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MSO CASUALTIES

"Where the Fleet Goes, We've Been!"

Information From Jane's Fighting Ships,
and additional sources and first hand accounts.

Cdr. David Bruhn's important new book Wooden Ships and Iron Men has addition detailed information on all of the following ships.

USS PRESTIGE (MSO-465) ran aground and was stranded in the Naruto Straits, Inland Sea, Japan on 23 Aug 1958 and was abandoned as a total loss.
USS Pivot (MSO-463) attempted to assist but ran aground herself during the daring operation in dangerous waters. Pivot managed to break free but Prestige was lost.

From Office of the Judge Advocate General, August, 2000:

At approximately 0700, 21 August 1958, COMINDIV 92 in USS PIVOT (MSO-463) in company with USS PLUCK (MSO-464) and USS PRESTIGE (MSO-465) departed Yokosuka, Japan en route to Kure, Japan. They were due to arrive at Kure on 23 August.

Because the formation was unable to maintain a planned speed of 10 knots due to engine trouble in the PIVOT and an adverse current, the original course was changed to traverse the Naruto Strait rather than Akashi Strait because it was a shorter route and less congested with shipping. The Naruto channel was about 800 yards wide but the navigable width was reduced to 200 yards in the vicinity of NAKA SE. Prior to entering the Naruto Strait at about 0007, 23 August the ships were directed to proceed independently through Naruto Strait and to rejoin upon completion of the transit.

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Prestige hard aground Naruto Straits, Inland Sea of Japan 23 Aug 1958.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Commander Frank W Laessle COMSERVPAC Salvage Officer with salvage crew.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Cots set up on USS Current for crew members.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Debris
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Fantail after explosive demolition charge-The deck was made of 10 inch White Oak planks.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Fantail view.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Flooded fantail.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Portside looking forward-Wooden mast has been chopped down-The Bridge has been demolished.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)
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Starboard side looking forward-The bridge has been demolished and has burned to the main deck.
Photos from BM2 Ernie Shea, USS Current (ARS 22)

At about 0135, 23 August the PRESTIGE grounded on NAKA SE in Naruto Strait (Latitude 34-39.1 North Longitude, 134-39.4 East Longitude). It was later determined that the visual bearings they were relying on were misinterpretations between two separate navagation lights and they were actually off course.

At about 0230 attempts were made to lighten ship in an effort to back clear. From this time until 1900 continued attempts were made to extricate her by use of her own power. About 0500 and 1607 PIVOT made courageous but unsuccessful attempts to tow PRESTIGE free of the rocks. At about 1900 flooding of the engineering spaces was out of control. From about 1937 until 2009 all personnel except the officers and three enlisted men were removed from the ship. Later the Commanding Officer gave orders to the remaining personnel to abandon ship when all indications were that she would capsize. At approximately 2345 the PRESTIGE was abandoned. There were no injuries to any personnel during the incident.

During the subsequent week the ship was boarded for short periods during slack water permitting salvage of much topside gear and destruction of that which could not be removed. On 25-26 August typhoon "Flossie" passed through the immediate area and further embedded the PRESTIGE in a cradle of rocks, from which she could not be removed. On 5 September, four demolition charges were placed in the PRESTIGE and at about 1330 the charges were detonated, demolishing the PRESTIGE and with the bridge burning down to the main deck.

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From Robert "Skip" Ullman, crew member of the Prestige:

I just read what the Navy had on the Prestige, and though it seems to be accurate, it leaves a few things to be talked about.

First, the Prestige had the best CIC team in the division and a new exec on the bridge at the time of the grounding. There was a difference between time to change course and the new course to come to, and the exec thought he knew more than the radarmen who did this every day, and so he turned on his own recommendation, which was 100 yards too short, putting us on the rocks to about amidships. After the crew was taken off, with some of us going to the other 2 sweeps, and some of us, myself included, going to a Japanese destroyer for a few hours before we were transferred to one of the sweeps.

One of the sweeps came across behind us early in the morning before it got light, and attempted to take a line from us so we could be pulled off, and lost their sonar dome.

We rode out the typhoon on the other 2 sweeps within sight of the Prestige, and when the typhoon was gone the Prestige had swapped ends, now having her stern on the rocks instead of her bow.

One of the stories that went around while we were still on board was about damage control trying to shore up the bottom and having to cut and recut every piece of timber they had, because the bottom kept coming in further. We had a good crew, and a great skipper, who took the blame for something that he had no control over other than the fact he wasn't on the bridge when it happened.

There was a lot of things lost on the Prestige, as far as I know the only things that came off were our service records, the skippers sword, and my camera. All of the crew were kept together for awhile after it happened. We were taken to Sasebo and put in a barracks there for several weeks, and then we were reassigned, some of the guys came back to the U.S., and some of us were reassigned over there.

One thing that happened when they went out to do salvage on the ship was that our first class boatswains mate and an officer on the fleet tug that went out went on the Prestige, and the tug officer made some comment about he didn't think minesweepers were really all wood, and the BM1 took an axe and cut down the mast to show him….We got a laugh out of that. One thing I do still remember very vividly about the days around the grounding were riding out that typhoon on one of the sweeps... You talk about rough!!!!

November, 2001

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USS EXULTANT (MSO-441) On 12 August 1960, while underway off the coast of Savanna, Georgia, Exultant suffered extensive interior damage from a flash fire in her engineering spaces. EXULTANT caught fire from a leak in a fuel oil flexible hose fitting in the engine room. Valiant performance of duty by the minesweeper's damage control parties, and gallant help from Nimble(MSO-459) extinguished the flames and enabled Exultant to return safely to port. Five of Exultant's crew lost their lives in the blaze. The Exultant was later repaired.

From the Command History for 1960:

EXULTANT departed Charleston on the morning of 12 August in company with USS NIMBLE (MSO 459) for a visit to Miami, Florida in connection with the annual convention of the National Association of County Officials. That evening at about 1745 the ship experienced a severe flash fire in the after engine room which rapidly spread throught the entire engineering spaces. The fire was fought for nearly three (3) hours under dangerous and adverse conditions in which the engineering officer and four (4) enlisted crewmen died. Only by the outstanding performance of EXULTANT"s fire-fighting parties and the gallant aid of NIMBLE kept the ship afloat.

Since the tragic fire the ship has been undergoing extensive overhaul at the Charleston Naval Shipyard. It is presently expected that EXULTANT will rejoin the operating forces in the early spring of 1961.

"A plaque hung on the mess decks with the names of our shipmates who died in that fire. It was common knowledge to the crew that we generally left the plaque tarnished, for every time the plaque was shined, disaster hit the engine room. Actually became an omen to the engineering crew."



In Memory of
Five Fallen Shipmates



Engineman 2nd Class
Thomas S. Baker

Engineman 2nd Class
Jackie W. Byrd

Ensign
David J. Gaignard

Engineman 3rd Class
William C. Glenn

Engineman 3rd Class
Michael J. Nemeth




In Memory of
Five Fallen Shipmates
Here we are moored at pier five
Thanking God we are alive
For it wasn't too many days ago
We lost five good men in a fire below

We went to battle one Friday night
And that fire we began to fight
With odds against us at every turn
For two and a half hours the fire did burn.

We were seventy miles from the nearest land
When the Nimble offered a helping hand
That day we saw some gallant fighting
That one can't put down in words of writing.

We saved a ship that wanted to die
And when it was all over, some began to cry
A glimpse of hell was seen that night
And believe me, it isn't a pretty sight.

Many will remember our tragic loss
When once again we set sail on a course
For to sail these sweeps it takes good men
And we'll always be ready, if it happens again.

DAVIS, Wayne M., EN3,USN

The following is from Captain Gene Morin, USN (RET),
a member of the Board of Investigation: (10-1999)
...The fire initiated in the engine room, when the ship was somewhere off of Savannah. I believe that she was enroute to Panama City to provide minesweeping services. As a member of the Board of Investigation, I was at pierside in Savannah when the ship tied up and offloaded the men who perished in the fire. The Board's conclusion was that the fire started from a diesel leak at a flexible rubber coupling. The pressurized leak sprayed onto a portable hanging trouble light which probably was the ignition source of the atomized fuel. The rubber couplings were installed in the piping systems in order to break up the piping loops metallic continuity. When a loop of metal is rotated in the earth's magnetic field, it creates a current which generates a magnetic field. This is highly undesirable in a minesweeper since every effort is made to eliminate any magnetism inherent in the ship itself. These rubber couplings were subject to heat and normal deterioration so it is not surprising that a failure occurred. One of the corrective actions taken as a result of this fire was to install Aeroquip flexible fittings in place of the rubber couplings. It was an expensive but necessary fix which was carried out on all of the MSO 421 422 Class minesweepers. The fire cut off the normal engine room access ladder and acted like a blowtorch on the bulkhead at the top of the access ladder. There was so much smoke that the men in the engine room were unable to egress from the emergency escape ladders.
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The following is from crew member Bob Adelwerth

We relieved Exultant in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the summer of '60 she proceeded back to Charleston, the aft engine room caught fire, killing the entire engine room crew, including the Engineering Officer. The investigation concluded that while making an economy run (an annual engineering requirement), that the valves on the diesel oil return lines from the Packard engines to the day tanks had been closed. It was assumed that this was done to measure fuel consumption. The fuel lines overheated and burst, spraying hot fuel over the engines. The engine room was completely engulfed in flames immediately, and the crew suffocated in the soundproof booth without escaping. Five good men were lost.

As a result of this fire, the MSO's were modified with an additional escape scuttle from the soundproof booth up into the reel well. The Exultant engine room crew did not have this means of escape, and with the entire engine room in flames, were trapped in the booth.

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The following is from crew member (then) QM2 Charlie Bashore, Leading Quartermaster, who was on the Bridge at the time of the fire.

THE DAY THE MINESWEEPER USS EXULTANT MSO441 ALMOST DIED

I remember that day almost 45 years ago as if it was yesterday. The Exultant set sail from Charleston, S.C. the morning of 12 August, 1960 for what was to be a good will promotion, by taking some dignitaries from Miami on a harbor cruise. We were accompanied by the sister sweep the USS Nimble. The weather was unusually good and the seas were exceptionally calm.

Most of the day underway was uneventful until about 1745 when the bridge was notified there was a fire in the Engine Room. General Quarters was sounded and the ships Damage Control parties were called out. Almost immediately thick black smoke began pouring out of the midships doorways and from the reelwell on the fantail. Early reports to the bridge indicated the fire was already out of control and access to the Engine Room and Damage Control Central was unobtainable. At that time no one was sure whom if anyone was in the engineering spaces or the extent of the fire. As it turned out there were five engineers caught in the fire and all perished. Unfortunately the engine room was in a shift change when the fire broke out. Under normal steaming two watchstanders would be on watch at a time, but because of the watch shifting there were four. Additionally the Chief Engineer also was in the engine room.

As the fire intensified the smoke became a major factor for even those on deck topside. Damage control was shifted to the fantail and much of the fire fighting was done from there. With the absence of the Chief Engineer the Executive Officer was sent aft to direct the fire fighting efforts and the Damage Control Teams. The Captain remained on the bridge trying to maneuver the ship so the fantail and fire fighting crews were free of the smoke as much as possible. I remember the smoke was terrifying. On the bridge we would open the bridge ports, stand with our heads hanging out the openings in order to breathe. Dealing with the smoke was further exacerbated, due to the inability to shut down the intake and exhaust fans in the engine room.

Shortly things went from bad to worse. Ship's power and communications, both on and off the ship were lost. With the loss of power maneuvering the ship was no longer possible. Without electrical power the fire fighting pumps were put out of commission. The ship was now without any ability to fight the fire or dewater using the ship's pumps. The only redeeming factor from the loss of power was it shut down the fans in the engine room lessening the smoke problem. However, to make matters even worse the Nimble earlier had experienced some problems of her own and had dropped back to correct them.

THAT LEFT EXULTANT ALONE TO SAVE HERSELF.

With the complete loss of all ships power the only means left to fight the fire was with portable pumps. The P-60 and P250 pumps were put into service and became the only means to try and get the fire under control. Again as fate would have it, small ships like the Exultant carry a limited amount of gas and it didn't take long to realize when the gas ran out we were in "big trouble". Using the portable pumps to fight the fire brought on an additional problem. We were pumping hundreds of gallons of water into the engine room, but had no way to get the water out. In other words we were sinking ourselves. The ship had taken on a 10 degree list and the fire remained too stubborn to go out. Communications between the bridge and the fantail was solved by using message runners.

Fortunately before the ship lost power a mayday had been sent to the Nimble and the civilian freighter Tropicana which was in the area.

That communication probably saved the ship.

As things now seemed almost fatal, off to our port quarter appeared the most beautiful sight one could imagine. Like a gray stallion with Sir Lancelot aboard coming to rescue Guenevere, there was our Lancelot, the sister sweep Nimble. Without hesitation she pulled up alongside us and began sending us men, pumps, gas and whatever life saving devices we needed. With the combined forces of the Exultant and the Nimble the fire was extinguished and the ship desmoked and dewatered.

EXULTANT WAS STILL ALIVE EVEN THOUGH BADLY WOUNDED.

As things progressed and entrance could be made to the engine room the loss of our crew members and the extent of our damages could now be determined. Five dead, some minor injuries to other crew members, the Exultant out of commission. The decision was made to tow the ship to Savannah, Ga., where our fallen shipmates could be removed, emergency repairs made so the ship could return to Charleston and an investigation into the fire could be convened.

The Nimble hooked up to us around 2200 that fateful evening and our journey into the night began. As we had no refrigeration the bodies of those lost in the fire were laid in the gun turret area of our forecastle gun directly below the bridge. The trip to Savannah was very unpleasant. It was pitch dark on board the ship. The silence was deafening. The only sounds were the quiet whispers of those of us on watch on the bridge and the eerie creaking of the ship as it slid through the water. A flashlight or two was the only light visible except for the stern light on the Nimble. The thoughts of five of our shipmates, laying lifeless, 15 feet below us was chilling.

The ship made it to Savannah the following day. We transferred our fallen shipmates and attempted to refresh ourselves in the fact that no other lives were lost and through bravery, skill and determination, by both crews, the Exultant was saved.

In reflection of that terrible day in August, 1960, certain things stand out in my mind. For most of us the smoke was more terrifying than the fire. Unlike wood or paper smoke, this fuel smoke was thick, black and almost impossible to get away from. The loss of power was equally disturbing since it took away the ship's ability to fight the fire and remove the water. It put the burden on portable pumps, less efficient and needing gas to function. As I recall we had one 5-gallon can of gas left when the Nimble arrived. For moral that had sagged to a record low the arrival of the Nimble sent us all to cheering. The tow to Savannah was serene, but extremely unnerving. The quiet, the darkness, the creaking of the ship seemed unnatural. Finally the transferring of our lost shipmates brought a tear to many; "IRON MEN ON WOODEN SHIPS".

I cannot speak of what went on in the actual fire fighting from the fantail or the investigation that followed. I can however speak from what took place from the bridge that I observed and recorded in the official historical log book of the;

USS EXULTANT, THE SHIP THAT ALMOST DIED.

Then, QM2 CHARLIE BASHORE
LEADING QUARTERMASTER
USS EXULTANT MSO441

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USS STALWART (MSO-493) capsized and sank as a result of fire at San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 25, 1966.
She was moored to the east side of the tender pier at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on 25 June, when a fire broke out in her machinery space. Although the crew fought the fire for about nine hours, the ship capsized and sank. Stalwart was refloated by Escape (ARS-6) and Hoist (ARS-40) on 17 July and towed back to Charleston by Salinan (ATF-161) on 23 November. She was placed out of commission on 24 August 1966 and her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 March 1967. STALWART was subsequently sunk as a artifical reef off the coast of Florida.

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The minesweeper Stalwart keels over and sinks in bay at Naval Station, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Courtesy of Ron Carlson
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Courtesy of Doug Oldaker
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Courtesy of Doug Oldaker
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The minesweeper Stalwart after being refloated at San Juan
Courtesy of John Gallus
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The Stalwart, minus superstructure, moors at Naval Base, Charleston, S.C.
Courtesy of Ron Carlson
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Photo by R. C. Dawson
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Photo by John Gallus
Newspaper Articles
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NAVAL MESSAGE

251755Z June 66 (June 25, 1966, 5:55PM)
From: COMPHIBGRU TWO
To: CNO

Significant Casualty Report

1. At approx 250700Z an explosion and fire occured aboard USS Stalwart (MSO-493) at Tender Pier East Navsta San Juan.

2. Explosion apparently occurred in engine room origin unknown.

3. No personnel casualties all crew accounted for.

4. Fire being combated by local Navsta forces augmented by forces afloat. Fire has reached serious proportions with dense smoke. Ammo in fwd magazine (flooded) being removed. Ship has 20-30 degree list to stbd.

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At or about 0330R 25 June 1966 a fire was discovered in the machinery space.
At or about 1210R STALWART after approximately 9-10 hours of intensive efforts to extinguish the fire she capsized and rolled over on her starboard side and sank in 30 feet of water with a 70 degree list along side the pier. Sinking was caused by insufficient de-watering during fire fighting. There were no serious casualties or injuries sustained by the personnel combating the fire.
Fire had ravaged about 70 feet of the midships section, the main and 01 decks were burned out.
Salvage operations commenced on 26 June. Removal of topside material was started. On 5 July the USS ESCAPE (ARS-6) and USS HOIST (ARS-40) provided experienced salvors to begin the difficult task of re-floating STALWART.
She was refloated by 1900 on 16 July 1966 with a 15 degree list to starboard. Thirty-two divers and 246 diving hours were required in the salvage operation. Crew members then began the immense task of removing equipment, machinery and spare parts. On 19 July she was placed in drydock to facilitate the removal and preservation of all main and auxiliary equipment.
At 0800R 24 August 1966, STALWART was placed Out of Commission Special. On 17 November USS SALIMAN (ATF-161) departed San Juan with STALWART in tow and arrived in Charleston, SC on 22 November.

Consideration was made to repair/modernize her but eventually the decision was made to strike her from the Naval Vessel Register. It was then proposed utilizing her as a live target for training benefits but that was eventually determined not to be practical. It was then decided to sell the remaining hull for scrapping. By this time all that remained of her was the hull from the keel to the 01 level, containing steel plating on the port side, which was installed to render the hull watertight , and steel plating on the 01 deck to render her weather tight. But STALWART was subsequently sunk as a artifical reef off the coast of Florida.

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From:Dwight A Kolodgy YN1, USN (Ret)
Just a little update for you on the STALWART (my home from 1960 - 1963). When I returned home to Miami, Florida, in 1973, I found the striped hull of the STALWART sitting in a marine junkyard along the Miami River. I was aware of the fire and sinking in 1966; but what a shock it was to see her sitting there. It brought tears to my eyes. Anyway, within the next few years, the STALWART was towed to her finally resting place off Miami. She is now one of many artifical reef off the coast of Florida. At least she is resting in peace.
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USS AVENGE (MSO-423) On May 26, 1968 she started a standdown period in preparation for her forthcoming modernization. Avenge was taken in tow on August 26, 1968 for the voyage to Baltimore, Md., where she entered the Bethlehem Steel Corporation's Key Highway Shipyard on August 30, 1968. The yardwork continued into 1969. On September 27, she was drydocked at Bethlehem's Fort McHenry Shipyard in Baltimore. A fire of unknown origin broke out on October 6, 1969 just before sea trials after under going renovations and before it even got out of the drydock and caused extensive damage to the midships section of the vessel. A subsequent survey found that it would not be economically feasible to restore the vessel, and AVENGE was decommissioned on January 31, 1970. Her name was struck from the Navy list on February 1, 1970.

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BURNING DECK - A four alarm fire struck the minesweeper USS Avenge yesterday (October 6, 1969) at the Bethlehem Steel Drydock on Key Highway, where it has been undergoing a $1.25 million refitting since August, 1968. There were no injuries in the blaze in the wooden hulled 165-foot ship. But the fire burned out an engine room and damaged it's superstructure. Navy officials said the boat had been almost ready to return to the sea.
©Sunpaper photo - George H. Cook

Courtesy of Dave Janowitz
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USS SAGACITY (MSO-469) In March 1970, she grounded at the entrance to Charleston harbor, causing extensive damage to her rudders, shafts, screws, keel, and hull.She was striken on 1 OCT 1970

In the afternoon of March 19, 1970 while proceeding to Charleston harbor in a fog with visibility of about 100 yards, Sagacity grounded at the entrance to Charleston harbor on the seaward end of the south jetty at approximately 1641. She sustained extensive damage to her hull structure, port and starboard line shafting, port and starboard propellers, port and starboard rudder and sonar dome. She was refloated about three and half-hours later with the assistance of a Navy tug. There were no personnel casualties.

Sagacity was proceeding into Charleston harbor to moor at the Minelant piers. During her transit from their operation area visibility began decreasing and she slowed to a very slow speed, thus making control more difficult. The very slow speed of three knots resulted in a greater effect on the ship by wind and current than would have been experienced at slightly faster speed. At the time of grounding they believed the ship was in the center of the channel but this was later determined to be inaccurate.

The Commanding Officer immediately realized that Sagacity had grounded. He began backing down and the propellers hit a submerged rock. He ordered an emergency stop of the engines. They dropped anchor and thought they had grounded roughly amidships and action was taken to get the ship clear. It took over an hour for the first navy tug to arrive and that allowed the ship to sustain greater damage by the action of the seas and strongly running ebb tide. During that time water penetrated the hull at around frame 60 in the aft engine room under the number two main engine. The leak was under control in a matter of minutes. Sagacity eventually freed herself with the assistance of the first tug holding her stern while she operated her starboard engine. She slowly proceeded up river under her own power to her pier.

The above information is my condensation of over 140 pages of information, charts, and logs I received from the Judge Advocate General. As far as it goes, I believe it to be a fair description of events. Dick Lewis.

USS SAGACITY was later dry-docked at Deteyn's Shipyard, Wando, S.C.
Shipyard pictures

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USS FORCE (MSO-445) The Force was homeported in Guam in 1972. It left for Operation Endsweep, never to return to Guam. It caught fire and burned to the water line in route from Subic to Guam, and sank 24 April 1973 at position 13°14'North, 131°57'East in approximately 3,200 fathoms (3.6 miles) of water, off Guam.

On 24 April 1973, an electrifying message was in the air in the Western Pacific. Force transmitted the following information: "Have fire of undetermined origin in aft engine room". She gave her position as 770 miles west of Guam.

John Wright [USS Fortify (MSO-446)] supplied the following information. It is released with his permission.
I have excerpted information from the full report, and have deleted personnel names of those involved. I believe I have reported the full facts as contained in the report. The full report is six pages in length. I am not interested in "accessing blame" for the fire or it consequences.

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Date: 25 Jun 73
From: Commander Seventh Fleet
To: Judge Advocate General

Subj.: Formal investigation in the loss of USS Force (MSO-445), Report of

This thorough investigative report details the circumstances surrounding the loss of USS Force (MSO-445) following a fire at sea which occurred during the early morning hours of 24 April 1973 approximately 770 miles west of Guam, Mariana Islands. Force was steaming independently from Subic Bay enroute to Guam and was under the operational control of Commander Task Group Seven Zero pt Five (70.5) when the fire occurred. The evidence of record discloses that the fire was first detected at about 0340, the order to abandon ship was passed at 0415 and at 0430 all hands were safely in three life rafts, a small boat and a rubber raft. USS Force sank at position 13 degrees 14' N, 131 degrees 57' E in approximately 3,200 fathoms of water at about 1053. By 1050 the first SAR aircraft was overhead and at about 1900 the British M.V. Spraynes effected the successful recovery of the entire crew.

The investigative report reveals that the fire originated in the vicinity of the turbo-charger of number one main engine in the after engine room. The after engine room watch reported the fire but failed to reverse the pitch, consequently, the inertia flywheel continued to drive the effected engine for several minutes thereby pumping fuel to the fire. It further appears that the after engine room ventilation and exhaust blowers were not de-energized, the efforts of the two after engine room watchstanders to fight the fire were completely ineffective. A portable CO2 bottle was rendered inoperable in their haste and a PKP bottle was used without appreciable effect. Use of fire hoses or the foam system was apparently not considered, the fire quickly spread and the heat and smoke forced the evacuation of the space. The main hatch and one of two excape scuttles were left open, the forward engine room watchstanders were equally uncoordinated and ineffectual in responding to the emergency. The electrician on watch failed to de-energize any of the ventilation systems or other electrical circuits, as he was required to do. Therefore all critical ventilation systems continued to operate providing oxygen to the fire and distributing heavy black smoke throughout the ship. The board in the forward engine room was not stripped until Petty Officer ******* was able to reach that space some ten minutes later, by that time, the fire was out of control. The boiler flats were in flames and the 185 kW generator had inexplicable failed, depriving the ship of fire main pressure. At this point in time, the fate of Force was effectively sealed. The efforts of the repair party were limited to investigation and an uncessessful attempt to establish fire boundaries. The only fire fighting apparatus brought directly to bear on the fire was a single PKP bottle utilized by a fireman apprentice on the after engine room watch. No member of the repair party nor any member of the crew attempted to bring a fire hose to bear on the fire in the after engine room or the boiler flats nor was the installed foam system ever brought into use against the fire..............

The engine room foam system in Force was so aligned that it could not be activated without first opening a valve on the 01 level.

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This is the First Hand Account of the Fire (received January, 2000) from Vic DiMaio, who was a Radioman on board the Force on that fateful day, April 24, 1973. What an amazing and clear memory Mr. DiMaio has after almost 27 years! It is made public with his permission.
I am truely HONORED to be able to make this HEROIC account public on my little o' web page.

Hello all:

This is my attempt to explain what happened to me and the crew of the USS Force that day in 1973. I've never seen the official report, and I've never been in contact with any other crewmember to refresh my memory since going our separate ways 27 years ago. I've tried to contact the few crewmates that I remember through the use of the internet; so far I've had no luck. I don't have any technical explanation to the cause of the fire except to say that a supercharger leaking fuel oil onto the engine was given. I don't believe there were any pictures taken of the Force during the incident, however the SAR aircraft that was at the scene may have taken a few shots before MSO 445 went down. Please excuse any misspelling, and any misuse of Naval terminology.

I'm from the Philadelphia area, Ridley Park, Pa. to be exact. After graduation from High School in 1970 the Vietnam War was going full tilt. With no job prospects, no money for college, and one of the final drafts looming I enlisted in the Navy in Sept. of 1970. After boot camp I went to Radar "A" school, both of which I attended at Great Lakes, Illinois. At that time I had never been more than a 100 miles from home. Since I wanted to see some of the U.S. my "wish list" was made out with California in mind, and hoping to avoid Vietnam I requested duty on an MSO. What did I know? One of my "wishes" came true; I was stationed to the USS Engage homeported in Long Beach. My second "wish" was quickly put to rest when the duty officer on the quarterdeck informed me "not to get too comfortable in Long Beach, because we're leaving for our new homeport in Guam, and then it's off to Vietnam".

When we arrived in Guam I was informed that there was a shortage of RD's (OS's now) on the USS Force and that I was being transferred effective immediately. (An interesting aside: CDR Lloyd Bucher, USS Pueblo fame, was the head of the Mine Squadron in Guam at the time. I seen him a few times.) It was off to Vietnam with me on board MSO 445.

The Force had spent two years on and off in Vietnam when the war was finally over. We were directed to take part in Operation End Sweep, which entailed minesweeping operations in Haiphong Harbor, North Vietnam. After the successful conclusion to End Sweep we headed toward Subic Bay before our eventual return to Guam.

At approximately 0330 April 24, 1973 I was awakened by Sound & Security (can't believe I remember that appellation) for my 4-8 watch in CIC. If I remember correctly we relieved the watch 15 minutes early to get a turn over. After getting ready I stumbled out of forward berthing onto the mess deck. One can see the engine room door from the mess deck, I believe it was near the beginning of the chow line. This morning it was open and there was an unusual odor coming from that area (there was no smoke, but I believe there was a slight haze in the general area). It seemed to me at that instant that something was wrong. After spending enough time in one place I think you can almost sense that something is not right. As I turned to go up the first ladder that leads from the mess deck to the radio room GQ was sounded over the 1 mc by the OOD (time: aprox. 0340). By the time I hit the second ladder leading from the radio room to CIC the Fire call was going out over the 1 mc. I went into CIC and took up my GQ position on one of the 'scopes, the whole time thinking that this was a drill, albeit a strange time to have a drill, but a drill nevertheless. CIC quickly filled up with 4 RD's and the Operations Officer all taking their GQ stations (time: aprox. O345). I remember everyone being dazed and confused, wondering what was going on. The Operation Officer was talking to the bridge, and the rest of us RD's were trying to talk to our connections on the head sets (I think I was connected to one of the bridge watches) trying to get any information that was available. The word I got was that there was definitely a fire and it was located in the engine room. The time was approximately 0355-0400 when the power was lost and we were dead in the water, and the odor of smoke could be detected through out the CIC. The battle lamps came on, and I remember feeling a sense of complete helplessness sitting at the radarscope in the darkness not knowing what exactly was happening. I don't remember any panic by anyone in CIC; of coarse we didn't realize at the time the dangerous conditions that were taking place in other areas of the ship. I remember a lot of talking on the headphones and some shouting going on. After about 5 minutes of sitting, I remember getting up and walking to the rear hatch in the CIC, this hatch led to a stack deck that when opened one could just about see the fan tail if I remember correctly. I remember the Ops Officer telling me to either sit down, or to be careful, I can't remember which, but I was determined to open that hatch and take a look outside. I remember feeling the hatch (like we're trained in fire fighting school) and it felt slightly warm. I opened the door and all I remember was seeing flames and smoke around the area of the fantail and the rear of the stack deck. I closed the hatch immediately and told everyone what I had seen. At that instant I knew we were in real trouble and we had to get out of CIC to either help with the fire fighting efforts, or get out of the way of the fire.

Abandoning ship didn't enter my mind at this time, I remember sitting back down at my scope and approximately 3 or 4 minutes later the word came down to muster on the forecastle (time: approx. 0410). When we got to the forecastle there was 25 or 30 crew members there with more coming every second. I remember standing on the forecastle looking down the port side. Smoke was everywhere and once in awhile I'd see flames licking the aft bottom of the superstructure. The men that were fighting the fire looked to be in complete chaos, they were shouting at one another, and I could make out the panic in their eyes some of them had smudged faces from the effects of fighting the fire. The fire was being fought mostly by the HT's, Bosun mates and engine room personnel. I remember the men on the forecastle, I included, making a surge toward mid ships on the port side to try and help in any way we could. This effort was quickly shouted down by an Officer with a bullhorn from the bridge, it might have been the Captain. Through the smoke and the haze I remember a light coming from midships port side, whether this was an emergency light of some sort, or light coming from the flames I don't recall, but everything was dark, it wasn't pitch black however. I recall a few fire fighters coming up to the forecastle and laying down on the deck as if trying to catch their breath, they were attended to by 2 or 3 crew mates. I wasn't worried about the fire that much at the time, but the fear of an explosion was going through my head, and that's when I was starting to get a little panicky. All this had taken place within the time span of about 5 minutes, when the Captain on the bridge told us to start getting ready to abandon ship. The last word after the call to abandon ship was that the nearest landfall was 500 miles to our south. I believe the name of the Island was given, but I don't remember what it was. (time: approx. 0415)

I recall life preservers being handed out and the life rafts being thrown over board from the port side only. I think that the starboard side was completely inundated with fire and the rafts on that side could not be accessed. The crew started jumping overboard, I believe we were in rows of 3 or 4 about 5 feet apart. I didn't have a preserver on and I didn't really want one, because I considered myself a good swimmer and felt that a preserver would prohibit me from getting to a life raft quickly (more about my swimming ability later). I was around the fifteenth man to jump over board; I went over the lifelines and without hesitation jumped feet first. I guess the drop was about 30 or 40 feet and I distinctly remember about half way down that the fear of there being sharks in the water hit me (I have an interesting story about swim call at Tinian Island that I'll tell some time. If you remember the USS Indianapolis you'll know about Tinian Island.) When I hit the dark water I immediately started swimming toward the nearest life raft, it was about 20 feet away. The water temperature was relatively warm probably around 75 degrees and thank God the seas were calm. (When I do think back to this incident I wonder what would have happened in a storm?) When I reached it there were already 3 men on board and they helped me up. The description of the rafts is a little hazy to me now, but I believe they were about 12 - 15 feet long and about 5 feet wide. I seem to recall that some of them had a top that probably was used to protect one from the elements, one or two didn't. The one I was on had half of the top flopping down to the bottom of the raft. I sat on the end of the raft facing the ship and began helping other men on board trying to keep the top up so they could get inside. The guys on the other end were bailing out water that had accumulated in the bottom of the raft, which seemed futile, because each time a new crewmate would come aboard more water would come in. Thankfully the raft was pretty sturdy and it seemed that no amount of water would sink us. I think there were four life rafts maybe five I'm not sure, and they must have been all full, I think there were 12 - 15 men on mine. Although it was still dark out I had a good view as to what was going on out on the water, because I had remained at the end of the raft. I could see a couple of the other rafts with men climbing on board, and our ship still burning with men still jumping off. I suppose at this time we were about 100 feet from the burning ship. The fire was still concentrated around mid ships aft.

At this point all sense of time escapes me, I can only recall the time of events by how dark, or light it was, any time is just a guesstimate on my part. I can't remember any conversations that were taking place although some men were quiet, and probably in a state of shock. I continued to look out of my end of the raft and the next event I remember was the Captain standing on the forecastle looking at us on the water and then back at the fire, he was the last man to abandon ship. It was still dark out and I can still picture him silhouetted by the flames shooting up from the fire. At this time the lifelines were down on the port side of the ship, and I recall the Captain diving into the water, not jumping but diving. I remember thinking to myself how stupid it was for him to do that, he could have hit something in the water that was floating by. I guess it may have been his last act of bravado, I don't know. The Captain swam toward a life raft without a top and got on board. We were ordered to try to form up and connect the rafts together by rope, and try to paddle away from the burning ship (I don't know if the rope was part of the rafts' gear). Eventually we managed to get the rafts tied together, and the drift of the ocean carried us away from our burning ship.

I suppose an hour and half went by and the sun was starting to rise. The Captain had passed the word that a radio signal had been sent out about our condition, but no reply had been received. He was certain that someone received the signal in Guam, and the XO had confirmed what the Captain had said. I was getting a better look at our burning ship, as it became morning. We were about 1000 yards away when it was bright enough to see our watery surroundings. I could see more smoke than an actual fire coming from the Force. Most of the smoke was white and every once in a while a belch of black smoke would appear. After all this time the fire still seemed to be concentrated near mid ships and below decks, perhaps a little more forward since the time we had abandoned ship. The next event I remember was that the Captain had a hand held radio. The radio's antenna was sent aloft with the use of some sort of box kite, and I remember the radio having a hand crank which when turned sent out an SOS signal. I don't remember any panic among the crew and there was no talk about trying to make land. I think I recall the Captain talking about staying within sight of our ship in order to be easily spotted when help came. Everyone seemed to be in pretty good shape with the exception of a few fire fighters that were coughing a lot, but seemed to be OK. At some point I remember the Captain trying to signal B52's heading toward Guam from Vietnam with a small mirror that was probably part of the survival gear on board the raft. I imagine the bombers flew at about 30,000 ft. and we had no chance of being spotted by them.

I don't know how much time went by when we seen the rescue aircraft, my guess would be about 4 hours which would make it about 0900 or 1000, the ship was now about 2 or 3 miles from us. The aircraft (I don't know what kind of airplane) was small and it circled the Force a few times and then headed toward us. It circled us a few times and then began dropping equipment to us. They dropped about 3 rafts and we headed toward them, they inflated into what seemed to be a swimming pool about 20 feet in diameter. Some of the men jumped into the new rafts to relieve the overcrowding and I was one of them. The new rafts were equipped with sea anchors (something like a parachute) that when deployed in the water kept down the amount of drifting we were doing.

The word was passed from the Captain that the airplane was going to drop a radiotelephone (I don't know how he knew this) and he asked for a volunteer to retrieve it once it was dropped. I immediately volunteered for the job, I considered myself the best swimmer of the group and I had no fear of the water. I saw the radio dropping from the plane, and the second it hit the water I was off like a shot. I swam as hard as I could, but to no avail, the drift of the ocean was carrying the radio or me away faster than I could swim. I was about 50 ft. from the rafts when I gave up, a feeling of dread overcoming me. This feeling was so powerful that I was almost paralyzed with fear. I have never felt like that before, nor since. I guess a shot of adrenaline kicked in plus the thought of what could be in the water with me, and I swam back to the rafts in world record time. One of the rafts lifted their sea anchor, and the men using makeshift paddles were able to get to the radio and return safely. I vividly remember them paddling toward the radio with their T-shirts wrapped around their heads grunting some Hawaiian Kellogg's cereal advertisement tune that was popular at the time, and the Captain screaming at them to come back. They went regardless of the Captain's admonitions, and during their return the Captain was lecturing us about discipline. (Now that I think about: the raft the crew was using to pick up the radio may have actually been the "Z" boat, the raft used in minesweeping ops. - I wonder if that term is still being used?)

The rescue airplane circled us for the next 10 minutes or so, I guess enough time to pass some information to the Captain and it flew off. The Captain passed the word that a British tanker was in our general area and she was on her way to us. The time spent waiting for the British tanker is generally a haze. I recall having to urinate badly, and I eventually went into the water again to relieve myself. I sampled some of the rations that are a part of the raft survival gear. I remember drinking the canned water which was terrible, and eating some candy (Chuckles I think) which weren't too bad. I was also thinking about all the things that I had that were still on board (No one took any personal effects with them, just the clothes on our backs).

I again focused on our burning ship. After the airplane left us we were now a considerable distance, I guess 4 or 5 miles from her. It looked as though the entire superstructure was engulfed in smoke, and some flames were visible. I recall the Captain commenting that maybe we should have stayed aboard and fought the fire, of course hindsight is always 20/20. I would say not more that 30 minutes had passed after he made that comment that the Force started to turn in the water. Until this time we only had a view of her port side, now we were getting a 360-degree view of the ship. She turned slowly a few times and then began to sink, like something caught in a slow whirlpool. It wasn't like the Titanic, I heard nothing, there were no explosions, and she quietly twirled in the water until her bow was under and then she was gone. I guess all this happened within the span of about 15 minutes. I don't remember what I felt at the time, I suppose with all that had happened over the last 8 hours or so I was somewhat in shock.

The British tanker Spraynes eventually came to our rescue, it was still daylight when she came in sight. I don't recall any important details while aboard the tanker. I remember getting the word that we were going to Okinawa for an inquiry as to what had transpired. Most of the crew was upset (me included) with the hearing-taking place in Okinawa, we all wanted to go to Subic, and we felt it was a more appropriate place. I don't recall how long the inquiry lasted. I was called in front of the board because they were trying to determine the time GQ was sounded, and since I was on my way to CIC to relieve the watch my testimony may have had some relevance. To this day I have no idea of the outcome, or any decisions that were rendered by this hearing.

After a few weeks we were transported back to Guam (again we thought it should be Subic) to await our next duty assignments. I don't recall if the CO or XO were with us at the time. We landed in Guam and a few Admirals and Generals greeted us when we deplaned. As I waited for my orders to another ship I was assigned to barracks duty for the next 2 months. We were issued a new sea bag containing all summer wear, no pea coat, or blues. For the loss of my personal effects I was given a check for $1,100. Can you imagine all your property, your home and personal things being burned up in a fire and then receiving $1,100? We weren't given any special leave for what had happened, apparently survivors leave is only granted if you loose your ship during a battle.

I did get a cushy assignment however, I was ordered to the USS Henderson DD 785, a reserve tin can home ported out of Long Beach. I spent the last year in Navy as an OS2 going out to sea once a month with a bunch of guys who got sea sick when the colors were lowered and the lines thrown off.

Some statements and rumors:

I've seen in a post in the minesweeper group that the Captains' rattan furniture that he was transporting back to Guam was somehow responsible for the intensity of the fire. My only comment is that 2 chairs and a couch seemed like a lot of furniture to a sailor whose home is an MSO. The Captains furniture was no way near the initial out break of the fire.

There may have been Soviet or U.S. submarines in the area at the time of the incident. They may have been poised to pick us.

The Howard Hughs ship was in the general vicinity at the time, the one that tried to retrieve the Soviet submarine.

There was a huge fuel bladder that was on the fantail filled with fuel the day before the fire. Thankfully it was empty during the incident.

One last remark: When I think back to the sinking of the Force, I'm amazed that no one was killed, or seriously injured.

Vic DiMaio

Picture
© copyright Vic DiMaio
This is a picture of the crew just before leaving Okinawa. The Captain is crouching at the extreme right, the XO to his left. I'm in the rear standing the 11th from the right, and it looks as though I'm holding a white box. I count about 58 crew members.

Picture
This is an article written about me in my home town newspaper, The Delaware County Times.

Picture
This is the only Official record I had up until January, 2000 regarding the incident.

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This is a picture from the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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Life After The Navy

Ex- USS Conflict - 426?, or USS Endurance - 435?, or USS Guide - 447?, or the Loyalty - 457?

A Fire in June 1976 on the "Aquasition" an Ex MSO that was overhauled/renovated by Fairfield Geophysical and retrofitted as a seismic research vessel and named "Aquasition"

I am trying to gather some information on and identify a particular MSO that was decommissioned and sold to a buyer in California on or about 1973/74. It was retrofitted as a seismic research vessel and named "Aquasition". The company (Fairfield/Aquatronics) that operated the vessel was based in Houston, but the vessel was overhauled in Long Beach. I worked two summers aboard that vessel offshore California and Gulf of Alaska. In the month of June, 1976, she suffered a catastrophic fire while underway 30 or so miles off the coast of San Diego. Both the Coast Guard and the US Navy responded to our maydays with two cutters, helicopters, and the guided missile cruiser, USS Leahy, who happened to be in the vicinity. The 22 crew members of the Aquasition were rescued by Navy lifeboats (some of us being plucked out of the water). Fire personnel aboard the Leahy unsuccessfully fought the fire for some 9 hours, eventually resorting to setting charges and scuttling her.

After going through the list of MSO's on the web, I've narrowed the list of possibilities (according to disposal dates) to either the Conflict - 426, the Endurance - 435, the Guide - 447, or the Loyalty - 457.

In 1975, while a geophysics student at Texas A&M, I got a summer job for Fairfield Geophysical (later to become Aquatronics Geophysical) based in Houston, Texas. I was sent to Long Beach early June and first saw the boat at that time. I remember specifically being told she was a Korean war vintage minesweeper, 170 or so ft. long, wooden hull, and was wrapped internally with de-gaussing cables. She was undergoing the final touches of her overhaul/renovation. I was put to work scraping and painting and installing wood paneling in the captains's quarters. Most of the serious work had been completed by then. I don't know if any major hull, engine, prop work had been done, but I do seem to recall that the overhaul had taken several months. The outfitting Fairfield had done to get her ready for geophysical work involved several large winches on the fantail for towing seismic cable arrays, and other equipment, and installing a computer room midship with all the data recorders and processors. I seem to recall the total cost of the project being around $4 million. I don't think Fairfield owned her outright but was partnered (or in some lease agreement) with the original owner of the boat (the name Rick comes to mind, and I think he was from Long Beach). There was a lot of excitement about using the minesweepers for geophysical work, due to the wooden hull. I think we were the first to use an MSO for this type of work, and the whole industry was watching us carefully to see the results. Fairfield specialized in doing shallow water geophysical surveys, primarily engineering studies for pipeline, and offshore platform placement. We ran high-resolution seismic, magnetometers (hence the bonus of having a wooden boat), gravitometers, side-scan sonar, and occasionally underwater video. Some of our clients back then were Texaco, Arco, Chevron, etc.

About mid-June, we received our first job in the Gulf of Alaska. Normally we ran a total crew of about 25. Ten or so actual contracted boat crew, and the remainder being Fairfield employees. I was a junior seismic observer, and so spent a lot of time watching flashing lights and data coming off the recorders. We also spent a lot of time fixing the cable arrays. Sharks for some reason found the cables pretty tasty or were just curious. The trip from Long Beach to Alaska was scheduled to take 8 to 10 days, so all of the Fairfield crew, except me, was sent home (and would later fly back to Alaska). Not being one to miss out on an adventure, I volunteered to stay on with the boat crew and help pilot her to the Gulf. The Captain saw something in me as he made me second mate and gave me the two 4 to 8 watches at the wheel. Not bad for a 19 year old who had never been out to sea before. Our destination was Yakutat, a small fishing village on the coast, about halfway between Juneau and Anchorage. Some of my most vivid memories of that boat was how she behaved in big seas. With her hull shape and shallow draft she would really roll, and then going straight through big swells, the boat would ride up a crest and then slam down into the trough with such a force that it would shake your teeth loose. Or at least levitate you out of the bunk if you happened to be sleeping in the bow quarters.

I rejoined the crew the following summer in late May ('76). I don't know what the boat had been doing in the 9 months that had passed, but I presume it had stayed offshore CA as there were a number of offshore lease sales for oil exploration going on. We spent a few weeks doing some work around the Channel Islands, and then around the third week of June, we came into San Diego to provision. I don't remember the exact date, but we docked on a Friday, spent the better part of Saturday in the bars, and then early Sunday morning left port to return to a new job. A replacement water heater had been installed in the engine room over the weekend, and would prove to be the cause of the fire. We had been underway for 3 or 4 hours and most of the company crew were sleeping late (or sleeping off the late-night partying), when I awoke to the smell of smoke. I first thought the cook had burned breakfast when various alarms started going off and the call went out for everyone to get up on deck. No one had time to retrieve anything as smoke began to fill below decks. The fire had started in the engine room and was probably associated with the water heater. It very quickly spread to the bilges as we had had a diesel spill just a few days before. All of the company crew were herded up on the bow while the boat crew did their best to fight the fire. There were 22 of us on board. It soon become obvious that the situation was out of control and a mayday was sent out. About that time an Irish freighter was passing by and offered assistance. The seas were a bit rough, 10-12 foot swells, and the freighter crew fumbled around for 30 minutes or so trying to deploy their lifeboats. About that time, we noticed a dot on the horizon that rapidly grew from a dot to a large ship. It was the USS Leahy, a guided missile cruiser, that had been out in the shipping lanes and had heard our distress call. They went to flank speed and were at our side within 45 minutes. Before we knew who they were, however, the freighter had given up and pulled away, and we were trying to make the decision as to whether we should get in our own lifeboats. The fire was completely out of control by then and smoke was billowing out of every scupper and every hatch. The Leahy crew got us all off safely using their own lifeboats about the time that the Coast Guard showed up with two cutters and two helicopters. Then the fire fighting started in earnest. What ensued was somewhat of a comedy of errors, as the fire fighting techniques of the two groups (Navy and CG) were not necessarily compatible. The Navy was blanketing the decks with foam (I remember it was pink in color) while the CG copters dropped a powder of some sort from the air, while the cutters simply hosed the whole mess off the decks and into the sea with their water cannons. The Coast Guard eventually retired from the scene and left the job to the Leahy crew. They actually put quite a number of men on board and below decks to fight the fire and eventually used the entire complement of foam they had on board. After 8 or so hours of getting nowhere, they cast her off and we watched as it drifted a half mile or so away when an explosion scuttled her and down she went. I surmised they set charges to sink her and get her out of harm's way. The Navy personnel were wonderful. They fed us, gave us clothes to wear (some of us only got away with a pair of boxers), and took us back to San Diego. Of course all the local media were there with TV crews, etc. We made the headlines of the San Diego paper and I believe the LA Times. My parents first heard of the event on the NBC nightly news. My parents have saved those papers, so I could get the exact dates from those (I believe it was the 17th of June, give or take a week).

The loss of the Aquasition was financial disaster for the company, as it was the beginning of the end. Within six months of that loss, the company had a boat in the Red Sea that was shot at by the Israelis after it was mistaken for an Egyptian spy boat. Then they lost a boat in Nicaragua to a capsizing (3 crew drowned).

Blake Weissling
May, 2002

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I think I will start a section about various casualties that are emailed to me.

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USS IMPLICIT Fire 1967/1968 (approx)
While I was aboard Implicit we suffered a forward engine room fire. It was devastating. The evaporators were located directly below a day fuel storage tank in the forward engine room. The investigation revealed that fuel was dripping on some exposed contacts atop the evaporators. The forward engine room was gutted. I was in the head and remember clearly an engineman came racing through the compartment giving the alarm. The fire raged for hours. My GQ Station was the 40mm gun mount and we pulled out an engineman striker named Walker (First name escapes me) but it was through his efforts the ship was saved. He was on watch at the time and STAYED in the engine room and battled the blaze. When Walker was pulled out from the forward berthing compartment hatch there was no flesh on his forearms. He was evacuated by helicopter. To Cam Ranh Bay, I think. I never saw Walker again but scuttlebutt was he was awarded the Bronze Star for his courageous actions that day. The electrical load was shifted to the main engine room and we made it to Subic Bay under our own steam. Clean-up took a long time as I recall.
Mike O'Kane [12/12/1999]

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USS VITAL Fire 1963
Just before I went on board the USS Vital MSO 474 in 1963 at Panama City there was a fire in the forward engine room. A fellow that had been in the hospital for months was released back to duty. His hands were burned real bad and he wore special deerskin gloves. He alone went into the engine room and opened the fire extingusher at the bottom of the ladder without hand protection and this put the fire out. Later he received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for this action on board the Vital. If I am not mistaken John Stokes that is listed as a crew member is this sailor.
Walter Goswick, 9/2000

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USS ENHANCE Fire March 17, 1973, during Operation Endsweep
Fire Pictures

During Operation Endsweep Enhance was providing air control and navigation assistance to Unit Delta when the latter unit began the Hon Gai sweep. It was a short-lived assignment for the minesweeper.

On 17 March 1973, a fire started in the forward engine room of the ship, anchored in the outer approaches to Passe Henriette. She was located one mile from shore near a mid-channel buoy. When the fire was reported to the task force flagship, there was some confusion in the vessel's combat information center regarding the minesweeper's exact location. Inchon, the closest of the "heavies", was some ten miles away. Commander Task Group 78.0 organized the assistance effort while the commanding officer of Inchon served as the on-scene commander.

Inchon vectored her own CH-46 helicopter and a Marine CH-46 toward the estimated location of Enhance. The area was studded with high, steep-sided, rocky islands resembling the buttes in America's western states. They presented excellent radar targets but were a danger to aircraft. When the two CH-46s were over the scene of the emergency, the Inchon helicopter was instructed to descend through a 300-foot cliff and to establish visual contact with the vessel. By this time, Enhance had lost all power and her lights were extinguished. Yet the aircraft crew noticed moving lights on the deck and guessed correctly that these were flashlights in the hands of the ship's crew; lights on a fishing vessel would have been steadier. The helicopter trained its landing lights on the fantail of the ship and lowered a sailor carrying a portable radio to reestablish communication.

Soon, USS Safeguard (ARS-25) arrived and assisted with the firefighting. Helicopters were kept aloft over the stricken minesweeper. Any thoughts of abandoning ship were dismissed. The USS Pluck provided assistance along with several other Naval vessels. There arrival was delayed because they had problems getting to us because of the mine field. The fire finally was extinguished, but the damage was so extensive that Enhance needed a tow to Subic by USS Chowanoc. Total repairs for the fire damage was $294,000.

Here is a first hand account from Ed Gallett, Enginemam Third Class:

On March 17 1973 I was standing the 4 to 12 watch on the Enhance. I had completed my rounds of the forward compartments and was enroute to the forward engine room. About halfway down, I noticed flames coming from the rear of the starboard engine. It was going up the bulkhead, deck bilges and towards the day tank. The first thing I did was sound the alarm. I got on the ships phone and called the bridge.

Things happened very quickly after that. I don't remember much that happened after that. The senior engineering gang, damage control, and some deck hands did the fighting of the fire. They used up about everything in sight; it took a while for help to arrive. It sure was great to see them, I think the fire lasted about ten hours. I am not sure, it sure took a long time. Most of the crew was flown to the USS Inchon. A skeleton crew remained aboard and rode her to Subic Bay where she underwent extensive repair. A board of inquiry was held and it was determined that a fuel line that was behind the turbochargers had sprung a leak, resulting fuel being ignited when it was sucked into the turbochargers. Because the engine was still running a blowtorch was created from where the fuel line was leaking. After the Enhance was in Subic and repair work was under way, I salvaged the fuel line or what was the remains of it and some of the electrical tray that was nearby. Through the years I have lost the fuel line but I still have a piece of her even though she has been dismantled in a very disgusting way. All in all the fire was fought very courageously by the others, it was a very hectic night, and some of it is still a blur, but I sure remember the first of this event. If the pictures taken of the event were recorded by a crewmember, then they were taken the next morning. The fog sure looks like the morning after. I owe thanks to a lot of people.

Well, thank you for letting me get this out and if any of you who were there want, you may e-mail me, and feel free to do so.

Thank you,

Edward Gallett, EN3, June, 2001

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USS EXCEL Fire Nov 12, 1973
San Francisco, California
Fire Pictures

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USS Endurance Collision with HMS Rorqual June 13, 1969
Subic Bay, Philippines
While moored at River Point pier, Subic Bay, Philippines, stern to the pier, the Royal Navy diesel submarine HMS Rorqurl SS2 approached a little too fast, ramming Endurance midships. No one was injured, but damaged was done to the Chief's Head and Chief's ward room. Rorqurl's telegraphman turned the port engine order telegraph in the wrong direction causing the port engine to go "half ahead" vice "half astern.
Collision pictures

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I received the following information from Rick Szpyrka:

Atlantic 01/20/56: The USS James V. Forrestal (CVA-59) collides with the USS Pinnacle (MSO-462) at Norfolk, Virginia, slightly damaging the Pinnacle.

Pacific 06/13/69: The Royal Navy diesel submarine HMS Rorqual bumps into the USS Endurance (MSO-435) while docking at River Point pier in Subic Bay, Philippines.
Picture

Pacific 01/05/75: The USS Enhance (MSO-437) is disabled by an engine room fire when a ruptured "O" ring in a lube oil filter causes the turbocharger to explode while operating 43 miles south of San Diego, California.
Picture

Atlantic 07/20/77: The USS Direct (MSO-430) is badly damaged by a two-hour engine room fire about 120 miles southeast of Newport, Rhode Island,and is taken under tow to Newport where it arrives the next day.

Atlantic 09/27/78: The USS Detector (MSO-429) suffers a fire in the main engineroom ten miles south of New London, Connecticut, and is towed to Newport, Rhode Island.


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