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 .
  *** 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.