Moyer recalls pressure and pranks below sea level

Moyer recounted his experiences serving on a submarine during the 1960s. Photo by Jeff Li

Moyer recounted his experiences serving on a submarine during the 1960s. Photo by Jeff Li

Lily Bohlke

bohlkeli@grinnell.edu

While Professor Wayne Moyer, Political Science, is known for his courses on the Cold War, his relationship to the conflict is more than theoretical. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, Moyer gave a talk called, “Submerged during the Cold War,” which described his experiences in the United States Navy during the 1960s.

“I liked submarine life because it is very informal,” Moyer said. “No shining shoes, no formal inspections and a great deal of camaraderie.”

In October of 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Moyer was working on a submarine. But instead of being out at sea, it was on a dry dock in Norfolk, Virginia with a hole in the bottom. Moyer said he remembered listening to President Kennedy’s speech on the Cuban Missile Crisis, wondering what he could do with his submarine stuck on land.

“The situation was so incredibly dangerous. Norfolk could have been one of the first targets,” Moyer said. “But at the time, we weren’t able to come to grips with it.”

Although the Cuban Missile Crisis was an incredibly tense time, Moyer remarked that he was glad his submarine was not at sea.

“I met my wife during that time. With all the competition out at sea, things moved quickly,” he said. “I was the sole beneficiary of the Cuban Missile Crisis.”

Moyer, however, did eventually get out on the water. In 1963, his submarine participated in exercises with both the British and Pakistani navies.

Moyer’s submarine went through Portugal, the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, Yemen and finally over to Pakistan.

“It was a very interesting experience to work the British and Pakistani Navy in that stage of the game,” Moyer said. “It was right in the middle of the Cold War.”

In 1965, he became a missile officer. He worked on submarines that were 407 feet long and weighed 7,500 pounds. Each submarine had 16 missiles with 1.1-megaton warheads. These missiles were 30 feet tall and could travel up to 1,500 miles.

“Missiles were placed vertically in the submarine. We would launch them submerged, there would be a blast of air under them and then we would push them out and they would light as they broke the surface,” Moyer said.

His job as a missile officer was to keep the Soviet Navy from finding the missile submarines. Due to the threat they posed, the Soviet Union would not launch a nuclear attack while the location of these submarines was unknown.

“We felt we were the primary target of Soviet attack at that stage,” Moyer said.

These missile submarines were equipped to sustainably stay underwater indefinitely. They were nuclear powered, distilled their own water, made their own oxygen and removed the carbon dioxide.

“The longest we stayed under was 72 days,” Moyer commented.

Every enlisted officer on a submarine had to be highly trained, knowing everything about the submarine including where the valves were and all the information about the reactors and engineering systems.

Patrols on the missile submarines would either go north, up the coast of Norway, or south, operating on the coast of Greece. The distance between each location and Soviet targets was roughly the same, according to Moyer.

Moyer ended his lecture by emphasizing the importance of camaraderie while in an enclosed submarine for long periods of time.

“We played practical jokes on each other. We stole the executive officer’s door and hid it. It took him three days to find it,” Moyer said. “When you’re living in those waters, unless you are close to people, you will go nuts.”