Sub commander put on the beach

US sub chief removed over deaths

The skipper’s career is over, according to traditional wisdom. The XO received a reprimand. Is his career over as well?

Sorry, could you clarify the difference between the commander and the executive commander of a sub?

I obviously have nothing to contribute.

The commander is the ‘captain’. (I’m not versed well enough in the command structure to know if sub skippers hold the rank of Captain.) The XO is the Executive Officer, who is subordinate to the ‘captain’.

The XO will never get an independent command, that’s for sure. The best he will be able to do is a staff position somewhere in Kansas, counting electrons.

The original title for the person in charge of a ship is Master. When the British Royal Navy was starting up, landed nobles ‘commanded’ ships, employed competent masters (who were later ranked as Warrant Officers and Petty Officers), and used the army ranks of Captain and Lieutenant.

As for western submarine fleets, at least the US fleets, the typical rank for the CO(Commanding Officer) is Commander(O-5), with an XO(Executive Officer) ranked at Lieutenant(O-4). In terms of job, the CO is captain of the boat.

The ex-CO is done. Stick a fork in him. The XO is done, and it is likely that he is done too, given the competitiveness of the promotion cycles from O-4 to O-5. There are simply too many O-4s without reprimands in their jackets.

It’s also possible that a few of the officers and NCOs are also damaged, career-wise.

One correction - an O-4 is a Lieutenant commander. (and FYI, O-3 is Lieutenant, O-3 is Lieutenant Junior grade, and O-1 is Ensign.)

Yup. Damned Typo. At any rate, that relieved O-5 won’t be making his O-6 promotion, and that O-4’s prospects for O-5 are dubious. The submarine service is extremely competitive.

So in some ways, the military is like live celebrities? One dead body on your doorstep and they stop calling you, even if you were never convicted?
Gee it’s tough being at the top. Glad I’ll never find out.

Not quite.

*Miramax Security Guard Gordon: Echo Base, I’ve got a 10-07: two unauthorized on the lot, requesting backup.
Echo Base: [over Gordon’s walkie talkie] I thought that was a 10-82.
Miramax Security Guard Gordon: No sir, a 10-82 is disappearing a dead hooker from Ben Affleck’s trailer.
Echo Base: [slightly amused] Oh, that Affleck! Backup on the way… *

My understanding of the military is that there are several bottlenecks along the career path - points at which the number of available candidates easily outnumbers the number of available positions. So the majority of candidates are destined to fail at one of these points. That being the case, one major screw-up is pretty much a guaranteed career ender.

From the cited article, “The four were swept from the deck after the submarine left Plymouth harbour on 29 December in rough seas.”

I’ve always been under the impression that submarines were made water tight so the sailors could be relatively warm and dry on the inside on the sub. Does anyone know why these sailors were outside? Seems kind of foolish - even without this tragedy.

This is the first article I read about it. It says ‘A US Navy spokesman confirmed four sailors from the vessel had fallen overboard as it was getting under way from Devonport naval base.’ A submariner will need to describe the deck procedures for getting under way.

I wouldn’t be so quick to say ‘never,’ but I’d say a good 99% chance he’s done. The only way I can see him skating out unharmed is if he’s a rising star and the CO is generally known as a dirtbag, the XO did everything right in the circumstances surrounding the mishap, and if the ‘reprimand’ was non-punitive. In that case, the navy can slap a non-punitive letter on him (which will disappear when he leaves that command), publicly call him ‘reprimanded,’ and then quietly promote him later on

I agree, the skipper is toast, but the XO might live it down and get promoted. Chances are almost zero that he’ll ever make flag rank though.

Well, disregard everything I just wrote. I just read they’d both been given punitive letters of reprimand, so yeah, the XO is done.

The was leaving harbor, so it was probably not submerged. There’s always a watch maintained on deck when a sub is on the surface to prevent collisions and the like. Preventing collisions is especially important in harbors, which are rather busy places.

So what was the possible error in judgement made by these individuals that led to the victims being swept away?

With so little info I’d say the investigation must have determined the incident would have been avoided (no washoff) or mitigated (timely rescue and survival) had the CO and XO made the right decisions about operations and that making the “right” decisions was not exactly nuclear science. Failure to follow proper safety precautions and procedures and to implement and execute a proper plan for rescue if something went wrong. That sort of thing. But I’d need a real submariner to tell me what exactly could go wrong. When you are commanding a mobile nuclear power plant armed with torpedoes and missiles through an environment hostile to human life, attention to the smallest safety detail is a major issue. According to another site I checked, one of the casualties apparently was the “Chief of the Boat”, the top enlisted crewman and likely the most experienced hand aboard; this would suggest this was no run-of-the-mill “oopsie” man-overboard incident.

OK, further web-digging in a Plymouth news site comes up with a scenario that the topside crew had been ordered to get the Port Pilot off the submarine and back to a Harbor Control boat upon exiting the harbor. However seas immediately off the mouth of the channel were extremely rough and waves swept the party overboard before they could make it back inside. Tethered to the sub by safety lines, they were “battered by the elements” (read: repeatedly smashed against the hull) until police boats got ahold of them. The speculation is that the officers could have made the decision to debark the Port Pilot while still well within sheltered waters and let him guide them to the end of the channel by radio; or to hold station until the deck party was back inside before clearing the mouth of the channel.

I don’t really have much to add to what others (especially JRDelirious) have posted.

When subs enter and exit ports, there are several crew members stationed topside. They are required to be tethered to the hull (connected to a line that can slide in a track along the hull) and be wearing a full Type I PFD (including marker dye and a light).

When leaving port, the duties of the topside crew are to flip over the mooring cleats and otherwise rig the topside for sea. They are also there to assist the harbor pilot safely transfer to the escort tug.

It was poor judgement on the CO’s part to allow this to happen in rough seas. His career is over. He will probably be allowed to retire, but will be pushing paper and driving a desk in some staff job until then.

Also, to confirm what others have stated, on U.S. submarines, the commanding officer (CO) is a Navy Commander (CDR), with the pay grade of O-5. The executive officer (XO) is subordinate to the CO, has the rank of Lieutenant Commander (LCDR), with the pay grade of O-4.

–robby, LCDR USNR
(former submarine officer)