On November 22nd, 1975, the guided missile cruiser USS Belknap collided with the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. The collision resulted in the deaths of eight sailors and extensive damage to Belknap and Kennedy, in excess of $100,000,000.00. The collision was the result of both a lack of communication, and a failure to take action on the part of the OOD of Belknap when there were doubts about the movements of Kennedy.
The collision occurred on the evening of November 22nd while the ships were conducting operations in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Sicily. According to a Memorandum released by the CNO on October 2nd, 1776, the two ships were in a line of bearing formation with the screen operating independently.. When KENNEDY was preparing to recover her final aircraft at the conclusion of flight operations, she signaled an intent to turn into the wind by using a CORPEN J PORT 025-12 signal. This signal was acknowledged by BELKNAP, whos OOD planned to allow KENNEDY to pass in front of her by slowing down. When KENNEDY began to execute her turn by increasing her speed and coming to port, BELKNAP slowed down and eased toward port. At this point in time, the OOD of BELKNAP began to show doubts about the relative bearing of KENNEDY, however, he failed to act. Based on the close CPA of the two ships, Combat Information Center (CIC) made a recommendation for the cruiser to come to starboard. This recommendation was not acknowledged by the bridge and soon thereafter the OOD called the CO to the bridge. Before the CO arrived, the OOD ordered left full rudder, which caused confusion and triggered KENNEDY to signal an interrogative your intentions. The carrier then signaled come right full rudder now which prompted the CO of BELKNAP to do so. Likewise, KENNEDY also executed a right full rudder with all engines back. The effect of their maneuvers caused the ships to pass each other port-to-port on approximately reciprocal courses, however, due to the extremely close range, the flight deck of the carrier hit the superstructure of the cruiser.
As a result of the collision, a large piece of the cruisers superstructure was cut down and a burst pipe on the carrier sprayed jet fuel onto BELKNAP, causing a fire and explosions that lasted about twenty hours. The death toll for the collision was eight crew members, with seven from BELKNAP and one from KENNEDY, along with another forty-eight injured. The destruction on BELKNAP was so substantial that it was subsequently taken out of commission until 1980, when it returned to the fleet.
After tragedies like this happen, it is important to understand what caused them, so that we may prevent the unnecessary damage and loss of life in the future. Upon analyzing the sequence of events that led up to the collision between the USS Belknap and the USS J.F. Kennedy, it becomes apparent that this disaster could have been avoided by following the rules of safe navigation and obeying the COs standing orders. As mentioned earlier, the maneuver that the carrier was trying to execute was a CORPEN J PORT 025-12. Execution of this maneuver required a significant change of course and speed by both ships.
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