Sunday, December 10, 2006

General Quarters

I picked up a dvd of the old Victory at Sea tv show of the '50's at Walmart the other day and have been watching it this afternoon.

One little part that caught my interest was some combat footage of the crew of a destroyer going to General Quarters.

General Quarters is both an order and a state of readiness. The order is a shipwide order for all crew to report to battle stations and prepare for combat. The state of readiness simply describes a situation where combat is imminent and the crew is ready for it.

The thing that caught my attention in the combat footage was deck sailors grabbing lifevests and putting them on as they ran for for their battle stations.

I was a deck sailor on a destroyer that went to General Quarters in Vietnam. We grabbed flakvests, not lifevests. Lifevests where stored at all battle stations but I can't recall anyone actually wearing one. We would have put them on if we'd received an order to prepare to abandon ship. But things never got that far.
I guess they just didn't have adequate flackvests in WWII and the lifevests served double duty. I don't really know.

I'm not sure how many times we came under fire. My recollection is 6, but my ships unit citation said 7. Maybe they counted the time we heard small arms fire when we were hiding behind Tiger Island to escape shore guns from the mainland. We never could figure out if the small arms were aimed at us or maybe they were just squirrel hunting or something. We could hear the firing, and we were very close to the island, but nothing hit us that was could detect. In any event the next day the AF sent some B52's to just pretty much level the island and we never heard any more small arms coming from it.

But, I was talking about general quarters. When a ship goes to general quarters there's a particular announcement that is made by the Bos'n Mate of the Watch. He blows a tune on the pipe called "All Hands". It's a long, haunting type tune, almost bluesy. But it's a fairly long tune. Then he makes the announcement. I don't recall the exact language but it's something like. "General Quarters. General Quarters. All hands man your battle stations. This is not a drill. General Quarters". Something like that.

We only went to general quarters the first time we got shot at. Since we stayed at Condition II whenever we were on station (that's the battle ready condition where all guns are manned and at least half the crew is on some kind of battle watch) and our standing orders where to return fire while retreating, the Captain decided we didn't really need to go to General Quarters. Whenever we started taking fire we'd just pass the word that we were under fire needed to close all water tight doors and non-watch standers should stay off deck. Then steer 090 (due East) All ahead full. That's the course and speed to cut and run from the Vietnam shoreline.

But that first time we did go to General Quarters. The BMOW went to announce GQ and this is what came out. First, rather than play all hands he blew a single note on the bos'n pipe. Then his announcement came out. "General Quarters. General Quarters. This is not a drill. This is not a drill. This is not a drill. This is not a drill. This is not a drill. This is not a drill. Repeat. This is not a drill". Then I think one more note on the pipe. Then "General Quarters" just in case nobody understood.

As a side note, it's interesting how the meaning of nautical terms changes meaning according to the situation.

We were homeported in San Diego. When at home the order "Steer 090" meant "Okay, that's enough sailing around, let's go home for the night". When in Vietnam the order "Steer 090" meant "Run, sailor boy, run"

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Blogger marvin said...

I was stationed on the USS Nimitz. I was there onboard in 1988 and 89. Before deployment, the fleet would undergo rigorous training in an exercise dubbed "RefTra", which lasted about 3 weeks as I recall. I comprised of multiple daily mock damage control drills. Either we were hit by gunfire or a nuclear weapon was detonated in our vicinity. Throughout the ship there were numerous damage control lockers to which a certain number of men were assigned. It was each man's responsibility to know his role within that locker in case of an actual situation. Sadly, I must regret that we did have an actual situation while out in the IO. An airman skipped a part of his periodic maintenance and caused a missile to be fired at a tanker. We lost two men that night. They say the flight deck of an aircraft carrier is one of the most dangerous work environments there is, and I'm inclined to agree. I can say, though not without a note of sadness, that the response of the crew was urgent and professional. I can also add that I am glad that we served in peacetime.

12:44 PM  
Blogger boomer said...

was the ship by any chance the USS Hull?

11:04 AM  
Blogger boomer said...

was your ship the USS Hull by any chance? was a sonarman on the hull til 69. jeff lane

11:06 AM  
Blogger lovnlite said...

This was the call to General Quarters on the USS Coral Sea.

This is NOT a drill !
This is NOT a drill !
General Quarters, General Quarters !
All hands man your battle stations !
The traffic pattern is up and forward to starboard, down and aft to port.
Material condition Zebra will be set in 5 minutes.
Manned and ready reports in 6 minutes.
On my mark, the time is......

6:50 PM  

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