An old sea story


Bionic SSSO1 plank owner
Aug 14, 2006
My Daddy sent me this. I thought you Army types might get a kick out of it. :)

For those of you who have been aboard an aircraft carrier and those who have not.

A friend who went through flight training with me and made many cruises
afterwards sent me this. It refers to the Cold War "chicken games" the
Soviets loved to initiate. Nothing would have gained the trawler CO more
brownie points with his Kremlin bosses than to cause a US aircraft carrier
to maneuver radically in the middle of an UNREP (underway replenishment) or
carrier landing evolution in such a way to cause damage, injury, or loss of
life to our guys.

For some of you, this is old hat, but for the uninitiated...

By law, the CO of a carrier must be a naval aviator. We are trained to fl y
in extremely close quarters a few feet) with other aircraft, so 400 yards is
no big deal, especially if your ship is 70,000 tons and the other guy's is
5,000 -- we used to call it the "Law of Gross Tonnage." If your CO had the
balls for it, eventually the trawler would get the hell out of the way to
avoid being pulverized.

Also by law (in this case, Navy Regs), the Navigator has the authority to
fire the OOD on the spot and take over the ship, something no one else but
the Captain could do. THIS Navigator assessed the situation and chickened
out, exactly as the Russians would have hoped. The OOD (Frenchy) stood his
ground, and the Skipper backed him up.

I worked for RADM and then VADM Baldwin when I was stationed in San Diego.
He was a straight shooter.

I also served aboard FORRESTAL with VS-30 (1978-1979) when she was based on
the east coast. She was a good ship, but we seemed to have at least one real
fire per day, and her fresh water always tasted like jet fuel no matter what
flavor or color the galley crew used to disguise it.

Jim S
SEA STORY - A true one experienced by Frenchy Corbeille USN(Ret)

It was Sunday afternoon, early in the month of August, 1968 when USS
Forrestal (CVA-59) was making her way through the Western Mediterranean
during the first days of a 7-month cruise. I was Officer of the Deck (OOD)
on the 1200 - 1600 bridge watch, there were no ship's evolutions ongoing,
and things looked like a "ho-hum" Sunday afternoon at sea.

We were hosting the Prospective Commanding Officer (PCO) of USS Independence
and our CO had gone with him to the Captain's In-Port Cabin. Prior to
departing the bridge, the CO and I had conversed briefly and one of the
subjects breeched was that we had been in the Mediterranean for more than a
week now and we h ad not yet seen one of those pesky Russian trawlers. Our
Navy had come to hope not to see one because they had a way of getting in
the way whenever we had things to do, such as flight operations, or underway
replenishment. This lack of encounter was about to change.

At about 1500 I called the CO to advise him that we had picked up an
unidentified surface contact on radar, range 22,000 yards (11 nautical
miles). It appeared to be on our reciprocal course at a speed of 8 knots and
in the absence of any changes, the closest point of approach (CPA) would be
6,000 yards on our port beam.

"Very Well" and the customary "Thanks, Frenchy" constituted the CO's

I had no more than hung up the phone when the contact changed course. I
could identify 2 sticks (masts) over the horizon, looking through the 7X50
OOD standard equipment Bausch & Lomb's, but could make out nothing of the
vessel. However, the two sticks bore a strong re semblance to the pictures
we had on the bridge of known trawlers that had frequented these waters.

I called the Captain back to advise him that the unidentified contact had
indeed made a 90-degree course change, was still doing 8 knots, and his
present course/speed would take him across our bow at 6,000 yards (3 miles).
We were doing 20 knots, on some kind of a "sustained speed exercise" for the
engineers, and preferred to alter neither course nor speed unless absolutely
necessary. I advised the Captain of my suspicions concerning the vessel's
identity and advised him that I had ordered the Intelligence Sighting Team
to the bridge.

It being a Sunday stand down with little to occupy the idle time, we soon
had the entire Intelligence staff scattered about on the bridge and the
signal bridge, with a few photo types thrown in. The contact was still
hull-down over the horizon but the visible masts more and more took on the
resemb lance of our Russian trawler pictures. I also advised the Captain
that, in accordance with the International Rules of the Road, Forrestal was
the privileged vessel; the vessel crossing our bow was coming from our port
side and was therefore the "burdened" vessel. In accordance with the Rules,
the privileged vessel is REQUIRED to maintain course and speed. The burdened
vessel is responsible for maneuvering as necessary to avoid collision.

The Captain said "Very Well, call me back if he does anything funny, and let
me know what the intelligence folks come up with."

Only moments later I was back on the phone, advising the Captain that we had
positive ID on a Russian ELINT (Electronics Intelligence) trawler, and he
had indeed done something "funny" - He had reached our intended track at a
range of 6,000 yards, and had then executed another 90-degree turn to port;
he was now on the same course as Forrestal, dead ahead, at s peed 8 knots.
So we had a 12-kt speed advantage, and 3 miles to contact. That meant that
in 15 minutes one or the other of us must turn or he, the Russian trawler,
would get run over.

I advised the Captain that in accordance with the International Rules, he
was burdened when he came in from our port bow. Now that we are on a course
to overtake him, he would like us to believe that Forrestal, as the
overtaking vessel, is the newly ordained BURDENED vessel. I reminded the
Captain of another clause in the rules that says once a vessel is burdened,
it may not maneuver to shift the burden to the other vessel. He stays
burdened until danger of collision is past.

The Captain agreed with my assessment and asked what I recommended we do. I
recommended we hold course and speed until "In Extremis" - that sketchy
point at which somebody has to do something or there's going to be a cr
unch, then order up "All Back Emergency Full," "Right Full Rudder," and we
would miss him. I had identified that point as 400 yards astern but threw
in 100 yards for cushion.

The Captain once more came back with his cheerful "Very Well" and added, "If
he's still there at 1,000 yards, give me a call back."

"AYE AYE, Sir!"

Now we've eaten up about 1/3 of our cushion and the squawk box came to

"Bridge, Flag Bridge. When does Forrestal intend to maneuver to avoid that
privileged vessel ahead?"

There was no race by other members of the bridge team to answer that one, so
I got it myself.

"Flag Bridge, Bridge -This is the Officer of the Deck speaking. That vessel
ahead is not privileged - he a pproached from our port side, therefore is
the burdened vessel, and he can no longer maneuver to shift his burden to

"Flag Bridge Aye!"

I could envision some hot shot flag watch officer digging the Admiral's shoe
out of his ass, and smiled inwardly. I didn't hear the Admiral's voice, but
I knew he was watching from his favorite perch.

Somewhere about then I had the Signal Gang close up flag "Uniform" on both
halyards - "U" is the international signal that says "You are standing into

Then our Navigator got into it. First he told me I was going to have to
turn the ship and he was working on our new course. Since he was a commander
and I was a lieutenant, I explained as tactfully as I could that we were not
going to turn, leastways not to a pre-planned co urse. We were the
privileged vessel, and as such, were REQUIRED to hold course and speed.

Next thing I heard from him was, "Mr. Corbeille, I'm ordering you to turn
this ship."

With no attempt at tact, I advised him, "Commander, you cannot order me to
turn this ship. If you believe the ship to be sufficiently endangered, you,
as Navigator, can summarily relieve me as OOD. Then you can turn left, turn
right, or come dead in the water. But you cannot order me to turn. Do you
want to relieve me?"

Rather truculently, he then asked if the Captain knew about all this. I
told him yes indeed, and at contact range of 1,000 yards, I was to notify
the Captain again.

"You better call him again - right now!"

"No Sir, we still have a few hundred yards to go."

At this stage, I don't recall the exact time, the bridge relief crew was
coming on dec k, but no one was ready to be relieved. I spied my relief OOD
waiting in the wings and he wanted nothing more than to stay out of the

Admittedly, I got a bit nervous, and I called the Captain back when the
trawler was 1,100 yards ahead. His only response was, "I'm on my way up."
He arrived momentarily with the PCO of Independence following in his wake.
He hopped up in his chair and said, "Boy, he is pretty close, isn't he?"
Then he asked, "And when do you plan to make your big move?" I told him
that if it closes to 500 yards, we can order up All Back Emergency Full,
Right Full Rudder, and we will miss him.

He asked: "Is that what the book says?"

I told him, "No Sir, The book says 400 yards, but I was leaving in a little

He said, "We need only to maneuver in extremis to MINIMIZE DAMAGE."

That is a slight departure from international rules, b ut was our standing
order, arrived at specifically to contend with harassment vessels. This is
kind of a delicate point here because International Rules of the Road says
the "privileged vessel must maneuver when in extremis to avoid collision."
The USSR (Soviet Union) was not signatory to the International Rules of the
Road, therefore her vessels were not bound by them. It must be pointed out
that Russian ships, merchantmen and men-of-war alike, followed the
international rules of the road anyway, and knew them well enough to "play
chicken" with U.S. ships, mostly to our embarrassment. That was a game that
our Navy had long since tired of, hence the new guidance to maneuver only in
extremis to minimize damage.

Naturally, it behooved one to be absolutely certain that he was absolutely
right, if he were going to take a Navy man-of-war down to the wire in a
potential collision situa tion. I'm sure there are readers who have more
background concerning our maneuvering instructions, but we believed we
understood them perfectly. I still believe that we did.

Having thus indicated his intentions, the Captain then asked, "So how close
can we take her?" I told him 400 yards would provide a grazing situation,
and then ordered the engine room to stand by for Emergency Backing Bells.

We were still closing and had reached the 500-yard mark when the trawler put
in left full rudder. His rudder was not the size of a barn door - it had to
have looked like the side of the barn itself! That guy turned 90 degrees
left in a heartbeat! We never flinched, never wavered, and the trawler
passed close aboard to port - so close, if fact, that the hull was not
visible alongside our flight deck. All that was visible from the vantage
point of our bridge were the two masts as they went rapidly down our port
beam. Then we launched a helo for some photo work and a big sigh of relief
went up from the bridge.

The Navigator started lobbying for us to file a harassment report, but since
we had altered neither course nor speed to accommodate the trawler, it was
hard to make a case for harassment. I wanted to make out a harassment report
on the Navigator but the CO calmed me down on that score. The Prospective
Commanding Officer (PCO) of Independence, bless his soul, took in the whole
affair after arriving on the bridge with our Captain, and never interjected
one word. When it was all over, he moved directly in front of me and said,
loud enough for almost everybody on the bridge to hear, "No one could have
done better." Our CO joined right in and said "Frenchy, you handled that

At that point I realized I wasn't going to be a lieutenant forever, my
advice to the Captain had been s ound, and I knew our Captain appreciated
it. My breathing gradually returned to normal.

For his part, Captain Hill, for that, as I recall, was his name, went on to
become CO USS Independence. He assumed command while anchored in some
Sicilian Bay, and when Independence stood out to sea "under new management,"
there was a Russian ELINT trawler, just outside territorial waters, making
slight way on Independence's intended track. A friend serving on that fine
vessel told me that the new CO's order to CIC was "Combat, give me a
collision course on that trawler at 30 knots!" I heard the same refrain
from several other people and I believe it to be what happened.

For our part, we spent the remainder of our cruise unhampered in any way by
a ny Russian flagged ship. We continued to see an occasional trawler, but
when we came into the wind to launch and recover aircraft, they vanished as
if by magic. The word seemed to have leaked out that this carrier has an
attitude problem - he'll run right over you! And the Chief Engineer was
happy because he got his uninterrupted 4-hour sustained speed run at 20

Life was not the same for me after that. Our Captain made me "Command Duty
Officer Underway." I was already the General Quarters OOD and Sea and
Anchor Detail OOD, so I wasn't sure what this new designation would lead to.
I soon learned that I was to be on the bridge whenever Forrestal was in
formation with other major combatants, (destroyers didn't count, but
cruisers did), and that I was to provide training to all prospective Command
Duty Officers. Anytime there was underway replenishment, there was a
"formation," so I got to spend a lot of valuable time on the bridge,
learning all I could absorb. Our great Captain, nameless up to now, was
Robert Bemus Baldwin, born in Bismarck, North Dakota. He was promoted to
RADM upon leaving Forrestal, and the last time I spoke with him he was Vice
Admiral Baldwin, COMNAVAIRPAC. I believe he lives in or near San Diego, and
remains the most admired man of my 30-plus year Navy career.

Castle Rock, WA
Too Funny.

But the one question I have is, where were the screening vessels for the Carrier. Or don't they join up with the group till later ?