Hobart in Vietnam: Followup Letters

Hobart in Vietnam: Follow-up letters

by Ian Callaway and David Holthouse

Part 2 of 2. Read Part 1 here

callawayaim-7-sparrow
Ian Callaway (left) is at the Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) plotting desk in HMAS
Hobart. The
Raytheon AIM-7 Sparrow (right) is a semi-active air-to-air missile that homes at up to Mach 4 on a target illuminated by its launcher’s radar out to maximum ranges of 20 to 32 miles (depending on the version). Launch weight is a hefty 225 kg (500 pounds) and the Sparrow measures 3.66 metres x 203 mm (12 feet by eight inches) with a wingspan of one metre (3 feet 4 inches). The expanding steel rod warhead carries 40 kg (88 pounds) of explosive. (F-16 net graphic.)

Harry Daish’s story of the second HMAS Hobart deployment to Vietnam from March to September 1968 (Newsletters 76 and 77) filled in some of the gaps left by the official histories published over recent years. It is a pity that the full details of what happened on board Hobart and in the operational area around the DMZ on the morning of 17 June 1968, do not seem to be available. I don’t believe they were investigated thoroughly at the time and although I was the ship’s Gunnery Officer, I was never formally asked to describe the events of that night, as I saw them.

Political context

In the context of the political environment of the Vietnam War, I have always assumed that no formal inquiry was held and no timely detailed conclusions about the incident were released, because the RAN did not want to embarrass the US.  But because the incident was not looked at thoroughly, the full details of what happened on board and in the area and the lessons for the RAN and the relevant US military commands were never discussed, at least not at the working level.

I don’t know if this can be called a cover-up, which suggests that the RAN had something to hide. I don’t believe it did.

I can fill in a few details of the gun engagement, amplifying Harry’s account.

Shock wave

I was awakened in my cabin by the shock wave that went through the ship when the first missile struck. I reached the Ops Room before the second missile hit and, in addition to feeling the shock wave, I heard what sounded like tons of glass smashing against the after Ops Room bulkhead.  Following these attacks, the state of the ship’s gun and missile systems were as follows:

a. both missile systems were unserviceable, due to major shrapnel damage to the missile radar aerials and director room equipment, and
b. the gunfire control system was down due to the loss of gyro stabilisation and the missile directors.

There was also a previous radar defect. Mounts 51(forward gun) and 52 (aft gun) were operational, but both were showing signs of a breech problem that was spreading through all 5”/54 fitted gun mounts. This followed recent re-barrelling in Subic with the latest modified barrels. Initially there was turmoil on AA Control as the port after lookout, ORDSEA Butterworth, had just been killed by missile warhead shrapnel from the first attack. Other members of the AA Control crew were in shock. They had narrowly escaped a similar fate.

butterworthsculley
ORDSEA Raymond J. Butterworth (left) was killed in the action and ME Graeme H. Sculley DSM won the only medal awarded during Hobart’s deployment for taking over talker duties in Repair 5, despite severe trauma that included a broken leg and witnessing the death of Chief Electrician Hunt.

I was told later that the AA Control Officer, CPO Miller (an HMAS Hobart I Pacific War veteran, who had seen such carnage before) quickly got his team of lookouts back to their duties when he barked, “This is what you joined up for; now get back to your job.”

Very soon after,  AA Control was able to report that a swept wing aircraft had overflown the ship and they continued reporting what they saw and heard.


SPA 50 display

In the Ops Room, I stationed myself at the SPA 50 display at the starboard end of the Evaluator’s desk. The SPA 50 was displaying an unstabilised SPS 10 picture and on the 20 nautical mile scale an aircraft could clearly be seen in the vicinity of the ship. As this aircraft turned towards the ship from a position about 12 miles out and just to the right of the rotating ships head marker, I spoke to the Mount 51 captain, LSEA Stokes, using the ship’s dial telephone and ordered him to train on 010 relative, elevate to 30 degrees and then to “fire”.

The order meant fire the gun immediately with whatever ammunition was available in the loader. The gun mount fired five rounds towards the approaching aircraft when it was at about four miles. The aircraft turned away towards the south without attacking the ship.

aa-lookouts
AA lookouts in HMAS
Hobart, monitoring enemy coastal battery fire.

Using the same procedure, Mount 51 fired another five or so rounds towards this aircraft while it circled threateningly to the south-east. During this period I heard of reports from USS Boston and USS Edson that they also were under attack. Hobart retreated rapidly eastwards by keeping North Vietnam astern and the aircraft finally departed the scene.

Miraculous survivors on that night were the members of the .50 calibre machine gun crew. They were sitting down next to their weapon on top of the Ikara magazine and just forward of the first exploding warhead. Most of the shrapnel passed over their heads and they suffered relatively minor injuries.

Pre-deployment training

HMAS Hobart was the first of the DDGs to deploy to Vietnam with a ship’s company that  had no benefit of pre-commissioning and sea workup training in the United States. A few of the first tour people remained onboard for the second deployment, but the bulk of the ship’s company was new to DDGs and their weapons systems.

There was no pool of DDG-experienced personnel available to provide shore training and shore training facilities were not available in Australia. Most of the gun system personnel had not previously seen or received training on the equipment with which they were to go to war and fight.

The USN gun system drill book had to be rewritten in the month immediately before the start of the sea workup, to make as much use as possible of existing standard RAN procedures. The results achieved during the gunnery workup were abysmal and the gun system was not fully operational until Ford Instrument Company technical representatives rectified the many matériel problems that existed, on arrival in Subic.

Successful firing

The first successful Naval Gunfire Support practice firing for the second deployment team was on the Subic range, immediately before departure for the gun line and the Vietnam War.

Official historians seem to have ignored the very special difficulties faced by HMAS Hobart’s ship’s company for the ship’s second Vietnam deployment. It is a pity that no effort has been made to correct this omission.


David Holthouse, who was Hobart’s EO at the time,  adds …

Harry Daish’s article brought back some memories. I was Hobart’s Engineer Officer (EO) during her, and his, second deployment to Vietnam and readers might be interested in some impressions from below 1 Deck. I almost said “from the starting platform” but that was David Blazey’s action station, together with CERA Kevin Fanker, the youthful and efficient Chief Tiff, and his engine and fire room teams; mine was Damage Control Central (DC Central).

Hailstorm of fragments

Like Ian Callaway, I was soundly asleep when the first missile hit us, but the initial shock and noise followed by a hailstorm of fragments – rattling around in the cross passage and on the door to the officers’ after cabin flat – fixed that. We’d all taken to wearing USN khakis with RAN collar insignia during the deployments. They seemed especially useful for Plumbers, as one could fuel ship, or visit the machinery spaces and eat in the wardroom without a change of uniform in between, but Pussers’ white overalls were my choice that morning: you’re into them in a whole lot less time which, maybe, is also true of the new Disruptive Pattern Combat Uniforms (DPCUs). I hope so as they don’t have much else to commend them.

hobart-damage-2hobart-damage-1
Damage inspection. The jagged tear (left) attests the efficacy of the expanding rod shrapnel warhead of the AIM 7 and explains why some of
Hobart‘s radar was not functioning.

Repair 5, the midships Damage Control Base, was just forward of the other end of the cross passage and on the way to DC Central. I stopped to discuss damage control with my very calm and capable Chief Stoker, John Scott. The lights were out, but we had torches and there was some illumination in the main passageway from electrical arcs and small fires in the overhead. The passage was smoky and smelt of fire.

 

 


Second salvo

There were no casualties in the vicinity, but this was to change tragically with the arrival of the second salvo, moments after I left the Repair 5 team and continued forward to the hatch down to DC Central. None of us knew who or what was the enemy, but the impacts were a whole lot more convincing than the sounds made by near misses from North Vietnamese shore batteries when heard from below the waterline. I decided that the second salvo coming in so soon and so impressively probably meant we were in big trouble.

Chief Electrician Ray Hunt was killed in this second attack and the wounded included Engineering Mechanic Graeme Sculley, a member of the Repair 5 team, who received a DSM for his bravery that morning.

Like Ian Callaway,  I was never interviewed about the incident, which is a pity as it would have provided an opportunity to correct some errors in the record. For example, it has always been held that we were hit by three missiles, one on the first pass and two on the second.

Substantial dent

This was the initial assessment and report. On closer inspection, once we were alongside in Subic, it was clear that a substantial dent, concave from outboard, in the side of the starboard Ikara magazine, well forward of the “reflecting corner” created by the empty boat space where the two missiles that armed themselves had exploded, could only have come from a piece of a fourth missile. My guess is that this one hadn’t armed itself and broke up on impact with the sea and we copped a piece of it.

After daylight the Captain asked for an estimate of the number of holes we’d sustained; he needed this for his battle damage report. My Chief Shipwright “Brick” Bradford and I were on the upper deck organising cosmetic repairs so that Hobart could enter harbour as shipshape as possible. The aim was to cover the worst of the holes using taped on grey PVC sheeting, damage control plugs and wedges, quick drying cement and a lick of ship’s side grey paint.

hobart-damage-3
David Holthouse seems well justified in his claim that “200” only accounted for the “bigger holes”.

Why do we do these things? My estimate of 200 covered only the bigger holes, the ones we were attempting to hide, but the number was thereupon written into the annals of history. Of course there were many more: probably twice the number. There was also some pretty impressive structural damage too, including the base of the after funnel that was largely removed, and one leg of the ammunitioning jackstay tripod, completely shot away. The expanding warheads from the two armed missiles had opened jagged zip lines in the starboard superstructure, but did not penetrate 1 Deck.

While the Chief Chippy and his team were doing their best to hide the battle damage as we made our way to Subic, a column of RN ships, no doubt on passage from HK to Singapore for a jolly, crossed our bow, did a hard right and steamed down our starboard side for a good look. How did they know? It seemed quaint then, and still does, but I remember feeling glad, perhaps for the first time, that the RAN had adopted its own distinguishing white ensign two years earlier.

Representatives of the Subic Bay Ship Repair Facility (ShipRepFac as I recall) came on board before we entered harbour and by the time we were alongside they’d given me their estimate of the time to repair the ship: a scarcely credible 28 days, working three shifts. This estimate was later confirmed and would have been met, but for difficulty in sourcing material for the replacement tripod leg.

Repaired in 30 days

In the event the repair took 30 days, thanks largely to the good humour and drive of the ship supervisor (“Hoss”), whose parting gift was a pair of white overalls left over from his previous job at the Navy Yard in Jacksonville, Florida. They became my painting overalls at home and wore out eventually, but a rectangle cut from the back and bearing the blue embroidered legend “SUPSHIPJAX”, is framed on my workshop wall.

Turning the ship around as they did, in a way that Garden Island Dockyard (GID) could not have imagined, was a remarkable achievement. We were set, I thought, to be warmly welcomed back to Sea Dragon by our USN friends but unhappily this was not to be. First the Surface Search Radar (SPS10) and then Long Range Air Search Radar (SPS52, I hope I’ve got that right) played up, leading to much frustration all round, and we departed for IV Corps.

Harry Daish mentioned that the Board of Inquiry did not seek input from Hobart. I suspect that FOCAF or Navy Office got some sort of a guernsey though, because word filtered through to us that the RAN had turned down a US offer to pay for the repair, on “fog of war” grounds – friendly fire happens and where will it all end if allies start paying each other for their mistakes – which seems sensible.

I believe the Phantom that attacked us was part of the US Seventh Air Force, based in Thailand. A sad story that did the rounds at the time was that the commanding General or second in command, I forget which, was in the back seat of another Phantom some weeks later when it was shot down in flames. The pilot ejected safely but the removal of his canopy swept the flames aft and the General was engulfed.

Massive damage

The missile from our Phantom’s second salvo, which did not arm itself, did massive damage. It entered the small arms magazine through the transom as a projectile and took out the watertight door. This must have acted like a piston as the missile continued forward along the passageway containing the Engineer’s workshop’s bolt stave rack, made a hole in the main deck outside the workshop and penetrated the next watertight bulkhead forward. It finished up on a bunk in the after seamen’s mess.  All this was due to kinetic energy and residual rocket motor thrust (if any).

This piston effect created an over-pressure in the vicinity, which collapsed joiner (non-strength) bulkheads in the aft section of the ship. The 150 psi fire main was also ruptured – very useful as it turned out, because the deluge found the hole in the deck outside the Engineer’s workshop and eliminated any chance of a fire getting established in the Supply Department’s storeroom below. It must have helped with the SO’s compilation of his outstanding asset register, as it did mine.

The workshop’s longitudinal bulkhead went the way of the joiner bulkheads, and the bench grinder just inside the door took a hit. It was found and duly repaired. Some wag fastened a pair of Vietnam campaign ribbons to its plinth, which were still there when I inspected the ship, as CSO(T) I think, years later.

Repair 3 and Mechanician First Class Fischer in particular had a lively time of it down aft and did a very fine job.

The two missiles that did explode did so within a very few feet of the same place: in the vacant personnel boat space abaft the starboard Ikara magazine, probably just inboard of the spurn-water (a deck-edge lip that drained water).

 


Boat left behind

The boat had been left behind for repairs in Subic Bay and it was popularly held that it was this that created a hard reflecting corner for the Phantom’s missile guidance radar to lock onto. If so, one might wonder where we would have been hit had the boat been on board.

David Blazey tells me that he and his cabin mate David Campbell are eternally grateful that it was the starboard boat bay, rather than the motor whaleboat above their cabin, that was empty.  

(Incidentally, the personnel boat went like a rocket when it got on the step, but getting it there was difficult. Not quite enough power. The trick was for all on board bar the coxswain to stand in a huddle in the bow. Slowly the nose would drop and the speed pick up. Once established on the step the huddle could retire aft and enjoy the fastest boat in town.)

Fortunately there was no third salvo, but the damage to the ship was substantial nevertheless, particularly down aft. I was proud of the way the propulsion and repair teams, and other individuals of course, responded.

Lasting memory

A lasting memory of this rather exciting episode is the way people behaved in the action; reinforcing observations made during earlier counter-battery engagements. I think most saw it as an opportunity at last to do what they’d been trained for; maybe even what they’d joined for. They became focussed by it all, they leaned forward at their controls, they did exactly what they were meant to do, they took initiatives and they reported back. Excited and engaged is how I would put it.

It is true, as Ian Callaway says, that the bulk of the second deployment crew had not been trained by the USN, but in some applications perhaps this was a good thing. For example, the RAN achieved far better results from the DDG’s 1200 PSI steam plants than did the USN, and Hobart’s steamies were frequently consulted by USN DDGs in company.

“1200 pound plant get well program”

So bad was their experience that a “1200 pound plant get well program” was introduced into the USN, which continued into the 1980s, I believe. Included in the program was a substantially improved boiler feed water quality standard, the same standard that the RAN had specified for all of its steamships for as long as I can remember. The boot was on the other foot however, when the RAN no longer had steamships, apart from the DDGs, and there was no steam nursery where DDG-bound sailors could cut their teeth. It is an irony that the RAN’s solution was to send them for training to the USN schools.

The Fleet had learnt a lot from the DDG work-ups in the US. Many of the commissioning crews wound up in the Fleet Training Group where this non-USN trained second deployment EO, for one, encountered the Battle Problem regime for the first time. It was good stuff alright, and we all saw the benefits of it on the morning of 17 June.

Life goes on in war, as in peace, and it was somehow reassuring to watch those fishermen Harry mentioned, apparently calmly putting off from the shore in front of their villages for a day’s work – while we hurled five-inch shells over their heads towards Hue, or wherever it was this time.

Army vs Navy life

Life in the Navy: so much more civilised than, say, the Army. But wait! One of my late night tasks was to draft the daily gun damage assessment report to be signalled home. This meant wandering around the CIC and bothering tired and busy people for their inputs, before presenting the draft to the Captain for approval. On one such night the command team was gathered around the plotting table as usual, laying down fire in close support of a unit ashore. I listened to the Naval Gunfire Liaison Officer (NGLO), a LCDR USN, directing our fire to the tree line on the other side of the clearing where he lay in the mud, or the dust, under his vehicle, which had shed a track. A Marine I could understand, but a Naval Officer? What was he thinking?


HMAS Hobart in Vietnam

HMAS Hobart in Vietnam

by Harry Daish

Part 1 of 2

This tale started as a story for grandchild­ren eager to learn details of their grandfather’s service in a destroyer in Vietnam.

In late February 1967 I was a senior Lieutenant of 16 years service, having just returned from three years exchange service with the Royal Navy, where I qualified as a Direction Officer. This course trained me as an Air Intercept Officer and Operations Room specialist. On completion of the course I served for two years in the RN aircraft carriers HMS Centaur and Victorious, where my primary duty was the control of jet fighters.

Joins Hobart

After a brief leave period in Australia I joined HMAS Hobart, just in time to sail for Vietnam for a six-month deployment as Australia’s first naval unit to be committed to that conflict. My feelings towards my profession at that stage were lukewarm because very long periods of separation during sea duty had made family life difficult. This feeling was offset to a degree by the excitement of finally going to war, having missed out on Korea in the early 50s and the Suez War in 1956. This was, after all, what the interminable years of training in mock warfare were designed for. As for Vietnam and its history, I was totally ignorant.

hobart
HMAS
Hobart II (DDG-39) was a Charles F Adams class guided missile destroyer that displaced 4526 tons (full load) on a 133 x 14 x 4.6 metres (437 x 47 x 15 feet) hull. Two steam turbines provided 70,000 shp, which drove the ship at 33 knots. Commissioned 18 December 1965, her complement varied from 310 to 333 and armament included one SAM launcher, two 127 mm (five-inch) guns, one Ikara ASW launcher and two triple ASW torpedo tubes.

Like most of the ships company I swallowed the Menzies spin that Vietnam was a domino and bastion against the encroaching “Red Tide of Communism”. As it fell, so would Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia and finally it would be our turn. At this stage public sentiment in Australia was decidedly pro-war, much more so than the divided manner in which the Australian people greeted Howard’s foray. In fact our reasons for entering both the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts most likely stemmed from the need to appease our American allies. That, and the delight that political leaders from all persuasions seem to get from committing their countries to war, as long as they don’t have to suffer the hardships and dangers involved. And let’s face it, John Howard in a slouch hat would not deter many enemies.

vietnam“Sea Dragon”

After briefings in Subic Bay in the Philippines, Hobart sailed to the Gulf of Tonkin to join a Destroyer Task Unit as part of the US Seventh Fleet. We were mainly assigned to “Sea Dragon” operations, attacking North Vietnamese targets north of the demilitarised zone (DMZ) on the17th parallel of latitude. Operations south of the DMZ were code-named “Market Time”. These provided gun-fire support to allied forces in their actions against the Vietcong (VC) primarily, but also some regular North Vietnamese Army units. The allies comprised US,  Australian, Republic of Korea (ROK) and Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) units.

During our very first night on station we were given a very clear example of the “fog of war” and the trick that nervous and overactive imaginations can play on those new to war. During the night, the Task Unit’s (TU’s) radar operators detected small fast-moving contacts homing in on us. No doubt with the Tonkin Gulf incidents firmly in mind, the TU went to Action Stations and opened fire in unison. After some 300 rounds of five-inch ammunition were fired, we finally twigged that our “dangerous” targets were really flocks of birds. The prevailing radar conditions were abnormal with a low atmospheric layer trapping their transmissions, creating highly spurious contacts. Since then, I’ve always thought that a similar condition occurred with the destroyers USS Maddox and Turner Joy, triggering the second Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964. Everything that I have read subsequently on the subject seems to bear this out. (“From little acorns do large oaks grow.”)

Busy deployment

Under the command of CAPT Guy Griffiths DSC (later RADM, AO DSO DSC) our first six-month deployment passed very rapidly. We operated mostly off North Vietnam and came under fire from North Vietnamese coastal batteries as we closed the coast for gun firings on a number of occasions.

Ed note: Fairfax (1980, p. 45) says Hobart, the first warship to carry the new Australian white ensign into action, came under fire nine times, fired 9204 rounds on 1050 targets and steamed 52,529 miles in her first deployment.

The enemy fire never hit us, although on occasion their fall of shot was close enough to litter our decks with shrapnel. As my action station was Action Officer of the Watch on the bridge I had a grandstand view of proceedings. The drill on spotting enemy fire was to alert the Operations Room, order full speed ahead and put the wheel hard over to clear the scene as quickly as possible. Fortunately, the enemy’s fire control systems were fairly primitive and so the accuracy of their shot rapidly fell away.


Counter-battery fire

Any damage the ship suffered was usually caused by the concussion of our mount 51 forward gun, trained as far aft as possible to carry out counter-battery fire against the enemy guns. Our primary concern was that we might come under attack by North Vietnamese MiG aircraft or even land-based or seaborne Styx Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSMs) that our Intelligence indicated they possessed. Fortunately for us, they were never used against us, which proved somewhat ironic in view of later events.

The reason that I find it hard to remember exactly just how many times we were under fire (perhaps strange when it seems somebody is definitely trying to take your life) is because most of the time I operated like a zombie. Our gunline tours lasted about six weeks. Throughout that period we kept watches six hours on and six off. On top of that, the whole crew went to Action Stations, sometimes several times a day, whenever the captain assessed the ship was standing into danger and always when closing the North Vietnamese coast. I reckon that our efficiency levels dropped 50 or 60 per cent and stayed there. This sort of stress is no doubt partially responsible for some of the mistakes that occur in warfare, sometimes with fatal results.

To compound matters, whenever we did get the opportunity to recharge our batteries, during visits to such exotic ports as Subic Bay, Singapore, Hong Kong or Kaohsiung, we usually partied instead, snatching what sleep we could on transit to or from the gunline. It was never enough. Strangely perhaps, we never set foot in South Vietnam during my two tours of duty there. The closest we ever came to that was while operating inside Da Nang Harbour, firing at targets in the surrounding hills.

Market Time

When assigned to “Market Time” operations, we supported allied units in all four military regions of South Vietnam, from the US Marines in I Corps in the north to mainly ARVN units in the southern area, IV Corps. Our offensive activities usually consisted of gunfire support ordered by a spotter aircraft which would also report our fall of shot to improve our accuracy. We could also be called upon by local army commanders for gunfire support on an ad hoc basis. These were usually daytime activities. At nighttime we were frequently ordered to carry out H and I firings (Harassment and Interdiction). Provided with lists of pinpoint targets where Intelligence thought the VC might congregate, we fired a single five-inch shell at different targets throughout the night at intervals of about 20 minutes. I have grave doubts as to the effectiveness of this procedure in successfully prosecuting the war, but it sure harassed the hell out of those of us who were trying to sleep at the time.

The targets we attacked were seldom seen by us and were usually several miles inland. We would be ordered to fire at targets such as truck parks; VC in the open; enemy trenches or tunnel areas; VC structures; sampans and even enemy animals, which I always presumed were water buffalo and many others. The Gun Damage Assessments that were later released often seemed fairly feeble: “50 metres of trench and two bamboo structures” for instance, balanced against sometimes hundreds of rounds of ammunition expended often didn’t seem to quite add up in my mind. Sometimes the targets seemed a bit suspicious and I recall on at least one occasion when the Captain refused to engage them. This was not a problem with the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser on the gunline during our second deployment, if an email from one of the officers that I read recently is accurate:

On June 16, Boston was steaming up from Hue to the DMZ and got clearance from the lst Marine Division to take target practice at a Buddhist pagoda (suspected NVA troop shelter). This bad karma must have made the gods angry because that night (or early Sunday a.m.) we were attacked by one (or more) jets near Tiger Island.

Some might say, serves you bloody well right!

One memory I have is an incident that occurred while on bridge watch one brilliant Sunday morning off the South Vietnamese coast. It was a peaceful and idyllic scene. Suddenly the peace was shattered by the loud sound of bombing nearby, accompanied by the sight of high water spouts among a group of South Vietnamese fishing boats, peacefully plying their trade. High overhead two USN A4 fighter-bombers streaked back to their carrier on Yankee Station, having offloaded their unexpended ordnance. Of course I do not know whether a vicious attack had been carried out on those boats or whether it was some kind of accident, but it is not too difficult to imagine the former when you recall the absolute contempt that many Americans held for the Vietnamese, southern as well as northern. The fishing boats suffered no damage that I could ascertain.

 


Forrestal fire

Another vivid memory also involves a US carrier. We received news that the USS Forrestal CVA-59 had suffered a serious fire to seaward of us at the carrier operations area called “Yankee Station” so we proceeded at high speed to render assistance. She presented a horrible picture with the after part of her flight deck a smoking ruin of destroyed aircraft. The tails of some had melted and were drooping over the ship’s side. It transpired that an air-to-ground missile had accidentally cooked off during the engine start operations that were taking place and slammed into the drop tank of another aircraft, creating a raging inferno of exploding bombs, planes and fuel that engulfed the after end of the carrier and caused a large loss of life.

forrestalfire
The
Forrestal fire.

Tragically many young sailors were trapped in a messdeck just under the after end of the flight deck. About 134 died in the fire and another 161 were injured. I also remember that the prominent US Republican senator and presidential candidate John McCain, then a Lieutenant Commander, was sitting in his aircraft when flames engulfed it and he escaped by leaping off the nose of the aircraft. He was later shot down over North Vietnam and incarcerated in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton”. He is a prominent part of the jail’s pictorial history. The man has surely led a charmed life.

Ed. note: The fire was caused by a Zuni five-inch rocket firing as a Phantom pilot switched from ground to aircraft electrics during a routine startup, but random electromagnetic radiation cannot be excluded as a cause. Contrary to RN and RAN procedures, all safety clips had been removed and the rockets plugged in “to save time.” The Zuni had insufficient travel to arm the warhead, but it had enough kinetic energy to knock the 300-gallon centreline drop tank off  LCDR McCain’s Skyhawk and the rocket’s burning motor ignited the burst tank’s fuel.

Replenishment at sea

The (mostly) monotonous life on the gunline was broken by the frequent need to restock our supplies of fuel, ammunition and food. Commander, Seventh Fleet (COM7THFLT) provided a large number of Underway Replenishment (UNREP) ships for this purpose and the opportunities to leave the gunline, relax for a while and witness the close manoeuvres with the friendly supply ships was always a highlight of the week. It was also a welcome opportunity to obtain movie swaps and to receive mail.

I didn’t spend our R & R periods entirely on partying (as previously stated). Early in our first deployment I took the opportunity of searching out books on modern Vietnamese history and among these I discovered the works of a remarkable French writer who wrote several books about the French Vietnamese War against the Vietminh from the late 1940s until the fall of Dien Bien Phu mid-1954. The author’s name was Bernard Fall and his best book, in my opinion, was Hell in a very small place, about the disaster of Dien Bien Phu which led to the French withdrawal from Vietnam in ignoble defeat.

“Impregnable” forts

The Vietnamese “slopeheads” (as some Americans called them) had humbled the mighty French Empire. The French, having chosen a battlefield to suit themselves, which would enable them to resupply their forces with their vastly superior air power whilst forcing impossible supply problems on their enemy (or so they thought), proceeded to build an “impregnable” group of forts.  Dien Bien Phu’s Second-in-Command, a gunnery expert called Colonel Charles Piroth, bombastically predicted that “No Vietminh cannon will be able to fire three rounds before being destroyed by my artillery”.  A few days after hostilities commenced and after two of his three artillery bases had been destroyed, “he pulled the safety pin out of a grenade with his teeth and blew himself to bits, having said the evening before, ‘I am completely dishonoured’” (Karnow, 1983).

Towards the end of the battle there were some 20,000 French troops (mainly North Africans) who had “deserted” and were living in caves and humpies in the middle of the battleground. When the battle ended, 10,000 French Foreign Legion troops who surrendered were marched several hundred kilometres across the top of Vietnam to captivity and eventual release. Only 2,000 survived. They later fought in Algeria with a certain degree of ferocity (the symmetry of history?). Bernard Fall, whose writings may well have beneficially influenced the reporting of the “American War” in Vietnam, was regrettably killed in the early days of that war when he trod on a landmine.

Armed with my newfound knowledge I used my ample spare time as an Operations Room watchkeeper to read a large amount of the signal traffic that crossed the Ops Desk. This is not just hindsight, but I really did form a view that the Americans were repeating the mistakes of the French in the earlier war. We displayed the same hubris; how could these “slopeheads” possibly defeat a mighty power such as the US? So we tried to defeat the lowly communist cadre carrying supplies on his bicycle down the Ho Chi Minh trail with B-52 bombers. Apart from anything else, the economics were lousy and sure to defeat us in the end.

Hearts and mind

Having decided that we needed to get the local villagers “onside” to deny supply and shelter to the VC, we started the “Hearts and Minds” program. US Marines immediately vowed to “grab ‘em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.” The program was not a great success. The allies discovered in Vietnam what the Russians discovered in Afghanistan and what we will discover in Iraq.

A determined people, willing to fight a protracted guerilla war at all costs, will frequently prevail against mighty nations or coalitions. We frankly just don’t have the will to bear the bloody costs involved. Why should this surprise us? Would we just lie down and meekly submit if invaded; would the Americans? Why should the Vietnamese for that matter? They have resisted invasions for two thousand years and still retain their unique culture. McDonald’s may have a better chance of changing them where armed conflict will not.       

My enthusiasm for my profession, already at an ebb when I began my Vietnam odyssey, rapidly waned as my distaste for warfare grew. I submitted my resignation, which was denied by the Naval Board on the reasonable grounds that I owed them a number of years service for the exchange time I had spent with the Royal Navy.

 


Second deployment

So March 1968 saw me back in Vietnamese waters in Hobart for our second deployment, this time under the command of CAPT K.W. Shands RAN.  Apart from the “friendly fire incident” that I will cover later, the tour of duty was rather undistinguished. More of the same, but less so. We mainly operated in the waters off South Vietnam, although we did come under enemy fire on three occasions during our sorties to the north. Our second deployment ended in mid-October 1968.

In June 1968 Hobart was engaged in Operation Sea Dragon as Task Unit Commander of  TU 77.1.2, with USS Theodore Chandler (DD-717) in company. During 13 and 14 June the Task Unit (TU) carried out successful gun firings on targets just north of the DMZ and in the process were fired on by North Vietnamese coastal batteries, fortunately without damage to either ship.

This was the third time during the deployment that Hobart had evaded enemy fire. The TU then moved northwards.

Tiger Island

Having been informed by the gunline commander, USS Boston, that enemy helicopters were re-supplying the garrison of Tiger Island, a small North Vietnamese outpost about 25 miles to the east of the DMZ, we returned south to patrol in that vicinity.

uss-boston-cag-1

USS Boston CA-69 (ex CAG-1) was a Baltimore class heavy cruiser, first commissioned in June 1943. Reclassified after modernisation in 1952 as the world’s first guided missile cruiser, Boston became the lead ship of a new class that included USS Canberra. The ships displaced 13,600 tons (17,000 tons full load) on a 205.2 x 21.9 x 8.2 metres (673 x 72 x 27 feet) hull. Armament included six eight-inch (203 mm), 10 five-inch (127 mm) and 12 three-inch (76 mm) guns plus two twin-rail Terrier SAM launchers. Boston carried 1142 crew and her maximum speed was listed as 33 knots.

Another destroyer, USS Edson (DD 946), was detached from Market Time (ship and air patrols interdicting coastal traffic south of the DMZ.) They joined us and a patrol was established by the afternoon of 16 June. Prior to this, we had heard that a USN patrol boat had been attacked and sunk in the vicinity of the DMZ. The assumption was that the attacker was a North Vietnamese helicopter.

edson-dd346

USS Edson (DD-946), was a Forrest Sherman class destroyer, first commissioned on 15 December 1965. Displacing 4050 tons (full load) from a 127 x  14 x 6.7 metres (418 x 45 x 22 feet) hull, her four 1200 psi boilers fed two turbines that drove the ship at 32.5 knots. Complement was 233 and the ship carried three 127 mm (five-inch) and four 76 mm (three-inch) guns, as well as two Mark 10/11 Hedgehogs and two triple ASW Mark 32 torpedo tubes.

Ops Room Evaluator

I went on watch as the Ops Room Evaluator (basically the senior watchkeeper in charge of the ship in the captain’s absence) at 2200. I felt uneasy about the situation, operating so close to the coast in a “hot” air defence situation. I woke the captain and advised him that my reading of the Rules of Engagement prohibited us from firing on a suspicious aircraft until it had actually attacked us.

Due to the scant warning we would receive of an attacker coming off the shore, the opportunity of identifying friend or foe and actually engaging it would be nigh impossible. I helped the captain draft a signal to the Commander Seventh Fleet (COM7THFLT) suggesting a change to the rules of engagement. This was despatched but failed to elicit a response.

My other major concern was the air defence situation in the area. The previous watch had tried to establish an Air Defence Net with the USS Boston, whose group was operating some 50 miles to the south of us, but had little success, as did my watch.

We were aware that a Combat Air Patrol (CAP) was overflying us but we had no communications with them. During the watch the CAP gradually drifted to the south of us.

 


Missile hit

Just after 0300 on 17 June the TU was positioned between Tiger Island and the North Vietnamese coast, heading northwest in line ahead with Hobart in the rear. At about 0315 a fast moving aircraft was detected leaving the coast in the vicinity of the DMZ heading seawards before turning towards the TU. My assessment was that it was a CAP aircraft. It approached our starboard quarter and then all hell broke loose as it hit us with a missile. I immediately brought the ship to action stations and turned the TU to seawards away from the threat direction. No attempt was made to contact the aircraft because the very last thing I expected the attacker to be was a US aircraft.

sparrow-f4
A USN F-4 fires an AIM-7 Sparrow. (Boeing photo)

Initially we were hit starboard side amidships by a single missile. The missile was a Sparrow AIM-7 (air-to-air missile). This weapon, manufactured by Raytheon in the US, was a semi-active homer. Put simply, the attacking aircraft “painted” the target with its radar and the missile flew down the reflected beam.

The warhead was a proximity type with a small explosive encased by a compressed ring of high tensile steel. On detonation, the ring was designed to fly outwards cutting through soft targets such as aircraft fuselages. The missile was not designed for anti-ship use but I did hear that the weapon had been evaluated for such use a year or so before our unfortunate introduction to it, but rejected as unsuitable.

As the warhead exploded, bits of high-tensile steel sliced through the upper deck and aluminium superstructure. Moderate damage was inflicted to compartments below deck. The worst damage (from an operational point of view) was to electrical cable runs in the superstructure. This deprived power to our gun and missile fire control systems and damaged the gyro stabilisation of our radars.

Effectiveness impaired

In short, we could still steam at high speed but our effectiveness as a fighting ship was minimal. The body of the missile ended up inside the forward funnel casing. Most regrettably, parts of this missile killed one sailor, a lookout at the after end of the bridge superstructure, and wounded two other junior sailors.

About three minutes after the first attack, Hobart was attacked again and this time was hit by another two Sparrow missiles. The first missile entered the transom, just below the main deck. The warhead did not detonate but caused some damage in two compartments before piercing the after bulkhead of the After Seamen’s Messdeck and coming to rest beside a sailor’s bunk. (Fortunately, he was at his action station by that time.)

A second missile homed in amidships onto the after end of the Ikara ASW missile magazine, detonating and causing severe damage to the magazine and adjacent compartments. Parts of the missile pierced the upper deck and killed a Chief Petty Officer and wounded four other junior sailors as they were running to action stations.

Fired in local control

During this attack one of our gun crews spotted a swept-wing fighter aircraft and fired five rounds of five-inch shells while in local control.

About 15 minutes after this attack our consort Edson was also attacked but suffered no damage. At some stage during this brouhaha the heavy cruiser USS Boston was also attacked, and suffered damage but no fatalities.

hobart-bridge
Hobart’s bridge, closed up at action stations.

When the action had subsided, our TU joined up with Boston to form a screen around USS Enterprise CVAN 65. She used her Medivac helicopter to transport our wounded to Da Nang. We were relieved as TU Commander by USS Edson and steamed to Subic Bay for repairs, which took about six weeks to complete.

On our way back to Subic Bay we cleaned up the ship as much as possible and in the process found parts of the missiles that positively identified them as American. I recall that we were able to trace our missiles back to the 432nd Tactical Fighter Wing which operated out of the Royal Thai AFB in Udorn, Thailand. Boston claimed to trace her missile debris back to the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing, out of  Da Nang AFB. Both units operated F4 Phantoms.

 


Command and control problems

There is no doubt that USAF aircraft were responsible for at least most of the attacks that occurred on the night of 16/17 June, although one lengthy piece of internet correspondence tries to implicate UFOs.

 

swiftboat
TPCF 19 was a  “Swiftboat”: 50 x 13.5 x 5.9 feet (15.24 x 4.1 x 1.8 metres) displacing 23.5 tons and constructed mainly of aluminium. Powered by two 480 hp GM model 7122 marine diesels, they had a separate six-kW 120V AC generator.  Maximum speed varied considerably, according to the sea state. In still water they might reach 32 knots. The boats carried radar, radio, and a searchlight. Armament included twin .5 inch machine guns above the cockpit. Another dual purpose .5 inch machine gun and an 80 mm mortar/grenade thrower was mounted on the centreline aft.

There may be some doubt in the case of the sinking of PCF 19, which “disappeared in a flash of light” after reportedly engaging enemy helicopters the previous night. One main question to be solved is whether PCF 19 was sunk before or after Boston’s alert that Tiger Island was being re-supplied by enemy helicopters. Whichever way it went, somebody in the military hierarchy gave the green light to USAF Phantom Squadrons to hunt for enemy helicopters in the vicinity of the DMZ and Tiger Island without providing adequate procedures to ensure the safety of allied naval units.

USAF Phantom

Unfortunately, while I have had one joy-ride in an F-4, I have not seen its radar picture in a night time operational setting. Like many others, I find it inconceivable that Radar Intercept Officers (RIOs) in a Phantom could confuse a 3000 ton destroyer, a 35000 ton destroyer and a 17,000 ton heavy cruiser with helicopters on their radar screens. But that is just what they did. They didn’t fire AAMs to cripple surface vessels, they fired them thinking that they were firing at air targets. The nights around 16/17 June were pitch black with no moon, which may have prevented visual identification, but surely they must have seen something on the sea surface.

Ed. note by Fred Lane:
After initial contact in those days, fighter aircraft radars were deliberately adjusted to give the smallest practical echo size, thus tuning out nearly all target size information. There are frequent night conditions when even the best-trained aircrew see no difference whatsoever between sky and sea.  Some ship lights stand out but Australian ships tend to take their blackout very seriously and show little or no aircrew-useful light.  Ship anti-collision lights, if switched on, look just like a helicopter’s. By contrast, nearly every tiny boat in an Asian fishing fleet shows much more light, including at least one very big bright white floodlight. A Sparrow attack requires the pilot to concentrate on cockpit instruments and Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) directions.  RIOs typically give 100 per cent attention to their radar. When attacking a target below 1000 feet at night, pilots dare not spare more than a fleeting glance outside.  At typical Sparrow firing ranges, say between 10 and 20 miles, a blacked out RAN warship is invisible during a deliberate search at night, never mind a fleeting glance.

The essential problem here was that the action took place in an area where two separate operational areas joined and three different arms of the military were involved (four if you include the US Marine Corps).

No local area tri-service commander

There was no single overall command and control and even our small efforts to bring some order to the air defence situation failed. Why weren’t we informed that USAF Phantoms were operating aggressively in our area? Why weren’t they informed of our presence? I shall never know.

As the Evaluator in Hobart, with an intimate knowledge of the events surrounding the attack on us, I was required to scribble a few observations on a scrap of paper the next morning, and that was the end of it. I believe that some sort of inquiry was held in Da Nang subsequently, but we didn’t participate and I never saw any findings. The incident was essentially covered up, which has permitted nonsensical stories to be posted on the web concerning UFOs and ghosts in the “Green Ghost” (Hobart’s Vietnam nickname). And still we wonder!

Revisit:  2004

In April 2004 I visited and set foot on Vietnamese soil for the first time to enjoy the genuine friendliness and hospitality of the people, to be seduced by their beguiling culture, to eat my fill of their wonderful cuisine and, in the process, to lay a few old ghosts to rest. It was a humbling experience to meet a people on whom we had inflicted so much grief and evil but who held few grudges for the greater good of building a new Vietnam.

One day as we drove through the forests of the Central Highlands of South Vietnam I was admiring the lush forested hillsides until I noticed something amiss. The forests were composed of imported fir and eucalyptus trees, planted in a nationalistic frenzy of superhuman activity in the years following the end of the war, to replace the trees destroyed by the defoliant, Agent Orange.

The forests were quiet. The birds had not returned.

References:

Fairfax, D. Royal Australian Navy in Vietnam. Australian Government Publishing Service: Canberra, 1980.
Fall, B.B. Hell in a very small place: The siege of Dien Bien Phu. DaCapo Press: Cambridge, 1966.
Karnow, S. Vietnam – A history. Viking Press: New York, 1983.


Part 2: Hobart in Vietnam – the Follow-up Letters


CDT 3 in Iraq

Australian Clearance Diving Team Three in Khwar AzZubayr, Iraq

by Troy Miles and Paul Papalia

cdt3badgeYou can be forgiven for thinking we dropped off the radar screen after our formal farewell in Sydney on Valentine’s day, 14 February 2003. Once we began the deployment, OPSEC was imposed to ensure security from the terrorist threat in the build-up and, of course, the enemy once hostilities commenced. So just to fill in the blanks, here’s what happened before we hit the headlines.

We arrived in theatre (Bahrain) on the 24th Feb. Just getting up there was a challenge, as those who went last time will remember. Two days in a droning Hercules wouldn’t normally be too hard but coming on top of the trip to and back from the States in January, it got old very quickly.

On arrival, our friendly advance party consisting of the Team Warrant Officer, Herbie, and the brand new Storeman, Darbs, met us. The boys immediately leapt into a whirlwind of activity, spending six days sorting through the tonnes of our equipment that were brought into the AO (Area of Operations) by HMAS Kanimbla. The entire load was broken down and re-palletised. The majority was then re-embarked, this time in USS Gunston Hall, which was to house most of the coalition MCM (Mine Counter-Measures) diving forces. At the same time, all of our personal equipment was also readied for the move forward to Kuwait. Unlike the Yanks and Poms, the Aussie divers were not going to sail into the war zone.

Tent city The Boss and XO flew to Kuwait on 01 March and were waiting for the remainder of us when we flew into Al Jaber air base via US Marine Corps C130 on 02 March. We all took up residence in a tent city established at Kuwait Naval Base. Just the Team, and about two and a half thousand of our closest American friends! For the blokes who were in Kuwait last time round, the location brought memories flooding back. They’d cleared the entire port on their own and were soon pointing out some of their old haunts.

cdt3group
CDT3, before moving forward.

The days, and nights, were spent preparing equipment and training for the move forward. One major task was the receipt of the remainder of gear from Kanimbla. Our four Land Rovers, RHIB, explosives and ammunition were all transferred ashore by Mike 8 boats under the watchful eyes of Rocket and Jock, who had flown out to the ship from Bahrain to act as custodians. Naturally, noting Saddam’s bio details, a fair whack of the time was devoted to chemical detection and decontamination.

On the 18th March, John Howard committed ADF forces in the Middle East to the coalition and to support any action taken by a United States-led strike against Iraq. That night, we got the nod to move up to tactical assembly area Bullrush, a slab of desert situated 30km south of the Iraqi border. The very next day was the first real eye-opening experience for the members of our team.

During a friendly game of desert cricket with the Poms (we were winning by the way), one of the boys noticed a couple of Yanks running around putting on their gas masks. Well that was enough for the men of AUSCDT THREE. With hearts pounding we quickly donned our gas masks and chemical suits, awaiting word from the Command to ascertain what was happening.

Living with Scuds

It didn’t take long for the word to come through that the Iraqis had fired Scud missiles into Kuwait. Many landed close enough to our location for us to hear them impacting or being taken out by coalition defence systems. In the first 24 hours, we went to MOPP 4 or full Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defence dress on 11 occasions. Over the next four days we went through over a dozen more of these attack warnings, each time having to go through the same procedure, each one lasting anywhere up to two hours. In the end, the team just left the chemical suits on. Better than any Jenny Craig weight loss program I have ever heard of.


Terrorist threat

Throughout our stay at Bullrush, the boys manned observation posts and vehicle checkpoints because the terrorist threat was real and the Marines had staged forward. It just goes to show that those exercises where you assume you have to provide your own security are on the money. When the job’s on, there’s never enough soldiers to go around. While we were ducking incoming missiles in the desert, the divers out in the Task Group were also in the thick of it. Four blokes from AUS-CDT FOUR had been embarked in HMAS Darwin as a detachment well before AUSCDT THREE got up and running. Now, on the 20th March, these blokes were staged forward from HMAS Kanimbla and tasked with boarding and searching an enemy tug and barge.

cdt3-mines
The mission was a success, and the boys (helped by
Kanimbla‘s boarding party) found 86 sea mines (Mantas and LUGMs) in the Khawr Abd Allah seaway. LSCD Jason Dunn (left) and POCD Troy Pudney (right) inspect two LUGM and two MANTA sea mines found on an Iraqi tugboat located in the port of Umm Qasr.

Meanwhile, back in the Kuwaiti desert, we once again got the nod and staged forward to the border. We spent an interesting night within sight and sound of the battle for Umm Qasr and surrounds. Finally, on the morning of the 24th of March, three days after the start of the war, we snaked our way in convoy across a break in the berm and over the border.

Arriving in the port of Umm Qasr, we established ourselves in an old warehouse located by the old grain wharf and started the clearance of the estuary port.

It didn’t take the boys long to get into the thick of things. The very next day, on our first dive, the team found four LUGM 145 sea mines on a sunken Iraqi patrol boat. Diving in the area was a challenge to say the least, with a three to four knot current and no vis (ops normal). The team disposed of the mines over two days in the tidal windows, remotely moving them away from the wharf to a safe area to crank them off. Although they won’t admit it, some of the dives the boys did during this phase were heart-stoppers. Old fashioned wrestling live contact mines and explosives at depth in zero visibility and a surging current – hard core!

During our stay in Umm Qasr members of the team were involved in a wide array of tasks. One patrol was sent out to help 42 Commando with EOD in Umm Qasr town. The boys had to dispose of RPGs and mortars found in a schoolyard, with many of the Aussies called on to keep the locals at a safe distance. It was challenging working through the language barrier with mobs of locals constantly asking for food and water. Hats off to the boys who at all times had control of a situation which could very easily have turned nasty if they had not conducted themselves in such a professional manner.

Mine disposals

On another occasion, four members of the team, together with a mixture of British and US EOD divers, were given the task of rendering safe and disposing of 18 LUGM 145 sea mines. The mines were part of a cache found earlier by the team and 42 Commando. The team was split into two groups, one to carry out the render safe and transportation of the mines to the disposal area, and the second team to prepare and clear the demolition site.

manta
A Manta MN 103 bottom-dwelling mine.

The removal of hydrostatic switches, detonators and horns went according to plan. The clearance and preparation of the demolition site commenced with bribing the local shepherds with food and water to round up their flock and move to a safer location. After giving a hand to help round up a couple of rogue sheep and one recalcitrant calf, the clearance of the demo range was complete.

The mines, arriving by truck, were quickly unloaded, set in place and primed. Once the all clear was given and safe numbers confirmed, the troops were able to sit back and enjoy the reward of a long, hot day’s work: witnessing the awesome display that nine pairs of LUGM sea mines containing 145kg of TNT make when being transformed into a very loud noise, a large ball of fire and smoke.

On 27th March, the boys from HMAS Darwin arrived on the ground. I think they were happy to get off the ship after six months and we were certainly happy to have the extra four divers to enhance our capabilities.

Coincidentally, we became the biggest AUSCDT THREE ever formed, with a total of 32 personnel.

Morale boostWe finished clearing the port of Umm Qasr on the 9th of April which was a real morale boost for all involved. Humanitarian aid could now start flowing to the people and the whole team could see that we were actually doing some good and helping to make a difference.

Still, there was no rest for the boys. It didn’t take the CO long to have our next task ready to go. On 11th April we once again staged further north to the port of Kwar Az-Zubayr, or the KAZ, situated 20km north of Umm Qasr.

As usual, the team didn’t muck around and the boys set to with a will to clear the port quickly. We have also recently been given the go ahead to conduct tactical EOD patrols on the southern Al Faw Peninsula.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the team to gain experience and to consolidate their knowledge in this core skill of the clearance diver. With six consecutive patrols under our belts and heaps of ordnance destroyed, the Team is throwing itself into the latest task with its usual determination.

Remembering Anzac

AUSCDT THREE proudly spent Anzac Day in the port of Khawr Az Zubayr, Iraq. So when all of you march in remembrance of our fallen comrades next Anzac Day, spare a thought for your brothers-in-arms doing the same in Iraq.

It makes us all proud on Anzac Day to know we are here representing not only our country, but also the Clearance Diving Branch.


HMAS Boonaroo

HMAS Boonaroo

by Pat Burnett

The short and unusual history of HMAS Boonaroo constitutes an historical first in the story of the RAN. It was the first occasion on which the Navy commissioned and operated a merchant vessel in peacetime because of an industrial dispute. In February 1967, during the escalation of the Vietnam War that followed Australia’s involvement, the Seaman’s Union decided that it would not man ships carrying war materials into the war zone.

The issue came to a head over the planned sailing of the Australian National Line (ANL) freighter Boonaroo to Vietnam with a cargo of munitions; this was the first time that such a cargo had been involved. Announcing the decision, the secretary of the union, E.V. Elliott, said he did not support escalation of the war and believed only naval vessels should be used for the purpose and civilians not involved.

Bernie Nolan, the Victorian secretary, said Boonaroo was not built to carry war materials and his members had not been told any details of the cargo or its destination. The ACTU was brought into the dispute at an early stage and its president, Albert Monk, advised the Seaman’s Union to man the ship voluntarily. When it refused the government stepped in and ordered the RAN to man her. The ACTU then instructed Charlie Fitzgibbon of the Waterside Workers’ Federation and other unions involved to work normally to load the cargo.

boona2boona1
HMAS Boonaroo was the first naval vessel commissioned under the new Australian white ensign.

MV Boonaroo was one of five B Class freighters, the largest general cargo ships operated by the ANL at the time. Three were motor vessels and two steamships and Boonaroo was the first of the former, commissioned in 1953. All the class had Aboriginal names, the sister ships being Baralga, Bulwarra, Bilkurra and Binburra.

Dimensions

Boonaroo‘s load displacement was 9400 tons and deadweight 6450 tons. Overall length was 405 feet, beam 53 feet and deep load draught 22.5 feet. The main engine was a two-stroke single acting four cylinder Doxford diesel developing 2800 IHP with a fuel consumption of eight tons per day, giving the ship a top speed of 11.5 knots. She had five hatches and holds, one 25-ton and 16 five-ton derricks. Her port of registry was Melbourne and she was normally employed on the Queensland coastal run. At the time of the takeover she was 14 years old and although clean enough inside, she was in a rather advanced state of rust on the outside of the hull and superstructure. Navigationally, she was fitted with a small gyro compass, a standard magnetic compass and binnacle, a commercial “ship’s head up” radar and VHF radio.

When the RAN was ordered to man Boonaroo I was Captain of HMAS Vendetta, then refitting at Sydney. I was told on 28 February 1967 to report to Lonsdale, the naval depot at Melbourne, and stand by to commission Boonaroo, which was berthed at 24 South Wharf in the Yarra. I arrived there that afternoon and immediately had a meeting with Department of Shipping and Transport (DST) representatives on the details of taking over the ship. The ANL paid off the 37 members of the civilian crew, 17 of whom were members of the Seaman’s Union, on the morning of Wednesday 1 March and at 2100 that evening I went on board with two-thirds of the ship’s company of eight officers and 32 men and held a commissioning ceremony.

It must have been one of the shortest and least ceremonious commissionings ever held, consisting of simply reading the warrant and hoisting and lowering the ensign, all in the dark. It was also one of the most unusual, since not only did we have a new RAN ship (and a merchant ship at that) but also a new ensign, as by a coincidence this was the date on which the present RAN ensign was introduced. The occasion attracted some front-page publicity and amusing cartoons in the press next day.


The rest of the ship’s company joined during that day and it was spent learning our way around the ship and the operation of the engines, winches, derricks and other unfamiliar equipment and in meetings to plan the cargo stowage. The Departments of Shipping and Supply and the ANL were very helpful and by the end of the day we were sufficiently confident to set our sailing time at 0500 next morning.

boonaroo-crew
Ship’s company, HMAS Boonaroo.

Part of this confidence was due to the fact that we had on board two officers who had served before in B Class vessels: LCDR George Hunt RANR(S), who was Master of the sister ship Bulwarra at the time, and Jim Ford, Second Engineer of Boonaroo and formerly a mechanician in the RAN, who was signed on as a Reserve Lieutenant for the voyage. The expert knowledge possessed by these two officers was of great assistance to the operation.

Expert assistance

No doubt we could have managed without them if we had had to, but it would have taken longer and been more difficult. Another ex-Merchant Service officer, LCDR Tom Whittaker RANR, was the Engineer Officer, and the Executive Officer and Navigator was LCDR Mike Freeman RAN. There were also two other watchkeeping officers and a Supply Officer. As far as accommodation was concerned, the sailors were not too disappointed to learn that they each had their own cabin, except for the sick berth attendant and an ABSEA who shared the two-berth sick bay.

At 0500 on 2 March we slipped from South Wharf to proceed to the explosives berth at Point Wilson on the northern shore of Corio Bay, where we were to load our cargo. The tug crews were on strike in sympathy with the Seaman’s Union, so we had to make do with naval workboats. Our departure and passage down river and across Port Phillip were uneventful and provided good practice for me in handling a merchant ship for the first time.

It is a very different proposition from a Daring Class destroyer, the main differences being the single screw and rudder, the reduced power and manoeuvrability and the big change between light and deep load conditions. Other factors are the increased effect of wind and greater emphasis on use of anchors. On the whole I was pleasantly surprised by the ship’s handling characteristics, especially her response to rudder movements.

We began loading later that morning, mainly 500 and 1000 lb. bombs but also three field kitchens, some telegraph poles, a 10-ton road tanker and several smaller vehicles, all of which had to be secured on the upper deck. In addition there were some explosives items such as detonators which were stowed in a special locker embarked for the purpose. All of it was destined for the RAAF base at Fanrang, about 25 miles south of Cam Ranh Bay on the east coast of South Vietnam.

Ordnance loading

The loading was carried out by the Geelong waterside workers as advised by the ACTU without serious interruption, although at a sedate pace. The DST were again very helpful and the ship’s companies of Cerberus and Lonsdale also gave great assistance throughout the operation, especially with mustering stores and securing cargo. It was interesting to learn more about cargo stowage and handling and our lone shipwright was backed up in his task of “tomming” and shoring the bombs on their pallets by a team from Cerberus.

We took over the ANL victualling and general stores already on board, which necessitated a high-speed muster by naval stores inspectors who had to grapple with the ANL’s “heap” system. The main items we added were RAN lifesaving equipment, small arms, stationery and communications equipment. By the evening of Friday 10 March loading was completed and we sailed at 1900, only two days behind the original schedule.

The first leg of the voyage was to Cairns to fuel from RAN stocks there. It started in calm sunny weather, which gave us a day to check the cargo under good conditions and make a few minor adjustments. We also took the opportunity to exercise leaving ship stations and make ourselves acquainted with the unfamiliar boats and davits.

 


Boonaroo track chart

boonaroo-map
Boonaroo track chart.

This was just as well, because the further we went up the coast, the worse the weather became. By the time we reached the Sunshine Coast it was raining continuously and three cyclones were in the Coral Sea area.

We carried out cargo rounds every hour until we got inside the southern end of the Barrier Reef and the sea moderated. At our sedate top speed of 11.5 knots it took us seven days to reach Cairns, where we arrived on the morning of 17 March and sailed six hours later on completion of fuelling. The ship’s draught and length were rather critical in the entrance channel and off the naval fuelling jetty and provided more good ship-handling practice.

As we progressed through the tropics the weather improved and we rigged an improvised canvas swimming pool on No. 4 hatch, which was well patronised.

It was interesting to note how many merchant ships we passed were on the ball and dipped their ensigns to us, in spite of our disguise, and how many were fooled by it. We cleared Torres Strait on 19 March and our route thereafter was west of West Irian and east of Kalimantan and Sulawesi. The long hop from Cairns to Vietnam took 11 days and to help pass the time various competitions were organised, as well as the usual “crossing the line” ceremony.

We also practised our small arms fire and started a ship husbandry program on some of the worst rust-affected areas of the ship. On crossing the equator on 23 March we transferred to the operational control of C-in-C Far East Fleet. The only warship we met on passage was an Indonesian frigate in Banka Passage.


Cam Ranh Bay

We arrived off Cam Ranh Bay at 0700 on Tuesday 28 March, at action stations and ready for anything, not knowing quite what to expect. It was 200 miles north of the main scene of Australian logistic operations at Vung Tau and our communications with the outside world, and hence our knowledge of the current local state of affairs, were limited by our equipment.

Cam Ranh Bay is a fine large natural harbour, one of the few on this coast, and was one of the main supply centres for the allied forces. It is divided naturally into inner and outer areas and on arrival we were directed by the US port authority to anchor in the inner harbour. Shortly afterwards we were boarded by a young US Army officer from the 24th Terminal Transportation Company, which handled all cargo operations as well as manning most of the tugs and other harbour craft and providing pilots.

We had considerable difficulty in persuading him that we were RAN personnel, in spite of our uniforms; I think he believed, looking at the ship, that it was some kind of weird Aussie hoax. We shifted berth to the outer anchorage at 0845 and by 1100 the unloading of our deck cargo into lighters had started.

Floating pontoon piers

At Cam Ranh Bay unloading operations were carried out over the beaches in landing craft as well as at floating pontoon piers. The USAF and USN patrolled the base area continuously and we had our first sight of F4C Phantoms.

Next day we moved alongside an ammunition pier where men of the 24th Terminal Company unloaded our bombs. They were much quicker than the Australian wharfies but also much more casual and thought nothing of it when they dropped one bomb from upper deck level to the bottom of No. 3 hold, fortunately without serious results. By late Saturday 1 April they were finished and I breathed a sigh of relief that the main part of our mission had been successfully accomplished.

During our five-day stay I was taken on a jeep tour of the base, which covered an extensive area of sandhills. The base contained an enormous stockpile of military equipment, vehicles and munitions, much of which went unused and was eventually abandoned, as this was cheaper than shipping it back to the States. At this time the local front line was in the coastal ranges several miles to the west, held by a South Korean battalion, whence the sound of firing and air attacks could be heard. The only action at the base itself was an infrequent hit-and-run grenade or mine attack.

I was able to witness an impressive demonstration of the latest types of landing craft and techniques, given for the benefit of a visiting US General, as well as talking to some of the Phantom pilots about their flying operations. The base amenities were naturally limited, accommodation consisting of huts and tents, but the US authorities were generous in extending the use of whatever they had with us, including their well-stocked PX store.

There was one Vietnamese village inside the perimeter, into and out of which all movement was tightly controlled; the only other local settlements were outside the base area. During our unloading we were visited by a Malaysian TV cameraman filming Australian operations for Channel 7 and the results were later shown on Sydney newsreels.

We sailed on Sunday 2 April for Singapore to refuel from RN stocks before returning to Melbourne west about. We anchored overnight in the open sea 12 miles south of Cape St Jacques, off Vung Tau, to rendezvous next morning with RAAF helicopters for transfer of stores and mail. While there we established radio contact and exchanged greetings with MV Jeparit, the second ANL vessel to be requisitioned by the government to take war supplies to Vietnam, which was unloading at Vung Tau. She was still manned by ANL officers but had an RAN detachment on board to replace members of the Seaman’s Union.

Russian merchantman

On this passage we encountered more shipping off the Vietnamese coast, including several USN escort vessels and a Russian merchant ship. After the helicopter transfer we proceeded for Singapore, where we arrived on 5 April. Our passage up Johore Strait to the naval base caused considerable curiosity among the RN ships present. We berthed at the Stores Basin to refuel, sailing on completion.

We had expected to return to Melbourne west about, but were diverted to Darwin to load another cargo of bombs for return to Sydney. We proceeded via Carimata and Lombok Straits, passing through the latter with its spectacular views on 9 April, when we reverted to FOCAF’s operational control. Time threatened to lie heavily on our hands during the return passage and again an ambitious program of organised games and ship husbandry proved helpful in preventing boredom. We anchored overnight in the approaches to Darwin, berthing alongside the main wharf next morning.

Our first encounter was with Customs, who searched us thoroughly before granting pratique, and our second with the Darwin watersiders. They are a law unto themselves and the facts that the ship had been to Vietnam, the civilian crew had been replaced and the cargo being loaded was munitions, apparently caused the loading to be frequently interrupted on trifling pretexts, so that it took seven days instead of the scheduled four. However, the delay provided the ship’s company with a welcome opportunity to catch up on some social and recreational activity and we finally sailed for Sydney just before midnight on 20 April. The passage took nine days with a bit of assistance from a “plumber’s current” and was uneventful.

On arrival at Sydney we secured to the explosives buoy off Garden Island to disembark the bombs into ammunition lighters. To our surprise, although we had been cleared by Customs at Darwin we were again subjected to intense surveillance during our stay. A launch continuously patrolled the ship and officers were on 24-hour duty at Kuttabul Steps, the only place we were allowed to land.

This time our unloading proceeded quickly and without incident. On 3 May we refuelled and the ship was surveyed by the DST. We were interviewed by the media about the trip, but by this time public interest was much less than at our departure. We sailed for Melbourne at 2200 that night.

Decommissioned 8 May 1967

We berthed at No. 11 North Wharf in the Yarra late in the evening of 5 May. So the wheel came full circle and we were back at our starting point after 10 interesting weeks, under quieter circumstances, though our peace was disturbed by our third Customs clearance since our return to Australia.

The weekend was spent disembarking the ship’s company and naval stores to Lonsdale. At 1500 on Monday 8 May a brief decommissioning ceremony was held at which the ship was officially handed back to the ANL. So ended the history of HMAS Boonaroo, one of the shortest and most unusual commissions in the RAN. As far as I was concerned, there were four major main points of interest arising from the whole operation:

It gave the Navy and other departments concerned practical experience in the manning, operation and logistic support of a merchant ship.It enabled the plans for this contingency to be revised in the light of this experience.It provided a rare opportunity for practice in handling a merchant ship and cargo.It was an interesting comparison of different attitudes towards ship husbandry. ANL and Department of Shipping officers told me such maintenance is not economically viable in the merchant service.


Carrier Evolution VII: Early Japanese

USN Carrier Evolution VII: Early Japanese carriers

Seventh article in a series by Scot MacDonald. Reprinted with permission: Naval Aviation News, October 1962 pp. 39-42.

“In the last analysis, the success or failure of our entire strategy in the Pacific will be determined by whether or not we succeed in destroying the U.S. Fleet, more particularly, its carrier task forces.” ADML Isoroku Yamamoto, IJN, 1942.

“I think our principal teacher in respect to the necessity of emphasising aircraft carriers was the American Navy. We had no teachers to speak of besides the United States in respect to the aircraft themselves and to the method of their employment … We were doing our utmost all the time to catch up with the United States.” FADM Osami Nagano, IJN, 1945.

By Christmas Eve 1921, the Washington Disarmament Conference had already been going on for a month and a half. Participating were Great Britain, Japan, France, Italy, and the United States. It was on this day that Great Britain refused any limitation on auxiliary vessels, in view of France’s demand for 90,000 tons in submarines. The delegates then began to consider confining the treaty to capital ships and aircraft carriers.

Washington Treaty

The Washington Naval Treaty, signed February 6, 1922, established a tonnage ratio of 5-5-3 for the capital ships of Great Britain, the United States, and Japan, respectively, assigning a smaller tonnage to France and Italy. The same ratio for aircraft carriers was set, with an overall limitation of 135,000 tons each for Great Britain and the U. S., and 81,000 tons for Japan. It also limited any new carrier to 27,000 tons, with a provision that, if total carrier tonnage were not thereby exceeded, nations could build two carriers of not more than 33,000 tons each, or obtain them by converting existing or partially constructed ships which would otherwise be scrapped by the treaty.

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HIJMS Hosho, was the first purpose-built aircraft carrier ever to be commissioned, 27 December 1922, 17 months before HMS Hermes. The temporary island was removed after her initial trials. The 168 x 18 x 6.7 metres hull displaced 10,500 tons at full load. The 30,000 hp engines, powered by geared turbines and 16 boilers, drove the ship at 25 knots. With a crew of 550, she carried 26 aircraft. She served in support of the Battle of Midway, with nine obsolescent B4Y1 torpedo bombers, but was not hit. After WW II, Hosho (photo right in October 1945) repatriated Japanese nationals.

December 27 that year, Japan commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Hosho (Flying Phoenix). This was a remarkable hoku bokan (literally, mother ship for aircraft). Though the British were the first to operate aircraft onto and off a ship especially designed for that use, their first aircraft carriers were conversions. Hosho was a carrier from the keel, the first of its kind completed in any navy of the world.

Hermes contemporary

Laid down in 1919 at the Asano Shipbuilding Co. of Tsurumi, the ship was fitted out at Yokosuka Navy Yard at a standard displacement of 7470 tons, a speed of 25 knots, with the capability of handling six bombers (plus four reserve), five fighters (in addition to two in reserve) and four reconnaissance planes, a total of 21 aircraft.

Hosho was indeed a strange looking craft. She was all flying deck. Originally, she had an island structure and a tripod mast, but either because of the small width of her flying deck (and its attending hazards) or because some turbulence might have been caused by it, the island was taken off. The carrier sported three funnels on the starboard side. These were of the hinged type, held upright when not in use, and swung outboard to provide additional safety from stack gas. Later, they were placed in a fixed position, bending aft and slightly downward.

Hosho‘s original armament consisted of four 14 cm (five-inch) single mount guns and two 8 cm (three-inch) single mount high angle guns. At the outbreak of WW II, her high angle guns were replaced by four 25 mm twin mount machine guns. Later, the 14 cm guns were removed and 25 mm double or single mount machine guns were added.

 

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The Nakajima A1N Gambet, Navy Type 3 Carrier Fighter, was in Japanese naval service from 1929 to 1935. Developed from the British Gloster Gamecock, its final version, the A1M2, had a 450 hp engine, a top speed of 150 knots and carried two 7.7 mm machines guns. It also had a 200-mile range with two small 30 kg bombs.


Japanese names

Before continuing with Japanese development, an explanation of the naming of their aircraft carriers is in order.

“Transliteration of the names of Japanese aircraft carriers into American equivalents is a pretty risky business,” said Roger Pineau, a frequently published writer on the Japanese Navy after World War II. “It becomes misleading. The names should be treated as such and should not be taken too literally. For instance, when we speak of astronaut Carpenter, we don’t visualize a man walking around with hammer and saw in hand.”

Chris Beilstein, another expert on Japanese aircraft carriers, concurs. “The Shokaku becomes ‘Flying Crane,’ for that is the closest we can translate the original Japanese. The first Japanese CV’s carried names of mountains and provinces. These, in turn, were frequently named after mythological characters. Shokaku, for example, could have been a flying crane in an age-old story, a crane that was named Shokaku. This is very much like our real life Misty, the wild horse. Certainly, to translate ‘Misty’ to literal Japanese would be meaningless to them, or at best, misleading. It would be more accurate to translate it ‘Wild Horse.’ Thus, ‘Misty,’ to the Japanese, would mean ‘Wild Horse,’ just as we would erroneously translate Shokaku as ‘Flying Crane.”

Japanese Naval Aviation dates back to 1912 when the Navy sent officer trainees to the USA, Great Britain, and France. They returned from France with two Farman seaplanes, and from the USA with two Curtiss seaplanes. A beach on the west side of Tokyo Bay, Oppama, was selected as a site for a seadrome in the fall of that year and placed into commission. The first class at Oppama consisted of four officers and 100 men.

The first landing on the Hosho was made by a British civilian, a Mr Jourdan, on February 22, 1923. (In chronological comparison, Eugene Ely landed on a platform on the armoured cruiser USS Pennsylvania January 18, 1911; USS Langley, the USN’s first aircraft carrier, a converted collier, was commissioned March 20, 1922; the first USA aircraft carrier built as such, from the keel, USS Ranger, was not commissioned until June 4, 1934.)

Akagi, a converted battlecruiser in the 1928A naval expansion program, decided upon in 1920, was completed by March 1923. Under the limitations set by the Washington Naval Treaty, Japan turned her attention to the conversion of the battlecruiser (then eight months under construction at the Kure Naval Arsenal). This, in 1928, became Japan’s second aircraft carrier, the Akagi (Red Castle, actually the name of a Japanese mountain). Akagi displaced over 30,000 tons standard when completed, had a speed of 31 knots, and carried 60 aircraft. She was armed with ten eight-inch and 12 4.7-inch guns.

 

akagi1928fw

HIJMS Akagi, Japan’s second aircraft carrier, seen here in 1928, was reconstructed in 1935-38 with a full-length flight deck, port-side island and increased aircraft complement, from 60 to 91. She was VADM Nagumo’s Pearl Harbour flagship, before contributing to a highly profitable Indian Ocean raid, dusting up Darwin as she passed by, 19 February 1942, and sinking the carrier HMS Hermes, two RN cruisers and HMAS Vampire off Sri Lanka (Ceylon) in April. Akagi was lost at Midway, 4 June 1942, after one bomb hit and internal AVGAS (aviation gasoline) explosions.

A sister ship, the Amagi (Heavenly Castle), was also scheduled for conversion at that time, but sustained severe damage in the earthquake of 1 September 1923. She was scrapped in July 1924 at Yokosuka. In her place, Japan converted the Kaga (the name of an old Japanese province) to an aircraft carrier. Originally, she was laid down as a 39,000-ton battleship, but was scheduled for the scrap pile as a result of agreed disarmament limitations. Conversion was completed in 1928 and she was commissioned the following year.

 

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Akagi launches a D3A-1 (Val) dive bomber for the 19 February 1942 raid on Darwin.

The 1929 Japanese Year Book states, of Akagi and Kaga: They are the pride of the Japanese Navy, and though slightly inferior to the Saratoga of the USN in respect of speed, the Akagi surpasses the other in point of the range of her high angle guns, of which she carries 12 4.7-inchers. The Hosho … [is] by far smaller than the Akagi, but in the mode of construction [it possesses] special features of [its] own. The completion of the Kaga, only second to the Akagi, is a powerful addition to the Japanese Navy.

Kaga was reported as displacing 26,900 tons standard, but actually displaced over 30,000 tons, had a speed of 27 knots and carried 60 aircraft.

 

kaga1936fw

HIJMS Kaga, converted from a battleship hull, is seen here after major reconstruction (lengthened flight deck, completely re-engined, starboard side island) in 1936. She was at Pearl Harbour and contributed to the Darwin raid on 19 February 1942. Kaga missed the Indian Ocean sortie after running aground at Palau, 9 February 1942. She too was lost at Midway, 4 June 1942, after four bomb hits and internal AVGAS explosions.

London Treaty 1930

As the signatories of the Washington Naval Treaty reconvened in London in 1930, Japanese naval officers began to chafe under the ship construction restrictions imposed upon their nation. At that time, the armed forces were unpopular with the liberal government in power. Final decision on the size of the Navy lay in the competence of the civilian government. Most career officers were hostile to the treaty; those officers, who supported the civilian government in the bitter fight that ensued concerning ratification of the 1930 London Treaty, were either forced to resign within the next few years or were placed in unimportant posts. Militarists, ascending in power, referred contemptuously to the ratification as “the May 15th Affair.”

The London Treaty carried forward the general limitations of the earlier Washington agreement and provided for further reductions of naval armament. Under terms applicable to Naval Aviation, the definition of an aircraft carrier was broadened to include ships of any tonnage designed primarily for aircraft operations. It was agreed that installation of a landing-on or flying-off platform on a warship designed and used primarily for other purposes would not make that ship an aircraft carrier. It also stipulated that no capital ship in existence on April 1, 1930 would be fitted with such a platform or deck.

Rapid expansion

The Japanese Navy expanded rapidly after 1930, at such a rate that it became necessary to conscript men. In 1931, a replenishment plan was authorised, permitting the Navy to complete construction of the Ryujo (Galloping Dragon), a small aircraft carrier of about 10,000 tons laid down in 1929. It was completed in 1933, its limited deck free of an obstructive island. Ryujo had a speed of 29 knots, carried 36 aircraft, and was armed with 12 five-inch guns. She was Japan’s fourth aircraft carrier. In June 1934, USS Ranger became the United States Navy’s fourth carrier.

In 1932, naval authorities referred a second naval replenishment plan to the Ministry of Finance for study. This called for a total expenditure of ¥460,000,000 (about $230 million), covering the construction of one aircraft carrier of 8000 tons, other capital and auxiliary ships, and the establishment of eight flying corps on land: all this to be completed by the end of 1936. This aircraft carrier was never built.

In 1934, preliminary disarmament conferences were held in London. Congress had already passed and President Roosevelt authorised an act that popularly became known as the Vinson­Trammell Act. This permitted the USA to construct naval ships to the tonnage limitations prescribed by the previous Washington and London Naval Treaties. Under this authorisation, USS Wasp (CV-7) was laid down in 1936.

Japanese militarists were not eager to continue in the disarmament pacts. Wrote U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Joseph C. Grew, “Japanese attitude toward the coming Naval Conference in 1935 London Treaty is intensely unpopular among the Japanese Naval officers high and low;” and in separate correspondence, “The situation is entirely different from that in 1930 … Under present conditions the Navy alone will have the final say [as to the size of the Imperial Japanese Navy].”


Quantitative parity

It boiled down to this: Japan wanted quantitative as well as qualitative parity in ship power, equal to the United States and Great Britain. The 5-5-3 ratio was no longer acceptable. Neither the USA nor Britain favoured such an increase in Japanese strength. Granted equality in armoured ships, Japan would be the major power in the Pacific, greater than the USA and Great Britain combined when their Fleets were divided geographically. Japan persisted. The Japanese Year Book of 1935 enumerated that country’s “official” reasoning:

1. The progress and development made recently in battleships, aeroplanes, etc., have made it extremely difficult to effectuate defence operations.

2. The remarkable increases in the air forces of the USSR and China, and the revival of the Far Eastern naval forces of the former.

3. The establishment of the naval port of Singapore by Great Britain, and the extension and strengthening of the naval port of Hawaii by the USA have had a great effect on the naval plan of operations in Far Eastern waters.

4. The birth of Manchoukuo [independence of Manchuria, 18 February 1932] has brought forth vast in Far Eastern policies. It has increased the responsibility of the Japanese Empire as the stabilizing power in the Far East.

These were political arguments the world’s two top naval powers could not buy. But Japan was adamant, refused compromise and, on December 29, 1934, gave the required two years’ formal notice that after 31 December 1936, she would no longer be bound by the terms of the Washington and London Naval Treaties. Her act of abrogation unleashed the restraints on international shipbuilding.

 

soryufw

HIJMS Soryu, laid down in 1934 and commissioned in December 1937, displaced 19,500 tons on a 222 x 21 x 7.44 metres hull. Her four screws and 152,000 hp engines made her nearly 40 per cent faster than the similar-sized 25-knot HMAS Sydney and Melbourne.

Two more aircraft carriers were laid down in Japanese ways in 1934 and 1936, the Soryu (Blue Dragon) and Hiryu (Flying Dragon). Soryu displaced about 18,000 tons standard, had a speed of 34.5 knots, and handled 63 aircraft. Hiryu was heavier, 18,500 tons standard, and had a speed of 34.3 knots. Officially, both ships were carried on the books at 10,050 tons standard; the true tonnage was not revealed until after WW II. Both ships carried the same number of planes and had the same armament, 12 five-inch guns.

 

hiryu1939fw

HIJMS Hiryu in 1939.

HIJMS Hiryu, sister ship to Soryu, was laid down in 1936 and commissioned in 1939. Hiryu had a port-side island, like Akagi, which meant that when operating aircraft she would be on the starboard side of a tight multi-carrier formation, with her aircraft flying right-hand circuits. The starboard-side island ships would be deployed in the port column, with their aircraft flying left-hand circuits. Hiryu was also part of the carrier group that bombed Pearl Harbour and Darwin and participated in the Indian Ocean raid. Hiryu was the only operational front line Japanese carrier left in the Battle of Midway after Kaga, Soryu and Akagi were all disabled early on 4 June 1942. In that battle, Hiryu launched two strikes, at 1050 and 1245, that severely damaged USS Yorktown (CV-5, below), leading to that carrier’s total loss. In turn, Hiryu was hit by four bombs from a strike by Yorktown‘s sister-ship Enterprise (CV-6) around 1700, which led to her scuttling early the next morning. At Midway, Hiryu carried a formidable arsenal of 21 A6M Zero fighters, 21 Aichi D3A (Val) dive bombers and 21 Nakajima B5N (Kate) torpedo bombers.

 

yorktownfw

USS Yorktown (CV-5) hit amidships by a torpedo from a Hiryu-launched strike, 4 June 1942.

It was sometime between 1935 and 1937 that naval ship designers configured carriers to provide a surprising technical innovation. Akagi and Kaga underwent major modernisation at this time. The lower flight decks were suppressed, the upper flight decks were extended forward, and the eight-inch gun turrets and mountings were reduced in Akagi from ten to six, while Kaga replaced her 12 x 4.7-inch guns with 16 five-inchers. Kaga‘s unwieldy funnels were also reduced. The modernisation of Kaga, which included new machinery, added about 1½ knots to her speed, giving her 28.3, but Akagi‘s modernization cost her several knots, bringing her down to 28.


Port-side islands

But the startling innovation was the introduction of small islands on the port side of the carriers Akagi and Hiryu. The remaining carriers had islands on the starboard (standard) side—of those that had them at all. Strategists planned to use these carriers in a formation that was unique. The lead carriers in the basic formation were to be the port-islanded Hiryu and Akagi, followed by the Soryu and Kaga. This would supposedly allow for a more compact formation with nonconflicting aircraft traffic patterns. This formation was used in the Battle of Midway.

(Ed. note: This explanation remains valid only if the carriers turned together to a flying course of about 90 degrees port. See the caption to the Hiryu photo above for a better explanation.)

Japan’s next venture into aircraft carrier construction was the Shokuku (Flying Crane) and Zuikaku (Lucky Crane). These carriers were kept fairly well under wraps, insofar as specifications are concerned. They were authorised under the very ambitious Fleet Replenishment Program of 1937, the same program under which the famed super battleships Yamato and Musashi were built.

Shokaku was laid down December 12, 1937 at the Yokosuka Navy Yard, while Zuikaku was started at Kawasaki Dockyard May 25, 1938. Basically, the ships had similar specifications. They displaced 25,675 tons standard, had a designed speed of 34.2 knots, carried 16 five-inch guns in twin mounts, and could carry up to 84 aircraft, although a normal complement was 73. There were no major differences between the ships. Zuikaku, however, was fitted with a bulbous bow, the first Japanese warship so designed. Shokuku was launched June 1, 1939, and completed August 8, 1941; Zuikaku was launched November 27, 1939, and completed September 25, 1941.

Funnel modifications

Completion of both carriers was delayed when the original funnel arrangement was changed in mid-construction by the Aeronautical Headquarters. As designed, the funnels were to appear one on each side of the island bridge, fore and aft on the starboard side. This was changed by placing the two funnels immediately aft of the island.

The Japanese did not give either ship much publicity. Both ships, Zuikaku and Shokaku, were to figure prominently in most sea battles of WW II involving naval air. Their design was based on the best material gathered from experiences in Akagi, Kaga, and the Soryu types. Later Japanese carriers (i.e., multiple ship design classes) were constructed in two groups: the large to be like Taiho (with armoured flight deck) , and the medium to be repeats of the Soryu class. Zuikaku and Shokaku comprised an entire class.

Japan’s next aircraft carrier was a conversion. In 1936 the submarine depot ship Takasaki was under construction. While she was still in the ways, the decision was made to complete the ship as a carrier. Work on this project was not started until January 1940, but was completed in December that year. The carrier was renamed Zuiho (Happy Phoenix). She displaced 11,200 tons standard, sailed at 28 knots, and carried 30 aircraft. She was armed with eight five-inch guns. A sister ship, Shoho (Lucky Phoenix), converted between January 1941 and January 1942, was originally named Tsurugisaki, launched as a submarine depot ship in 1934. Zuiho and Shoho particulars were similar.

Other aircraft carriers were under construction or conversion. At least 15 more would be commissioned during the war years, produced in growing restrictions of limited materials, and, after the Battle of Midway in 1942, in desperation.

Further rapid expansion

In the five-year period preceding 7 December 1941, Japan’s military might grew stronger. In March 1936 the cabinet was dominated by men in uniform and the development of heavy industry was pushed. An extraordinarily ambitious and successful expansion of the Navy was launched in 1937, the same year hostilities broke between Japan and China. That same year, the Panay was sunk. In 1938, the National Mobilization Bill was passed. In September 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan concluded a three-power pact. November 1941, Japanese Prime minister, Gen. Hideki Tojo, stated that British and American influence must be eliminated from the Orient.

 

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The best carrier in the world is useless without capable aircraft. The deadly Nakjima B5N (Kate) was the best of the early WW II torpedo bombers. Its 1115 hp engine gave it a speed of 200 knots and a very respectable 600-mile strike range with an 800 kg torpedo.

The Japanese Navy had been conducting intensive training of its officers and men during this period. Most of the training, including war games, was conducted in out-of-the-way gulfs and in the stormy northern reaches of the Pacific. The men were hardened by the elements and drilled continuously. To avoid antagonizing the Japanese, the U.S. Navy at the same time was instructed to hold all of its fleet problems in the less satisfactory areas west of the International Date Line.

Pearl Harbor

By 1941, Japan was determined to wage war. On November 10, VADM Chuichi Naguma, placed in charge of the initial attack, issued his first operation order on the mission. The Striking Force of Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, Hiryu, Shokaku and Zuikaku, as well as other capital ships, sortied from Kure navy base between 10 and 18 November, rendezvousing on the 22nd in Tankan Bay in the Kuriles.

ADML Yamamoto ordered the force to sortie on 26 November. On 2 December he broadcast a prearranged signal that would launch the attack on Pearl Harbor: “Niitaka Yama Nobore” (Climb Mount Niitaka). Five days later, 7 December, the Japanese Navy launched its surprise attack by aircraft, launched from carriers, at Pearl Harbour and the Philippines. The next day, the United States and Japan were officially at war.


Boeing Aircraft Museum

Boeing aircraft factory and museum

Psst! Wanna see the biggest American airliners being constructed in the biggest shed in the world? Go North, young man, from San Francisco to Seattle, the traditional home of the Boeing Aircraft Company.

Boeing web site

Visitor information is on http://www.futureofflight.org/visitUs/planVisit.html#tourInfo. Boeing charges US$10 for a booked tour or US$5 on a “space available” basis for one of the six regular tours each day. The Boeing factory welcomes about 140,000 visitors a year so it is wise to prebook for the one-hour guided factory tour before leaving Australia. There is a minimum height consideration, 127 cm (four feet two inches) and a flight of stairs to negotiate. There are also Seattle-based commercial groups that run combined three and a half-hour hotel-to-hotel transport and factory tours for US$40 or so.

A brand new-looking Qantas Boeing 747 on the Seattle flight line.

 Drive or fly?

One option for most Australian visitors is to fly the 600 nautical miles directly from San Francisco to Seattle, but that means missing the breathtaking redwood giants on the way up and maybe beautiful Crater Lake on the way back. Instead, pick a snow-free season and consider hiring a car, setting off from San Francisco early one morning and finding the 101 North. The American Automobile Association (AAA, affiliated with NRMA) says it takes 16-odd hours to travel by road between the two cities, so it’s probably best to break the journey with an overnight stop somewhere. Once on the 101, put the pedal to the metal, set the cruise control to 70 and lock in 89 decimal 3 on the radio (or bring your own CDs).

Then, all you have to do is to weave through the ever-present lines of recreation vehicles (RVs) and feed, water and refuel regularly. In no time at all you will be turning off towards the US-1, say from Cloverdale, along Highway 128 past Boonville, through very winding roads and uniquely beautiful giant redwoods.

Note: In this area, when the warning signs say 10 mph is recommended for a curve, they mean it. An extra five mph over that speed is very likely to put a car off the road and either up a tree or down a cliff. Anyone other than Superman would agree that a car with power steering and automatic clutch is highly advisable. Finally, allow only an average 20 mph to cruise through redwood territory on the 128 and the northeast section of the US-1 beyond Rockport.

sugarbread house
There are some fascinating old homes on the North-West Pacific Coast, like this one in Eureka.

Habitation is pretty sparse after leaving the 101, but there are a number of towns with simple accommodation on the US-1 coast road. Think of spending the rest of the afternoon and overnight maybe somewhere between Fort Bragg and Rockport. Consider a Valley of the Giants side trip through one of the forests.

Look forward to another early start and an even tougher drive along US-1 as it cuts across country through even more redwoods to get back on 101 North. Once on the big multilane 101, it’s cruise control time again and all systems go for Eureka and Crescent City. Cut right there on the US-199 for Grants Pass and the even bigger I-5 North. You will soon be travelling through interesting cities like Portland that will tempt some DDG sailors to stay awhile. In good weather you will see the snow-capped Mount St Helens volcano and other mountain grandeur to the east.

The big Boeing airliner factory lies about 30 minutes north of Seattle, just west of the I-5 near Everett. From the I-5, take Exit 189 to State Highway 526 West and look for prominent Boeing Tour Center signs in little over three miles.

Highly organised

Boeing visits are highly organised. There is an introductory 12-minute film and a bus ride to and from the huge factory, a walk through a factory gallery and a final flight line bus tour. You will learn that Bill Boeing, a Seattle timberman, and Conrad Westerfield, a USN officer, formed the Pacific Aero Products Company in 1916. That partnership, of a serving USN officer and a local civilian, grew into the Boeing Aircraft Company of today.

The big Everett factory “shed” covers 40 hectares (98 acres) under the one roof and is claimed to be the largest by volume in the world. It is 35 metres (114 feet) tall. There are 26 overhead cranes that travel on 50 kilometres (31 miles) of track. The 747 cranes can lift 34 tons but those serving the 777 line are rated to 40 tons. Work on the factory commenced in 1966 and the first 747 started building a year later.

Typically, there are four or five wide-bodied 747, 767 or 777 airliners on each production assembly line, with huge component assemblies shipped in from all over the world, by rail, road and air. A 747 might take nine months to assemble. Often, a brand new gleaming Qantas 747, destined for Australia, will be in the number one flight line spot.

Boeing Museum of Flight

While in the Seattle area, it probably does no harm to consider a visit to the excellent Boeing Museum of Flight, about six miles south of Seattle, again on the I-5. Take Exit 158 West to the first traffic light, then turn right on to East Marginal Way. Look for the museum on the right after about a half a mile. Alternatively, take the Metro bus 174 that travels between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport. Its route passes the museum.

Blackbird, F-18Main Hall
The museum has SR-3 Blackbird (left) and F-18 cockpit simulators inviting public participation. There are also
famous aircraft such as a Spitfire, Corsair, Sabre and Mig-21 on display (right photo).

The museum is open from 1000 until 1700 each day except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day and admission is US$9.50 with discounts for seniors and children. It stays open until 2100 every first Thursday of the month. Wheelchairs are available for the disabled and lifts serve all floors. There is a museum shop and restaurant on the premises.

The Museum of Flight traces its roots back to a volunteer group called the Pacific Northwest Aviation Historical Foundation. This was formed to recover and restore a unique 1929 Boeing 80A-1 airliner, found in an Alaskan landfill. That project started in 1964 and took 16 years. That aircraft is now a centrepiece in the museum’s Great Gallery. The “Museum of Flight”, as such, opened in rented space in the Seattle Centre in 1968, but found a permanent home in 1983, incorporating the “Red Barn”, the original Boeing factory.

This building, now on the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest aircraft manufacturing plant in the country, was moved a couple of miles up river from its original site to create a home for the museum in a corner of the Boeing Field/King County International Airport.

Caproni
A very rare Caproni Ca20, clearly in “original condition”.

In the Museum’s Great Gallery and other extensions to the Red Barn, there are more than 50 aircraft, many of them Boeing bombers or transports, but also distinguished fighters such as a Supermarine Spitfire Mk IX, a Goodyear Super Corsair F2G-1, a Douglas Skyhawk A-4F and a MiG-21. A very rare and delicate Caproni Ca20, arguably the world’s first purpose-built fighter, dating from 1914, stands proudly in the WW I Gallery on the second floor. By contrast, visitors of all ages climb in, out and all over a pair of F-18 Hornet and SR-71 Blackbird cockpit simulators on the floor below.


Modern simulators

There are also three sets of flying simulators open to the general public. One rare twin-seat model has 360-degree pitch and roll freedom. In the outer space Pete Conrad Gallery, three more simulators encourage visitors to try their hands docking a fuel-limited spacecraft on the Hubble Telescope.

Inside the museum is a control tower display that encourages visitors to listen to actual air traffic control conversations. Separate booths broadcast activity at the museum’s busy home aerodrome and in a number of cities around the USA. A jargon decrypter is at hand for those not familiar with the verbal aerial shorthand and visitors are welcome to initiate and respond to simulated radio traffic.

The general public may elect to take no-charge docent-led tours throughout the day. The museum also houses an extensive aeronautical library and archival holdings, available by appointment. It has a comprehensive on-site and outreach educational program. There are also a large number of the museum’s aircraft and spacecraft either on display or undergoing restoration at a number of other sites, one as far away as Mesa, Arizona.

F14A-6
Outside the museum are a number of aircraft, including an F-18 (left) and an A-6 (right).

Outside the museum’s main building is another series of aircraft, ranging from the first presidential jet, Eisenhower’s 1959 Boeing VC-137B “Air Force One”, to a dummy-bomb-laden Grumman A-6 Intruder and rare types such as a piston-engined Boeing B-29 Superfortress and a Boeing WB-47E Stratojet.

Pike Place Market

No Seattle visit would be complete, of course, without a stroll through Pike Place Market and sampling the delicious waterfront restaurant salmon. There is also the Space Needle to climb, the monorail to travel on and dozens of other attractions for those not hooked on aircraft history.

Contrary to scuttlebutt, it does not rain all the time in Seattle. In mid-September 2002, during a 10-day holiday period, the weather was sunny and there was no significant daytime rain at all.

Crater Lake on return trip?

Options for the return journey to San Francisco include a straight run back on the I-5 or a slight diversion east to explore some of the wonderful National Parks, especially Crater Lake. If timing’s around early September, consider a visit to the annual Tailhook Reunion in Reno. Crater Lake is on the way from Seattle to Reno and then it’s only a half day’s easy drive from Reno to San Francisco. On the other hand, some Australian visitors might consider reversing the route, to do a Tailhook Reunion in Reno and visit nearby Lake Tahoe first, then drive to Crater Lake and Seattle.

Crater LakeThe Lodge
Crater Lake (left) is worth a visit. The Lodge (right) is redolent with atmo$phere.

There are many ways to get to Crater Lake by road and depending on the season there might be overnight bookings available in expensive places such as Crater Lake Lodge, or in more reasonably priced cabins at nearby Mazama Village. In any event, book accommodation before leaving Australia and plan to visit during a snow-free period, between early July and late September, to permit circumnavigation of the lake by car along Rim Drive. Take a camera. It is almost impossible to take a bad photograph of Crater Lake. The deep blue lake is especially beautiful on clear days around dawn and sunset.

Crater Lake was formed by the collapse of a volcanic caldera about 7700 years ago, leaving a deep basin more than six kilometres wide that gradually filled with water. No stream runs into or out of the lake, but snow and rain seepage and evaporation balance to form one of the world’s purest and deepest bodies of fresh water. The lake surface is about 1882 metres (6173 feet) above sea level. Its maximum depth is 593 metres (1843 feet); claimed to be the seventh deepest in the world. Around the lake are sheer grey cliffs that rise 240 to 600 metres (800 to 2000 feet) above the lake’s surface.

A boat takes passengers on a 1 hour 45 minutes tour of the lake, but that involves clambering down a steep 243 metres (800 feet) cliff via a zig-zag track to get to the boat. Going down is not so bad. It takes about 30 or 40 minutes. Climbing back is daunting. Even the youngest and fittest take more than an hour at that high altitude.

Visitor information centres and gift shops in the Crater Lake area are well-stocked with everything ranging from soft toys and postcards to substantial books about the lake, its myths and origins. The Lodge runs an excellent restaurant (it’s expensive and bookings are strongly suggested) but there are other options nearby such as a cafeteria and take-away food in Rim Village.

Yellowstone Park?

Locals enthuse about volcanic features such as “lava runs” some tens of kilometres from the lake, but only those very few with a dedicated interest in shallow caves should contemplate such a visit. On the other hand, there are plenty of side visits possible from Reno itself. These include Tailhook-sponsored visits to NAS Fallon and Lake Tahoe and private car drives to places such as Incline Village and historic Carson City. Braver souls might even gird up for another 700-odd miles journey east to take in famous Yellowstone Park.


Stamp out Polygraphs

Stamp out polygraphs

diann-sawyer
CBS reporter Dianne Sawyer (left) easily beat this “lie detector” test on live TV after minimal training.

“Polygraph testing for national security screening is little more than junk science, with results so inaccurate that they tend to be counterproductive,” said a long-awaited report released 8 October 2002 by the prestigious American National Academy of Sciences.

“I don’t think federal agencies stop and ask themselves how many spies we have caught with this, because the answer is ‘none’, or how many people have been unfairly denied employment, because the answer is ‘many’,” said Steven Aftergood, an intelligence analyst with the Federation of American Scientists, according to Charles Piller, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times, 9 October 2002, p1.

“Unigraph” precursor, scientific distrust

Since 1923 the “unigraph”, a precursor of today’s “polygraph” that recorded only cardiovascular responses, has been under legal scrutiny (Frye v. United States, 1923 – U.S. Court of Appeals of District of Columbia). That ruling stated that before unigraph evidence could be introduced, its validity would have to be accepted by the scientific community. No worthwhile scientific study has ever justified the process for either the unigraph or polygraph. There have been a number of subsequent legal rulings confirming the 1923 finding.

The polygraph, developed originally by behavioural psychologists for phobia interventions, records not only heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rates, but also “galvanic skin responses” through electrical resistance changes due to sweat gland activity. These easily-measured signs of autonomic nervous system arousal frequently accompany the anxiety generated by lying. Unfortunately, when used as a “truth detector” the machine is easily deceived. The machine has lead to many people being falsely accused of criminal behaviour and others being falsely cleared.

polygraph
A laptop computer digital version “lie detector”.

Behavioural psychologists, the scientists most familiar with all aspects of polygraph testing, have expressed a longstanding distrust of the polygraph as it is used by “forensic experts”. They almost universally condemn the machine as a “lie detector”. Reports supporting its usefulness in detecting lies tend to be written by researchers not known for their scientific rigour or by those who couch their “proof” in rubbery language.

The United States Supreme Court, in a 1998 ruling, (Supreme Court of the United States – No. 96-1133 – U.S. vs Edward G Scheffer – Decision March 31, 1998) reaffirmed that polygraph evidence should not be admissible in court cases because:

The contentions of respondent and the dissent not withstanding, there is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable. To this day, the scientific community remains extremely polarized about the reliability of polygraph techniques. Some studies have concluded that polygraph tests overall are accurate and reliable. See, e.g., S. Abrams, The Complete Polygraph Handbook 190-191, 1968; reporting the overall accuracy rate from laboratory studies involving the common “control question technique” polygraph to be “in the range of 87 per cent”. Others have found that polygraph tests assess truthfulness significantly less accurately – that scientific field studies suggest the accuracy rate of the “control question technique” polygraph is “little better than could be obtained by the toss of a coin,” that is, 50 per cent.

Now, the highly respected National Academy of Sciences has completed an exhaustive 19-month study. It concluded that the machine is useless as a lie detector because it encourages both positive and negative unfair conclusions.

polygraph readout
A typical “lie detector” readout.

Still, the machine remains in use by a number of American and Australian government agencies, including Defence, who should know better. It can be easily beaten. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki (2002) says people can be trained to beat the machine. A drawing pin in a shoe or a pre-test tranquilliser, such as Valium, can confound results. Dianne Sawyer, a highly respected American CBS reporter, was quickly trained by a prominent polygrapher to lie with impunity when hooked up to the machine.

“I took the test, using the ‘Sting’ technique, lied about everything including my name, and the polygrapher told me I was the most honest person he had ever tested,” she said.

For the same program, CBS randomly hired four polygraphers to examine four randomly-chosen staff about a theft crime that had never been committed. All four polygraphers picked different “guilty parties”, finding truthful people liars. This strongly supports the assertion that polygraph testing is biased against truthful people.

Aldrich Ames

The Aldrich Ames case is another serious and convincing example of how polygraph machines and their operators can be deceived. Ames was a senior American CIA agent who also spied for the Soviets. He had been trained by the Soviets in techniques to confound the machine. Like habitual liars and sociopaths, he was highly successful, recording 100 per cent “truthful” responses to incriminating questions in CIA-conducted polygraph tests. He was unmasked, not by polygraph testing, but by two female fellow employees playing a simple “dumb blonde” routine.

There was speculation that had the FBI conducted the Aldrich Ames examination, the outcome would have been different. Physiologist Dr R.C. Richardson, an FBI polygraph researcher, flatly contradicted this position in surprising testimony before a Senate committee in 1997:

I think a careful examination of the Aldrich Ames case will reveal that any shortcomings in the use of the polygraph were not simply errors on the part of the polygraph examiners involved, and would not have been eliminated if FBI instead of CIA polygraphers had conducted these examinations. Instead I believe this is largely a reflection of the complete lack of validity of this methodology.

Washington Times

Five years later, Richardson went on to say, in the Washington Times, on 17 October 2002, following the Academy of Sciences report:

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences issued a landmark report regarding the use of polygraphy by various federal agencies. Although many issues were explored and several conclusions were drawn, none was more important than the finding that polygraph screening is completely invalid as a diagnostic instrument for determining truth regarding counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, past activities of job applicants and other important issues currently so assessed by our various federal, state and local governments…various panel members (stated) very clearly and emphatically that no spy had ever been caught as a result of polygraphy, none would ever be expected to be so revealed, and that although a precise figure cannot be assigned to the number of false-positive results, large numbers of the tens of thousands of people subjected yearly to this sort of “testing” are likely being falsely accused about their backgrounds and activities.

The jury is in and the evidence is clear and compelling—Spies such as Aldrich Ames and Ana Montes have been allowed to continue spying, in a large part due to the false confidence placed in polygraph exams having been passed by these individuals. It has been demonstrated clearly over the years: not only is polygraph screening not a solution for the problems encountered by those entrusted with protecting the national security, but it is, in fact, a real threat itself to the national security and the reputations of our citizens.

There is also equally compelling evidence that totally innocent parties incriminate themselves because of nervousness and intimidation associated with the machine.

There seems little justification, nowadays, for anyone to place any trust in any polygraph machine or polygraph operator to detect either lies or truth. It is the environment and the machine itself that creates anxiety in naive subjects, eliciting false random bodily responses to emotionally laden questions. Highly trained professional liars, such as spies, manipulate the machine with impunity. It is tragic that thousands of people have been falsely denied employment on the sole evidence of a polygraph machine.

References:

Abrams, S. The complete polygraph handbook. Lexington Books: Lanham, 1989.
Kruszelnicki, K. The lie about lies. Sydney Morning Herald, Weekender 2.11.2002 p11.
Maschke, G. W. and G.J.Scalabrini The lie behind the lie detector. Antipolygraph.org.
www.Howstuffworks.org.
Richardson, R.C. Washington Times 17 October 2002.