On a warm and sunny Wednesday 9 August 2017 at NBK-Bremerton, 32 Navy Leaguers received an even warmer welcome aboard USS Buffalo SSN-715 from Commanding Officer CDR Micah D. Maxwell and crew for a tour. Buffalo was commissioned in 1983 in the “first flight” of Los Angeles class fast attack submarines. As such, even though the boat (submarines are boats, not ships) is in good physical condition it would require an expensive inspection and recertification in order to remain in active service. Buffalo also does not have the vertical Tomahawk vertical launch missile tubes found on later versions of the LA class boats. As such the Navy determined that it would be more realistic to retire Buffalo at this time and since its arrival in Bremerton in April 2017 following its final deployment Buffalo has been tied pier side pending the process of inactivation, decommissioning and scrapping. In the meantime Buffalo has a full crew on board which necessarily oversees the daily operational procedures normal for an active submarine. In time the crew size will decline. A normal compliment is about 120 enlisted and 20-25 officers. Buffalo had been home ported in Pearl Harbor for its entire period of service until the recent move to Bremerton.
Unique to the early LA class are dive planes on the sail. These were replaced by bow planes
on the hull on later versions which facilitates rising to the surface under ice. In wartime the primary mission of fast attack submarines is hunter-killer…something that Buffalo fortunately never had to do. At other times missions such as intelligence gathering and exploration are assigned as well as availability to fulfill any requirement.
Our tour of Buffalo (named for the New York State city…not the animal) included the very important control room, the nerve center of the boat, where all operations are directed. We also saw areas and equipment for navigation, fire control, SONAR, the mechanical room (which included oxygen generation and carbon dioxide scrubber equipment) plus the railroad locomotive size diesel engine available for emergency electric power. Additionally we saw the galley, crew’s mess and ward room and torpedo room with 4 forward facing torpedo tubes. To avoid triple hot bunking, necessary due to space constraints, some crew choose to sleep in the torpedo room on mats spread over the torpedo racks. Not as private, but way more spacious. It was pointed out that the greatest fire risk on the submarine is the clothes dryer which is used by every member of the crew. The plan of action in event of a fire there is to have an extinguisher in operation in less than 15 seconds!
Our tour concluded and we all thanked CDR Maxwell and the personnel of Buffalo for the tour and for their service to our country. It would be appropriate at this point to acknowledge the many crews that have served on USS Buffalo during the 34 years the boat has been in service and of course to say “well done” to SSN-715. Thanks, too, to Byron Faber for arranging an amazing tour. – Norm Marten