Set Phasers on Stun Case Case 14: That Newfangled Technology Summary: On the morning of September 8, 1923, Lieutenant Commander Donald T. Hunter was assigned to responsible for leading fourteen destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 11 to depart from San Francisco to San Diego. They were returning home after an escorting Battle Division 4 from Puget Sound to San Francisco. At that time, the Destroyer Squadron comprised with leading flagship that commanded by Captain Hunter, USS Delphy (DD-261) and followed by; the four ships of Destroyer Division 33, USS S. P.
Lee (DD-310), USS Young (DD-312), USS Woodbury (DD-309), and USS Nicholas (DD-311); the five ships from Destroyer Division 31, USS Farragut (DD-300), USS Fuller (DD-297), USS Percival (DD-298), USS Somers (DD-301), and USS Chauncey (DD-296); and four ships from Destroyer Division 32, USS Kennedy (DD-306), USS Paul Hamilton (DD-307), USS Stoddert (DD-302), and USS Thomson (DD-305). The warships conducted tactical gears and weaponry exercises en route, including a competitive speed run of 20 knots. Later in the day, as weather worsened, the ships formed up a column on the squadron leader “Delphy”. That evening, around 2000 hours (8:00 p. . ), the leading flagship broadcast an erroneous report, based on an improperly interpreted radio compass bearing, showing the squadrons position about nine miles off Point Arguello. About an hour later, the destroyers turned east to enter what was thought to be the Santa Barbara Channel, though it could not be seen owing to the thick fog. Unfortunately, due to a combination of abnormally strong currents and navigational complacency, it led the squadron onto the rocks offshore point and rugged area of San Miguel Island, near Honda Point. Just after turning, Delphy struck the rocks at 2105 (9:05 p. m. ), plowing ashore at 20 knots.
More than worse, Delphy was followed by S. P. Lee, which hit and swung broadside against the bluffs. Young piled up adjacent to Delphy and capsized, trapping many of her fire and engine room crew below. While Woodbury, Nicholas, and Fuller struck reefs and ran aground offshore, Chauncey ran in close aboard Young. However, the alarm sirens slowed Somers and Farragut enough, so they just touched ground before backing off to deeper water while the five other destroyers steered completely clear. Although heavy pounding surf broke over the seven stranded destroyers, eventually breaking the Delphy into two parts.
Hundreds of thousands gallons of fuel oil from seven ships spilled into the crashing waves, carbide bombs were exploded when they came in contact with the water, and numerous fires began on the ships and on the surface of the sea. Finally, 23 men died in the ensuring attempts to abandon the ships and make it to shore in the darkness and heavy surf. About 450 survivors from the seven warships made their way slowly to the narrow and rocky beach below the cliff during the hour that followed. S. P. Lee S. P. Lee Fuller Fuller Woodbury Woodbury Chauncey Chauncey Delphy Delphy Young Young Nicholas Nicholas What Went Wrong:
It later turned out to the light that the Squadron was actually several miles north and further east, but Captain Hunter had disbelieved the accuracy of a Point Arguello radio signal. Following the turn, Point Arguello was dead ahead, and distant only about two nautical miles. The Point Arguello light may have been hidden by the fog. However, did Captain Hunter issue an order to change-of course of 95° left turn, or did he order his ships to turn to a bearing of 95° magnetic? Additional Factors: Communication between Captain Hunter and Radioman Falls: The communication between Captain Hunter and the radioman was misunderstood.
The radioman would report the wrong bearings, when the reciprocal bearing should have been reported instead. Had the correct bearings been reported from the beginning, the ship wouldn’t have crashed. “Newfangled Technology” Feedback: The mistaken “error” proved that Captain Hunter cannot always rely on his strong self-reliance and that even a skilled mathematician makes mistakes; and that it’s acceptable to rely on technology. There was no feedback given back to Captain Hunter to state its’ reasoning behind the bearing that was being reported to him. Also, there was no feedback given to challenge Captain Hunter’s navigations.
If more feedback was given, it could have been sensed that navigation was off route. Continued use of “That Newfangled Technology”: After the incident of being reported the wrong bearings, Captain Hunter still continued to use the navigation by radio bearing. It was assumed as an honest mistake. It wasn’t until after the crash that Captain Hunter realized that the radioman was giving him the correct bearings from the beginning. This could have been prevented if the system would have been checked after the first wrong bearing, to see what the reasoning behind such an error was; instead of continuing on the journey.
More Information: According to an article by Noah Andre Trudeau, “California Naval History – Point Honda: A Naval Tragedy’s Chain of Errors”, a lean budget and distrust of new technology contributed to a naval tragedy at Honda Point, California (Trudeau, 2012). Speed was the essential creed of the early to mid-20th century destroyer driver. Determination and self-confidence was a style of command in which those qualities could achieve the impossible while in peacetime the same attributes contributed to one of the U. S. Navy’s most significant disasters (Trudeau, 2012).
The 18 ships were meant to travel along the California coast to San Diego, with their two high powered and low powered turbines, four tall thin funnels and a book speed topped at 32 knots. Due to the postwar budget cutbacks, they were operating at 20-30% below full complement. Although a lot of live were lost during this tragedy, all the blame wasn’t on Captain Hunter. Everyone played a part, from, Watson’s fixation on making a record 20-knot passage along with his failure to supervise the navigation, Blodgett’s inability to express his concerns, and the silence of the other squadron officers.
Uncertainties surround the new technology, unusual weather conditions and minor equipment problems also played a part (Trudeau, 2012). Lesson Learned: This case illustrated the importance of human error and testing all new technology before use. Although all faults in the technology may not be quickly discovered testing all aspects is critical. It is learned that although you may be proficient in a skill and have applicable experience, mistakes still happen. The people with great skill and power, like Lieutenant Commander Donald T.
Hunter, are still fallible as human beings. Despite having a fully functioning technology system to navigate, it shouldn’t completely be dependent on. Instead, the two should assist each other, human intelligence and newfound technology. Additional Reference: Trudeau, N. A. (2012, March 2). California Naval History-Point Honda: A Naval Tragedy’s Chain of Errors. Retrieved October 29, 2012, from The California State Military Museum: A United States Army Museum Activity: Preserving California’s Military Heritage: http://www. militarymuseum. org/PtHonda. html