Friday, June 30, 2017

Veterans History Project Launches Part Two of Web Series on World War I Veterans

The Veterans History Project (VHP) today launched, “Over There” the second in a three-part, online “Experiencing War” website series dedicated to United States veterans of the First World War. “Over There” highlights 10 digitized World War I collections found in the Veterans History Project archive. To access Part II and other veterans’ collections featured in “Over There,” visit Part III will be available in fall of 2017.
This series is being presented as a companion site to the Library of Congress exhibit, “Echoes of the Great War.” Each veteran’s first-person narrative is shared through their original photographs, letters, diaries, memoirs, maps and other materials.
Earl Covington Smith kept a diary during the war while serving as a gas officer, responsible for ensuring soldiers were equipped with gas masks and able to recognize an impending gas attack. In one of his diary entries, Smith mentions that the smell of death on the battlefield was so strong that it sometimes led to false alarms.
Lucius Byron Nash was a Lieutenant Junior Grade aboard the Navy’s USS Roanoke—a minelayer. Through photographs and letters home, Nash describes his dirty, grueling job, which demanded 12-hour shifts spent on deck in the pouring rain.
Although he experienced many close calls working on the front lines, Louis W. Rosen was fortunate to survive the war uninjured. He later compiled a written memoir, and included in it two lengthy letters he had written to his parents describing in detail what it was like to live under constant threat of attack.
Congress created the Veterans History Project in 2000 to collect, preserve and make accessible the firsthand remembrances of America’s war veterans from World War I through the more recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. For more information, visit or call the toll-free message line at (888) 371-5848. Subscribe to the Veterans History Project email listserv to receive periodic updates and follow it on Facebook at
The exhibition “Echoes of the Great War” is located in the Southwest Gallery on the second floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.  It is free and open to the public through January 2019, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.  Tickets are not needed.
The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States - and extensive materials from around the world - both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at and register creative works of authorship at

World War II Book Resources on Fold3

Photo courtesy of Center of Military History

I was thinking about what to write for this month's article and chose to look for D-Day resources on Ancestry and Fold3. I started with Fold3 with the idea there would be some reports that mention D-Day, and I found some in the WWII War Diaries, a collection with a large number of Naval reports. These reports come in typed format as they were created during the war.

Imagine my surprise to search for D-Day and find a First Army Report of Operations under the WWII War Diaries. Then imagine me more surprised to open the search result to see not a typed report from World War II, but a digitized book (minus the exterior cover of the book).

The document is called, Rep of ops in the invasion of Normandy, France, 10/20/43 – 8/1/44. When you view the report, notice the first page of the report is the interior of the book cover, showing a map. Then we have a title page, a page with the name of the report, the classification, and a table of contents. Technically, this is a book written from many different reports concerning the invasion of Normandy for the First Army.

It is important to read page 9, the introduction, to fully understand what this book was designed to do. It is also important to understand this book was written after the invasion of Normandy, using reports from various division and military branches, to compile this operations summary.

What makes this book different from operational reports written during the war? This book gives a different view of what took place with the Normandy invasion. It offered its writers an opportunity to look at what planners wanted to happen, what actually happened, and what could have been done differently (tactical lessons learned). The book also includes situation maps and photographs, which add a lot of historical context to a First Army soldier's story and experience in the invasion.

Unfortunately, the book does not list the full reports with dates, where all of this information was obtained. Genealogists love sources and if this book would have had sources, researchers could track down each one that might help tell the story of their soldier. The books such as this, written after an invasion or after the war, are typically laid out like this one. Specific report sources are not usually listed. These books contain a summary and historical context of an invasion or battle.

Where can you find additional information? Remember, World War II research is a combination of online and offline research. I suggest searching Fold3 for different keywords related to what you seeking. You can also consult the finding aids at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, for unit records. Fold3 has digitized a lot of Naval and Marine Corps records, but they have not digitized much of the Army or Army Air Forces unit level records. I use the unit records daily in my work and they contain a lot of important details, maps, and photographs. These all add so much to a soldier's story. Recently I discovered in a 30th Infantry Division unit history, which showed the exact roads the Division took when it left Omaha Beach after landing in France in June 1944. The paragraph was so well written you could follow the route today.

Remember to check all available sources to create the best history and story for your soldier. Then consider sharing it on your Ancestry family tree.

What surprising finds have you discovered searching Fold3 military records?

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Key Locations at Belleau Wood

This month marks the 99th anniversary of the U.S. Marine assault on Belleau Wood, so I thought I could share a few things that will help you understand what the media has to say about it. These comments and the graphic I've constructed below are based my own observations and questions and observations I've had from tour members on over a dozen visits to Belleau Wood.

1.  It is bigger than most people expect; the map below covers over a square mile.  You can't see it all from one position.

2.  The attack direction (red arrows) is not north to south, but from the southwest to northeast. This is because the Marines were attacking the side of a salient created by the recent German push to Château-Thierry and the Marne river, which are southeast of Belleau Wood.

3. The American Cemetery is not shown on the graphic. It is just to the right of  of the last letter of the "Hunting Lodge" caption, but the wood is on a plateau and there is an abrupt drop-off down to the cemetery.

4.  The bottom illustration, C, by noted French artist George Scott, accurately depicts the wood at the end of the fighting. Following the battle of Belleau Wood, Scott traveled to the battlefield and interviewed Marine veterans of the struggle

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The Original Arnold Horshack

Swift boats head up the Giant Thanh River along the South Vietnam–Cambodia border toward night ambush spots.

Swift boats head up the Giang Thanh River along the South Vietnam–Cambodia border toward night ambush spots.

The following is adapted from Swift Boats at War in Vietnam (Stackpole, 2017), edited by Guy Gugliotta, John Yeoman, and Neva Sullaway.

Swift Boats (patrol boat fast, or PCFs) at the beginning of 1970 appeared to be in reasonable control of their war. Operation SEALORDS had cleared large swatches of the Lower Mekong Delta, forcing the enemy to withdraw to strongholds deep in the forest. Firefights and ambushes had declined, and civilians could move about the region with relative ease. SeaFloat, the Navy’s floating base in the Cua Lon Estuary, was a resounding success, fostering the growth of a substantial settlement where none had existed before, thereby giving local people a chance to earn a living.

Up in the northern Delta, Swifts had joined with PBRs (patrol boats, river) and RAG (river assault group) units to choke off the flow of supplies and men along the Cambodian border. A second detachment of Swifts policed the border from a makeshift forward base at Ha Tien, at the mouth of the Giang Thanh River. Although these efforts proved moderately effective, manning guard posts and night ambushes in the sweltering wilderness was not entertaining work. Swift crews generally were not fond of ritual or routine. Some crewmen found inventive ways to kill the boredom.


I met up with Arnold Horshack in 1969 when I got orders to PCF-12, stationed at An Thoi, on Phu Quoc Island in the Gulf of Siam. Horshack and I came aboard about the same time. We were the whole crew at that point, as the previous bunch had all gone home. Horshack (not his real name, but close) had already spent several tours in Vietnam. He was a skinny little guy, maybe five-foot, seven-inches tall with black hair, a short scruffy beard and a beaded necklace with a peace medallion that attracted quite a bit of hostile attention from the higher-ups. Horshack didn’t care. I soon learned that Horshack didn’t care about a lot of things, most of them having to do with discipline.

He was the only guy I ever met who claimed that he never went to Swift Boat school. Instead, he told me, the Navy sent him to An Thoi from boot camp. When he arrived, no one knew what to do with him (his words to me). Finally, the executive officer sent him to an LST off the coast of the Ca Mau Peninsula that was serving as a forward base for Swifts to refuel and resupply. He was supposed to fill in as a relief crewman for those who went on leave or R&R, or who went home. After three months of this without a break he noticed that regular PCF crews only had to deploy for 30 days before returning to An Thoi for rest and boat maintenance. Nobody was saying anything to Horshack, so he caught the next boat back to An Thoi to find out what was up.

The next day he shows up at the ship’s office and asks to see the XO, who takes one look at Horshack and lets out a gasp. “Where the HELL have you been?”

“I’ve been right where you sent me three months ago. I need some time off,” Horshack says. “What gives?”

The XO ran to the radio room. “Have you sent out that MIA report on seaman Horshack yet?” he shouts. “Well, if you have, please stop it and change the seaman’s status to present and accounted for!!!”

And now we’re together on the 12-boat. Eventually, the rest of the new crew shows up and then we’re underway for Ha Tien, a port town at the mouth of the Giang Thanh River, which separates Cambodia and South Vietnam near the Gulf of Thailand. Our base is a couple of barges tied up next to some disheveled buildings. Charlie has been using the area forever to smuggle troops, ammo and supplies into Vietnam. We’re supposed to stop him.

Amid riverbank foliage at dusk, crewmen prepare their Swift boat for the ambush.

Amid riverbank foliage at dusk, crewmen prepare their Swift boat for an ambush.

At dusk the first day we travel upriver for a “night ambush,” a fairly simple op in which we are supposed to find a convenient tree, tie up, kill the engines, douse the lights and wait until bad guys try to cross the river from the Cambodia side to Vietnam. Then we grease them.

We set up, and I’m on watch with Horshack in the bow, trying to keep the mosquitoes from eating me alive on a dark, muggy night. Then Horshack notices something on the riverbank and calls to me to look. I don’t see anything.

“There’s a trail in the bushes,” he says.

“Big deal,” I say.

He says, “I’m gonna see where it leads.”

“You’re crazy,” I say.

He lowers himself to the riverbank, swinging hand-over-hand down the mooring line. Then he disappears into the jungle. I tell the boat officer. He says, “Why didn’t you stop him?” Sure, you bet.

Then I’m back in the bow all alone, hot, sweaty and swatting the mosquitoes. I wait for what seems like most of the night before I hear a voice from the darkness: “Hey, Johnson, can you give me a hand?”

“Where have you been?” I ask.

“Here take this, and be careful. It’s live.” Whereupon he hands me a nasty looking pancake shaped thing with spikes sticking out of it. It’s a land mine.

“Set it down and help me with the rest,” Horshack says. “I’ve got five more.”

“What the hell have you been doing?” I ask.

“Exploring the jungle,” Horshack says.

I remind him that we aren’t supposed to go off on our own.

“Don’t worry so much,” he said. “Nothing happened, and everything is okay.”

Then the sun comes up and it’s time to get back to Ha Tien. We’re going full speed because it’s harder for Charlie to hit us when we’re traveling fast. Horshack is the bow gunner, but pretty soon he’s back on the fantail with a land mine. There isn’t enough room up forward for him, his mines and his machine gun. “I have to do something with them.” He sets the mine down on the fantail and walks back to his battle station to get the rest.

At dawn, with its night ambush operation completed, a Swift boat returns to its advance base at Ha Tien on the Giant Thanh. (John Yeoman)

With its night ambush operation completed, a Swift boat returns to its advance base at Ha Tien on the Giang Thanh. (John Yeoman)

Before he returns with the second one, the first one is sliding around the deck every time we careen around a river bend. I am beyond upset. I tell Horshack he’s got to secure his trophies. He piles them in the center of a mooring hawser laid on deck in a circle. Now any incoming can obliterate us with one lucky shot − and me first!

Eventually we slow down and I call Ha Tien and tell them I’ve got a buddy with Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Can he meet us?

He’s standing on the fuel pier when we come alongside: “What’s the big deal?” he asks.

I point to the land mines. The EOD is a warrant officer and a pretty crusty guy, but his eyes almost shoot out of their sockets. “Where in the hell did you get those?”

Horshack is summoned to explain. He retells his tale, with new details. After he jumped off the boat, he followed the trail he had seen for a quarter-mile until it dead-ended in a main road of some kind. That was far enough, he decided, and turned around.

On His Way Back, along the same road, he noticed some spikes sticking out of the ground in the middle of the trail. He had seen a lot of war movies and decided this must be a land mine. He took out his trusty K-bar knife and started probing the mine to locate the edges. Once he accomplished this (like in the movies), he dug the mine out and lifted it from the ground. Then he spotted another one. And another. Eventually he reached the boat with an armload of six. The fact that he had walked the whole minefield outward bound without triggering anything does not seem to concern him.

The EOD guy listens to all this and scratches his head. He doesn’t know what to make of Horshack.

“Somebody get me an empty pallet board,” he says, finally. “Has anyone got some parachute cord?” One sailor brings him a shot line. The EOD guy ties one end of the line to the pallet and lowers it over the stern of the boat into the river. He lies flat on the deck while we hold his legs.

“Carefully hand me one of those land mines,” he says. He puts the first one in the center of the pallet and adds the rest, one-by-one, carefully arranging them so the pallet doesn’t tip over. Then he slowly lets the line out until the river floats the pallet and its cargo downriver about 300 yards. He calls for a marksman to take an M-14 rifle, find a high spot, “and, when I call out, shoot the pallet.”

At this point there’s a big audience. The sailor with the M-14 shoots and misses. Then he misses again. But the third time: BOOM!!!!!!! Great theater. It was like Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments

Then the EOD guy turns to me. Time to cut me a new you-know-what for bringing six live land mines out of the woods, driving them down the river and having them on the fantail when we tie up to the fuel barge. I remind him that Seaman Horshack is the one who did it. He doesn’t care. “Don’t do it again,” he tells me.

“Yessir.” What else can I say? I hand him the bottle of Jack Daniel’s I’ve got stashed in my seabag.

Horshack, of course, skates, beaded necklace and all.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Former DDG Commander to Lead U.S. Navy Investigation Into USS Fitzgerald Collision

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald, damaged by colliding with a Philippine-flagged merchant vessel, is towed by a tugboat upon its arrival at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, Japan June 17, 2017. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

The U.S. Navy has chosen Rear Adm. (lower half) Brian Fort, a former DDG commander, to lead the investigation into the collision between the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and a merchant ship off the coast of Japan last week.

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with the Philippines-flagged containership ACX Crystal on the morning of June 17 approximately 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan. The collision killed seven navy sailors and injured three others, including the destroyer's commander.

Fort's past assignments include command of Norfolk-based USS Gonzalez (DDG 66), deploying as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2. He later commanded Destroyer Squadron 26, serving as the sea combat commander for the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group.

Fort will lead the investigation being conducted pursuant to the Manual of the Judge Advocate General (JAGMAN) to gather evidence.

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Maritime Monday for June 26th, 2017: D is for dreadnought

The ABCs of WWI, a British Wartime Alphabet Primer
Fiji resides on the Picton Castle and is often seen in the captain's quarters. The tall ship was docked at Boston Fish Pier.
Tall Ships Boston; from the Charlestown Navy Yard, looking towards Boston – photo by RickinMar
USCG tall ship Eagle makes its way past Castle Island during Saturday's Parade of sail in Boston Harbor (Keith bedford; Boston Globe)

BOSTON — Crew members and cadets from each of the visiting Sail Boston ships paraded through Boston Monday. Many wore their uniforms and some played music or carried the flags from their home nations as they marched into downtown on Seaport Boulevard and High and Summer Streets. More than 50 sailing vessels from 14 nations are docked in Boston Harbor this week for the Sail Boston festival. Boston is the only stop for the 7,000-mile, trans-Atlantic Rendez-vous 2017 Regatta…  keep reading

Tall ships are illuminating Boston at night

Epic drone footage captures Boston's tall ships

A crew member on board the Peruvian Navy Tall Ship Union – David L Ryan/Globe Staff

Photos: Tall Ships leave Boston Harbor

The tall ship Oliver Hazard Perry passes westward through the Cape Cod Canal on its way home after participating in Sail Boston.

Today (June 24, 2017) the CG36460 is 76 years-old.She was completed on this day in 1941 at the Coast Guard Yard in…

Posted by Susan Mulgrew on Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ernest Hemingway at his home in Cuba, the Finca Vigia, circa 1947. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Inside Ernest Hemingway's Private Photo Album & Scrapbook

Mackinac Bridge (at Lake Huron) via spiffingsailor
Lake Boats No Longer With Us – The Irving S. Olds on a Winter Run, Upper Lake Huron, January 2, 1976 Photograph by Rus Hurt
Sunrise at Boston Harbor via SeasSailsShips (cyj70)
Katsushika Hokusai: Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanj?rokkei), ca. 1830-32 – "Discovering Japanese Art: American Collectors and the Met" at the Metropolitan Museum

Arguably the most famous image in all of Japanese art, this iconic woodblock print depicts a huge, frothing wave as it crests over a distant Mount Fuji. Born in Edo (modern Tokyo) in 1760, the influential artist and printmaker led a life that was both intensely productive and undeniably eccentric.

7 Things You Didn't Know about Hokusai, Creator of The Great Wave

This mass of ocean fossils was found in Montana, which used to be covered by a gigantic body of water

Scientists Are Putting Tens of Thousands of Sea Fossils Online

The Western Interior Seaway is gone, but not forgotten

Some 100 million years ago, much of what is now North America was underwater. The body of water scientists call the Western Interior Seaway covered a swath of land that stretched over the entire Midwest. But its secrets have been preserved in countless fossils—and now, over 100,000 of these fossils are being digitized. keep reading on Smithsonian

see also: CHURCHILL Trailer (2017)

Jacques Cousteau; 11 June 1910 – 25 June 1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water. He co-developed the Aqua-lung, pioneered marine conservation and was a member of the Académie française.

Remembering Jacques Cousteau

Sukhbaatar III; the only vessel in the Mongolian Navy – (more)

Pictured above is the Sukhbaatar III, a tugboat (here's another angle.) It is the flagship of the Mongolian Navy — a title it has earned in no small part because it is the full complement of the nation's armada. The tug is operated by a seven-person crew which constitutes the entire navy. That's right, the Mongolian Navy has seven sailors and a tugboat. That's it. Did I forget to mention that Mongolia is landlocked?

Mongolia's Strange and Really Small Navy

Landlocked Navies of the World

DESTINATION GOBI, Ross Bagdasarian, Richard Widmark, 1953, TM & copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved (more photos)

Destination Gobi is a 1953 Technicolor war film starring Richard Widmark and the first color feature film directed by Robert Wise. Set during World War II, US Navy chief Sam McHale (Widmark) takes command of a unit of weather observers stranded behind Japanese lines in Inner Mongolia. McHale must lead his men across the treacherous Gobi Desert to the freedom of the seacoast. Rescued from the Japanese by a Mongolian chief (Murvyn Vye), the men are compelled to repay their rescuer by securing enough saddles for his sixty horses. A flummoxed Pentagon okays the requisition, and the chieftain leads Widmark's band to Okinawa.  more

Destination Gobi trailer on You Tube

The Spear Hunting Egomaniac responsible for Alabama's Most WTF Museum

McGinty is tired of being in the Navy and wants out, a passing seagull shows him a vision of what his life would be like as a civilian. McGinty then wonders if civilian life is all it's cracked up to be. (1949 USA) imdb

Vintage Adult Cartoon from Post-WW2 Era – US Navy; SAILOR AND THE SEAGULL

U.S. Shipping Board Marine Engineers being instructed in reduction gear design and operation. Westinghouse Electric Corporation Steam Division photographs
Ford on the wharf at the Pennsylvania Nautical School in Philadelphia during October 1926. The training ship Annapolis is in the background. Posted by Steve Given to the Museum of Found Photos

In an effort to meet the nation's demand for trained seamen, the United States Congress passed an Act on June 20, 1874 giving the Secretary of the Navy the authority to provide a naval vessel and instructors for a nautical school to be established at each or any of the ports of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, and San Francisco. The Pennsylvania Nautical School (PNS) was established in 1889 by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and for 58 years trained young men for careers in the maritime trades and professions. Approximately 2000 cadets graduated from the school before it closed in 1947.   More on wikipedia

Steering a Course: A Short History of The Pennsylvania Nautical School and Pennsylvania Maritime Academy

Broadside View of Annapolis off San Francisco in 1912 – photo gallery and more info on NavSource

USS Annapolis (PG-10) (School ship, 1920–1940) was a gunboat in the United States Navy;  laid down 18 April 1896 at Elizabethport, New Jersey; launched on 23 December 1896, and commissioned at New York on 20 July 1897.  more on wikipedia

Ark Encounter is a Christian evangelical and fundamentalist theme park that opened in Grant County, Kentucky on July 7, 2016. The centerpiece of the park is a full-scale model of Noah's Ark from the Genesis flood narrative in the Bible which is 510 feet (155 m) long, 85 feet (26 m) wide, and 51 feet (16 m) high.

Ark Encounter is operated by Answers in Genesis (AiG), a Young Earth creationism group that operates the Creation Museum 45 miles (70 km) away in Petersburg, Kentucky.

A dispute over AiG's hiring practices was adjudicated in U.S. federal court, which found in 2016 that the organization could require Ark Encounter employees to sign a statement of faith as a condition of their employment, prompting criticism of the park's discriminatory hiring practices. more

Creationist Ken Ham blames atheists and 'fake news' for failing Ark Encounter theme park

Série exposição "Mar Nosso. Fotografias de Artur Pastor", Museu Marítimo de Ílhavo. Póvoa de Varzim, décadas de 50/60 – via arturpastor

Maritime Monday Archives

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Austal Wins USD 584.2 million US Navy Contract

LCS Class. Photo: Austal

 Australian shipbuilder Austal has won a  $584.2 million contract to build a 14th Littoral Combat Ship for the US Navy, Reuters reported. 

The contract includes associated LCS class services and related material and integrated data environment support, as well as options for the construction of additional LCS, class services and post-delivery availability support, the Pentagon said in a statement.

Australian Associated Press added quoting Asutal that  the 127-metre LCS28 will be built at its shipyard in Mobile, Alabama, employing techniques that would be applied if it wins the Australian government's $3 billion Offshore Patrol Vessel contract.

"While I am obviously happy for Austal, I am also delighted in the vote of confidence this delivers for Australian shipbuilding and design," Austal chief executive David Singleton said.

Austal has now taken $8 billion in orders for the Independence Class LCS program, with the US Navy expected to order two more of the frigate-sized ships in the current US financial year.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth to Set Sail

Captain Jerry Kyd with HMS Queen Elizabeth in the background. Photo: Royal Navy

 Britain's largest ever warship HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier  will set sail today (Monday) for its maiden sea voyage. 

The ship weighs a staggering 65,000 tonnes and cost GBP 3.1bln to build. The ship is 920 ft in length and has nine decks covering 16,000 m2 (170,000 sq ft).

She is named after Elizabeth the first and is the second ship to carry the name - the first was a World War One battleship.

According to Sky News, more than 700 crew are onboard, from seamen to aircraft engineers, dentists to force protection. The oldest crew member is 58 and the youngest 17 although the average age is in the early twenties.

The huge warship's construction along with its sister ship HMS Prince Of Wales is the most expensive in navy history costing GBP 6.2bln, says The Sun. 

Once fully operational the ships – 280 metres in length and with a top speed above 25 knots – will be the centrepiece of Britain's maritime capability.

The aircraft carrier is home to a 700-strong ship's company who for the past few weeks have been getting to grips with the giant vessel before it takes to the seas.

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Maritime Mystery: Why a U.S. Destroyer Failed to Dodge a Cargo Ship

The Fitzgerald after its collision with the container ship ACX Crystal off the coast of Yokosuka, Japan.CreditEugene Hoshiko/Associated Press 

There should have been lookouts on watch on the port, starboard and stern of the destroyer Fitzgerald — sailors scanning the horizon with binoculars and reporting by headsets to the destroyer’s bridge. At 1:30 a.m. last Saturday, off the coast of Japan south of Tokyo, they could hardly have failed to see the 730-foot freighter ACX Crystal, stacked with more than 1,000 containers, as it closed in.

Radar officers working both on the bridge and in the combat information center below it should have spotted the freighter’s image on their screens, drawing steadily closer. And under standard protocol, the Fitzgerald’s captain, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, should have been awakened and summoned to the bridge to assure a safe passage long before the ships could come near each other.

But none of that happened. The Fitzgerald’s routine cruise in good weather through familiar, if crowded, seas ended in the most lethal Navy accident in years. Seven sailors lost their lives.

As investigators try to figure out what many veteran seamen describe as an incomprehensible collision, they have plenty of mysteries to unravel. In addition to the questions for the destroyer’s crew, there is the peculiar course of the Crystal after the accident, recorded by ship-tracking websites. It raises the possibility that no one was awake, or at least aware of their surroundings, when the two ships hit.

Continue reading the main story

Rather than cut engines, assess the damage and look for ways to assist, the Crystal quickly resumed its former course, steaming toward Tokyo harbor for a half-hour before suddenly executing a U-turn and returning to the crash site — as if the ship’s crew had belatedly realized what had happened.

Investigators have spent the past week surveying the damage, reviewing logs, recovering electronic records — a “black box” aboard the Crystal and stored radar data from the Fitzgerald — and interviewing crew members. There should also be an audio recording from the bridge of the destroyer, like the harrowing tape of a 2012 collisionbetween a different destroyer, the Porter, and an oil tanker, in which no one was injured.

Under strict orders not to talk about what they saw that night, the crew of the Fitzgerald is mostly keeping its counsel while grieving the loss of its shipmates. But one sailor, contacted via social media, offered what may endure as an epitaph for the accident.

“All I can say is,” the sailor wrote to The New York Times, “somebody wasn’t paying attention.”


The Path of the Container Ship That Struck a U.S. Navy Destroyer

An animation of the route of the cargo ship that struck a U.S. Navy vessel.


On Friday, Rear Adm. Brian Fort, a veteran warship commander, was ordered to lead the Navy’s main investigation of the collision. The multiple investigations now underway — two by the Navy, one by the United States Coast Guard, others by the Japanese Coast Guard and the Crystal’s insurers — will probably provide answers. But even if the Crystal crew was asleep, Navy veterans say the far more maneuverable Fitzgerald will likely bear much of the blame.

“This is the kind of thing the Navy is brutally honest about,” said Bryan McGrath, who commanded a destroyer in the Atlantic from 2004 to 2006. “To the extent that the Fitzgerald did anything wrong, we’ll find out all about it, and there will be consequences.”

The two ships now sit in ports a short drive apart on the coast south of Tokyo, the 9,000-ton, $1.5 billion Fitzgerald at Yokosuka naval base, its home port, and the 29,000-ton Crystal at Yokohama.

The Fitzgerald has a section of its starboard side caved in, where the Crystal smashed directly into Commander Benson’s stateroom, tearing it open and leaving him injured. Sailors had to bend back the door of his cabin to free him and get him inside the ship, the United States Naval Institute News reported. Beneath the water line, the container ship’s flared bow also tore a large gash in the destroyer’s hull, officials said.

As seawater poured in, some 116 crew members were asleep in two flooded berthing rooms. The ship’s radio room was damaged and much of its communications gear ruined or left without power. Sailors fought the flooding for an hour before sending out distress calls, the institute said.

The bodies of the seven men who died were recovered by divers from flooded spaces sealed off to keep the ship from foundering, a wrenching decision by officers in the chaotic aftermath of the crash.

There are many signs that the Fitzgerald had almost no warning of the approaching collision: the fact that the captain was in his cabin and that no shipwide alarm had rousted sailors from their bunks. “As to how much warning they had, I don’t know,” said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of the Seventh Fleet, at a news conference on Sunday. “That’s going to have to be found out during the investigation.”

Less is known about what happened aboard the Crystal, which had been chartered by a Japanese company to bring cargo from Nagoya, on Japan’s central coast, to Tokyo. Manned by a Filipino crew, it was far less damaged than the Fitzgerald. On Wednesday afternoon, a large blue tarp hung from a gash in the front of the ship, large scratches were visible on the port side and a section of the bow was crumpled.

Darrell Wilson, a spokesman for Dainichi-Invest Corporation, the Crystal’s owner, said the company “wishes to offer sincere condolences to the family and friends of those who so tragically lost their lives on the U.S.S. Fitzgerald.” He declined to comment on whether anyone was awake in the pilot house of the container ship at the time of the collision.

Steffan Watkins, an information technology security consultant who writes for Janes Intelligence on ship tracking, said the path of the Crystal, as posted from its Automatic Identification System, “looks like an automated course.” Instead of stopping so the crew could investigate what had just happened, the ship corrected its course and “kept accelerating” toward Tokyo, he said.

“It looks very much like the computer was driving,” he said.

But the fact that after more than 30 minutes the Crystal reversed course and returned to the accident scene suggests the captain or crew took control of the ship from the autopilot, Mr. Watkins said. “It took them 55 minutes to get back to the spot of the collision, and that’s when they called the Japanese Coast Guard,” he said.

Whether the investigations will confirm the informed speculation of Mr. Watkins remains to be seen. But a number of Navy veterans who joined a lively online debate said that even the most distracted performance by the Crystal’s crew could not justify or explain the Fitzgerald’s failure to get out its way.

“It looks horrible,” said Gary E. Meyer, owner of a tech company in New Jersey, who served on the Navy ship San Diego and posted a YouTube commentary on the accidentthat got much attention. “You have three lookouts and you’re running radar,” Mr. Meyer said. “That ship can really accelerate and maneuver. It doesn’t mean they caused the collision, but they’re at fault for not avoiding it.”

Steven M. Morawiec, of Sparta, Wis., who spent 22 years in the Navy and many times took charge of his ship at night as the officer of the deck, said the failure to summon the captain was incomprehensible.

“On my ship, if another ship was expected to get within 4,000 yards, you had to have the captain there beside you,” he said. “If you didn’t wake the captain when you were supposed to, you were toast.”

The families of those who perished aboard the Fitzgeraldwait for anything that can explain their loss. The bodies are now in the United States and the Navy is conducting autopsies, making funerals hard to plan, said Aly Hernandez-Singer, a cousin of Noe Hernandez, 26, from Weslaco, Tex. Bewildered relatives are grasping at rumors.

“Something ain’t right about what they’re saying,” said Stanley Rehm, the uncle of one of the dead, Fire Controlman First Class Gary Rehm Jr., 37, of Elyria, Ohio, whose heroic efforts to rescue others have inspired an online petition to name a destroyer after him. “We got to get to the bottom of this.”

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