All or our various diving commands have very and varied colorful, interesting, and intriguing histories. This section is reserved to record those histories.

I have been receiving the following "Today in Naval History" articles from CAPT James Bloom, Ret, for the past several months and thought I had better begin sharing. CAPT Bloom generally includes references in his articles and I have not included those, for space only. Should you have a desire to see references, let me know and I will include.


6 - 23 AUGUST 1864

One of the more successful efforts of the Confederacy during the Civil War was their campaign against Union commercial shipping.  CSS TALLAHASSEE was one such raider, a sleek and fast cruiser built in England as the cross-channel steamer ATALANTA and transferred to Wilmington, North Carolina, in the summer of 1864.  Her five guns included an 84-pounder stern pivot that was mounted high enough to be identifiable in her silhouette.  Similarly her two closely mounted stacks amidships made her readily recognizable.  Jefferson Davis' nephew, CDR John Taylor Wood, CSN, was named her captain, and after several attempts to negotiate sand bars at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, Wood set to sea on 6 August 1864.
He coursed northward, where ship traffic to New York and New England would be heavy.  His success was remarkable from the start.  On August 11th, 80 miles off Sandy Hook, New Jersey, he captured the brigs A. RICHARDS and CARRIE ESTELLA, the schooners SARAH A. BOYCE and CARROL, the bark BAY STATE, and the pilot boats JAMES FUNK and WILLIAM BELL.  All except CARROL were rifled for medicines, food, instruments, charts and other items of value, then burned.  CARROL was bonded as a cartel ship to carry the captured crews to New York.  On the 12th Wood captured five more, burning three.  On the 13th he took the brig LAMONT DUPONT and the schooner GLENAVON.
The same day news of TALLAHASSEE's raiding reached CAPT Hiram Paulding, commander of the New York Navy Yard.  He sent three ships in immediate pursuit.  These were quickly supplemented by Union Navy warships out of Hampton Roads and Boston.  Regardless, from 14-17 August, Wood took 15 more defenseless freighters bound to or from New York.  Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles was furious as insurance rates for trans-Atlantic shippers began to rise.
Now with nearly a dozen Union warships on her tail, by this day, 18 August, TALLAHASSEE was running short on coal.  Wood shaped a course for Halifax where the American Consul, Mortimer M. Jackson, protested to Lieutenant Governor Richard G. MacDonnell the sale of any coal to the Confederate.  As a neutral port Halifax was not thus constrained, although local authorities agreed to sell Wood only enough coal to make his homeport of Wilmington--60 tons.  Jackson also notified Welles, who dispatched LCDR George A. Stevens in USS PANTOOSUC from Eastport, Maine.  Stevens reached Halifax at 0600 on the 20th to learn he had missed the raider by only seven hours.  He turned north anticipating Wood would next harass the fishing fleet in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
But Wood had turned south.  His coal still short he ran the blockade into Wilmington on the 25th.  In a fortnight's cruising he had taken 31 freighters in a remarkably effective sortie.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:  Despite Consul Jackson's efforts, Wood actually purchased 120 tons of coal in Halifax--more than agreed, but still not enough to sustain further cruising.
Wood's cruise indirectly led to the capture of seven subsequent blockade runners.  TALLAHASSEE had commandeered all of the hard coal available in Wilmington before her cruise.  That left only softer anthracite coal, which produces half the speed and twice the smoke.
By the date of TALLAHASSEE's departure the South was "on the ropes" in the American Civil War.  Wilmington was the only remaining port open to blockade runners as RADM David G. Farragut had closed Mobile Bay, Alabama, the day before when the "damned the torpedoes."  By virtue of her situation a distance up the Cape Fear River, Wilmington was immune from direct attack by sea, and the impassable Fort Fisher at the Cape Fear's mouth barred Union entry.  In January 1865 the Union would attempt to close Wilmington with an assault on this last Confederate fortification--but that is another story for another day!
TALLAHASSEE was to escape the Wilmington blockade twice more for guerre de course raids, in October 1864 under the name CSS OLUSTEE and two months later in December 1864 as CSS CHAMELEON.
A "cartel ship" is used in time of war to exchange prisoners or carry messages between belligerents.  The ship must not carry cargo, ammunition, or weapons, except a single gun for signaling.


12 AUGUST 1814

 In the Summer of 1814 the Americans and British each had but a few brigs and schooners to patrol Lake Erie.  Even so, American warships drove the British out of the Lake and down the Niagara River that drains into Lake Ontario.  CDR Alexander Dobbs, RN, the captain of HMS CHARWELL, 16, was chased as far as Queenstown below Niagara Falls.  US Army troops then occupied Fort Erie at the outlet of Lake Erie with the schooners USS SOMERS, 2, PORCUPINE, 1, and OHIO, 1, anchored a pistol shot away.  Eager for revenge, CDR Dobbs and LT Charles Radcliffe of HMS NETLY, 16, set out from Queenstown with 75 British sailors and Marines manhandling the gig from CHARWELL across the 20-mile portage to Frenchman's Creek above the Falls.  Here they met over a hundred British militia with five additional batteaux.  From Frenchman's Creek they cut a wagon road eight miles through the Canadian woodlands to the shore of Lake Erie west of the fort.  On the night of 12 August they pushed off, toward the three US schooners.
PORCUPINE, SOMERS and OHIO were anchored, as usual, on Fort Erie's flank just inside the mouth of the Niagara River, and shortly after 2300 this night Dobbs' boats were spotted approaching OHIO.  The OOD's hail was answered with the ruse, "Provision boat!"  US Army supply barges usually passed back and forth through the anchorage at night, and the trick allowed Dobbs to approach within yards.  OHIO's hawser was cut, and in a moment the British surrounded the schooner.  Simultaneously LT Radcliffe and the other barges massed upon SOMERS, whose moorings were also cut.  American sailors turned to and stumbled to the deck, but not in time to prevent the enemy from swarming across.  Acting Sailing Master Alexander McCally aboard OHIO was struck at the outset with a shot through his thigh and a bayonet to the foot.  OHIO's skipper, LT Augustus H.M. Conckling fended off a rush on the quarterdeck until a musket ball disabled his shoulder.  The story aboard SOMERS was the same, with the exception that LT Radcliffe was felled by a pistol shot as he bounded over SOMERS' quarter.  He, an Able Seaman, and four wounded were the only British casualties. 
In very short order the British overwhelmed the 35 sailors of each schooner.  But during the attack the vessels drifted with the river's current beyond Fort Erie.  Dobbs wisely chose to retire leaving PORCUPINE calmly at her moorings.  American losses in addition to the warships were one killed, eight wounded and nearly 60 captured.  The British renamed SOMERS and OHIO, HMS SAUK and HMS HURON, respectively.  Despite the captures the continued American occupation of Fort Erie assured the status quo on Lake Erie until Oliver Hazard Perry's stunning victory a month later.

ADDITIONAL NOTES:  A batteaux is a long, flat-bottomed rowboat with a sharply pointed bow and stern commonly in use in the North American wilderness of that day.  In modern times the Canadian government has preserved the site of Fort Erie.  It can be visited in the town of Fort Erie on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, opposite Buffalo, New York.

Project Nekton, the challenger deep

23 JANUARY 1960

In the 1950s Swiss professor and balloonist Auguste Piccard began applying his experience in high-altitude ballooning to the problem of deep sea exploration. He constructed a series of bathyscaphes culminating in TRIESTE, a craft that featured a five-inch-thick, manned, steel sphere suspended from a 58' boat-shaped "balloon" or float. The gasoline-filled float provided the buoyancy to descend and ascend freely, without cables. In the Cold War race to exploit the deep ocean, our Navy became interested in Piccard's invention. She was purchased by the Office of Naval Research in 1957 and shipped aboard Antares (AK-258) from the Mediterranean to the Naval Electronics Laboratory in San Diego.
On 5 October 1959 TRIESTE was shipped to Guam aboard the freighter SS Santa Mariana as part of "Project Nekton," an attempt to plumb the deepest reach of the ocean. With final preparations completed, in January TRIESTE was towed out to the Marianas Trench by Wandank (ATA-204) and Lewis (DE-535). On the Saturday morning of 23 January the pilot, Jacques Piccard (son of the inventor), and Navy LT Donald Walsh boarded TRIESTE for the momentous dive. At 0832 the odd-looking vessel submerged.
For several hours they fell at three feet/second into the blackness. At 4200 feet Piccard and Walsh were alarmed when a small dribble of seawater entered around a cable lead-through, but the descent continued. An hour later, now at 32,400 feet, the sphere was shaken by a strong muffled “pop.” The source could not be identified, but again, as the sphere appeared to be working, they dove onward. Initial fears that the bottom would be an indistinguishably thickening ooze into which the sub would forever disappear proved false; at 1306 they slowly eased onto a distinct bottom at 5966 fathoms (35,880 feet). In switching on the aft light the cause of the earlier explosion was discovered. A thick plexiglass window in the access tunnel leading from the float's deck (external to the sphere) had cracked under the extreme pressure--but appeared to be holding.
Desiring to be back on the surface before nightfall, their planned 30-minute stay on the bottom was shortened, and at 1326 Piccard released 800# of lead ballast to lighten the craft. She rose for the next three and a half hours, breaking the surface at 1656. She was spotted in the fading light by two Navy jets, who dipped their wings in salute.
This success was greeted with public cheers, especially in balance to the recent Russian "Sputnik" success. Walsh was awarded the Legion of Merit by President Eisenhower, who also presented Jacques Piccard with the Navy Distinguished Public Service Medal.

ADDITIONAL NOTES: The discovery of the deepest spot in the ocean is a story unto itself. During WWI the German cruiser Emden stumbled onto a deep hole in the Mindanao Trench off the Philippines, the same trench in which USS Cape Johnson (AP-172) plumbed a deeper spot (34440 feet) during WWII. Several years later the Scripps Institute of Oceanography research vessel Horizon found what was then the deepest spot, 34880 feet deep in the Tonga Trench. Then in 1951 the survey ship HMS Challenger II located the 35800-foot Deep that bears her name 260 miles southwest of Guam.
When Piccard and Walsh boarded TRIESTE this morning to begin the dive they were surprised to discover that the tow from Guam through heavy seas had carried away the sub's surface telephone and damaged the tachometer and vertical current meter. In the first thousand feet the bathyscaphe hit three strong themoclines that stalled her descent. Rather than wait for the gasoline in the float to cool and reduce its buoyancy, Piccard valved off enough to continue the descent. Surprisingly, neither of these set-backs were reason enough for Walsh to call off the dive. After her purchase, TRIESTE was commissioned into our Navy and normally flew both the American ensign and the Swiss flag, out of respect for her inventor, a Swiss native. On her historic dive however, she flew no flags.
The broken window in the access tunnel could have had much more dire consequences. Normally, this tunnel, which was the only access into or out of the sphere, filled with water during a dive. Upon resurfacing it was blown dry with compressed air. Should the cracked window leaked compressed air the clearing of the access tunnel would have been precluded, and Walsh and Piccard would have been trapped in the sphere for five days during to tow back to Guam.
Previous to this dive, the deepest penetration of "inner space" had been to 23,000 feet, dive also made by TRIESTE off Guam.
TRIESTE's float was a 12 chambered affair whose middle 10 chambers held 34,200 gallons of aviation gas. The terminal two chambers were air filled on the surface and flooded for diving. The sphere, forged at Krupp ironworks in Germany, was 5" thick and contained an internal diameter of 6' 4.5". The sphere weighed 13 metric tons. In diving, the float contracted so much that paint chips rained from her sides on ascent. Also the expansion of the gasoline on rising cooled this liquid. When she reached the surface this day, the temperature of the gasoline was 10o Fahrenheit, though this did not freeze pipes coursing through the chambers.