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Thread: Anyone read "Glimpse of Hell" about the Iowa explosion?

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    Anyone read "Glimpse of Hell" about the Iowa explosion?

    Reading it now. Incredible piece of journalism. The depth of detail is just stunning, and then the way it's all cobbled together into a compelling read is a real feat of writing.

    Most shocking thing I've learned so far is how poor the Iowa's material condition was in the late 80's. The guns, the power plant, the ship was barely functional. If the ship was in that terrible shape while IN SERVICE, with a supply chain and maintenance, then I can't imagine how bad things must be now after being laid up for 30 years. Even if the Naval Fire Support Association folks had succeeded back in the early 2000's in getting her recommissioned, I have to think based on "Glimpse of Hell" that it simply wouldn't have been possible.

    Were all 4 in the same sorry state as the Iowa, or was that particularly bad for her because she had her modernization rushed?

    Sadly this is the type of question Rusty would normally chime in on and give us the definitive answer for. :-(

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArmorPiercing88 View Post
    Reading it now. Incredible piece of journalism. The depth of detail is just stunning, and then the way it's all cobbled together into a compelling read is a real feat of writing.

    Most shocking thing I've learned so far is how poor the Iowa's material condition was in the late 80's. The guns, the power plant, the ship was barely functional. If the ship was in that terrible shape while IN SERVICE, with a supply chain and maintenance, then I can't imagine how bad things must be now after being laid up for 30 years. Even if the Naval Fire Support Association folks had succeeded back in the early 2000's in getting her recommissioned, I have to think based on "Glimpse of Hell" that it simply wouldn't have been possible.

    Were all 4 in the same sorry state as the Iowa, or was that particularly bad for her because she had her modernization rushed?

    Sadly this is the type of question Rusty would normally chime in on and give us the definitive answer for. :-(
    I've never read Glimpse of Hell personally. I do own and have read Richard L. Schwoebel's Explosion Aboard the Iowa.

    My admittedly limited point of view is that Glimpse of Hell was somewhat "tabloid-y" and self-serving.
    5 Iowa crewmembers, including the Captain sued for libel, false light privacy, and conspiracy and eventually settled out of court.

    Regarding Iowa's material condition, she was likely hamstrung by modernization (and subsequent refit) funds being "reprogrammed".

    It's worth noting that USS Iowa was recipient of the Battenberg Cup just a few years prior to the Turret 2 disaster.
    Far better it is to dare mighty things, than to take rank with those poor, timid spirits who know neither victory nor defeat ~ Theodore Roosevelt

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    To claim a ship is in 'poor material condition' is a subjective judgement. I was on the Constellation (CV64) in 1980-82 and we always complained she was a POS. Of course, now I realize she was beautifully maintained, was always 100% operational and served for another 20 years after I was there. I've heard similar complaints of Perry class frigates. I served on one and it was beautifully maintained as well. I don't believe for a second that any of the Navy ships suffer from poor maintenance. Budget constraints limit just how much can be done but stories of rust holes in the hulls (which I've read here) and inoperable critical systems are just not believable. Most people's cars and homes get less attention to necessary maintenance than navy ships do.

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    I have read it, along with Dr. Schwoebel's book and the GAO Report on the Battleship Iowa Explosion. Basically they all say the same thing but from different perspectives. To paraphrase Sen. Sam Nunn's opening comments (Chair of SASC) during the hearings, he reminded everyone that the BB were placed in service to be missile ships and the 16-In guns were just a "free bonus".

    In other words, the navy didn't put any resources into them and didn't take them seriously. The explosion was the inevitable result. An interesting issue from the GAO report, was the 16-In guns were difficult to find personnel for and most sailors had to be forced to serve in the turrets, with it being seen as a type of punishment. This was due to turret duty being a career limiting move since it was a unique system without a future and the navy didn't support it.

    Quote Originally Posted by TopHatter View Post
    My admittedly limited point of view is that Glimpse of Hell was somewhat "tabloid-y" and self-serving.
    5 Iowa crewmembers, including the Captain sued for libel, false light privacy, and conspiracy and eventually settled out of court.
    In other words, the plaintiff didn't have a case so they settled. Similar to GEN. Westmoreland's suit against CBS. As I recall, in both cases they settled for an obscure apology that the journalist did not intend to defame or offend anyone. In the IOWA case the complaint was about specific characterizations of individuals not the overall situation or facts. That was really my only complaint about a Glimpse of Hell, is the "he said, she said" nature of it, but Charles Thompson was a former 60 Minutes reporter and he wrote it in that fashion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ArmorPiercing88 View Post
    Were all 4 in the same sorry state as the Iowa, or was that particularly bad for her because she had her modernization rushed?

    Sadly this is the type of question Rusty would normally chime in on and give us the definitive answer for. :-(
    Rusty mentioned something about this in another thread, which I haven't been able to locate. As I recall, he said the big issue was the Iowa's reactivation was done by a private shipyard with no prior experience reactivating a major surface combatant. There were a number of deficiencies noted and the Iowa operated with those for a time until she came due for a major maintenance. Rusty said those were eventually all fixed by one of the naval shipyards.

    Sadly Rusty is no longer with us, but some of his knowledge lives on in these boards and in his books.

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    An interesting thread, not without presumptions and personal feelings, to be sure - the question asks more than just "did you read that book".

    As a former crewmember of NEW JERSEY (1968-69) and an acquaintance of Rusty's thru correspondence and phone calls over 25 years, I would like to address several of the comments made in this thread to this point with a bit of historical reference that may help understand the state of IOWA class ships at the time of the accident (1989).

    First, a point of reference from the 1960's - NEW JERSEY was picked as the ship to be re-commissioned for Vietnam Service due to her more extended electronics upgrades in the mid-50s than the other 3 ships had not received. While WISCONSIN was probably in a better material condition (she was also the newest of the 4 ships with less sea time on her "clock"), she had experienced a fire in her wardroom prior to decommissioning in 1958 (I am using my memory here, so this I can't verify as I'm not where my reference materials reside) and the Navy did not wish to have to re-do the damage from that event. The crew was, to a certain extent, all volunteer - men who WANTED to be there. Only after our 1968-69 Westpac Cruise were personnel transferred to/from the ship as they would have been in any other fleet asset. We had one hang-fire event in Turret 2 (center gun) during the cruise and it was handled according to regs - the projectile successfully fired off the starboard side with a 1 half-charge bag of powder by a single GMC in the turret. We de-commissioned the ship in 100 days in Bremerton, WA and the ship was in that condition for 12 years until being towed to Long Beach in 1981 for recomm. She was, once again, the lead ship due to the obvious modernization in the mid-60s. With only one battleship planned for this service, our prospective CO, Capt. J. Edward Snyder was able to hand pick the lots of 16" projectiles and powder from the naval magazines and as such, he was able to eliminate to a certain extent problems that he perceived with various lots and kept them off the ship. He was a former battleship officer with extensive bag gun expertise and education. Therefore, we went into that commission with several factors in our favor which the subsequent re-commissioning's in the '80s were not able to duplicate (or possibly those officers without the prior battleship experience either weren't aware of or simply had no interest in looking into).

    NEW JERSEY was modernized at Long Beach Naval Shipyard as was MISSOURI - our own Rusty Landgraff was involved fully with both ships and had a vast wealth of knowledge (which has been properly noted above) to lend to these projects which, I think, gave those two ships in particular a slight advantage - also, being handled in a Navy yard, I think they got a better treatment than did IOWA and WISCONSIN at Pascagoula, LA - a private shipyard. Keep in mind that times had changed and in the '80s the Navy had to be able to prove to Congress that they were passing the work around to keep work going on and while it would probably have been better to have had the work done "in house", that wasn't the case. I was present for the re-commissioning of NEW JERSEY in Dec. 1982 and went aboard later that afternoon - a different ship than I had served in, to be sure. Same, but different.

    OK, so I've also read Schwoebel's Explosion Aboard The IOWA and have also had extended conversation with Rear Adm. J. Edward Snyder regarding the IOWA explosion; it was the main topic of our (he and I and our wives) Friday night "all nighter" discussion at the 1995 NEW JERSEY vets reunion in Norfolk, VA. I was curious as to his explanation and whether or not the Navy reached out to him in the subsequent hearings. On that item I am not sure that they did (or wanted his input), but I DO know what his thoughts were regarding the event. I would agree 100% with his feelings that the accident was no more (or less) than a simple mechanical over-ram of the last bag of powder - the one that has the detonator patch sewn into the end. That patch was broken and the retraction of the ram caused a spark....the rest is history. This, seems to me to be a completely logical explanation as to the cause of the event. We all know how this all played out officially and in the media - a sad ending for 47 crewmen.

    Regarding the replies above:

    1) The statement regarding IOWA's material status at the time of the explosion is presented without documentation, etc. - simply an opinion - one that I don't share. NEW JERSEY, on her last cruise in 1990, returned to Long Beach on one screw - she WAS in a materially critical condition but hers due to the extent of actual use and at sea wear and tear. Without seeing the actual upkeep/maintenance logs of these ships, it is hard to say one way or another as to a particular ship's material condition at any given point in their life. Maintenance is done within that ship's budget and therein lies the problem. Scheduling and mission also play into this, as well.

    2) The statement regarding the Navy's opinion as to the main 16" battery being secondary to the missile systems is something I've never heard before and would ignore as na´ve without some sort of factual backup of support for that opinion. One of the main reasons for bringing those particular ships back into the fleet was for their ability to counter the Soviet large cruiser threat at the time and these ships more than accomplished that.

    3) The deficiencies in IOWA and WISCONSIN (as noted above) were addressed as I believe Rusty noted in his book. The four IOWAs were NOT modernized identically but similarly and this is noticeable by even a casual viewer - there were other differences within each ship that would not be modified at all. We (NEW JERSEY) had received a small digital computer from Naval Development Labs in 168 that was never duplicated on the other three ships. It was located in Main Battery Plot - I'll have to check and see if it's still there the next time I'm on board. It augmented the Ford Mk. 1 Main Battery Mechanical Computer.

    4) Whether admitted in public or not, IOWA was the main battery "Guinea pig" for the 16" guns. As such, she did carry out firing drills with newer shells being developed for lighter weight and much longer range. While I can't confirm this, it is my personal belief that when the explosion took place the ship was doing firing drills and testing that would have fit into this scenario.

    At the Morehead City Seafood Festival several years ago I ran into a former IOWA crewman who was one of the first in the fire brigade to get into the lower barbette of Turret 2 - we ended up talking about that for 2 hours - he saw it all and his memories will last a life time. It was not a pleasant reminiscence for two former battleship sailors. I was surprised he still had his sanity. That accident COULD have been prevented.

    To say that the Navy didn't put any resources into 16" gun program etc. is, once again, an opinion without basis. The fact that we are dealing with an all-volunteer force that was, to a certain extent, a more "diverse" force than when I was serving would more than likely cause problems we didn't have to deal with in years before; at least, we dealt with them differently! The fact remains that the gun crews were not a coherent team on IOWA and this cannot be blamed on the equipment - put the blame where it belongs - personnel policy, training, proper guidance, and above all - an officer corp. that is dedicated to the ship and crew they serve in - not themselves! I'll leave it there.

    A ship is only as good as it's crew can (or is able) maintain it, operate it, and serve in it. Leadership, above all comes from the top and in this case, was totally lacking. When we put NEW JERSEY into storage in 1969, we did so in 100 days - something unheard of at the time (usual decomm was 6+ months). We left her in good shape for the next crew/commissioning. I have been working on a 1/200 scale model of NEW JERSEY for the past 5 years and in my research I've come across a lot of information regarding all the IOWAs - most informative and factual, some not so much. I find it always best to note an opinion with factual backup before stating it publically because it is always subject to other's questioning and scrutiny.

    So, to answer the original question "have I read Glimpse of Hell?" - no, I have not! I do hope this provides a better understanding of the IOWA class in recent times.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bbvet View Post

    2) The statement regarding the Navy's opinion as to the main 16" battery being secondary to the missile systems is something I've never heard before and would ignore as na´ve without some sort of factual backup of support for that opinion. One of the main reasons for bringing those particular ships back into the fleet was for their ability to counter the Soviet large cruiser threat at the time and these ships more than accomplished that.
    The Soviet's cruisers main weapon would have been the P-700 Granit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-700_Granit. A weapon design to kill an aircraft carrier battle group from 400 km plus. They were also armed with the SS-N-16 “Stallion” https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/th...rpe-1737906897 and a host of other stand off weapons.

    What is the range of the 16 in gun? Can the 16 in gun stop a mach 2.5 plus missile? From Armament of the Iowa-class battleship https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armame...ass_battleship "For protection against enemy ships, the Iowa class was outfitted with the Harpoon Weapons System. The system consisted of four Mk 141 "shock-hardened" quad cell launchers designed to carry and fire the McDonnell Douglas RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. Each Harpoon was placed in one of four Mk 141 launchers located alongside the aft stack; eight per side, in two pods of four. The weight of the Harpoon at firing was 1,530 lb (690 kg), which included a booster weighing about 362 lb (164 kg). The cruising speed was 0.87 Mach and the maximum range was 64 nmi (119 km) in Range and Bearing Launch mode and 85 nmi (157 km) in Bearing Only Launch mode.[43]" That would be my guess why the the missile system would be primary offensive and defensive weapon.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dazed View Post
    The Soviet's cruisers main weapon would have been the P-700 Granit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-700_Granit. A weapon design to kill an aircraft carrier battle group from 400 km plus. They were also armed with the SS-N-16 “Stallion” https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/th...rpe-1737906897 and a host of other stand off weapons.

    What is the range of the 16 in gun? Can the 16 in gun stop a mach 2.5 plus missile? From Armament of the Iowa-class battleship https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armame...ass_battleship "For protection against enemy ships, the Iowa class was outfitted with the Harpoon Weapons System. The system consisted of four Mk 141 "shock-hardened" quad cell launchers designed to carry and fire the McDonnell Douglas RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. Each Harpoon was placed in one of four Mk 141 launchers located alongside the aft stack; eight per side, in two pods of four. The weight of the Harpoon at firing was 1,530 lb (690 kg), which included a booster weighing about 362 lb (164 kg). The cruising speed was 0.87 Mach and the maximum range was 64 nmi (119 km) in Range and Bearing Launch mode and 85 nmi (157 km) in Bearing Only Launch mode.[43]" That would be my guess why the the missile system would be primary offensive and defensive weapon.
    Harpoon would be useless against an airborne target. It is an offensive anti-surface ship weapon. Only the CIWS would be effective against anti-ship missiles.

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    What is the range of the 16 in gun? Can the 16 in gun stop a mach 2.5 plus missile
    The 16" MAIN Battery guns are NOT intended (or used) as an anti-missile or anti-aircraft weapon. Their use is anti-ship and for shore bombardment. The 5"/38 dual mounts were a dual purpose gun designed for anti-air defense and shore bombardment. After the Korean War their anti-air capability was negated by the introduction of jet aircraft. The addition of the Harpoon and Tomahawk cruise missiles dramatically increased the range of the ship's offensive capability and were used as anti-ship weapons in addition to their ability to attack land targets at distance. The armor piercing ability of the 16" shell was something the Soviet cruisers could not stop while the IOWA battleships were armored with up to 17" of Class A armor in various parts of the ship. As evidenced by the attack on USS STARK with Excocet cruise missiles, aluminum and thin steel plate can easily be penetrated by a cruise missile warhead. Anti-missile defense was carried out by the Phalanx Mk. 72 CIWS and CHAF launchers installed in 1981/82. (http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_Phalanx.php)

    The 16" guns had an effective range of between 23+ miles depending on wear and newer shells that were under development in the late '80s (lighter weight/saboted 12" projectiles) would have extended that to around 100 miles. These projectiles never reached the fleet as the IOWAs were decommissioned prior to their full development and production. 5"/38 cal mounts had an effective range 10+ miles
    (http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS_16-50_mk7.php; http://www.navweaps.com/Weapons/WNUS...mk12.php#Range)

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    Quote Originally Posted by thebard View Post
    Harpoon would be useless against an airborne target. It is an offensive anti-surface ship weapon. Only the CIWS would be effective against anti-ship missiles.
    That I know. the Harpoons would be used, not the 16 in guns to engage enemy surface ships. The sea sparrow was to be the anti air weapon but was never installed. From what I have read the CIWS has a range of 2.2 miles about 10 seconds for a 900 kt 1,653 lb warhead equipped cruise missile. CIWS have engaged and destroyed drones that were slower and lighter than a P-700 that still struck the ship and resulted in a fatality.

    The point of the post was post 1945 no blue water Navy plans to close 20 miles and salvo shells to sink ships. They would use guided weaponry utilizing other assets for first shot first kill from as far way as as they can. As for for a 16 in shell travelling 100 miles your most likely trading mass for fuel. I know it would be a shaped charged. The tomahawk and the sea sparrow are simpler easier and can be found throughout the fleet. 16 in guns not so much.
    Last edited by Dazed; 21 Nov 17, at 13:04.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dazed View Post
    That I know. the Harpoons would be used, not the 16 in guns to engage enemy surface ships. The sea sparrow was to be the anti air weapon but was never installed. From what I have read the CIWS has a range of 2.2 miles about 10 seconds for a 900 kt 1,653 lb warhead equipped cruise missile. CIWS have engaged and destroyed drones that were slower and lighter than a P-700 that still struck the ship and resulted in a fatality.

    The point of the post was post 1945 no blue water Navy plans to close 20 miles and salvo shells to sink ships. They would use guided weaponry utilizing other assets for first shot first kill from as far way as as they can. As for for a 16 in shell travelling 100 miles your most likely trading mass for fuel. I know it would be a shaped charged. The tomahawk and the sea sparrow are simpler easier and can be found throughout the fleet. 16 in guns not so much.
    The Iowa's didn't just have Harpoon to engage surface ships, they also had the anti-ship capable Tomahawk which had much longer range than the Harpoons.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom24 View Post
    The Iowa's didn't just have Harpoon to engage surface ships, they also had the anti-ship capable Tomahawk which had much longer range than the Harpoons.
    I thought that back then the Tomahawks didn't have anti-ship capability? Or that the Iowas didn't carry them if they did?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pacfanweb View Post
    I thought that back then the Tomahawks didn't have anti-ship capability? Or that the Iowas didn't carry them if they did?
    The Iowa's had the anti-ship capable variant of the Tomahawk in addition to the land attack variant. It's probable that during Desert Storm they were probably only carrying the land attack version. The anti-ship version of the Tomahawk was taken out of service during the 1990's sometime after the Iowa's were decommissioned. Apparently there were concerns about their reliability in hitting their intended surface targets, but the anti-ship version was in service.
    Last edited by Tom24; 23 Nov 17, at 19:10.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bbvet View Post
    1) The statement regarding IOWA's material status at the time of the explosion is presented without documentation, etc. - simply an opinion - one that I don't share. NEW JERSEY, on her last cruise in 1990, returned to Long Beach on one screw - she WAS in a materially critical condition but hers due to the extent of actual use and at sea wear and tear. Without seeing the actual upkeep/maintenance logs of these ships, it is hard to say one way or another as to a particular ship's material condition at any given point in their life. Maintenance is done within that ship's budget and therein lies the problem. Scheduling and mission also play into this, as well.
    According to the GAO report: BATTLESHIPS:Issues Arising From the Explosion Aboard the U.S.S. Iowa, they did not find any evidence that the battleships were in any better or worse material condition than other navy ships at the time.

    http://www.gao.gov/products/T-NSIAD-91-2

    Quote Originally Posted by bbvet View Post
    2) The statement regarding the Navy's opinion as to the main 16" battery being secondary to the missile systems is something I've never heard before and would ignore as na´ve without some sort of factual backup of support for that opinion. One of the main reasons for bringing those particular ships back into the fleet was for their ability to counter the Soviet large cruiser threat at the time and these ships more than accomplished that.
    It was a quote from SEN. John Glen and also again from SEN. Sam Nunn both on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Source: "Review of the Department of the Navy's investigation into the gun turret explosion aboard the U.S.S. "Iowa" : hearings before the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, One Hundred First Congress, first session, November 16; December 11, 1989; May 25, 1990"

    You can read the html here and also download a PDF for easier reading. See SEN. Glen's statement on page 11 and then SEN. Nunn on page 248. Interestingly he asks how much manpower could be reduced if the turrets were left unmanned.

    There is a great deal more here than just a discussion about the incident aboard the Iowa.

    Transcript here: https://archive.org/stream/reviewofd...0unit_djvu.txt

    Video here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?9944-1...n-day-1-part-1

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