18 July 2008


I see in the news that RIMPAC 2008 is currently in progress. This exercise, involving the navies of various nations around the Pacific rim (RIM of the PACific - get it?)* and held every even-numbered year, was the first major exercise I was involved in.

Oly arrived in Pearl Harbor in early '86, having done a homeport shift from Norfolk (via Seattle, Olympia WA and Nanoose Bay BC). In November of that year we departed on our first WestPac. In between, we did all the usual submarine-preparing-for-deployment things; as the newest submarine in Hawai`i, it was probably inevitable that we would also be selected to play in that year's RIMPAC, which involved the US, Canada, Japan, the UK (which at the time still owned Hong Kong) and Australia.

Every morning at 0800 all traffic on base stops as the national ensign, which was taken down at sunset the night before ("evening colours"), is raised again ("morning colours"). Vehicles in motion stop; people walking come to attention and salute. In those days, at least, the national anthem was played during morning colours at Pearl Harbor every day except Sunday, when the bugle call was played instead.

The first foreign ship to arrive was a Brit fast boat; morning colours the next day or two included one verse each of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "God Save the Queen." Then the Japanese contingent (a diesel boat and a couple of skimmers, as I recall) showed up, and we got a day or two with "The Star-Spangled Banner," "God Save the Queen" and, presumably, "Kimigayo." Then the next ships came in - and they switched to the bugle call for the rest of the time the visitors were in port.

To enable all exercise messages to be placed on the broadcast, but to keep the two sides from reading each other's traffic, different crypto was issued to each side. We started out assigned to one side, and were issued the correct crypto, but shortly before the exercise started we were switched to the other side and issued new crypto - but the first lot wasn't recalled, so when we went to sea we were still carrying both sets. Seeing no reason to let such an opportunity go to waste, we radiomen loaded both sets; "our" traffic went on the boards for dissemination, as usual, and the "enemy" messages were printed out and collected in a binder. The original idea was that we would give the binder to the Nav at the end of the exercise, but he was looking so depressed after the first few days that we ended up sharing the "intel" with him about halfway through.

(I don't know what he had to be depressed about; it certainly wasn't the tactical situation. Amongst the other "enemy" messages was a daily locator message giving the last known position for each of "our" ships. It's hard to hide those big grey things, of course, but throughout the entire exercise the last known posit given for Oly was pierside, the morning we got under way.)

Part of our mission for the exercise was to land a SEAL team on one of the other islands. There were five or six SEALs altogether, but I can only remember three of them: A young-looking ensign, a scrawny little BMCS and a very large HM1. (My first thought on seeing the latter was, How the heck did he get those shoulders down through the hatch?) We carried them around with us a few days, then surfaced late one night and put them over the side in their little rubber life raft. Mission accomplished, on our part and (as far as I know) on theirs as well.

SEALs go through some interesting stuff, including survival training - one result of the latter being their long-time nickname of "Snake Eaters." Somewhere in the middle of the exercise, some staff wienie obviously found far too much time on his hands, because one message we received referred to the "Special Navy Advanced Karate Experts and Extraordinary Action Team for Environmental Reconnaissance (S.N.A.K.E.E.A.T.E.R.)."

That was far from the silliest thing about RIMPAC '86, though. The prize-winner has to be the umpires' decision that a Cimarron-class oiler** was given credit for "killing" an "enemy" destroyer. I'd love to see that....

Speaking of destroyers, part of this year's RIMPAC will be the sinking of the former USS David R Ray (DD 971). I always did a double take when I saw that ship mentioned anywhere, because we had a David Ray on Oly. No idea if they were related.

Update 1340 25 Jul: Ex-USS David R Ray was sunk by a MK 48 Mod 7 Common Broadband Advanced Sonar System (CBASS) torpedo from Collins-class submarine HMAS Waller (SSG 75). ZUI this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, this one (with video) from The Age and this one from Adelaide Now. H/T to Joel.

* The Netherlands is one of the nations taking part this year. They still have territory in or near the Pacific?

** USS Willamette (AO 180), if I remember correctly.

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