Saturday, May 23, 2009

Famous Submarine Accident has Arkansas Connection

On May 23, 1939, while conducting routine training, the newly commissioned submarine USS Squalus (SS-192) suffered a catastrophic main induction valve failure and sank.

The main induction valves are the valves that allow air into the submarine for the main diesel engines. When the submarine submerges, the diesel engines are turned off and the induction valves are closed. In 1920, the failure to close the main induction valve on submarine S-5 (SS-110) cause the submarine to sink. Fortunately, the crew was able to escape.

Despite the many new safety features installed aboard submarines in the nearly 20 years following the S-5 accident, somehow, the main induction aboard Squalus failed, allowing the four compartments in the back of the submarine to flood, killing 26 men.

The partially flooded submarine sank to the bottom, coming to rest in 240 feet of water, beyond the normal limits of the diving technology of the day. The crew deployed the submarine's forward Emergency Buoy and her exact location was quickly determined. Rescue ships arrived and 41 hours after the initial accident, the 32 men who survived the initial accident were rescued without further harm.

The Arkansas Connection
Among the men stationed aboard Squalus was Torpedoman First Class Sherman Luther Shirley, a graduate of North Little Rock High School.

Torpedoman Shirley was planning to marry a young lady he had met in the area and a fellow crewmember, Electrician's Mate Lloyd B. Maness, was to be his best man.

Unfortunately, Torpedoman Shirley was among the 26 men killed.

Thanks to the generosity of his family (who still live in the area), a number of photographs, including the one above, have been donated to AIMM and are often on display.


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