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Throwing The Wrong Switch !

The U.S.S. Bergall (SS 320) was a brand new submarine. She had been built and commissioned at Groton, Connecticut and was anxious to prove she was a fighting boat. In order to reach the Pacific, she had to go through the Panama Canal.

As you well know, a submarine always makes a trim dive just before dawn to assure that the water is distributed so that the boat is in balance should the occasion arise that the submarine would have to dive.

The Bergall was three days out from Panama when she made her trim dive just before dawn. The auxiliary man was running the air compressors so he reached to shut them off when he heard the diving alarm sound but he reached for the wrong switch and he mistakenly shut off the forward power. The accumulator had enough hydraulic power to open the vents on the tanks but with no more hydraulic pressure, not enough to close them. The Bergall was headed for the bottom of the sea.

The submarine started down with the vents open and could not be stopped. She was headed nose first and so the water was pressing on the upper deck and forcing her down. How far down the submarine went, nobody knows but the guessing later was that it was deeper than 400 feet. The indicators on the hydraulic manifold showed red to indicate the vents on all tanks were open but nobody knew why.

Fortunately, the men in the engine rooms and the electricians in the maneuvering room had closed the large flapper valves in their compartments so only the main induction was flooded. The chief at the hydraulic manifold could not close the large mushroom valve that normally would let air in but now let the sea in.

Nobody knew what to do: the submarine was out of control! The Captain, Commander James Hyde, just then happened to step into the control room and saw that something was wrong, so he yelled, 'All back emergency!' Thus, the boat slowed, and then stopped and backed out of the water. After the Bergall gained the surface again, the main induction was drained into the bilges and then pumped out to sea. The main Induction holds eight tons of water, so that helped to drive the boat down again. The auxiliary man, although a good man, was transferred out at Pearl Harbor because he almost sank us. The Bergall went on to prove her mettle; that she was indeed a fighting boat and didn't let a near sinking worry her.

(recollections of Paul Fields, plank owner, USS Bergall)

For a more in-depth recollection of this test dive, please read Nishan (Radar) Derderian's account of that "emergency dive" here.

Another tale of a dive gone bad by Abe Kern from 1954, "I did it myself"

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