After returning from the North Sea, the Wasp went in to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and had the damage restored, making her sea-worthy once more, and we returned to duty in the fleet.
Soon we were sent out on more flight training exercises. (Carrier flying is one of the toughest types of flying in the world!) On the night of April 26, 1952 we had one of the worst disasters ever!
When flight operations (flight ops) are underway, the carrier usually has several destroyer type vessels steaming in formation with her. They are on each side and astern, acting as search and rescue vessels for any aircraft accidents. When necessary to turn into the wind for aircraft take-offs or landings, the Carrier will signal her next turn, how many degrees left or right and the escorts will acknowledge receipt of the information. After their acknowledgment has been received, usually the next word from the carrier is “EXECUTE!” which is the signal to make the turn and the carrier and the escorts turn together.
For some reason, on that night, instead of turning right 10 degrees, the USS Hobson turned LEFT 10 degrees, sending her right across the Wasp’s bow, which cut right through her, throwing many people into the water, but losing many more as the ship sank quickly.
I was sitting in my office when I thought we had hit into a big wave. Suddenly the COLLISION ALARM was sounded, the word was passed, “COLLISION, COLLISION! Light Ship.” We had been steaming with all lights out, so as not to confuse the pilots or hurt what night vision people had.
The sea was covered almost immediately with fuel oil from the Hobson, making things even more difficult for the survivors. In addition to turning on all the lights, coming to a stop, etc., we also threw over life rings, rope ladders, lines, even fire hoses still connected to hydrants, anything for people in the water to cling to. All available people on our ship manned the catwalks, elevators and ANY place they could to try to assist people. (see attached)
One odd story I remember is of a Chief Petty Officer from the Hobson who had been out on deck getting fresh air. When his ship had been cut in two, the bow rose up in the air, he took hold of what he thought was a pipe of some kind,(but turned out to be a radio antenna from the Wasp, which had been folded horizontal for flight ops! His weight bent the antenna, folding it, and landing him, bone dry, right on the hanger deck of our ship! What a miracle.
Of course, all ships in the area aided in the rescue attempts. It is estimated that it took only four minutes for the Hobson to go down! It took the rest of the night for recovery operations to be completed. Luckily, there was enough wind and we were able to make enough headway to recover any aircraft that didn’t have the range to reach shore.
Soon after dawn, we had to turn and start the long, slow trip back to the shipyard (we went in reverse, as the bow was weak!) which this time, was to be in Bayonne. (About 400 miles) When we reached the entrance to New York’s harbor, we were accompanied by tugs. Then we were placed in a large dry dock.
This is a note from a newspaper.
“The wounded Wasp, Survivor of a Great Sea Disaster, Limps into New York with a Battered Bow and 61 Survivors of the Hobson. The battered bow of the mighty aircraft carrier Wasp was an awesome sight as the warship headed into New York Harbor this morning, the survivor of a collision 700 mile off the Azores. The ship with which it collided, the minesweeper-destroyer Hobson, rests on the bottom of the ocean, having sunk within 4 minutes with a loss of 176 lives. The Wasp today brought home 61 survivors of the Hobson. The accident occurred April 26 during maneuvers. The Wasp will be taken to Brooklyn Navy Yard. (A.P. Wirephoto)”
The show must go on!
After the crippled Wasp returned to New York, they put her in the drydock at Bayonne. It happened that a sister ship, (I think it was the BOXER.) was in a drydock in Brooklyn and the powers-that-be decided the quickest way to get the Wasp back in operating condition was to cut her damaged bow cleanly, and cut a similar section from the Boxer, barge it to Bayonne, and install it on our ship. This they did, giving us about a 30 day break, during which I managed to go home to Fall River a few times. When repairs were completed, we once more headed to the Mediterranean, for a deployment.