following story is Andy Cavitt’s (RD1 at time of collision) account of
what took place before during and after the collision.
1965, the PERRY left Naples, Italy to join up with the SHANGRI-LA
(CVS-38) and her Battle Group for exercises.
DESRON-20’s primary function was to operate in the Western
Mediterranean ready to counter submarine, surface and air threats.
However because of the Soviet Union’s 450 fleet of submarines,
the task force’s primary function was Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
readiness. The task force
was to operate between Italy and Sardinia just North of Sicily.
26, 1965: While
sailing, in the Mediterranean and “Moments after the sortie from
Naples” the task force formed up into a concentric screen in support
of the USS SHANGRI-LA (CVS-38). Ironically
this name means “a paradise
on earth whose location is unknown”.
Keep this definition in mind as you read this story.
There were eight Destroyers in the screen so each Destroyer was
separated by 45 degrees at 5,000 yards from the CVS. The CVS was directly in the center of the formation with the
AKA (supply ship) directly off the carrier’s Starboard beam at 2,000
yards. The threat axis was
000 degrees, meaning the most probable direction a threat could be
expected was 000 degrees true, and all screening ships formed up using
the axis as a line of reference. NKP
was the screen guide bearing 000 degrees true from the carrier at 5,000
yards. This screen and
formation was to be maintained throughout the day until about 01:00 the
next morning, at which time the op-order called for Division tactics (Divtacs).
During this first day at sea the ships ran communications exercises,
tracked and reported surface contacts, acted as plane guard so the
carrier could launch and recover aircraft.
When the carrier turned into the wind for air operations the
whole screen also turned into the wind.
This was a very simple maneuver suited for each ship to iron out
the bugs in her personal tactical and communications procedures.
During daylight hours some of the signals were executed using
flag hoist and some were executed via the radiotelephone circuit called
the primary tactical net. But
the key to the “operating in company” issue was to hone your
formation and screening ships into a maneuvering body similar to a
seasoned Marine platoon marching in close order drill.
The morning of the first day at sea went uneventful.
At about 17:00 hours the carrier and the AKA started the
scheduled vertical underway
replenishment (UNREP) operation to each ship in the screen.
Cargo helicopters would set stores on a Destroyer’s fantail or
DASH flight deck. The ships
crew (primarily the deck force) would have just enough time to move the
cargo aside before another cargo helicopter would drop another load.
This sequence went on until approximately 20:00.
The UNREP was over and the AKA departed the area.
Yet there were stores on both the fantail and the flight deck of
NKP that would take the rest of the night to strike below deck. At approximately 21:00, or shortly after the completion of
UNREP, the task force commander executed the Z-1-CM exercise scheduled
by the late Commodore Carter. (Commodore Carter was lost overboard while
making the Atlantic crossing). This
exercise required the carrier to light off all her electronics
equipment, even placing aircraft on her flight deck with their radars
radiating. Then the screen
axis would be rotated in 15-degree increments requiring the screening
ships to maneuver to a new position in relation to the carrier,
therefore changing the bearing to all the carrier’s electronic
signals. The new axis was
retained for about 10 minutes to allow a good AN/WLR-1 bearing for each
carrier electronic signal. The
moment RD2 Kovacs would read the bearing from the EW equipment a visual
bearing would be taken using the bridge Polaris.
Comparison of these two bearings would allow the construction of
a deviation chart. The
difference between the Polaris and the EW equipment bearings indicates
the error in the EW antenna and consequently the deviation.
The Z-1-CM was scheduled to last four hours and end at about
01:00 27 August, 1965.
27, 1965: At about
01:10 the task force commander ordered all ships to proceed to duties as
previously assigned by the OP-order.
This meant each Destroyer Division was to form up and conduct
tactical exercises for the remainder of the night.
Normally, this meant steaming in Division formation, shifting
from column, to line abreast, to line bearing, and then diamond
formation --- back and forth.
By chance NKP was all the way to the Northern part of the screen
and the rest of her Division was to the South --- with an aircraft
carrier in between. The
task force commander, aboard SHANGRI-LA, executed the signal in the
middle of the night that started Destroyers scrambling around like a
“Chinese fire drill” to form into their Division formations. Some went north, some went east, and NKP needed to go South.
However, she remained to the North to see how things were going
to shake out. This appeared
to be a smart move until the SHANGRI-LA made her next move.
Without telling anyone the SHANGRI-LA turned North toward NKP and
at the same time ordering another Destroyer (USS NORRIS) to take plane
guard station A1, directly off her Starboard bow.
Now NKP had two ships to worry about, however the most important
was the carrier. At this
time NKP changed course to get out of SHANGRI-LA’s way and RD2 Pearson
directed his CIC radiotelephone talker to notify the carrier “we
are maneuvering to avoid you”.
Pearson also notified the bridge that he had lost the carrier in
the surface search radar sea return and was tuning it to track her.
Meanwhile the carrier was crossing NKP’s stern, very close from
Starboard to Port. Also at
this time the OOD, Ltjg. Harwood, went to the Starboard side of the
bridge and located lights on NKP’s Starboard quarter,
thinking it was the SHANGRI-LA at a safe distance.
Little did the OOD know he was looking at a Destroyer Division
forming up – the very Division NKP needed to be with.
The carrier, by this time, had moved to the Port quarter of NKP,
so close that the after lookout abandoned his station thinking it was
going to hit NKP at his very spot.
Upon discovering his mistake Ltjg Harwood immediately adjusted
NKP’s course to parallel the carrier’s course, another safe move
because you can never collide with another ship as long as you are
paralleling the other ships course.
Again RD2 Pearson instructed his radiotelephone talker to tell
the carrier “we are
maneuvering to avoid you”. This
was rogered for but later the SHANGRI-LA denied they ever received this
Ltjg Harwood thought, “NKP is now safe”. This same thought ran through everyone on the bridges mind.
As long as we parallel the carrier she can’t hit us.
All of a sudden the SHANGRI-LA made a sharp turn to starboard.
It appeared she would cut NKP in half at about amidships which
would mean many sailors would meet Davy Jones this night.
Was it outstanding seamanship, was it just blind luck, or was it
a knee jerk reaction that made Ltjg Harwood order left hard rudder?
Regardless the reason, the outcome was evident.
Instead of running over NKP amidships the carrier was struck on
the Starboard side just forward of the conning tower by the Port side of
NKP’s bow. This glancing
blow caused the NKP’s Port anchor to cut a large gash, above the water
line, on the carrier. This
also bent twenty-three frames of the NKP’s bow at a ninety-degree
angle to Starboard. Looking
at the NKP’s bow from the Port side it appeared that the carrier had
sheared off the bow. That
is until you view NKP from a Starboard aspect and saw the mangled steel.
The significance of the name “Shangri-La,
a paradise on earth whose location is unknown”. Had become real
to the members of the NKP Bridge and CIC that night.
RD1 Andy Cavitt can barely remember lowering himself into the
middle bunk just above ET1 Engles.
Suddenly the 1-MC came alive.
It was Ltjg Harwood’s voice “bos’nsmate of the watch sound
the alarm”. Then all the
emergency alarms aboard NKP sounded simultaneously.
Was it an Atomic, Biological and Chemical (ABC) attack, was it
General Quarters, or was it a collision?
As I remember this
part, I awoke when someone keyed the microphone on the 1-MC.
I ask GMG1 Paul McPherson what was going on?
His answer was “I
don’t know but I’m getting out of here”.
I didn’t move as fast as he did and was still in my rack when
we hit the carrier. (Our compartment was just forward of the Mess deck
and one deck down) I slept
on the top rack and the dirty clothes locker was at the foot of my rack,
I ended up at the end of my rack against the dirty clothes locker.
I then headed topside in a hurry.
Back to RD1Cavitt’s
of a sudden the ship rolled 53 degrees to Starboard.
Did we run aground, Cavitt thought?
No, we’re far at sea. Then
it became clear with the screeching of metal against metal.
NKP was colliding with another ship.
RD1 Cavitt had been thrown completely out of his bunk and was now
wide-awake and his thoughts went directly to his crew.
T.A. Marcucci, a young Second Class Signalman had turned on the
lights and surprisingly they worked.
But one thing worried both Cavitt and Marcucci – there was
blood on the deck leading to the ladder, on the ladder, and around the
scuttle leading to the Mess deck. Was
the Mess deck crushed?
After gathering the O1 and OC crews around them Cavitt and Marcucci
decided they had to go to the Mess deck.
Not knowing what was up because damage control condition Zebra
was set and only a small crawl space scuttle was open.
The Mess deck lights were on and no one was crushed as
envisioned. The blood was
from ET1 Engles heel where the ironing board had fallen and sliced
through his foot.
It seemed like forever since the alarms had gone off before General
Quarters (GQ) was completely set but just over four minutes had passed.
Few people on NKP knew what had happened.
In CIC, Lcdr Hanson had shown up in nothing but underwear – a
pair of dungarees were provided from the rag – bag.
RD1 Cavitt grabbed all the logs and Dead-Reckoning Tracer (DRT)
paper, wrapping them in masking tape.
He then had RD2 Kovacs take pictures of all the surface plots
with the EW camera. The
evidence was sealed, to be released by direct order of the CIC Officer
Ltjg Gib Wells.
Where were the chief’s? The
CPO compartment was forward so everyone immediately thought the worst.
No chief had shown up at his GQ station.
It was learned later they had stayed in their compartment shoring
up the forward bulkhead against flooding.
First signs of a well-trained crew – save our ship.
NKP was dead in the water, it was still dark, but repair parties were
starting their assessment of the damage and searching for trapped
shipmates. A muster at GQ
stations soon determined that two Seaman were trapped – Ryals and
Greene. Now came the
arduous task of locating and rescuing them.
One half of the bos’ns locker was pushed from the Port to the
Starboard side. Stores and
supplies, i.e. line, toilet paper, paint brushes, special seamanship
rigs and the worst – signal flags & flares were blocking the
passage forward through the bos’ns locker, where the Seaman were
trapped. There was so much
combustible material it was impossible to use acetylene-cutting torches
so all the cutting was done with electric and manual hand tools.
At about 12:15 all hands,
not needed for watch, were directed to muster forward to help carry
bos’ns locker supplies to the fantail and flight deck.
The repair parties worked almost four hours before they reached
Seaman Ryals. He was
standing, with his arms extended straight up, between the after bulkhead
of the anchor chain storage compartment and the anchor windlass itself.
The only thing preventing him from being crushed was, at the
moment of impact, boxes of toilet paper had flown from an upper shelf
and wedged between the bulkhead and windlass directly in front of Ryals
face. The toilet paper was
turned into pulp. After the
repair parties used hydraulic jacks to extract Seaman Ryals his parting
words as they helped him to a stretcher, to be flown by helicopter to
the hospital aboard SHANGRI-LA, was “someone get Greene, I can hear
him screaming”. Ryals was flown to the SHANGRI-LA and underwent surgery for
Where was Greene? There was
still, what appeared to be tons of supplies to remove before the repair
party could reach the most forward spaces of NKP.
What had been the Port spaces were now somewhere to Starboard.
Time was becoming critical.
What was Greene’s condition?
Was the space he was trapped in flooding?
These questions ran through BT1 Bob P. Logan’s mind as he led
members of his repair party in search of Greene.
It was daylight topside but hard to see in the damaged spaces
BT1 Logan finally determined that Seaman Greene must be in or around the
peep tank, which is the most forward compartment of the NKP, where paint
is stored. Its only
entrance was a scuttle leading to a vestibule where a permanently
installed CO2 flooding system was installed in case of fire.
But now where was the peep tank?
At this time Logan started hearing Greene’s voice but it was
weak and hard to locate the direction from which it was coming.
How long could he last?
In desperation, someone asked Greene “can you see daylight?”
His response was “yes”.
“Can you reach the daylight?”
No response. But a sailor standing on the most Starboard part of the
remaining bow happened to look down into the water and saw a hand moving
just below the surface. Greene
had been located. The
question now was how does the rescue team get to him?
Again BT1 Bob Logan was in the place he was most needed.
It was decided that because Logan was the smallest member of the
repair party, in size but not heart, he was best suited to attempt the
rescue. He could volunteer
to drop through a split section of the “hawse-hole” pipe into a dark
space that had been flooded with foam to reduce the chance of fire.
The distance of the drop was unknown because no one knew the
depth of the foam or the liquid it covered.
Just as scary, no one knew what the liquid was.
It could have been paint, thinner, or turpentine or a combination
of all three. BT1 Logan did
not have to be asked twice.
Logan worked his 5’5”, 130 lb. frame through jagged metal adding
cuts and bruises to those obtained while cutting to reach Seaman Ryals.
The drop was the hardest part of this task.
It seemed like it took forever to reach the courage to let go,
but soon he dropped into darkness.
A loud yell escaped his mouth when he broke through the foam and
everything was red. He
thought “all this blood” then realized it was red stripping diluted
with paint thinner.
Once in this dark space Logan made his way down to Greene.
Logan was crawling into unknown territory, but soon he located
Seaman Greene who was suspended in mid-air in the vestibule area with
the Port side of the ship crushed against his back and a large CO2
bottle wedged between his legs. He
could not move in either direction.
Evidently Greene had lunged for the vertical ladder just as the
ships collided and was trapped at the moment of impact. His first question to Logan was “are we at war?”
A young sailor trained to fight and even die in battle could not
comprehend dying in a collision.
Logan saw that Greene had cut the ends of his fingers to the bones
trying to pull himself free of the CO2 bottle.
Logan was also aware that the only way out was through the side
of the ship using a cutting torch.
Once this was decided and Greene was prepared by Logan wrapping
him in asbestos, Logan’s only job then was to comfort Greene.
What do you say to a young man in this predicament?
How do you encourage him when things look so bad?
But you do. You talk
about little things. Where
you’re from, your girl, what you like to do.
On and on, it seemed like forever, and as time went by, Greene
got weaker and weaker.
When the cutting started Logan turned his attention to keeping Greene
wet and cool as possible. But
Logan himself started realizing it was hopeless, especially when Greene
started chewing on Logan’s hand as he wiped Greene’s forehead.
They eventually extracted Greene from the rubble, almost
seventeen hours after the collision. Approximately one hour later Seaman Fred L. Greene Jr., died
on the operating table aboard the USS SHANGRI-LA.
He was almost eighteen years old.
NKP was still dead in the water, crippled but alive.
With helicopters circling her and medical personnel from the
carrier now disembarking, the old girl started to limp back into Naples
at 5 knots. She did not
back into Naples, as some may think would be required for a ship with
such damage, but steamed straight ahead with her blunted bow pushing the
Mediterranean sea in front of her.
She was a U.S. Navy ship, with a U.S. Navy crew who had been
placed in a peace time harms way and survived with the proficiency of a
Destroyer in war. NKP
survived with the same spirit of survival witnessed twenty-five years
later aboard the USS Starke and the USS Roberts in the Persian Gulf War.
American Destroyer men always fight to the last breath to save
their ship. With her
“blunted” bow pushing the sea ahead of her the NKP slowly steamed
back to Naples, Italy where just three days earlier she had enjoyed
liberty. Naples was only
three days older but viewed through a totally different perspective.
This time instead of liberty, the number one task was to be
outfitted with a new bow. For
the next six weeks sailors would be given lessons on how to violate
shipyard safety. Electrical sockets were boards with holes drilled in them so
that twisted wires could be pushed through to make an extension cord.
Italian shipyard workers operated electric grinders and drills in
the rain. There were few
lifelines around the dry dock and workers used no safety lines while
working over the side of NKP. These
refractions of safety rules distracted nothing from their engineering
ability. They measured by
tying knots in string and even using the lifted thumb on an extended
hand. By the MK-1, MOD-2
eyeball process they removed the damaged bow, stripped it of re-useable
parts and moved them to a warehouse.
Four weeks later they magically used a flatbed and crane to
deliver and weld a prefabricated bow onto NKP.
Some people say it was nine inches longer than the old one,
making NKP the longest 2200 class Destroyer in the U.S. Navy.
Commander David Walker (her skipper from January, 1972 to June,
1973) even reported she had a tendency to pull to the Starboard as a
result of a slightly tilted bow. But
she was a whole ship again and the crew had a chance to reflect on their
loss and lick their wounds in Naples.