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Naval Forces Under the Sea: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Alumni Hall
United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD
27 - 29 March, 2001

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Christian J. Lambertsen, M.D., D.Sc. (Hon)

Dr. Christian J. Lambertsen received a B.S. Degree from Rutgers University in 1938 and a M.D. Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1943.  During his medical school period, he invented and first used forms of the initial U.S. self-contained closed circuit oxygen rebreathing apparatus, for neutral buoyancy underwater swimming and diving. As a student, he aided the early Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) in establishing the first cadres of U.S. military operational combat swimmers. Dr. Lambertsen became an U.S. Army medical officer on graduation from medical school in early 1943, and immediately joined the O.S.S. Maritime Unit on active duty through its period of function in World War II. Responsibilities included OSS “Operational Swimmer Group” training and developing O.S.S. tactical functions combining self-contained diving and swimmer delivery, using a British one-man wet submersible. During the post World War II period, he trained U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Engineers, and U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Team cadres for submerged operations methods, including composite fleet submarine / operational swimmers activity. He joined the University of Pennsylvania Medical Faculty in 1946, and became Professor of Pharmacology in 1952. While a faculty member he combined diving research and further underwater rebreathing equipment developments for the Army and Navy. These activities included additional oxygen and mixed gas circuit rebreathing apparatus for potential use by military combat simmers and in underwater explosive ordinance disposal activity. Throughout the 1950's Dr. Lambertsen served with several research advisory groups responding to the needs of the Department of Defense, Navy Undersea Warfare, and NASA Programs. Beginning in 1964, he developed the University of Pennsylvania’s formal Institute for Environmental Medicine (IFEM) and established it’s companion Environmental Biomedical Stress Data Center (EBSDC), for international use in research relating human physiological stresses and capabilities in the environments of high altitude, undersea and aerospace activity. In 1967 he served as Founding President of the Undersea Medical Society (now Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society.) He has served in industrial technologic development functions in diving and aerospace fields as Life Science and Medical Advisor to McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Corporation’s Mercury-Gemini Programs (1960 to 1967), Union Carbide Corp. (1960 to 1968), Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (1973 to 1987), and Undersea Medical Advisor to Solus Ocean Systems, Inc. (1975 to 1983) and Sub-Sea International, Inc. (1983 to 1998). As a result of his pioneering work with the Office of Strategic Services and U.S. Navy Underwater Demolition Teams throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, Dr. Lambertsen is recognized by the Naval Special Warfare community as “The Father of U.S. Combat Swimming.” His hand has touched every aspect of military and commercial diving. Dr. Lambertsen’s active contributions to diving began during WWII and became even more progressive in the post-war period through the evolutions of the U.S. Navy Deep Submergence and Naval Special Warfare developmental programs. He continues the University of Pennsylvania roles of Founding Director of the IFEM and the EBSDC and Professor of Environmental Medicine and serves on the U.S. Special Operations Command Medical Advisory Panel (MAP) for the Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS).


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