Hap's Corner May 2017

Published 05/24/2017


While researching an article on the Herrick Trophy I ran across an old photo taken at the National Matches featuring ‘Kernel Mumm’s Amateurs.’ LTC Morton C. Mumma, the National Match Executive Officer, had organized a pick-up team of some of the most prominent shooters of the day, the likes of Frank Kahrs, Grosvenor Watkyns, and, mostly through nepotism rather than skill, Midshipman Morton C. Mumma, Jr.

The Mumma family has a long history of competitive shooting starting with Morton Claire Mumma, West Point class of 1900, who was the first of the line of Distinguished Mumma marksmen. The first Mumma went Distinguished in 1904 with the rifle and with the pistol in 1909. During the Great War the colonel was commandant of the Small Arms Firing School at Camp Perry and, later, Executive Officer of many National Matches.

Morton C. Mumma, Junior, United States Naval Academy Class of 1925, earned Distinguished with the rifle in 1927. At the outbreak of World War II he was commanding a submarine of the Asiatic Fleet which he took out on its first war patrol and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions. He eventually retired as a rear admiral before becoming the President of the National Rifle Association.

Like his grandfather before him Morton C. Mumma III graduated from West Point but elected to serve in fledgling United States Air Force in 1948. He legged out in 1957.

I noted that Morton, Junior and I had a lot of similarities. We were both NRA members, Naval officers-although I had far fewer gold rings on my Service Dress Blue’s cuffs than he, Distinguished with the rifle, and our fathers were shooters. Mumma was also a submariner and I grew up in New London, Connecticut, home of the US Navy’s Submarine School.

Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy postulated in 1929 that it is possible to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps: the famous “Six Degrees of Separation.” The most direct steps connecting me to Mumma had nothing to do with our mutual shooting accomplishments or naval service, it was submarines.

Growing up in a Navy town many of my friend’s fathers wore the twin dolphins of the submariner. Chief among them was my running mate Gordon’s father, Allan Carl Bryson. Mr. Bryson was tight with The Old Man and also a teammate on Quaker Hill Rod and Gun Club’s Nutmeg Pistol Team. Mr. Bryson has enlisted in the Navy in the dark days of the Great Depression and had risen, by dint of natural intelligence and hard work, to the rank of Commissioned Warrant Officer, a rare feat in the1950s.

After completing boot camp Mr. Bryson spent an abortive few months as a Pharmacist’s Mate striker before he found his true calling as a Machinist Mate. When I knew him his mechanical skills were much in demand upgrading and repairing the many High Standard pistols popular at the time with most of the New London County Pistol League shooters.

After being rated a Machinist’s Mate he went on to complete the demanding curriculum at the Sub School. Ordered to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard for new construction he became a plank owner of USS Squalus (SS-192). On the morning of May 23,1939, fresh from a yard overhaul, the 310 foot submarine slipped its mooring at the mouth of the Piscataqua River and shaped course for the Isles of Sholes to perform a series of test dives.

Serving as a compartment telephone talker, Bryson’s duty station was in Squalus’ forward battery room.  Headphones clamped over his ears muffled the ah-OOG-ah" "ah-OOG-ah" of the klaxon sounding the diving alarm. In response, the sub quickly slid beneath the surface of the frigid Atlantic at 0840. As the boat submerged the 36-inch diameter main induction valve, which provided air to the diesel engine, failed to close. Sea water gushed in quickly flooding the aft torpedo room, both engine rooms, and the crew's quarters, drowning 26 men, as Squalus plummeted 243 feet to the seabed.

With the Grim Reaper as an unwelcome shipmate, the trapped men endured penetrating cold, damp, darkness, and toxic air while awaiting help. Squalus lay lost and helpless for nearly five hours until her sister ship, USS Sculpin (SS-191), discovered her rescue buoy

As quickly as they could steam, fly, or drive all the Navy’s rescue resources converged over the stricken sub. In a scene of organized frenzy the rescuers evaluated the situation, prepared a plan of action, put divers over the side and, under dangerous conditions, affixed a rescue chamber’s down haul cable to Squalus to begin extracting the survivors.  

Lifted to the surface in the last trip of the chamber Mr. Bryson was safely deposited on the deck of the rescue vessel USS Falcon (ASR-2), ending both the sailors’ Gethsemane and the greatest undersea rescue on record. It was just 39 hours between the start of Squalus’ ill-fated dive and the moment the last survivor sucked the Atlantic’s revitalizing cold fresh air into his battered lungs, but it must have seemed like a lifetime to rescued and rescuers alike.

With war clouds on the horizon the Navy salvaged Squalus and recommissioned her as USS Sailfish (SS 192). The name, it is said, was suggested by President Franklin Roosevelt. An avid deep water fisherman, FDR said that when Squalus popped bow first from the deep, amid a boiling froth of air bubbles during salvage operations, he was reminded of sitting in a fighting chair and watching a hooked sailfish leap from the water. 

I didn’t need six steps to make the connection, just two. Mr. Bryson’s old Squalus was the newly commissioned Sailfish, whose first skipper was one Lieutenant Commander Morton C. Mumma, Jr., USN.