May 21, Schade said, “gave her position at 0001Z [8:01 p.m.]” and “reported that she would arrive in Norfolk [at] 271700Z [1 p.m. on Monday, May 27].” After further discussion about the search conducted in the shallow waters off the Virginia coast, Schade took questions from Captain Nathan Cole Jr., counsel for the court:
Q. Now, I believe you did state that it would be normal, you would not expect to hear from Scorpion after she filed her posit[ion] report and got underway returning home until she got here. Is that correct, sir?
Q. Is this normal, Admiral?
A. It is quite common practice. As you know, our Polaris [missile] submarines go out for 60-day patrols and never broadcast except in most extraordinary circumstances. And frequently our submarines are sent out on exercises which eliminate any requirement for reporting. It is only normal to expect Check Reports and continuous communications both ways when submarines are operating in the local areas when the exercise ground rules so provide.
And so it went for the next four weeks as the Court of Inquiry took testimony from 75 witnesses and examined hundreds of pages of exhibits relating to the Scorpion ’s deployment, maintenance history, and other areas. Not a single witness revealed what the COMSUBLANT message center staff had known all along: that the Scorpion emergency had begun in the late evening of Wednesday, May 22.
On July 26, 1968, the court submitted its classified report and adjourned. But in late October came the stunning news that the wreckage of the submarine had been found. The Scorpion ’s shattered hull had been photographed by a camera mounted on an unmanned “sled” tethered to a three-mile-long cable towed by the research ship USNS Mizar , which for weeks had been searching a 12-square-mile area southwest of the Azores where officials calculated the wreckage lay on the seabed two miles down. The court’s panel reconvened on November 5 and spent several weeks examining hundreds of images of the wreck. It then went into executive session to write an addendum to its report. Even so, when the navy finally released an unclassified summary of the court’s findings on January 31, 1969, the conclusion was disappointingly vague: “The certain cause of the loss of Scorpion cannot be ascertained from any evidence now available.”
Seven of the 99 crewmen who lost their lives on the Scorpion. (Courtesy Family of Mark Christiansen)
ONE OF THE GREAT IRONIES OF THE LONG SAGA OF THE USS Scorpion is that the man most instrumental in revealing the truth about the lost nuclear attack submarine was the official who tried the hardest to keep the full story secret—Vice Admiral Schade. Fifteen years after the Scorpion went missing, Schade agreed to provide his recollections of the incident in a telephone interview from his home in Florida, a conversation whose revelations would fatally impeach, albeit perhaps unintentionally, the official account of the submarine’s disappearance. On April 27, 1983, the admiral cleared his throat and began to describe the Scorpion’ s departure from the Mediterranean just after midnight on Friday, May 17, 1968.
“When they were coming out [of the Mediterranean], we normally diverted them into the Polaris base at Rota, Spain, for a couple of days for a [torpedo] load-out and [to obtain] a couple of things they might need before leaving the area. And [ Scorpion ] reported that their condition was so good that they didn’t even need to stop.” Schade then confirmed a finding of the Court of Inquiry that a Soviet naval exercise that included at least one nuclear submarine was underway southwest of the Canary Islands. “We had general information of a [Soviet] task force operating over in that general area. So we advised [ Scorpion ] to slow down, take a look, see what they could find out. As far as we know they never made contact, they never reported on that.”
Then Schade unwittingly dropped his first bombshell.
“They were due to report in to us shortly thereafter,” Schade went on, referring to the three-day period cited by the court—May 19 through May 21—in which the Scorpion ’s surveillance of the Soviet warships was to have taken place. “It was at that time we got a little suspicious, because they did not report, they did not check in, and then when we got to the time limit of their check-in they were first reported as overdue.”
Schade had inadvertently contradicted his own sworn testimony to the Court of Inquiry 15 years earlier. Now, for the first time, Schade was admitting that the Scorpion indeed had been on the Check Report system, and thus was required to transmit the encrypted message—“Check 24. Submarine Scorpion ”—each day.
Asked to amplify, Schade noted that Slattery had transmitted a position report whose heading read “212354Z May 68,” or 2354 GMT (7:54 p.m. EDT) on May 21. “As far as we were concerned all was clear, and she should have kept coming. And then, within about 24 hours after that, she should have given us a rather long, windy, résumé of her operations….And when they did not respond, almost immediately that’s when we first became suspicious, that’s when we followed up with other messages, and really, it was just a matter of hours that we became somewhat concerned.”
Schade was explaining that instead of first sounding the alarm on May 27 after the Scorpion failed to arrive as scheduled, his command knew something was wrong with the submarine within hours of its actual sinking—a full four days earlier than officials had ever admitted. And then he dropped his second bombshell.
Schade recalled that he had been out at sea when word came that the Scorpion had failed to send its Check Report. “It looked like we needed to do something in the way of a search operation, [and so] I got Admiral Holmes [Ephraim P. Holmes, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet] on the radio and said, ‘Would you place the facilities of CINCLANTFLT [the Atlantic Fleet] at my disposal for the next day or two until we can organize a search operation?’ In fact, he placed them all at our disposal, and this was quite an amazing set of operational circumstances, because we controlled the entire resources of the Atlantic Fleet from a submarine at sea. Working through CINCLANTFLT headquarters and their communications, we organized a search from both ends [of the Scorpion ’s presumed course] both by air and surface ships and other submarines.”
Surprised by this totally unexpected disclosure—a secret search for the Scorpion mounted at least four days before the navy was supposed to have known anything was amiss—I asked Schade once again to clarify, and he did.
“All I know is that long before she was actually due in Norfolk, we had organized a search effort,” Schade said. “We had two squadrons of destroyers, a lot of long-range antisubmarine search planes operating out of the Azores, Norfolk, and other areas, and we had several ships that were in the Atlantic that were in transit between the Med[iterranean] and the U.S. Some [were] diverted and some of them were just told to come over to the track which we presupposed the Scorpion would be on. They searched up and down that [corridor]. This went on for quite some time, until it was quite obvious that she was long overdue arriving in Norfolk.”
Schade’s disclosures about the Scorpion set in motion a research effort that would occupy me, on and off, for the next 24 years. During that time the U.S. Navy declassified most—but not all—of the official Scorpion archive. And after his arrest in 1985, John Walker, who had been the supervisor on duty at the COMSUBLANT message center the night the Scorpion disappeared, pleaded guilty to spying for the Soviets and selling top-secret materials that enabled them to “break” encrypted submarine communications. Nevertheless, to this day U.S. Navy officials insist that Commander Slattery and his 98 crewmen perished as the result of some unknown malfunction, not from any sinister event.
More than four decades after the disappearance of the USS Scorpion , Mike Hannon and Ken Larbes decided to break their silence. In 2010, after reading my book on the disappearance of the Scorpion , Hannon contacted me and revealed the final secret of the submarine that he and Ken Larbes had discovered in the tense hours of May 22–23, 1968: The senior officers crowding into the COMSUBLANT message center arrived already knowing that the Scorpion was lost—and why. Larbes, in an interview in 2018, confirmed Hannon’s account.
“There were officers openly discussing the fact that they believed the Scorpion had been sunk,” Hannon told me. He also said he overheard that the Scorpion’ s sinking had been tracked by the navy’s top-secret Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS), a network of underwater acoustic sensors used to monitor and track both submarines and surface vessels. The SOSUS hydrophones in the Atlantic “did hear the explosion,” Hannon said. And, he added, “a Soviet submarine was tracked leaving the area at a high rate of speed.”
What Hannon, Larbes, and the other radiomen learned that fateful Thursday in May 1968—and in the weeks that followed—is stark confirmation that the navy’s expressed shock and surprise over the missing submarine was a sham. At the heart of the Submarine Force Atlantic, key officials knew practically from the moment of its loss that the Scorpion went down during a confrontation with a Soviet submarine. Their immediate response was to bury the truth as deep as the remains of the Scorpion itself. MHQ
ED OFFLEY is the author of Scorpion Down — Sunk by the Soviets, Buried by the Pentagon: The Untold Story of the USS Scorpion (Basic Books, 2007).
This article appears in the Summer 2018 issue (Vol. 30, No. 4) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: The Final Secret of the USS Scorpion
These two engraved pages of sheet music were at one point part of a larger volume of G. Willig’s Musical Magazine. The song “Hull’s Victory,” written in four verses by Joseph Hutton and with music composed by John Bray, praises Connecticut native Captain Isaac Hull, who commanded USS Constitution during the battle with HMS Guerriere August 19, 1812. The song lauds Hull’s stunning victory, which provided a much needed morale boost for the American public in the War of 1812. A version of this song is still played today as a contra-dance tune. Hull was born in 1773 to Sarah Bennett Hull and Revolutionary War officer Joseph Hull. He went to sea at an early age and, in 1798, accepted a commission as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy. Hull served with distinction and rose through the ranks before becoming captain of Constitution in 1810. The defeat of HMS Guerriere showed Hull to be a skilled naval officer and represented the high point of his military career. He continued on in the Navy until his retirement in 1841 and for a time held command of the Boston (Charlestown) Navy Yard. Hull died in 1843.
[H]12 in. [W]9 1/4 in.
USS Constitution Museum Collection.
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The son of Sarah Bennett Hull and American Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Hull, Isaac Hull was born on March 9, 1773 in Derby, Connecticut. Strongly influenced by his father, he skipped school to go to sea, and by 1793 was the master of a merchant vessel. He accepted a lieutenant’s commission in the new United States Navy in 1798, and became Constitution’s fourth lieutenant. He served in Commodore Edward Preble’s Mediterranean Squadron during the operations against Tripoli in 1804, and was promoted to master commandant later that year. As one of Preble’s commissioned officers, Hull received a Congressional silver medal. Two years later, he was promoted to captain and took command of a frigate. He was in command of President in 1810, when Captain John Rodgers, his senior, ordered him to exchange ships. Hull gained Constitution in the process.
Aboard USS Constitution
Hull was completing repairs on Constitution at the Washington Navy Yard when war with Great Britain began in June 1812. Leaving Chesapeake Bay early in July, he headed north to rendezvous with Commodore Rodgers’ squadron, but had a three-day chase and a narrow escape from a British squadron instead. After a stop at Boston, he attacked British shipping off the Gulf of St. Lawrence. On the afternoon of August 19, he met HMS Guerriere in the first frigate battle of the War of 1812. Hull opened fire at close range. In a few minutes, Guerriere’s mizzenmast fell, causing her to collide with Constitution. Seeing the British trying to get clear of the wreckage, Hull crossed close ahead of the vessel – too close, for there was a second collision. When the ships pulled apart, Guerriere’s remaining masts fell, ending the fight. While British casualties numbered in the dozens, Hull had only seven men killed and eight wounded. During the action, British cannonballs were seen to bounce off Constitution’s thick oak sides, giving rise to the nickname “Old Ironsides.” When Constitution returned to Boston, the country was electrified by the victory. Congress voted Hull a gold medal, as well as $50,000 to share with the crew. Great Britain was stunned. The Times of London wrote, “It is not merely that an English frigate has been taken after, what we are free to confess, may be called a brave resistance, but that it has been taken by a new enemy, an enemy unaccustomed to such triumphs, and likely to be rendered insolent and confident by them… Never before in the history of the world did an English frigate strike to an American.”
After USS Constitution
Hull left Constitution in September 1812, when a death in his family required his attention. He later commanded the Boston, Portsmouth, and Washington navy yards, served on the Board of Naval Commissioners, and commanded the Mediterranean and Pacific Squadrons. He died in Philadelphia on February 13, 1843.
Isaac Hull’s service has been commemorated by the naming of a sidewheel steamer (1862) and four destroyers (1903, 1924, 1935, and 1958) in his honor.
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Isaac Hull, (born March 9, 1773, Derby, Connecticut [U.S.]—died February 13, 1843, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.), American naval commodore noted for the victory of his ship the Constitution over the British frigate Guerriere in the War of 1812. The victory united the country behind the war effort and destroyed the legend of British naval invincibility.
Already having been master of a ship at age 19, Hull was commissioned a lieutenant aboard the Constitution in 1798. He distinguished himself in the undeclared naval war with France at that time and in the Tripolitan War (1801–05) he was promoted to captain in 1806 and became commander of the Constitution four years later.
Encountering a British squadron in July 1812 off Egg Harbor, New Jersey, Hull escaped through consummate seamanship after three days and nights in one of the most remarkable chases in naval history. Sailing eastward of Boston, the Constitution met the Guerriere on August 19. After considerable maneuvering, under fire from the British ship, the American man-of-war delivered its first broadside, within pistol shot range. In fewer than 30 minutes of close and violent action, the Guerriere was demasted and rendered a total wreck. The helpless hulk was burned, and Hull returned to the mainland a hero. He was recognized as one of the navy’s ablest commanders, and his ship became known as “Old Ironsides.”
USS Hull (DD-945)
Figure 1: USS Hull (DD-945) underway off the coast of southern California, 21 October 1971. Photographed by PH1 B.L. Kuykendall, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Hull (DD-945) underway off the coast of southern California, 21 October 1971. Photographed by PH1 B.L. Kuykendall, USN. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Hull (DD-945) underway at sea, July 1973. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Hull (DD-945) underway at sea off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii, 13 July 1973. Photographed by Chief Photographer's Mate C.C. Curtis. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Hull (DD-945) underway in the Pacific Ocean, during initial shipboard trials of the Mark 71 8-inch Major Caliber Lightweight Gun, 17 April 1975. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Hull (DD-945) underway in the Pacific Ocean, during initial shipboard trials of the Mark 71 8-inch Major Caliber Lightweight Gun, 17 April 1975. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Hull (DD-945) underway in the Pacific Ocean, during initial shipboard trials of the Mark 71 8-inch Major Caliber Lightweight Gun, 17 April 1975. Compare the size of the 8-inch gun mount forward with that of the two 5"/54 Mark 42 gun mounts aft. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Hull (DD-945) steaming alongside USS Ranger (CVA-61) in the Pacific Ocean, 25 June 1975. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Hull (DD-945) gets underway from Seal Beach, California, to conduct tests of her 8-inch Mark 71 gun mount off San Clemente Island, 16 September 1975. Photographed by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Carl R. Begy. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Hull’ s (DD-945) experimental 8-inch Mark 71 Major Caliber Lightweight Gun undergoes initial shipboard test firings during trials off the southern California coast, 17 April 1975. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: USS Hull’ s (DD-945) 8-inch Mark 71 Major Caliber Lightweight Gun is test fired off San Clemente Island, California, 17 September 1975. Photographed by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Carl R. Begy. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 12: Seaman Gunner's Mate David W. Jutz greases the gun barrel chase of one of the Hull’s after 5-inch Mark 42 gun mounts, 1975. Note rifling inside the gun barrel. Official US Navy Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 13: Some of the Hull's crewmen loading ammunition for her 5-inch guns at the Naval Base at Seal Beach, California, 16 September 1975. Photographed by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Carl R. Begy. Note the markings on these 70-pound shells. The 24-foot personnel boat on Hull's starboard davits has serial number 24PER721. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 14: USS Hull’ s (DD-945) jacket patch insignia used in 1966. Courtesy of Captain G.F. Swainson, USN, 1969. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
After completing her shakedown cruise off the coast of New England, Hull steamed out of Newport News, Virginia, on 7 September 1958 and headed south to the Panama Canal. After transiting the canal, Hull headed north and arrived at San Diego, California, on 13 October to join the US Pacific Fleet. The ship participated in fleet training exercises until ordered to sail to the Far East on 15 April 1959. After arriving in the Far East, Hull was assigned to the Seventh Fleet and joined the Formosa (now Taiwan) Patrol, which was designed to defend the island from neighboring communist China. This would be the first of fifteen deployments with the Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific (WestPac). Hull made three more cruises in that area in 1960, 1961-1962, and 1963-1964. During October and November 1962, Hull escorted Pacific-based amphibious forces to the Panama Canal Zone as part of the Navy’s Cuban Missile Crisis operations. Hull’s 1965 Seventh Fleet tour-of-duty was the first of six Vietnam War deployments, during which she fired tens of thousands of five-inch shells in support of US and South Vietnamese forces on shore and helped rescue several downed American pilots.
Hull completed her eleventh WestPac cruise in 1973, after the direct American role in the Vietnam War ended. After completing a major overhaul, she lost her 3-inch gun mounts and had her forward five-inch gun replaced by an experimental 8-inch gun. The ship conducted tests of this new 8-inch weapon from 1975 to 1978, while also making her twelfth and thirteenth Seventh Fleet deployments. But the big gun was removed in 1979, and Hull spent the rest of her career with the three 5-inch gun mounts that were common to her class.
From February to September 1981, Hull again served in Asian waters. She began her final deployment in September 1982, steaming to the western Pacific by way of Alaska, rescuing five Vietnamese refugees at sea in October and then moving further west to serve in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea as part of the battle group built around the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65). Returning to the US west coast in April 1983, she immediately commenced inactivation preparations. USS Hull was decommissioned in July 1983 and was sunk as a target in April 1998.
Battlship Missouri Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Built in the midst of World War II in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, USS Missouri (BB 63) is the youngest of her other Iowa-class sisters, following USS Iowa (BB 61), USS New Jersey (BB 62), and USS Wisconsin (BB 64).* Like her sisters, she was designed to be a fast battleship: a warship that balanced firepower and armor without sacrificing speed. Missouri’s 887'3" (270.4m) length accommodated four large engines with 212,000 shaft horsepower, allowing the battleship to hit speeds in excess of 33 knots, a significant improvement from the 27 knots of the previous class of battleship, the South Dakota class, and faster than the 26-knot capability of Japanese ships of the time.
USS Missouri is also the third US Navy ship to be named after the Show Me state. The very first USS Missouri was a frigate built in the New York Navy Yard during the Age of Sail in 1841. This Missouri displaced 3,200 tons of water and was equipped with two 10-inch guns and eight 8-inch guns. Although she was powered by steam, should steam power fail her, the frigate was also equipped with three masts and 19,000 square feet of canvas. She was one of the first warships to cross the Atlantic Ocean on steam power alone. Unfortunately, soon after crossing the Atlantic Ocean, a fire broke out in Missouri's engine rooms and the ship was lost to Gibraltar's harbor floor in August 1843.
The second USS Missouri (BB 11) was built and launched in Newport News, Virginia on 28 December 1901. She was the second of the Maine-class battleships, displacing 13,500 tons of water when fully loaded and equipped with four 12-inch and sixteen 6-inch guns. In 1907, she circumnavigated the globe as part of the Great White Fleet, a 46,000 mile voyage of 16 US Atlantic Fleet battleships painted a peacetime white. She participated in World War I, joining the Atlantic Fleet as a training ship and operating out of Chesapeake Bay. She was decommissioned in 1919 and sold for scrap.
Today, a Virginia-class submarine, USS Missouri (SSN 780) is the fourth USS Missouri and carries the Missouri legacy into the future.
*Although Wisconsin has a higher hull number, she was completed and commissioned before Missouri.
USS Constitution’s Rigging:
The original rigging of the USS Constitution consisted of canvas ropes with mouses, which are lumps of line and canvas built up on the outside of the diagonal stays that run between the masts, according to the USS Constitution Museum website:
“The mouse prevents the stay, which is looped around the mast and secured with an eye splice, from tightening up on itself. In Constitution‘s 1992-1996 restoration, several mouses were re-introduced to the stays between the masts. The Naval History & Heritage Command Detachment Boston riggers followed late 18th and early 19th century rigging techniques to ‘raise’ each mouse. The Young Sea Officer’s Sheet Anchor by Darcy Lever, originally published in England in 1808, was used as a guide to re-create the rigging mouses needed to secure the diagonal stays between the masts.”
By the end of the 19th century, wire rope had replaced the canvas rope and was spliced back in on itself to create the loops needed to go around the masts.
Sketch of mouse used in rigging, illustration published in The Young Sea Officer’s Sheet Anchor, circa 1808
In the re-rig of of the 1927-1931 restoration, natural hemp fiber was used for standard rigging, which also did not need mouses. Much like the wire rope, the hemp rope was also spliced to make loops around the masts.
In the 1992-1996 restoration, the standard rigging was changed to spun polyester rope and the mouses were reintroduced.
These construction designs and techniques make this historic ship one of the strongest and most impressive ships of her time.
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