What it's like having a submarine crash into your ship
A U.S. Marine stationed aboard any Naval vessel enjoys a lifestyle very similar to that of cargo. Marines are often sequestered to their color coordinated quarters (ours were red) where they sleep in coffin racks, are given a small window of time to utilize the gym, and in some cases even have separate hours for chow.
All of these measures actually have a purpose, and that is to keep green side (Marines) and blue side (Navy) separate.
However, there are jobs Marines can be volunteered for, jobs involving laundry, trash, and foodservice. Lucky enough for this young leatherneck, having a culinary degree puts you to work aboard the U.S.S. New Orleans in the galley.
So there I was, a twenty-two year old Corporal with a culinary degree being put to work as leader of the night shift aboard a navy vessel. There were no sailors under my charge, which I found to be slightly condescending, but that’s of no consequence. On my team there were no less than three infantry Marines with zero cooking experience and one supply Marine from Baton Rouge, LA, which is plenty of cooking experience on its own. We were tasked with prepping the next days lunch and dinner meals, baking fresh bread, and preparing and serving breakfast.
Unbeknownst to my crew and me, a U.S. submarine submerged at periscope depth in the straight of Hormuz was soon to make its move. The U.S.S. Hartford is a Los Angeles class Navy submarine that had a date with destiny in the form of a San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ship, the U.S.S. New Orleans. After 63 days at sea, it would seem that the crew of the Hartford had had enough and decided to break up the monotony with a little fender bender.
Meanwhile aboard the New Orleans in the ship’s galley were five Marines working diligently. I remember quite vividly the jarring vibration of a f**king submarine crashing into a war ship, causing a mess. I was making pancakes at the time (and none were lost — not bragging just saying).
An infantry Corporal came running in asking if I could spare one of my guys, who happened to be one of his junior Marines. I calmly approved and the Corporal decided to start screaming at his young troop to get his weapon and gear because we were under attack. The young Marine yelled back, “Yes Corporal!” before running to his quarters.
He soon returned, showcasing his, “I thought I was finally going to get to shoot my rifle in combat” face of disappointment. The rest of the crew replied with laughter and taunts.
One of our battalion’s intel Marines informed us that our theories — we hit a whale, we ran aground, we were attacked by pirates — were not only incorrect, but the hapless ramblings of the simple-minded. He then told us we would not be allowed to call out or use the internet, that all coms were being controlled, and that we were hit by our own submarine. We took him seriously until that last part.
After breakfast was ready and the crew sat down to eat in the ship’s mess area, we turned on the television for some news. We were surprised to see that not only was everything intel said true, but also that we had leaked around 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the straights. We ended up dry-docking the ship on an island off the coast of Saudi Arabia known as Bahrain.
Beautiful location, lots of black flags — if you’ve never been, I don’t recommend it.
After six weeks of dry dock repairs, the New Orleans was back in the ocean ready for duty. It was determined that the incident was solely the fault of the Hartford and its Captain, who was relieved of command along with others. Damages to the New Orleans totaled $2.3 million dollars, which may seem like a lot until compared with the $120 million dollar price tag attached to the Hartford repairs.
I actually had a beer with one of the crew of the U.S.S. Hartford. We compared stories of the incident in which he shared with me that the submarine spun like a football — nearly 90 degrees in the water (a lot for a sub). The collision trashed the entire ship and administered one of the most jarring wake-up calls in U.S. naval history.