One of the things I most enjoy about attending SUBVETS meetings is listening to the sea stories. This morning over breakfast there was a lively discussion of the grounding of the USS Guardfish (SSN-612) on a Christmas Eve outside Pearl Harbor. One of our members was an engineering Officer for the Squadron command and received a call at home to get down to the base right away. Nobody would discuss why over the phone, so he got dressed and went into the office. There he was told “It’s your job whether you want it or not,” and to get down to the pier and tell the families that Guardfish would not be arriving today (Christmas Eve).
Now imagine that. You can give them no further information, other than the boat is overdue! In truth, she is on a reef just outside the harbor, stuck aground, but the chill that must have gone through those families heart would have frozen hell. Luckily, nobody was hurt and the boat arrived a couple of days late.
I did some digging and found the following entries on the Guardfish memories website, which make some interesting reading from the ships company point of view. But as always, there’s another side to the story!
Guardfish On the Rocks
My maneuvering watch station was in the diesel generator room; as you know, almost on the bottom and near the bow of the boat! I don’t know what speed we were making for our approach to Papa Hotel but there was some trouble up in control getting the hatch open to man the bridge. All of a sudden there was the most terrible screeching and tearing sounds I had ever heard. The boat shuddered and bounced, then the noise subsided and we started to heel over to port, it seemed like it would never stop. For a few seconds, I thought we were going to roll over! I was really scared but training took over and I started checking hull fittings and equipment to see if there was any damage or if we were taking on any water. Everything checked out OK and I reported to Control. Then I remember just listening as the CO and maneuvering kept talking back and forth as they tried to back down off the reef. I think maneuvering was afraid for the “plant” but the Captain wanted Guardfish OFF THAT REEF! I remember an order something like, “Keep that astern bell on until I tell you to take it off”! We blew main ballast tanks to try to raise the boat in the water and everything else the Captain could think of but nothing worked,,,,, we were stuck! The rest is history, we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas day out there and they got us free about noon the day after Christmas, but not before a bomb scare when divers found an old bomb just astern of us. It turned out to be a practice bomb full of sand and the tow went off as scheduled at high tide. When we got in and tied up I was really embarrassed because not only was my Wife Marsha there to meet me but my Dad had come out from Ohio to visit and he was an old great lakes sailor. He always stressed to me how important it was to know your waters and keep your boat out of trouble! All I could say was “I don’t drive the boat Dad”! We were all very tired but very happy to be home!
– LT Eldon Peck
Another viewpoint on the grounding…
We were all at our maneuvering stations as Eldon stated. Mine just happened to be helmsman/lookout. Captain Hines was the first man up the sail and I was right behind him. We had just set up communications with the control room. I don,t know if we had taken the con at the moment. I had my safety harness on and was snapped in the cockpit but I was working out on the sailplanes trying to get the safety lines rigged. All of a sudden, I was hugging the sail for dear life. I bet I left fingernail marks there forever. No matter what the Captain tried, we could not get free. We were pounding on that reef really hard. We had a constant 30-degree list and every time we rose up a bit, we would slam down again on the reef. Finally, we vented the ballast tanks trying to settle down and relieve the pounding as much as possible. The worst part of the whole thing, after the situation stabilized, was the fact that we were within sight of the Air Force base right next to Pearl Harbor. We all could see our wives and family members on land through binoculars. It was one hell of a way to spend Christmas. The day after Christmas, we were pulled off the reef by two fleet tugs and an ASR and towed into port. We got liberty that day and had to report back early the next day to move to the dry dock. The damage was not as bad as everyone feared. We got a nice stay in the dry dock for a while and then went on our first WestPac cruise.-MM2 Dennis LaHines
The Official Story of Guardfish on the Rocks
SUBMARINE SAFETY NOTE DATED 28 OCTOBER 1968
Brief: Submarine goes aground while entering port.
What Happened? A submarine was returning to homeport at night after deployment. Upon surfacing it was found that the bridge hatch was stuck shut. One of the two periscopes was inoperative. The OOD and navigator shared the remaining periscope to conn the ship and navigate. The maneuvering watch was fully manned with the exception of bridge watchstanders. Visibility was not a problem. An apparent gyro error of 8.7ø with the operative periscope was being used. Thirty nine minutes after surfacing the ship had approached within 2 miles of the harbor entrance point and had ordered all stop from speed 12 knots. Navigational fixes obtained indicated that the ship would pass landward of the harbor entrance point but not to landward of the harbor entrance buoys. Forty eight minutes after surfacing the bridge hatch was successfully opened. The ship had advanced 2750 yards from the point of the all stop bell and was well to the right of the harbor entrance range having crossed the range from west to east. Thirteen minutes after the bridge hatch was opened the ship was ordered ahead 1/3 and then 2/3 to make the turn to enter the channel. The Commanding Officer went to the bridge with a lookout and a quartermaster. The lookout was busy rigging for entering port; the quartermaster was trying to call the signal tower by flashing light. About this time the Commanding Officer assumed the duties of OOD from OOD in the attack center. Neither had the channel entrance buoys in sight although the buoys were on the port bow at a range of about 1000 yards.
Navigational fixes obtained were open to question because of gyro transmission errors in the operative periscope and the poor bearing spread of available navigational aids. A course to enter the channel between the channel entrance buoys was recommended by the acting assistant navigator, an experienced QM1. This course was essentially concurred in by the navigator, however the recommendation was not sent to the bridge.
The two channel range lights and a buoy pair (5 and 6) with the same light characteristics as the entrance buoys (1 and 2) occupied the attention of the navigator and the Commanding Officer (OOD). The stage was set. As buoys 1 and 2 slid unobserved down the port side the submarine went aground.
A missing locking key for the periscope bearing transmitter, a stuck bridge hatch, one inoperative periscope – none of these directly caused the grounding. When the additional factors of haste, pre-occupation with details rather than keeping the big picture, inadequate communication between the navigator and the bridge and inadequate preparations are added, a casualty is in the making.
The sea merely lies in wait for the innocent but it stalks the unwary.
-EM1 Herb Edmonds