I pick up on a story of when I was assigned to the reserve ship USS Shields (DD-596).
Maybe 4 or 5 years ago I watched a fascinating documentary about a Navy destroyer that was cut in two when a much larger ship hit it broadside just off the coast of New York. But I didn’t catch the name of the ship, and internet searches came up dry.
Then one morning just a short time ago I was flipping channels and there it was on the Military channel – the story of the USS Murphy, and its catastrophic encounter with the tanker Bulkoil. The story was so eerily familiar to the collision I witnessed in the late 1960s, and I thought you might be interested in hearing of it.
Had the timing been just a bit different, or the fog a bit thicker, my fate might have been the same as those sailors trapped in the forward part of Murphy that sunk within minutes of the collision. I was sleeping in my bunk just forward of gun mount 51 when the episode I describe below happened just off the starboard (right) side of my ship.
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We were steaming North past San Francisco and taking on fuel. My job was to help haul over the fueling lines from the oiler, and once pulled over my job was done and I was off to my rack for a few Z’s. After just dozing off I was rudely awakened by the clanging collision alarm. I quickly jumped out of the rack and bounded up the ladder to the forward hatch in the bow to see what was going on. By then the ship was shuddering under an abrupt reversal under full power. I looked to my right and there coming out of a patchy fog bank was a large freighter, steaming right across the path of our three ship refueling formation; us on the starboard of the oiler and another destroyer, the USS Agerholm, on the port side. The Agerholm had broken away from the oiler and was breaking hard to port at flank speed in order to clear the area. The oiler could only try to back down but because of its huge mass and lack of maneuvering room was essentially helpless. We were for a time trapped between the oiler and the freighter, eventually backing clear of the oncoming freighter. After what seemed an eternity the two sips collided with the oiler hitting the freighter just below the bridge and causing it to list at about 40 some degrees. Eventually it righted itself, but there was a huge gaping hole in the hull. Fortunately the freighter was riding high in the water and the bow of the oiler hit well above the water line and the ship did not sink.
Following are some links to the story of the USS Murphy (DD-603) including some first person accounts of survivors of this collision.
Don Johnson – September 2013