Monday, September 06, 2010

USS Torsk

As promised, a detailed posing on my visit to the USS Torsk in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

USS Torsk,(SS423). 311 feet long and displacing 1,500 tons, she typically had a crew of 81 men--10 officers and 71 enlisted. Laid down in June, 1944, she was finished in December that year and she put to sea for the first time on New Year's Eve. She made two War Patrols before the Japanese surrender, and sank the last two Japanese combat vessels of the wars. After being overhauled and extensively modified in 1951, she remained in service until her decommissioning in 1968. Now she's on display in Baltimore's Inner Harbor.
The way below: a doorway cut into the pressure hull leading into the aft torpedo room. Damn, I wish that they wouldn't do this to these old warriors.
Aft torpedo room. Four tubes firing to the rear in addition to the six firing forward gave these boats a bite from each end.
Not an exit? But of course it is. That's the real entrance into this compartment--the one that everyone should have to use to get down here.
The starboard (right) maneuvering controls that direct power from the #1 and #3 diesel engines to the electric motors or the batteries. There's another set-up just like this on the right side of the maneuvering room.
A lathe. Necessary because when something breaks at sea--and things will break--new things have to be made from scratch...and it might be something important, like engine parts.
Looking aft, this is the after engine room, with two of the sub 's four Fairtbanks-Morse 10-cylinder engines. Originally made for railroad locomotives, each one turns a generator which in turn provides power to the boat's electric motors or to the batteries for later submerged use. The two big cylinders (one above each engine) are the air intakes. Note that most people who worked in these spaces on these boats suffered some degree of permanent hearing loss due to the almost-constant noise and lack of any sound-proofing or hearing protection.
A close-up view of the upper crankshaft inside one of the engines.
This is a fuel oil purifier. There is one to the rear of each engine. They purify the fuel (duh!) via centrifugal force, spinning it to remove sea water and other impurities.
Oh, look--a hatch that opens. Heck, it may not be part of the tour but it's not secure and to me, that's as good as an invite.

Not sure what these are other than they're below the main deck and aft of the two after engines. I suspect that these are two of the generators, but perhaps someone with more knowledge can fill us in.

Port side engine control panel.
The two forward engines.
An engine exhaust controller.
Hatch from forward engine room. The big thing to the left (port) side is a freshwater evaporator which distilled fresh water from sea water.
Awww...the best parts of these museum vessels are always posted off-limits...and locked. Why it's almost as if they don't trust me to stay out. (Actually this was not here when the boat was operational. It's an enlarged hatch used to remove the batteries from the aft battery deck. Where the batteries once were, it's all storage space now. But this railing should be gone and six more bunks should be here.)
Racks.(Otherwise known as bunks) There were typically two on the boat for every three man, so sailors got to share, one sleeping while the other was on duty. My nephew, The Spud, thinks that this would be a cool place to sleep. He doesn't realize that that there was only one set of sheets per bunk and they got washed once a week. Sailors also showered once a week, so those bunks would have a pretty unique smell to them by the end of a week.
The Enlisted Mess, where sailors ate and off-duty seamen played cards or just hung out.
The Enlisted Galley, where food was prepared for all of the enlisted seamen aboard. One of the benefits of submarine duty was that you got the best food...but there was no such thing as "carry out".
Many systems in the boat are dependent on compressed air. Here's where the air was controlled. And this area's been completely redone due to the modifications that came with the fleet snorkel rebuild--the sub was given the ability to suck in outside air while submerged, allowing it to run underwater on the diesels instead of just the electric motors...of course that was sometimes more theoretical at first, especially when waves kept closing the flapper valve on the snorkel for a few seconds, causing the diesels to suck enough air out of the boat to make everyone's ears pop.
Here's the snorkel control panel. It's right next to the ladder leading up to the conning tower.
Hatch up to the conning tower--the small room where the periscopes are actually viewed (they don't actually extend down into the control room like you see in all the old war movies). Most museum boats don't let you up there these days due to liability concerns. Very sad.
My three favorite toys on fleet submarines--the noisemakers. The green one is the dive klaxon, used to tell the crew to perform the functions needed to dive the boat. A well-trained crew could have the boat at 65 feet in less than 35 seconds after this was thrown. Nowadays, it's good for making other boat visitors jump and hit their heads on things.
The yellow one is for General Quarters, and the red one--my fav because it makes the most obnoxious noise--is the Collision warning horn. Note how each has a different shape so that you can tell them apart in the dark. I've found that they still work on about half of the fleet boats that I've visited, although the Silversides, in Muskegon, Michigan has muted theirs recently. The ones on Lionfish in Massachusetts are still plenty loud though, as are the ones on Cod in Cleveland. I always try 'em out on the boats and act suitably innocent if/when boat staff are about.
These two big wheels control the bow and stern planes. Each would have been manned by one sailor.
Here's the wheel for the bow planes, and that map table? It houses the ship's compass, which is visible through a grass window in the table. And that panel on the back right? (under the label "Xmas Tree") is the Christmas Tree--a board with a red and a green light for every hatch and vent on the boat. That tells the control room whether or not the boat is safe to dive. In theory, the boat is not supposed to be dived with any of them still showing red, but in wartime, when a few seconds could mean the difference between safety and a direct hit from a dive-bomber, the boat would begin to dive the moment the dive horn sounded, and eighty-five men would have to trust that each of them assigned to close something off did his job quickly and correctly the first time.
Here's the ship's helm, or steering wheel. (There's another one in the conning tower.) Note the little TV screen that gives a view of what the periscope sees. That's not original World War Two gear, but it's handy nonetheless.
The passage through Officer Country. To either side are the rooms for the boat's officers, each about the size of a modern home's half-bath. Only the captain gets his own room; the others all double up and the three most junior officers triple-bunk.

The Officers' Wardroom. Note the nice china. Quite a step up from the Enlisted Mess, eh?
The Forward Torpedo Room, with it's six big bronze torpedo tubes, appearing ready for inspection, but alas, gated off to prevent said inspection by folks like me.
Here's the forward escape trunk. Tempting exit, but they made us use the stairs instead.
Riding high in the water. Here you can see the distinctive and unusual paint scheme as well as the post upper torpedo tube door, the port anchor and the bow plane rigged for surface running. This plane would drop down prior to diving to enable the sub to move vertically underwater.
Close-up of the sail, heavily modified by the Fleet Snorkel Program conversion she completed in 1952. This it the only American sub surviving with this particular modification.
Top of the sail, taken from inside the adjacent aquarium. Cost of this shot: $50.00 admission for two.
The top of the sail really could use a bit of straightening up...and the removal of all that bird doo.
The deck's in shit shape, too. Teakwood's rotted or gone, and of course there's another one of those accursed holes in the pressure hull to accommodate fat tourists who can't manage simple ladders.
Still flying Old Glory...and no doubt wishing that she could cast off and go give America's enemies another shellacking.

Additional info on USS Torsk.
Torsk Home Page
NPS Torsk History
Torsk Wikipedia

And if you still want more sub stuff, read my earlier posts on USS Cod in Cleveland.


  1. Reminds me! I've really, really got to get to the Balitmore Inner Harbor at some point soon. Last time I was there was about 25 years ago for an overnight on business. They had just rehabbed the Inner Harbor (i.e., made it into the tourist trap it is today). It was almost totally industrial back then.

    When I was a youngster, my family would go to Baltimore at least twice a year to visit my uncle, who lived there at the time while attaining his doctorate at Johns Hopkins. We would often base ourselves out of his place when accessing Washington for the day.

    My uncle took me to the Inner Harbor when I was about the Spud's age. He had taken me to his lab at Johns Hopkins, but he had to to go pick something up at the Inner Harbor, so we briefly got to see a little of that. McCormick Spices still operated from their building there, so you could smell all the ginger and cinnamon and other fragrant spices.

    The Torsk will, of course, be on the agenda at such time as I make it to the Inner Harbor again. The last submarine I saw was the Growler, at the Interpid Museum in Manhattan. Similar to the Torsk, but each ship has its own unique and honorable history, and each warrants a visit to pay homage to those who served on it, and made it all possible.

  2. Not sure from the pictures, but those two objects in question look like shaft bearings. I'd need to see pictures that showed the whole component.

  3. Anonymous12:12 PM

    A while back a Norwigian (did I spell that right,any how) sub came up for sale. It was a electric/diesel job. Sold for around half a million.

    Kind of wish I had that kind of money to buy a sub, which is my idea of a yatch.

    Any how,pretty cool piece of histoy and thanks for sharing.

  4. Um... Looks like a main shaft bearing, because that looks like a feed line for oil running to it. Gensets would have been forward of the mains. Also, that wash clothes/linen/bodies once a week? Not so much... Once they went into combat, they didn't wash ANYTHING until the cleared the combat zone 30-45 days later...

    Even the later diesel boats (Grayback, etc.) didn't do laundry/shower but about once a month.

  5. Shifty and NFO, much appreciated. Sorry I couldn't get better pics, but it was a tight space, and I was being pressured by an eleven year old lookout who kept whispering "Hurry up...I think someone's coming!"

  6. 11 year old lookouts...the scourge of successful covert ops!

  7. I can never get enough sub stuff. The story of the fleet boats and the role they played in the war is truly heroic. It's great that some are so well preserved for people to visit- I've toured the Cod in Cleveland and the Lionfish in Fall River, Mass., and the experience really deepened my appreciation for what these men endured and accomplished.