WICHITA, Kan. – The 1938 silver christening bottle cage of the famed and ill-fated USS Squalus highlights Nation’s Attic online Submarine & Underwater Armor auction Saturday, April 2.
More than 200 lots of vintage submarine memorabilia and diving equipment are showcased in the event. The star of the show, however, is the only christening bottle cage used to launch USS Squalus, the submarine involved in the greatest rescue adventure in naval history.
Christened on September 14th, 1938, the Squalus slipped beneath the storm-tossed surface of the Atlantic Ocean on the morning of May 23, 1939, during routine sea trials. Moments later its main engine air induction valve failed, and water poured uncontrollably into the submarine’s aft engine room. The 310-foot Squalus sank to the ocean floor nine miles off the New Hampshire coast, trapping 59 men.
The situation was bleak. Since 1921, 825 men had died in submarine accidents. No rescue attempt had ever succeeded in more than 20 feet of water. The Squalus was down 240 feet.
A hastily assembled Navy team had no choice but to use new, experimental diving methods that fed divers a mixture of helium and oxygen to avoid decompression sickness, or the bends, associated with such depths. Until that moment, those diving methods existed in theory only.
The rescue team encountered problems that forced them to make decisions on the fly — each with life-or-death consequences. And they did it all with the world listening intently, captivated by the fate of the trapped men whose plight was broadcast live on radio around the world.
Twenty-six crewmen died on the Squalus, but 33 were rescued during a 39-hour ordeal in one of the most daring and riveting rescues in naval history. In the end, the officers and men of the Squalus rescue and salvage teams received four Medals of Honor, 46 Navy Crosses and one Distinguished Service Medal. While there were countless tears shed in the homes of those who didn’t survive the horrific accident, a glorious new chapter was written in the history of underwater rescue.
Along with the historic silver christening bottle cage, the auction is offering an engraved US Navy divers’ knife that was presented to one of the USS Squalus salvage divers.
A selection of antique and brass diving helmets, including multiple US Navy Mark V helmets, are featured. The online auction will be held on LiveAuctioneers.com and BidSquare.com. For more information on the auction, visit www.OldHelmet.com.