SINK THE FLAG SHIP
Sent to us by Richard Scheeder 1958-1960
We were on the way to WestPac and were preparing to do gunnery exercises. Normally a fleet tug would pull a sled with a target for the ships to practice the accuracy of their shots. We were to far out from land for a tug so we were using the Cruiser Oklahoma City as a reference. The idea was to have the gun sites display the Cruiser exactly the way a target should appear-in the cross hairs. This, while the gun was offset at an angle from the gun sites, so the resulting shots would splash down in her wake-- WELL ASTERN of the Cruiser. Procedures dictated that a Safety Observer be present in each mount. His initial duty was to confirm that the guns were offset from the site to assure the safe fall of shot. When the ship was ready to fire he had the duty to view the target area through the cross hairs of the site. If the range was clear the Safety Observer would close his key. This then allowed the Gunners to fire from the mount when directed. If the Safety Observer considered it unsafe to shoot he simply opened his key and the Mount could not fire.
While the Trathen approached the firing point the Safety Observer who had confirmed setting the offsets become seriously ill and had to be replaced.
The Engineer Officer was summoned from Main Control to relieve the Safety Observer who had already left the Mount. On arrival the Engineer, unaware the guns had been offset, took his seat and looked through the gun sites to find the guns aimed directly at the Cruisers main Deck between her stacks. He was aware the ship was close to her firing point via the Sound Powered telephones connected to the Bridge and Gunnery Officer. There was immediate and panicky communication from the Engineer Safety Observer saying not to fire any Mounts. There was much yelling and screaming at the Engineer. In spite of assurances, that he should be seeing the Cruiser in the cross hairs, he refused to close his key. Nothing anyone said convinced him to close his key to allow the Mount to fire. It only inspired him to yell back with more vigor to hold fire on all mounts. Trathen did not fire.
Trathen missed her turn to fire and had to go around while the Engineer was brought up to speed on the Safety procedures that were in effect. After much hand wringing the Engineer closed his key for the second pass, still praying for the safety of the Cruiser and the safety of his own back side. He breathed a sigh of relief when he advised the fall of the shot was well astern of the Cruiser as he was promised it would be.
The Engineer was now a designated a qualified Range Safety Observer. His expertise with gunnery procedures was the subject of taunting for the several weeks. He was offered the position of Safety Observer for drinking fountains, safety lines, urinals, commodes and many other similarly dangerous pieces of Trathen equipment.
The moral of the story is “Do not send an Engineer to do a Gunners work”.