This Day In Submarine History

21 May 2002 USS Dolphin (AGSS 555) While conducting a battery charge 100 miles Southwest of San Diego, Dophon encountered 30 mile per hour winds and seas over ten feet. Normally this might pose no problem. Dolphin was built with a cylindrical uniform diameter hull with minimal hull penetrations to achieve extreme depth (thought to be at least 3,000 feet). To minimize penetrations there was no snorkel mast, instead the single hatch through the sail doubled as air intake for the diesel engine.

Unfortunately, on that battery charge the dogs on the sail access door worked loose as waves pounded the sail. The door swung fully open and sea water estimated at 70 to 85 tons, rushed in and down through the two levels inside the boat, flooding the battery well. The battery shorted out and the Dolphin lost electrical power, the CO ordered the boat evacuated and the crew of 41 plus 2 civilians vacated the boat. The 100 foot long Oceanographic Ship ‘William McGaw’ operating nearby rendered assistance and recovered 41, including the 2 civilians, and a Coast Guard helicopter picked up the two remaining.

Before leaving the boat MM1 John Wise manned the pump room with only one foot of air space and at risk of electrocution, his efforts were credited with saving the Dolphin and more than likely prevented loss of life. For his actions he was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal and was promoted to Chief Petty Officer. After leaving the ship the CO and Engineer swam back to the Dolphin and secured a tow line, enabling a Tug to return the boat to San Diego.

Repairs totaled over 60 million dollars. In 2006 Dolphin was inactivated and subsequently decommissioned; it was the Navy’s last diesel submarine. At 38 years of service, it was then a record for Navy submarines. Today Dolphin is moored In San Diego as a museum ship at the city’s maritime museum.

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