Tag Archives: USS Memphis disaster

Submariner’s sea stories revealed the silent service

<b>Edward L. Beach Jr.</b>

Edward L. Beach Jr.

Sometimes the acorn does not fall far from the tree.

On April 20, 1918, Edward L. Beach Jr. was born in New York City. His father, Edward Sr., was commanding the Navy Torpedo Station in Newport, R.I., waiting for his next sea command, as the United States was entering World War I.

Beach Sr. graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1888, and rose to become Captain in 1914. He took command of the armored cruiser USS Tennessee in 1915, the ship was renamed USS Memphis when the Navy decided that battleships would be named for states. On Aug. 29, 1916, the Memphis was anchored in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, harbor when the ship was swamped and wrecked by tidal waves; 43 crew were killed and over 200 injured. A court-martial found Beach guilty of “not having enough steam available to get under way on short notice,” the court considered the tidal waves a predictable effect of weather. The court’s punishment was to reduce Beach’s seniority by 20 places, a sentence reduced by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels when it was determined the tidal waves were produced by an underwater earthquake, not weather.

Not long after the disaster, Beach married Alice Fouché, a Dominican of French ancestry, they had three children, Edward Jr., John and Alice. Six months after the birth of his son, Captain Beach was given command of the battleship New York (BB-34), flagship of the US battleship squadron attached to the British Home Fleet. He retired in 1921 and become a professor of military and naval history at Stanford University.

From 1907 to 1922, Beach published 13 novels for young adults, emphasizing hard work, honesty and honor. They were apparently inspirational to a generation of boys who later joined the Navy. Beach also wrote an autobiography, “From Annapolis to Scapa Flow,” that his son edited after his father’s death; it was not published until 2003, 60 years after his death.

Beach Jr. graduated second in his class from the Naval Academy in 1939. He was initially assigned to the surface navy, serving on a heavy cruiser and a destroyer, before being sent to the Submarine Training School in Connecticut; an assignment he resisted. He graduated first in his class there in December 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. He reported to the USS Trigger (SS-237) on Jan. 1, 1942. “ ‘There’s my new home,’ I thought, ‘wonder if I’m looking at my coffin.’ To me, she certainly wasn’t impressive, beautiful, or anything at all but an ugly chunk of steel. ‘No life, no spirit, no character,’ I thought.” Beach wrote in his first book, “Submarine!,” published in 1946.

He served on the Trigger and the USS Tirante (SS-420) before taking command of the USS Piper (SS-409) in 1945. He made 12 war patrols. The first patrol of the Tirante, in the Yellow Sea, was especially notable, sinking at least six Japanese ships and capturing two downed airmen. Beach, the executive officer, received the Navy Cross, captain George L. Street was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the ship’s crew received a Presidential Unit Citation. The action inspired Beach’s first novel, the bestselling “Run Silent, Run Deep,” published in 1955. He published two more submariner novels.

Beach received many other decorations for his war performance.

In August 1951, Beach was relieved of command to become the Naval Aide to General Omar Bradley when he was named the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His performance was rewarded with command of the USS Trigger, named for the earlier submarine, which was the first post-war submarine class. He was tapped to serve as President Dwight Eisenhower’s Naval Aide.

In 1958, he received command of the USS Triton (SSRN-586) the Navy’s fifth nuclear-powered submarine. Its shakedown cruise in February 1960 was the first non-stop submerged circumnavigation; it took 84 days and roughly followed the route of Ferdinand Magellan’s three-year course (1519-1522).

He retired in 1966, and wrote several histories, including the story of the USS Memphis disaster.

He died on Dec. 1, 2002.

Source – The Tennessean