After working at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum when I was living in Little Rock and giving tours of Razorback, I’ve found the history and life at sea story of submarines and submariners fascinating. I’ve lived on a boat for months at a time and our conditions were no where near what these sailors had to endure. I understand that fundamentally the vessels we separately worked on are different, but in general terms of living on the water it is an interesting dynamic for someone whose lived and worked in close quarters with the same people for long periods of time. More so when you share a bed with two or three other sailors on a rotating shift, or having specific steps to “flush” the toilet like on a submarine!
Torsk (SS 423) is a tench-class submarine and part of the historic fleet located in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore. If you remember my post about Razorback, you’ll remember that sub was a balao-class sub. Torsk was an improvement to the former design with better interior machinery and ballast tank arrangement. She was commissioned on December 16, 1944, built out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and one of only ten tench-class submarines to see service during World War II.
I can imagine that life aboard Torsk was just as grueling as life on board Razorback. Tight quarters, long shifts, boring patrols…but for every boring patrol is an intense day aboard a submarine. Mainly operating off Japan during the spring and summer of 1945, she made two war patrols, carried out plane guard duties and sunk three Japanese ships before the end of the war. After World War II, Torsk served as a Navy Submarine School training boat. Like many other submarines, in the 1950s she underwent a fleet snorkel conversion. This conversion allowed the vessel to run on diesel power while submerged, instead of on the batteries only; it also allowed her to charge her batteries while submerged. Before this the engines only ran when the boat was on the surface! Outwardly her “sail” contained the snorkel intake and exhaust masts. One interesting upgrade was the Regulus Missile system. This system allowed for a conventional or nuclear warhead to be launched from the deck of a submarine (a properly outfitted submarine) and be radio controlled towards a specific target. This modern improvement to warfare could also be controlled through guidance boats positioned along the flight path. Assigned to guidance duty, Torsk began modification and equipment upgrades at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in late 1955 and participated in various training exercises for years, before the system was discontinued in the 1960s. Continuing to provide training services, she joined the Submarine Squadron Six in Norfolk, Virginia and was decommissioned on March 4, 1968. While in service, Torsk had an impressive record of over 10,600 career dives! Today she rests at her final berth in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, where you can visit yourself and see the boat with a self-guided tour!
I highly recommend you take time and visit this submarine – just watch your head! Until next time!