The Salvage Divers

Salvage divers had some unique equipment available.  The most recognizable piece of gear was the helmet or "hat".  It was made of spun copper and had brass and bronze attachments and fittings.  The helmet and the breastplate weigh approximately 60 lbs.

picture of MKV divehat
From Diving Manual, Navy Department, 1943

This is a modern - you can go buy one today - DESCO Mk V diving helmet.  It ain't changed much from the one above.
MKV dive hat

The glass thingys you look through are called "lights" to purists.  Note that on the Navy diagram at top of page, they are called "windows".  The original lights were glass.  Modern lights are made from acrylic plastic.

The diver wore weighted shoes and a belt loaded with weights to keep his head up and feet down.  If he did not maintain this position, his suit could loose pressure or he would "blow up", meaning his suit would inflate to where he would look like the Pillsbury Dough Boy and be completely helpless.  If the suit lost pressure, he might be subject to "squeeze".  That might mean his entire body would be forced into the small confines of the helmet by the surrounding pressure.  That would not be a pretty sight, nor would it be survivable.  These are extreme scenarios, but possible under the right conditions.

The shoes were made of leather, soled with layers of hardwood and lead.  They had a cast bronze toe cap.  The shoes weighed about 40 lbs. per pair.

diver's shoes
From Diving Manual, Navy Department, 1943

Because of the high pressures the divers were subjected to, they could suffer from many injuries or conditions.  Some of the more serious were air embolism, or nitrogen narcosis.  Nitrogen narcosis is also known as "the bends."  Many divers carried cards to warn medical personnel or care givers that the effects of diving injuries and "diseases" could show up many hours after the diver was out of water.  The card shown below is one issued to my father in Salvage School.

U S Naval School, Salvage, Wilbeck, T A, FN, USN, has been exposed to high air pressures in connection with diving.  In 
case of unconciousness from undetermined causes notify one of the following: commanding officer - salvage duty officer.

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Copyright © 1999 - 2007, Tom Wilbeck