Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Boiler technicians lighting a ship's boiler from Boiler Room Big Mo

Now each of us from time to time has gazed upon the sea
and watched the mighty warships pulling out to keep this country free.
And most of us have read a book or heard a lusty tale,
about these men who sail these ships through lightning, wind and hail.
But there's a place within each ship that legend's fail to teach.
It's down below the water-line and it takes a living toll
- - a hot metal living hell, that sailors call the "Hole."
It houses engines run with steam that makes the shafts go round.
A place of fire, noise, and heat that beats your spirits down.
Where boilers like a hellish heart, with blood of angry steam,
are molded gods without remorse, are nightmares in a dream.

Whose threat from the fires roar, is like a living doubt,
that at any moment with such scorn, might escape and crush you out.
Where turbines scream like tortured souls, alone and lost in Hell,
are ordered from above somewhere, they answer every bell.
The men who keep the fires lit and make the engines run,
are strangers to the light and rarely see the sun.
They have no time for man or God, no tolerance for fear,
their aspect pays no living thing a tribute of a tear.
For there's not much that men can do that these men haven't done,
beneath the decks, deep in the hole, to make the engines run.
And every hour of every day they keep the watch in Hell,
for if the fires ever fail their ship's a useless shell.

When ships converge to have a war upon an angry sea,
the men below just grimly smile at what their fate will be.
They're locked below like men fore-doomed, who hear no battle cry,
it's well assumed that if they're hit men below will die.
For every day's a war down there when gauges all read red,
twelve-hundred pounds of heated steam can kill you mighty dead.

So if you ever write their songs or try to tell their tale,
the very words would make you hear a fired furnace's wail.
And people as a general rule don't hear of these men of steel,
so little heard about this place that sailors call the "Hole."
But I can sing about this place and try to make you see,
the hardened life of the men down there, 'cause one of them is me.
I've seen these sweat-soaked heroes fight in superheated air,
to keep their ship alive and right, though no one knows they're there.

And thus they'll fight for ages on till warships sail no more,
amid the boiler's mighty heat and the turbine's hellish roar.
So when you see a ship pull out to meet a war-like foe,
remember faintly if you can, "The Men Who Sail Below."


Blogger's note: This is hardly an example of great poetry, and never do I ever think of it in that context, in fact it's more a personal thing than anything else. One of the proudest possessions I have is a plaque that has this poem on it. This was presented to me after a particularly difficult tour of duty as an engineer and it was presented to me by the senior enlisted men I worked with and that meant a great deal to me - you were getting it from the guys who really did the work, who were the true engineers or "hole snipes", and having their acknowledgement and respect was more important than pretty much anything else.

More than a few engineers have told me that they didn't particularly care for this poem, and indeed there's enough about it to not like with its over-extended metaphors and general melodrama, but then it catches more of what men who work below actually go through than anything else I've ever encountered, and there are few poems to grimy engineers who dwell in the hells below. Today the "hell" below isn't quite what it once was, where you stood your four, or six hour watch if you were unlucky and had a port and starboard watch rotation, in a space that easily reached over 100 degrees in many spots and where the only cooling you received was from an air vent blowing outside air into the space - if you were in hot climes at the time the only advantage to this was relatively cooling are flowing over your body and if it was humid outside there was little to be gotten from this. Today the amenities for watchstanders often include air conditioned booths where the watch stander keeps most of his or her watch, and much, much more is computerized. Today's engineers would in many ways have a hard time understanding the Snipe's Lament as it reaches back to a day not quite in their experience, with fewer and fewer Navy ships running on steam at all, much less 1200 lb steam.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fellow snipe lament(or).

Steamed FF of the KNOX class.Thanks for the lite-off pic.

5:46 PM  
Anonymous Stein said...

I was a MM on U.S.S. Lawrence (DDG-4) from 1980 - 1985. I did A-gang, Oil Shack, and two tours in the enginerooms. Took the forward ER from modified main to ready to spin, by myself, in less than one hour.

12:21 AM  
Anonymous Clint said...

MM's today, on nuke carriers anyway, it may not be 1200# steam, but it is 600# steam. I definetly get it. Most watches are 5 hours. There is still no air conditioning in the "HOLE". I joined in 1992, still in, going to do my twenty. We do use computers now, so we can make five times the paperwork for the same thing that didn't take any just ten years ago. Every outside inspection team comes up with new "BEST PRACTICES", and now there are new requirements that only make sense to the talking heads who never stood watch in the "HOLE". Life in the "HOLE" hasn't changed much from your original Lament, in my opinion. Watch stations are still in the 100's plus, depenting on geographical location. The biggest difference is were we get the steam from, Boiler-Reactor. MM's Rule.

11:20 AM  
Anonymous Ian said...

I served 6 years onboard one of the few last remaining conventional steam plants in the Navy. I was MMOW/BTOW (space supervisor) aboard the USS Essex (LHD-2). Yeah we had the booth with the A/C but i didnt spend much time in there. On an LPD you dont have that luxury however. but most of my time was out in the plant. Especially if you an MMUL, LL , BTUL, burnerman, BTLL, and most definately messenger, you were never in the console booth. God forbid you came in at a time other than to get your logs signed. I used to get stuff thrown at me etc. I definately connected with this poem growing up in the plant. 130 degrees on the blower flats wiping up oil on the Forced Draft blowers or taking readings on the generators which in the summer can be just as hot and knowing that the stuff we went through was neither recognized, understood, or appreciated. there are still some of us out there that still knows how it feels and can relate on a much personal level to this poem. i think the greatest thing about it is that it was written by someone just like us and decided to remain unknown much like the most of us.

4:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BT3 Santy, USS Vancouver (LPD-2) 1979 - 1983; forward & aft firerooms and oil shack. Aft fireroom Top Watch during last WestPac 1983.

So many memories and experiences. The good ones definitely outweigh the bad. Those four years of service springboarded me into life as a responsible member of society. Wish more youngins had the gonads to serve and become productive citizens.

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HT 3 (SW) here, USS Camden (AOE-2) 01-05, 03-05 in aft plant #2MMR. They were the best times! I learned from some of THE best BT's and MM's in the fleet. The only place with ac was main control, other than that it was 600 lbs of steam and a whole lotta hellish times, taken with a smile of course. Snipes didnt sweat the load, we carried it.

8:02 PM  
Blogger derrick said...

BT-3 Jack, on USS Camden (AOE-2)#1MMR forward plant 1994-1998. I am proud of my time as a "snipe" in the pit. I have recently graduated college as an engineer, but am most proud of the engineering title as it applied to my position in the fire room!

4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BT3 (Yee)Morgan, on the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) forward hole 1976-1980. I spent many hours in hell with eight hours of work each day and four on four off at night. God help you if you got the first four on as this meant that you worked eight hour then stood watch for four off for four then back on for four plus another eight hours. Count them that is sixteen hour days. We were way under staffed because we were a prototype ship with an early automatic control system. That meant that we had one chief, a first class, a second class, a third class and two firemen per hole. Since the automation was a prototype it never worked well and you still had to man the watch. Military Intelligence!
It was typically 100 - 110 degrees in the hole and the noise was so bad that after a noise study we were required to wear double hearing protection. I remember the fires in the bilges every day from oil laden water hitting the steam trap drain lines. Had the outer casing of the combustion Engineers Boiler fail while underway. I was standing right in front of it when it failed and fell away from the boiler. The wind and the pressure from the forced draft fans nearly knocked me into the bilges. I remember once the packing gland failed on the main steam stop while underway. The 1st class and I ran back there and managed to get close enough to it to shut the valve an isolate it. We came out lobster red but were able to cross-connect with the aft hole and keep sailing without anyone noticing a difference.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was a boiler technician on the uss new jersey #3 fireroom 1984-1988 steamed it just like they did in 1942 BT3 Quinn is the the name proudest title I've ever held I've stood messenger, checkman, saturated burnerman, lower levelman, superheater burnerman, pumpman, and Boiler Technician of the Watch, [BTOW] proudest days of my life, it's where men were men, I miss those days got out in '88 nothing out here even comes close worked at Delta repair hangar in the mid 90-s caused to much waves because of the lack of proffessionalism in the plants not me them punch of p====ies had a couple of run in with the law since then {meth] not gonna lie to anybody to much of an engineer to do that hunting for a good plant to steam before my days are out, still tougher than any of these puppies out here now days if there are still any real hole snipes out there get a hold of me, it aint got to be a steaming job, hell the snipes lament isnt a poem to me its like the cover letter to my resume, i was weaned on battleship steam any high risk position will do if it pays right, if it is for my country i will do it for free, let freedom ring, contact me at ausquinn@windstream.net

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have 38 years of being a Boilerman. I learned from Watertenders and can fire anything from coal to Bunker C. I am proud of what I do and would gladly do it again. Being a Red Stripe Snipe is no shame either. Them gold stripes just mean you didn't get caught!!

10:08 PM  
Anonymous MM3 Douglass said...

Best years of my in the pit USS Pensacola (LSD38) # 2MMR. Yes hot and hellish, but loved every minute 1997-1999 Decomisioning crew, qualified every watch station as a fireman, 6n6 as thortleman in the med. So many great guys, some many wonderful memories. Would do it all over again just hope the Taiwanese take care of her Pensacola is a "WARSHIP"

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was crazy enough to tell my recruiter yeah make me a BT. It was an experience of a life time on a DDG and then a cruiser CG . But after I got out ive been steaming at a university using what I learned in the HOLE for over 19 years and counting . 29

8:30 PM  
Blogger HoleSnipe said...

Served as a BT on the CV-61 "Ranger" and the FF-1037 "Bronstein" and that poem is kinda rough but as a hole snipe ... well ya just gotta own it.

3:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a BT on the Bole- 755 in 67&68. Being A Snipe is for life.

5:58 PM  

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