Foreward: The Board of Investigation report of this i11ci-dent has just been declassified. This account started out to be a purely personal recollection of a11 event long past, but as I bega11 to do some research to fill in a few gaps, I found that quite a lot of other now-unclassified official i1iformation vas available, 11ot to me11tion several DD 689 crew members willing to tell their side of tire story. I’ve been assisted in my efforts by Doris Lama of OPNA V, Rachel Weir, Phyliss Shaw and Douglas Gibbons of JAG, Barry Zerby of the National Archives, George Bowley, Fred Olileth and Joe Murpliy of WADLEIGH and most of all Rex Wellman and David Mettemick,former WADLEIGH sonarmen. My tha11ks to all of them.
April, 1962 … The Cuban missile crisis was still six months in the future. John F. Kennedy was in the White House and Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. The Cold War balance of mutual assured destruction had taken a sharp tilt toward the West with the deployment of ballistic missiles which could be fired submerged from GEORGE WASHINGTON class Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines. Pioneer FBM skippers like Jim Osborn, Hal Shear, Bob Long and Pappy Sims and their Blue and Gold crews were settling into a new routine of patrols and refits at Site One, Holy Loch in Dunoon, Scotland alongside USS PROTEUS (AS 19).
Second generation ETHAN ALLEN-class boomers were coming on line, and I was aboard USS THOMAS A. EDISON (SSBN-610) as Electric Boat’s Guarantee Engineer during her shakedown cruise, having been around the circuit once before with USS PA TRICK HENRY (SSBN-599). The incredible marriage of nuclear submarines and 1200-mile solid fuel Polaris Al missiles engineered by RADM Red Rabom’s Special Projects office gave the U.S. a huge Cold War advantage. The Soviets were attempting to retaliate by secretly working with Castro to place medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba just a few flight minutes away from the U.S., although no one on our side knew that in April. We did suspect that they might be planning to set up a submarine base at Cienfuegos, Cuba, and ever since 29 May 1959 near Iceland when USS GRENADIER (SS525) had photographed the first Soviet submarine known to be operating in the Atlantic, the Navy was well aware that Russian submarines were operating in our home waters and that we were going to have to get much better at anti-submarine warfare.
Admiral Robert L. Dennison, once CO of CUTTLEFISH (SS-171 ), had been Commander in Chief, Atlantic (CINCLANT), Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet (CINCLANTFL T) and Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT) since February. As SACLANT, a NA TO command, he was responsible for monitoring and deterring Soviet submarine operations in the Atlantic. Coordinated ASW task forces were practicing in the G[UJ( (Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom) gap setting up barrier patrols designed to prevent deployment of Russian boats from their northern bases for Atlantic operations. The SOSUS web of hydrophones was being expanded and was rumored to have successfully tracked the first U.S. fleet ballistic missile submarine, SSBN-598, most of the way across the Atlantic. S2F-1, P2V-7 and the brand new P3V aircraft were being equipped with MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) gear which could confirm suspected submarine contacts with a low flyover. But while money and talent were being poured into some ASW programs, too often destroyer sailors had to make do with leftovers from WWII. Fletcher-class destroyers designed and built twenty years earlier were still the workhorses of the fleet. Maintained with limited funds, sometimes upgraded with new equipment but often plagued with reliability problems, these great little ships were manned by tough proud officers and men eager to show how good they were. Designed to fight diesel electric subs with limited battery capacity, they knew they were now facing nukes … or soon would be. But they were determined to come out on top.
They weren’t the only ones with tough problems. The new breed of FBM navigators was faced with an absolute need to maintain an incredibly accurate position plot at all times, with very small tolerance for error, while remaining submerged. This was certainly useful for safe ship handling but it was absolutely essential for precise Polaris missile targeting. Satellite navigation systems were still in the early prototyping stage and, of course, GPS was far in the future. Mast-mounted Loran C antennas, periscope sextants and automatic dead reckoning plotters could give a consistent position within a half-mile or so, but that wasn’t nearly good enough.
The Ships Intertial Navigation System (SINS) was part of the solution. The late RADM Walt Dedrick, later to command SSBN-610 (GOLD) but then CO USS Halibut (SSGN-587), was officially the first to take SINS to sea in a submarine in March, 1960. [TRITON (SSBN-586) had a prototype SINS unit aboard a month earlier for her submerged circumnavigation but it stopped functioning a few days after departure.] The SINS concept worked but the gyro drift rates were high enough to produce unacceptable degradation of accuracy in a fairly short time. It needed to be reset frequently from a navigational fix obtained elsewhere. This was hard to do without potentially giving away the boat’s position. Many ideas were floated. Among them was to use a radiometric sextant, a device housed in a large retractable mast-mounted dome which could get a precise sun sight at periscope depth using radio frequency energy even through dense clouds whenever the sun was above the horizon.
The operational prototype of this monster was installed aboard USS THOMAS A.EDISON (SSBN-610) at Electric Boat. One of our tasks on shakedown cruise was to evaluate it. Operating in the Western Bermuda Op Areas, the Blue Crew under CAPT Charles M. Young, spent the first week of April, 1962, exercising all our navigational capability, frequently at periscope depth. In our case, this meant hoisting not only periscopes and various small antenna masts, but also the huge radiometric sextant dome. It made an interesting sight for any observer on the surface.
Cy Young was the only officer I ever met who wore both gold Dolphins and Gold Wings. He was uniquely qualified. There was probably no submarine CO at the time who was so experienced in surface and air ASW. He had served in a destroyer, escorting WWII convoys in the Atlantic before Submarine School, then made eight war patrols in DRUM (SS 228) in the Pacific before being given command of S-23 at San Diego and serving as a training submarine for the Sonar School until the war ended. He went to flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in December 1946 and served as a pilot and Executive Officer in VA-1E, a carrier-based ASW squadron. In 1951 he returned to Submarines, serving as XO of TORO (SS 422) before becoming CO of REDFIN (SSR 222). After Armed Forces Staff College and service in CINCLANT staff, he served as Operations Officer on guided missile heavy cruiser CANBERRA (CAG 2) during a major NA TO exercise in the northeastern Atlantic before starting his FBM training as a Prospective Commanding Officer. In view of what was about to happen in April, 1962, it was ironic that his broad experience may have proved to be a handicap.
All ship collisions, like many other accidents, depend on a chain of events. If one link in that chain-one event or circumstance-had not occurred, the accident would not have happened. The EDI-SON/WADLEIGH collision was no exception. Among the most important links in this particular chain were these:
1. EDISON’S active sonar transducer was flooded out. She could not transmit a sonar ping to get a range on a ship in the vicinity. She had to rely on her passive (listening) arrays for target information while submerged. Those arrays had a blind spot aft. A target was said to be “lost in the baffles” while astern. That’s where WAD LEIGH was at one critical moment.
2. EDISON’s No. 1 periscope, the high scope, had jammed optics and was out of commission on April 9’h. If it had not been, the CO would have been able to observe WADLEIGH close aboard from a deeper depth. As it was, EDISON had to come up to a keel depth of 64 feet to use the No. 2 scope, bringing both the top of her sail (the periscope and mast fairing) and her topside rudder to a more vulnerable depth.
3. It never occurred to CAPT Young that EDISON might be considered an unidentified submarine contact. Though he knew he was operating independently, his boss (Commander Submarine Force Atlantic) knew where he was if anybody asked. And he was certain that EDISON’s actions when buzzed by the ASW aircraft were those of a friendly submarine-he did not evade, did not lower masts and antennas, did not change course or speed-and, having flown ASW aircraft himself, had no reason to believe that the aircrews involved thought otherwise.
4. It never occurred to CDR Kiley (CO Wadleigh) that EDISON might be a friendly submarine. His mindset was such that even after the collision when communication was finally established his first question was “Does that sound like an American voice?”
5. There was no accepted and mutually understood procedure for demanding that a submerged submarine identify itself, i.e. no “IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system.
6. Stung by reports that ASW forces had been able to track early FBMs as they left port, COMSUBLANT (Admiral E. W. Grenfell) had decided to take them off the “Daily Submarine Summary” (a list of our submarines and their locations) which was distributed to every command with a need to know. This deletion was done for two reasons – first, to see how the ASW people would do detecting FBM’s if they were not alerted in advance. Second, to provide valuable training to FBM crews in avoiding detection by surface and air ASW units. COMSUBLANT accepted responsibility for keeping his own unlisted submarines apart, but there was apparently not much thought about what might happen if unalerted ASW forces did detect a transiting FBM.
So waiting on the path from Bermuda to Norfolk there was a big bear trap. And we were about to step right into it.
On the morning of April 81h in the vicinity of 32-35 N and 66-11 W, we finished up in our operating area and headed for Norfolk for a planned visit by President Kennedy (later postponed). Several times en route during daylight we went to periscope depth, snorkeled and raised the radiometric sextant. Operating at periscope depth far more than normal, maintaining a safety watch on the scope while steaming along with a large dome in the air, we made a substantial wake that any passing ASW aircraft just couldn’t miss.
At sea many miles to the northwest, Task Group 83.3 was the designated Ready ASW Group, Atlantic Fleet and under the operational command of Commander, Second Fleet while preparing for a Presidential Demonstration, and not coincidentally, sweeping the Norfolk approaches to ensure that no unwelcome guests join the President’ s party. The Task Group Commander was Commander, carrier Division 18, (Rear Admiral Christensen) aboard LAKE CHAMPLAIN (CV-39), an ASW carrier. He had several escorting destroyers assigned including WAD LEIGH (DD-689) and JOHN HOOD (DD-655) as well as fixed-wing ASW aircraft and helicopters of Composite Search Squadron 64.
Four of those aircraft, Grumman S2F-l Trackers, were flying search patterns from LAKE CHAMPLAIN the following afternoon. At about 1400 we came to periscope depth for a LORAN C fix and to compare the Radiometric Sextant readings with the optical sextant in the I periscope. For more than an hour we had various combinations of masts raised, and sure enough, at about 1500, April 9, 1962, we were spotted.
The CO was on the scope and saw four S2Fs making low passes over us and dropping practice depth charges (PDC’s), which are small explosives charges about the size of hand grenades often used in exercises. He thought they were using us as a target of opportunity to practice ASW tactics. I think he said “they’re playing with us” and invited the navigator to take a look through the scope. He said he hoped we hadn’t blundered into someone else’s exercise, and then became concerned that there might be another submarine in the area. Though it is not in the official Board of Investigation report, I remember that he made a call on Gertrude (UQC Underwater Telephone) to unknown submarine, trying to determine if there were another sub nearby, but got no response. (The UQC is the communication device of choice between submarines nearby, since its sonar signal is fairly short range and much more secure than radio communication. Destroyers are equipped with UQC but it is often in the Sonar Room rather than on the bridge, so there can’t be a direct conservation between conning officers. Destroyer sonarmen also hated using it because it blanks out all other sonars and they fear losing contacts.)
Let’s freeze the problem right here.
Captain Young is faced with conflicting demands on his time. He knows he is behind his PIM (position and intended movement), the moving box where COMSUBLANT expects him to be at any particular time – as much as thirty-two miles at one point – but he can easily make that up later in the day. It is a sunny afternoon with calm seas-perfect for direct comparison of optical and radiometric sextant readings which is part of his assigned mission. And he’s got a Reactor Scram drill to get out of the way-that could put him further behind his PIM. He does not know he’s been checked out of the Navy’s routine Movement Report System. He does not know he’s been omitted from the Daily Submarine Summary. At 1433, after his navigator worked out the Loran C fix, he changed course to 278 deg. T. to head for Norfolk (which he maintained until the collision occurred.) He is personally minding the store this particular afternoon and getting on with his business.
The senior S2F pilot on the scene also has problems. He is looking at a bewildering array of masts, antennas and snorkels unlike anything he has ever seen before, with a wake as long as a football field, heading for Norfolk. He starts tracking his contact and reports the sighting to LAKE CHAMPLAIN. They check the Daily Submarine Summary and decide there aren’t any friendly submarines in the area. It apparently does not occur to anyone airborne or afloat that this guy is steaming along with everything in the air in broad daylight on a sunny afternoon and if they want to talk to him, all they have to do is pick up the nearest radio handset. A call on the Fleet Common frequency or even the international hailing and distress frequency might have solved the problem instantly. Of course, EDISON could have talked to the aircraft if he wanted to, but he didn’t know they had a problem, and FBM skippers are inclined to mind their own business.
What happens next? Well, someone remembers that somewhere he’s seen a procedure for directing a submerged submarine to surface. I suppose he said “Yes, I’ve got it, right here in the back of FXP-1 “. Fleet Exercise Publication One is the prescribed set of rules governing fleet exercises within the U.S. Navy. This particular procedure is also covered in AXP-l(A) for use in NATO exercises. If a commander conducting an exercise between friendly forces wants to have a way to direct his submarines to surface and he can’t reach them any other way, he can have his aircraft or surface units drop a series of small explosive charges at short intervals (sometimes 4 or 5 at one second intervals). FXP-1 or AXPl(A) would be cited in the Exercise Operation Order in such a case so everyone would know about it. But the procedure provides that in no case are such explosives to be dropped on FBM submarines. And how a submarine not involved in the exercise is supposed to know if it is in the exercise OpOrder is unclear.
While COMSUBLANT later said Captain Young should have known that the S2Fs were trying to communicate with him (even though he wasn’t involved in their exercise), it is certainly arguable that he might have decided they were trying to communicate with another submarine that was part of their exercise. In any event, we al I heard the PDCs and nobody aboard noticed any particular pattern and we certainly didn’t get their message. Only a handful of people on board even knew such a procedure existed.
Just two months later, CINCLANTFL T sent to all Atlantic Fleet units an interim directive covering Submarine Identification Procedures. This grew into the Submarine Surfacing and Identification Procedure which was ultimately sent to the Soviets and figured prominently in the intense Cuban Missile Crisis ASW operations recounted in The Submarines of October (National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 75).
As noted previously, it seems strange to have tried using this crude way of contacting an out-of-touch submerged submarine when EDISON was at snorkel depth and available to anyone with a transmitter of any sort. But having tried and failed to surface for identification his submarine contact, CTG 83.3 sent out a contact report at 1531. COMSUBLANT got the message five minutes later and was on the phone to Commander, Anti-Submarine Forces, Atlantic at 1545 to tell him that his contact was EDISON in-bound for Norfolk. ASWFORLANT sent a message to CTG 83.3 at 1559 that his contact was friendly. But that message was routed through the Naval Communication Station at Norfolk for delivery by on-line broadcast and was not received by CTG 83.3 until 31 minutes after the collision. And not having received it, CTG 83.3 sent out a second unidentified submarine contact message at 1633, one minute before the collision
Meanwhile, having finished the navigational evaluation, at 1527 EDISON went deep and began making speed toward Norfolk, catching up with its PIM. Traveling at high speed submerged impairs performance oflistening sonars and at this point, all surface contacts and aircraft noise were lost. At 1606, the reactor scram drill commenced. A scram is an automatic shutdown of the reactor, normally triggered by exceeding a normal limit of temperature or pressure somewhere in the system. This was simulated from time to time to train new engineering watchstanders in promptly dealing with the consequences ofloss of reactor power and a gradual loss of steam pressure. Propulsion is shifted to an electric motor while the reactor is restarted. On this day, it went smoothly and steam propulsion was restored to normal. And during the quiet moments after reactor shutdown, EDISON’s sonarmen heard both ships and helicopters in the area.
At 1530, just three minutes after EDISON had gone deep, CTG 83.3 had dispatched a Search and Attack Unit (SAU) consisting of USS WAD LEIGH (DD-689) and USS JOHN HOOD (DD-655) to investigate the unidentified submarine contact. The SAU commander was WADLEIGH’s CO, Commander Donald W. Kiley, USN. He was ready when the order came.
He said “I heard the Task Group Commander say to get going on the unidentified submarine contact at 090 degrees 34 miles. Before he even got all the message out, we took off with left full rudder and went to 25 knots. I received a report that the S2Fs had sighted a submarine periscope and the submarine dove.”
If Hollywood were doing this show, this is the point where funnels would belch black smoke, ship’s sirens would be wailing and bugles would be sounding Charge. En route to the area, CDR Kiley told his Executive Officer to take the dummy hedgehogs off the spigots and to have live ammunition ready to mount. (The hedgehog is a sort of depth charge which can be thrown out in a pattern ahead of the ship.) WADLEIGH went to Condition IAS, which is General Quarters, Anti-Submarine. Gun mounts and directors are manned, with live ammunition in the hoists, a special sonar tracking party is set up, and the ship is ready to fight. The SAU received a report that the S2Fs were maintaining MAD contact and that helicopters were on the way.
The SAU commander was preparing himself to take charge at the scene. He asked his Combat Information Center “What is the signal for surfacing submarines with explosives?” and as he later described the situation to the Board of Investigation “I called down again and said I hadn’t got a report-had the checks been made, what was the story on the explosive charges. They reported four or five. I misunderstood, I thought they didn’ t know. They said well it’s either four or five, so I picked up the phone and in certain words (sic) I told them they had 20 minutes to find this, and I said I wanted a definite answer, and they said they had checked everything they could find and it was not clear, that they didn’t know, they said that was the way it was written that four or five, I said ‘aye, aye’ and then I turned and said … (interrupted by a Board member). He later continued, “Admiral, this is how I understand it. This is what is specified in FXP-1. It is not clearly indicated that this is the signal that is to be used on a condition of investigation of unidentified sonar contact-submarine contacts. The best of my knowledge, well, the 4 or 5 hand grenades or a thing of this sort on a table of explosive charges 4 or 5 means it is clear to surface in ten minutes.” His main concern, he said, was to determine if this contact were really a submarine because he thought it might be fish noise. “I did not think at this time it would be a friendly submarine. Then I got a report that he was maybe backing down and streaming a noise maker.” (This may have been the loss of propulsion during the reactor scram and the sound of the electric propulsion motor).
At this point, Rex Wellman, S02, WADLEIGH’s lead sonannan can continue the story:
President Kennedy was onboard the aircraft carrier we were chasing around the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Virginia. I heard later that he wasn’t onboard yet but would be there later. The task force was to line up and pass in review past the carrier so we could show off our Navy to the President.
The “Sonar Shack” was located directly behind the bridge on the WADLEIGH. Someone opened the door to the sonar shack and announced we’d received a message that a subma-rine had been spotted by an aircraft and it had submerged before it could be identified as friend or foe. We were being assigned to go search for the sub and, if possible, identify it.
I immediately felt the enormity of our assignment with our President just a few miles away. (Whether he was really there or not doesn ‘t really matter. I thought he was there.) My mind raced through all the possibilities and flashed the worst scenario as a warning that we’d better have all our skills, expertise and proficie11cies together on this one. A jluny of activity ensued as we felt the screws digging to get us up to speed.
We put our best “stack operator” on the sonar console and our best fire control system operator on the computer system. We loaded a new audiotape on our tape recorder and opened the micropho11e so that evelJ’ sound in the sonar shack would be recorded. I took a position in the middle of the sonar shack where I could observe and, if needed, supervise all activity. I was also positio11ed to operate the undenvater telephone (Gertntde) whenlif needed.
Over the years of my experience lumting submarines, (approximately three at this time), I had learned that the odds were against us ever finding this guy on our sonar. Our average acquisition range was not ve1y far and the way we were steaming. our target would hear and avoid us long before we could be in position to acquire him. We had in our favor, a relatively calm sea and little or no marine life noise to mask our reverberations when we sellt out our sonar signal (ping).
As I remember it, we were steaming on a northerly course when we had maybe the best echo return I’d ever witnessed. It was well beyond our average range for acquiring a contact and was loud and much higher pitched than our transmission .. It was bright and elongated on the CRT. (Also one of the best in my memo. [Cathode Ray Tube -an electronic display}. As a matter of procedure, the stack operator was required to go through seven steps in classijj1ing a sonar contact. Al-though I hadn’t gone through the steps, I knew immediately we had us a sub and that it was a nuke. I waited until the operator had completed his steps and informed the bridge and CIC that we were classifying this contact as a possible sub.
I knew from the high pitch return that this target was headed toward us at a high rate of speed. After four or five “pings” our fire control system operator confirmed my assessment. It was about this time that our Skipper (CDR Kile)) stuck his head through a partially open Sonar Shack door and asked me what I thought we had. I relayed my firm suspicion that we had a nuke. The skipper instrocted me to try to communicate with the contact using the undenvater telephone and closed the door. I tried several times with 110 answer returned. We passed over our target a couple of times and maintained contact with it. We continued our attempts to communicate using “Gertrude” with no response.[Author’s note: During my discussion with W ADLEIGH’S sonar operators, one of them volunteered that the muting relays on their “Gertrude” sometimes malfunctioned and that they’d rarely been able to make it work satisfactorily.]
The late David Matternick, S03, was also in W ADLEIGH’s sonar shack at the time:
When we were dispatched to investigate the contact, I was the “Stack” operator. Our gear was designated SQS-31 with RDT (rotating directional transmission) added. When the ship came to speed, all ahead flank, we began transmitting on the bearing given us by the aircraft. Due to the sea conditions. I decided to employ the RDT. The RDT allows the operator to reduce the transmission arc from the normal 300 degrees to as little as 10 degrees. I set the RDT on 15 degrees and began ”pinging”. After each transmission, I altered the transmission bearing by 5 degrees to port and then to starboard. After a few minutes we received an outstanding echo return. The range of this acquisition is the longest we had ever had as it was about 22,000 yards. The sea conditions must have been very favorable.
In EDISON’s engineering spaces, the scram recovery had gone like clockwork. Sixteen minutes after reactor shutdown we had steam for main turbine propulsion again, changed speed to ten knots and went up to 100 feet. Sonar reported the sound of helicopters hovering. It was 1632.
By this time it was easy to hear fast screws overhead through the hull and the sound of PDCs. If we had inadvertently gotten involved in somebody else’s ASW exercise, we were right in the middle of it.
I was six feet away when Captain Young decided he wasn’t going to be able to go about his business and needed to find out what the hell was going on up there. He indicated he was going to pull away far enough to stick up a VHF antenna to talk to whoever was making runs on us. He told the diving officer to get a good trim, and when that was done, cautioned him to use minimum angles and not to overshoot 64′ keel depth. He had Sonar do a complete sweep with the BQR-7 to report any close contacts. They reported the nearest contact (which was probably JOHN HOOD) was on bearing 272 deg. 6000 yards. And then he checked to verify that the BQR-2C sonar display at the conning station was clear.
The SAU Commander had relieved the aircraft commander as Contact Area Commander about I 545 and had been using three helicopters with dipping sonar to track us until WADLEIGH herself made sonar contact at 1620. They had been tracking for about ten minutes, changing course as the bearing changed. EDISON was still on course 278 deg. but just before losing contact due to minimum range, CDR Kiley remembered passing 340, and his sonannen told him the target had started a left tum. He was nearly astern and lost in our baffles.
Captain Young, mistakenly certain that there were no close contacts, ordered periscope depth. The diving officer maneuvered the 7,900 tons of submarine deftly, momentarily overshooting the ordered depth by one foot, then quickly settling back to 64 feet with zero bubble (trim angle), or perhaps one-half down bubble. On the way up, the CO raised the No. 2 scope trained nearly dead ahead on the bearing of the nearest known contact. He started his sweep as it broke the surface but was only part way round when we felt an impact, a strangely mushy impact, that rolled the boat to starboard eight or ten degrees.
He swung around and saw a ship close aboard with a large port angle on the bow and a helicopter. Very calmly, he ordered the Collision Alarm sounded. As the watertight doors clanged shut, the Executive Officer, who had been in the Engineering Spaces critiquing the scram drill, sprinted all the way aft, quickly reporting no flooding and no apparent damage or injured people. As we secured from Collision, he came to the control room and, at the direction of the captain, called repeatedly on the UQC.
WADLEIGH had transmitted 04Mark on top” to HOOD and the helicopters just seconds before impact. Theoretically, there should have been no impact. In absolutely calm water, WADLEIGH drew about 14 feet at the bow, and at 64 feet with a half degree down bubble EDISON’s topside rudder should have been at about 161/.. feet deep. But the motion of ships at sea can easily account for the difference and the starboard bow ofDD-689 hit the top of our rudder with sufficient force to bend it jauntily to starboard. The collision occurred at 1634 local time in position 36 deg. 56.7 min. N, 71 deg. 44.2W.
Commander Kiley, feeling the impact, remembers wondering if someone had inadvertently dropped a depth charge, and then thinking “that sub just hit me with something.” He first looked to starboard but then heard “there it is!” from the port side. From the bridge he could see the top of the sail with a periscope sticking out of it about a hundred feet away, headed aft and moving away. He had Sonar call on Gertrude with no response, but then heard EDI-SON’s XO calling “Unknown station from Vermont”. Combat quickly identified “Vermont” as EDISON’s call sign. EDISON asked if WADLEIGH had dropped any depth charges, then “Are you working with any other submarine?” Reassured that there were no other submarines, they concluded they had hit each other. EDISON was underway checking rudder response and opening the range as they spoke. W ADLEIGH’s Gunnery Officer reported “Main Battery locked on” ready to fire on the retreating periscope. His Captain was asking Sonar if they were sure they were hearing a distinctly American voice.
After firing a yellow flare, we surfaced a safe distance away. Our damage was all external and we had no trouble with steering. WAD LEIGH had flooded a peak tank through a hole in the starboard bow plating about 48″ long and 14″ wide plus a 2″ wide crack that extended down under the keel. After being assured that they were having no serious trouble controlling the flooding, we left for Norfolk and tied up at the Naval Operating Base. They came in the next day.
A Board of Investigation consisting of a Rear Admiral and two Captains convened in Norfolk from 16-19 April 1962. After their deliberations, they recommended that “no disciplinary action be taken against any person in the naval service as a result of this collision.” They also recommended that EDISON’ s passive sonar be tested to determine if a design deficiency or equipment failure caused the failure to detect WADLEIGH at close range. They recommended that higher authority determine the requirement for and feasibility of a Navy-wide signal of general application to direct an unidentified submerged submarine to identify itself. They further decided that higher authority needed to make sure every one knew that the FXP-1/PDC procedure was for exercise use only. And finally, they recommended that the practice of not notifying the Ready ASW Group Commander of friendly submarines passing through his area be re-evaluated.
Several of these recommendations could have been read to reflect some culpability ashore. They were not popular with higher authority. COMSUBLANT and COMASWFORLANT both decided that Captain Young hadn’t really done all he could to deal with the situation and had negligently hazarded his ship. He should have changed course to clear his baflles, i.e. search the blind spot astern, before concluding, based, based on a passive sonar alone, that there were no close contacts. He should have fired a yellow flare before coming to periscope depth with ships nearby. And he should have tried calling on the UQC before the collision. Finally, he might have avoided the whole problem by talking to the S2Fs when they were making low passes overhead.
Commander Kiley almost emerged unscathed, but not quite. COMASWFORLANT thought he also should have used UQC before the collision (although his sonannen recall that they had tried and failed) or directed HOOD to do so. He shouldn’t have passed over his target, which ensured that he would lose sonar contact, before ensuring that HOOD was holding contact, and he used poor judgment.
No disciplinary action was taken against Commander Kiley. Captain Young received a letter of admonition but completed his tour as Commanding Officer (Blue).
During repair of collision damage on April 11, 1962, EDISON had one of the most unusual emergencies ever recorded-a fire in the rudder. Flamecutting the damaged top of the rudder off ignited the plastic foam inside the structure. It was put out with no serious problem. Regrettably, this was not EDISON’s last collision. After completing 54 deterrent patrols, on November 29, 1982 during an ASW exercise, she surfaced under USS LEFTWICH (DD 984) about 40 miles west of Subic Bay in the Phillipines, demolishing her bridge, fairwater planes and part of her sail. She never submerged again. After temporary repairs at Subic, she returned home and was decommissioned December 1, 1983.