Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Retro Wednesday: I Relieve You Sir

Timeless lessons.
In the darkness of early morning on June 3, 1969, destroyer USS Frank E. Evans (DD-754) collided with the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21) in a joint exercise in the South China Sea, resulting in the loss of 74 lives. This 1975 Navy training film recreates the events surrounding the collision. Names of the officers involved in the collision have been changed. Source: Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section, UMO-40.

UPDATE: Here is the gif from wikipedia C-14 mentioned. Thanks Commodore!
File:Evans collision.gif

Hat tip Mike.


  1. maogwai cat08:24

    Links to more of these films, please. 

  2. One of the Support guys08:53

    Too close for a mo' board. 

  3. UltimaRatioRegis09:23

    Great post.  I used a bit of this film with my CP Marines to emphasize watch relief and transfer of control procedures between forward and main CPs. 

    Damn hard to watch, knowing what is coming, though, isn't it?

  4. Old Farter09:37

    Great stuff, Sal!!  Unimplied lesson learned: wearing your combo cover with khakis will make you a better watch stander. 

  5. arkhangelsk10:54

    Link to JAG report for the interested (I'm reading it myself):

  6. bullnav12:31

    Looks like we'll have to eyeball it in...

  7. Kevin12:47

    Mystery Science Theater 3000 had a WWII (ish) training film about harlots in SF giving sailors the clap.  Which they all succumb to when they're about to make contact with the enemy.  I wish I could find it - it would make a great Retro Wed.

  8. Kevin12:56

    Here's a 35 second clip from the movie.

  9. UltimaRatioRegis12:58

    Kevin, that was among the funniest things I have ever seen on TV.  If you find it, you gotta tell us how to get it.

  10. QMC(SW)(ret)13:10

    I remember first seeing this in 1983. For some reason I saw it in after steering school. With no survivors from CIC we'll never know, but I have always wondered what was going on down there. Out of sector, misinterpreted signals- these should have been caught by CIC. The CICs I have known were never shy about telling the bridge when they thought we were effing up, even when it turned out they were the ones who were wrong. Was the bridge/CIC relationship that much different in 1969?  

  11. C-dore 1413:28

    I made my 1/C Cruise in WESTPAC aboard a ship where the bridge watch was required to wear white trousers and t-shirts ("relaxed" from Undress Whites) and the officers wore TKL with wool (or gabardine) trou and combo covers by a CO who had come up in the cruiser navy. About half way through my cruise he was relieved by an aviator on his deep draft command who asked why the watch was doing this. When told why he told the Senior Watch Officer to "Get everyone into working uniform and get yourself a ball cap!"

  12. C-dore 1413:33

    I was a Midn when this happened and the story was well known it the Fleet during my formative years. A major contributing factor was that EVANS' CO was a "legendary screamer" and the Bridge Watch, who realized they were out of station at the start of the maneuver, felt there'd be a lot less drama if they just let him sleep.

  13. LT Rusty13:34

    You know how many times I heard that joke on the midwatch?  What a joyless place the bridge must be these days, now that no JO's got to see this film in SWOS ...

  14. Kevin13:38

    Hopefully it's still on the menu at ROTC/USNA/OCS

  15. Kevin13:41

    The only time I wore a combo cover on watch was for Sea and Anchor, and I found it impossible to use the binos w/out tipping the cover up and back.  Which you then have to adjust back into place when you're done looking.  Hated every second of those watches - didn't help that I always got a headache from the combo cover.

  16. C-dore 1413:49

    Things were a lot different back then in the days before the "advent" of the TAO when the OOD was the supreme authority after the CO. On a DD it was common to only have three regular OODs (the Department Heads) and a back up in case the CHENG or the Senior Watch Officer was taken off the watch bill. On my first two ships the CICWO was generally a JO who rotated with the JOOD or who had been "banished" from the bridge for some indiscretion. COs were reluctant to qualify a lot of extra people and it was common for JOs to get their initial OOD qual prior to transfer or as they "fleeted up" to be a DH (also common back then). Recommendations from CIC were routinely overruled by the bridge watch that considered them to be back-up to MoBoard solutions worked up by the JOOD that were considered to be more reliable.

  17. Sean13:49

    I always wondered the same thing - what the hell was going on with the radar picture??  Evans bridge team was clearly confused as to where they were in relation to the carrier and I always thought that radar would have cleared up this confusion to avoid putting themselves in extremis like they did.

    They never really seemed to have the tactical picture correct in their mind's eye...and it does not look like anyone provided any information to correct that mistaken situational awareness.

  18. Sean13:56

    It was standard training in my NROTC unit - especially before heading out for your 1/C MIDN cruise where you were most likely to end up standing some sort of bridge watch, especially if you were going to one of the small boys.

    It makes a lot more sense and scares the shit out of you more (there but for the grace of god go I...) after you have been out at sea and have stood the watch for real on your first tour.

  19. Ah, memories. We Coasties watched these at CGA back in the day, too.

    Anybody got a copy of Synthetic Line Snapback?

  20. C-dore 1414:40

    Let me add that the one time that CIC "ran the show" on a DD was during Condition 1AS (ASW operations) when the ship's maneuvers were controlled by the ASW Evaluator directing the actions of the conning officer over s/p phones. Of course, the ship was in port and starboard and the Evaluators were the two senior OODs, generally Ops and Weps, and the conning officers were the most experienced JOs. The OODs (the 3rd regular OOD and the back-up guy) acted as safety observers. As you can imagine there was ample opportunity for disagreement over the "bitch box".

  21. the tender that i was on had a hat rack in the passage way leading to the wardroom. "someone" became irritated at the officers aboard and started throwing the hats over the side (one step and flip it out of the weather decks door). when we got back from west pack the only hats left  were the OOD's (which was rotated through the watches) and the skippers inspection cover.

  22. Old Farter15:09

    Thought about this some more today. Night time, darken ship, in formation with a carrier, zig zagging. I can't imagine a CO that would not be on the bridge for that, even if  dozing in his chair.   The mis-decoded signal bothered me and the lack of initiative from CIC screamed at me. It was always comforting to me as OOD to have the CICWO call up on the 21MC  and give their break on any messages, icluding recommended courses and speeds to station.  I noticed that the OOD also relieved in the middle of a turn. Offgoing should never have done this. I was one of those who refused to BE relieved if things were not in order.

  23. TheMightyQ15:39

    I never saw this one in NROTC, but a some other great ones were "Learn or Burn" and "Synthetic Line Snapback."  Of course, on the social side of things a yearly favorite was "How to Succeed with Blondes (or Brunettes or Redheads)"  I really hope that someone else had the pleasure of sharing in that brilliant film.

  24. Sean16:20

    Is there a "God's eye view" that shows the positions of the various ships during this casualty and (more important) what the Evans thought so you can see where she lost sight of the tactical picture?  That would help illustrate how she continued to go down the wrong path and why she might have made some of the decisions that she did during this casualty.

    I remember my NROTC instructor talking about how most of the times in the casualty there are plenty of opt-out points as he called them where you could have made a decsion that would have gotten you out of the accident....and then there is the point where all of your opt-out options have been taken away from you and no matter what you do the accident is going to happen.  At that point you need to be in the mode of trying to minimize the damage (if possible).

  25. C-dore 1417:31

    There's one at the Wikipedia entry for the collision where the ships follow their paths to impact.

  26. William Powell17:42

    I once remember being two and a half hours into the next watch before having enough time to pass the Conn off to my relief -- beats the hell out of a collision at sea!

  27. C-dore 1417:53

    @Old Farter, Despite the Opinions given in the JAGMAN, I'd say that the underlying reason for the collision was complacency throughout EVANS' command structure and watch teams.  Poor station keeping (which was commented on in the JAGMAN), improper decryption of tactical signals, lack of coordination between the bridge and CIC, failure to sound the collision alarm, and (of course) the OOD's "let the Old Man sleep" attitude; are all evidence of this.  At first I wondered about why the CO was asleep in his sea cabin (immediately aft of the bridge) until I realized that his ship was assigned to a sector 3-5,000 yards from the CV.  In those days, that was like being in a different time zone and placing ships there was intentional to give the COs a chance to get some sleep.  That said, this just emphasizes the need of the OOD to carry out the CO's Standing and Night Orders to the letter.  I used this incident, and the training film, as part of my officer training program for just these reasons.

  28. C-dore 1417:57

    Too bad it doesn't include the statements of the officers concerned, which would make for very interesting reading.

  29. Bill18:47

    Watched this twice at SWOS Coronado while a student, once at the beginning and then about 3 months later.  We all seemed to have a different appreciation at the second viewing compared to the first.

  30. aflapr21:18

    No Doc, she said she was married...

  31. Grandpa Bluewater00:16

    First time I saw this I remember the hair on the back of neck going to DefCon 1 as I watched them walk the ship into extremis.

    Great instruction for rookies. Scary as hell for a qualified OOD.

  32. Grandpa Bluewater00:20

    "Electricity, the Deadly Shipmate". Motion picture production at it's worst.

  33. Aubrey00:31

    Not a derail, just an aside:

    Ewok, I know it is not all that near you, but I am gonna be in Czech Republic in a couple of weeks and was wondering if there was anyway to grab a drink...Sczeczin is pretty far from where I will be (Prague, Plzen and Budejovice), but I was hoping we might be able to work something out...

  34. ENZ, USN01:00

    Thought I'd throw in some about the current training for JO's.

    I didn't see this while at the Academy.  I went to Intro SWOS, didn't see it during that, but the follow on week long DIVOLC (Division Officer Leadership Course) did show it.  It was a little odd though, because it was a classroom of 1160's being taught by LCDR Pilots and a CDR Radiologist.  So it was the lesson and we had the discussion, but with less than half of the class having spent more than a week on a ship, it was... interesting to say the least.

    I thought it was great video, and think it great again looking at it now having spent a few more months standing combat and bridge watches.

  35. C-dore 1401:46

    @Grandpa, I think that "Seven Sailors" would give it a run for it's money.  On the other hand there was always "The Man from LOX".

  36. Skippy-san02:51

    When I was first commissioned-and waiting to go to flight training-I was stashed with a bunch of guys waiting for their class dates at Nuke School. ( I was assigned to the Submarine Group in Charleston). To keep us busy they sent us to some SWO schools-one of which was a NAV class that used this movie as the central basis for the course they taught. Scary then-still scary now.

  37. USAF Mike04:13

    The Man from LOX is easily the best training video, ever.

    "Sailor, I'm gonna have--your--ass!"

  38. arkhangelsk04:17

    Since you are reading the Wiki entry, I'm sure you must have read the accusations about the less than fair enquiry. May I ask what is your veteran's opinion on that?

    Let me reveal my civvie layman's stance first and say that since it is a US-Aussie combined investigation, a solution where the Australians bear no fault at all was nearly impossible from the outset - poke hard enough and something MUST come out.

    The JAG seems honest about the main problem and its comments about the Melbourne needing to keep better control of its formation is I think well founded, better founded than the reverse order (could the shafts even be safety put into reverse without taking some revolutions off it first?) - shouldn't they have checked whether their formation was in pieces or not before they order yet another turn or assign new tactical stations?

    If anything I think JAG could have hit that point a bit harder than they did.

  39. LT B05:53

    I think that one of the ENS with whom I served married the daughter of Evan's XO.  He said he woke up and jumped out of his rack and was knee deep in water in his stateroom.  I do remember the too close for a moboard joke. 

  40. bullnav06:42

    What's a "combo cover"? :)

  41. cdrsalamander07:49

    I'm just trying to picture you socializing with a bunch of nukes......

  42. Byron08:34

    I bet there was a LOT of jokes they didn't get or didn't think were funny :)

  43. Byron08:37

    "X" thousands of tons of steel and fuel and people moving "Y" knots has a momentum of "Z"...and there aren't any brakes on a carrier, even with the wheels turning as hard as they can in reverse. On todays gas turbine ships? "Braking" is much quicker...still X times Y equals Z and Z is what you have to overcome.

  44. butch08:40

    Ask an you shall receive:
    Man From LOX

  45. Sadly, the year the film was made, it happened again...

    I went to ASAC school with some of those guys.

  46. Skippy-san13:03

    Well, I was young and newly married. I had not been to P-Cola yet so I didn't know a lot of jokes. Our "minder" was a young LT from the University of Rochester ROTC Unit (1120)-who was happy as hell to be away from his Mrs, so he was hitting the long ball just about every night. He had been down to set up the CORTRAMID events. Since I was the only guy living off base-our apartment became a crash pad for him from time to time. To his credit he always brought beer.

    On the plus side-the admiral running the group decided that since I was going to P-Cola I needed to learn a lot about submarines, so I got rides on a boomer and a fast attack for a week each time. While I was on the boomer, I spent a lot of time talking to the SWS officer, who most assuredly enjoyed his job in the "front" was perfectly happy not to be in the "back". I actually learned a lot from those rides. Like why I never wanted to go nuke power.

  47. C-dore 1415:43

    @ark, I agree that it was unlikely that the Australians would receive none of the blame but that has less to do with the nature of the combined investigation than it does from the fact that in most collisions at sea everyone deserves some share of the blame.  In this case I'd say that MELBOURNE's CO did most everything correctly by repeately warning EVANS of the danger of collision, illuminating running lights, etc.  He might have acted sooner, since he was on the bridge when EVANS was ordered to planeguard station, but that's 20/20 hindsight.  I think that most of the complaints about the inquiry being less than fair had to do with RADM (later VADM) King, who was the US ASW Group Commander for the exercise, being assigned as President of the Court.  Not having read the transcript I can't comment as to his impartiality but C7F might have chosen someone less directly involved had another senior flag officer been available.  During the Court following the SARATOGA's firing of two NATO Sea Sparrow missiles into the Turkish destroyer, MAUVENET, none of the three USN Flags on it had anything to do with the exercise directly.

    Let's also not forget the differences between the USN and RAN regarding courts martial.  Our Navy has a kind of "bring the guilty bastard in" attitude where courts martial are recomended mostly to approriately punish the guilty.  The RAN, with their Royal Navy tradition, uses CM more frequently to sort out fact from fiction (like a court of inquiry) and to punish where appropriate.  It's worth noting that CAPT Stevenson was "honorably acquited" in this situation.

    As for control of the formation, I'm surprised that the US DESRON Commander, who was commanding the screening destroyers, didn't come in for more criticism.  His watch team should have noticed that EVANS was out of her sector and directed her back to station, which might have prevented the entire incident.  I can tell you from personal experience that nothing focuses an OOD's attention on an otherwise quiet mid-watch more than your DESRON calling your ship and using the single word signal: "STATION".

  48. C-dore 1417:42

    @Skippy, You're lucky.  Back when I was commissioned somebody got the bright idea to send all the USNA and NROTC Ensigns waiting to start flight school out to ships for 3-6 months so they could "...get their OOD(F) quals." (Yeah...right).  

  49. Of course, all of this is sooooo last century.

    We have TSCE now!

  50. UltimaRatioRegis19:58

    My cousin was aboard JFK when it happened.  Hell of a day. 

  51. By all accounts, one ugly day (blustery night actually)...

    I was not so far away when the Bordelon ended up under the Kennedy the next year during an UNREP.

    She had some bad luck during that period.

  52. Guest22:24

    thanks for the Link to DDG-1000 Raytheon site.  Fascinating,  as a famous Star Trek Officer would often say.   pretty soon, everyone will have to seriously "discuss" these giant new DDG-1000 ships.    Boiled down to layman's language,   TSCE appears to mean that countless systems will all be interconnected via perhaps over a 1,000 Ethernet cables running everywhere.   Heard that the TSCE onboard USS ZUMWALT will interconnect well over 40 large, sit-down consoles spread all around onboard.    If true, then how can these cruiser sized ships have a crew of less than 150 total ?     6th grade math yields the result,  perhaps 30 percent of the DDG-1000 crew/officers will be manning the 40 + control consoles distributed all over the ship.   The only way this could work is for most of those 40 + consoles to be unmanned during Condition IV and Condition III steaming.    Even putting all the Op's dept on Port and Stbd watch-standing along with many Chiefs and Officers, would leave half or more of this new warship's control consoles unmanned, except at GQ.    I'm sure that whenever a ship as capable as a DDG-1000 class is steaming in company with a group of LCS's, LSD/LPD, even DDG's,   it would be expected that a 15,000 ton capital cruiser would be extremely well manned and alert even in Condition III or IV steaming.    Looks like the reduced size crew will mean that DDG-1000 will only be fully manned and ready after they set GQ, which may be too late.    So much for running many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of TSCE cables all over this large ship.   Automation will not result in a fully manned and fully utilized DDG sensor, comm, and combat system when the Navy will drastically scrimp on quantity of sailors so that they can man up most of the 45 ? control consoles with three section watchstanding or even port and stbd rotations.   TSCE will be concelled out by a ridiculously tiny crew.

  53. Retired Now06:07

    Sid,  your linked pic shows 20 operator consoles in that drawing alone.  To man just whatever that space is called, would take a crew of 40 to accomplish if they stood port and stbd watches,  and would take 60 people if they stood 3 section watches, perhaps as in prolonged Condition III steaming.  If the entire cruiser (it's 15 k tons ) only has a crew of 140 to 150, then subtracting the personnel required just to man up those consoles in that drawing alone becomes problematic.   150 crew, subtract maybe 20 for Helo Det, leaves only 130 total to crew the DDG-1000.    130 minus 60 watchstanders just in that TSCE pic alone, only yields 70 other bodies to stand watches.  Let's assume they are in 3 section watches underway, and absolutely all 130 men/women are on the watchbill.   Result is roughly 35 left per watchsection to routinely crew this huge cruiser / "destroyer". 

    What good is the TSCE shown in your link,  if the crew is too small to man up those 20 op consoles shown in that Raytheon drawing ?    Perhaps ZUMWALT will only be able to fully operate all their massive software systems only when at GQ ?   With larger sized crews, AEGIS CG and DDG will be much more likely to be fully situationally aware 24/7 routinely manned up at Condition III than any 15,000 ton DDG-1000 that might happen to be deployed overseas.   Since I'm retired now, I shouldn't question such a massive, decade long program as this. 

  54. Mark T15:14

    As a former staff puke, standing countless hours of screen commander Tactical watch officer I dreaded something like this happening every watch.  I know the nav team on Truxton, Leftwich, and Reeves were so tired of hearing the Little beavers screaming "station" all night, but I only had to wake the Commodore twice. This was a very momentous walk back down memory lane - reminds me how lucky I was to retire with a thin service record and an even thinner medical record...

  55. SWON6RET19:08

    When qualifing as OOD[F] in 1970 [I was standing OOD [daylight only] with Senior Watch Officer in CIC] CO ask me what I would do if I lost the picture when in company with a CV [CV was 4k yeards on stbd beam - so I was looking at the CV over the COs sholder]. I told him turn away and go at max available speed until I got the picture back.  Got my OOD[F] LETTER before 8 oclock reports, had the mid watch and the SWO was off the watch bill for a week.