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"Collision 1956"

We were four days out of Charleston S.C. and it had been a rough ride.. Smiley, that was what the crew called me, was enjoying it and the sea was giving him a spectacular scene that he had never experienced before. We had just completed about 500 miles from Charleston and were on the way to the Mediterranean with our division, the USS Dash [MSO 428], Dominant [MSO 431], and Detector [MSO 429]. It was later reported as the worst storm in history for that area and that time of the year. We had emerged from the bad weather and even though the sea was still rather heavy, we rendevoued with The USS Canisteo [AO 99], an oiler for refueling at sea. As we came alongside the tanker, We were rocking and rolling a lot, but managed to get hooked up ok. My station was on the portside on the fwd highline , as I was only a fireman apprentice and had to help with the line handling. We were hooked up to the starboard side and had started recieving fuel and supplies when all of a sudden the ship seemed to swing towards the tanker and it became apparent we were about to hit the tanker. I decided out of reflex and fear to head aft. About that time the ship caught a swell and it lifted us up and we came down on to the well deck of the tanker with our bow. There was a loud cracking sound and the stem post was cracked as we backed away. The crew on the fueling station were trying to disconnect the fuel hose and I observed one of the boatswain mates swing a fireax at it and it just bounced off. I was heading aft about amidships and I almost laughed out loud because the ax was made of brass and would have bent before it would have cut it. As I passed the whaleboat I saw the stewards mate, Mackey, yelling lower away, lower away, even though there was no one there but him. The fuel lines finally broke loose and took down all the lifelines and stanchions on the starboard side and starboard forecasle. After the collision as we lay to, the diver went down to inspect the rudder for damage because the helm had went out of control going hard to port which caused the collision. There was no physical damage but the helm would not answer in the pilot house. I was determined that we should return to Charleston independently due to the damage to the bow. We would have to steer from the aft steering compartment. Turning back that night we ran back into the storm we had emerged from the day before and it had strengthed in intensity. I stood watches in the pilot house as lee helm and the helsman was just standing by as the electrical steering was not working. The ride back was something else and well, that's another story.. Catch you later ...

Bob Cantrell, EMC, USN, Ret. alias "Smiley"

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