In WW2, how long could a submarine stay submerged if it wasn't moving?

In WW2, how long could a submarine stay submerged if it wasn't moving?

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For a submarine in the WW2-era, how long could it stay submerged if it was not running its engine? This is a question of crew size, oxygen, food/water, and CO2 scrubbers, and maybe other stuff I'm not aware of.

I guess it's a question of battery life too, but not for powering the propeller, only for the lights and maybe air pumps.

The reason I ask is because I want to know stealth capability for travels. I imagine a sub travelling on the surface at night, but at day it submerges and stays down and doesn't move (except drifting with the current). It may have to stay down longer than 12 hours if some ship happen to be nearby.

I'm interested in subs of Japan, Germany, Russia, Britain, and America.

Edit: I should have specified this, but I want to know how long the sub can stay down near max depth, not snorkeling. Snorkeling is done very near the surface where it can be spotted by aircraft or even other ships, and some naval surface radar could detect periscopes or snorkels around a distance of 5 miles.

WWII submarines making a journey of any length would run on diesels on the surface during the day, if there were reasonable odds of not being sighted. Rapid ("crash") diving was a very important tactic for them, and the ability to do it quickly was an important factor in both sub design and crew training.

If they were travelling through a contested area they would dive during the day, but would usually proceed slowly on battery, because 12 hours at 2 knots is 24 nautical miles, and contested areas usually weren't huge.

The battery capacity needed for underwater travel is large, so the "hotel load" for lighting wasn't a problem in underwater endurance without movement. In practice, they would usually keep moving slowly, because that means you're actually in control of the boat, which is largely exercised through the rudder and diving planes.

The limit on underwater endurance was the breathability of the air in the boat, because they did not have CO2 scrubbers. It was normal, when it was expected that a submergence would be lengthy, to send most of the crew to bunks, to minimise their activity and thus their air consumption. The only way to refresh the air was to release compressed air from the air banks into the hull. This raised the pressure inside the sub, but this was usually limited to an extra half atmosphere or so, which wasn't a major problem provided you were careful when you first opened a hatch.

Staying down for 24 hours would be unpleasant. 48 hours is probably about the limit. The exact figure depends on the size of the submarine, the number of people on board, the amount of activity, the amount of danger - adrenalin makes people breathe faster - the thoroughness with which the sub was ventilated before diving, and so on.

Edit: If you aren't snorkelling, the depth you're at doesn't make much difference to submerged endurance. But read on for the small differences.

"Maximum depth" for a submarine is a slightly complicated concept. There is "test depth", the depth the submarine is definitely capable of achieving without being damaged, and there is "crush depth" the depth at which the pressure hull collapses. Since that will depend on the weakest point in the hull, a submarine captain does not know what his exact crush depth is. He knows what safety factor the boat was designed for over its test depth, but he doesn't know if the hull has weak points. Assuming there are none would be unwise.

At test depth, there will already be substantial creaking from the structure as it compresses under the sea pressure. Below test depth, the hull plates may well start to bulge inwards between the frames that support them, and there will likely be leaks. At some point, as you carry on going deeper, something breaks, and then the whole boat floods instantly. Even going to test depth causes metal fatigue, but this wasn't understood during WWII.

When you're very deep, you want to move slowly. This is because of the possibility of failure of the depth plane controls. If you're deep, and moving fast, and depth plane control unexpectedly switches to "dive", you can easily put the bow of the boat below crush depth before you regain control. And if that happens, you die. So moving at great depth has to be done carefully.

Going very deep to evade attack is thus dangerous, and will raise the stress levels of the crew and make them consume more air.

Generally speaking, submarines would be able to dive for well over 12 hours if they used their engines to 'creep' along. The German Type XXI, admittedly a late war design, could do several days at 5 knots. The earlier Type VII could do 80 miles at 4 knots, which means 20 hours dive.

Getting a submarine to neutral buoyancy (the point where it will neither sink or rise) was not often done in practice. US Fleet Boats in WWII (and presumably other nations' subs as well) generally had a small reserve of positive buoyancy (up) and used the movement of water over their diving surfaces to maintain their depth (analogous to an airplane's wings). The idea was that if propulsive power was lost, the submarine would naturally rise to the surface. It also meant they needed to continually move to avoid rising.

They could also introduce negative buoyancy, and sink down and rest on the bottom if it was above their crush depth. The risk there is damaging parts of the boat, but it does allow the submarine to maintain its position while conserving its battery.

Summary: Submarines generally could not remain stationary and maintain their depth (without resting on the bottom). They would rise to the surface within a few minutes depending on their depth, assuming the crew did not intervene. The limit if the crew were adjusting their ballast tanks to come close to neutral buoyancy would be how much compressed air they had available to empty the tanks, and how often the crew would be required to adjust them. However, this would not truly be stationary, as they would be slowly rising or sinking, as they adjusted the balance.

Well I guess your suggested travelling could be done all day long, as a Geraman boat could be submerged longer than one day.

They could travel submerged at about 5 knots (9.3 km/h; 5.8 mph) for two or three days before recharging batteries, which took less than five hours using the Schnorchel

This is from Wikipedia:

But you have to consider that the boats were hunters, seeking for merchant ships to destroy. So they can't idle under the waterline all day long.

How long can a Submarine remain submerged?

Modern Nuclear-powered & Diesel-Electric submarines are only limited by crew limitations, specifically food and other supplies. Without the need to replenish food, they can stay submerged indefinitely since oxygen is generated, carbon monoxide and dioxide is filtered, and potable water is distilled. However, DE submarines are also limited in range and time at sea by available fuel, while a Nuclear Powered boat doesn't have that problem.

My own personal longest submergence period is 72 days, though others have exceeded that limit. The Seahorse (SSN-669) during her circumnavigation of the globe in the 1982, spent over 180 total combined days submerged they had only 2 ports of call during the entire mission, and they only lasted a few days each. The USS Parche (SSN-683) a Submarine Development boat, usually had the most submerged time in the submarine fleet, since her extreme classified missions did not allow her to make any Ports of Call. Her typical deployments were about 3-4 months, virtually all of that time submerged save for port exit and entrance.

After about 2 months, depending on what the mission is and whether or not the boat has been able to snorkel (and thus bring in fresh outside air), the crew starts getting a bit snappy and short tempered, and the air starts getting a bit stale if it hasn't been changed out. Filtered air is okay, but it gets old after a while. Other things like fruit and fresh vegetables are also a big deal, as well as fresh milk, since they're the first food items to get used after getting underway for a long mission. Long deployments also mean that most of the crew's complement is onboard, as well as any civilian riders required. That means it's a lot more cramped than usual. Hot bunking (3 crewmen sharing 2 bunks - 2 sleep while one is on watch) is common during long deployments, though typically assigned to junior crew members.

9 Answers 9

Surviving even a "total global nuclear apocalypse" is a lot easier than you think. Here's a good reference to look at. Some key points:

Within two weeks after an attack the occupants of most shelters could safely stop using them, or could work outside the shelters for an increasing number of hours each day.

Only a very small fraction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki citizens who survived radiation doses some of which were nearly fatal have suffered serious delayed effects.

Statements that the U.S. and the Soviet Union have the power to kill the world's population several times over are based on misleading calculations.

Non-propagandizing scientists recently have calculated that the climatic and other environmental effects of even an all-out nuclear war would be much less severe than the catastrophic effects repeatedly publicized.

It's entirely likely [that] entering a nuclear facility in the wake of the apocalypse would expose you to dangerous levels of contamination. It's possible that the areas immediately surrounding them could have elevated levels of background radiation. It's unlikely that any effect would be noticed more than a few miles away.

If you can get to a reasonably good nuclear shelter, you have a good chance of surviving anything less than a direct strike. That's if you're on land!

The biggest advantage that a submarine crew has is that they can stay submerged for as long as their food supplies last. Also, water is an excellent blocker of radiation, so while they're underwater they are not in any danger at all. This leads to a huge overall advantage - after two months (until the food supplies run out) radioactive decay means that the overall level of radiation will have fallen significantly to easily survivable levels.

The biggest problem that the submarine crew will face is not knowing which areas were nuked and which weren't - this affects where they should go to try to find supplies. There's a good way to figure this out though - get in contact with the ISS. Having watched the entire mess unfold, the astronauts aboard the ISS will be able to direct the submarine to the areas that were hit by the fewest nukes.

Once they get to those areas, they should be able to figure out a way to integrate into whatever communities have survived, making long-term survival very likely.

No. The sub is out of immediate danger if it is far out in open waters, away from any mega port city.

Yes, in the case of an ultimate nuclear doomsday, the radioactive effects would reach everywhere on earth through winds. It will take sometime though. I don't know how much, though. Depends on which ocean you are in and how many missiles hit which continent. It is sufficient to say that as long as most of your time is spent underwater, you are safe from direct radioactive effects. Poles would be the best place for immediate refuge but do not stay there for long as all atmospheric waste tends to accumulate on poles through snow storms. The next several dozen years would be a radioactive nightmare on poles.

You can catch fish. The more benthic, the better. Radiation is less likely to reach deeper waters so eating deep water fish would be a better idea. However, notice that these would have much less nutritious value.

Islands are safe only immediately (just like poles). Once winds distribute radioactive effects globally, nothing above the surface is safe for consumption. You should wait at least several years before you venture to any far Pacific or Mediterranean island.

Submarine would be in grave danger of being intercepted by an akula class attack submarine from the russian navy.

Ballistic submarines are part of the second strike capability of a nuclear power. They are able to counter-attack even if their airforce and land equivalents are destroyed in a counter-force first strike.

In order to be able to both protect own ballistic subs and destroy the enemies equivalents, attack submarines where developed. Russians have Akula class submarines for this task, while they use Typhoons as ballistic carriers (in the west the typhoons are erroneously called akulas).

When a submarine leaves friendly port for a patrol, there is a large chance that a enemy attack submarine follows his trail, in order to keep him on track all times. Russians done that, Americans too, and so on. So, if your virginia class submarine is out at the sea, you should be carefull if you are not being tracked by a akula class submarine, ready to take you out to prevent USA second strike capability. If you are near russian waters, you might be under tracking from their undersea microphone network and their kilo class diesel-electric submarines (wich are pretty hard to hear).

So, even if underwater submarines are not subjected to the dangers of nuclear explosions on the land, and their hull are protected from nuclear fallout (the sea is a very good shield), you still might be sunk.

Besides that point, your text assumes a 1960'esque scenario for that nuclear war. During that era, nuclear bombs where big to compensate for their lack of accuracy. They used what is usually called counter-value (targetting civilians). Modern day nuclear MIRV'ed warheads are low yield and very precise, and a rational opponent will use all the warheads they have to destroy enemy military structures and those industries directly related to defense, they wont simply strike cities because thats not a good strategy anymore. They will be used in counter-force mode.

After the first nuclear exchange, when the nuclear stockpiles are depleted and the economy ruined (besides the submarines second strike capability), there is no way to build new nuclear warheads, countries would fight a conventional, post-apocaliptic war, and if you use your bombs versus cities and leave the military structures and installations intact, you will fight a much stronger foe afterwards. So, the usual engagement mode is counter-force: Fire at the nuclear silos, airbases, anything that might stockpile nuclear warheads, them later fire at navy bases, cavalry, infantry battalions etc, everything that has military value. Thats the usual sequence for a decapitating first strike.

About the submarine at sea, you might try to contact other naval forces via satellite, try to rendezvous with friendly merchants etc. But you will be on a hard time, because a anti-merchant war will start to prevent supplies from reaching USA (and vice versa). War will be hot at the oceans. You might be able to join a surviving carrier battlegroup, or enter neutral waters to trade. But by all means your submarine is still a viable fighting machine and the first strike is not the end of the world nor will be the end of the war.

Type VIIB [ edit | edit source ]

The VIIA had limited fuel capacity, so 24 Type VIIB boats were built between 1936 and 1940 with an additional 33 tons of fuel in external saddle tanks which added another 2,500 nautical miles (4,600 km) of range at 10 knots (19 km/h) surfaced. ⎦] They were slightly faster than the VIIA, and had two rudders for greater agility. The torpedo armament was improved by moving the aft tube to the inside of the boat. Now an additional aft torpedo could be carried below the deck plating of the aft torpedo room (which also served as the electric motor room) and two watertight compartments under the upper deck could hold two additional torpedoes giving it a total of 14 torpedoes. The only exception was U-83, which lacked a stern tube and carried only 12 torpedoes. ⎦]

Type VIIBs included many of the most famous U-boats of World War II, including U-48 (the most successful), Prien's U-47, Kretschmer's U-99, and Schepke's U-100. ⎦]

On the surface the boat was powered by two supercharged MAN, 6 cylinder, 4-stroke M6V 40/46 diesels (except for U-45 to U-50, U-83, U-85, U-87, U-99, U-100, and U-102 which were powered by two supercharged Germaniawerft 6-cylinder, 4-stroke F46 diesels) giving a total of 2,800 to 3,200 bhp (2,400 kW) at 470 to 490 rpm. When submerged, the boat was powered by two AEG GU 460/8-276 (except in U-45, U-46, U-49, U-51, U-52, U-54, U-73 to U-76, U-99 and U-100 which retained the BBC motor of the VIIA) electric motors giving a total of 750 shp (560 kW) at 295 rpm. ⎦]

List of Type VIIB submarines [ edit | edit source ]

Type VIIB submarines
Name of U-boat Date launched Date commissioned Ships sunk or damaged
U-45 ⎧] 000000001938-06-25-0000 25 June 1938 000000001938-04-27-0000 27 April 1938 2 ⎨]
U-46 ⎩] 000000001938-09-10-0000 10 September 1938 000000001938-11-02-0000 2 November 1938 27 ⎪]
U-47 ⎫] 000000001938-10-29-0000 29 October 1938 000000001938-12-17-0000 17 December 1938 39 ⎬]
U-48 ⎭] 000000001939-03-08-0000 8 March 1939 000000001939-04-22-0000 22 April 1939 55 ⎮]
U-49 ⎯] 000000001939-06-24-0000 24 June 1939 000000001939-08-12-0000 12 August 1939 1 ⎰]
U-50 ⎱] 000000001939-11-01-0000 1 November 1939 000000001939-12-12-0000 12 December 1939 4 ⎲]
U-51 ⎳] 000000001938-06-11-0000 11 June 1938 000000001938-08-06-0000 6 August 1938 6 ⎴]
U-52 ⎵] 000000001938-12-21-0000 21 December 1938 000000001939-02-04-0000 4 February 1939 13 ⎶]
U-53 ⎷] 000000001939-05-06-0000 6 May 1939 000000001939-06-24-0000 24 June 1939 8 ⎸]
U-54 ⎹] 000000001939-08-15-0000 15 August 1939 000000001939-09-23-0000 23 September 1939 0
U-55 ⎺] 000000001939-10-19-0000 19 October 1939 000000001939-11-21-0000 21 November 1939 6 ⎻]
U-73 ⎼] 000000001940-07-27-0000 27 July 1940 000000001940-09-30-0000 30 September 1940 15 ⎽]
U-74 ⎾] 000000001940-08-31-0000 31 August 1940 000000001940-10-31-0000 31 October 1940 7 ⎿]
U-75 ⏀] 000000001940-10-18-0000 18 October 1940 000000001940-12-19-0000 19 December 1940 9 ⏁]
U-76 ⏂] 000000001940-10-03-0000 3 October 1940 000000001940-12-03-0000 3 December 1940 2 ⏃]
U-83 ⏄] 000000001940-12-09-0000 9 December 1940 000000001941-02-08-0000 8 February 1941 8 ⏅]
U-84 ⏆] 000000001941-02-26-0000 26 February 1941 000000001941-04-29-0000 29 April 1941 7 ⏇]
U-85 ⏈] 000000001941-04-10-0000 10 April 1941 000000001941-06-07-0000 7 June 1941 3 ⏉]
U-86 ⏊] 000000001941-05-10-0000 10 May 1941 000000001941-07-08-0000 8 July 1941 4 ⏋]
U-87 ⏌] 000000001941-06-21-0000 21 June 1941 000000001941-08-19-0000 19 August 1941 5 ⏍]
U-99 ⏎] 000000001940-03-12-0000 12 March 1940 000000001940-04-18-0000 18 April 1940 44 ⏏]
U-100 ⏐] 000000001940-04-10-0000 10 April 1940 000000001940-05-30-0000 30 May 1940 30 ⏑]
U-101 ⏒] 000000001940-01-13-0000 13 January 1940 000000001940-03-11-0000 11 March 1940 25 ⏓]
U-102 ⏔] 000000001940-03-21-0000 21 March 1940 000000001940-04-27-0000 27 April 1940 2 ⏕]

How does a submarine dive and resurface?

Before we discuss how submarines break the surface and go underwater, let&rsquos do a quick recap of an important physical phenomenon of water that you surely studied at some point in a science class: buoyancy.

Buoyancy is basically an upward force that keeps everything from wooden planks to gigantic vessels from sinking. While messing with this force can have disastrous consequences, the ability to control it can be highly advantageous.

If the weight of water displaced by an object is equal to its own weight, then it floats otherwise, it sinks. While most boats and vessels don&rsquot dare to mess with this equilibrium, since it keeps them afloat, submarines manipulate this effect on purpose. In order to control the buoyant force acting on it, a submarine fills/empties itself with the surrounding water to dive/resurface. A submarine consists of ballast tanks (and trim tanks too, in some models) that can be filled by either water or air according to navigational requirements.

Ballast tanks are located at different positions on different models of submarines

It works like this: when the submarine is above the surface of the water, the ballast tanks are filled with air, which means that the overall density of the submarine is less than the water it displaces. However, when the submarine needs to dive, it releases a vent in the ballast tanks that causes the surrounding water to rush in. The crew allows the surrounding water to fill the tank until the desired depth is reached, after which the valve is closed to stop any more water from rushing in.

Ballast tanks are alternatively filled with water and compressed gas to submerge and resurface a submarine.

In addition to the flooding of the tanks, two &lsquodiving planes&rsquo also aid in controlling the speed of descent for the submarine. The angle of these &lsquowings&rsquo directly influences the speed of the dive.

Notice the orientation of diving planes as the submarine descends

On the other hand, when a submarine has to resurface, compressed air is blown into the ballast tanks from air flasks, which pushes the water out of the tanks at a rapid rate. This results in a decrease in the overall density of the submarine, causing it to rise to the surface. Furthermore, the hydroplanes are angled in such a way that water moves over the stern, pushing it down and making the submarine ascend faster.

The Kilo-Class Submarine: Why Russia's Enemies Fear "The Black Hole"

Unlike the United States Navy, which went all-in on nuclear power, Russia maintains fleets of both diesel and nuclear-powered submarines. A land power encompassing much of Eurasia, Russian submarines are based much closer to “the action” than American submarines are. While Russia maintains nuclear submarines for distant ocean patrols, its fleet of diesel submarines is more than adequate for conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and the Russian near abroad.

The mainstay of the Russian Navy’s conventionally powered fleet are Project 877–class submarines, known as the Kilo class to NATO and the West. Nicknamed the “Black Hole” submarine by the U.S. Navy, the Improved Kilos are extremely quiet. The class has been built more or less continuously for thirty years, a testament to their effectiveness at sea.

The Kilo class was originally meant to serve the navies of the Warsaw Pact countries, replacing older Whiskey- and Foxtrot-class boats. The sub measures just 238 feet long by thirty-two feet wide, and displace 3,076 tons submerged. The ship has a crew of just twelve officers and forty-one enlisted men, and has an endurance of forty-five days before needing to be resupplied.

The ships are powered by two diesel generators and an electric drive, giving them enough power to make ten knots at the surface and seventeen knots underwater. They are not fast submarines. They have a range of six thousand to 7,500 nautical miles, meaning that from the Russian Northern Fleet headquarters they can patrol for one thousand nautical miles and then go on to Cuba.

Neither are they particularly deep divers. According to Combat Fleets of the World, the Kilo class normally dives to just 787 feet, with a maximum diving depth of 984 feet. The submarines do particularly well in shallow water, where a pair of ducted props powered by low-speed motoring motors likely allows it to operate closer to the sea floor.

A lot of silencing went into the Kilos. The hull is described as having the approximate shape of a drop of water and greatly reducing water resistance over older, World War II–era submarine designs. The propulsion plant is isolated on a rubber base so it doesn’t touch the hull, preventing vibrations from turning into noise that can be heard outside the boat. The ship has a rubbery anechoic coating to deaden noise emanating from the submarine, which occasionally gives the submarines a blocky appearance noticeable in photographs. The air regeneration system can keep the crew supplied with oxygen for up to 260 hours, giving the ship almost two weeks’ worth of underwater endurance.

The sensor suite consists of the MGK-400 Rubikon (Shark Gill) low-frequency active and passive radar suite with a passive hull array. It also has a MG519 Mouse Roar high-frequency radar for target classification and mine avoidance. For simple surface navigation and search the Kilos are equipped with the MRK-50 Albatros radar.

Finally, the Kilos have six torpedo tubes of standard 533-millimeter diameter, and were originally configured to carry homing torpedoes and eighteen SS-N-15A Starfish antisubmarine missiles. On the last ships of the class, two of the torpedo tubes are capable of firing wire-guided torpedoes. Also unique to this class is a position for a seaman with a shoulder-figured Igla man-portable air-defense missile launcher.

Twenty-four Kilo-class submarines were operated by the Soviet Union, of which eleven are still operated by Russia. One was sold to Poland, which remains operational, but another, sold to Romania, is no longer in service. Ten were sold to India nine are still operational while the tenth caught fire and sank pierside in August 2013. Iran has three Kilos, and Algeria has two. China had two submarines, purchased after the end of the Cold War.

Submarines were some of the first vessels Russian shipyards started building after the dissolution of the USSR. An improved version of the Kilo class, known as Project 636.3 or just “Improved Kilo,” was developed to rejuvenate a flagging Russian submarine force and gain hard currency from exports.

The 636.3 class was an all-around upgrade. The dimensions of the submarine are essentially the same, but the bow has been reshaped to improve hydrodynamic flow. It features improved quietness due to further isolation of the machinery, moving other machinery to areas where they would make less noise. The submarine also has 25 percent greater range than previous versions. Major sonar systems however are largely the same as in the original Kilo class.

One major improvement of the 636.3 class is the ability to launch Kalibur cruise missiles. Kalibur (the export version is known as Klub) is a versatile class of missile with land-attack, antiship, and antisubmarine warfare versions. In December 2016, the Russian submarine Rostov-on-Don launched Kalibur land-attack missiles against Islamic State.

The People’s Republic of China was an early customer for the 636.3, buying ten submarines in the 1990s. The subs are apparently split between the East and South Sea Fleets. Another customer has been Algeria, which has bought two modern Kilos to supplement its pair of original submarines.

Vietnam bought six 636.3 boats, with five so far delivered, as the nucleus of an anti-access/area denial force against its traditional enemy, China. The two countries have a history of mutual hostility, currently stoked by Chinese oil drilling in a contested Exclusive Economic Zone and competing claims in the South China Sea. Vietnam purchased six submarines for an estimated $1.8 billion dollars—a real bargain.

Finally, Russia bought six 636.3 submarines to shore up its own submarine fleet. The last submarine, Kolpino, was launched in February from the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. Kolpino will serve in the Black Sea Fleet, where it could conduct future cruise missile strikes against ISIS targets. Russia has apparently halted further purchases of the Kilos, seeking to transition to the Lada class.

The Kilo class of submarines were very successful in both a technical and export sense. A submarine meant nearly as an afterthought for Soviet allies became a legend in the eyes of NATO. Fifty-three submarines were built over a period of thirty-three years, often providing Russian shipyards with critical work that kept them open during the lean post Cold War years. In addition to Russian operations against Islamic State, as tensions in the South China Sea increase the possibility of a naval skirmish, we could see Kilo submarines in action in Asian waters.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

5 They Fuck With the Oxygen

The oxygen levels on a submarine are kept dramatically low. This is primarily to keep the risk of fires at a minimum, but it has some side effects. Most submariners work with their hands and get injured a fair amount. You'd be surprised what a small drop in oxygen levels will do to your body's ability to repair itself. Constantly oozing wounds are the name of the game. It is not a fun game.

Low oxygen levels also make everyone a) tired as fuck-all, and b) constantly pissed off. The first time I went down the hatch, a guy broke a coffee mug over my head because I didn't move as fast as he would have liked. Three years later, I dropped him off at the airport when he got out I was the last person he saw as an enlisted man, and he's one of the people I admire most in the world . but man, do folks be pissy without their precious oxygen.

The only time they'd turn the damned stuff up was when we had a "field day," a term that means something a little different here from what it does in the civilian world. It probably means something fun to you. To the Navy, it means everyone gets the honor of cleaning everything. Everyone. Everything. But add a few extra percentage points of oxygen and everyone's happy as hell about it, so long as they get the privilege of breathing correctly.

These are the Air Force medics trained for special ops

Posted On August 27, 2020 19:05:03

Everyone knows about the famous 4077th MASH, or Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. But if you ever wanted to see the kind of docs that Michael Bay or Jerry Buckheimer would do a movie about, look at the Air Force’s Special Operations Surgical Teams, or SOSTs.

According to the U.S. Army, a MASH unit usually had about 113 people, while a 2006 Army release about the last MASH becoming a Combat Support Hospital, or CSH, notes that the CSH has about 250 personnel.

According to the Air Force web site, the SOST is much smaller. It has six people: an ER doctor, a general surgeon, a nurse anesthetist, a critical care nurse, a respiratory therapist, and a surgical technician.

This is a typical Combat Support Hospital. (DOD photo)

The MASH and CSH have trucks and vehicles to deliver their stuff. SOSTs only have what they can carry in on their backs. Oh, did I mention they are also tactically trained? Yep, a member of a SOST can put lead into a bad guy, then provide medical care for the good guys who got hit.

In one Air Force Special Operations Command release, what one such team did while engaged in the fight against ISIS is nothing short of amazing. They treated victims who were suffering from the effects of ISIS chemical weapon attacks, handled 19 mass casualty attacks, and carried out 16 life-saving surgical operations. A total of 750 patients were treated by these docs over an eight-week deployment.

Again, this was with just what they carried on their backs.

U.S. Air Force photo

At one point, the team was treating casualties when mortar rounds impacted about 250 meters away. The six members of the team donned their body armor, got their weapons ready, and went back to work. Maj. Nelson Pacheco, Capt. Cade Reedy, Lt. Col. Ben Mitchell, Lt. Col. Matthew Uber, Tech. Sgt. Richard Holguin, and Maj. Justin Manley are all up for Bronze Stars for their actions.

It takes a lot to get into a SOST. You can download the application here. One thing for sure, these are the most badass folks with medical degrees!


Parts of a submarine

Photo: Despite many technological advances, the basic concept of the submarine has changed little in over a century, since John Holland designed the USS Holland, the US Navy's first submarine. Photo by courtesy of Naval Historical Center.

These are some of the key parts of a typical submarine.

Pressure hull

The pressure of water pushing inward is the biggest problem for anyone who wants to go deep beneath the ocean surface. Even with scuba tanks, we can dive only so far because the immense pressure soon makes it impossible to breath. At a depth of 600m (2000ft), the maximum depth subs ever dive to, the water pressure is over 60 times greater than it is at the surface!

How do subs survive where people can't? The hull of a standard ship is the metal outside that keeps the water out. Most submarines have two hulls, one inside the other, to help them survive. The outer hull is waterproof, while the inner one (called the pressure hull ) is much stronger and resistant to immense water pressure. The strongest submarines have hulls made from tough steel or titanium.


Photo: The diving planes on either side of a submarine's tower generate lift as it moves forward, just like the wings on a plane. Photo of USS Emory S. Land by Jared Aldape courtesy of US Navy.

Just as sharks have fins on their bodies to help them swim and dive, so submarines have fins called diving planes or hydroplanes . They work a bit like the wings and control surfaces (swiveling flaps) on an airplane, creating an upward force called lift. Buoyancy is the tendency of something to sink, rise, or float at a certain depth. While it's underwater, a submarine is negatively buoyant, which means it tends to sink, left to its own devices, if it's not moving. But as the submarine's propellers push it forward, water rushes over the planes, creating an upward force called lift that helps it remain at a certain depth, creating a state of neutral buoyancy (floating). The planes can be tilted to change the lift force, so making the submarine climb or dive through the sea, as necessary. The planes provide most of the submarine's control of its depth, most of the time. The amount of lift they generate depends both on the angle to which they're tilted and on the submarine's speed (just as the lift that wings generate depends on a plane's speed and "angle of attack").

Ballast tanks

There are spaces in between the two hulls that can be filled with either air or water. These are called the ballast tanks and, with the diving planes, they give a sub control over its buoyancy, particularly during the first part of a dive or a return to the surface from the depths. When the ballast tanks are filled with air, the submarine rises to the surface because it has positive buoyancy. With water inside the tanks, the sub has negative buoyancy so it sinks deeper into the ocean. The tanks at the front (known as the front trim tanks ) are usually filled with water or air first, so the submarine's front (bow) falls or rises before its rear (stern). The ballast tanks can also be used to help a submarine surface very quickly in an emergency.


Gasoline engines and diesel engines used by cars and trucks, and jet engines used by planes, need a supply of oxygen from the air to make them work. Things are different for submarines, which operate underwater where there is no air. Most submarines except nuclear ones have diesel-electric engines. The diesel engine operates normally when the sub is near the surface but it doesn't drive the sub's propellers directly. Instead, it powers an electricity generator that charges up huge batteries. These drive an electric motor that, in turn, powers the propellers. Once the diesel engine has fully charged the batteries, the sub can switch off its engine and go underwater, where it relies entirely on battery power.

Early military submarines used breathing tubes called snorkels to feed air to their engines from the air above the sea, but that meant they had to operate very near the surface where they were vulnerable to attack from airplanes. Most large military submarines are now nuclear-powered. Like nuclear power plants, they have small nuclear reactors and, since they need no air to operate, they can generate power to drive the electric motors and propellers whether they are on the surface or deep underwater.


Photo: The tower or sail can double up as an observation platform when the sub is cruising on the surface. Note the various different communications and navigation antenna. Photo by Jeffrey M. Richardson courtesy of US Navy.

Submarines are cigar-shaped so they can slip smoothly through the water, but in the very center there's a tall tower. In older submarines, the tower was packed with navigation and other equipment and was sometimes known as the conning tower (because, historically, it contained a submarines controls). It's also referred to simply as the tower or the sail, because in a modern submarine the controls and navigation equipment take up more room and tend to be located in the hull.

Navigation systems

Photo: Periscopes are useful if you're near the surface searching for enemy ships but they're useless underwater. Photo by Jeffery S. Viano courtesy of US Navy.

Light doesn't travel well through water, so it gets darker and darker the deeper down you go. Most of the time, submarine pilots can't even see where they're going! Submarines have periscopes (seeing tubes that can be pushed up through the tower), but they're useful only when subs are on the surface or just beneath it. Submarines navigate using a whole range of electronic equipment. There's GPS satellite navigation, for starters, which uses space satellites to tell the submarine its position. There's also SONAR, a system similar to radar, which sends out pulses of sound into the sea and listens for echoes reflecting off the seabed or other nearby submarines. Another important navigation system onboard a submarine is known as inertial guidance . It's a way of using gyroscopes to keep track of how far the submarine has traveled, and in which direction, without referring to any outside information. Inertial guidance is accurate only for so long (10 days or so) and occasionally needs to be corrected using GPS, radar, or other data.

Photo: The sonar apparatus in a typical submarine. Photo by Brandon Shelander courtesy of US Navy.

Life-support systems

A large military submarine has dozens of people onboard. How can they eat, sleep, and breathe, buried deep beneath the sea, in freezing cold water, for months at a time? A submarine is a completely sealed environment. The nuclear engine provides warmth and generates electricity—and the electricity powers all the life-support systems that submariners need. It makes oxygen for people to breathe using electrolysis to chemically separate molecules of water (turning H2O into H2 and O2) and it scrubs unwanted carbon dioxide from the air. Subs can even make their own drinking water from seawater using electricity to remove the salt. Trash is compacted into steel cans, which are ejected from an airlock system (a watertight exit in the hull) and dumped on the seabed.

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