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Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape, and they will prefer death to flight. If they will face death, there is nothing they may not achieve.

-- Sun Tzu
Collision at Kwajalein11560 Reads  Printer-friendly page

World War II Immediately after the Battle of Kwajalein, the sailors aboard the USS Washington received orders to fuel the destroyers. After fueling the destroyers, dusk turned into the blackest of nights. Tired and battle-weary, I began to look for a place to sleep on the main deck but was unable to because several sailors were putting away the fueling gear. Finally, I had to resort to my own bunk over #4 machinery space. The temperature was about 110 degrees causing me to fall asleep fast.

Unknown to the USS Washington, the USS Indiana was told to take a fueling position and proceeded to do so in the black of the night with no running lights. While the Washington was sailing at 22 knots, the Indiana cut in front of the bow of the Washington! The Officers of the Washington deck suddenly spotted her and gave the Washington the orders- "full speed astern"- to back up the ship. The Washington hit the Indiana in mid-ship, crawling up onto the deck of the Indiana with our bow sliding all the way aft to the right. This resulted in knocking off the fire control directer off of the Indiana's #3 turret with a hard right rudder and then we slid back into the sea.

From my sleeping space, I could barely hear the fire call that was sounding. Responding to the alarm, I began to yank other sailors out from their bunks to alert them of the call while listening to their complaints about another fire drill. I then proceeded to my fire station where I contacted the combat information center. No one I spoke with knew why the fire call was sounded. When we were finally relieved of our duty, I went up topside to get some fresh air. It was then that I learned that we had rammed the Indiana, lost 23 feet of our bow and that our speed had been reduced to 5 knots!

Before long, I was sent down to the anchor windless room with a submersible pump. The anchor chained seemed to be rapping hard against the bulkhead of the anchor windless room. We feared the worse and prayed that the sea would not penetrate the bulkhead for this would result in going down with the bow. By the grace of God, we managed to sail to Majuro where a diver was sent down to cut the chain. This allowed the bow to straighten and the Washington to make it back to Pearl Harbor.

I will always be grateful for a happy ending but I will never get over the fact that after a major collision, it took me five hours to learn what actually happened aboard my own ship.

Note: by Francis E. Tellier, EM 3/C - E Div.


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