Naval submarine hot bunking and other practices

Ken from Seattle writes:

I am a 12 year veteran of the US Navy.

Hotbunking is when there are more sailors on a ship than there are racks (beds). In this case, sailors have an assigned period they are allowed in the rack and under worse case conditions, three sailors are sharing the same rack each day for 8 hours each. This practice is called hot bunking because the bed is still warm from the previous guy, when you go to lay down in it. This arrangement is far more common on submarines, where space is at a premium and often reserved for weapons/engineering as the priority.

On one sub I was on (the Narwhal), one of my hotbunk mates sweat profusely, so much so that there was a yellow outline of his body on the sheets (reminding me of one of those crime scene diagrams when a dead body has its layout being marked on the street). Even though I was quite the hardy soul and sailor, I rejected such sleeping conditions and instead learned to wad up some blankets and sleep between two torpedoes that were racked together.

Sheets and laundry are only washed once a week, by the way. And everybody bathes on the same day, so that everyone has the same amount of body odor. It seems much more tolerable that way. In the meantime, we all wore 'poopie suits' which are lightweight jumpsuits with no underwear/undershirt (can't afford the laundry activities on a sub...).

The other activity I told him about was a 'cruise sock.' This was a dirty sock that you shove down the side of your rack, between the frame and the mattress. Most guys jerked off in bed and just packed their pecker into this sock and whacked off. By the end of a cruise (usually 45 to 90 days), this sock was stiff as cardboard. Sometimes there was one sock and multiple guys used it. Other times there were individual socks, stored at different places along the mattress in a personal system worked out by the guys assigned to that rack.

Is there a Royal Navy system for wanking in hot bunks?Click here for mail screen

And what about initiations and nicknames?

As if the Collins sub fiasco was not enough, another more sinister scandal erupted on 6 July with the screening on the Nine Network of a videotape of an initiation ceremony on board submarine HMAS Onslow. The public would be forgiven for concluding some of Her Majesty's Australian submariners are a real dirty little bunch of buggers when it comes to such things.
The incident was part of an equatorial crossing celebration in 1995 when the entire crew came topside to participate. Those who had previously "crossed the line" wore masks to conceal their identities.
Traditionally in the RAN they are called Neptune's bears.
Traditionally too, Neptune is played by the commanding officer, although it has not been revealed if this was the case on Onslow. The initiates were stripped naked and spread-eagled on the deck to be tortured. This took several forms.They were verbally abused and walked on by crewmates, and beaten with objects, particularly on the back and buttocks.
A uniquely Australian act known as "sump the rump" also took place and this was performed by a heavily tattooed individual who had a swab on a stick and daubed a blistering concoction on the victim's genitalia and anus. (Subsequently claimed to have been chocolate sauce). Another man could be seen to poke one victim's nether region with a long stick to provoke a violent reaction.
Those accomplices holding the victim's legs then gave them a good wriggle to make sure the mixture had a good skin contact. Eventually the humiliated individual was flung overboard and left there treading the deep until deemed appropriate to reboard.
All this took place under the approving eyes of ship's officers on lookout duty in the conning tower. The assaults are excused by these upper ranks as a "hardening up" process and the victims are expected to "take it like men." Of course agreeing to be sexually assaulted by an alpha-male is not in the fine print when navy recruits sign up, and so some young men have objected, to their cost. One of the whistle-blowers who supplied the video became ostracised after first complaining, and subsequently became the victim of significant "administrative errors" to the extent he ultimately received a letter of apology from the navy, but service-life had become impossible and he resigned last year.
These events took place well after the concerted attempts to stamp out "bastardisation" practices began at the Defence Academy in Canberra.
The reaction of Bruce Scott, Minister assisting the Defence Minister and speaking for the government was one of outrage. He said the spectacle had made him "sick to the stomach." He said he had told the navy to get a report on his desk without delay.
Similarly the Minister for Defence John Moore signalled that disciplinary measures might eventuate.
Like sentiment was expressed by the Labor opposition which called for criminal prosecutions. An internal naval inquiry was initiated immediately.
Talkback radio throughout Australia on 7 July provided a wealth of further information on the submariners' sporting activities, and various callers revealed it was not an isolated incident as the navy had tried to present.
In Perth many of the callers to 6PR were ex-RN and ex-RAN persons, and while some supported the activities, most were appalled.
One caller alleged that a standard form of initiation amongst the ranks at HMAS Flinders depot in the past has been an anal assault with a beer bottle, and he had been aware of an attempted suicide by one victim who had complained, then been victimised by officers.
Another caller alleged that in the past at the old HMAS Leeuwin barracks in WA, young recruits had been the victims of sexual predation by long-serving non-commissioned officers.
Another said he had served on a RAN ship where a young victim had escaped his tormenters and after a search of the ship had been discovered curled up in a fetal position in an air-conditioning duct.
Putrid food and chilli pepper concoctions specifically intended to burn sensitive young skins were mentioned by another caller as a fairly standard RAN torture at crossing-the-line ceremonies, as was the throwing of these men overboard from a stationary ship.
One woman caller who described herself as an 80-year-old wowser said the whistle-blower would have done better to destroy the tape and forget the matter, because these were the sorts of things all servicemen did. On 8 July the Nine network undermined the navy argument that the incident was isolated by running similar historical footage taken on two other ships, HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Swan.
These did not appear to involve sexual assaults but the latter ship gained notoriety for a case involving sexual harassment and rape of a female crew member (a doctor) in the early 1990s.
A former male navy doctor who described himself as a "scab lifter" wrote to The Australian in July criticising the young sailor for his intolerance.
He said his main regret about this sort of business was his being overlooked for treatment by Neptune's bears.
Australian submariners are not alone in these sort of juvenile antics.
According to a recently published unofficial history of US submariners in the "cold war," part of the humiliation treatment dished out to crew members on nuclear subs involved forcing them to eat revolting concoctions from the bare belly of King Neptune. The RAN has not banned the ceremony.
HMAS Melbourne had a line crossing ceremony while returning from the Gulfin mid-August.
The antics of the mixed crew were toned down, but no videotaping was allowed.

Paul Weaver.Crossing the line, how it was traditionally done in the Royal Navy135 Sontag, S.
Drew, C &Drew, A. (1998).
Blind man's bluff: The untold story of cold war submarine espionage.
London: Hutchinson.p.238.

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