Saturday, June 28, 2008

Damage Control Conditions

There are several different conditions of damage control readiness. Let’s take them from “least ready” to “most ready” and then tack on an exception.

Damage control conditions are identified by a letter. The letters are pronounced using the World War II phonetic alphabet. Damage control fillings are those openings between compartments and decks, other than piping systems.

If the ship is in a condition that requires a certain class of fitting to be closed and you need to open it, you must obtain permission and enter the exception into the Damage Control Log. The DC Log is kept in Damage Control Central at all times underway and during working hours in port. If there is no DCC watch in port, after working hours, the DC Log will be kept on the Quarterdeck.

CONDITION X-RAY: X-Ray fittings are always closed. All other fittings may be open and closed at will.

CONDITION YOKE: Yoke and X-Ray fittings are closed. This is the condition that is set in-port after working hours. Condition Yoke is generally set at-sea, but on a calm day, the ship may downgrade to Condition X-Ray to facilitate getting work done.

CONDITION DOG ZEBRA: Dog Zebra fittings are identified by a red “D” surrounding a black “Z”. Dog Zebra fittings are closed during Condition Zebra and also at sunset when the word is passed to “Set `Darken Ship’,” which is set while the ship is underway. You should not see any light emanating from a warship that is underway at night, other than the required navigation lights (this does not apply to aircraft carriers, which are lit up like a Vegas casino). Dog Zebra is set during Condition Yoke, obviously, they would be closed anyway during Condition Zebra.

CONDITION ZEBRA: Almost all fittings on the ship are closed. Condition Zebra is set during battle stations. Besides doors and hatches, wastewater drain lines are closed.

CONDITION CIRCLE WILLIAM: Circle William is only set during an alert against an attack by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. Circle William is generally only set at battle stations. All air vents into the ship are closed. On a steam ship, you do not want to do this for very long, as the air temperatures in the firerooms will approach 140degF.

CONDITION WILLIAM: William fittings are always left open unless there is a specific need to shut one. These are things such as the seawater intakes and discharges to the condensers, the seawater intakes to the firepumps and the evaporators and the air intakes to the boilers.

The exception is fittings marked with a letter with a circle; Circle X-Ray and so on. You may open a circle fitting, pass through it, and then close it without permission. Hatches are generally Zebra fittings; the scuttles set into the hatches are generally Circle X-Ray fittings. The pass-through scuttles in the gun magazines, where powder and projectiles are passed from the magazines to the handling room are generally Circle X-Ray. Most such fittings are marked Circle X-Ray, a few interior watertight doors may be Circle Zebra, but those are rare and are usually located in the superstructure.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Damage Control Organization: the DCPO

This post will begin the topic of damage control readiness. There were several facets to damage control readiness. In-port damage control was different from at-sea damage control. There were differences between who maintained the major stores of damage control equipment and who maintained the damage control equipment that was scattered about the ship. This post will talk about the latter point: Shipwide damage control maintenance.

Every part of the ship was sectioned off into the responsibilities of different divisions, which was generally done during pre-commissioning and then set in stone for the life of the ship. Generally, if a space contained mainly the equipment or machinery of a division, that division maintained the space, including all of the damage control equipment in the space. On a bulkhead of every space was a sign which gave the space designation (another time) and the division responsible.

That division was responsible for the cleanliness and preservation of that space and any fanrooms that had an access door into the space (“fanrooms” were part of the HVAC system, they were where the vent fans and heat exchangers were located, they were also a place to go hide to cop a nap). That division had to maintain the damage control equipment in the space, which included fire extinguishers, fire hoses, doors and, most importantly, watertight closures. Of course, there were watertight doors and hatches at bulkheads and decks that were the boundary lines between divisions. The rule here was that if the hatch or door opened into your space, you owned it.

One or two sailors from each division was assigned the full-time job of maintaining the damage control equipment in the division. The sailors were known as “Damage Control Petty Officers” and they served six-month tours as DCPOs. Other than their watches, the DCPOs worked for the Damage Control Assistant. The DCA and the senior enlisted of R division supervised the work of the DCPOs. The DCPOs also were spot-checked by their regular division officer.

Some of the work was relatively easy. Fire extinguishers had to be periodically weighed. Fire hoses had to be hydrostatically tested, but not terribly often, and the test dates were stenciled on the hoses. The DCPOs biggest headaches were the doors.

(By the way: "Hatches" are openings between decks, you climb up and down through a hatch. "Doors" are openings between compartments located on the same deck, you walk through a door. "Scuttles" are small round openings that you have to squeeze through; they are generally set in hatches, but not always. Calling a "door" a "hatch" is a landsman's mistake.)

The worst headache were the non-watertight doors, known as “joiner doors.” Most joiner doors had hydraulic door closers on them, just as you’d find on a screen door. Some of them were opened and closed several hundred times a day and they just got beat to shit. They were also high-visibility items for the XO, who would get viciously sarcastic if they were not working.

Closing a watertight door or hatch was known as “dogging it down.” Watertight hatches were dogged down by bolts that swung up from the hatch combing to engage recesses in the hatch. Obviously, hatches could not be opened from below, so every hatch had a scuttle in it that could be opened from either side. The scuttles were generally 18" in diameter; if you were too fat to fit through a scuttle, that could be a real problem. Hatches inside the ship were left open unless the ship was at battle stations. It took at least two sailors to safely open and close a hatch, as one had to hold the hatch up while the other either connected or disconnected the two metal poles that held the hatch open. (To prevent the support poles from being jarred lose, they were held in place with toggle pins, as having a hatch slam down on you would really fuck up your day, possibly forever.) In an emergency, one sailor could pull the locking pins, kick out the supports and let the hatch slam down, but that was very heavily frowned upon.

Watertight doors were either quick-acting or not. A quick-acting watertight door (QAWTD) had a lever or a wheel that was connected to the dogging levers, which pulled the door tight. The doors that were not, just known as "watertight doors" had individual dogging levers set around the frame of the door.

The QATD is on the right, the WTD is on the left.

The dogging levers could be operated from either side of the door and were tightened with a “dogging wrench,” which was a short section of pipe that fit over the end of the lever. The dogging levers on all types of watertight doors had to be kept adjusted so that when the door was dogged down, there was even pressure on the gaskets. The rubber gaskets around the edges of the hatches and doors had to be kept lightly lubricated with petroleum jelly to keep them in good condition and they were replaced at the first sign of deterioration.

The DCPOs who did the best jobs were basically invisible, for like everything in Engineering, if it worked right and was reliable, nobody really paid it much notice. But if it didn’t work, there was hell to pay. Damage control gear that didn’t work could cost lives and possibly result in the loss of the ship. Smart officers paid attention to damage control and frequently spot-checked the work of the DCPOs, which had the additional benefit of letting the DCPOs know that their work was important and was appreciated.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mooring Lines

If you've ever been around small boats much, you may have used mooring lines. "Mooring lines" are, to landlubbers "the ropes what you use to tie the boat up." When you go into a marine supply store, you may see single-braided nylon lines and double-braided nylon line, up to maybe 5/8" or so in diameter.

The mooring lines on ships are 5" lines or larger and are usually double-braided. Those lines are phenomenally strong. Six lines, doubled up, will hold a 8,000 ton ship to the pier against the winds and tidal current (unless the winds are howling). But exert enough force on them and they will part.

Usually what happens is that the bow-most line is passed over to the pier, the linehandler on the pier drops the loop at the end of the line over a bollard and the linehanders on the ship make the line fast to the bits on the forecastle. Then either the wind catches the ship wrong or the tugs pull the ship or the Conning Officer rings up an astern bell; all the thousands of horsepower that the tugs or the main engines can exert pull on that line. It stretches waay out and then it snaps.

If you have ever had a small rope snap on you, you may have noted that it tends to whip back along the line of force exerted on the rope. If you were to break a 5" mooring line, it comes back with unbelievable speed and force. Generally, but not always, the line comes back low to the deck and if you are in the way, you can forget about walking on your own legs, as the line will smash both of your legs to the point that if the line didn't amputate them, the doctors will have to.

This happened on one ship almost 30 years ago; the XO of the ship was up by the bullnose of the ship, yelling at someone on the pier, when the mooring line running through the bullnose (#1 line) parted. Both of his legs were shattered and his blood was spattered all over the forecastle.

He survived and later appeared in a training film on snapback. That film had a scene were a number of mannekins were placed by a mooring line that was deliberately parted; the dummies went flying every which way.

Mooring lines were just another item on ships that people worked with and around all the time, but if you didn't respect them, they could kill you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Storm Story

This a story from my other blog, Just an Earth-Bound Misfit. I posted this story there several months ago, well before I opened the doors on this blog.

So, for your reading pleasure (and so I don't have to write a new post), here it is:


At the risk of poaching on Scully’s turf [reference to a deleted blog removed-edited 12/14/07], I want to write about a storm at sea. This took place a long time ago. A group of navy ships from several NATO nations was conducting an exercise in the North Atlantic, off the coast of North Carolina, during the winter. They still called them “task groups” back then, not “battle groups”.

That is not a good place to be at that time of year.

A storm blew up. It was not a light storm. This storm was a very intense low and the meteorologists later said it was an anomaly, a cyclonic low in the winter. The winds during the peak of the storm were measured on some of the ships at over 65 knots. The wave heights were in excess of fifty feet.

What fifty foot waves mean is that if you are on a navy ship smaller than an aircraft carrier, when you are standing in the pilot house and the ship goes down the back side of the wave and it is at the bottom of the trough, you cannot see over the top of the next wave. Then the wave crashes down on your ship and green water charges over the forecastle and up the front of the pilot house, covering the windows. The ship rides up the front of the wave and tilts over it. The bow comes completely out of the water and then slams back into the sea.

Ships with large sonar domes do not ride very well, for the sonar dome does not knife back into the sea. It slams down and the entire ship, all several thousand tons of it, shudders from the impact. Do that enough times and the sonar dome can be damaged.

Then there is the fun of being on a ship that is constantly rolling 40 degrees from side to side. Cooking is impossible, so you had better like cheese and bologna (“cheese and horse cock”)sandwiches, for that is all that there is to eat. And that will be your menu selection for three days, for on the fourth day, they’ve run out of bread.

“Cheese and horse cock, hold the bread.”

After the storm, the sailors have to clean the bulkheads along all of the passageways. Not because people have puked on them, but because they have walked on them. The lower portions of the passageways have footprints. The XO just loves seeing footprints on white bulkheads.

Sleeping is difficult at best. For the sailors on the bottom two racks, they sleep on “coffin racks”; the bunk is a mattress on top of a horizontal locker. The top rack is a mattress on a wire bed frame with springs around the edges. If you’re on a coffin rack, you hopefully have a bungee cord or three to secure yourself in. If you’re in a rack with a wire/spring frame, you sleep face down, for you then slip your arms under the mattress from either side and grab hold of the wire netting under the rack. And yes, you can sleep that way and you can learn to hold yourself in against the rolling of the ship without being thrown out or waking up.

There are things you try not to think about.

One is fuel oil.

Back in the day of oil-fired steam ships, which is to say, almost every navy ship that was not nuclear powered before the mid-1970s, fuel was kept in fuel oil storage tanks. Those tanks almost always had some water in them, because if the tanks were empty in heavy seas, they were ballasted down with seawater. The fuel was pumped to settling tanks, to allow the water to settle out. The water was stripped off, the clean fuel was pumped from the settling tanks to the service tanks, one pair for each boiler, and those service tanks fed the boilers’ burners. It was critical to keep water out of the fuel oil for, as you might suspect, water does not burn very well. At normal steaming rates, a service tank would last twelve hours or more before you had to switch them and refill the empty tank from the settling tanks.

In heavy seas, the settling tanks could not do their job properly, for the fuel would keep being stirred up and the water would not settle out. In really heavy seas, there almost was no point in using the settling tanks at all. You just hoped and prayed that the fuel going to the boilers was not so contaminated that the fires would be lost in the boilers.

For if fires were lost, the ship would go dead in the water, steerageway would be lost and in 50-foot seas, the ship would wind up not heading into the seas, but having them come from her beam. A warship the size of a destroyer or cruiser will not survive heavy beam seas for long, the sea will roll her over. And she, along with her crew, will die.

"Oh Lord, the sea is so vast. and my boat is so small."

Even a warship is a small boat in a Force 12 storm and fifty foot seas.

And you learn, as people in their twenties should, that sometimes your fate, whether you survive and thrive or die, is not up to you.

And you learn, as people should, that what is important to most landsmen really is not all that important. Whether or not your shoes go with your belt. The model of your car. Office politics. Who said what to whom. You learn that sometimes, all you can do is hang on, endure, and hope to survive. For if you do, you may come to know that what a lot of people on shore think is important is really just small stuff.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


You may have heard that Navy ships are dry, as in "no booze." That once was not the case, but in 1914, during the height of the temperance movement, Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration, issued a directive banning the consumption of wine, beer and hard liquor on Navy ships. (Back then, there was no Defense Department, the Department of the Army and the Department of the Navy were full cabinet-level departments.)

That order stood for a very long time. Wine was transported from time to time; you could buy cases of wine overseas and bring them back on the ship to be taken off when you got back (you could also do the same for some firearms), but on board, the wine was locked up as though it was plutonium. When ships from several NATO navies would have a pre-sail conference for an exercise, the conferences were never held on US ships, but always ashore on on another ship, so suitable libations could be served.

That started to break down in the late 1970s, as ships began to spend a lot of time in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf with no great port visits. Ships that had not had a recreational port visit for more than thirty or sixty days were permitted to give everyone on board two cans of beer. The beer could not be consumed on the ship; if the ship pulled into a shithole like Djibouti, then beer was served on the pier. If not, sailors were loaded into the ship's boats, which motored around the ship while the sailors had their beers.

The beer was awful tasting swill. The rumor was that it was a special formulation of Budweiser that had formaldehyde added to keep it from going bad in hot conditions. It was, quite possibly, the worst tasting beer ever canned and if you have ever had Narragansett beer (a/k/a "Nasty Garrett"), you know that is saying something.

A second problem arose with the one of the collateral jobs of Navy warships. Navy warships visit foreign ports not just to give the sailors a place to get drunk and get laid, but to "show the flag." It is common for Navy ships to host receptions for local dignitaries. The problem was that the turnout for those receptions was not as good as the Navy would have liked, since everyone knew that there was no liquor served.

The Navy kept asking for an exemption from the ban for diplomatic purposes. By the mid 1980s, John Lehman was SecNav and he was sympathetic to the need to modify the ban.

So they did. Wine and port could be served at diplomatic functions, the ship's officers were allowed to drink during those functions, but only if they were not in the duty section.

One of the first functions where wine and port were served was in Haifa, Israel. By a funny twist of fate, the ship that hosted the cocktail party was a guided missile cruiser, the USS Josephus Daniels. The function was indeed well attended.

After the function ended, the ship's officers assembled in the Wardroom, stood before the portrait of Josephus Daniels, and drank a toast to him.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Fire, Fire, Fire in Compartment.....

Of all the bad things that can happen at sea, probably nothing is more dreaded than a fire. Fire is what everyone trains for. Fire is why every sailor on every ship is required to complete a damage control qualification after reporting to each new ship.

Fire is why there is very little wood on a Navy ship. Other than a few decorative plaques, the only wood to be found on a modern Navy ship are the 4x4s used for shoring up damage and some plugs and wedges used for stopping leaks. This is a lesson that was learned with blood in the early days of World War II. You will not find a wooden ladder ("staircase" to you landlubbers) or wooden furniture. If you were to go into the Wardroom of a naval ship (the place where the officers eat and where the supply officers hang out), the furniture may look like they are made of wood and the bulkheads ("walls") may look as though they are wood, but it is all contact paper over metal.

The Navy is justifiably proud of its expertise in damage control. The rumor around the Fleet was that one of the reasons the HMS Sheffield was lost to an Argentinian Exocet missile was because the ship had wooden fixtures and ladders in parts of the ship and those items caught fire. The USS Stark was hit by two Iraqi Exocets. The one missile that hit the Sheffield did not detonate, while one of the Exocets that hit the Stark did explode. The USS Stark, after putting out the fires and stabilizing the damage, sailed away and eventually returned to the US under its own power.

There are a lot of factors that come into play, not the least being the prevailing weather and where the missiles struck, so the difference in the damage control readiness of the two ships may not be dispositive. The rumor was, however, that the British rapidly stripped their warships of wooden fixtures and furnishings.

If you look at a photo of a warship, you will see watertight hatches and doors. This photograph is from some civilian rustbucket:

Note the rubber gasket around the edge.

Now look at this photo (which is small):

The round door is called a "scuttle" and it is in the center of a larger hatch. You can see that there is a raised ring onto which the scuttle seats. That is called a "knife edge;" as you turn the locking wheel to tighten the scuttle down, the rubber gasket is mashed into the knife edge and that is what makes the closure watertight. If you now look back at the rustbucket's watertight door, you will see that the gasket is shot. It will be no more watertight than the average sieve.

Navy ships have a lot of watertight hatches and doors. It is the job of the Damage Control Petty Officer(s) (DCPO) in each division to maintain the WTHs and WTDs in the division's spaces. It is a pain to replace the gaskets, but the gaskets must be kept lubricated (with basically petroleum jelly) and replaced when they deteriorate. This is not rocket science, this is Damage Control 101.

At one point, I was invited to take a tour of a NATO warship. The ship was fairly new, was chock-a-block with weapon systems in a way that USN warships, which were designed to be able to remain at sea for much longer periods of time, were not. But as I walked around on the tour, I noticed that on every open watertight door and hatch, the gaskets were rotten. They were all shrunken, dried out and cracked. That warship had no watertight integrity and, in the event of a fire, it could not be made smoketight. The warship looked nice, it was clean and well-painted.

But it could not take a punch.

Damage control is the last line of defense against a loss of the ship. The USS Stark arguably seriously screwed up in its combat readiness, which is why she took two missile hits. But because her damage control was up to snuff, she survived and her crew came home.

The paramount importance of damage control readiness is a lesson the Navy learned the hard way. I doubt very much it has ever been forgotten.

Sunday, June 1, 2008


There is an old saying: "Amateurs concern themselves with tactics, professionals concern themselves with logistics." So let's look at logistics.

Every unit had three levels of supply priority open to them, which basically were "urgent," "priority" and "routine." The Navy's supply system had fifteen priority levels, numbered from one to fifteen. Which of any command in the Navy had what priority depended on what they did and where they were.

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, not surprisingly, had priorities one through three. A surface ship in home port might have a priority of five for the top level. A ship deployed might have a three for its top priority level. A ship in overhaul might have an eight for its top level. What this meant was that as far as the naval supply system was concerned, a case of toilet paper for a boomer had the same priority as a vital repair part for a deployed surface ship.

Every part in the Navy was assigned a naval stock number, or NSN. There were a shitload of digits in a NSN and there were massive catalogs on each ship listing them. Each department and division had manuals for every piece of gear that gave NSNs for the entire unit, for major assemblies, for sub-assemblies, right down to every screw, nut or bolt.

Supplies were in two basic categories: Consumables and repair parts. If you could solder or clip or insert or bolt something into a piece of gear or to the ship itself (and generally, if you could turn the used one back in), it was considered to be a repair part. Ships had budgets for repair parts, but the budgets for repair parts were generally flexible. If you needed a part to get underway or for a major piece of equipment, you got the part. A single "part" could be as small as a circuit card or as large as a towed array sonar (which came on a huge cable drum). Often, if you could turn the old one back in, you were charged only a small fraction of the cost of the part, as the turned-in parts were sent off for repair, refurbishment and reissue into the supply system.

Consumables were, as you might expect, everything from rags and paper to paint, grease and lube oil. Ships were given a budget and it was up to the Captain to divide it among the various departments. Since the consumable budget was a zero-sum game, it could get into bitter arguments between the department heads over who got what, and then at the the department level, between who got what.

There was never enough money for everything necessary. At one point, due to an accident on one ship, some genius came up with the idea that the engineering departments on ships should issue flame-retardant coveralls to everyone in Engineering who worked in the main plant. This idea didn't work for two reasons: First, the flame-retardant properties would not stand up to being laundered, so the coveralls soon became just heavy cotton coveralls. Second, and more importantly, the consumable budgets for the ships were not increased in order to issue two sets of coveralls to every engineer. So, for the most part, only the engineers who were in the fleet when the dictate was issued ever got one pair.

Food was a separate budget category
, all ships received the same amount of money to feed each sailor. (Officers were paid directly and then the officers, as a group, bought their own food.) Ships were free to augment that money, if they wanted (and some did), but of course, some other area of the consumable budget had to be cut.

The Navy operated on the Federal fiscal year of October 1st through September 30th. Like most large organizations, if anyone finished up a year with consumable money left over, you were not lauded for being a good manager. What happened was that "we obviously gave you too much last year" and your budget was cut. If you were into September and you had consumable funds left, you would go buy the "nice to have" items that you normally did without.

Money was not rolled over into the following fiscal year, either. The food on ships often became much better in September as the Supply Officer would buy fancier food items, such as good steaks and lobster tails, in order to use up the food budget. This was an area where ships that were "welded to the pier" because they were not in good shape made out like bandits, as good portions of their crew could be expected to eat some of their meals off the ship, while ships that spent most of their time underway fed almost everyone all of the time.

When you needed a part for a radar set or a tube of grease, you would write down the item description, its unit cost, its NSN and you would give it to the supply petty officer for your division. The supply petty officer would fill out a 1250 form, which was simple request for the thing you needed. The supply petty officer would take that form to the division officer or the department head for signature. The supply petty officer would then give the 1250 to the Supply Department, who would then type out a 1348 form for the requisitioned item. 1348s were little more than punch cards. If the ship was at sea, the 1348s would be compiled into lengthy teletype messages that were sent off by satellite UHF link. If the ship was in port, the 1348s would be taken to the Naval Supply Center on the base.

If the ship was in port, then every day or so, a truck would come by and drop stuff off. It was a whole different story if you were at sea, and that will be the subject of a later post