November Juliet Sierra Hotel
USS CUBERA (SS-347) was the first of 24 post-war "GUPPY-II" - converted fleet attack submarines of the Balao class. GUPPY comes from the FRAM* submarine classification "greater underwater propulsive power". CUBERA was Guppy-converted two years after her launch in 1947, at the Electric Boat yard in Groton, Connecticut. As the first Guppy-II she was to be a show boat of the type, and so her conning tower fairwater or 'sail' was given the extra care of being an all-welded aluminum assembly. Subsequent sails on other boats were riveted steel and later, fiberglass.
Characterized by a thicker and stronger hull, more powerful electrics, higher fuel and battery capacity than the famous Gato class WWII fleet submarine, Balao class boats like CUBERA became test subjects for pre-nuclear submarine technology development. They were a little faster and could dive about 40% deeper than Gatos.
In the search for greater speed, stealth and range, many devices invented before and during WWII by the Germans, Dutch and British like the "snorkel" and SONAR, were perfected by the U.S. Navy and found their way into these boats. RADAR and main battery technology were also improved, along with higher capacity air conditioning plants.
What was life inside a SUBRON6 smokeboat like for 8 officers 4 chief petty officers and 64 men?
Picture a dimly lit twenty-foot diameter culvert 300 feet long, filled with a maze of exposed piping, ducts, and cabling, looking like everything from a Super-Walmart plumbing department was assembled by a couple dozen OCD 12-year-olds on a sugar high. Add in parts from three Home Depot electrical isles and a Burlington Northern locomotive junkyard. Now paint it with hot diesel oil, rancid cooking lard, fill the air with cigarette smoke, aftershave, and spray several full cans of Fabreze eau du Broncos Locker Room.
A submarine is an incredibly complex machine.
But it is inert machinery -- nothing happens, nothing runs without minute-by-minute attention and muscular effort of its living, flesh and blood components -- the crew. It is the actions of the crew that make things whir, hiss, rumble and move. When subs are built, just enough room is left for the crew to reach the operating equipment and do their jobs. Passages leave barely enough room for two men to pass by turning sideways. Hard steel handles, valves, pipes, lights and cabinets jut out everywhere. Some things are cold metal, some are hot, depending on where in the world's oceans the boat is. The crew learn quickly where and when to duck, bob and weave to avoid injury to heads, eyes, elbows and knees. The wear their watches on the inside of their wrists. For a more humorous and colorful look at submarine life, visit and read the recollections of Dex Armstrong, the original After Battery Rat.
Click the icons below to see and hear all that remains of CUBERA: Her bell, preserved as the quarterdeck gong aboard the USS COD memorial, and her diving alarm, under the stewardship of Al Sabatino.
* Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization - a joint military/congressional commission formed after WWII to evaluate needs of the modern Navy in the cold-war scenario. There were some 50 GUPPY boats in all, in several versions, some boats being converted several times. Many boats got snorkels only and were sold to foreign allies for cash to support U.S. conversions.