November 21, 1946: President Truman takes a Vacation Cruise in a Submarine

Washington was cold and miserable, the Republicans had just taken control of both houses of Congress, and Harry Truman really needed to get away. After 19 months in the White House the President was physically exhausted. His doctor ordered a warm vacation. keywest1_01Truman flew down to Key West on November 17th with an entourage of aides and newspapermen. The first thing he did when he arrived at the Navy Base in Key West was to call Bess and ensure her of his safe arrival. He wrote her a letter at the same time complimenting the fine house, the saltwater swimming pool, and the sea beach half a mile away. He told her he planned to swim at eight each morning, have breakfast at nine, rest half an hour, go to the beach at ten, stay there two hours, come back and rest at the house until lunch at one, take his usual nap, “work” from four to seven, have dinner and a “social” evening until eleven, go to bed and then do it all over again the next day. “I’m seeing no outsiders. I don’t give a damn how put out they get. I’m doing as I damn please for the next two weeks and to hell with all them.” It was ideal Key West weather – warm and bright. On Wednesday the President took the wheel of the Presidential automobile and drove some close staff thirty miles up the Miami Highway to the Boca Chita Naval Air Station. There they examined the latest secret devices – a plane equipped with rockets, a depth control device, a high voltage camera for night photography, and a blimp which the President boarded. On Thursday the 21st, Truman left early to inspect the submarines. A German U-Boat, the U-2513, had been surrendered to the Allies in May 1945. The U-boat had been taken from Hamburg to Northern Ireland where a crew of U.S. submariners sent from New London spent a month learning all they could about the boat’s advanced underwater technology (a process complicated by the sailors having to learn German along the way). At eight AM, the President boarded the captured sub along with his key aides and military personnel (but, due to its secret status, no press). Breakfast was served on the boat in relays – the quarters were extremely cramped, there was scarcely room to move, the air was stuffy and humid and breathing space was at a premium. Truman’s aide Ross joked “it took an order from the President to get Admiral Leahy down in a submarine.” At 9:15 all hands were ordered to their stations. The U-2513 commenced its dive. The sub descended to 100 feet, and then rigged for “silent running” it sped through the depths at 15 knots. It slowed, then dove to 250, 350, 400 feet. After descending to 450 feet, it cruised at that level for a minute or two. The sub then ascended to periscope depth, 50 feet. The President manned the periscope and was fascinated by what he could see. However, during the ascent the port engine room flooded and an alarming amount of smoke flooded the aft portion of the sub. Fortunately, the situation was quickly addressed and the U-2513 surfaced safely at 10:15 a.m. Five minutes after surfacing the Presidential party climbed onto the conning tower. Truman sat down, along with his aides, and immediately discovered the seats were still soaked. With convivial laughter, the President insinuated that his aides pants were wet, not from the sea water, but because of their “apprehension” during the dive. After watching a display of depth charges, the boat safely returned to the base where the sub’s commander inducted Truman into “The Ancient Order of Deep Dunkers.” The President returned to his house, took a nap and then set out for some deep sea fishing where he caught a Spanish mackerel, a barracuda and a grouper. That evening Harry Truman dropped in on an enlisted men’s dance held at the tennis courts on the base. He made a few impromptu remarks, expressing his pleasure at being the guest of the Navy, and then he got serious. He stressed to the young men and women that our great country belonged to those who made it great, and he urged them to study the Constitution, because the Constitution WAS the government of the United States. He told them “We are living in the greatest country in the greatest age in history,” and he pleaded with them to keep it great.

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