Today is Pearl Harbor Day; a day that doesn't get a lot of recognition anymore (unless you live in Pearl Harbor), but a day set aside to remember and reflect on the surprise attack on Hawaii by Japanese forces, which subsequently led to the United States entering World War II.

"On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941 America's naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the forces of the Empire of Japan. More than 2,400 Americans were killed and more than 1,100 were wounded. The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four more. It also damaged or sank three cruisers, three destroyers, one minelayer and damaged 188 aircraft." -Wikipedia

Having been in the Navy a long time and stationed in Pearl Harbor, HI for a number of years, I have witnessed firsthand the scars of battle that are still present there today, 71 years after the attack that is often remembered as a date which will live in infamy. I've stood on the memorial that towers over the remains of the USS Arizona, a behemoth of a ship that became the eternal resting place for many of the 1,177 crew members who perished during the attack and the days following.

But I'm not here to try and depress everybody. These men and women died in the line of duty and we should pay our respects of course, but we should also rejoice and enjoy life and the freedom which we have been afforded. And trust me - I will eventually tie this in to video games.

When most people think of Pearl Harbor, they think of the Japanese planes swooping in and dropping bombs on all the ships in port but what many people don't know was there were also a number of Japanese midget submarines involved in the attack (most reports suggest at least five of them).

World War II was the conflict where the submarine force would shine, but at a steep cost. As a submariner myself, I'm fascinated with tales like this that Wikipedia summarizes nicely...

"During World War II the submarine force was the most effective anti-ship and anti-submarine weapon in the entire American arsenal. Submarines, though only about 2 percent of the U.S. Navy, destroyed over 30 percent of the Japanese Navy, including 8 aircraft carriers, 1 battleship and 11 cruisers. U.S. submarines also destroyed over 60 percent of the Japanese merchant fleet, crippling Japan's ability to supply its military forces and industrial war effort. In addition, the Japanese merchant marine lost 16,200 sailors killed and 53,400 wounded, of some 122,000 at the start of the war, due to submarines."

But like I a steep cost...

"During the war, 52 US submarines were lost to all causes, with 48 directly due to hostilities; 3,505 sailors were lost, the highest percentage killed in action of any US service arm in World War II."

Submariners had a low survival rate during WWII...some say if you made more than two combat patrols you were living on borrowed time. So why does any of this matter, or more appropriately, how does any of this relate to video games?

Hah, I thought you would never ask. I dunno, I guess that opening was just a way of remembering fallen shipmates, plugging the great things the submarine force has done (and is still doing) and remembering a few classic video games from the archives - one I played long before I was even old enough to consider joining the Navy and the others I played after joining the Navy (and even while I was underway on a submarine).

I am a submariner.

I earned my "fish" back in the Spring of 1993 and was going to have them presented by the skipper at the North Pole, since we were already in that neck of the woods in support of a research project titled APLIS (all of this is unclassified by the way). As fate would have it, an unfortunate incident occurred involving one of our boats hitting a Russian submarine, and we were pulled off to go do gatekeeper operations in the GIUK (Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom) gap.

Ironic, because I'd already done this sort of mission dozens of times before, only not in real life.

Before I joined the Navy and became a "bubblehead" or "squid" as we are often called, my first exposure to the Silent Service was decades ago, when I was barely a teenager playing a game of the same name.

Silent Service

"Silent Service is a 1985 submarine simulator video game. It was designed by Sid Meier and published by MicroProse for various 8-bit home computers, and in 1987 for 16-bit systems like the Amiga. Silent Service is set in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, with the player assuming control of a United States submarine for various war patrols against Japanese shipping ("Silent Service" was a nickname for the US Navy's submarine force in the Pacific during WWII)."

My memories of Silent Service aren't as clear as some of the other games I played on my brother's Commodore 64, but I definitely recall playing it. I have memories of watching several underway merchants out the periscope waiting for them to close the gaps before firing a barrage of torpedoes in their general direction, hoping to score multiple hits on multiple targets. As soon as you fired, your position was comprised and warships would move in on you and start dropping depth charges. It was a fun game (rudimentary by today's standards) and I recall my brother and I always competing to see who could sink the most tonnage. I vaguely recall being able to surface and fire your massive deck guns at the enemies, but specific details in that regard are sketchy. It's cool to think of the game now, seeing it was developed by video game pioneer - Sid Meier and the once prominent MicroProse. The game would go on to win a few awards and spawn a sequel, but I'll always remember this classic and how it was my first ever exposure to submarine warfare and the Silent Service.

688 Attack Sub

The next submarine game I played (years later) was 688 Attack Sub, which was much more to my liking since I was attending submarine school in Groton, CT and would likely be assigned to one upon graduation (which would prove true). At that time, we had a handful of Sturgeon class (637) submarines in the submarine force, but most of them were Los Angeles Class (688s).

I played the 688 game on an Amiga 500...which I guess was technically the first computer I personally owned. I was still kind of new to submarines, so the video game provided an interesting perspective. I distinctively remember it had different areas like the Sonar Room, Radio Room and of course the Conn where you could issue navigation and fire control orders.

"688 Attack Sub is a submarine simulator game designed by John W. Ratcliff & Paul Grace, published in 1989 for MS-DOS systems and 1990 for Amiga computers by Electronic Arts. The player takes command of a US Los Angeles-class or Soviet Alfa class nuclear powered attack submarine and plays 10 missions ranging from into either Cold War scenarios or combat missions in a hypothetical global conflict. This was one of the earliest games that allowed two players to play against each other over a modem (or null modem cable)."

I remember the game was fairly challenging as it employed real world tactics of tracking and firing at ships and other submarines with advanced weapons; gone were the days of going to periscope depth and launching a "fire and forget" torpedo that just shot in a straight direction. You also had to worry about counter detection and would use thermal layers in the ocean to try and help conceal your location. I work in communications and I remember being surprised how authentic this was portrayed in the game. I also remember one time a few of my classmates and I went down to the waterfront and got a tour of an actual submarine...and I remember asking the sailor who was our tour guide all sorts of crazy questions until he asked me..."How do you know all of this stuff?" and I responded, "From playing a video game." It wasn't exact, but it gave me enough knowledge to be dangerous, with features like emergency surfacing and shearing the towed array, which is a really long cable you trail behind the submarine that acts like a microphone. I remember in the game, I would lose mine all the time because when you had it deployed, it had a speed restriction. I remember exceeding the speed limit and losing it. Well, I asked this guy if that would really happen and he said it there were lots of little details like that.

I remember enjoying the game, but I'm sure that was largely due to the fact this was my future...and it seemed exciting. Like I mentioned earlier about gatekeeper operations in the GIUK, 688 Attack Submarine takes place during the Cold War and there were plenty of missions involving gatekeeper operations in that region. Who knew I would one day really do the exact thing I had been playing in a video game?

688 (I) Hunter/Killer

The last game I'm going to talk about is 688 (I) Hunter/Killer. I "owned" the game but never really played it. It was extremely realistic and had a fairly steep learning curve.

688(I) Hunter/Killer is a 1997 submarine simulator game developed by Sonalysts Inc. and published by Electronic Arts. It is named after the 688 (Improved) Los Angeles class of United States (SSN) submarine, and was a successor to the earlier game 688 Attack Sub.

Okay, well...the game was good and all but I didn't play it a whole lot for a few different reasons. As I recall, the manual was the size of a college text book as it discussed the complex features found onboard real submarines. From water fall displays used by the sonar techs to detect contacts to the positioning of the ship when firing torpedoes at bad guy submarines using Target Motion Analysis (TMA) techniques, the game was just so real. Too real, if that's possible. I recall my first skipper (CO - Commanding Officer) used to play it and have the junior officers play it for "training".

The other reason I didn't play it? Well, when you're living it for real it isn't as exciting and seems more like work than fun. My first submarine was actually the first 688(I), so I guess you could say I was already playing the game...literally. Besides, if you've read my other blogs, might recall I was too busy playing the original X-COM. But 688(I) was still a great game and did a fantastic job recreating the whole experience of being a submariner (or an underwater astronaut as my buddy used to say).

"Submarines are underhand, unfair, and damned un-English. Treat all submarines as pirates in wartime... and hang all crews." -Sir Arthur Wilson VC, Admiral of the Fleet (1901)

Dedicated to the Pearl Harbor survivors and the memory of those who perished that fateful day.

Fair Winds and Following Seas.