What is the command hierarchy on a typical submarine?
January 16, 2004 5:35 PM   Subscribe

What is the command hierarchy on a typical submarine? [more inside]

I'm writing a book that will have a few scenes that occur aboard a military submarine. Is there a good resource I could look at to give me a rough idea of who would be in charge of what? It's a sci-fi piece, and the sub is operated by a quasi-military agency, so I have a little room for slop, but want to get things roughly right. Maybe I should just read some Tom Clancy? :)
posted by badstone to Law & Government (7 answers total)
There's something like an answer to this here, but not much. I suspect that that site may have more, or maybe you could contact them directly.
posted by interrobang at 7:40 PM on January 16, 2004

That's a copy of this official navy FAQ, and it also lists (at the end) submarine museums, with phone numbers you might try - I bet someone at one of those will tell you everything you might want to know!
posted by nicwolff at 7:44 PM on January 16, 2004

Tom Clancy is a stickler for this kind of thing, and almost all his books deal with subs at some point. I'd recommend The Hunt For Red October and/or the Bear and the dragon (I think).

Actually, he has a non-fiction book called Submarine that probably spells it all out.
posted by o2b at 7:47 PM on January 16, 2004

Whatever, as long as Sean Connery's on top.

posted by adamgreenfield at 8:06 PM on January 16, 2004

An excellent starting point would be Sherry Sontag's Blind Man's Bluff, about the real history of American submarines used for espionage. There's lots in there that will probably be directly relevant to your writing, and not knowing what's already been done might be a detriment to the final product. You'll learn immediately, for instance, that the average age of a sub captain is around 40 -- not the Gene Hackman veterans of the movies!

Amazon's related-items search quickly leads to things like The Complete Idiot's Guide to Submarines and a Clancy-narrated guided tour inside a nuclear warship.

You'll probably want to familiarize yourself with the concept of the officer of the deck (watch officer, a junior officer who essentially runs the ship according to the CO's orders, rotated through the crew to hand out experience opportunities) and modern combat information center workflows, which are pretty far from your Capt. Micromanager movie cliches. The crew operates as a team, rather than a cadre of tools operated by one man; that would probably be the one thing that naval vets would appreciate the most if you got right (allowing, of course, for some fictive compression).

It probably wouldn't hurt to watch Das Boot, the long version, either. Another good underwater movie is Cameron's The Abyss, which has a few sub scenes. Stay far, far away from warmed-over crap like U-571 or even Crimson Tide (the movie, at least).

And do I have to mention Operation Petticoat? Yes, I suppose I must. In what category, I allow the reader to decide.

Anyway, in googling, I found naval officer's manual ebook, which may be exactly what you need; see Chap. 4 especially. Oh, be sure and use lots of acronyms. The USN is particularly fond of them and applies them in excess.
posted by dhartung at 10:12 PM on January 16, 2004

thanks for all the advice and great links. that naval officer's manual, in particular, looks ideal. I already have a massive pile of research to do for other aspects of the book, so I was hoping to knock this out in the simplest way possible, but the more I think about it, the more I realize there's just no simple way to do a submarine scene and I sure as hell can't bullshit my way through it.
posted by badstone at 12:47 PM on January 17, 2004

Blind Man's Bluff is really good, but it focuses primarily on espionage via sub. What I'd really recommend for a good slice of life aboard a nuclear missile submarine (though I'm sure a lot would translate to the fast-attack boats) would be Big Red: The Three-Month Voyage Of A Trident Nuclear Submarine by Douglas Waller.
posted by Vidiot at 12:24 PM on January 19, 2004

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