By Captain George Stewart, USN (RET)
This is the fourth in a series of articles by Captain Stewart detailing the technical specifications, manning, and operations of the U.S. Navy’s Fletcher class destroyers.
In my last article (read it here) I wrote about operations of a Fletcher class destroyer, based on my experiences serving in USS Halsey Powell (DD 686) during the Cold War. When last seen we had just secured the special sea detail and set the regular underway watch. A few additional things remained to be done. I will try not to get too technical in the next paragraph.
A Fletcher had what is referred to as “Superheat Control Boilers.” These boilers had divided furnaces. The main set of burners was used to control steam pressure, which was maintained at approximately 600 pounds per square inch. The other set of burners controlled steam temperature (superheat). These burners could not be lit until the engines were providing enough steam flow to prevent the superheater tubes from overheating. This would occur after the ship was at sea and up to a steady speed of at least 10-12 knots. At that point you could light the superheater burners and begin to raise steam temperature up to its maximum value of 850°F. At the rate of 50 degrees every five minutes, the operation required 30 to 35 minutes. The problem with this system was that the process had to be reversed before you could slow the ship back down to a speed of less than 10 knots, as when entering port. In an emergency you could secure the superheater burners immediately. But that would result in an instant drop of about 300° in steam temperature, causing heavy stresses on piping and setting up a bunch of steam leaks.
One thing we always had to be conscious of was keeping the number of steam leaks and other sources of unnecessary water consumption to a minimum. All potable water had to be distilled and if we ran short it would be necessary for us to go on “Water Hours” and restrict showers, etc. That did not do much for crew morale and we tried to avoid it as much as possible. A weakness of the Fletcher Class destroyers was the fact that they only had one distilling plant. A second plant was provided on the Sumner and Gearing Class destroyers.
Virtually all World War II era battleships, carriers, destroyers, and cruisers had boilers of this type. But they were hardly used anywhere else and after the war, no new ships were fitted with double furnace boilers. I really disliked the controlled superheat system. It was a pain to operate and all deck officers had to be constantly aware of the limitations imposed on low speed maneuvering.
The other things we had to do after leaving port were to secure the anchor for sea, put away all mooring lines, pump bilges, blow boiler tubes (to clean soot deposits) and generally secure the ship for sea.
At this point, the next actions depended upon what the ship was scheduled to do next. But first we will describe the underway watch organization.
The Officer of the Deck (OOD) on a naval vessel is the officer in charge of the ship. He reports directly to the captain. During the period of his watch, except for the captain, all personnel on board are subordinate to the OOD with the caveat that the Executive Officer may direct or relieve him if he sees fit. Watches are four hours in length. Aboard Halsey Powell, we stood a one in four watch rotation while underway. All underway officer watch assignments were made by the Senior Watch Officer, in our case, the Operations Officer.
The Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) acts as a general assistant to the OOD. He is in training for eventual assignment as an OOD. The OOD and JOOD usually split the conning duties.
The bridge watch normally consisted of the following personnel. All starred personnel were junior petty officers.
- Boatswains Mate of The Watch* – Supervises all enlisted bridge watch standers.
- Helmsman – Steers the ship as directed by the conning officer.
- Lee-Helmsman – Operates the Engine Order Telegraph (EOT)
- Forward Lookouts – Two on top of the pilot house. Placed in the “eyes of the ship” (forecastle) during periods of low visibility.
- Quartermaster of the Watch* – Maintains the deck log and tracks the ship’s position.
- 1JV Talker – Manned sound powered phone circuit to lookout stations, CIC, engine room, and After Steering. (On ships of that era, most interior communications were by this method. These phones are powered entirely by voice.)
- Messenger – Runs errands, makes coffee, and wakes up the oncoming watch.
- After Lookout/Lifebuoy Watch – Stationed aft. Expected to take action in event of a man overboard or other emergency situation
- After Steering – Takes over steering control in an emergency. While I can see the necessity of this watch in restricted waters or when operating at sea in close proximity to other ships, virtually every problem that I ever had with a steering gear was caused by the fact that there was a man in After Steering.
- Signalman *– Takes care of flashing light, flag hoist, or semaphore communications. These were still in common use.
The CIC (Combat Information Center) Watch included:
- CIC Watch Officer – We always used a commissioned officer, normally the 3 or 4 lowest Ensigns. I absolutely hated this assignment.
- Supervisor* – A senior Radarman in charge of the watch.
- Radar Operators – 2 or 3 other enlisted personnel of the Radarman rating.
Under routine watch conditions, CIC was responsible for tracking all radar contacts and providing information to the OOD concerning the contacts course, speed, and closest point of approach (CPA). Surface Contacts were referred to as “Skunks” and air contacts were “Bogeys”.
Radio Central – At least two watch standers were required.
Sonar – We maintained a 1 or 2 man watch in Sonar Control when the sonar was active
Engineering Watches – A World War II destroyer required at least 19 watch standers. Virtually no automation or labor saving devices were provided. That was the philosophy of the day.
Fireroom – Each fireroom required four watch standers under normal steaming conditions with two boilers on the line. More were needed if four boiler operations were required. Fortunately this was not a common occurrence as the ship was capable of speeds up to 28 knots with two boilers on the line. All B Division personnel except the Chief Boiler Technician (BTC) and oil king stood watches.
- Watch Supervisor (BTOW)* – In charge of the watch. Operated the forced draft blowers to control air supply to the furnace and operated the superheater burners.
- Checkman* – Stationed on the upper level next to the boiler water level gauge glass. Controlled water level in the boiler. A thoroughly dull, tedious assignment.
- Burnerman – Served as the fireman. Operated the main burners.
- Messenger – Made rounds, took log readings, made coffee.
Engine Room – Each Engine Room required at least four or five watch standers. The watch supervisor in the Forward Engine Room (Main Control) was normally a Chief or First Class Petty Officer of the Machinist’s Mate (MM) rating who served as the Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW). The EOOW was responsible for overall coordination of the engineering plant, including all communications with the bridge.
- Watch Supervisor (MMOW)* – In charge of the watch.
- Throttleman * – Operated the main engine throttles in response to orders received from the bridge on the EOT. Each engine room controlled its own throttles. But the After Engine Room was subordinate to Main Control in the Forward Engine Room.
- Lower Level Oiler – Attended auxiliary machinery on the lower level of the engine room
- Messenger – Made rounds, took log readings, made coffee, etc.
- Switchboard Electrician* – One required for each operating generator
- Evaporator Operator* (Forward Engine Room only) – Operated the ship’s distilling plant.
There was also a sounding and security patrol who made regular rounds of the ship to check for fire/flooding or other hazards.
That all adds up to 3 officers and 30 enlisted personnel required for each underway watch. Not very economical on personnel. A battleship with eight boilers and four engines would have required about 50 to 55 personnel on each watch and a carrier would have needed still more. Officers generally stood a four section rotation while the enlisted men were in three sections. All officers except the CO, XO, and Supply Officer were on the watch bill. You were called by the messenger a half an hour prior to the watch time and were expected to be on station ready to relieve 15 minutes before the hour.
The only Chief Petty Officers who stood regular underway watches were Machinist’s Mates in the Engine Room.
Underway watches were four fours in length, as follows (24 hour clock):
- 0000-0400 – The mid watch. Nobody liked it. I always had trouble getting any sleep before it.
- 0400-0800 – If you had to have a night watch, most people preferred this one.
- 0800-1200 – The working day
- 1200-1600 – The same
- 1600-1730 – First Dog Watch.
- 1730 – 2000 – Second Dog Watch
- 2000-2400 – You missed the wardroom movie
Dogging the watches served two purposes:
- Allowed everybody to eat the evening meal.
- You did not get the same watch two days in a row.
Underway routine went something like this:
- 0600 – Reveille. The Master at Arms went around turning on all the lights in the compartments.
- 0630- Wake late sleepers (Mid watch standers)
- 0630-0730 – Breakfast
- 0740 – Morning quarters – The off-watch crew assembled in ranks for a review of the plan of the day.
- 0745 – Officers Call – Officers fell in ranks to receive instructions from the XO. Then they proceeded back to meet with their divisions.
- 0800 – Turn to – Commence ships work
- 1115 – Knock off ship’s work
- 1130-1230 – Noontime meal
- 1200 – The bridge messenger made 12 O’Clock Reports to the CO. These included the amount of fuel and water on board, magazine temperatures, and several other items that I have forgotten.
- 1230-1300 – Many people took “nooners” (naps). A very bad habit and hard to break.
- 1300 – Turn to – Continue ship’s work
- 1600 – Knock off ship’s work
- 1730-1830 – Evening Meal
- 2000 – The word was passed “Now lay before the mast all eight O’Clock reports”. This meant for the department heads to report to the XO and provide him with a list of equipment that was out of commission.
- 2015 – Movies on mess deck and in wardroom
- 2200 – Taps – Lights out (enforced by the Master at Arms)
Wardroom meals were semi-formal. The CO sat at the head of the table while the mess caterer (supply officer) sat at the other end. The XO sat immediately to the right of the CO and other officers were arranged according to seniority. Three forbidden topics at the table were women, politics, and religion and most of the ships that I served aboard followed this policy pretty well. If the CO was a martinet (occasionally happens) the meals could degenerate into a big chewing out session.
Mess Cooks are not really cooks. They were junior enlisted personnel assigned temporary duties to set up and serve the meals on the Mess Deck and clean up afterwards under the auspices of the Duty Master at Arms. They had to be on station 30 minutes before mealtime. Sailors assigned to scullery duty were referred to as “Scullery Maids”.
The sailors had a rating system for the evening movies. It was usually inscribed on the movie folders:
- GF – Good Flick
- GFF – Good Fxxxing Flick
- GDGFF – God Dxxx Good Fxxxing Flick
This routine gets tedious after a while. That is why a sailor always looks forward so much to liberty ports. Although living conditions are much improved on the more modern ships, the routine has not really changed much today.
The next question is “What did we spend our time actually doing at sea?” There is no simple answer to that one. I will try and answer it as best as I can. Time at sea is not spent in continuous high adventure. There are many days where not much goes on at all.
We would normally transit from the West Coast to the Far East as a division under control of our Squadron Commander (Commodore) in a column formation. Transit speed would usually be 15 or 16 knots. We would arrive in Hawaii with about 20% fuel remaining. After some time spent in briefings, it was onward to join the Seventh Fleet with an intermediate stop at Midway.
Most of the time spent during a deployment was spent in either screening a carrier task group or in conducting patrols in the Straits of Taiwan. The patrol duty was quite boring. If things were hot, we sometimes would continuously man one gun plus the director. We had instructions to report any unusual concentrations of junks. But nothing much usually went on.
Screening a carrier task group was a bit livelier. The task group commander or Officer in Tactical Command (OTC), who controlled all movements of the group, was a Rear Admiral stationed aboard the carrier. The senior destroyer commodore would act as screen commander. He would set up the screen, including all station assignments and reorientations. If sonar contact was gained, a couple of destroyers would be sent to check it out.
As an aside, I had plenty of experience at doing this myself when I was serving on the staff of Commander Destroyer Squadron Twelve in 1963-65. The Staff Watch Officer had what amounted to OOD like responsibilities for the entire screen or destroyer formation and issued all orders to the ships in the name of my boss, the Commodore.
The join up process would look like organized chaos with the previous screening group departing as we relieved them on station.
The ideal arrangement would be a circular screen with 360° of coverage. But we seldom had enough destroyers to provide one. Usually we had 6 or 8 ships available. So the most frequent arrangement was a bent line screen shaped like an exaggerated upside down letter U across the front (van) of the formation where it was considered to be most vulnerable to submarine attack. The screen stations would be at a safe distance from the carrier with spacing determined by the predicted effective sonar range.
All seagoing deck officers must understand the principles of relative motion. Essentially that means that you are on a moving platform in the open ocean with no geographic references around you. Under these circumstances, the motion of all other vessels as observed visually or by radar will be relative to one’s own ship. True motion of a contact had to be determined graphically on a plotting sheet called a “maneuvering board”. An understanding of relative motion is particularly important when changing station in a formation.
Station keeping is accomplished by maintaining a specified range and true bearing to the formation guide, in this case the carrier. Bearing was determined visually by looking through small telescopes (alidades) mounted on top of the gyro compass repeaters. Range was determined either by an optical device called a stadimeter or by radar. The conning officer made the necessary minor course and speed adjustments to remain on station.
An aircraft carrier often operates in a limited geographical area. In order to safely launch or recover aircraft it must turn into the wind in such a manner as to produce approximately 30 to 35 knots of relative wind down the flight deck in order to provide adequate lift for the aircraft. Under light wind conditions, it may be necessary for the carrier to generate its own wind by its own speed through the water. The screening destroyers must duplicate the movements of the carrier. Upon completion of air operations, the carrier would reverse course, slow down, and proceed on a downwind leg. This was necessary to remain in the assigned geographic area. All maneuvering orders were received and acknowledged by the screening ships in alphabetical order by “This is (ship’s voice call, in our case “Campfire”) Roger, Out” on the bridge to bridge voice radio. Usually warning was given of an impending maneuver by an “Execute to follow.” Followed shortly thereafter by a “Stand by, Execute.” But urgent maneuvers were “Immediate Execute.”
Whenever these course reversals were ordered, it was necessary for the screen commander to reorient the screen so that it remained in front of the carrier. This was done in accordance with some very definite rules that were designed to avoid collision. Stationing speed was normally 25 knots. CIC would provide a recommended course to the new station. But the OOD had to augment this recommendation with his own eyeball while observing the movements of the other ships, particularly the carrier. It could result in scary situations, particularly at night when there seemed to be running lights all over the place. On a few occasions, carriers have been known to collide with a screening destroyer, with disastrous results. On one such occasion during the early 1950s the carrier Wasp ran down the destroyer Hobson with a considerable loss of life.
One screening ship would be assigned as a plane guard. This station was at 165° relative to the carrier at a distance of 1000 yards. Sometimes a second plane guard would be placed ahead of the carrier on a relative bearing of 330°. The purpose of this assignment was to serve as a reference point for the aircraft as they made their approach for landing and to act as rescue destroyer in the event of an aircraft splashing into the water. I only saw this happen once, and unfortunately while we found the aircraft, there was no sign of the pilot.
The plane guard was required to duplicate the carrier’s movements while remaining on station. At this close range, there was plenty of opportunity for disaster. One problem was that there are a lot of lights on the flight deck of a carrier that can be confusing and sometimes it was difficult to tell which way the carrier is going. Coupled with a rather nonchalant attitude by the aviators running the carrier towards us “small boys,” this could easily be a recipe for disaster.
About every four or five days we would refuel at sea from either an oiler (AO) if one was present or more frequently from the carrier. We could only go alongside on the starboard side of the carrier because of the angled flight deck. The fueling detail consisted of a modified sea detail on the bridge and in the steering gear room, deck force personnel at the fueling stations, and the off watch Fire Room personnel at various locations above and below decks where they could take tank soundings and manipulate valves. All tank levels were determined by a sounding tape and a rag, somewhat like checking the oil level in your car. There were fueling stations fore and aft on both sides of the ship.
The basic procedure is to take station about 500 yards astern of the delivery ship and parallel her course and speed. Fueling is usually accomplished at a speed of 12 to 14 knots. When the signal is given speed is increased to 5 knots above refueling speed and you move out to the side clear of the delivery ship’s wake. When you are about 150 yards astern of the delivery ship, speed is dropped to refueling speed. Once alongside, we would maintain a distance of 80 to 100 feet between ships. First the phone and distance line is passed by shot line and direct sound powered phone communications would be established between the ship’s bridges. This line had small flags on it that showed the conning officer the distance between ships. Next the delivery ship would send over the messenger lines at the forward and after fueling stations. In those days, the receiving ship’s crews had to pull the hoses over by hand, uncap the hoses, and securely lash the ends into the open fueling trunks. Then the signal would be given to start pumping. Below decks the sailors would start taking regular soundings. Meanwhile the conning officer had to maintain exact position alongside by minute course and speed changes. As the tanks filled up, the receiving ship would give the delivery ship 15 minute and 5 minute standbys, finally giving the signal to cease pumping. The next step was for the delivery ship to blow down the hoses with compressed air so as to clear out any residual fuel. Then we would recap the hoses and start the process of disconnecting and sending the rigs back. The last line to go back was the phone and distance line. When all lines were clear we would all breathe a sigh of relief that a collision had not occurred and then kick it up to 25 knots to get back to our screen station. Unlike most steam driven ships, where there is no discernible topside noise, on destroyers you could always hear the characteristic wail of the forced draft blowers as they were sped up to supply more combustion air to the boilers and it was a very satisfying sound as we pulled away. Combined with vibration from the propellers, there was never any doubt as to how fast you were going.
Nowadays the procedure has been made considerably easier by the use of tensioned wire high lines and probe receivers similar to those developed for in-flight refueling of aircraft. But the basic procedure remains the same.
If we were going to conduct a live firing exercise or anticipated the real thing we would set General Quarters (GQ). This was accomplished by sounding the General Alarm and announcing it on the 1MC general announcing system. All hands would be directed to man their battle stations. Every crew member had a GQ assignment. All gun crews and other weapons stations would be manned. Damage Control parties would assemble and set Material Condition Zebra for maximum protection against battle damage. There were three damage control parties, designated Repair 2, 3, and 5 respectively. Each repair party was responsible for their own section of the ship. Communications would be established between all stations. Some key officer responsibilities were as follows:
- CO – Bridge – On modern combatant ships his battle station is CIC.
- XO – CIC Evaluator
- Operations Officer – OOD
- CIC Officer – CIC
- Gunnery Officer – On the bridge with the CO. Coordination of all weapons batteries.
- Assistant Gunnery Officer – Main Battery Director
- Anti-Submarine Officer – Sonar control
- Chief Engineer – Main Control
- Damage Control Officer – Damage Control Central in communications with repair parties
- Other officers went where assigned
Fortunately we never encountered any live firing situations, although there were a number of places that we could have.
There were a variety of other exercises that we might be called upon to perform. These included anti-submarine exercises where we were given a submarine to play around with, shore bombardment, and a variety of internal ship drills such as fire, flooding, man overboard, etc. Periodically I would be allowed to conduct engineering casualty control drills, normally at night. I tried to make these as realistic as possible and they were my principal method of qualifying engineering watch standers.
The procedure for entering port was basically the reverse of that for getting underway. About 30 minutes prior to arrival it was time to start lowering superheat so we would have it secured by the time we reached the sea buoy. Boiler tubes were blown, bilges pumped, mooring lines broken out, whistle tested, and the anchor made ready for dropping. Then it would be time to set the Special Sea Detail.
Entering port was basically the reverse of the process previously described for getting underway. As stated earlier, we very rarely made use of tugs and pilots. There was no need to do so in our home port of San Diego and even in other places, we tried to avoid it unless specifically required by regulations. Destroyer officers generally took a lot of pride in being able to handle their ships without assistance.
After all the mooring lines were in place and doubled up and the brow was in place the word would be passed down to secure main engines. The Special Sea Detail would be secured and the OOD would shift his watch to the Quarterdeck, on the Main Deck amidships.
The crew was normally in four sections in port with one duty day out of every four. Each duty section was led by a Command Duty Officer (CDO) who was usually one of the department heads. The duties of the in port OOD included maintaining ship security, rendering side honors to visiting dignitaries, coordination of small boat operations, and a variety of other functions. These watches were stood by either a junior officer or Chief Petty Officer. Essentially you functioned as a (not very high priced) doorman.
If we were moored to a buoy, it was necessary to “steam auxiliary”, that is to maintain one boiler and generator in operation to supply ships power. If we were tied up alongside a pier or a tender, we would hook up all necessary shore services such as electrical power, steam, and fresh water and go “Cold Iron”. We still maintained roving patrols in the machinery spaces and around the ship.
In port time was spent performing maintenance, loading stores, and various administrative functions. Most important, at the end of the working day and on weekends we could “Go home to mama.” Some crewmembers would follow less wholesome pursuits, such as going to Tijuana. All sailors going ashore were issued a “Liberty Card” which had to be shown to the OOD when departing the ship. Enlisted personnel were not allowed to have civilian clothes on board. A sailor’s worst fate was to have his liberty card revoked.
This completes my best effort at describing what life was like on a World War II era destroyer. While I did not personally serve during the war, both the CO and XO and most of the senior petty officers had and many of the practices had carried over. In the final piece of this series, I will describe my own personal experiences serving in Halsey Powell during the 1950’s (read that story here).
George W. Stewart is a retired US Navy Captain. He is a 1956 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. During his 30 year naval career he held two ship commands and served a total of 8 years on naval material inspection boards, during which he conducted trials and inspections aboard over 200 naval vessels. Since his retirement from active naval service in 1986 he has been employed in the ship design industry where he has specialized in the development of concept designs of propulsion and powering systems, some of which have entered active service. He currently holds the title of Chief Marine Engineer at Marine Design Dynamics.