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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    OPINION: Groton-built submarines fire missiles and get Vanity Fair flattery

    In this March 24, 2003, Day file photo, former Day reporter and editor Robert Hamilton interviews the crew of the USS Providence as they perform everyday duties and drills while operating in the Red Sea.

    My favorite segment of Adam Ciralsky’s excellent new reporting in Vanity Fair, on his at-sea visit to the ballistic missile submarine USS Wyoming, was his description of boarding the ship.

    The rendezvous with the Groton-built, Ohio-class boomer occurred just off the Continental Shelf, Ciralsky wrote, after he and photographer Philip Montgomery had spent 15 storm-tossed hours on a Navy support vessel used to shuttle them from the East Coast to the submarine.

    The Wyoming finally appeared as a “sleek inky object” in the distance.

    “As whitecaps crashed against the Wyoming’s hull ... I followed, traversing a rickety drawbridge from ship to ship, aided by a line of sailors fanned out across the sub’s vast deck.

    “Some were toting automatic weapons, a precaution when a boomer is on the surface. A rescue diver was ready if a swell took one of us overboard.

    “The ship’s slightly curved surface, like a giant whale’s, was matte black, covered with special material that absorbs sound waves and masks the craft’s sonar signature. The hull itself was punctuated with two rows of 12 round lids, like giant manhole covers.”

    The Vanity Fair piece includes some very beautiful photographs in which Montgomery captured this mid-ocean surfacing of a usually secretly-hidden submarine, a multi-billion weapon carrying more deadly munitions than the two bombs that ended World War II.

    It’s the stuff of movies, but the real thing.

    Submarines, ones built in Groton by Electric Boat, are suddenly in the media spotlight, as two major wars unfold.

    The USS Florida, also built in Groton, made headlines recently when the United States launched an attack against Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

    Tomahawk missiles were fired in January from two surface Navy ships and the submarine. The USS Florida, which is homeported in Georgia, can be armed with up to 154 Tomahawks. It doesn’t carry nuclear warheads.

    The news about the Florida reminded me of The Day’s excellent wartime coverage from a submarine, when the late Robert Hamilton, the newspaper’s defense reporter, was embedded aboard the USS Providence in 2003.

    Hamilton and photographer Tim Cook were embedded on the fast-attack submarine for nearly a month, boarding the ship just before the Iraq war began on March 20.

    The two journalists witnessed and reported on the firing of Tomahawks from the Providence and were the first U.S. journalists embedded on a wartime submarine patrol since World War II.

    “When Bob was embedded on a sub during wartime, we joked in the newsroom that he was probably driving it,” former Managing Editor Tim Cotter was quoted as saying in Hamilton’s obituary.

    I can’t recommend enough Ciralsky’s and Thompson’s account of their time aboard Wyoming, where crew members keep western artifacts and talk about “cowboying” up for tough tasks.

    Indeed, the fine spread in Vanity Fair is a great tribute to the remarkable sacrifice made by submarine force sailors, and most readers of The Day will enjoy it as a celebration of what has been wrought here in the submarine capital of the world.

    I also read it as a great reminder of what’s at stake in current politics, with so may mainstream Republicans now bowing to Vladimir Putin and his unbridled ambitions, not willing even to keep arming a brave resistance against his warmongering in Europe.

    Remember, he has lots of missiles pointed at us. Thank you submariners for being on guard.

    I will quibble with one point in Ciralsky’s fine writing in Vanity Fair, claiming his at-sea submarine reporting was a rare thing.

    “We’d been told that the number of civilians who had been given this level of access (carrying cameras, no less) was roughly the same as that who have walked on the moon,” he wrote.

    Well, no.

    The Day’s Hamilton beat you there, during missile-firing combat no less.


    This is the opinion of David Collins

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