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Photo and comments contributed by James MacDonald


Jim grew up in the Oroville area and went on to a career in the submarine service and aviation with the US Navy.

(He is pictured in the front row, second from left.)


  James McDonald navy 

U.S. Sailors, especially torpedomen, were a step ahead of the chemists who doctored the torpedo alcohol with red dye and sometimes added croton oil to the mix. We learned quickly that a small amount of the torpedo alcohol containing croton oil mixed into a glass of water ... then shook for a few seconds would turn milky ... if it didn't ... it just had red dye added. All it took to remove the red dye was to strain it through a loaf of bread turned on end. Torpedo alcohol was pure 190 proof grain alcohol and with a little fruit juice made a helluva cocktail with a good kick.


James MacDonald


The following definition is courtesy of Wikipedea.

Croton oil (Crotonis Oleum) is an oil prepared from the seeds of Croton tiglium, a tree belonging to the natural order Euphorbiales and family Euphorbiaceae, and native or cultivated in India and the Malay Archipelago. Small doses taken internally cause diarrhea. Externally, the oil can cause irritation and swelling. In traditional Chinese medicine it is used as an ingredient in some liniments.





The following is courtesy of Submarine Research Center via James MacDonald


Bulletin 77

April, 2008


Liquor aboard American submarines has been prohibited since the first dive of the Adder in 1904. In contrast, other nations' submarines, such a those of Great Britain, Canada and Australia have inherited a tradition of splicing the mainbrace. Fresh water aboard sailing ships tended to become rancid on long voyages and one way to curb the microbes was to spike the water with alcohol. Rum was used because of its inexpensive accessibility. The potion was called grog and each sailor was allowed a daily allotment at the deck brace of the mainmast. When boatswains piped the mainbrace, all came running regardless of age.

To a certain extent this tradition has been followed by navies in the form of wine, beer and hard liquor, all being served both in the wardroom and crew's mess. German sailors with their penchant for drinking beer seldom saw the liquid within their submarines. The constraint was not a function moral determination, but rather stemmed from the practical problem of having so little space in a submarine. The trouble with beer was its bulk.

It should be safe to say that no beer, wine or liquor was ever to be found on American submarines, but the margin of safety was fuzzy. When Mark 8 and 14 torpedoes were the weapons of choice, they used alcohol as a combustible propellant. This two-hundred proof, clear liquid made remarkable inroads into the torpedomen's diet. It didn't take the War Department long to instruct its torpedo shops in Newport, Rhode Island and Keyport, Washington to add enough chemicals to its torpedo alcohol to make it non potable. Thus, during the Second World War an end came to a fine old tradition.

Alcohol was to be found elsewhere in American submarines. The pharmacist's mate kept a small supply for medicinal purposes, which could be tapped at the discretion of the commanding officer. The Navy kept a watchful eye on this supply by requiring endless inventory records. In 1958 the USS Sirago (SS-485) moved from its submarine pier next to the tender Orion across the James River to Newport News. It was a foul night of freezing temperatures and driving sleet. At midnight the degaussing dry-dock was drained and several men, including the hull officer, had to inspect the submarine's support chocks. By the time these men reached the control room they were thoroughly frozen. The captain, in his capacity as overlord of the booze supply, determined that this was the time to splice the mainbrace. He announced this over the 1MC general announcing system. Two old chiefs showed up for their ration of whiskey. The rest of the crew had no idea what splicing the mainbrace meant.

During the early stages of the Cold War, USS Tunny (AGSS-278) hauled the Regulus II missiles up north to harass the frozen Soviets. The captain liked Italian food. Spaghetti and meatballs, Lasagne, and ravioli and other packaged pasta were served every Thursday evening. The cook/baker went to some effort to bake sour dough lengths of Italian bread. While the culinary artistry was admired, both the captain pondered the possibility of red wine as an appropriate accompaniment. Boxes wrapped in unmarked paper came aboard before departure from Pearl. No one pursued the matter. Each Thursday evening the wine appeared on schedule. It was properly served, properly consumed and properly hidden from the view of ComSubPac.

USS Wahoo (SS-565) was two days out of Pearl returning after a six month WesPac tour. The chief of the boat entered the wardroom and asked the skipper how he wanted to handle the 20 cases of San Miguel in the cool box. The captain looked startled and asked what the chief was talking about. An hour of finger-pointing failed to reveal just how the beer had found its way onto the boat. Furrowed wardroom brows contemplated the situation. Giving up, the captain applied simple arithmetic with the result that each man over 18 in the off-going watch section as well as those not going on watch received a ration of one beer per meal until the supply was exhausted. Any excess was to be tossed overboard. The kids drank milk and the salts drank beer. Somehow, to the surprise of the captain and XO, the numbers worked out to the bottle. Nothing was put into the garbage ejector except the soaked cartons.

As the diesel boats retired into history and the age of nuclear power took shape, the easy-going days were over. Well, almost. On a ballistic missile submarine in the 600 series the boat was to get underway with its gold crew for a routine deterrent patrol. It was November and the wives of the submarine took it upon themselves to prepare individual Christmas stockings for each crew member. While there is no fireside in a submarine from which to hang the stockings, the ladies knew that resourceful submariners would find a suitable substitute. A quantity of gym socks swirled in Rit number 5 red dye. When dried and decorated with cotton puffs they looked quite festive. The actual contents to be used presented a problem until one of the imaginative ladies noticed the cute airline-size bottles of whiskey in a barrel at the Class Six store. Sandwiched between nuts, fruits and odd items were two small bottles of Jack Daniels in each stocking. It would have been unthinkable for a crew member to inspect the stockings before the holiday, but when December 25th rolled around and the stockings were emptied, each man was delightfully surprised. The captain looked at his two bottles of sour mash and determined that his best course of action was to pretend it didn't exist. No crew member exhibited any signs of intoxication and exactly how the little bottles were consumed was never revealed.

Readers of these little vignettes will have stories of their own, but it is well not to mention names.