April 20, 2018

Sea Stories: The Swimming Pool and the Fuzes

Here are two more sea stories from Iowa tour lead Jim Pobog's time on the oiler Mispillion. Thanks again to Jim for giving me permission to post them here.

Mispillion in the Western Pacific

Dan Gary’s Swimming Pool

Dan Gary is an interesting guy. From Louisiana, he is a full blood Cajun. English is a second language to him, he speaks with a heavy Cajun patois accent. He grew up as, and to this day is, a rice farmer. Not too long after I joined the ship he made rate and became a 3rd class petty officer (BT3).

One of the duties he was given was the responsibility of filling the ships fresh water tanks when we came into port. These were two large tanks that filled much of the After Steering Room. This was an engineering space mostly above the waterline at the very stern of the ship. This is where the rudder posts came through the hull and attached to the massive hydraulic rams that moved the rudders. There were several large electric motors and hydraulic pumps as well as electrical panels for the equipment. In an emergency, this is where the ship could be steered from. During normal ship operations this space was not manned.

The tanks were about 8 feet tall and had a series of petcocks that enabled you to estimate how much water was in the tank. When we entered port, Dan would check the tanks and rig a fire hose to a fitting on the pier and proceed to fill the tanks.

Dan was the second guy I saw fall prey to the Siren's Song of the evening movie in the chow hall. He set up his line turned on the water and forgot about it.

I do not remember who discovered the water, Dan or someone else, but there was a lot of it. After Steering was like a swimming pool. The water was almost waist deep. I'm estimating there was close to 10,000 gallons of water in there. It was a pretty amazing sight.

Dan got in lots of trouble, the incident almost cost him his crow (that is, he would have lost his rank as petty officer).

He was made to clean up the disaster by himself. He was a busy little beaver. Several of us tried to help as much as we could on the sly, we would have gotten yelled at for helping him. We couldn't really help hauling buckets or anything like that, but we would cruise by every so often and do things like grab the firehose he had rigged to a submersible pump and run it up the ladder and rig it over the side, find him some buckets or dust pans, (they scoop up water really well), or get some dry mops.

It took him all night to dry that place out, and he never made the same mistake again.

Finding Live Fuzes in the Retrograde

CH-46 retrograding supplies

We didn’t only give and give and give supplies, sometimes we had return items. This was called “retrograde”. It was mostly shipping containers for bombs, missiles, grenades, and other assorted munitions.

It would arrive either by a manila highline between ships, or helicopters would carry slings of it and drop it off on our helo deck on the bow. Then groups of us would run forward and manhandle the crates aft to be stowed on deck.

Helos were dropping their loads of retrograde forward and I was involved in moving some of this stuff. We pushed a stack to the starboard (right) side near the passage past the deckhouse. We stopped, and as the rest of the group turned to go back to the helo deck, a small wooden crate near me toppled off and fell a couple feet, hit the deck and sprung open.

5" Fuze

Imagine my surprise when a couple of artillery fuzes for 5 inch projectiles fell out and skittered across the deck. These crates were supposed to be empty! I looked around and saw that the XO, Commander Krumm, was standing just a few feet away and he had seen the whole thing happen.

Fuzes are dangerous, they are like little hand grenades. We looked each other right in the eye, and he said something like “Well, let’s get these over the side.” We picked them up, walked the four or five feet to the rail, and over they went into the blue waters of the South China Sea.


  1. April 21, 2018Mike Kozlowski said...

    ...Having seen a few munitions...umm, 'incidents' in the USAF, I can safely say that we did not react to them with the calm and aplomb shown by the USN team working on that retrograde.

  2. April 21, 2018bean said...

    This just proves that the USN is the best service, right?

    (That, and they may not have understood how dangerous the stuff they were dealing with was. You, I'm pretty sure, did.)

  3. April 23, 2018Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    There is a US Navy publication which I am still trying to find scans or copies of, OP-1014, Ordnance Safety Precautions: Their Origin and Necessity (not entirely sure citation is accurate, corrections welcomed), which has various things like "this photo of a 500' crater in the reef shows the last location of an ammo ship that did not obey safety precautions". I have only heard about it from a post by an old salt over on Making Light.

  4. April 23, 2018bean said...

    That seems like the most interesting manual I've learned about in the past few years. I must have it! (Unfortunately, I’m in the wrong part of the country to get access to NARA, which may be the only place to find a copy.)

  5. April 24, 2018Tony Zbaraschuk said...

    I was sort of hoping someone could provide a link to the thing. I have tried googling multiple times and I get references to the thing, but (so far) no copies. It's kind of older; the guy I heard about it from was probably reading it back in the 1960s or 1970s.

  6. April 24, 2018bean said...

    There appear to have been two versions, 1943 and 1955. Unfortunately, if it’s not in the first couple pages of google, it’s not there. I even checked worldcat, which shows only one copy, in a Mexican state library. That said, it appears someone is selling a CD copy for $5. I’m tempted to take them up on that myself. (Milspecmanuals is pretty well-known in the field, and probably trustworthy.)

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