The Irex Record II:
Snorkeling in the tracks of Columbus

By Jim Reynolds, 1947

I served on the USS Irex (SS-482) from September, 1946 to November, 1948. Between December, 1946, and May, 1947, Irex became the first “snorkel” submarine in the U.S. Navy. This story is about the high point in my Naval career as an Electronic Technician on the Irex.

An Admiral planned to show off the capability of this first U.S. Navy Snorkel Submarine. We were to submerge off Montauk Point, Long Island, just out of New London and snorkel to Bermuda in 7 days, where would then reconnoiter the island and play hide and seek with the fly boys for 3 days, submerged all the time. Then we would snorkel south past the Bahamas and San Salvador (where Columbus landed) east to the open Atlantic, crossing to the Azores, where again we would play war games. From there, we were to go north to the Spanish and Portuguese coast for a landfall and finally head back directly across the Atlantic to Montauk Point, Long Island. This last leg was a total of 20 days.

The Admiral's objective was a 30-day submerged snorkel cruise in which the Irex would cross the Atlantic to Europe and return to the start at Montauk Point. But the Admiral also had a sense of history. He planned the route to reverse what Christopher Columbus did in 1492 with the addition of a direct underwater crossing from Europe to Long Island as a topper.

The crew of the Irex did the trip exactly as the Admiral planned with one exception. On the trip from Long Island to Bermuda, we experienced a tremendous storm which grounded our snorkel valve control cable. We had to go into Bermuda for 24 hours to repair the grounded cable. So, in effect the trip became 7 days submerged, 1 day on the surface in Bermuda, and 20 days submerged. Twenty nine of the thirty days we were submerged.

A record! Yes, at least for that time. Twenty-two days submerged from Bermuda past San Salvador to the Azores and then back to the Spanish/Portuguese coast and back to Long Island. No one had ever done such a trip before. Outstanding crew performance!

It is my belief that the Admiral had Columbus in mind when he planned this exercise. That is, to do underwater what Columbus had done on the water so many years before. It was also a personal deja vu for me as I was born in 1927 in the month that Lindberg flew across the Atlantic. Now, exactly twenty years later, 79 American sailors and I were repeating the trip across the Atlantic and back, except we were underwater.

Indeed, this was the highlight of my naval career. Next time I'll tell you about the low point in my naval career which happened on that fateful 24 hours on the surface in Bermuda!!

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