18 Years Ago: USS SARATOGA (CV-60) fires on TCG MAUVENET (DM-57)

October 2nd, 2010 by xformed

On Oct 2nd, 1992, the day of the USS SARATOGA (CV60)/TCG MAUVENET (DM57) incident, I had been at my job for 2 1/2 years.  I was assigned as the Combat Systems Assessment (CSA) Officer for Commander, Naval Surface Forces, Atlantic (CNSL), but we were in the process of reorganizing into the Afloat Training Group (ATG) command, as the Combat Systems Training Group (CSTG).  My specific duties included the management of the process by which surface ships (this being a US Navy distinction, where aircraft carriers, and submarine tenders were not considered “surface ships” organizationally, as they “belonged” to the aviation or submarine Type Commanders respectively).  I had played a significant role in redefining the inspection process, making it less of a material and safety look, and more of an operational/functional look, which put not just the crew’s capabilities in the spot light, but also how the chain of command handled internal training in combat systems/operations.  My interaction with the events of that day did not being until Feb of 93.  Background:

As the Department Head for the CSA shop, I most regularly was aboard two ships a week, in the Atlantic Fleet area (from Newport, RI, to Mayport, FL), but we were based out of Naval Amphibious Base (NAB) Little Creek, VA.  My team, comprised of my own departmental personnel, and augmented by subject matters experts from the warfare training departments, was nominally about 12 – 15 enlisted, and one other officer as my assistant.

The CSA Inspection had been formally modified the prior August to have use first inspect the watchbills of the ship, followed by validating the proper qualifications in selected watchstander’s service records.  We provided the same look at the ship’s combat Systems Training Team (CSTT), ensuring they had been properly training and qualified to train their shipmates.  We also looked at key administrative programs and operational documents.  I normally would check the ship’s use of the Personnel Qualification Systems (PQS), and LT Wycoff would inspect the use of the Explosives Handling Program/Qualification Certification Program (EHPQCP), which was put in place as the result of the fires aboard the USS FORESTAL (CV-59) and USS ENTERPRISE (CVN-65) off of Vietnam many years before.  PQS had grown out of the Vietnam era as well, beginning in the Engineering world to standardize training and qualification methods aboard ship.  As the impetus to create both of those programs were founded as a result of major fires aboard carriers, and many deadly engineering casualties, we treated them as foundational programs, necessary to safe and effective combat operations.  My other team members reviewed many other programs and all of us would walk the major combat systems equipment and operational spaces, checking for safety issues.

Once completed, we would then (usually after lunch) begin the practical portion of the inspection, with the ship’s CSTT briefing the exercises they had planned for the watch teams.  In addition to basic assignments of the CSTT members, they were required to specifically list what actions by the watchstanders would be simulated, and how they would be simulated.  In addition, what safety considerations/procedures would be put in place during the exercise to make sure accidents didn’t occur, and everyone was fully aware of what would happen live, and what would be approved to “have been carried out.”  While our goal was to ensure the ship’s operated well as individual units (my team’s charter), we took our mission seriously in regards to safety.  Thankfully, across three years of inspecting, it was a rare occasion where my team or I had to stop things for safety reasons.  Our advantage was the years and depth of experience that went aboard each inspection with me, or another senior officer.  We had seen things, been trained in things, and brought that view to all we did.  While we did not represent the captain’s CSTT, we were there to pass along how it was done, so the ship’s company would be able to operate as my team did.

Beyond safety, the myriad of other procedures used were apart of our daily emphasis:  Combat Systems Doctrine, operational watchstanding and communications, Battle Orders, and Rules of Engagement (ROE), and the technical capabilities of the weapons and sensors used in combat operations.

Now, to catch up to my involvement.  In early February 1993, CAPT Phil Balisle stepping into my office and told me I had been assigned to visit every Atlantic Fleet ship that had NATO Sea Sparrow installed, and to validate the crew’s understanding of the safe and effective operation of the equipment in a tactical scenario.  Assigned to me were LCDR Don Diehl, presently attached to USS GEORGE WASHINGTON as the CDC Officer.  FCCS(SW) Goss from Naval Guided Missile School, and FCC(SW) Dann of my office, CSTGLANT.  FCCS Goss and FCC Dann were 1157 NSSMS technicians, which included the operator qualifications for using NSSMS.

I was put in touch with my counterpart from the Pacific Fleet, and within a few days, we had standardized the re-certification process.  I pushed for and got, the conduct of a simulated engagement, run by the ship’s CSTT, to allow use to gauge the future capabilities of crews to properly maintain training and readiness.

Other included checks would be the qualifications of the watchstanders and the CSTT members, safety checks on the equipment, review of the EHPQCP records for completeness, and oral exams of the watchstanaders.

This was done, by my team, on all ships in the Atlantic Fleet, this time to include aircraft carriers.  we ended up inspecting and certifying all of the units, with only one, the USS SEATTLE (AOE3), needing a reinspection, based on the records of qualifications not being properly documented.  That earned the team a second visit to Naval Weapons Station Earle, NJ.

While not every inspection was perfect, the results of single ship redo was good.  The highlight, I recall was the USS MOOSBRUGGER (DD-980) under then CDR Mike Moe, who had been a shipmate of mine years before, but his team was well trained and exceptionally competent in their operations and qualifications.

During the conduct of the oral examinations, LCDR Diehl, who had been flown to Naples to provide subject matter expert testimony to the Court of Inquiry, heard the entire testimony.  He indicated, as is shown in the formal JAGMAN of the incident, that a lack of understanding of a the terminology “arm and tune” seemed to be the point where communication broke down, and then to belief this was to be an actual firing worked it’s way into the series of orders and actions.  He also indicated, not covered in the report, that the FOC and ROC operators had been rousted out of their racks, in a non-routine schedule, about 2345, and told to get up and man their equipment right now.  The confusion of such a significant request, at an odd hour seemed to Don to not have helped any in the assessments each sailor was making that night, leading to the mis-communications.

COMNAVAIRLANT had not adopted a formal establishment of the CSTT concept, which had been a Surface type commander requirement (by formal instruction) for several years.  Some carriers had them, to some degree or another, and a few did not formally use the concept.

Following all of this, COMNAVAIRLANT (and I’m sure COMNAVAIRPAC) added a formal instruction for the establishment and organization of CSTTs on their units.  When this accident occurred, my first thoughts in 92 were “I wondered how the CSTT let that happen?”  The implementation of the CSTTs, then on surface ships and later on the aviation ships, was a safety measure to help prevent such occurrences.  The simulation of actually firing the weapons, given the time of day (0002 L) would have been briefed, and the crew would have been required to verbally describe how they would have placed the system in a firing state to several of the CSTT members (one in the NSSMS Equipment room, and at least one in CDC withe the TAS Operator and SWC and TAO).

While none of this provides consolation to those who lost family members, I spent the next four months, traveling all the way to Hurgada, Egypt in one case, to validate the Fleet’s understanding of this important issue of safely training and operating.  Deployed ships were not spared from a visit from an inspection team, and only the USS O’BANNON (DD-987), then in overhaul, did not get visited by my team.  If I recall, there was an action item for a visit from the CSTG when the ship became operational again.

The use of many training methods, well entrenched in the Surface Ship Community, and with mostly in the Aviation Navy, had been able to keep such accidents from happening all along, and certainly have helped in preventing them since.  As with our own internal experience with the fatal fires aboard USS FORESTAL (CV-59), lives were lost, but it gave rise to a long standing qualification process of weapons handling, to reduce our chances of such occurrences again.

This entry was posted on Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 at 11:58 am and is filed under History, INternational Relations, Maritime Matters, Military, Military History, Navy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 responses about “18 Years Ago: USS SARATOGA (CV-60) fires on TCG MAUVENET (DM-57)”

  1. WD Wiseman said:

    I was the bridge supervisor (QMC(SW))on the USS Saratoga the night of 01 – 02 October 92. We were headed for Saros Bay to provide support for the amphibious landing, and there were at least two exercises going on during that transit that were mostly transparent to us on the bridge – while we were aware that other ships – the TCG Mauvenet among them, were trying to herd us into shallow water. We were conducting flight ops, and mostly ignored them. At a couple of minutes past 0000L, I was conversing with the Navigator, Capt James Cannon, when we saw what we initially thought were two green flares, one after the other. Our first thought was that the one submarine that had participated in the exercise had taken two “shots” and launched flares to so signify. A moment later, the port aft lookout, obviously highly excited, notified the bridge over sound powered phones (this is as near verbatim as I can remember after nearly 20 years) “We just fired a missile at that ship over there! Holy shit! We just fired another missile! Oh my god! We just hit that ship and it’s on fire!” I hit the GPS receiver to mark the location of the incident and directed the QMOW to make entries in the log book as the Navigator directed the launch of rescue helos. As an aside, CAPT Drager had received notification of the death of his brother that day and was in his cabin below (as opposed to his at-sea cabin, as the Turkish Admiral aboard was using that). All efforts were made to save lives and put out the fire. The missiles has both impacted through the bridge, down through a wardroom berthing area and into an ammo storage locker, which contained “Hedgehog” mortars. This was the source of the fire.

    I was off the bridge for about 5 minutes attending to a detail and when I returned, my QMOW, a QM3, advised that RADM Dur’s QMC had come and taken the deck logs from him “on orders from the Admiral”. This was obviously an attempt to control what information went into the logs, as well as to mine any information that might be useful in his defense, if it came to it. I ran down to the Flag spaces and intercepted QMC Passenan as he was on his way back to the bridge. I informed him that if he ever set foot on the bridge again without either my specific permission, or that of the Captain or the Navigator, I would throw him over the side. I told him that was a shitty thing to do, to sneak up there and just order the QM3 to give him the log. He just shrugged.

    In the next day, in the Chief’s Mess, I learned that during the pre-exercise meeting that was attended by the CVIC, SWCM, OPS and other concerned officers, as well as RADM Dur, that RADM Dur announced he wanted to use Sea Sparrows against the aggressor ships during this exercise. The ship’s weapons control officers allegedly rolled their eyes at this “suggestion”, and notated that the Sea Sparrow involvement was to be “simulated”.

    At the kickoff of the exercise, at about 2330 on 01 Oct 92, RADM Dur turned up unexpectedly. He specifically asked if the Fire Control team for the Sea Sparrow was on station and was told they were there, “simulated”. RADM Dur then allegedly told them to “Get them on station” or words to that affect. Runners were dispatched to the Fire Control berthing area and the FCs were rousted from their racks. They were only told to get on station. When the targeting information came in to them, the LPO asked,”Is this an exercise?” He was ignored by whoever he was talking to in CVIC. He was told to prep to fire, and again asked if it was an exercise. He was ignored again, and the order came to fire the Sea Sparrows. This time when he asked if it was an exercise, the response was “Damnit, I said “FIRE”. The LPO sent a FC out to pull the safeties, and the first missile was fired. The order came to fire the second missile almost immediately afterward. When it became clear that it WAS an exercise and they had just hit the Mauvenet with two Sea Sparrows, the leading FC put his head down on the console and cried.

    RADM Dur did everything possible to make sure no fingers were pointed at him for this incident, making sure to hang out to dry several fine officers. He, of course, came out smelling like a rose.

  2. Ormsby R.L. said:

    Not for nothing, but my general quarters station was a stretcher bearer. I carried 2 Turkish sailors to the medical triage. One of the 2 sailors ( an officer ) had a piece of flesh missing from his shoulder along with shrapnel wounds. I carried this man while holding a combat dressing over his wound. Blood all over my hand, my clothing. This Turkish officer just looked at me and repeated ” why why ” and crying. To this day I have nightmares and cannot stomach the look in that mans eyes, his pain and confusion. All I could do was try to assure him that he would be ok. But he was in shock and didn’t understand, I felt helpless. I suffer from PTSD now because of that night. I was attached to vaw 125 at that time. I’ve read about the discipline that took place for the enlisted and officers later on after my sqaudrens departure. It makes me sick to my stomach that the admiral, and captain basically got a slap on the wrist and got to retire and keep their benefits while the crew members got screwed, demoted, punished, dishonorably discharged for following orders. But as I said, I, as along with others too I’m sure, thier are those of us that are paying a different price for the stupidity of the people who were in charge. My soul has no peace, god help me.

  3. Dave said:

    I wasn’t in charge of anything that night but I did work in primary triage. I saw things that night I never want to see again. Unfortunately, I see them in my head to this day.

  4. joseph canady said:

    I never will forget that incident or date..it was my mother’s birthday almost 23 years ago serving aboard the USS Detroit..it was surreal..it’s ironic that radm dur signed my navy achievement medal later that year.

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