Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sea Story: Anti-Submarine Warfare During Operation Desert Shield

This week somebody asked me for a sea story from my Navy days. Although many colleagues and bankers know I was in the Navy, I can't recall anybody asking me for a story. So I told the one below. They seemed interested, and I thought you might be too. If you were looking for banking insights, you'll have to forgive me for this post.

In September 1990, the guided missile cruiser USS Biddle (CG-34) in-chopped into the Mediterranean Sea with the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga battle group en route the Red Sea. This was after Iraq invaded Kuwait, and tensions were high. I picked up the Biddle (see photo) via a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. You know, the big troop/supply carrying helo with two big blades. That harrowing ride and jump to the Biddle is a sea story in itself. But I digress.

The Biddle was tasked with merchant interdiction. If you remember back to Operations Desert Shield and Storm, the "coalition" was intercepting merchant ships, stopping any sort of supplies reaching Iraq via the Red Sea or the Persian Gulf. Biddle stopped the first merchant ship, and the most during the operation.

One evening, I was vigilantly on watch. Which means I was wearing headphones in front of a wall of electronic equipment. Captain Harlow, our CO, came over the 1MC (ship-wide speaker), sheepishly announcing that we were DIW (dead in the water, i.e. not moving), and he wasn't sure why. Next morning divers from the Saratoga were going to check things out.

Turns out, we lost our rudder. That's right, we dropped a rudder into the depths of the Red Sea. My fellow shipmates joked we were doing some anti-submarine warfare and we dropped rudder hoping to hit one.

The closest dry dock to get it fixed was Toulon, France. We were in the Red Sea. Check Google Maps. We're not talking a brief trip, here. And we had to navigate the Suez Canal. If you ever experienced the Suez, and I suspect most readers have not, it is very narrow. It can only accommodate a North Bound convoy, followed by a South Bound convoy. Never the two at the same time. Sometimes you feel as if you can throw a rock from your ship and hit land, it's so narrow.

Captain Harlow was a stubborn man. He did not want to be towed in the North Bound convoy. Instead, he decided to steer by the screws. That means using our propellers to make turning movements to guide us through the canal. We slowed the North Bound convoy down so much, Egyptian authorities made us pull off to the side and wait for a tow. So the remaining North Bound convoy, and the following South Bound convoy passed us in our misery.

The next day, and the next North Bound convoy, a US frigate, I can't remember the name, stopped to give us our tow. A frigate, for the uninitiated, is one of the smallest warships in our fleet. A mighty cruiser, on the other hand, is one of the biggest.

We took our tow, and the North Bound convoy of shame, all the way to Toulon.

But hey, I was able to get off the ship in Toulon and spend Christmas with the family. So there's that!

And that's my sea story. I don't know if there's a lesson here, except check your equipment before leaving port.

~ Jeff 

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