Cavalla Crew Interview

Robert Mahon

As Cavalla was my 1st duty station after entering the Navy, I was at first a mess cook, then assigned to the deck gang, then to leading seaman and finally to an Electrician's Mate. I was aboard for a bit over a year but in that time amassed a number of "Sea Stories" relative to personalities like Hank Baxter (Hanky B), Mark Ciganovic (now living in PA, Andy Schulteis, Jay Byron, Captain Kraus and XO Stein, later Captain of Dogfish (who, incidentally, requested me aboard my 2nd Boat). I was in the Navy for almost 8 years, about half of which was assigned to SS duty.

I cannot fail to mention Richard "Black" Bartsch, Pat Kailing and Lt. McCool, all of whom, like myself, walked away from the ill-fated Thresher (SSN 593).

Cavalla was not a GUPPY (acronym for Greater Underwater Power and Propulsion Yield) conversion. When I was aboard her (1961/1962) she had 2 batteries of 126 cells/battery versus the GUPPY's 4 batteries of 126 cells/battery. Unlike Cavalla, GUPPY class boats could use their batteries in SERIES mode, which was the real boost in underwater performance. The 4 batteries allowed SERIES operation for a reasonable time, where only 2 batteries would be quickly depleted.

Cavalla's conversion to SSK included the GUPPY-type Fairwater (Sail), removal of torpedo tubes 1 & 2 to accommodate the BQR-4a Sonar array (58 hydrophones) mounted low in the bow. One engine from the forward engine room was also removed to allow installation of Sonar equipment. After conversion to SSK, main power was 3 GM 16-278a diesel engines of 750 HP each and 4 motors (2/shaft) of 11 kW each.

In addition to the legendary BQR-4a Sonar, Cavalla had BQ3 and Gertrude Alpha for intership communications while underwater. Other than the depth sounder (which was inoperative much of the time) and the Gertrude Alpha, Cavalla had no active Sonar.

Grouper (AGSS-214) also had BQR-4a Sonar mounted low on the bow. Piper (SS-409) had a BQR-4a mounted high on the bow, which preserved torpedo tubes 1 & 2 (it also looked very much like the original killer class boats (K1 through K4).

As far as I know, Cavalla's reclassification to AGSS (AGSS generally indicating an SS used primarily for development) was merely because one of the Admirals then in power was of the opinion that all submarines were hunter/killer types and the SSK classification had to be dropped. I am sure he was not aware that Cavalla could hunt down and kill any submarine then in service where NONE could even find Cavalla. When Cavalla went to Ultra Quiet, all air handling equipment was shut down, along with refrigeration, fluorescent lighting, fresh water pumps, etc. In short, at Ultra Quiet, running at DEAD SLOW, Cavalla made no noise and left no signature. Active sonar was of use only when those trying to find Cavalla had some idea of her location and were close enough to get a return. Even the P2V Orion aircraft had to be right on top of her to see her shadow in the water on a sunny day. Passive Sono-buoys were of no avail. Without a great deal of luck, Cavalla could not be found, which had to happen before she could be killed.

During the 60's, Cavalla was attached to SUBDEVGRU (Submarine Development Group) 2, as was Albacore, Grouper and Thresher, operating out of New London, CT.

Cavalla's ship's patch, unlike many other Boat's patches, was not a Disney design. It was a caricature of a submarine, bent fore and aft to have the sneering face on her bow facing right, sail on mid left, stern and props lower left and a torpedo (Mk. 21) under a right arm. Actually, it was quite attractive and did not detract from Cavalla's purpose as did most of the Disney designs (Dogfish SS-350, had Pluto's head in a clear diving helmet holding a mermaid in his upturned hand). Clearly, Cavalla's patch did not leave one with the impression the boat was a prelude to a DisneyLand ride.

I do not have any photos or other memorabilia of my time aboard Cavalla, but as I qualified on her and made many a trip on her, I do have some very good memories. I know Cavalla as an SSK boat, and she will always remain so to me.

March 1997

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