Thursday, November 16, 2023

Droning Away

So, back in the day, I was sent TAD for an exercise to a replenishment ship. The food was decent and the ossifer staterooms were nice. It was the only ship I'd ever been on where anyone other than the captain had a porthole in the room. But I digress.

I was sent as an umpire, which meant I got to judge whether or not any simulated weapons it fired were hits or whether anyone hit them. At one point, a green flare popped out from the sea at 3,000 yards. The captain suggested that, as the ship carried a shitload of ammuntion and explosives, that it be credited a kill on the sub due to the (simulated) explosion of the cargo. I went with that. But I digress.

The main function of the ship in the excercise was as a drone platform. A drone detachment came on board with a bunch of some flavor of MQM-74 target drones. The drones would be flown in attack profiles at other ships, which would shoot at them with various AAW missiles. Those missiles had target packages instead of warheads, which measured how close they came to the drones. One of the 1052s with BPDMS actually shot down two of the drones. The admiral running the excercise said, over secure UHF, something like: "[Name of ship], I don't like losing two drones, but I can't fault your shooting. Well done." But I digress.

The drones were launched from the ship's helo deck from a pretty basic launching cradle. The drone crew would set up the drone, start its engine, rev it up and then the drone was flung into the air by a RATO bottle, which dropped away after launch. The drone pilot had a control panel that had some basic feedback from the drone (somewhat short of a sixpack). He would be told which way to steer the drone and such, I don't know if he had a R/T setup for if it was by phone-talker from CIC. He'd fly the drone around until it was low on fuel (if it wasn't shot down), then he'd fly it back near the ship, pop the drone's parachute and shut down the engine. The drone would float into the water, the ship would maneuver close by and the bosun's mates would host it back aboard.

I asked the drone driver how he got that gig, as he was wearing naval aviator wings. He said that he had crashed (and ejected from) a F-4. That screwed him up physically enough to disqualify him from flying (not to mention some issues about whether or not the crash was his fault), so the Navy sent him around on TAD to fly drones until the powers that be figured out what to do with him. Which I guess was better than the alternative.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

A Blast From the Past

An old USN-issue sewing kit:

Note the colors of the threads: Navy blue, white and khaki. Those were enough to mend all of the uniforms that were worn back in the day.

I don't know if the Navy still issues sewing kits and if there are threads compatible with the new camo uniforms or the now-discontinued aquaflage.

As to why a sea-based service needs to wear camouflage uniforms, well, I've blogged about that.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

USS Groton Reunion

The sail and the top rear fin are going to be emplaced at the town library.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Uniform Disasters; Back to the Future

Thirteen years ago, I first began writing about the stupidity that was the change to the Navy's working, ie, shipboard uniforms. I bemoaned the adoption of Aquaflage then, then the stupidity of its replacement, namely, camoflague uniforms on board a ship.

In most of the posts, I bemoaned the stupidity of the decisions of the Navy's Uniform Board and called to go back to what had worked for decades: Dungarees and blue chambray shirts for junior enlisted, wash khakis for chiefs and officers. Not that anyone pays attention.

But the Navy was listening to someone. For the third time in thirteen years, the Navy is changing its working uniform to something called "2POC", which isn't a second privately-owned car, but an outfit comprised of trousers and an untucked tunic. They'll be... wait for it.... blue for junior enlisted and khaki for chiefs and officers.

In its benevolence, the Navy is going to give two, count 'em, two free uniforms to the sailors. And when they deploy, they'll get a third.

Good luck with that, guys. Working uniforms can get trashed pretty easily, but on the other hand, from how a lot of Navy ships look these days, they're not out chipping paint and preserving the ship. Still, two or three working uniforms aren't going to go very far.

But it's a start. Maybe, in six years or so, the Navy will get a fucking clue and go back to what worked for so long.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The “Joey Boat" is Still On Duty

ROCS Lan Yang (FFG-935) is the former USS Joseph Hewes (FF-1078).

I've mentioned her here and showed a photo of her during a port visit to Barcelona in the 1970s here.

The Taiwanese have heavily modified the Knox-class ships that they received. I have no doubt that they've probably rearranged some of the internal spaces. Long-term crew habitability might have been sacrificed, for it's not as though any of the ROCN ships make six-month deployments. But I'll bet that I could still find my way around one.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022


(NB: This story is at least third-hand, so I can't vouch for it.)

This is no shit:

Over forty years ago, there was a coup in Liberia. The president was reportedly murderd in his bed. Most of the senior officials were given an essentially meaningless trial and executed.

Liberia, then and now, was one of the more favored nations for flags of convenience. As an aside, all merchant ships have to be registered in one nation or another and they are supposed to operate under the rules of that nation. Liberia was somewhat rumored to have the rule that the only effective regulation was paying the fees for use of the Liberian flag.

The post-coup government of Liberia was basically a bunch of heavily armed amateurs. At one point, they discussed the matter of the Liberian-registered mechant fleet with officials from the American embassy. The Liberians announced that they planned to order every Liberian-registered ship to sail to Monrovia for inspection. One of the American officals, possibly the naval attache, said that would be a bad idea, for the ships would merely paint out "Monrovia" on their sterns, paint "Balboa" and hoist the Panamanian flag before the day was out.

The Liberians were shocked. One of them said that would be illegal.

The naval attache shrugged and observed that it was also illegal to shoot the president.

That argument carried the day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Sub Sunk, 100 Years Ago

Submarine USS S-48 sank by the stern in Long Island Sound during a pre-commissioning test dive on December 7. 1921. A manhole on a ballast tank had not been secured by a workman in the builder's yard in Bridgeport,CT (Lake Torpedo Boat Company). Fortunately, the sinking was in relatively shallow water. Despite chorine gas from the batteries and a host of other problems, the crew was able to shift weight aft and blow ballast tanks, tilting the sub at an extreme angle. That brought the bow out of the water and some of the sailors were able to leave the boat through the torpedo tube.

By then it was night and the crew had to resort to burning oil-soaked mattresses to try to signal a passing boat. It took hours to finally attract the attention of a passing boat, the Standard Oil tug Socony 28. Eventually realizing the scope of the disaster and that going too close could force the bow of the sub under water, the tug's master stood off from the sub and launched its lifeboat. Every man on the tug volunteered to row the lifeboat through stormy seas. In an hour, the tug's crew had made four trips and rescued all 41 men on the sub.

S-48 was raised and repaired. She was commissioned ten months later. The fortunate part of this story was that the sub's captain (a shipyard employee, as the boat hadn't yet been commissioned) opted to conduct the first test dive just after clearing the sea buoy, before proceeding to deeper water off New London for a deeper dive. If the shallow dive had been conducted in the area planned for the second dive, the sub would have been lost with all hands.

As naval budgets waxed and waned, S-48 was repeatedly decommissioned and reactivated. She provided training services (probably by acting as a training target) during the Second World War. She was decommissioned a few days before Japan formally surrendered and was scrapped the following year.

You can read a detailed story about the sinking and the rescue here.

Saturday, November 27, 2021


This is no shit:

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

SWO Manning, Then and Now

The Navy Times has an article about the shitty retention rates for Surface Warfare Officers. One of the things mentioned in the article is that the Navy sends far more junior officers to ships than there are billets for them to fill.

The Navy, on average, commissions nearly twice as many SWOs each year as it needs to fill junior SWO positions on ships, leaving these newbies to compete for ship driving time or other hands-on experience needed to be a good surface warfare officer, according to both the GAO and several SWOs who spoke to Navy Times.
From fiscal 2017 to 2021, GAO found that the Navy commissioned an average of 946 SWO ensigns a year, exceeding the number of required ensigns by about 85 percent.

For example, the destroyer Mustin averaged 18 SWO trainees aboard the ship when it only required six during the first quarter of 2020, while the cruiser Monterey averaged 21 such trainees when it only had eight slots, according to GAO.

I don't know how that can work.

Let's take a typical destroyer back in the day. It might have three or four division officers in each of the three departments. So that was nine to twelve officers. There were three department heads, one XO and one CO. Because of difference in tour length, those officers had about five department head slots available, two or so XO slots and about 1.3 CO slots available. So if half of the baby SWOs stayed in, there would be plenty available to fill the department head pipeline.

The thing was, those baby SWOs all had meaningful jobs. They were division officers, learning how to lead people and manage material. They weren't doing assistant anything. Their primary job wasn't wardroom party planner or ship's PAO or photographer-- if they were, they were major-league fuckups.

"We eat our young" has been the unofficial motto of the SWO community since forever. Now, it seems to be official policy.

No wander morale sucks even worse than it once did.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

The Suez Canal

(This is all from memory. Any difference between what I remember and how things are is what it is. Suck it up.)

You've probably read about the M/V Ever Given getting stuck in the Suzed Canal just north of the Red Sea.

The Suez Canal was closed for eight years following the Six Day War, both by ships and bridges destroyed and by mines. Several ships were stuck there (the Yellow Fleet). After the Yom Kippur War, by international agreement, the wreckage and mines were cleared and the Canal was reopened. The first convoy through was largely ceremonial. By tradition, transiting warships lead every convoy. For the ceremonial convoy, the first ship was an Egyptian destroyer. The second ship was the heavy cruiser USS Little Rock, which was a bit of a shock to the Soviet Navy officers there. The USSR regarded Egypt as a near-client state, but it hadn't been the Russians who cleared the Canal of ordnance. When a reporter asked a Russian officer the name of the American warship, he said "the USS Surprise".

Convoys, led by any transiting warhip(s), assemble off Port Said in the Med and Port Suez in the Red Sea. The southbound convoy starts first and sails through the northern part of the canal to the Great Bitter Lake. That convoy anchors there for several hours while the northbound convoy passes by. Then the southbound convoy weighs anchor and finishes the transit.

So this is no shit:

There was an American warship which was transiting south. The first thing that went wrong was that the Captain got confused as to when the ship should enter the Canal. The entrance to the Canal at Port Said was lined with stone seawalls that extended about three miles into the Med. The ship entered the entrance and was ordered to get the fuck back out, as the northbound convoy was approaching. Turning around in that narrow channel was an interesting evolution. On the seawall was a shack that had guards or maybe the Canal pilots. As the ship jockeyed to turn around, the bow of the ship came very close to the guardshack, to the point that the men inside ran down the seawall.

The warship went back out into the Med, the Captain fuming away. Once everything got going, the pilot boarded, along with an electrician. A light had to be mounted to the bow that projected two beams of white light, one to each side. The electrican oversaw the installation by the ship's electrican's mates, then he was escorted to the mess decks, where he spent the transit eating and smoking. Following the electrician were two line-handlers. The Captain had a conniption fit, but the pilot told him that the line-handlers were part of the package. They also spent the transit smoking and eating. Both the electrician and the line handlers were guarded for the entire time they were aboard.

The ship led the convoy down to the Great Bitter Lake at a blistering speed of maybe eight knots. The transit started during the night. As the sun rose, the crew gawked at the wreckage of two wars which lined the Canal. There were wrecked tanks and antiaircraft guns.

When the convoy reached the Great Bitter Lake, all of the ships in the convoy anchored and waited for the northbound convoy sail by. Most of the Bridge crew immediately headed for their racks to get some sleep. Once the other convoy passed, the southbound convoy got underway and finished the transit. At the mouth of the Canal, a boat came by to collect the pilot, the electrian (and his light) and the line-handlers (all of whom left with packs of cigarettes stuffed in their pockets).

The northbound transit, some time later, was like a walk in the park. The attitude was "ok, just another canal transit."

Friday, January 8, 2021

Air Show at Sea

One of the nicer gigs at sea was an "airpower demonstration". These was usually put on for VIs, often foreign muckety-mucks. These are photos from more than one of those.

These seemed to always kick off with a F-14, flying supersonic at masthead height, over the ships astern of the carrier. When the F-14 came abeam of the carrier, the pilot would pull vertical, and, under full afterburner, go straight up to over 20,000', corkscrewing the entire way up.

USS Kitty Hawk (CV-68)

This was a mass flyover, led by F-14s.
Of all of the airplanes seen in these photos, only the E-2Cs are still in the Fleet.

An F-14,with wings extended

A KA-6 with an A-6 on the drogue.

An A-7

The opening act flew directly over the ship that these photos were taken from. The sonic boom concussion broke a fresh water pipe in officer country, soaking a no-load 'JG who was snoozing in his rack during working hours. It was funny enough that even the Chief Engineer wasn't upset at losing the fresh water.

To get an idea of the altitude of the airshow, these photos were taken with a 35mm Nikon with a 50mm lens. Keeping clearances from obstacles was not a big thing at sea.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Merry Xmas, Ops

I can't recall his name exactly (LCDR Orrin Reems or something), for I knew him as "Ops". He opened his home for Xmas dinner for the junior officers in the command who had no family in the home port and who didn't have duty. 

Thanks, Ops. I'll not forget your kindness. 

Merry Xmas, everyone.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

104 Years Ago

The USS Memphis, ACR-10 (ACR meant "armored cruiser") was driven ashore by giant waves on this day in 1916. The captain of the ship, Edward Beach, got a feeling that was something was wrong and he ordered additional boilers lit off in order to weigh anchor and go out to sea.

As it turned out, it was a matter of fifteen minutes between the ship sailing safely and being dashed onto the shore. Captain Beach was court-martialed and found guilty of failure to get underway in a timely manner. His punishment was to be dropped twenty names on the promotion list. That was later reduced to five names and, on further review, his punishment was stricken. Beach commanded the battleship USS New York towards the end of the Great War.

If you want to read a vivid description of what happened about the ship, both in the engineering plant and above decks, I heartily recommend the book The Wreck of the Memphis by Edward Beach (the captain's son and a decorated naval officer in his own right). When he researched and wrote the book, there were a number of survivors still around to interview. (I found a copy in a thrift store before the pandemic erupted. Best buck that I've spent in one, though not the best bargain I've ever found.)

Memphis, which spent most of her life as the USS Tennessee, was a fast, well-armored and well-armed cruiser in the day when all ships were driven by large reciprocating engines. The Navy considered modernizing her three sister ships in the 1920, but the result didn't seem to be worth the cost.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Life in the Yards

(Inspired by the fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard)

I've been through one major overhaul, a few SRAs (Shipyard Repair Availabilities) and numerous shorter maintenance periods, which were called "Tender Availabilities", even if there was no destroyer tender involved.

The most challenging is a major overhaul. The ship is in drydock, so in the summer, it is hotter than a baked motherfucker in the ship and, in the winter, it is colder than a carport outside of an igloo. The shipyard workers have little to no respect for the ship. Trash and debris accumulate everywhere if the ship's force isn't driven to be diligent. That's a tall order, as it's hard to motivate the sailors to keep cleaning up other people's shit. Usually the motivation has to devolve into unrelenting harshness, which means that's a job for the XO.

When there is welding or cutting going on, there have to be fire watches, which is usually a task for the ship's crew. The sailor so detailed gets to stand around with a fire extinguisher and watch the yardbird work. If the work is being done to a bulkhead, deck or overhead, then there has to be a fire watch on the other side. If the work is at a corner, then there can be more than one space on the "other side" of the work and all of them have to have a fire watch.

This is in addition to any repair or maintenance work that the repair plan assigned to the ship's force to do. If money is tight, a lot of that work is assigned to ship's force. While this is going on, a lot of the crew may be away, attending training classes (individually or in teams) or sucked away on temporary duty to another ship. There's not much in the way of fun, there's no time at sea, no port visits, just day-to-day life in a dirty industrial environment.

Add to that the security issue: The yardbirds steal anything that is not locked up or welded down. A sailor who leaves his tools at his or her workside to go to the head or catch a smoke will often come back to find all of the tools, if not the entire tool box, has been stolen. The sailors can start treating the yard workers like a pack of unarrested criminals, which also does a number of morale.

One day in the yards, I was the Command Duty Officer. I was making my rounds and opened a door to step out onto the weatherdeck on the 01 level. It was full dark, the lighting wasn't great, and I almost tripped over some piping that some fucking sandcrab left lying on the deck. If I had tripped, it would have thrown me up against the lifelines, which were of a temporary nature, and would probably have resulted in my fall to the bottom of the dry dock, which would have been at least a sixty-foot drop onto the steel floor of the dock. In other words, it would have been fatal.

I was enraged. I threw the piping over the side and down into the drydock. Then I went around the weatherdecks and threw every other obstruction that was not properly marked or guarded (that I could lift) into the drydock.

The next morning, I told the XO what I had done. He wasn't amused, but he got the idea that I didn't much care. The yardbirds were not at all happy and complained to their bosses, who complained to the CO. The CO promised an investigation, which of course, went nowhere.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Confusion to the Enemy

Back around the mid-1980s, the USS Josephus Daniels (CG-27) was preparing to deploy to the Med. As some exercises were going to be held on the way, the Operations Officer thought it might be fun to repaint the hull number to CG-28, which was that of the USS Wainwright. There was zero chance of the two ships being seen together; the Daniels was homeported in Norfolk, VA, the Wainwright in Charleston, SC. A few months after the Daniels deployed, the Wainwright went to the Persian Gulf.

Initially, the confusion was limited to a couple of new sailors, who were wandering around the piers, looking for a big gray warship with the number 27 painted on her bows. Most looked at the white Herculite banner lashed to the gangplank that said "USS Josephus Daniels", but one went to the Shore Patrol and was directed unceremoniously to the ship.

A few weeks later, the Daniels was in an exercise. A submarine got within torpedo range, popped off a green flare to signal firing one, then sent out a target message giving its position and claiming a kill on the Wainwright. The Wainwright responded with a message of her own, giving her position, noting that it was a few thousand miles away, and expressed wonder at the fantastic torpedoes subs now had.

Much hilarity ensued.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Uniform Disasters, 120 years ago.

These are some Navy uniforms from the 1890s:

The admiral, in the front, center, is wearing the "special full dress" uniform. it was heavyweight wool, with those fringed gold epaulets and a cocked hat. As described in the autobiography of Edward L. Beach, Sr., From Annapolis to Scapa Flow, the uniform cost $240.

In 1890, a skilled worker could expect to make about two dollars a day. Various inflation calculators put the value of $240 in 1890 in the vicinity of $6,500-$6,900. I can't imagine having to pop damn near two grand (back in my day) for a single uniform. As it was, the service dress white was not terribly cheap and was rarely worn.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Hoover and "Analogous Response"

For some reason that I've long since forgotten, there was some brouhaha between the US and the USSR in the late 1970s/early 1980s over the placement of nuclear missiles. The Soviets moved their ICBM patrols into the western Atlantic. That would have given them the ability to make a depressed-trajectory shot, which would have really cut the reaction time available to the Americans.

Needless to say, the Americans were not happy with that. Among other things, TACTASS-equipped ships were sent out to search for and track the Soviet submarines. This operation, in part, took place in the winter.

One does not have to be a naval expert to know that during the winter, the North Atlantic is a challenging place to be.

TACTASS, designated the AN/SQR-18A, attached to the back of the fish of an AN/SQS-35 variable depth sonar (VDS). This is a photo of an apparently Japanese setup:

The fish itself was well-weighted by a goodly amount of lead. The red arrow points to where the towed array was attached. What would happen is the array would be payed out from a reel in a room next to where the VDS fish was housed. The array would then be mated both mechanically and electrically to the VDS fish. Then the fish would be launched. In moderate to heavy seas, this was a wet operation. The side doors, at least, were operated by hydraulics. The crane and cable reel had an operator's station with a waterproof door. Once the array was mated, everyone would leave the room, except for the operator, and the fish would be launched.

As you can see here, the cable between the ship and the VDS fish was faired, with aluminum leading edges and rubber trailing edges:

So now picture that you have a heavy fish being towed by a long cable, which had no elasticity. In a heavy sea, the stern of the ship moved up and down a lot, which jerked on the fish. The cable wouldn't break, but the electrical connections were not as durable, especially the connections between the fish and the array, which itself was several hundred feet long and streamed behind the fish. A fair number of the tracking missions ended with the ship returning to port to replace the towed array, which was shipped on a large cable reel.

Because the weather was often bad enough to preclude the ships from launching their SH-2Fs to localize any contacts, S-3s were sent out to do that work. I don't recall whether or not they flew out from Norfolk and Mayport or if they staged out of NAS Bermuda.

So there was a ship out doing that, and there was a S-3 that was sent out to do its thing. The S-3 told the ship (over secure voice radio) that there was an unknown error in its internal nav system. The ship's ASW officer, who was on watch, asked how large the error was. He was told that it was about a dozen miles or so. The ASW officer advised the S-3 to "mark on top" (fly directly over the ship) and the ship could give them an accurate position so the S-3 could update its navigation picture and thereby greatly reduce the error.

The S-3 refused to do that. They then asked the ship where they should being dropping sonobouys and in what pattern. The ASW officer replied on the order of "I won't know within a hundred square miles of ocean where those buoys are, so it makes no difference to me where you drop them." (The ship was operating on an EMCON [emissions control] plan and it could not use its air-search radar to track the S-3.)

And that was pretty much it. For the rest of the time the S-3 was on station, it flew around, doing something that generated no useful information. When it either ran low on fuel or used up its sonobuoys, it returned to base.

On that ship, the ASW officer wrote the post-patrol report, which was sent off as a radio TTY message. The draft of the report (and all other radio messages) typically was written by hand on a yellow legal pad, either double or triple-spaced. The Weapons and Operations officers reviewed the draft and edited it before it was sent to the CO for his review and approval. This time around, the Captain noticed that the draft was written in the hand of the Weapons officer. When the CO asked why that was so, the Weapons officer said that the ASWO wanted to re-enact the Crucifixion, with the S-3 playing the starring role.

Eventually, with the deployment of the SURTASS ships, the use of the SQR-18A ships for tracking Soviet SSBNs was discontinued.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Vampire Liberty

The Navy kind of, sort of, encouraged sailors to donate blood. The way that they did that was to give people time off for donating blood. At first, at least at my command, a donor got both the day of donation and the following day off. The unofficial term for the time off was "vampire liberty".

That created all sorts of problems, especially if the donor's duty day was the following day. At first, they ran a sign-up sheet where, supposedly, duty section leaders and the division officers and chiefs could check to keep slackers from abusing it.

But that didn't work out so well. The thought was raised to run it by using special request chits, which would go up the chain of command to the Senior Watch Officer, if approved, and the XO, if denied. But even that seemed to be a pain in the ass.

So what was decided was that donors would only get the rest of the day of donation off. Since sailors who were in the duty section were forbidden from leaving the command without permission in the first place, sailors who had duty couldn't donate. Those who wouldn't donate without getting the free time were slackers and goof-offs, anyway. The chiefs knew who they were.

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Falklands War

(N.B.: I heard about the following story from two different people who were there.)

You may recall that in 1982, the British and the Argies had a little dispute with guns over the issue of who owned the Falkland Islands. The fighting was in the second quarter of the year.

Anyway, a certain admiral and his staff were being being briefed on the status of the conflict. All dialogue is, um, "reconstructed".

Briefer: The British really need to get cracking so that they aren't fighting a war at sea in the depths of a South Atlantic winter.

Admiral: What do you mean? Summer is coming.

At this point, the staffies looked at each other nervously.

Briefer: Admiral, the war is being fought in the southern hemisphere. It'll be winter there, not summer.

Admiral: I didn't know that! Why wasn't I briefed on that? [Turning to the Chief of Staff] Did you know this?

COS: Yes, sir, I did.

Admiral: When did you learn about this?

COS: Fourth grade geography class, sir.

Admiral [turning his attention back to the briefer] When did you learn about this?

Briefer: Fifth grade, sir.

At this point, a somewhat dim light bulb illuminated in the admiral's brain, for he instructed the briefer to resume his briefing.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

It's been 39 years since the Thanksgiving described in this post.

Read the POD closely. Note that there is an officer designated as the CDO, or "Command Duty Officer". That might seem odd, given that the ship was at sea. But if there was a security alert, the CDO was the one who would go around to all of the guarded stations and personally tell them to secure upon his passing the word over the 1MC.

Secondly, note the name of the CDO. That was this guy. He was probably on the CNO track until he got embroiled in this mess.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Diesel Showers

Refueling at sea was an interesting maneuver. Two ships would steam about 125' or so apart, lines would be shot over, then bigger lines pulled until a steel spanwire was hooked up. Then the refueling hose, capped with a probe, would be pulled aboard to hook up so that fuel, a lot of fuel, could be pumped aboard.

How much fuel, you might ask? Tens of thousands of gallons, at a minimum. Large ships had double-receiving stations, so two probes would be hauled aboard at once. Smaller ships, if they needed a lot of fuel, could take them at two fore-and-aft stations.

Besides the deck folks, this took a lot of people. Each tank was monitored by a sailor with sounding tapes. Sailors manned valve manifolds to direct the fuel. It was best to take fuel into a number of tanks at a time, because if too much fuel was directed into a single tank at a time, it could fill too rapidly and then bad shit could happen.

One of the lesser things in the "bad shit could happen" would be if the probe of the oiler or the drogue basket on the receiving ship were worn a bit. See, the sailors pulling the probe and hoses aboard had to slam them with some force into the basket for the probe's latches to snap into place, but not so hard as to damage things. If the probe popped out, the valve in the nose of the probe would slam shut, but the probe coming out would still spray DFM (Distillate Fuel Marine, basically diesel) all over everyone on the refueling station. Do that a few times and the sailors on the downwind side wold be soaked with DFM.

In the greater of the "bad shit" would be if so much fuel was directed into one tank so that the tank overpressurized. Since the tanks were generally surrounded by other tanks that were also laden with fuel, the weakest point was to the side of the tank with air on the other side. Which was the top. in one instance, what was above was a berthing compartment of radiomen and operations specialists (radarmen). They usually worked and lived in air-conditioned comfort, they were not at all amused to have their compartment sprayed with DFM.

The third group of sailors who almost always smelled of diesel were the sailors on non-nuclear submarines, or diesel boats. Even ashore, they smelled as though they'd bathed in the stuff.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Two-Whistle Passage

A submarine stands out to sea while a ferry comes into port:

The small craft at the stern of the ferry is one of the armed security boats that escort subs in and out of port. Because terrorism.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Making Steam the RN Way

I had a few old posts on this subject.

A-type boilers were definitely a prewar design in the USN.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

How to Tell If That Script Was Written or Directed by an Amateur

If you're watching a naval-themed movie and somebody says "fire a (name of weapon", that's amateur.

On naval ships, the word "fire" refers to unplanned conflagrations: "Fire on the Flight Deck!" "Fire in the Galley."

The only exception to that is when the word "fire" is coupled with "room": The "Fireroom" (one word) is where the boilers are on an oil-fired ship.

"Fires" (plural) refers to the act of getting a boiler going: "Light fires in 1 Alpha Boiler." "Fires lighted in 1 Alpha Boiler."

If you're going to (or have) discharge a weapon, the word is "Shoot".

If a newbie uses the word "fire" in that context, everyone else who heard that will start making fun of it: "Ready to fire Mount 51." "Oh my God, there's a fire in Mount 51."

I can't think of the movie's name right now, but a few months back, I watched a naval movie in which the characters said "fire" so much, that I almost needed to visit an ophthalmologist to unroll my eyes.

(My hazy recollection is that Sink the Bismarck! got it right.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Fair Winds and Following Seas, Charlie Oscar

I don't keep in touch with my ex-service buddies. It's been a hell of a long time and we all change.

So it was with a little sadness that I learned of the passing, last year, of CAPT Guy R. Campbell, III, USN, ret.

Captain Campbell was one of the captains whose crews would have followed him into Hell, without hesitation. When I knew him, he had relieved a captain whose crew would have cheerfully sent him to Hell. He believed in mentoring and training his crews, not in chewing them out. An expression of mild disappointment from him would be devastating, as the person receiving it knew that they had let down the Old Man.

One weekend in home port, his ship was open to the public for topside tours. Unbeknownst to him, his kids (ranging from teenagers to pre-teens) took the public tour. When the sailor giving the tour pointed out the Captain's Gig and explained its function, one of the kids giggled and told a sibling: "That's Daddy's boat." The sailor giving the tour overheard that and told the OOD after the tour group left. The OOD told the CDO, who passed it along to the XO. Captain Campbell went to the sailor's workspace the next work day and apologized for what his kids did. He sure as hell didn't need to do that, but word of it spread through the waterfront like wildfire. That's just one example of why he was beloved by his crews.

Captain Campbell was not one of those captains who would step on his crews in order to please his bosses' in-port horseshit. To him, the welfare of his crew was all, for he knew that if his crew had his back, there was nothing that both they and his ship couldn't do.

Fair wins and following seas, Captain.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Unrep (Pt. I)

I have hesitated for a long time in writing about underway replenishment. For I was mostly an engineer. I'd sit either in Main Control or in the Oil & Water Lab and monitor the progress of refueling. If the ship wasn't taking on fuel, then I'd normally be in Main Control to keep an eye on the plant. There were a few times as an ensign that I was technically "officer in charge" of the forward refueling station, but make no mistake about it: The Second Class Bosun's Mate ran it. My job was to look for safety violations, like someone stepping into the bight of a line.

So I don't know a whole hell of a lot about Unrep. The blogger over at Chaotic Synaptic Activity served aboard an unrep ship. What to me was a weekly or so affair for fuel and monthly for supplies was what he did.

So first, let's talk about supplies.

In port, in the US, supply was more or less a constant thing. If you really needed something, you could walk a chit though at the local supply center.

If the ship was deployed, then all but the most critical parts came on a monthly basis. Sometimes, it came in port. There would be a series of trucks showing up at the pier. An "all hands" working party would be called away to unload them and then pass the supplies from the trucks, up the gangway, through the ship and down into the storerooms. The Supply Officer and his chiefs acted as traffic directors. Department Heads and the XO were safety observers. Everyone else who was not on watch, including chiefs and junior officers, were in the working party. it took several hours.

In-port resupplies of that magnitude were rare. All of the goods had to be brought by a supply ship to another pier or port and offloaded into trucks. There were, understandably, security concerns that ranged from basic theft to terrorism. In foreign ports, the trucks had to be guarded for customs reasons. Both the Navy and the country where the resupply was taking place pretended that the trucks were never in the country.

And it was a pain in the ass. In a foreign port, where the idea was to try and get time of to see the sights (or get drunk and/or laid), nobody wanted to spend a precious day in port humping truckloads of supplies.

The vast majority of monthly resupply evolutions were done at sea.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Sub Sunk- Plus 55 Years

55 years ago today, the USS Thresher (SSN-593) was lost. She was the lead ship of her class, which was renamed the Permit class.

The loss of the Thresher uncovered a number of problems with quality control and submarine construction methods. They weren't so much of an issue during the war, but the then-new nuclear submarines could dive about a thousand feet deeper than the American submarines built during the war.

The procedures for constructing and QCing submarines was radically changed with the development and implementation of the SUBSAFE program. No SUBSAFE-certified submarine has been lost, as of today. (USS Scorpion was built before the loss of the Thresher )

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Inspection From Hell

This is no shit:

A few months before this incident, the same ship was visiting another port. Each month, the captain of a ship was supposed to hold an inspection. It could be a zone inspection (working spaces), a messing and berthing inspection, or a personnel inspection.

This particular time, the captain chose to hold a messing and berthing inspection. He started aft at 0900. Farthest aft was Airdale Berthing (the ship had an embarked helo detachment). That was fine.

Next up was the After Head, used by the sailors in Engineering and Aviation Departments. The captain ran his finger under the rim of the toilet bowls to check for a buildup of scum. What he found was some enterprising sailor had packed fecal material under the rim of one of the toilets.

The captain's rage was towering. He went into Engineering Berthing and, basically, tore the place apart. He flipped the mattresses from every bunk on the pretext of looking for contraband. He yanked the sheets from every mattress to see if the mattress was stained. He did the same to every pillow. He was in there for hours. (It seemed longer.)

Next up was the Mess Deck and it got similar treatment. The turmoil was such that the cooks served sandwiches for lunch instead of a planned hot meal with a selection of two main courses. The captain was a little more restrained when he got to the Goat Locker, but not by much. Then it was the turn of Supply Berthing, which got almost the same treatment as the Engineers did.

The Forward Head was immaculate, as everyone knew what was going on. Weapons and Operations flooded the place with sailors to make sure that the head was clean enough for doing brain surgery. Try as he might, the captain could only find a little dust in a conduit bundle.

The scary thing was it had now been ten hours since the Shitter Incident and the captain was still in a full-blown rage. it was one thing to be angry, but he was acting as though somebody had shot his dog and then rubbed the carcass in his face. He truly was, at that moment, insane.

Liberty had been secured for the day. At 2000, the XO persuaded the captain to end the inspection for the day, to resume the next day. The XO called the department heads together and told them that the inspection would resume at 0900 the following day, with the uninspected areas up first, then a reinspection of the unsat areas (everything else).

And yes, there were areas that had not been inspected. The inspection of the berthing compartments for Weapons and Operations took five minutes each. Inspection of Officers' Country took ten minutes, including the Wardroom Galley (the captain basically glanced into each stateroom). The reinspection of every other area took about five minutes apiece. The captain made the XO run his finger under the rims of the toilet bowls in the After Head.

Nobody was stupid enough to try a repeat. And just to be sure, the engineering chiefs personally had checked each toilet.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Why the Chaplain was Scum

I mentioned this awhile back. This is no shit:

There was a sailor on one ship who was a pretty nice guy. He was pleasant to everyone, he worked hard and he was just a joy to stand watch with.

He got out and went to school. He was going to a junior college to get an associate's degree before going on for his batchelor's degree. He was doing that while working full time in a convenience store, of the kind that Tam has referred to as a "Stop `n Rob".

Only this time, a couple of years after he had left the Navy, it was no joke. The robbers thought it best to kill the witness, being the former sailor who was working that late shift.[1]

Word got back to the ship, which was deployed aboard. The Horrible Chaplain was riding the ship. A memorial service was arranged for a Sunday afternoon on the mess deck, the largest open space available. It was very well attended. Sailors who were on watch who were on board before the kid got got out were arranging swaps to attend.

So the chaplain gets up, goes to the little podium/altar and says: "Well, let's get this over with." He may have thought he said it quietly, but he was overheard by those closest to the altar.

Word spread through the ship faster than anything short of primer-cord. The reaction was not one of amusement.

The XO quietly advised the chaplain that, for his personal safety, he'd best not be found outside of Officers Country after the word was passed to "darken ship".

He followed that advice.

More's the pity.
[1] The robbers' score for the jobs they pulled as probably less than the bail for a shoplifting charge. They were caught. One ratted, the others went to Death Row. At least one lived long enough to be executed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


This is no shit:

So there were a bunch of officers from one ship that were at a pool (as in "swimming") party. There was a lot of drinking going on. The captain was rather soused. He was running around the edge of the pool, pushing people in.

This captain was one I've written about before. He was a jerk.

It was a hot summer evening. The Sun had set and it was getting dark. People were swimming and trying to stay out of the way of the captain, who had some fixation about throwing people into the pool.

The deck of the pool went up to the house. There were a few young officers sitting on the few steps into the house, enjoying their drinks and trying like hell to stay out of the captain's way.

One of them was an ensign This guy was pretty quiet, but he was a bit, shall we say, unconventional. Intelligence and aptitude were the only things that kept him from being a problem child due to attitudinal issues. One of his problems was that he often did things without mulling them through. You might have heard of the old excuse "it seemed like a good idea at the time." His percentage of ideas that were good ones was very high.

So anyway, there's the captain, running around the pool. He went past the guys on the steps. When his back was somewhat to them, the ensign exploded out of a sitting position, crossed the pool deck and hit the captain in the back with a vicious block, flinging the captain into the pool.

By the time the captain came up and broke the surface of the water, the ensign was seated back on the steps, holding his drink. If you hadn't seen it, you'd not have known that he had moved a centimeter.

Pretty much everybody other than the captain, including the XO, had seen it.

Nobody said nothing.