Posted by: arbeam | March 19, 2013

USS Ronald Reagan Homeward Bound

USS Ronald Reagan Departing PSNS

USS Ronald Reagan Departing PSNS

Qual question: What is the function of the Flag painted mast above the cars on the right side of the picture.

The “Belknap Pole” was established on carriers after the USS Belknap (CG-26) collided with the USS John F  Kennedy (CVA-67) on November 22, 1975. Since the Island of the carrier is offset to starboard it is difficult for the Officer of the Deck to visually determine the true course of the ship.  The Belknap Pole, on the starboard side of the ship just forward of the island, provides a visual reference of the ships true heading.

USS Forrestal Belknap Pole

USS Forrestal Belknap Pole

Six Belknap sailors and one Kennedy sailor died as a result of the collision.

Following a port call at Catania, Sicily (1-3 October 1975), John F. Kennedy participated in a National Week exercise with Italian and other NATO forces (4-8 October), and then transited to the Strait of Messina (9-13 October), and, ultimately, reached Naples, out of which she conducted cyclic operations in the Tyrrhenian Sea during the latter part of October and in mid-November.

During the third such cycle of operations that began on 19 November 1975, on 22 November, at 2159 local time, the guided missile cruiser Belknap (CG-26), while maneuvering to take her station on John F. Kennedy during the night’s last recovery operations, collided with her approximately 70 nautical miles east of Sicily. On board the carrier, a severe fuel fire blazed up the port side, and although firefighters contained the blaze there inside of 10 minutes, but a receiving room below burned for several hours. At one point, heavy smoke forced the evacuation of all the carrier’s fire rooms, forcing her to go dead in the water. Temporarily hors de combat, John F. Kennedy diverted all flights to Naval Air Facility Sigonella, with the exception of her embarked SH-3Ds from HS-11 that supported the unfolding rescue and relief operations.

John F. Kennedy’s overhanging angled deck, however, had ripped into Belknap’s superstructure from her bridge aft as the cruiser passed beneath it. JP-5 fuel from ruptured lines in the port catwalk sprayed onto severed electrical wiring in her gaping wound. Flames engulfed the damaged areas of the cruiser, and within minutes, Belknap’s entire amidships superstructure was an inferno. Shortly after the fire began, boats from other vessels operating with John F. Kennedy and Belknap began to pull alongside the burning ship, often with complete disregard for their own safety. Ammunition from Belknap’s three-inch ready storage locker, located amidships, cooked off, hurling fiery fragments into the air and splashing around the rescue boats. Undaunted, the rescuers pulled out the seriously wounded and delivered fire-fighting supplies to the sailors who refused to surrender their ship to the conflagration. Guided missile destroyer Claude V. Ricketts and destroyer Bordelon (DD-881) moved in on both sides of Belknap, their men directing fire hoses into the amidships area that the stricken ship’s crew could not reach. Claude V. Ricketts moved in and secured alongside Belknap’s port side, and evacuated the injured while fragments from exploding ammunition showered down upon her weather decks. Frigate Pharris (FF-1094) closed in the carrier’s port side to provide fire-fighting assistance.

Among the acts of heroism on board John F. Kennedy were those that earned recommended citations to Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) 3d Class Raymond A. Pabon, Aviation Structural Mechanic (Structures) Airman William L. Snyder, and Aviation Structural Mechanic (Hydraulics) 3d Class Harold T. Collier from VF-32. Airman James D. Lunn, of VA-72, having been issued an oxygen breathing apparatus, grabbed a hose and climbed up three levels to the source of a fire. Perceiving a dull red-orange glow of burning tires within the thick black smoke, Lunn trained his hose upon it until an explosion blew him backwards through a hatch, depositing him three decks below in a foot of water. He was taken to sickbay, where the carrier’s medical people treated his burned hands and lacerated right ear.

Sadly, John F. Kennedy lost one man, Yeoman 2d Class David A. Chivalette of CVW-1, to smoke inhalation; two men from VA-72 (one of whom was the aforementioned Airman Lunn), suffered injuries. Belknap lost seven men; 23 suffered serious injuries. HS-11’s Sea Kings flew over 36 hours of support flights, transferring 88 men, including 17 litter patients and 60 hurt, but ambulatory, sailors. Ultimately towed to Philadelphia, Belknap was decommissioned and rebuilt.

Naval History and Heritage Command

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