|Aircraft Carrier Near Collision|
The Salt Lake City often operated as a part of the protective task force with aircraft carriers. On such occasions we were required to achieve 30+ knots in order to maintain station with the carriers when they launched and recovered their planes.
The Salt Lake City was the oldest heavy cruiser in the fleet, built in 1929 as a result of the Treaty of Paris. With 8 boilers and 4 screws she still was hard put to maintain speed with the newer carriers during flight operations.
My watch the day of the incident had been the mid-watch from midnight to 4 a.m. My orders from the Chief Engineer were to increase the boilers "on line" from 4 (2 forward, 2 aft), split system for normal cruising to the full 8 on my watch. Thus we would be ready for the speed required for the dawn launch of planes and their recovery after a sweep of the area.
After my watch I had taken a position on the well deck to watch the carriers launch their planes. It soon became apparent to the observers that something was seriously wrong. The two carriers that had been on a parallel course with us on our port side had turned to starboard into the wind in order to launch. The other ships in the task force had also turned. Our ship did not turn. We all watched helplessly as the giant aircraft carriers approached our ship from the port side. Suddenly, we heard our boilers' safety valves "pop" or open at the top of the stacks.
We realized that belatedly the order had gone from the bridge to the engine rooms for an emergency "full astern" from an ahead "flank speed". This order required the men on the turbine throttles to close the "ahead" throttle (a large wheel 3 feet in diameter) and open the "astern" throttle (a smaller wheel 2 feet in diameter). For a short time the requirements for steam from the boilers had been eliminated. All 8 boilers with all burners in use began blowing off the excess steam through the safety valves.
Once the astern throttles had been opened the safety valves closed and the four turbines and four screws began slowing down from 330 rpm forward to full astern. Everyone on the ship felt the reaction of the screw reversal. The deck began to buck 6 inches as the screws tried to stop 12,000 tons speeding at 30+ knots. As the ship slowed the carriers were almost directly ahead off the port bow.
A voice from the bridge over the PA system directed us to brace for a collision. I leaned against a bulkhead on the welldeck and watched the carrier looming above us, her flight deck 60 feet above me.
At the last minute both ships took effective action to avoid a collision. Our ship turned to port to aim her bow behind the carrier. The carrier gave left rudder to swing her stern to starboard and away from our ship. I watched, my knees trembling as the carriers massive stern slid by on our starboard side.
Had a collision occurred, both ships would have required repair at a shipyard. We never learned whose fault it was that the Salt Lake City had missed the signal to turn into the wind.
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