I was inspired by a recent Facebook post by shipmate Nate Neely who thought a meme stating “Join the U.S. Navy and work with yesterday’s technology, tomorrow!” was entertaining. As a result, I thought of an appropriate application to the USS Bremerton when I served on her from 1983-1986.
LOS ANGELES CLASS FAST ATTACKS – AN/BQQ-5 EQUIPPED
The AN/BQQ-5 was an advanced technology sonar suite, a digitally processed system built, primarily by IBM, that incorporated many of the sensors and analog components made by Raytheon, Hughes and other manufacturers.
The IBM based Q-5 sonar system received raw data from multiple hydrophone arrays similarly to its predecessor, the AN/BQS-13, whose game changing upgrade was the transducer filled spherical array housed in the bow dome. The Q-5 took advantage of digital processing to provide several modes of operations, outputting to three identical operator stations for both multimode capability as well as redundancy. This gave the Q-5 the ability to integrate former stand alone pieces of sonar classification equipment used on early submarine classes. Along with enhanced digital audio and analog audio options, the Q-5 offered a variety of CRT based display options.
I heard back in the day, in its original proposed designs the Q-5 was not equipped with headset audio. To that Pollyannish limitation, any fleet sonarman would say, “You must be out of your mind.”
The Q-5 did have the trademark waterfall displays, which under the dark blue “mood” lights of a quiet sonar shack (back when 688s had real sonar shacks) were the most distinctive attraction for visitors to sonar who needed a nature break from the rigid environment of piping, valves, electrical conduits, green paint, commonly found in the rest of the boat.
THE UYK-7 – Origins stemming from 1957
At the heart of the Q-5 sonar was the systems mainframe computer, the “brains” of the system. Originally designed to virtually flawless operation with the IBM 360, the Navy opted to substitute the IBM mainframe with a stalwart computer whose design origins can be traced back late 1957 (ethw.org). The substitute computer was called the AN/UYK-7, which began winning government contracts late in 1967 (ethw.org).
Aboard 698, the UYK-7, affectionately known among sonarmen as the “JUNK-7”, also gracing our makeshift lyrics to Olivia-Newton John’s hit “Let’s get Physical” with “Let’s get Digital (Listen to my UYK talk).”
The UYK-7 was built by Sperry-Univac and was controlled by a manual interface that is commonly mounted detached from the mainframe. Conducting diagnostics on the computer required extensive training in machine language to run maintenance and to operate. A good human memory was critical in doing any operations quickly with the system underway since without it, no Q-5 sonar signals are being processed and that presents a hazardous condition, especially in a tactical situation. The UYK-7 came with small quick reference handbooks that were often useless under stress.
The main frame itself contained a CPU unit, an IO Controller and two types of memory in huge Army/Navy bomb proof spec units. Memory could be either a magnetic core non-volatile read only that would survive without power and a DDM (double density “film”) volatile memory that was the working area for processing the 360 degree data coming in from the spherical, hull and towed array sensors.
One thing was for sure, it looked like a computer that could feasibly take a liberal beating and keep on ticking.
By 1983, there were several revisions of the IBM system, there was even a “Q-6” used on the Ohio Class missile submarines that had all the bells and whistles a sonar needed when your main task is meant to be a far away from anything as possible, which is not the case with a fast attack. There were already major revisions to the Q-5 by the time I reported to Bremerton: the Q-5A and Q-5B and the Q-5C, all of which used multiple UYK-7’s to provide advanced processing capabilities, but the USS Bremerton SSN-698, from its beginnings and beyond 1986 was blessed with not 2… not 3… not 4 but an awe-inspiring ONE UYK-7.
Q-5 FY-79 The Cadillac of Q-5 Sonar Systems
The USS Bremerton, the fastest nuclear fast attack submarine in the U.S. Navy was equipped with the oldest seagoing Q-5 afloat.
I’ve had a discussion with Jeff Marcey, the other Advanced Q-5 tech who served from 1982-1986, and we disagree which serial number the 698’s Q-5 had. He thinks it was A-1, I think it was A-3, possibly A-4. What we both agree on is the Bremerton’s Q-5 sonar system was original equipment on the USS Los Angeles – SSN 688 and on the LA, it ran so terribly, it was ripped out and revamped at IBM, in time for installation on Bremerton.
There are some thoughts about where A-1 and A-2 were. A-1 could have been a prototypes in IBM Manassas, Virginia, and A-2 a trainer at Fleet ASW Training Center in San Diego. But I would have to dig around to confirm. That’s why I tend to remember 698 having A-3, as it was stamped on the IBM ID plate on the Sonar Supervisor Console in sonar.
If you think being the oldest sonar system in the fleet was bad, think again. Called the AN/BQQ-5 FY-79, It didn’t garner a letter designation, but it was the purest form of the original design and unhindered by the revisions that caused certain un-reliabilities. Thanks to the sonar division and a command who understood the value of submarine sonar, the Bremerton had the one of the best operating Q-5s in our squadron. We called it “The Cadillac of Q-5s” being the oldest cat in the neighborhood.
698 was a fast boat, the fastest in 688 history, and she had her sensor technology pushed to the limit. Uncle SAM got his money’s worth.
In a large team of talented and skilled sonarmen, I do not hesitate to give Jeff Marcey credit for his focused, skilled work, and technical leadership on the Q-5, a credit to his father who made the pre-Navy Jeff try to fix any broken machine or appliance they could find. Jeff was one of the savviest sonar technicians ever to don a pair of dolphins, who sacrificed a lot of qualification time to help ready the Q-5 for the performance she ultimately was capable of. With an attrition rate of 50% in his Advanced Q-5 Sonar Maintenance Training Course pipeline it was like the BUDS of sonar training, but he survived the very high standards the Navy had for the first “209” Maintenance Courses. Nevertheless, it took a lot of team work to straighten the Bremerton’s Q-5 out, and it does take a good team of sonarmen to maintain a big system, to operate it properly, to treat it right, and to keep it functioning well.
A fast attack is equipped with several sonar systems aside from the Q-5. Most of these systems fell under the care of the “Space Techs”. These sonar technicians learned their skills in the Navy’s Space Maintenance program where they became experts in these accessory equipments. Most of these systems were carryovers from the 637 Class and were updated versions of analog-component based systems with solid state upgrades. It was said that, by and large, the Space Maintenance techs were better electricians due to the nature of their equipment.
COLD WAR MISSION & AWARDS
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) was the name of the silent game and the Bremerton was destined to grab her share of the quiet glory. Successful U.S. Navy submarine operations helped bring an end to the “first” Cold War.
Between 1983 through 1986, with the FY-79, Bremerton was awarded two Navy Unit Citations, Two Battle “E”s, Three Sea Service awards, and the Expeditions Award. This does not include her exploits coming from Groton to Pearl and other operations between 1981 through 1982 which I cannot personally attest to. I’ll let the Bremerton plankowners, under the command of CAPT. Thomas H. Anderson, tackle that one.
During my service time, Bremerton had the honor of serving under two Commanding Officers, CAPT Douglas S. Wright and CAPT Alan R. Beam, whose sub-driving styles matched our operations very well. Sonar also served with two fine and cosmically different sonar chiefs, Ric May and Master Chief Bill Brehler. In less than a 3 year ride, the officers and crew had the privilege of being involved in a wide spectrum of ASW related operations in which the Q-5 FY-79 sonar system proved to be extremely capable from end to end.
So Nate, yes, we’ll take on all comers with yesterday’s technology tomorrow.
Feature image source: “AN/UYK-7 Computer” is from ithistory.org
Written by: USS BremertonSSN-698 Plankowner Russ Woods
My memory of a hero and my friend,
may he rest in peace.
From mid-June 1978 thru early 1979, Naval Submarine School, New London, spit out a group of swaggering, cocky, freshly minted Submariners, AKA “Boat Sailors”. One by one we reported to the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, CT. to become crewman in the Pre-Commissioning Unit Bremerton SSN 698 which would become USS Bremerton.
We reported aboard standing tall and proud. We just knew the world revolved around us. As we checked in and learned of what was expected from each of us we discovered we were now part of Admiral Rickover’s Nuclear Navy.
There was serious work being done, requiring the full attention of serious men. Every Monday, we would arrive bright and early, 6’2”, shoulders straight and chest swollen with pride. Each successive day the responsibility and accountability of our duties weighed us down. As we exited the building ways on Friday afternoon we were now more like 5’ 8” and a bit bent over from the load.
Fortunately for us, just down the road at Norm’s “Tug Boat Annie’s Lounge” there was the Submarine Troubadour, Tommy Cox and his band. Tommy Cox, “TC”, “Tango Charlie”, whatever you called him, he was one of us. He was a recently retired Senior Chief, whose specialty in the Navy was as a Crypto Tech, a Spook, in plain English, he was a spy. He was part of the Special Ops group, that would report aboard a boat just prior to deployment on some Top Secret mission with specialized equipment, the Skipper would get him somewhere on the globe he needed to be and he would set about obtaining secrets our adversaries would rather stay unknown. His specialty was what the Submarine mission was most about during the “Cold War” years. And here on stage was this American Hero, regaling us FNG’s…. you know, “Fun New Guys”, with a song list of all the current Country and Western songs, interspersed with those of his own creation of the daring do of Submarines and Submariners whose shoulders we were standing upon.
His band was as they say in the music industry, “Tight”. Tommy’s voice boomed clear and crisp thru the mic and out the speakers of the Amps. For the “Bremerton Boys”, when we would hear, “Torpedo in the Water”, “Gitmo Blues”, “Seawolf” or any of the Submarine Ballads he would belt out our backs stiffened, our shoulders straightened and our chest swelled with pride. We were playing the game of “Blind Man’s Bluff” of which he sang.
This infusion of pride gave us the energy and will to head back down to the boat for the better part of two years as we oversaw the construction of what would become during our time the fastest submarine in the world. And 40 years later she would be de-commissioned as America’s longest serving submarine.
Uncle Sugar, certainly got his money’s worth with Bremerton. Many boats born after her went to the scrap heap years before her. Us Bremerton Boys, the “Plank Owners” choose to believe the standard of excellence that was created by that original crew, was passed down to successive crews for 4 decades, which allowed her to endure so long. That equation cannot be calculated without factoring in the contribution Tommy Cox, made to our pride and morale. So much so, moving forward, in my humble opinion, he should be recognized as an “Honorary Plank Owner” of USS Bremerton.
During this time several sailors of Bremerton, met and married the love of their life. Happily, to my knowledge they are all still together. A common theme of these weddings was Tommy and his band playing at their receptions. There was, is and always will be a special bond between the Bremerton Boys and Tommy and Sandy Cox.
Yes, Sandy, we can never leave you out either. How many weekend nights did you sit close by and support Tommy as he invigorated all of us with his music.
At this sad but inevitable time what gives us comfort is knowing Tommy’s voice is still being heard by the generations of cocky young bucks that are just now graduating from “Underwater U”, and by those who will come later. All of his songs are in my Spotify line up. When one of them comes on I sit up a bit taller in my pickup seat.
From all of the Bremerton Boy’s to Sandy and the entire Cox family we send our sincere condolences to you and we grieve with you the loss of Tommy. All I can say now is “Sailor, rest your oar. We have the watch”.
As of February 2023, the there is no expected “major” 698 reunion scheduled for this year.
Having said that… here’s some thoughts off the top of my head…
The wide world of creating a reunion is open to any anyone who has the time, drive and the initiative. There have been some successful reunions organized in the past by a variety of shipmates and this could be a good opportunity for others to step up with ideas for a reunion.
Reunions by Connectability
There is no one way to organize and set the specs on an alumni gathering. A reunion can be anything from meeting with one shipmate, which requires little preparation, to a mass gathering of 100 that can be a passionate ordeal unless you are a professional event planner.
Groups and group ideas I’ve seen or have heard of in the past may be a small group that gets together just because they are a really tight circle and they gather every couple years in a place like Las Vegas, or a gathering for a camping and/or fishing trip, someone has access to a cool venue and invites their shipmates, maybe it’s a call to those who served during a particular year(s), someone mentioned an overnighter on a diesel boat, some have even called for participants on a particular WestPac, or under a certain COs. The possibilities can be quite endless.
Veteran Activity: Inside a U.S. Army Airborne Association chapter —
There was an army association group I was involved in, the 11th Airborne Division had a national organization and then there would be all kinds of chapters which tended to be regional. My dad was involved in starting a chapter along with some of his fellow troopers who lived in the San Francisco bay area. They named their chapter after their commanding general in WWII who happened to live nearby.
In the early 1980s, about 10 veteran soldiers got together, they ranged in rank from Lt. General to private, and became the first charter members. They were presented aide-de-camp pins from Lt. General Joseph M. Swing in a ceremony at his home in San Francisco. Thus began their official Lt. General Joseph M. Swing Chapter of the 11th Airborne Division Association.
Once they went down that road, there’s a lot of meetings and record keeping for the non-profit status requirements. I do not think this format lends itself to individual submarine alumni groups but it was interesting to see how involved they were monument creation, community events, service events at the local VA hospital, parades, and giving talks at schools. Every year they would attend the Division reunion, a few I’ve been to, so it was quite organized and part of their lifestyle.
Their format would be most liken itself to the USSVI , where several 698 shipmates have taken leadership and membership roles within that organization.
There was also a renown Airborne sponsored event near Monterey, CA in Marina called Maggie’s Drop-In, named after “Colonel” Martha Raye, the patriotic entertainer who was awarded an honorary Green Beret for her support of soldiers during the Vietnam War. She would make her appearance at the annual and that was a popular gathering for all airborne soldiers and their families. It was highlighted by a massive BBQ and a parachute jump by by a special Army unit. You guys would have had a blast there, I’m sure. Being a submariner, the airborne guys I would meet would almost invariably say something to the effect of, “There’s no &%$#*@ way you’d get me on a submarine.”
Planning Basics – Leadership and Accountability
Planning an event or setting the criteria for who is going to show up will have a lot to do with whoever is willing to call the shots and take on the mantle of organizing a team to put an event together. It really becomes the head organizer’s call and just becomes his prerogative as the lead. (Remember, we are not a monolithic national organization and like the Silent Service, we are all volunteers and often applying our limited resources to the task).
The head organizer or reunion committee, should best understand his/their limitations in regards to time, energy and the venue limitations. It’s a real commitment and more so the larger it gets.
Planning a large event requires a few more hats and budgeting the necessary time to be responsible for broader planning, communication, decisions and execution.
Major events necessarily require a more exhaustive organizing and planning just because it is in effect an open to all who ever served on 698, with considerations for family involvement, and a wide age range of people participating, working hotel accommodations, facilities, catering or working with restaurants with private rooms – sadly, it’s a bit more complex than getting together at a nice watering hole, most reminiscent of the days when all we could at the spur of the moment take off for the patio lounge of choice to watch an awesome sunset… and then six or more hours later, weave our back to the base and hit the rack and hope you didn’t have duty the next morning (Those were the days, my friends, we’d thought they never end…).
Shipmate Psychology 101
It’s understandable that shipmates gravitate towards those they shared their personal experiences on the boat with, that’s natural and more easily organized.
Some ideas for reunion spots ideas that have popped up so far that are not 698 specific (Pearl, Bremerton, Groton, San Diego) have been
Charleston SC, Little Rock, and Indianapolis.
I bet there’s a Texan out there that would have some wild idea.
I saw two enthusiastic shipmates call for Olangapo.
Obviously, there are ongoing private gatherings of shipmates throughout the country getting together as life permits.
FUTURE OF LARGE REUNIONS – GROTON, CT.
In discussions with previous reunion organizers involved with the INACTIVATION and DECOM reunions (held in Bremerton in 2018 and 2021 which were host to over 100 people on each occasion) our eyes are set on the boat’s “50th Anniversaries” (that’s plural) to be held in Groton, at least once, in either 2026, 2028 , and/or 2031 (those are special years for 698). Some information has been gathered already in regards organizing an event there by an industrious plankowner 698 TM/SS.
Groton, Connecticut offers attractions no matter who served on 698 or when. This includes SUB School, SUBASE, SHIPYARD, the local hangouts, all able to elicit your memories of your proud service, the camaraderie of your shipmates, and the pure essence of your introduction to the Silent Service.
THE USSVI ALTERNATIVE
In regard to USSVI, their annual is in Arizona August 28-Sep2 (about) you can check their website. In lieu of a 698 National Organization (of which there is nothing of the sort), the USSVI can be a surrogate and arrange with your circle to meet at these events.
USS BREMERTON CA-130
The CA 130 Bremerton group, once a regularly gathering group of the cruiser’s officers and crew and whose roster included several 698 guys , is no longer meeting, as far as I know. Sadly, Time takes its toll. Let us know if you heard anything different.
Their hopes that the submariners would help takeover the organization did not work out, but to no ones fault. If we look more closely, there are probably many demographic differences between a cruiser (larger crews) of an older generation with less distractions and a submarine crew (with less sailors) growing into the age of technology with every possible distraction known to mankind.
Nevertheless, the CA-130 sailors, hats off to them, they managed to have a viable group for a very long time.
Getting the Word Out
There are some generic reunion websites out there, you are free to use them. As for this website, I can help make announcements. A non-social media website like this one helps to connect with those who are not members of the various social media apps.
Do you have any event organizing experience and would like to be involved in future reunions?
Your Vision of a Reunion
What are your ideas for a reunion or a good venue? What does your vision of a gathering look like?
Editor’s Note: This post is inspired by fellow Navy man, Michael P. McGrath, who served on the USS Anchorage LSD-36. He brought to our attention the demise of his ship at the hands of the USS Bremerton. As he puts it,
“No, I do not like it one bit …. but, if anyone was to sink my ship, I’m glad it was SSN-698. GO NAVY!” (See website at lsd36.com).
An ODE to the SHIPS we served
An excerpt from “The United States Navy” (422) by CAPT Edward L. Beach
“There always has been a mystique involving the self-contained little world of a large, well-founded ship, combating the far greater elements of wind and sky and the huge, trackless, sometimes malevolent sea. It was not lessened when the lovely square-riggers with their clouds of grey-brown canvas gave way, unwillingly, unavoidably, to steel behemoths powered by steam engines. There has always been something mysterious, and beautiful, about a ship on the bosom of the sea, something which makes men fall in love with her, even invest in her a living personality. But not only did a big ship become a living, sentient being to those who served her, she was also a community of kindred souls, of men who thought alike and worshipped at the same shrine. Never, even to the youngest sailor, has a ship been only a mechanism. To men who have devoted their lives to ships, any ship – but principally their own ship – becomes their reason for life itself…”
USS ANCHORAGE LSD-36
Commissioned: 15 March 1969
Received by the Deep/Target Ship: 17 July 2010 Sunk by a torpedo from USS Bremerton (SSN-698)
“SHIP’S MISSION: To embark, deploy and land elements of a Marine Landing Force in an assault by helicopter, landing craft, amphibious vehicles or by a combination of these methods…
…USS Anchorage was equipped with machine shops and repair facilities, and along with two 50-ton Boat & Aircraft Cranes; one port, one starboard, could provide drydock services for vessels up to harbor tug in size. This is when the flight deck could be removed.
This ship could embark 302 troops and had extensive storage facilities, including 1,400 cubic feet for cargo and ammunition stowage and 8,400 square feet for vehicle storage. Her flight deck had one helicopter spot and could carry two LCAC (Landing Craft, Air Cushion) in their well decks. More landing craft could be carried if the Mezzanine Deck were removed…
USS Anchorage was the first ship to be named after Alaska’s largest city. The ship is lead ship of her class and is the fourth class of LSD to be built. Her motto is ‘Sui Generis’, meaning ‘unique; of its own kind’…
USS Anchorage saw 34 years of honorable service after being commissioned in 1969. Before decommissioning in 2003, USS Anchorage patrolled in three of the world’s oceans and countless trouble spots, deploying 19 times from her home ports of San Diego and Long Beach. USS Anchorage earned the distinction of being the most decorated dock landing ship on the West Coast with 16 awards.”
During the 2010 SINK-EX, after being pounded by all sorts of weapons from the air and the surface, the noble Anchorage stayed afloat. Waiting patiently for her turn, the USS Bremerton was ordered to fire a single MK-48 ADCAP torpedo, and with a perfect shot sent the ex-USS Anchorage LSD-36 to her final resting place.
All images below are sources from the QuickTime video in the link below:
A strong ship, it takes almost 22 minutes for the Anchorage to succumb to the death blow from Bremerton’s MK48, yet fate waits, and the ocean receives her.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to several Badfish shipmates who chimed in to confirm this SINKEX activity in 2010, including Shane Madak, Gene Gard, Marlo DelPueblo, Matt Eliason, Jeffrey Tottingham, Randall Moore, Jared Simpson, Steven Ralph, Michael Gendron, John Scanlan, Ron Shirey and John Stolhand.