Squalus Goes Down
May 23, 1939 - On this day a Navy submarine called the Squalus was performing test dives when a valve failed and caused massive flooding of the engine rooms and the torpedo room. The sub plummeted 243 feet and slammed into the ocean floor.
26 men drowned in the first minutes of the disaster, but 33 others huddled together in a closed off compartment as the breathable air was slowly consumed. The men were in total darkness and bone-chilling cold. Every man knew that there had never been a successful rescue of a sub crew in anything beyond 20 feet of water.
The sub's sister ship, Sculpin, found a telephone buoy from the Squalus and for a brief time the subs were in contact with each other. But the seas were rough and the communication link was soon snapped.
A submarine rescue ship called the Falcon was quickly dispatched to the scene. Its commander, Charles B. "Swede" Momsen, had invented a rescue chamber years before, but the Navy had blocked his attempts to test it. Now it would get its chance in a life or death challenge.
The rescue chamber looked like a big thimble. It would be lowered to the sub and then deep-sea divers would fasten it to the sub's escape hatch. Miraculously, it worked!
It took four harrowing trips for the rescue chamber to bring all 33 men to the surface. The last man to leave the sub was the skipper, Lt. Oliver Naquin. The entire ordeal had lasted for 39 hours.
4 of the divers earned the Medal of Honor for their heroics.