The Submarine Reserve Dynamic Partners with the U.S. Fleet

On 10 June 2004, RADM Jim Beebe, Deputy COMSUBPAC, RDML Jay DeLoach, Deputy COMSUBLANT, Force Master Chiefs Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Chris Clark (SUBPAC) and Master Chief Electronics Technician (SS) Steve Ricard (SUBLANT) shared their thoughts on the reserve component of the Submarine Force with the community’s senior leadership at the Navy Submarine League meeting in Washington, DC. They took a moment to review where the submarine reserve component has been and the way ahead. The following article is a synopsis of those comprehensive discussions.

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IC2 Patrick Palmer performs periodic maintenance on the sound powered phones aboard USS Emory S. Land (AS-39).
The Build-Up of a Submarine Reserve

As we move toward the CNO’s directive to operate as “One Navy,” many communities like the Submarine Reserve have noted that they have actually been building a solid working relationship between the active and reserve components for quite some time. Nonetheless, the current world situation has made imperative a cultural shift from being a Naval Reserve to the “Navy’s Reserve”.

Compared to other communities, some might say the reserve component of the Submarine Force is relatively new – merely 70 years old. However, in these recent dynamic years, the basic role of the Submarine Reserve has evolved from supplying Sailors and submarines in time of war to one in which reservists are literally working side-by-side with their active duty shipmates. While other communities may just be hitting the deck plates with this paradigm shift, the Submarine Reserve community is ahead of the curve. This is a philosophy that we’ve embraced firmly for decades.

Recently, the nation celebrated the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. to honor the 18.2 million men and women who served in uniform during that conflict. Members of the Guard and Reserve represented 80 percent of this total, or 14.5 million personnel. In the Navy, the citizen-sailor accounted for 90 percent of the crews who sailed in the greatest armada of recent times. In some submarines, the crew and wardroom were composed entirely of reservists, with the exception of the commanding officer who was most often a Naval Academy graduate. According to Clay Blair in his 1975 book Silent Victory, a “skipper problem” for the Pacific Submarine Force became a growing issue as the war dragged on, and the supply of qualified Naval Academy graduates ready to command submarines dwindled.

During the closing months of 1944, at the urging of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, VADM Charles Lockwood, Commander Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet, selected 11 USNR officers to assume command of Pacific Fleet submarines. Seven of these skippers conducted a combined total of ten war patrols during 1945 and subsequently sank 12 Japanese vessels. One of these men, LCDR James Hunnicutt Jr., placed USS Carp (SS-338) in commission and then sank five Japanese vessels during the Carp’s only wartime patrol. LCDR Hunnicutt’s extraordinary efforts were rewarded with the Navy Cross.

Victory against the Axis powers led to a general demobilization of all the armed services. However, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal recognized the significant contributions that the submarine reserve had made in winning the war in the Pacific and wanted to maintain this strong capability. He saw a world that was still very unstable and where early signs of the Cold War were starting to emerge. With this in mind, Forrestal demanded that the Navy, “Build up the submarine reserve” as a way of keeping the combat-hardened submarine veterans within short reach.

About that time, CDR Dick Laning had just decommissioned the USS Pilotfish (SS-386) and was assigned the job of building up the Submarine Reserve in the New England area. He was impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of those local reservists as they met monthly in warehouses on the Boston piers. In the hope of keeping morale and retention high, CDR Laning came up with the idea of using surplus World War II submarines as training platforms for the submarine reserve. instead of scrapping them as excess. He went to Washington and briefed his plan to both the CNO, ADM Chester Nimitz, and Secretary Forrestal. Their response was straightforward: “Fine. Do it.” CDR Laning walked out of the Pentagon with 35 submarines for the Naval Reserve.

Transforming the Force During the Cold War

From 1946 to 1972, Navy Reservists drilled in 26 cities on 44 diesel boats. Submarines like the USS Silversides (SS-236) in Chicago; the USS Tambor (SS-198) in Detroit; and the USS Carp (SS-338) in Boston served as training platforms on which Sailors prepared themselves for active service in the event that a global war heated up. For the most part, their training utilized surplus equipment and platforms from the active-duty fleet. With the shift to nuclear-powered submarines and a transition away from reserve units focused on platforms and hardware, the program gradually morphed into the submarine reserve we know today. Although this transition did not take place overnight, the submarine reserve became increasingly focused on its own reserve obligations and infrastructure, and by late in the Cold War, it had become fairly independent of the active-duty component and not truly aligned with the mission or structure of the latter.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, the senior leadership of the submarine reserve realized that while a structure based on mass mobilization may have been appropriate for a traditional wartime scenario, it was inadequate for the fluid nature of the coming era and its potential short-term demands. As RDML Jay DeLoach remarked, “We could no longer afford to think that mustering at the local reserve center to conduct General Military Training (GMT) was enough. Likewise, having two separate entities that didn’t speak the same language wouldn’t work. We began to realize that the submarine reserve needed to be relevant to current operations in the fleet on a day-to-day basis.”


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MM1 Tim Brennan removes rusted studs from a damaged high pressure drain orifice flange onboard the USS Emory S. Land (AS-39). Home ported in La Maddelana, Italy, Emory S. Land is the Navy’s only forward-deployed submarine tender in the Atlantic area.
Members of the Submarine Advisory Team review a chart in preparation for the deployment of the USS Saipan Expeditionary Strike Group.
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