April 18, 2019
Local History Talk
Saving the Squalus
Tuesday May 21 | 7 – 8:30 PM
The library’s Local History series features authors and experts on local history topics. The series continues with visiting lecturer Bob Begin, who will discuss the sinking and subsequent rescue of the USS Squalus.
Almost eighty years ago, on May 23, 1939, the eyes and ears of America were focused on the waters off Portsmouth, New Hampshire where a submarine, the Squalus, was trapped on the bottom at a depth of 243' below the surface. The Squalus, one of the Navy's newest submarines, was on a test dive when mechanical failures caused her to sink. On board were 33 survivors, with seemingly little chance of rescue. At the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, the oldest in America, all of the Navy's resources would be put into service under the pivotal leadership of a dedicated officer, scientist, and pioneer in submarine rescue technique, Charles "Swede" Momsen. He had dedicated his entire career to developing training and equipment for use in rescuing trapped submariners. Moored above the Squalus, assisting in the rescue operations, was her sister ship, the Sculpin.
Against all odds, Momsen would lead efforts to successfully raise the Squalus. Never before had any men been rescued from depths at which she was captive. Squalus would be recommissioned and placed in service with a new name; the Sailfish in May of 1940. Both Sailfish and Sculpin would see action in the Pacific. In a story of cruel irony, their paths would cross again.
This is a story of sacrifice, courage, and dedication. It warrants retelling in today’s times.
Bob Begin is a visiting lecturer whose take on historical events often reflects the great challenges and courage put forth by the people who made history. With a focus on the human element in every story, Bob’s lectures span a wide range of topics including Lawrence of Arabia, the USS Quincy, and the Cocoanut Grove Fire of 1942. Bob grew up in the Lewiston-Auburn area and worked as a carrier for the Lewiston Daily Sun and the Lewiston Evening Journal. He graduated from Babson College with a degree in business administration. He and his wife Mary have been married for 48 years, and they have two sons and five grandchildren.