USS Coucal and USS Tang
By LCDR Glenn Smith, USN Retired (8073)
On March 26 th, 1977, USS COUCAL (ASR-8) and USS TANG SS-563 were the oldest U. S. Navy vessels of their class still in commission. The reason for the port visit to Kahului, Maui was to put a small “break” in a rigorous training schedule. At that point in both ship’s lives, they were both practicing skills that were rapidly becoming obsolete in the Navy. Nonetheless, both ships had skippers who were proud practitioners of their craft. Captains Hubbard and Tortora both felt they had not only the oldest, but best ships of their class.
COUCAL would regularly go out with submarines and act as a “target” ship. The submarine “in training” would track COUCAL and then fire a training torpedo (without a warhead) at her. After the “fish” had made its run at COUCAL, COUCAL would then go pick up the expensive training torpedo. Then both ships would open the range between them and do it all over again.
Safety, of course, was paramount, this being a peacetime evolution. The torpedo had no warhead, and was set for deep running so it would pass well beneath COUCAL’S keel. That said, is was still a bit disconcerting to stand on COUCAL’S bridge and see a torpedo streaking directly at your amidships. Now if that torpedo’s depth control mechanism failed, the “fish” would have gone completely through COUCAL’S thin skin into her engineroom. The result would likely been catastrophic, the engineroom would have flooded almost immediately, and COUCAL would probably gone down like a rock. Fortunately, that never happened. But it was always in the back of everyone’s mind, and engine room duty during these runs was…well, let’s just say it wasn’t sought after.
The visit to Kahului was unremarkable except for the fact that the two oldest ships were making their last visit to that beautiful little town. That was the biggest perk of serving in relatively small ships…they got to visit many places that carriers and cruisers could not.
This cover was signed by both captains in the wardroom of Tang.
(Note from Secretary Steve Shay: Glenn adds a very personal touch to this cover; he was there! And while too modest to write about it, the cover design is his. He made only 2 copies. By an amazing coincidence, I found the other copy in my collection after Glenn wrote this month’s story.)