May 25, 1967: Charles Bowers Momsen, the man who pioneered submarine rescues, dies of cancer. Momsen entered the US Naval Academy in 1914, flunked out, got another appointment, and graduated in 1919. He served on a battleship, went on to submariners school, and then took command of O-15 (SS-76), an aging sub. Proving himself capable, he was given command of S-1(SS-105), the newest Navy designed sub.
On September 25, 1925, a sister sub collided with a cargo ship and went down. Momsen was ordered to search for the ship, found the oil slick from the accident, but was unable to help rescue the trapped men. Sonar, not yet invented, meant there was no way to find the ship on the seabed. Even if found, there was no way to get men trapped at that depth to the surface.
Momsen was transferred to a desk job and from there, created the way to save trapped men. First he invented the Momsen lung which consisted of a bag with soda lime that removed CO2 and replenished it with oxygen and with tubes to breathe through. This method of moving in deep water without getting the bends solved one problem. Still more work needed to be done. Momsen had tried designs for a diving bell with some success. A superior officer liked the idea, made minor revisions, and the Momsen rescue chamber became marketed as the McCann Rescue Chamber.
In May 1939, the submarine Squalus, while on test dives, suffered an accident and foundered in 243 feet of water, a certain death sentence in prior times. Momsen led the rescue efforts and after 39 terrible hours, saved the 33 surviving crewman on board using the Momsen lung and diving bell. He then directed the 113 day mission to bring the Squalus into port.
Momsen went on to serve with distinction during WWII. When torpedoes fired from submarines were having a high failure rate, he found the design flaw by firing torpedoes in shallow water and risking his own life to examine an unexploded torpedo. The flaw was fixed.
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