- Jack Keenan -
|Jack Keenan||7/15/2007||MY YEAR ON USNS DUTTON T-AGS-22|
|Jack Keenan||7/13/2007||NAVDAC MARK I ON THE TAGS, COMPASS ISLAND, AND OBSERVATION ISLAND|
At that time, my only knowledge of Sperry Gyroscope Company was the result of a conversation I had with a high-school classmate. I recalled that he told me about a relative who was one of these fantastic Sperry engineers who could take a gyrocompass apart and put it back together while blindfolded! I think he exaggerated, at least a little, but I remember finding it fascinating.
Well, the mysterious letter was too much to resist. I called and found myself in a Boston hotel room the next day, hearing all about Sperry Gyroscope Company and the various job openings that existed. After about 30 minutes of this presentation, and a further 30 minutes discussing Pro Football and the meeting of the New York Giants and the Cleveland Browns in Cleveland that day, the “headhunter” looked at his watch and asked which of the opportunities he discussed was of most interest to me. I thought fast and answered: “Field Engineering!” He responded that I should be hearing from Sperry in the near future, and bid me goodbye.
As I exited the hotel I reviewed in my mind what had just transpired. The guy had told me a lot about Sperry, but I couldn’t recall that he asked very much about me! So, I returned home with the distinct feeling that I had wasted a morning and that was that! Was I ever wrong! About a week later I received a Western Union telegram from Sperry, making me an offer of employment as a Field Engineer in the Polaris program.
At this point, perhaps a quick review of my background and status at that time is appropriate. I was graduated from Northeastern University with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Business Management, had worked for several years in the semiconductor industry, and was currently employed by Honeywell as a systems test engineer in their Brighton, MA. computer-systems test facility. I had learned to breathe life into their H-800 mainframe computer system, which was their transition from a vacuum tube computer to one using semiconductors. I was 28 years old, living at home with my parents, didn’t have a steady girlfriend or current prospects in that regard, and, quite frankly, was looking for a change. Need I say that I was game for the challenge that had been presented to me? After a few negotiations with Sperry, I found myself, on the morning of January 17, 1962, at the Sperry plant in Great Neck, NY. It would be almost 33 years later before I would bid goodbye to Sperry (actually its successor company, Unisys) at the very same location!
After the initial employment office processing, I was escorted to the area of the plant where the Polaris Field Engineering division was located, and began a series of interviews to determine what I was to be doing and where I was to be assigned. A glowing story of life in the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine program was presented to me. I was psyched! Then the subject of the “special ships” came up. It didn’t seem so glamorous, but I soon learned that was to be my assignment. When I asked what happened to the submarine program, I was told that the special ships experience would be a great preparation for that. At this point I was introduced to my new supervisor, a great gentleman from Texas, named George Huss. After a brief chat and a few introductions to the local office staff, he advised me to spend the remainder of the day arranging for temporary local lodging. Then I began two months of “training” on the NAVDAC Mk I computer, either at the plant or aboard USS Compass Island in Brooklyn. I secured a passport, was issued a DOD identification card, travel orders and an airplane ticket. On March 20, 1962, I found myself in Bergen, Norway awaiting the arrival of the USNS Dutton. The adventure had begun!
The Dutton tied-up at about 0900 at a pier, called “Skoltergrienskien” (sp?). I went aboard and was escorted to the office of the Naval Detachment (at that time, OcDet-2) Captain, LCDR Bob Bruce. After a brief welcoming chat, he introduced me to his exec, LT Burrows, the Electronics Material Officer (EMO) LTJG Dunham, and ETC Judy. I then was taken to the “tech rep” stateroom to meet my roommate, fellow Sperry Loran-C field engineer, Ron Greenhagen. Ron had been aboard for several months and had “commandeered” a room-for-six as the Sperry cabin. It was located at the base of the ladder into the navy area, next to the corpsman’s office. Ron and I were the only tech reps aboard at that time. I did not replace anybody because Dutton had not had a NAVDAC rep for quite some time. The previous Captain didn’t think he needed one.
The room had a private head and was equipped with three double bunks, six lockers, and two closets. There also was a round topped table that had a felt cover. Ron, Smitty, the ship’s purser, one of the oceanographers and I played bridge at that table on many occasions.
During that first week aboard, I familiarized myself with the ship’s layout and routine. I became acquainted with a number of the Navy and civilian personnel, and visited the ship's store to equip myself with a couple of sets of khaki "uniforms." Ron showed me around Bergen, and introduced me to his fiancé’, whom he would marry during the next in-port period. Bergen was a relatively small town. It was ok, except for the obvious dislike that some Norwegians had for us. I’m not sure if it was because we were Americans or if it was the ships. All three ships operated out of Bergen, so one of us was in port for five days at least three weeks of each month. You can imagine that after 23 days at sea some of the crew probably gave a bad name to the rest. There was a major communist party element in Norway at that time, so the anti-American feelings might have been influenced by that. I heard stories that some locals were convinced that we had Polaris missiles aboard. There seemed to be a lot of interest in what we did at sea. I remember being asked if we had SCUBA equipment aboard. Although I was entitled to live ashore in a hotel during in-ports, I declined to do that in Bergen, because of this environment.
One other situation concerned the local girls. The members of a particular group of young ladies had been nicknamed “The American Legion.” Each of them seemed to have a boyfriend on each ship. On occasion, the in-port periods of two of the ships would overlap. Usually the girls would be nowhere to be found during this time! The ship returned to Bergen for only one more in-port while I was aboard.
My first at-sea trip in Dutton was quite an experience. The ship departed on Saturday of that first week, and we sailed through the fiord into the Norwegian Sea. When I awoke the following morning, I didn’t feel too well. Was I seasick? It wasn’t rough outside at all! During my “training” period in New York, I spent some time in Brooklyn aboard Compass Island. I spent an 11 day period at-sea aboard the CI. When we were about 5 or 6 hours outside New York harbor, I had joined the other civilians in the officers’ wardroom for dinner. Shortly after beginning to eat a steak, I began to feel a bit "queezy" and had to leave the area. I became very nauseated and “lost over the rail” what little of the dinner I had consumed. My fellow Sperry reps informed me that this was a bad sign. Compass Island had stabilizer fins to reduce the ship’s roll, but Dutton had no such gear. If I got sea sick aboard the CI, what was going to happen on Dutton? Well, I found out. I did get somewhat nauseas for a few days and missed a meal or two, but I never “worshipped the porcelain throne.”
I believe I was spared the real heavy seas that first trip. On later visits to the Norwegian Sea it got very scary for a novice like me. Being trapped in a very high sea with rolls that seemed to keep getting steeper precluded any surveying, and made moving about the ship a challenge. Meals in the officer's mess were quite interesting. Ron and I were seated at a table with the Navy Captain and his Exec. We developed a system that involved each of us being assigned to grab certain dishes when we sensed a sudden heavy roll was coming. The wet table cloths didn't always do the trick!
One fact I failed to mention when presenting my background, is that I had been, for over ten years, and still was, during my time aboard Dutton, an enlisted member of the US Naval Reserve on inactive status. During my years as a reservist, the Navy had not seen fit to call me to active duty. There was some sea duty during annual active duty for training periods. I got seasick for the first time in my life leaving Boston harbor on a PCE, but never had a problem on subsequent voyages, which included some destroyer escorts and even an aircraft carrier. This was the case aboard Dutton. After the initial bouts of nausea, I became used to it, and after the first trip it was never a problem, even in the roughest of seas. As an aside, shortly after I returned to New York, I was assigned to the USS Compass Island and got sick on the first sea voyage, in the same area as before. Years later, I came to realize that I was susceptible to a slow rolling motion rather than a rough sea condition. I never revealed to the Dutton crew that I was, in fact, an ETCN. My biggest fear was that somehow, if this were known, I would find myself being called to active duty and assigned to Dutton at a much lower salary!
Ron had learned a trick to keep you comfortably in your bunks during rough weather. This was to remove the spring from beneath the mattress. I adopted this scheme. We also removed the springs from the upper bunks, which gave us some additional storage space. All of these were stacked and tied in the unused third set of bunks. This seemed to work fine, although in the real bad sea conditions I learned to maintain a good grip on the bunk’s vertical rail even when asleep!
The only significant event during that first trip occurred on March 29th. The LORAN C network master station suffered a tower collapse, and went off the air. There was some talk about shifting further operations to the Med, but a change of master station to a different location in Iceland solved the problem. I recall that later in this period or possibly the next, we anchored for a time off Iceland to monitor that station. The fishing was great, but the Icelandic Coast Guard paid us a visit to see what we were doing on their fishing grounds.
Of course one of the obligatory activities during the at-sea period was the lifeboat drill. All of those ship’s personnel who were not on watch, were required to report to their lifeboat (or raft) station wearing their PFD (they were called life jackets back then) and a hat. Some of the NavOceano guys were pretty creative in the hat department! My lifeboat was #6, which was located aft on the port side. We just gathered in the immediate vicinity of the boat, and roll call was performed. We never exercised the lifeboat. A few months after I came aboard, the ship was in-port, probably in Belfast, and the crew had occasion to attempt to launch the lifeboat. Guess what? It wouldn’t move! I was sure glad I hadn’t needed it for real! This, of course, was remedied. After that, the boat was at least swung out on the davits during each drill. At least once, it was used to do an at-sea transfer of personnel with Michelson.
One of the highlights of each day at sea was the "mid-rats" served each night. Since I rarely got up for breakfast, it became my third meal of the day. Several of the ship's officers, some of the oceanographers and I used to gather in the Officers' Lounge, which was next to the galley, partook of some food and coffee, and had some stimulating conversation. One of the more active participants was the Junior Engineer, a character named Bill Bodie. It would take too long here to do justice to a description of Mr. Bodie, so I will save that to a later posting.
As mentioned above, I was an experienced computer engineer before joining Sperry, but that experience involved state-of-the-art equipment. Now I was faced with a unit that was just a step or two beyond a breadboard. While computer speeds in those days were nothing like those of today, the 125 kilo-hertz clock speed of the NAVDAC was quite slow for its time. Furthermore, the computing process was serial rather than parallel, and there was no “hardware” multiply or divide. Programming, using addition and subtraction techniques, was used to accomplish these operations. Fortunately, at that time the application program operated in six minute cycles, so the speed was adequate for the job.
At the time of my assignment to Dutton, and probably since the initial conversion of the three ships to survey vessels, the NAVDAC was located on the 04 level in a space just forward of the stack. Except for a precision 60 hertz signal generator, it was the only equipment in that space. The Loran C (WPN-3) receivers and a NAVDAC-driven Frieden Flexowriter were in the position-charting room aft of the bridge. There was no SINS or other navigation related device other than the normal ship’s radar, etc. Working on NAVDAC in a rough sea condition was a real challenge since its position high on the ship exacerbated the effect of ship motion. Fortunately, failures were rare and I didn’t need to be up there at those times. I’ll save additional comments about the NAVDAC for a future post.
We operated mainly in the Norwegian Sea during the first seven months I was aboard, maintaining a 23 days at sea - 5 days in port schedule. We usually would arrive in-port on a Monday and depart on the following Friday. Bergen was the “home-port” until May, when we began operations out of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Belfast was a great city. The sectarian open-warfare hadn’t started yet, although the bad feelings were there. Favorite spots for “unwinding” were Thompson’s Honolulu Bar by day, and at night, the Embassy Club. The latter was a dance hall with a full band that opened up at 8 P.M. and closed at 11. It was run by members of the Ulster Constabulary B, the antithesis of the IRA. They illegally sold booze behind the stage, but I doubt that they were ever raided! A lot of local women frequented the place when the ships were in, so there were always opportunities to dance. During the in-ports, I took a room at the Midland Hotel.
Other activities while in Belfast included golf (played at a nearby course called Knock), visiting local historic sites, and once, a train trip down to Dublin, in the South. I usually rented a car while in Belfast, and got my first exposure to driving on the “wrong-side-of-the-road! On occasion, that was exciting!
In October 1962, the Bowditch and Dutton set sail for the Mediterranean. Michelson remained in the North Atlantic area. Bowditch was sailing to Italy, and Dutton’s destination was Piraeus, Greece. We arrived there on October 11th, stayed for 24 hours and left for at-sea operations. However, a sonar problem, involving the transducers at the bottom of the hull, required us to dry-dock in Skaramangas, Greece for 24 hours. After departing there, we spent a week at sea and returned to Piraeus for our scheduled in-port.
Piraeus, the port of Athens, was a typical sailor town. During our first in-port, there were no 6th fleet units in for liberty, so we had the port to ourselves except for a cruise ship or two. Subsequently, there were always a few Navy ships anchored off Piraeus while we were there. We would “Med-moor” at a Greek Navy facility, a short walk from the entertainment district. The first place to get a beer was a bombed out relic of an earlier local war, probably with the Turks. They simply had thrown boards and tin sheets over the remaining walls of the building to provide a makeshift roof. It was populated by a band of gypsies, some of whom (the girls) entertained us by dancing on the tables. The local beer was named FIX. If and when you had to answer the call of nature, the men’s room was located outside in a building next to the bar. The problem was that building had taken a bomb hit, so you could only stand in the doorway and aim at the crater! The things we did for our country.
The next place to visit was John Bull’s Love Nest (Where you’ll meet your mate) a waterfront nightclub just across the street from where the cruise ships docked. It had a dance band at night. I didn’t meet my mate, but I became well acquainted with one of the “hostesses”, a woman named Nana. If anyone remembers the movie “Never On Sunday,” starring a Greek actress named Melina Mecuri(sp?), it could have been Nana’s story. Although her purpose in life seemed mainly to separate me and all of my money, she was really a nice person and we enjoyed each other’s company. Once, I convinced her to accompany me to Athens and act as my guide. We visited the places only Greeks frequented as well as the usual tourist spots. I remember well a visit to a Greek theater where they were presenting a live production of Caesar and Cleopatra. It was performed in Greek. It must have been funny because everyone but I was laughing! As a reward, Nana insisted that I take her to an American movie, so we went to a venue that was playing “Sergeants Three” with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. This was in English, but it had Greek subtitles. It was quite an interesting time.
One significant event occurred during our Eastern Med operations. While operating off the coasts of Lebanon and Israel, we were suddenly approached by an Israeli gunboat running at high speed with all guns manned. Since the ship was operating in international waters, we were not flying the flag. However, the mate standing bridge watch ordered that it be raised ASAP. Don’t know what might have happened if that wasn’t done fast enough, but in later years when the Liberty, another Victory hull, was attacked and seriously damaged by the Israelis, I’m sure many of the Dutton’s crew wondered about it; I know I did.
The biggest difference I found between the Norwegian Sea and the Mediterranean, other than the temperature, was the storms. Although the Med could get pretty rough, the weather would change rather quickly, as compared to a slow buildup and slow calming in the North Atlantic area.
After working in the Eastern Med for a couple of months, I bid Nana a last farewell, and we switched operations to the Western Med, operating out of Barcelona, Spain. Our first in-port in Barcelona occurred over the Christmas holiday. I found Barcelona to be a very large, cosmopolitan city. It was easy to leave the “sailor-area” near the waterfront, once you got your “whistle wet!” Taxis were plentiful and cheap. One of the more startling discoveries was that prices for everything were about half of what we had incurred in Greece. One thing I did miss was a bullfight! It was out-of-season for that sport while I was there.
We had arrived in Spain on December 22nd and were there on Christmas Eve. That night I, being a New Englander, had a strong feeling that it was about to snow. The European winter weather seemed to be dipping a bit further south in 1962-63. One of the locals informed me that they hadn’t had a snow storm in Barcelona for “50 years!” Well, when I woke up in my hotel room the next morning, I looked out the window and was greeted by the sight of a foot of snow. The city was paralyzed! When the snow storm ended, there was about 15 inches on the ground. There was only one snowplow in the area and it was at the airport. No taxis, no busses, no transportation except your legs. It was a long walk to the ship, so I checked out of the hotel and hiked, spending the remainder of the in-port sleeping on the ship. Fortunately there were entertainment places such as the Cosmos and the Kit Kat, located nearby on Las Ramblas. Some of the crew had taken the opportunity to travel away from Barcelona during this period and had great difficulty getting back. In fact the sailing was put off for a day to allow the stragglers to return.
The Western Med operations were uneventful, except for a significant ship’s position problem early in the first at-sea period there. Since we had moved to a different Loran C triad, it had been necessary to load new net information into NAVDAC. A quick perusal of the Loran chart confirmed that there was a significant error in the position obtained from the NAVDAC. Fortunately, one of the oceanographers remembered that the same problem had occurred during a prior operation in that area. It seems that the contractor who installed the transmitter tower in Libya did not place it in the designated spot. While the Loran chart was correct, apparently, the new tower position data had not been transmitted to the people who generated the NAVDAC program data. When the ship’s personnel discovered the error, a correction to the NAVDAC program data was issued and the error was eliminated. The NavOceano rep suggested that we had the old, incorrect information loaded in our NAVDAC. A check with Bowditch revealed that they were having the same problem. So, we contacted the Navy folks in New York, they sent the correct info to both ships, and things got back to normal.
When in New York, I had agreed to a one year stint on Dutton. During the January in-port, my replacement, Charlie Doherty, arrived. He accompanied us on the February-March at-sea period, and I used the time to give him as best an education about NAVDAC as I could. When we returned to Barcelona, I spent one last night in town, and the next day, a Tuesday, bid a somewhat reluctant farewell to Dutton, my home away from home for just under a year. My return to the States was scheduled to involve an Iberian Airlines flight from Barcelona to Madrid, where I was to transfer to a TWA flight to Boston. Not having a residence in New York, I had left those possessions I didn’t need or couldn’t bring overseas, including my car, at my parent’s house. Unfortunately, the plane to Madrid departed about an hour late, so I and six other passengers scheduled to continue on TWA’s flight, arrived in Madrid just as TWA departed. They didn’t wait for us! Attempts to get an alternate flight to the States that day were unsuccessful, so I had to stay in Madrid for a night. The next morning, Wednesday, I boarded a flight to New York, by way of Lisbon. There were no flights to Boston out of Madrid except on Tuesday. When we arrived in the New York area that afternoon, we were informed by the pilot that the whole east coast was socked-in by weather, and we were going to Hamilton, Bermuda to wait it out. The weather took its time clearing, so we spent that night in Bermuda. We left Bermuda the next morning, Thursday, and landed in New York, where I caught a flight to Boston. It took a lot of explaining to account for the two extra days travel and expenses.
That year in Dutton was one of the most memorable periods of my life, and there have been quite a few. It’s hard to believe that I spent over 265 full days and a lot of partial days at sea. There were challenges to deal with. At times it was exciting, and too often was very boring. As John Prough commented, you learned to sleep a lot! There were many interesting people and some not-so-interesting ones to interact with. Some were good and some “not-so-good.” I could nominate several of them as “my most unforgettable character.” The experiences in four foreign countries, each with a quite different flavor, were amazing. And to think I was being paid to be there! Would I do it again if I had the choice? You bet!
My return to New York did not end my relationship with the TAGs or the Mark I NAVDAC. I will discuss this in another posting.
Before I began to write this story, I read the stories of John Prough, a Sperry NAVDAC rep, on Bowditch later in the sixties. His tales brought back many memories about the ships and the five beasts called NAVDAC Mark I! I had the pleasure, although sometimes considered it a misfortune, to work on all five of them during my ten year+ tenure as a Sperry field engineer. I respectfully must differ with John on a few minor points, but I felt I must set the record straight. I hope John does not mind.
· The Mark I and Mark II computers was designed and built by the Marine division of Sperry Gyroscope at the Great Neck, NY plant, not by Univac. They did use a Sperry Univac designed and built drum storage system.
· As stated by John, there were only five Mark I units in existence. Three were on the TAGs, the fourth was on Compass Island, but the fifth was on Observation Island, not at Sperry.
· The NAVDAC Mark II, evolved thru several Mods, up to and including the Mod 4. The Mod 4, and possibly the Mod 3 (my memory is vague on that point) was enhanced to include a core memory in addition to the magnetic drum. And, the Mark II had a hardware implemented multiply and divide instruction. To the best of my knowledge, there was never a “Mod” designation for the Mark I. I suppose the original could have been designated Mod 0. Technically, there should have been a Mod 1 and a Mod 2, as two significant modifications were made to the TAG and Compass Island units.
In 1968 a modification was incorporated to provide an interface to a Digi-Data Digital Stepping Tape Recorder. I designed and installed the prototype of this addition on the Compass Island’s unit, and provided an informal, mini-technical manual addendum to the TAGs so that the resident reps could install the mod in their units at the next overhaul period.
At a different time, the Sperry in-plant engineers designed an interface circuit called the Input Buffer Unit (IBU), using Sperry “sugar cube” technology. The “sugar cube” device was a forerunner of today’s integrated circuit. They had encapsulated discrete components in a sealed, plastic container with protruding pins that plugged into a connector. The IBU was a digital interface to the Mk 3 SINS. It was installed as part of the navcenter upgrades involving the SINS.
Subsequent to my return to New York after my tenure on Dutton, I was stationed, basically, in the Sperry plant, or on Compass Island in the nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard. One of my assignments was to instruct candidates for the TAG NAVDAC Mk I assignments in the workings of that computer. Anyone who has ever had to teach others about something knows that this is the best way for you to really learn about it! Being in that position, I was privy to all of the activity reports sent back to the company by the resident reps on each ship. Thus, I had a pretty good handle on the performance of the equipment, and was probably the most knowledgeable Sperry field engineer concerning the Mk I at that time. More than once, I was the recipient of a phone call from one of the ships (usually in the middle of the night in New York) requesting help. On two occasions that resulted in a quick trip to a far-flung liberty port for some hands-on assistance. More on that subject later.
While it was capable of running flawlessly for weeks and sometimes months on end, when NAVDAC did suffer a failure, it was rare that the cause was obvious. Failures usually were of the intermittent variety that was difficult to isolate or duplicate. On some occasions a defect was induced by some well-meaning ET doing a little PM. John’s timing-card resistor problem was a case in point. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that the technical manual for the Mk I stated: “About every six months, all plug-in packages in the computing unit should be REPLACED (my emphasis).” Not in the real world guys!
The basic logic circuitry in the Mark I and Mark II NAVDAC, as well as the SINDAC, which was associated with the Sperry MK 3 SINS, was the same. Most circuits were formed from discrete components; the main difference being the composition of the plug-in modules. The Sprague 2N240 transistor was used in the Mk I and the 2N293 in the MK II. In later years, the 2N240 was the cause of some grief in the MK I. The original designers of the circuitry utilized the relatively slow switching time of the 2N240 to create a needed delay in their flip-flop circuit. Later on, Sprague “improved” their production process resulting in a faster switching time. Who should complain if I make my product better? Well, in more than one case that I know of, the NAVDAC maintainers should. As a result, repaired circuit boards with the faster transistor began to appear. This led to a situation where bits would change from ones to zeroes or visa-versa when circulated through a register where one or more bit-position flip-flops had the faster device. If this occurred in an address register, the result – a jump out of program to who knows where!
For the most part, the NAVDAC had performed quite well while I was aboard Dutton. A recurring problem, before and after I arrived, was occasional jumps of 10 or multiples of 10 microseconds in the printed time-difference readings. It seemed that this was being caused by a problem in one of the Input Converter units. These were analog to digital converters, known as quantizers, which linked the NAVDAC to the Loran C receivers. The solution appeared to be replacement of the offending quantizer with a new one from stores. This was probably arrived at by a process of elimination. Just keep replacing parts until the symptoms changed or the problem goes away. For some reason, unknown to me, the ETs had never TFR’d a faulty unit and returned it for repair. They just put it back in stores. Somehow they had determined that bad units “got better” by sitting on the shelf. So, the next time there was a failure, they just re-installed a previously “bad” unit. It would work fine.
At the time, I wasn’t very familiar with the NAVDAC hardware or the computer program, and there was little time to get familiar. The tech manual was no help. Since the existing procedure appeared to minimize the downtime of the NAVDAC, I went along with it throughout my time aboard. It was not until June of 1965, during sea trials for the Bowditch following the navigation center and sonar upgrade, that I experienced the problem again. This time, an intensive investigation was undertaken and it was determined that the problem was caused by a noisy internal pick-up in a quantizer. This caused an erroneous time-difference count to be introduced into the program. To fully understand this problem requires an explanation of the basic principles of the process, so I will not attempt to do that here. If any of the technically inclined among us is interested, let me know I will provide it to you. Suffice to say that it was only in certain areas of the Loran network that this pick-up noise would occur in a particular quantizer. If the ship moved to a different area, the problem did not occur in that unit. Different quantizers could have the problem in a different part of the mechanism. Thus, a previously “bad” unit might work quite well if the ship was now in a different part of the net. We devised a test procedure for a quantizer that could identify if and where a defect existed. This was sent to all the ships. Now, a definitive description of the failure could be written on the TFR, and a returned unit could be properly repaired. At this time, we tested all of the Bowditch quantizers, and several were found to be faulty.
During this investigation, Bowditch was in Port Canaveral, Florida. When we informed the chief Naval Applied Sciences Lab (NASL) rep from Brooklyn of the problem he refused to believe us. He may well have been the same guy that John had to deal with in Malta. Some of those guys were quite competent, others were – let’s just say “less than that.” We did not have sufficient replacements aboard. The Compass Island was in Norfolk undergoing an overhaul, so we suggested that their quantizers be removed and shipped to the Cape, so that Bowditch could return to sea and complete the trials. It took some extensive demonstration and convincing to get our way, but we finally succeeded. The arrival and installation of the CI’s units fixed the problem and restored our credibility.
Speaking of the quantizer, I learned the hard way that it posed a significant safety risk. On each unit, an exposed circuit board was present. Several test points were on this board. There was no physical protection from accidental contact with these points. The dangerous part was that 120VAC, 400 Hz was present at each point. There was no placard or other notice to this effect displayed anywhere in the cabinet. Later in my NAVDAC I career, I had occasion to be carelessly holding an un-mounted quantizer in one hand while plugging in its connecting cable to the connector. I got zapped right across the chest. Fortunately, the connection had not been completely seated, and my unconscious reaction to the shock brought the hand with the connector free of the area. This probably saved my life, as no one witnessed the event. I suffered only a slight aching in my chest area for several minutes. It was a stupid thing for me to do, and I guess I was too embarrassed to make an issue of the matter. But the proper action would have been to report it and have a safety cover placed over the circuit card and an appropriate warning posted. I never heard of anybody else getting hurt.
During my assignment to the Compass Island, from April of 1963 to August of 1964, I was one of the NAVDAC field engineers responsible for maintaining the Mark I and the installation and grooming of the Mark II Mod 4. The Mark I developed a nasty habit of jumping out of program on a regular basis. The cause was driving us crazy. Obviously something was happening in the Instruction Shift registers. One day, I was staring at the display panel, with the computer stopped. All of a sudden the register contents shifted. At the same time I thought I detected that something else had happened in the computer room. I continued to watch, and approximately six minutes later another shift occurred. At that time I heard a noise. It turned out that the noise was a switching relay in a six minute timer used for a plotting system in the computer room. We found that a noise pulse was being imposed on the precision 60 Hertz signal being supplied to the NAVDAC. An astute, former NAVDAC rep on Michelson, by the name of Bruce Mayo, helped in the troubleshooting and determined that the problem was related to a low voltage on one phase of the 120 V – 400 Hertz power to the NAVDAC. Apparently, this caused the NAVDAC dc power circuits to be sensitive to this noise pulse. I didn’t understand then and still don’t understand how this happened, but we placed a Variac, a variable amplitude transformer, on that line, raised the voltage, and the problem disappeared. We installed a filter on the precision 60 Hertz line to get rid of the noise pulse, and the Variac transformer was no longer required. Just another quirk in the Mark I’s make-up!
I’m sure that these types of stories regarding the Mark I NAVDAC are probably legion. I feel that one more concerning the one on the Observation Island will be of interest. For those who are not familiar with the ships other than the TAGS which had Mark I’s, let me take a minute to comment on them. The USS Compass Island, EAG-153, operating out of Brooklyn, NY, was the floating test bed for the Polaris, and eventually the Poseiden SSBN Navigation Subsystem. The USS Observation Island, EAG-154, operating out of Port Canaveral, FL, was the floating test bed for the actual missile subsystems. The OI, had a rudimentary navigation center to provide starting position information for the missile guidance system as well as other information. The central navigation computer was not a NAVDAC MK II, as was on the actual subs. So this task fell to the venerable MK I. There was no NAVDAC rep from Sperry assigned to the ship. Upkeep fell on the shoulders of the ship’s crew. For the most part, they did well. That is until some of the quirks mentioned above came into play! I found myself making a number of trips to the Cape to troubleshoot these difficulties. Usually I was successful. On one occasion I made a 17 day cruise on the OI to cover a special operation. But the story I want to tell concerns something that happened in late 1967.
I was summoned to the Cape for a serious problem in the Mk I. It seems that another well-meaning ET had performed some PM on that baby. He had removed most of the logic circuit boards in the computing unit and tested them on the Package Tester. I should mention that this tester was a piece of crap. In any event, he discovered ringing on the observed waveforms from a lot of the transistors. What did he do? He replaced the transistors. Remember my earlier comments on the “improved” 2N240 transistors? Well, this created a variety of sources to cause jumps out of program! It would not stay in program for any great length of time. Despite my best efforts, I could not fix the problem during the three days I was there. Unfortunately for me, the ship was departing for a trip the fourth day. The captain insisted that I was to accompany them. Where were they going? To Pearl Harbor, Hawaii via the Panama Canal! I made a quick trip into Cocoa Beach and purchased some clothes, etc. and departed with them. My weekend trip turned out to be six weeks long. I returned by air from Honolulu.
The mission on this trip was to actually fire a couple of unarmed Polaris missiles from the ship. This was to be accomplished on the Pacific missile range, with the missiles being used as targets for some ABM tests. During the ten day trip from the Cape to Pearl, I continued to work on the problem and had some success. However things were still a little dicey when we arrived off Johnson Island in the Pacific, after loading missiles at Pearl.
You should know that the MK I had a special power supply setup. When the system was turned on the various DC power supply voltages were brought up in a specific sequence over several minutes. The reverse occurred when the system was turned off. This was accomplished by a series of heat actuated, time-delay relays. These looked like vacuum tubes, and I believe these are the tubes John Prough was referring to in his commentary. The actual power supplies were solid state, plug-in units. In any event, if the power was turned off for any reason, one had to wait for these “hot” relay units to cool down before the power could be restored. This sequence usually took about six or seven minutes. If the computer jumped out of program, the only solution was to power off , wait for the cooling-off period to elapse, and turn the power on.
Well, for the first missile launch, everything was going rather smoothly during the countdown. Even the Mk I was behaving. None of the “old” equipments in the navcenter were completely reliable, so everyone had their fingers crossed. The countdown was down to about five minutes when all hell broke loose. It seemed that every equipment cabinet had a drawer open with someone busily trying to keep things going. The NAVDAC decided to join the fray and jumped out of program. There was not sufficient time to do a normal recovery, so I resorted to pulling the hot relay tubes out of their sockets and holding them up in the air conditioning ducts to expedite the cooling, while praying for a hold in the countdown. Somehow I gained sufficient time to get the system up and running before the launch occurred. As a side note, that particular launch went off well. Unfortunately, a communications snafu caused post-launch problem. Nobody on the ship or on Johnson Island knew for sure where the missile was headed, and neither range safety on OI or Johnson Island had their destruct transmitter turned on. It was a scary situation until down-range radar picked up the missile. It was right on the intended track. However, the ship was ordered to return to Pearl until an investigation to determine what happened was completed. This lengthened the trip by two weeks. We returned to Johnson and fired another shot without incident. I don’t recall, if I ever knew, whether the ABM’s hit their target!
Getting back to the TAGs, I was called upon to visit all three ships during the years 1964 to 1970. The first was a few days on Michelson in January 1964 in Brooklyn. I don’t recall why they were there or for how long, or why I was needed. I next saw Michelson in Yokosuka, Japan for their six week overhaul in September and October 1966. Later, in March of 1967, I was called to visit them again in Japan. There was a problem that took more time to fix than the in-port period gave me. NAVDAC kept doing that to me! So, I found myself leaving Japan aboard Michelson rather than an airplane. We were at sea for close to 28 days I had the problem fixed within two days after leaving port. The only air conditioning was in the navcenter, and we were operating in the Pacific near the Philippines. It was hot! Due to a security breach involving the ship, that occurred sometime before I got to it, the Navy, in their infinite wisdom, increased the security classification of the operation to TS. Although I had a TS clearance, I was not allowed in the navcenter unless it was absolutely necessary, and then only when I was escorted by an armed guard and all printers were covered. Of course, I had free access to the NAVDAC, and could have accessed all kinds of information while I was troubleshooting. But rules are rules! So I suffered in silence and made the best of it.
The security incident apparently occurred in November 1965. I was told only that it involved a “sailor” from the Michelson entering the Russian embassy in Tokyo. Recently, I discovered more about this incident. Doing some research concerning the TAGs, I happened to “Google” the Michelson. This led me to a website called Literatureview.Com. The owner of this site is a gentleman named Jonah McLeod. Its main purpose is to “showcase literary works that readers have found particularly noteworthy.” However, Mr. McLeod also has used the site to publish his “blog” as well. He has written a number of articles concerning his life and travels. Part of this details his experiences as an ET aboard USNS Michelson in 1965 and 1966. One post, entitled: “A Spy in Our Midst” is of particular interest here. Some of the others are of general interest. I don’t know the legal ramifications if I were to directly present these articles here, but I believe there is nothing wrong with referring you to the site. It may be accessed by addressing: www.literatureview.com/blog. He posted a great number of articles, and it is a little cumbersome to find those concerning Michelson. So, as a convenience to my readers, I have constructed a list of those I consider relevant. His posts are not necessarily in chronological order, and I have tried to organize them as such. They are given in the table below. When you get to the site, just look up the referenced posting date. [We now have permission to post the articles. Go to them here. Admin.]
Date Posted Title Period Covered
1/7/2005 Setting Sail For Adventure July 1965
1/10/2005 First Day Aboard USNS Michelson July 1965
1/8/2005 Honcho Street Yokosuka Summer 1965 summer 1965
2/22/2005 A Spy in Our Midst October 1965
2/7/2005 1965 Yokosuka to Portland, A Journey December 1965
2/9/1965 Dishing Out Grief December 1965
2/11/2005 Homecoming January 1966
2/16/2005 Passing Through January 1966
2/26/2005 A Visit to Nagasaki April 1966
One interesting fact gleaned from McLeod’s postings is the purpose of Michelson’s visit to Portland, Oregon in January 1966. Apparently this was the yard period when the navcenter upgrade was installed. Since I had been involved in the upgrade of Bowditch and later of Dutton, one may wonder why I wasn’t in Portland. A check of my files showed that I was in New Orleans during that period, representing Sperry for the grooming and installation of a BRN-3 system aboard USNS Twin Falls. This was another Victory ship that was being converted for Atlantic missile range duty. Gee, that was a tough assignment, being there during Mardi-Gras and all! Later on in its history, Twin Falls was being considered as a fourth TAGs ship. That obviously never happened.
In January and February 1967, I visited Dutton in Galveston, Texas. This was during a six week overhaul-period following a return to the States. It was during this time that its navcenter upgrade was accomplished. A field engineer named Bill Feldman was the NAVDAC rep aboard Dutton at that time.
All three ships continued to operate as survey vessels until they were replaced and deactivated. As of this writing, July 2007, Bowditch and Michelson have been scrapped. Dutton, as far as I know, is still in existence as part of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, in Beaumont, Texas. One can “Google Earth” the Beaumont Texas area find a satellite view of these ships in a mooring area. I believe Dutton can be identified by its shape.
Compass Island is at a scrap-yard in England. The scrapping is being held up by legal challenges concerning hazardous materials. I have no knowledge of the fate of Observation Island.
Of course all of the NAVDAC MK I's were removed long before the ships were retired. I recall being told that most were “deep-sixed” while the ships were on their way to be over-hauled. Perhaps a reader of this can supply some dates. I know that one, probably from the Compass Island, made its way back to Sperry Great Neck. I remember seeing it in the receiving area. I wasn’t in Field Engineering at that time (moved to an in-plant position in May 1972), and have no idea what its ultimate disposition was. All I have to remind me of them is a copy of the technical manual, a write amplifier module, and a sampling of the “sugar cubes”, all of which I “liberated” from the Field Engineering department at Sperry when the computers were eliminated. They were a relatively simple machine, but they could be and often were a challenge. I am glad to be part of this effort to preserve the memory of the ships, their crews and equipment.