Book Author Chimes In About Trieste Story

Steven Johnson, who wrote the book “Silent Steel: The Mysterious Death of the Nuclear Attack Sub USS Scorpion (Wiley, 2006),” had some interesting responses to my story about the deep sea-diving vessel Trieste that’s at the Naval Undersea Museum at Keyport.  Here are some observations he sent to me in an e-mail:

First off, the Trieste II DSRV-1 did not locate The USS Thresher, nor did it conduct the evidence dives. This was done by the “first” Trieste II.

The Thresher and the Scorpion were both found by Naval Research Laboratory research ship USNS MIZAR under the direction of NRL scientist Chester “Bucky” Buchanan who is now 92 years old.

Bucky found the Thresher a year after it was lost — because he had to obtain and outfit the MIZAR for the task since his first ship lacked twin propellers to maintain a straight towing path. He found the Scorpion as well five months after it was lost. He was a pioneer in towed camera and sensor sled technology. It was he and not Robert Ballad of Titanic fame who made the first deep-ocean discovery of a ship wreck.

Trieste II DSRV-1 was brought in to photograph the Scorpion only after Bucky discovered both wrecks for photographic and film missions. It took months of deep-ocean sled dragging and hundreds of thousands of images to locate both wrecks. Trieste II DSRV-1 was only capable of going directly to the location of the wreck after it was found given it’s relatively limited battery power and short time submereged.

Why the confusion?

What is most interesting is that after the development of the original Trieste bathyscaphe by Picard, a second version was built and called the Trieste II. When it was decided to expand the intelligence-gathering activities of this class of bathyscaphe, a third was built but it was still given the publicly-known designation of “Trieste II” even though it was the “Trieste III”. It had greater maneuverability, better cameras and a lifting boom along with a hydraulically-operated, articulated arm.

The original Trieste II is on display on the East Coast.

The improved Trieste II DSRV-1 was intended for missions as part of Operation Sand Dollar (which I believe was an effort to recover various Soviet hardware from the seafloor, including ballistic missile components.) It was based near San Diego.

It was built in a floating drydock hidden by canvas covers so the Soviets would not know its capabilities and the public was never told this was a new craft.

As the “Trieste III” crew trained for its Sand Dollar missions Scorpion was discovered and the newly-completed Trieste II was ordered to prepare to conduct an evidence-gathering dive on Scorpion which it did during the summer of 1969, four months after Scorpion was found and photographed by Bucky Buchanan pulling cameras behind the USNS MIZAR, itself an interesting ship.

Another interesting note is that the first swimming cameras ever developed were designed for the Trieste II’s mission on Scorpion in a crash program just months before Trieste II deployed to the Atlantic. Though they failed due to technical reasons, they worked in shallow water and long-predated the Jason Jr. camera system used by Robert Ballard to photograph the USS Scorpion during the 1980s.

A final note: People have argued with me endlessly claiming the less-capable Trieste II at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC is actually the bathyscaphe that dove to the Scorpion wreck site. They are wrong. This bathyscaphe is at Keyport. (The secrecy of the late 1960s is still working!)

I recently acted as an intermediary to ensure that a flag that flew on Trieste II DSRV-1 during one of its nine dives to Scorpion was presented to the families of the USS Scorpion and is now at the Naval Museum in Hampton Roads, VA. It was present at the last memorial service which I attended.

My book is available on Amazon and most likely at the library. It contains some very excellent data on the Trieste II DSRV-1 provided by the likes of Robert Nevins who commanded the bathyscaphe during its development phase and by the surviving crew members who dove upon Scorpion in 1968.

A Scorpion discussion group on Yahoo is located at

It’s all quite a confusing historical mess made difficult by Navy obfuscation of history for secrecy reasons.