A nonsectarian celebration of the life of Capt. George William Kittredge, U.S. Navy-retired, will take place at the People’s United Methodist Church in South Thomaston on Saturday, March 20 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. All are welcome.

Capt. George William Kittredge, U.S. Navy-retired

May 1918 to February 2010

In this day of words and technology, words sometimes have different meanings than one would suppose. For example, the terms “officer and gentleman” are not given to have any particular meaning, except as a reference, as some would say, to the creation of a military officer by an “act of congress.” This humorous description did not apply to Capt. Kittredge. He truly was an officer and a gentleman and anyone who knew this man could attest to that fact.

George was born in Washington, D.C., on May 26, 1918. From the time of his childhood, his desire was to become a naval officer. His maritime heritage went back several generations and his great-grandfather, Capt. Henry Spalding, commanded five ships that were built on the Wessaweskeag River and commanded two that were built in Rockland. Rep. Carl Moran of Rockland got George a slot in the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1940 after George became the only applicant who passed the test out of 24 attempting it. He was selected by both Annapolis and West Point military academies, but chose Annapolis. There were 712 midshipmen who entered the Naval Academy Class of 1940, but only 421 were commissioned — 399 in the Navy and 22 in the U.S. Marine Corps. Fifty-eight of these men were killed in action and one-third of all who volunteered for submarine duty are still on patrol, never to return.

After graduation, Ensign Kittredge was ordered to the USS Chicago, a heavy cruiser, which took part in the battles of the Coral Sea and Savo Island. The Chicago also covered the landings at Guadalcanal. During the Battle of Savo Island (the worst defeat of the U.S. Navy in any war), four heavy cruisers were lost that night and the USS Chicago‘s bow was blown off. Upon returning to Pearl Harbor, George volunteered for submarine duty. He made a total of seven war patrols, two on the USS Sunfish (SS-281) and five on the USS Haddock (SS-231). His subs were responsible for torpedoing 16 Japanese vessels. At the end of World War II, George took over command of the submarine USS Grouper (SS-214). He was 26 years old at the time, and one of the youngest sub commanders in the U.S. Navy.

While on board the USS Chicago and anchored in Sydney Harbor, Australia, George was standing watch with another young officer. A Japanese midget submarine was making a torpedo run on ships in the harbor and fired two torpedoes at the Chicago. George and the other officer took a surfaced submarine under fire with a deck gun. George feels they hit it, but there were four enemy submarines involved in the attack, and two torpedoes were fired by one of them at the USS Chicago. Fortunately, to the Japanese sub commander, the Chicago appeared to be underway, due to the smoke coming out of the stack. As a result of the ship’s captain keeping a slightly higher level of readiness than was required in a “peacetime port,” the two torpedoes went past the bow of the ship. One struck a barracks barge, killing 21 Australian sailors, and the other hit the shoreline, but failed to detonate.

After the war

George contracted polio while in India serving as assistant naval attaché. The antiquated health care at the time did not include a respirator, so Dr. Bayliss, a Canadian physician, improvised. George was unable to speak or swallow and probably would have died had not Dr. Bayliss taken extraordinary, although unconventional, measures. He inserted a gastric tube through one of George’s nostrils and poured a mixture of brandy and eggnog down his throat, rendering George unable to speak or swallow. The doctor’s intention was to keep him drunk to relax his diaphragm and enable him to breathe. The treatment worked and George recovered in a few weeks!

After his successful recovery, the physician informed George he could take a medical discharge and return home only to have his family treat him like an invalid, or go out and buy the rankest horse he could find. The doctor said, “When you master the horse, you will be cured.” As a result of this unconventional treatment, Capt. Kittredge became an excellent equestrian and a good polo player. He never drank alcohol again and in fact, the smell sickened him. George only used tobacco when he clenched a cigar in his mouth to prevent breaking his teeth from the shockwave of depth charges fired from Japanese destroyers.

In 1950 in New Delhi, India, he played on the Argentine polo team that defeated the Indian Army Team 5-4 in overtime before a crowd of 100,000 people. He owned and rode horses until the time of his death. He was also a pilot. In recent years, he built and flew an amphibious ultra-light plane.

Among other career accomplishments, after the war, was his buoyant ascent from a submerged submarine from a depth of 148 feet. This, at that time, was a record. He performed this feat with no ill effects. His next accomplishment was a “passenger transfer” using the McCann Rescue Chamber from a depth exceeding 600 feet. George rode the chamber down from the USS Coucal, latched onto the escape hatch of the USS Tang. Then George opened the bottom hatch of the chamber and swapped places with a willing diver from the Tang. George rode the submarine back to port and the man who traded places with him at 600 feet took the rescue chamber back to the surface. This was also a record then, and it is believed that it has not been broken.

His last assignment overseas was as the senior military attaché for Israel. It was during this tour that George, and an Air Force Major, discovered Israel’s nuclear reactor. This was before the CIA knew about it. This caused quite a stir in relations, as the United States gave Israel much financial aid, and their using this money to develop nuclear capabilities did not please the State Department very much.

In 1962 George retired from the Navy. He put in his papers shortly after the Bay of Pigs Invasion. President Kennedy bailed out and left 1,800 young Cuban and Cuban/American freedom fighters standing on the shores of Cuba. They were summarily rounded up, and summarily tried in a kangaroo court and most of them executed. The Navy didn’t want to let George retire and required him to serve another year, which he spent serving as staff at the headquarters of the 1st Naval District in Boston. It was while stationed there that George obtained his private pilot’s license and firmed up the plans for his first “Kittredge” submarine.

After retiring to South Thomaston, he worked on his sub and ran for the state Legislature. He served one term with the 102nd Legislature.

In 1977 George formed Sub Schools Inc. Fifty people came to Maine to take part in this training. Many of them remained George’s friends for life. One of the men taking part in this training was archaeologist Mark Ragan who purchased plans for a K-250 submarine and, years later, was instrumental in the locating and raising of the Confederate submarine Hunley, which was the first submarine to sink an enemy warship in battle. The USS Housatonic was sunk in Charleston Harbor. The entire crew of the CSS Hunley and five men on the USS Housatonic were lost.

Capt. Kittredge is recognized as the father of personal submersibles. Between 1970 and 1988, Kittredge Industries built and sold worldwide small submarines, the last one going to the University of Nagasaki in Japan. He then sold submarine plans to individuals for self-construction. His company built 40 subs. His plans are still available at psubs.org.

In his book, “I Found Israel’s Atom Bomb Factory,” George’s dedication reads: “This book is dedicated to those magnificent submarine crews who fought on all sides during World War II. They were the true descendants of the Spartans at Thermopylae.”

Today, we honor a man who served his country with honor, overcame personal adversity and set records during his time of service. His legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of his friends and the annals of history. We salute our friend George Kittredge (captain, USN retired), a valued citizen and authentic officer and gentleman.

Contributed by Steve Waterman.