The history of the USS Irex SS-482:
Acquiring a snorkel, Jan 1946–Aug 1947
Under Captain Ward

[The Irex in about 
This photo from the Howard Finch collection shows the Irex as she appeared in about 1946, prior to leaving Key West to be fitted out with a snorkel.

[ Captain Ward ] The commanding officer who replaced Captain Crowley on 2 January 1946 was CDR Norvell Gardiner “Bud” Ward, who would remain at his post until 23 August 1947. LCDR William R. Easton, who had been the CO of the O6 (SS-67), was XO in about 1946 and 1947, and the COB's name was Frye.

The boat settled down to the familiar peace-time routine of local trips of a day or two out of Key West. On one of these, as Electrician Walter Henley vividly recounts, the boat lost control at test depth, and everyone experienced some tense moments.

The first of the exercises in Key West entailed a trip to the US Naval Operating Base, Guantanamo, Cuba (“Gitmo”) on 8 January in company of the Cochino (SS-345). During this trip there was a flood in the Pump Room beneath the Control Room, causing the electric motors to shut down, with loss of hydraulic pressure.

There is a report that when the USS Argonaut (SS 475) collided with a cruiser and severely damaged her bow, it was replaced with one from the Irex. However, this story is hard to substantiate. The Argaunaut did indeed hit the USS Honolulu (CL-48) early in 1946 off New Jersey, but sustained only minor damage and was able to go on to Panama, returning late in 1946 to SubRon2 New London. I've no indication that the Irex visted any yards for replacement of her bow early in 1946.

LTJG Robert “Bob” M. Knowles reports a maneuvering incident involving Quartermaster Fox while leaving the dock in Key West and heading out for exercises with destroyers.

In 1946 the Irex softball team won the championship in the Key West Naval Base League.

In the Fall of 1946, the Irex went to the Gulf of Mexico to evade an approaching hurricane, but was hit by it there nevertheless, as reported by Jim Reynolds, who also tells us of the arrival of a new furry shipmate.

There was a Navy Day trip on 27 October, in 1946, and possibly a trip to Corpus Christi to Galveston that month, but the facts here are uncertain.

The New Snorkel and Assignment to New London

Early in 1945, the plans and a mast from a German snorkel submarine were captured in Toulouse, and the Portsmouth Navy yard set out to adopt the device for U.S. submarines. A snorkel is a large-diameter tube that enables diesel-powered submarines to run largely submerged for long periods of time by extending the end of the tube just above the water's surface to draw in air for the engines through a fast-acting valve. The German design was tried on on the R-5 for three months. Then the Sirago was equipped with a snorkel for one engine and tested it in September 1945. In December 1946 the Navy was ready to try out the the snorkel on an operational boat.

So in December the Irex was ordered to the Portsmouth Navy Shipyard for an installation of the first completely functional version of a snorkel, making the Irex the first operational U.S. submarine so equipped. At the same time the Navy also began the construction of modernized Guppy snorkel submarines, but these were so expensive that it was decided to fit older fleet submarines, such as the Tench class, with snorkels and a sail in the manner of the Irex. These eighteen “fleet snorkel” boats, were not full Guppy conversions and so could be implemented by means of less expensive shipyard overhauls. These fleet-snorkel submarines were all phased out of service by 1970.

The Portsmouth yard work extended from December 1946 to February 1947, To ease passage of the snorkel through the water, the superstructure was enclosed in a metal sail that left in place the forward chin mounted gun and the cigarette deck that extended back to accomodate the after bridge gun, which was now removed. In or shortly after February, 1947, various tests of the snorkel were carried out in Portsmouth.

During the snorkel conversion, the 15" the orignal Irex insignia painted by plank-owner Ernest Venema was ”liberated“ from the wardroom by him, and it was eventually sent to Wally Krupenevich upon Ernest's death on 4 December 1999.

It seems the public announcement of the snorkel was delayed until July 1947 when the Irex was assigned to Submarine Squadron Eight in New London (each squadron had two divisions of eight boats each). The Irex then began sea trials of her new snorkel.

[ clipping ]

Here is a newspaper clipping at the New London Sub Museum that is dated 29 July 1947 and which is a public announcement of the new technology being tried out by the Irex. The clipping noted that the Irex had been operating out of the sub base in New London and she was due to go to Key West on 30 July.

[ The Irex sometime 
after 1947 ]

In this photo can be seen the new sail. The superstructure was distinguished by a semi-enclosed “crow's nest” bridge. In this photo the 5" after deck gun and the 40 mm. chin mount gun below the bridge are still in place, but the bridge that extends all the way aft to the “cigarette deck” no longer has one. The photo was taken between 1947 and 1949 and is from the Howard Finch collection.

The Irex spent July 1947 to February 1948 evaluating the snorkel during sea trials that included the trip to Key West in July 1947 mentioned above.

Captain N.G. Ward was relieved of duty on 23 August 1947.

History index
History 1947–1951