Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Safety, Secrecy, Diplomacy, Near Tragedy and Finally, Sanity.

An essay in evolutionary process development.

Unlike all my other Stories of the Cold War, I have no first person source for this.  This is a collection of things "I heard" and then connected the dots.  Feel free to call bullshit if you want. 
Contrary to Hollywood’s stereotyping, the military actually does a lot of thinking about how it does things.  And most of the time, it has good reasons for what it does.  But also being an organization of over 2 million people, mistakes are made, through neglect, stupidity, or ignorance.

The following is actually a series of stories I have heard, each individually, and then one night, in a minor epiphany, I realized that they were all related.

The first starts with an explanation.  For reasons of safety, missile warheads, and the missile boosters, were kept in separate areas.  Like high caliber guns of old, where the gunpowder was kept separate from the shells.  In addition, every missile had a code on it to identify its particular characteristics, like beam riding, anti-radiation, nuclear, and test.  For the last two, to make sure there were no mistakes, were also color coded purple and blue.  Test boosters, since they had no actual engines, were also painted blue.

The first story was a short and anecdotal.  A missile cruiser was doing morning  missile exercises, which involved putting the test missiles on the rails and slewing them about.  This was, in turn, observed by personnel on nearby ships.  Reportedly, a junior seaman mentioned to a buddy that the cruiser had nuclear missiles on launcher. 

His buddy said, “How do you know this?”

The seaman replied, “Everyone knows that the Nuc’s are painted a different color.”

The fact that he only had half the facts didn’t matter.  He was overheard by an Admiral, who was appalled by the fact that it was general knowledge that Nuc’s had a different painting scheme.  A short time later, the order went down to paint all the Nuc’s white.

Talos T-SAM onboard USS Oklahoma City
Copyright 2008 Phillip R. Hays.
The second story took place on the Oklahoma City, CG-5.  A tour was being given to visiting Japanese dignitaries.  These tours usually ended with the visitors being taken to the rear of the ship, and treated to a roll out of the Talos missiles.  Being over 32ft long, this roll out is a very impressive sight.

Somewhere along the tour, the very sensitive subject of nuclear missiles came up.  The official statement was always, "I can neither confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons aboard USS Oklahoma City".  But, during this tour, the tour guide mentioned as an aside, that you can tell if you were looking at nuclear missiles, because regular missiles are all painted white.  It seems that the word on the new paint jobs had not filtered to general knowledge.

Out rolled the blue test missiles.  The touring Japanese reportedly freaked out in a number of ways, including fainting. 

Tartar launch from USS Chicago

The order came down fleet wide, to paint the T-SAM’s white as well.

Some time later, on-board USS Chicago, berthed in San Diego.  While performing routine morning missile exercises, known as DSOT, the missile house personnel accidentally loaded a live Tartar missile onto the rails instead of the T-SAM.  When the computer generated target reached the correct range, the firing officer pushed the pickle, and instead of an light going on to indicate the completion of a circuit in a T-SAM, the rest of the ship was awakened to the whoosh and roar of departing Tartar missile that was just fired over Coronado Island.  At this time I cannot verify the ship and launch, but several years ago I was able to.  If someone has more information, please let me know.

By the time I was in the Navy, sanity had prevailed, and the color code schemes were re-instituted.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Too Close to God.

It is 1969, and FTG3 Dimson* was in a sad state.  He was going to have to deliver some bad news to a close friend of his.  He was asked by his friend if he could organize a ship wide blood drive for the Red Cross, and in return, the Red Cross would forgo any fees for blood needed for a critical operation.  This would save someone hundreds of dollars.  Which in 1969, was a substantial amount.

There was an understood quid pro quo here.  Any sailor who gave blood got the rest of the day off.  It was a win for the Red Cross, who could easily get 100 pints at one session, a win for the Navy marketing as a force for good, a win for the poor person requiring the operation, and a win the individual sailor, who got the day off.

But some people didn’t see it that way.  In this case, the XO of the ship, who approved the blood drive, but not the liberty chits.  With that piece of news, FTG3 Dimson** found his list of potential donors dwindling to below the minimum number that the Red Cross required to set up a station.

So, he had to make a phone call to his friend with the bad news.  He explained the sad story to her, and was somewhat surprised at her nonplussed response,  “That’s ok, you did you best, I’ll see what I can do”.

He hung up the payphone and took the long walk down the pier and rejoined his division in their efforts to repaint their Mk 56 gun director.

A day went by when a message was passed on the 1MC.  “Petty Officer Dimson, lay to the XO’s Stateroom.”

Now any E4 would think, “What have I done wrong now?”  And with Dimson’s character, maybe, “What did they find out?”  But no matter what you have done, it is still highly unusual to be summoned to the 2nd in commands quarters.

Well sweated from a day in the sun, and with a uniform full of rust and paint chips, he headed for the wardroom.  He read the plaques on the doors 1 by 1 till he found the one for the XO.  The door was closed, but there was some loud voices emanating from within, not enough to make out the words, but louder than expected.  He assumed the parade rest position.

A minute later the Captain strode down the passageway, and after exchanging salutes he commanded Dimson to go in and have a seat. 

The Captain entered the room, and said, “XO, I told Petty Officer Dimson to be seated”, and then left the room.

Inside was a disheveled and very sorry looking Commander.  The XO was on the telephone and the conversation went something like this:
“No Sir.”
“Yes Sir.”
“Yes Sir.”
“No Mister Secretary.”
“Yes Mister Secretary.”
“Yes Mister Secretary.”
“No Mister President.”
“No Mister President.”
“Yes Mister President.”
“Yes Mister President.”

The beratement went on for some time, after which he hung up the phone and looked at Dimson with an expression of both dread and relief.  He then handed Dimson a special request chit for 96 hours liberty, checked approved, with the XO being the only signature.  “Get off my ship”, he growled.

At this point Dimson still had no idea what just happened, but packed a ditty bag and left for four days.  When he returned, he was greeted at the gangplank with another 96 hour liberty pass.  This was repeated 5 more times for the next month.  After which he was allowed on board, but was transferred soon afterwards.

As Paul Harvey would say, this is the rest of the story.

Petty Officer Dimson finally contacted his friend, and related these strange events, and she explained what she knew.

Sometime in the past, she had dialed a wrong number, and the phone was picked up by then President Kennedy.  There was some chuckles and conversation, and basically she wound up on the Presidential Christmas Card list.  Once a year she would make a call wishing Kennedy a Merry Christmas.  After his assassination, her contact was maintained through his successors, Johnson and Nixon.  When she got word of the broken promise she decided that this was worth her one wish, and made a call to President Nixon.  Her plea was something like “I thought the Navy always helped.”  To which Nixon replied, “Why yes, the Navy always helps.”  And with that she rebutted, “But it didn’t.”

And within 24 hours, there was a response.  Befuddling one low ranked sailor and blindsiding a Navy Commander.

As to the number of 96 hour liberties, and subsequent transfer, the thought on that is that FTG3 Dimson, was just too close to God for anyone’s comfort.

*Not his real name for obvious reasons.
**Still not his real name.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Swimming Pool is Secured While Refueling.

One of the missions of the Navy is to project ground troops on shore.  Initially the Navy took to this mission like a fish to flight, but was embarrassed into accepting the role in WWII only after the Army solved most of the “Last Twelve Mile” problems involved with amphibious landings.

Now, the Navy has an impressive fleet of ships whose sole purpose is to transport, land, and support landing operations.  It was to a task force of these “Gator Freighters”, that the USS King was assigned for a while as an escort and referee. 

Supporting US Marines as they invaded islands in the Aegean Sea were the combined Greek and Turkish Air Forces.  Even though both signatories of the NATO treaty, the Greeks and the Turks have had held extreme animosity towards each other since the sacking of Troy****, of which the recent war for Cyprus seven  years earlier in 1974 was only the most recent outbreak of hostilities.  Our job was to monitor the aircraft and make sure they stayed in their areas, and if someone fired anything, we would have a record of who it was and what was shot at.

It was a boring time for fire control.  The Turks and the Greek airmen obeyed their orders, and we were not called on even once to light up an offender with our AN/SPG-55B anti-aircraft radar.  This to an pilot is the equivalent of a police officer drawing and aiming their weapon. 

Navy dewatering pump P-250, made by Hale Products.***
The operation wrapped up, and it seemed like we had time on our hands, so someone decided to try something different and we would refuel from one of the LST’s using a P-250 pump and a fire hose.  As the name implies, the P-250 is a pump that can pump 250 gallons per minute.  This is normally used for dewatering compartments, and is sufficient for that task.  But for refueling several hundred tons of fuel oil, this was not a well thought out idea.

A special adapter was created to attach a 2.5 inch fuel hose to the fuel port, and since neither ship had the cranes or high tension cabling of a normal tanker, the hose was simply carried across in a whale boat and attached.  Both ships were at anchor, so the navigation difficulties normally associated with underway refueling were mitigated.  The pump was lit off and there was nothing to do but wait.

And listen to the announcements over the 1MC (The ships PA system) every 5 minutes.  Queue the bosun pipe, “On the King, there will be no, eating, drinking, or smoking, outside the skin of the ship while the UNREP is underway.”

Followed a minute later by another bosun pipe from the LST, “On the Newport*, there will be no, eating, drinking, or smoking, outside the skin of the ship while the UNREP is underway.”

USS Newport LST-1179
And wait.

Repeat announcements.

And wait.
How long is this going to go on?  A normal refueling would take 15-25 minutes once the hose was hooked up.  I had a calculator on my watch and did the math.  Since my normal refueling station was as the phone talker between the tanker and our engineering department, I knew the numbers quite well.  If the pump was running at peak capacity, this was going to take 300 minutes, not including hookup and breakdown. 

The boredom of this hit all levels, and then, the Newport decided to change things up a bit, “On the Newport, the swimming pool is secured while the UNREP is underway.”

Chuckles erupted from both crews.  And it made some sense, my father served on an older LSD, the Alamo, and he told me they would have swim calls in the well deck.

Not to be out done, the King’s PA system blasted, “On the King, the billiard room is secured while the UNREP is underway.”   Which was kind of lame, yes we could have a billiard room, but unlikely, as you couldn't really play the game at sea.

I have to say though the next one from the LST skunked us, “On the Newport, the bowling alley is secured while the UNREP is underway.”

“On the King, the bocce ball court is secured while the UNREP is underway.”
“On the Newport, the tennis court is secured while the UNREP is underway.”

This livened things up for the next hour or so.  But clearly the LST command personnel were more glib of tongue than ours.

Finally, with our sunburns firmly in etched for the season, the hose was disconnected and pulled back to the Newport.  Then with a deafening roar and a whoosh of spray, the LST heeled over to port an pulled away.  Their 1MC blaring the “The William Tell Overture”, best known as the theme to the Lone Ranger.  Their pride had no limit, and we didn't have a breakaway song to compete against them anyway. 

Since I was on the night shift, I headed for my rack.  I pondered how we were totally skunked in this game of one-upmanship. 

I don’t know how long I was out.  Not long though.  Being on the night shift, you learn to sleep through all the chatter and announcements that permeate the work day life on board ship.  But I woke up with the extreme clarity when this message was broadcast.  “Anyone with a copy of the William Tell Overture, or the theme from Patton, lay to the bridge with same.”

I instantly knew what this was about.  Our command staff was as embarrassed as I thought they were over today’s verbal exchange, and were looking for a breakaway song to compensate in the future.  Since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they were looking for the same song that the Newport picked.  I had copies of both the William Tell Overture and the movie score from Patton in my locker.  I thought though that Patton, was an odd choice.  It showed a lack of experience in this sort of thing.  I like the theme from Patton, but it was a slow starter, the other ship will be out of hearing before you get to the blood pumping part.

But I’ll be damned if I am going to listen to the the Lone Ranger every two days for the rest of the voyage either.  But just maybe I can influence the decision.

I called the bridge. 

“Bridge, Boatswain’s Mate of the Watch speaking”,answered the phone.

“Was that last announcement for the 1812 Overture, or the William Tell Overture”, I asked?

“Wait one.”

In the background there was muddled conversation, where the word, "overture", was clearly not in the normal lexicon of the participants.

Finally, there was an answer, “The William Tell Overture.”  Well then, Patton it is then.

“I have the theme from Patton, send someone down to get it.”

“Bring it up to the Bridge.”

“Look, I am on the night shift, and already lost 6 hours sleep during the refueling today.  You want it, here is my rack number.”

They sent the Messenger of the Watch down to retrieve my cassette tape, and that was our break away song for the next 18 months.  I don’t know what other ships felt about our Breakaway Song.  They always started in the beginning of the tape, where the sound of the needle hitting the vinyl is recorded, then 45 seconds of the haunting bit, then finally reaching marching /driving section that would be recognizable, but by then, even at 15 knots, we would be almost a mile away.

*I don’t remember the actual name of the LSD/LST, so I picked one out of 6th Fleets Order of Battle for 1981.  If anyone knows the actual name, I’ll do a rewrite, no problem.

**The Theme from Patton can be found on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mu11QRO9BrQ .
  *** Not really related to this story but as a personal aside, the Hale Pump company, is headquartered in Conshohocken, PA.  Every one of my Great-Uncles, and my Grandmother worked there.  Before, some during, and well after WWII.

****Yes, I know, the Turks actually arrived in the mid 1400's.  It was a deliberate overstatement for the sake of humor.  The Greeks can't seem to get along with anyone on the other side of the Aegean Sea.