USS Squalus Model Donated
By Karen Webber
The Rockingham County Gazette & Bordertown News
Hampton, N.H., August 10, 1977
Diving Bell model can be seen at left front.
The submarine model was hand made by the late William E. Miles. His widow, Alice Lamprey Miles of 531 Brackett Road, Rye, donated it to the museum two weeks ago.
The Squalus became famous when it went down off the coast of Portsmouth in 1939, bringing with it a crew of 59 men. Twenty-six men perished in the accident.
Mrs. Miles said her husband worked as a rigger at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for over 31 years.
During the tragedy of the Squalus, she said, he worked days and nights on the docks, preparing for the raising of the ship.
William Miles made the Squalus model "because it meant a lot to him," Mrs. Miles said.
Mrs. Miles recalls her husband leisurely working evenings on the model. She estimates it is 25 years old.
After retirement, Mrs. Miles said her husband built a larger boat, a full size lobster boat, in their back yard. He had made other small models as a hobby.
"He made the Squalus model for us," Mrs. Miles said. When she made the decision to donate the piece to the museum, she asked her children if they would mind.
Everyone agreed it should be Mrs. Miles decision, so, she had her son "repaint and fix a few loose things" on the model and sent it off to the Tuck Museum.
Tuck Museum volunteer, aide, Gertrude Palmer, said they were very pleased to get the wooden Squalus model.
Included with the ship model was a model of the famous diving bell used to rescue men from the submerged sub. Both models rest in a glass case that Mr. Miles also made.
At the museum, a detailed memory book has Squalus newsclippings, postcards, photographs, and other memorabilia [compiled by John & Connie Holman, Museum Curators].
The tale of the Squalus began in 1937 when it was authorized to be built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard by the Naval Appropriations Act. The ship was commissioned on March 1, 1939 and construction was completed on May 12, 1939.
It was an expensive sub, $5,000,000 was originally spent to build it. Newspaper clippings of the day said it cost more than any other submarine in the navy.
Lt. Oliver F. Naquin assumed command of the ship.
The Squalus had completed 18 successful trial runs when it went out for a 19th trial run on May 23, 1939.
Later, crew members and others would remember it started out like a normal run.
In a program from a Squalus Memorial Benefit Concert at Little Boars Head, July 30, 1939, Donald Leonard, M.D. describes the dive.
"Down, down; a graceful diving slant under control. But wait! Too many bubbles are belching in a cloud around the after part of the ship. It waivers; its forward motion is lost; the angle changes,. but its progress downward accelerates as the stern falls. Silent hours pass. Those above have established the fact that life still exists inside the sunken hull."
The men still alive in the sub were rescued by using a diving bell, called the Momsen lung, after its creator, "Swede" Momsen. [Editor's note: See correction at bottom of page] It was the first time the bell was used in a rescue mission.
The bell was 10 feet high and carried eight men at a time. With the help of the U.S.S. Falcon, the rescue ship, 33 men were saved.
Dr. Leonard describes the rescue mission, "Up above the survivors, every man not lost at the time of the accident is saved. Down below the lonely tomb; further challenge to the Falcon that accomplished the greatest rescue in the history of the world."
The submarine was trapped in sea mud and vegetation 240 feet under the water.
The wreck of the Squalus was finally raised to the surface and towed into Portsmouth Harbor three and one half months later, September 13, 1939.
The cause of the ship’s sinking was said to be a defect in the high induction valve. A court inquiry exonerated Lt. Naquin from any blame.
The Squalus was repaired at a cost of $1,400,000 and saw action in World War II as the U.S.S. Sailfish.
Four men from the Squalus crew joined the new Sailfish crew.
The Sailfish was decommissioned in 1945 at a ceremony in Portsmouth Harbor. The conning tower of the ship is now a permanent memorial on the mall at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.
More information on the Squalus is at the Tuck Memorial Museum.
Historical information for this article was obtained from the Squalus Memorial Album at the Tuck Museum.
Correction. The bell was actually called the "McCann Rescue Chamber", but was designed by Momsen. The "Momsen lung" was an individual breathing apparatus. The bell was named after Lieutenant Commander Allan McCann who made several revisions to Momsen's original design.