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Review of "Silent Steel" - New book on the Scorpion loss

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Postby Tom Dougherty » Sat Jan 14, 2006 1:13 pm

Yes, I know, you read John Craven's book and "Blind Man's Bluff", and the Scorpion had a Mk37 torpedo battery meltdown problem. You may very well revise your ideas after reading Stephen Johnson's "Silent Steel". Johnson, a journalist, has been researching the Scorpion loss for over 15 years. He carefully sifts through the available public evidence, including speaking with Inquiry Board members, former crew members and one crewman who was transferred (due to his infant son's death) off of Scorpion just days before she was lost [I was startled to find in the bibliography that this crewman lives in the same small Connecticut town in which I reside...very small world].

Johnson carefully unravels the problems that Scorpion was having; from almost continuous equipment breakdown problems, potential morale problems, to a decision to use Scorpion in a program to drastically shorten overhaul times. This overhaul, dubbed "Planned Availability Concept", was a reactor refueling & much reduced minimalist repair plan, and was the last overhaul just prior to the loss. At the time of her loss, Scorpion had still not received SubSafe modifications, and although she had received an Emergency Blow System in 1964, four years before her loss, it was "tagged out" from 1964 installation on, and never worked successfully in any tests from the day of installation!

Johnson wisely presents the evidence but does not attempt to draw any firm conclusions. The Craven torpedo theory is pretty well demolished however, and Scorpion's ultimate loss appears from many lines of evidence to likely be due to sinking well below test depth and imploding. Unlike Thresher's shattering implosion, the design of the Scorpion (Skipjack class) created a hull weakness which collapsed the rear of the submarine forward into the engineering spaces. The resulting water hammer shattered the operations compartment and blew the forward torpedo room compartment at the bow off. Why the submarine sunk to extreme depth (estimated to be 1400 ft + when she imploded) is still a mystery. Sternplane failure? Flooding? No firm answers are forthcoming. BTW, the bow and hull pieces are all facing toward the west (roughly 345 degrees), as if the submarine was heading for the US, and no evidence of the turning to inactivate a hot running Mk37 is found.

This is a carefully crafted, well written book, with an impeccable bibliography and sourcing section. Although not replete with photographs, there are several scattered throughout, including new photos to me, such as a photo of Scorpion's propeller with several of its 7 blades sticking up from the ocean bottom. You will come away with a better understanding of the extreme frustration on the part of the Board of Inquiry and the many naval scientists and personnel in attempting to explain how and why the Scorpion was lost. I highly recommend this book!

Edited By Tom Dougherty on 1137461302
Tom Dougherty
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Postby Gerwalk » Mon Jan 16, 2006 8:46 am

Thanks Tom for this useful review! I'm buying the book right now.

BTW: good to see a confirmation on the 7 bladed prop!. Someone told me that in a documentary about the wreck of the Scorpion the blades can be seen but I've never seen a photo corroborating this.
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