Task Group Alfa

Task Group Alfa

CUBERA and I were born too late to see action in WWII, but we did participate in the 1960’s Cuban blockade force, as well as performing in training activities. Submarine Squadron Six (SUBRON6), assigned to the U.S. Navy’s cold war tactics school (Task Goup Alfa), became the collection unit for many examples of various submarine types.

The main purpose of Task Group Alfa was to find and track Russian subs, develop effective anti-submarine tactics and train surface skippers in those tactics. (See Antisubmarine Low-Tech, below) The variety of subs, surface ships and aircraft in SUBRON6 and ALFA gave commanders and crews experience in eluding, identifying and tracking the different types.

While I was aboard CUBERA (affectionately called the "Cubby-Bear"), a prime example of a Guppy-II snorkel boat, the squadron included the X-1 (a tiny, orange, experimental "pocket" sub that ran on a closed system of hydrogen peroxide and diesel fuel, Pocket submarine X-1, researched use of airless diesel engine technologies.Pocket submarine X-1, researched use of airless diesel engine technologies.a technology the Germans toyed with at the end of WWII), the huge 447-foot USS TRITON(SSN586) (first dual-reactor nuke radar picket boat - first boat to circle the globe submerged!), the nuclear fast attack USS SHARK(SSN591), an old WWII boat converted to a troop carrier, the USS SEALION(APSS315), the missile sub USS CASIMIR PULASKI(SSBN633), other Guppy boats like the REQUIN(SS481), CUTLASS(SS478), SIRAGO(SS485), CARP(SS338), ARGONAUT(SS475), REDFIN(SS272), RUNNER(SS476) and the surprisingly diminutive "atomic-powered"1 USS NAUTILUS(SSN571). I and some of my shipmates were privileged to become acquainted with all of these boats in the mid-1960’s.

ALFA also included the USS ORION(AS18), the submarine tender assigned to SUBRON6. Orion, like other FULTON-class tenders, was designed to support many submarines. She had machine shops, electronics labs, periscope and torpedo service facilities, in addition to medical and logistical (supply) capabilities.

She had a store where sub crews could purchase cigarettes, wristwatches, uniforms, magazines and other personal items at Navy Exchange prices. No price gouging allowed.

In the words of Dex Armstrong: "Something that all true boat sailors know is that we only rag those we love. In our hearts we know that Orion left the light on for us and met each arriving wayward child with fresh milk and mail. She nursed us when we were sick... Put money in our wallets... Scolded us when we were naughty and turned a blind eye to having her pockets picked."

In the trailing years of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cubby was one of the radar/sonar picket boats assigned to patrol Cuba while that island nation and her friend Russia teased the U.S. State Department by sneaking missiles in. As a sonar and ECM watchstander, I recorded the passing of submerged Russian subs and the radar signatures of several trawlers. The trawlers carried spy radio gear and experimental surface-to-air firecontrol types to measure signatures of our planes.
1 Older term for "nuclear-powered"

Antisubmarine Low-Tech

I ran across this ad for... well, just read it. Now I’ll tell you what it really is.

The part about it being a strong magnet weighing 3-1/2 pounds is correct. Everything else is somebody’s very poor imagination at work. It is really a "SCAT" (Submarine Contact Audible Tag - or something similar) invented by a Canadian scientist for NATO. They were launched in clusters from destroyers like the British Hedgehog or dropped from low-flying aircraft such as the P3 Orion. Breaking apart into a swarm of a dozen or more and dropping on a submarine, from one to a half dozen would stick to the steel hull on contact. The beer can-sized magnet is mostly round, but has a flat side with a sharp barb mounted in a recess. Attachment to the hull depressed a spring-loaded screw, which caused a finned tail cone to detach (the screw seen in the catalog ad). Losing the tail cone released the aluminum cylinder called a ’handle’ in the catalog ad. Passing turbulent water made the cylinder rattle or clap against the submarine. Depending on the boat’s speed, the clapping could sound like a buzz or a bevy of carpenters building a metallic house. It was loud and unstoppable, making the submarine detectable over long distances.

Once magnetically attached to the boat the only way to find and remove them all 100% was to drydock the sub, thereby terminating its immediate mission in a non-lethal way. With the advent of thick noise-abating sheathing on the hulls of many nations’ submarines, these devices became impractical because one, you had to pretty much already know where the boat was to deploy them effectively, and two, they could not attach to the hulls anyway.

Here’s an article about them, although the author had nary a picture and insufficient information and had probably never held or even seen one.

CUBERA took part in a demonstration of these in 1964. She had to drydock anyway for repairs to her negative tank flood valve and to have one of her screws replaced, and I managed to retrieve several when I was part of the seaman gang and had to scrape the hull of ’grass’ (algae) and barnacles. I still have one, minus the tail cone, its having been shed during use. The magnet is great for finding dropped nails in our crushed rock driveway and for magnetizing screw drivers.


Last modified: 16Feb2020