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[MARINE-L:8108] Re: Class system shake-up demanded and how to

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  • Lesley Cruickshank
    Those who have commented recently on the tragic collision of a multihulled ferry and a pleasure cruiser may be interested in a brief account of an notable
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 23, 2000
      Those who have commented recently on the tragic collision of a
      multihulled ferry and a pleasure cruiser may be interested in a brief
      account of an notable collision
      between two warships in the Mediterranean in 1950. I was serving in the
      Second Cruiser Squadron of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet as a
      aboard H.M.S. Euryalus. The squadron comprised four cruisers, HMS
      Liverpool (the flagship with an admiral aboard), HMS Phoebe, HMS Gambia
      ourselves. We were at sea on a fine sunny Sunday afternoon in company
      with a number of escorting destroyers. A replenishment exercise was
      under way in
      which only the other three cruisers were directly involved; Euryalus
      had been ordered to take station three and a half cables astern. My
      duty as Midshipman of the
      Watch on the bridge was to squint into the rangefinder and keep us on
      station by adjusting our rpm fractionally up or down as required.

      The three cruisers taking part were to rig jackstays to exchange mail,
      personnel, stores and ammunition and to connect hoses to transfer oil
      fuel back and forth
      between them. They were steaming at 18 knots, with Liverpool to
      starboard, Phoebe in the centre and Gambia on the port side. This type
      of exercise was
      undertaken routinely to keep all the crews familiar with the operations
      involved. The three ships took station and established a flow of oil
      and goods satisfactorily.
      Gambia completed the required transfers first, disconnected, retrieved
      all her gear and increased rpm to clear ahead. Liverpool and Phoebe
      were still connected and
      exchanging goods and fuel.

      As Gambia went ahead the forward part of her hull cleared the effect of
      Phoebe's bow wave and the ship's head started to swing to starboard. A
      bit of port helm
      was applied to correct this swing. Her stern, alas, drifted perilously
      close to Phoebe's bow, requiring a sharp correction to starboard to
      prevent the starboard outer
      propeller from opening Phoebe like an oversized can opener. At this
      point things started happening fast and silence fell on the bridge of my
      ship as we watched
      with fearful anticipation.

      With the application of starboard wheel Gambia's head passed through the
      exercise course and again swung into the path of the still connected
      cruisers. Faced with
      the need for an immediated decision, Gambia ordered full ahead (that's
      navy for emergency power) and hard to starboard in an effort to pass
      ahead of Phoebe and
      Liverpool. From our vantage point it was clearly impossible for her to
      make it across. A serious accident was about to happen, and it did.

      Seeing Gambia's plight, both Phoebe and Liverpool went full astern
      (emergency power again). Happily there was nobody on the personnel
      jackstay at the time, as
      stores cascaded into the water, fuelling hoses parted and black bunker
      oil sprayed over the side and superstructure of the the flagship,
      Liverpool. Both Phoebe and
      Liverpool lifted their boiler-room safety valves and a scene of
      devastation unfolded before us. Time seemed to stand still from the
      moment at which it became
      inevitable that a collision would occur. Indeed it looked as though
      three quarters of the Second Cruiser Squadron might well go to the
      bottom that afternoon.

      When Phoebe plowed into Gambia's quarterdeck the noise was horrific.
      Still not a word was spoken as our Captain, Commander and Officer of the
      Watch stood
      with binoculars trained on the scene. Miraculously, and to this day I
      don't know how they did it , Liverpool managed to slow and swing clear
      without direct
      involvement in the actual collision. They must have been incredibly
      fast in their engine rooms to have reacted so quickly. Equally amazing
      was the merciful fact
      that nobody was seriously hurt in what could easily have been a most
      costly incident in human terms.

      The damage to H.M.S. Gambia was extensive, both starboard shafts buckled
      with consequences all the way to the engine rooms, and the ship was
      retired from
      service. Phoebe's bow was rebuilt and she returned to service for a
      short while before also being consigned to the scrapyard. I was back in
      college again when the
      courts martial rendered their decisions and apportioned responsibility
      for the fiasco, but I'm sure one or more officers' careers took abrupt
      turns for the worse as a

      Being from the engineering fraternity myself I heard little of the
      fallout from this accident though I have always assumed that the ship
      handlers of the future must
      have had this incident disected in some detail for them countless times
      to ensure that the lessons associated with bow wave pressure effects
      were learned in the
      classroom rather than via the more expensive school of hard knocks.

      Don Cruickshank
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