Archaeological Survey of the Ex-USS Bugara (SS/AGSS331)
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In August 2017, a multidisciplinary team conducted the first archaeological survey of the deep water (242 m) wreck of the ex-USS Bugara (SS/AGSS331) using the remotely operated vehicles Argus and Hercules. The survey provided 8 h of direct observation with video and still camera documentation of the wreck, which previously had been identified by sonar and a brief ROV survey of portions of the hull in 2001. The 2017 assessment added considerably to an understanding of changes to Bugara after it sank while under tow in 1971. Bugara, a World War II-era submarine, served at the end of that conflict and through the Cold War. The submarine reflects a series of modifications to “modernize” it within the context of the Cold War. The examination of the wreck, along with additional archival research, offers more details not only on the probable cause of the sinking but also on subsequent site formation processes. The characterization of the wreck resulted in a reassessment of the site as more than an obsolete vessel accidentally lost when relegated to target practice. The archival record, now declassified, shows that Bugara’s loss also reflects its ultimate use, within the context of the Cold War, as a target for the Mark 48 torpedo, a newly developed “sub and ship killing” weapon designed in the late 1960s and tested through 1971 to take out Soviet deep-diving nuclear submarines and high-performance surface ships.
KeywordsSubmarine Shipwreck Cold War
A shipwreck is commonly viewed as a time capsule, preserving the moment in history at which it sank, including the movement of materials over seaborne routes, the belongings and actions of the sailors, and the conditions that led to the ship’s sinking. In the case of maritime battlefields and approaches to harbors, groups of shipwrecks reflect the human actions and events that played out on a featureless and insubstantial sea surface, now represented by the remains on the seabed below. The maritime cultural landscape, therefore, is physically displaced on the z-axis while remaining spatially reflective of the surface events. These landscapes can reflect single moments in time over which a battle took place, or span millennia as continuous maritime activity writes itself across the seabed.
The aftermath of World War II saw a different type of maritime cultural landscape develop as ships from the war were disposed of offshore. These included ships scuttled because of age or battle damage in the face of postwar naval reductions in force. They included vessels scuttled following their use in atomic testing (see this volume), as well as a range of vessels disposed of in tests of conventional aircraft, ship and submarine-delivered weapons. Today they are part of a broader maritime cultural landscape that took place across the surface of the Pacific, but were uprooted from those areas of significance and redeposited in U.S. waters. Many maritime battlefields are thought of as ship graveyards, but these are more like a cemetery in the literal sense as they were chosen to be sunk as a ritual send-off given their histories and “buried,” so to speak, away from their area of life and battle.
For purposes of Fleet training, the NWTRC includes training operations that occur at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Keyport Range Areas including Dabob, Keyport and Nanoose range sites. The NWTRC is the principal backyard range for surface, submarine, aviation, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units located at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, Naval Station (NS) Everett, Naval Base Kitsap – Bremerton, Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor, and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Department of the Navy 2007: ES-1).
As part of NOAA’s responsibilities under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), the agency has conducted archaeological surveys and assessments within the National Marine Sanctuary System and at Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Those efforts have focused on near-shore and beached sites, although the presence of Bugara was known and the wreck included in the list of cultural resources within the sanctuary. However, the site had not been definitively surveyed or archaeologically examined. The wreck had been located during a 2001 fiber-optic cable laying survey when a brief, 45-min non-archaeological dive with a small ROV verified it was Bugara. Subsequently, the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer conducted a multibeam survey of the site in 2009 and mapped the wreck on the seabed in 242 m of water.
As part of an ongoing partnership with NOAA’s Office of Exploration (OER) and the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET), deep-sea areas of the West Coast sanctuaries have been mapped with significant natural and cultural targets assessed with remotely operated vehicles since 2016. In cooperation with Olympic Coast NMS, the senior authors selected Bugara as a target for assessment during OET’s August 2017 mission to Quinault Canyon and the Olympic Coast.
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The dive resulted in the comprehensive survey and archaeological characterization of the wreck. Among the goals achieved were determining ongoing processes of change to the wreck after nearly five decades on the bottom, including important questions of biological colonization.
Historical Context of USS Bugara
Following the war, Bugara spent time in Subic Bay in the Philippines. In January 1946, it departed for San Diego, California, via Pearl Harbor. On May 28, Bugara sank the ex-Japanese submarine I-14 as part of a SINKEX exercise, a harbinger of its own eventual fate. Over the next few years, Bugara was involved in training exercises off Hawai’i, Midway Atoll, Guam, Australia, Okinawa, China, Japan, Samoa, and California as the geopolitical landscape shifted in the postwar period. In 1950, Bugara departed for the Far East to support United Nations Forces in the Korean Campaign. The stay was cut short while in Yokosuka, Japan, when a frigate rammed the submarine, requiring Bugara to return to Pearl Harbor for repairs. Bugara eventually returned to the Far East in January 1951.
Based on operational lessons learned during World War II, and on analysis of postwar captured German and Japanese submarines, the postwar U.S. Navy commenced the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program to streamline the wartime submarine fleet for better underwater performance and maneuverability, add snorkels to allow submarines to run underwater using their Diesel engines rather than batteries, and to improve habitability and fire control. Known by the acronym GUPPY, the program began in 1946 and continued through the early 1950s. At the end of the program, 31 submarines were relegated to the Fleet Snorkel Program for budgetary reasons. They received a minimal amount of modifications (Friedman 1994: 25, 40–43; Polmar and Moore 2004: 11–17). Bugara was selected to be one of the Fleet Snorkel boats, and was modified at Pearl Harbor in June 1951.
On June 1, 1971, the U.S. Navy tug Cree (ATF-45) had the ex-USS Bugara under tow en route from the Naval Ammunition Depot at Bremerton, Washington, to a disposal site approximately 100 miles off of Cape Flattery. Press accounts noted that the submarine was “being towed to Bangor Naval Ammunition Depot,” but its classified mission was to participate as a target to test a newly developed, classified experimental torpedo, the Mk 48 ADCAP (advanced capability), which had been designed to sink nuclear submarines and fast-moving surface ships. Another aspect of testing the Mk 48 was to hone its use in sinking quiet-running diesel electric submarines in shallow water (Polmar and Moore 2004: 294). However, Bugara began to take on water off Cape Flattery, near the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and started to settle by the stern. With Cree at risk of being pulled under, the tug’s crew cut the steel hawser to the submarine. Bugara foundered shortly after. That same month the U.S. Navy located Bugara, stating there would be no attempt to raise it.
Results and Observations
While an older, World War II-era submarine operating in a nuclear submarine era, Bugara nonetheless was one of a number of wartime-built submarines that continued to operate through the late 1960s and early 1970s as training craft or in foreign service after sale or transfer from the United States to allies. That might argue for a thorough stripping, or, conversely, as an obsolete type of submarine near the end of its service life, the vessel might not have been stripped at all. It appears that little stripping was done, confirming that there was little use for the components. When Bugara sank, most of its contemporaries were soon to be scrapped or had been sold or transferred to the Navies of Spain, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Peru and Chile (Alden 1979: 260–270). There was little need on the part of the U.S. Navy for spare parts, as the assessment of Bugara would seem to indicate.
One rumored reason for the loss of Bugara was that a hatch had perhaps been left open. Examination of the wreck showed that the hatches were all sealed. As to how Bugara sank, an explanation for the sinking was offered, solely thanks to the telepresence-enabled public exploration of the site, by Jerome C. Hanrahan, a retired Navy engineer from Naval Undersea Warfare Center at Keyport, Washington, who observed the dive through telepresence. He noted that the submarine sank, while in transit to its rendezvous to USS Trigger, taking on water from the stern with no visible breaches observed in the 2017 survey. Hanrahan assessed a variety of other possible access points for seawater, dismissing entry through the double-door torpedo tubes. In Hanrahan’s opinion, the likely culprit were the propeller shafts, left in place and not removed and blanked. Uncoupled from the engines to reduce drag, the propellers would have spun freely as the tow proceeded. He believes that the propeller shaft packing seals, “having dried out from non-use over the year or so prior to the sub being moved, would allow water” to leak and flood Bugara (Hanrahan 2017: 2).
While sinking by the stern, the submarine was probably towed with the internal compartment hatches left open, allowing Bugara to completely flood, but not before the weight of the flooded stern forced the bow out of the water. The flood ports on the bottom of the bow ballast tanks, raised out of the water, would had vented enough trapped air in the bow to allow the weight of the submarine to pull it down, and Bugara sank on an even keel, coming to rest as we saw it in 2017.
That being said, the submarine may have left the surface without completely flooding. The damaged sail may indicate this. While the damage to the sail may be the result of its higher position on the wreck, exposed to currents. No evidence of trawl impact was observed anywhere on the wreck, which otherwise might account for the damage. What may have happened is that the implosion of the main air lines vented the trapped air through the 36-inch diameter ventilation stack and nearby valves in the after end of the sail, weakening or damaging the surrounding fiberglass sail superstructure when Bugara sank.
The dive to Bugara highlighted this “modern” wreck as an artifact of the Cold War and part of the maritime cultural landscape of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Bugara, as one element in that landscape, speaks to the long-standing and ongoing use of these waters as a training and testing ground for America’s submarine fleet, as well as part of the strategic sea frontier for naval forces that include the submarine fleet at Naval Base Kitsap. Physically, Bugara reflects the Navy’s decades of modifications in the Cold War period to its World War II-era fleet boats both in its structure and in its operational career. It also reflects more than its seeming obsolescence in 1971. In this final stage of a decades-long career, the disposal of the submarine was as a target for a classified, new naval torpedo that would enter the fleet a year later, in 1972. Within that context of an evolving Navy, the role of Bugara as a now obsolete submarine about to serve one last important purpose in testing a new, Cold War weapon places this wreck in context as more than an old submarine lost under tow.
As noted in the article on USS Independence (CVL22) in this volume, sites like Bugara show that the archaeology of the Cold War, as demonstrated overall by Hanson (2016a) and suggested for maritime archaeology by some of us in 2016, is of importance (Hanson 2016b; Delgado et al. 2016; Neyland 2016). The sinking of Bugara in deep water, an action that wold have effectively hid the material evidence of the explosive force (and hence efficiency) of the Navy’s still classified Mk 42 ADCAP torpedo from prying eyes, would fit within the same archaeological signature as the disposition of Independence. The accidental loss of Bugara notwithstanding, its intended deliberate disposition is a reflection of Cold War attitudes, actions and their material signature. To that end, just as much as Independence is part of a unique, dispersed fleet of vessels used in the world’s first atomic tests, it is also part of a larger fleet of former naval vessels within a vast, multi-ocean maritime cultural landscape that reflects not only naval discard, but also the evolution of naval weapons testing. As we noted with Independence, that landscape, much like the multi-layered and diverse cultural landscape of the atomic test fleet, is comprised of sites like USS Bugara that are archaeological signatures of the Cold War.
It also was the home for many crews through its decades-long career where individual naval careers were shaped and experienced. The telepresence-enabled archaeological documentation of Bugara provided the science team with unique, personal and informed perspectives on the submarine. Among those was Mr. Hanrahan’s observations on the probable causes of the sinking. One aspect of archaeological telepresence, especially with wrecks of World War II or more recent vintage, is the opportunity for the involvement of crew members. The importance of that participation is more than having informed “tour guides” help interpret what the ROV reveals. Throughout the dive, their perspectives and memories in a certain way brought the wreck “to life.” The Bugara crew connected the science team to the submarine as more than a site, but as an object and a place utilized and inhabited by humans. That powerfully reminds us that archaeology is a means by which we understand that which makes us human.
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