USS McMorris

Collision at Sea

On Sunday, January 1st, 1967 LT, USN Robert Forster was standing the 00-04 watch and wrote the following poem to bring in the New Year:

"Twas the last quarter hour of the New Years eve.
The on coming watch had begun to relieve.
They had dressed with haste, but with care no less,
to assume the guard - the first - Ah Yes!
The good ship McMorris was at rest in her nest.
Her men were proud and had passed the test.
A year had gone by and with it passed,
deeds well done glories amassed.
The up on deck in the black of night,
the darkness was broken by ships all a-light.

Here in Pearl Harbor the OOD himself did fix,
third ship outboard, at birth Bravo two-six.
Starting pier side: Benjamin Stoddert, Sproston, and us for sure.
All lines were doubled, no less, no more.
Electrical power. steam, water and phone,
begin at pier side, then to McMorris' zone.
The merchants, a few Navy, local and district craft,
are all that remain because of the draft.
Far away - somewhere all is not so serene.
We hope that they will soon see a similar scene.

High on a hill CinCPacFlt still presides.
As area SOPA, he leads and he guides.
With thoughts to the future and how things once were,
we bring in the new year, "I relieve you sir."

On January 9th, McMorris shifted piers and docked at Bravo 23, and the John R. Perry DE-1034, and sister to McMorris, came alongside on the 19th, and left on the 23rd.

On January 26th, 1967, McMorris shifted electrical power from the pier to ships power, started all four main engines, set the special sea and anchor detail and got underway. McMorris passed bouy #1 in the entrance to Pearl Harbor and was in International waters at 0919 local time.

At 1032 local time, the crew was sent to General Quarters and began "gunnery" exercises. The ship had expended 31 rounds of 3"/50 BL/P with no casualties. At 1159 local time, McMorris ceased maneuvering and set course 120 at 18 knots.

Later, at 1241 local time, McMorris was on course 145 and at 1249 local time, began to take station astern of John R. Perry DE-1034 for Replenishment Exercises. With the Captain at the conn, McMorris was starboard side to John R. Perry and the first line came over at 1325 local time. At 1338 local time, McMorris commenced taking on light freight, and completed the exercise at 1355 local time. During this exercise, Seaman Apprentice Gene Iler suffered a cut on his hand and was treated and returned to duty immediately. McMorris re-entered Pearl Harbor, and was starboard side to pier Bravo 22 by 1601 local time.

The next day, January 27th, 1967, The Charles Berry DE-1035, McMorris' third sister, came alongside, and was joined later by John R. Perry DE-1034. While it was no sign of pending disaster, the General In-port Emergency Team was called away on Saturday January 29th, 1967 to fight a class "C" fire in compartment 2-70-L-Q. The fire was quickly extinguished with no casualties and the Fire Fighting Party was secured at 0900 local time.

Monday, January 30th, 1967 was like no other day. The ships activity was normal routine, and preparations were made for getting underway at 0829 local time. McMorris again was back out in local Hawaiian waters, set material condition "Zebra" and put the crew to General Quarters. Maneuvering through various course changes and speeds, McMorris had set material condition "Yoke" and was steering course 200 at a blinding speed of 10 knots at 1037 local time.

Later that day, as McMorris began various maneuvering course changes, the ship commenced ASW Exercises at 1328 local time, in company with USS John R. Perry DE-1034, USS Charles Berry DE-1035, and the Pearl Harbor based, "Barbel" class, diesel powered attack submarine SS 581 Blueback. At 1404, the McMorris was at General Quarters in material condition "Zebra," and secured from General Quarters at 1635 local time. These same exercises were repeated in 2000 hour with all of the same units, and by 2215, was back in material condition "Yoke" and steaming on course 213 at 14 knots by 2353 local time.

By Tuesday January 31st, 1967, McMorris was steaming independently toward a rendezvous with John R. Perry DE-1034 and conducted "ECM" exercises at 0030 local time and completed these exercises 0200 local time. McMorris was 18.5 miles off Diamond Head light at 0216 local time and sighted Makapuu Point light at 0300 local time at 19 miles away. Laau Point light was sighted 19.5 miles away at 0335 local time while steaming at 18 knots on course 090 degrees.

Up to this point, all had been normal routine Naval maneuvers and McMorris performed well. Some of the crew was new, but trained well. (Note: I met some of the crew, Officer and Enlisted, from this time period at our first reunion in Charleston, SC in 1997, and spoke to many others over the last few years. Even more attended the San Diego reunion in 2000. I can say that there were none finer than these sailors of the McMorris, and I have met very few Gentlemen, finer than Captain Rudy Daus, Commanding Officer of the McMorris during this time period.) (Skip)

The McMorris was steaming at various courses and speeds to meet up with USS Sproston DD577, USS Carpenter DD825, USS Tombigbee AOG11, USS Coucal ASR8, USS Ferret 7WR-6, USS Remora SS481, and USS Greenfish SS351. At 0700 local time Tuesday January 31st, 1967, The McMorris began maneuvering towards disaster. According to "official" records, at or about 2239W on 31 January, 1967 at or about 20.38.5N and 156-48.5W, USS McMorris DE-1036 and the Gasoline Tanker USS Tombigbee AOG11 collided.

At about 0630, the USS Carpenter DD825 rendezvoused at Lat 20-15N Long 156-45W AUAU Channel with other surface units to conduct STV operations. Carpenter was OTC and under the Command of Commander William Beck, a 21 year Naval veteran. Carpenter would meet up with USS Sproston DD577, USS McMorris DE-1036, USS Coucal ASR8 and USS Tombigbee AOG11. The torpedo retriever Ferret was also present.

For this particular exercise, USS Tombigee AOG11 was designated the primary target ship and would act as the formation guide. USS Coucal was ordered to take station in column with USS Tombigbee AOG11 as part of the main body. The other three ships, USS Carpenter DD825, USS Sproston DD577, and USS McMorris DE-1036 would take a bent line screen "3C3" ahead of the main body. PRITAC (UHF) was used for maneuvering the main body, and guarded by all ships. SAUTAC (UHF) was used, and guarded by the screen and used for maneuvering and initial submarine contact reporting. PRISUB (HF), SECSUB PRICI (UHF) were both used to communicate with the submarines and to pass CIC information. Visual flag hoist signals were used during daytime to adjust visual screen axis.

Throughout the day, the formation zigzagged and patrolled on station, while USS Greenfish SS351 and USS Remora SS481 was provided target services from the screening ships. By 2200 hours Whiskey time, 11 runs had been made (8 daylight and 3 night time). Formation speeds were generally 12 to 14 knots. At 2215W, the formation was on a southerly course. Base course was 200, base speed 13 knots, USS Tombigbee AOG11 was main body and guide. The screen ships were on station in a "2C3" bent line screen with Carpenter on Station number 2, range and bearing 344 degrees T 3600 yards. Sproston was on Station number 3 096 degrees T 3600 yards, and McMorris was on Station number 1 040 degrees T 2600 yards. The ships were not weaving or zigzagging at this time, and ships were in a darkened condition. The Carpenter had sonar contact at bearing 258 degrees, 11,330 yards.

Sproston also made contact at 2219 bearing 248 degrees, 4000 yards, concurring with Carpenters contact. The screen was reoriented to new axis 220 degrees T with main body course remaining 200 degrees T. Greenfish finished her run at 2228 with no active prosecution of her and a bent line screen "2C3" with McMorris on Stattion number 1 and Sproston and Carpenter switching Stations 2 and 3. Tombigbee was given an Execute to follow CORPEN 030 degree T.

USS Carpenter DD825 was turning smartly right, McMorris was turning left in a darkened ship condition and steady. At 2235 McMorris turned on her navigational lights at 2235 and the screen and main body were ordered to show navigational lights at 2237. Tombigbee's port side lights were observed by the Carpenter and McMorris' starboard side lights was also observed with indication that the range was approximately 1200 yards between them, and appeared to be proceeding clear. There was no communications, voice or otherwise from either the Tombigbee or the McMorris to indicate otherwise. At 2239 a collision signal was announced over the screen tactical circuit and ships lights were observed together. The Collision transmission was repeated with McMorris identifying herself. This information was recorded as testimony by Commander Berg, Commanding Officer of the USS Carpenter DD825.

Let's go back to the USS McMorris DE-1036 deck log for a closer picture of the situation. It is recorded at 2139 that Navigational lights were turned on, off at 2210, on at 2236. Collision alarm was sounded at 2237 and went to General Quarters. Material Condition "Zebra" was set.

The bow of the Tombigbee had struck McMorris on the port side at frame 87. Material damage known at this time was, fuel tanks 4-84-0-F and 4-87-01F were open to the sea. Shaft alley was flooded solid. Berthing compartment 2-84-0-L was open to the sea 6 to 8 inches. UWB opened at the waterline from frame 84 to frame 93 extending underwater to 3 foot width, 8 feet from the keel. Topside damage includes the port boat davit and the Motorwhale boat was destroyed. The step masthead was sheared off and broken. Four store rooms and spaces on the main deck were destroyed. Communications capability was reduced due to the loss of all long wires and casualty to patch panels. Emergency radio was a loss. The main deck aft of frame 98 was buckled. There was no propulsion available until the shaft was re-aligned.

Senior Engineman Charles Sossamon was injured and was later evacuated to the Sproston DD577 for further treatment at Tripler Army Hospital on Oahu. ETN3 David Frick was killed. Chief Sossamon later died of his injuries. (We honor these men in our Taps section of the website). (The materials that allowed us to put this section together were supplied by the most seriously injured sailor who did survive and lost his legs, RM3 William Ignarski.) Bill has been an invaluable resource that allowed us to chronicle the events that led to the collision. Bill lives in the Chicago area today and works as a graphics artist. I have spoken to Bill on several occasions and he is doing very well.

Others that were injured were SM1 Floyd Mitchell (fractured heel), SN Michael Sterling (internal injuries, fractured leg), AG2 Richard Vermoch (Fractured left forearm/Jaw, lacerations), BM1 Max Ray (lacerations, possible fractures, puncture wound), QMSN Gerald Smith (multiple lacerations), RD3 Gary Bergstrom (lacerations). Gary also attended our first reunion in Charleston, SC in 1997. SH3 Maynard Long (lacerations, possible fracture), RM3 Harvey Whitney (lacerations). McMorris was hurt, and a request was made by McMorris for the Tombigbee to not pull out until damage could be assessed. McMorris would not sink. The USS Coucal ASR8 was on the scene and at 0350 Wednesday February 1st, her divers determined that there was no damage to the keel. Coucal had McMorris under tow at 0618 at a speed of 2.5 knots with Carpenter as an escort.

USS Quapa ATF110 had joined the escort on Thursday February 2nd. The US Navy yard tug Ottumwa YTB 761 approached as well and sent Harbor Pilot J.G. Gilligan aboard McMorris at 0601 and Ottumwa then took the tow from Coucal. At 0800 Carpenter left the area, and just after passing buoy #1 to port, the Navy yard tug Oshkosh YTB 757 approached for assist. Ottumwa released her tow and took position on the starboard bow of McMorris and nursed her into berth Whiskey 2 in the WestLoch of Pearl Harbor.

At 1015 local time on Thursday February 2nd, 1967, the McMorris' began de-arming at the ammunition depot. 567 rounds of VT frag, 17 rounds of AP, 188 rounds of VTNF, 330 rounds B L & P, 7 rounds B L & T, 4 short charges, and 139 rounds of HC were removed. ASW ordnance removed included 5 MK44-1 W/S Torpedoes, 2 MK 44-1 Exercise torpedoes and 11 MK 9 Mod 4 Depth Charges. At 1240 Navy yard tug Tuscumbia YTB 762 and Oshkosh YTB 757 came alongside to move McMorris (dead plant) to the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and placed her port side to berth Golf Delta 1 at 1629. On Monday February 6th, 1967, Tuscumbia assisted McMorris into Drydock number 3 and McMorris' stern passed the sill of the drydock at 1024, and McMorris was resting on keel blocks by 1133. At 1305 the inspection of the hull openings was completed.

Our information stops at this point, so it is not known when McMorris was fully repaired and was taken out of drydock. What is known of course is that The USS McMorris DE-1036 did return to service and continued a distinguished career. It is also known that the crew responded well to the emergency and handled themselves professionally in this extreme situation. Our hats go off to these fine men, and even though this was a tragic accident, we are thankful that it wasn't worse and that we can be proud of our fellow shipmates for their courage and dedication. (if you have additional information to add to this short history, please let us know and we will include it. Also if you want to share personal recollection of your thoughts and images, please tell us this as well so we can include this as part of the living history of the Mighty Mac.

Pictures of the damages to the McMorris can be found here.