The Hobson Collision - III

Wasp Radar Failure Admitted,
First Hint of Carrier Trouble

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By the United Press.
Bayonne, N.J., May 13. - The commander of the Wasp testified today that the aircraft carrier's radar failed shortly before it knifed into the destroyer-mine sweeper Hobson, which sank with a loss of 176 lives.

Captain Burnham C. McCaffree told a three-man naval board of inquiry that the Wasp's radar failed just after a watch officer reported the Hobson 3100 yards away during a simulated night attack in mid- ocean on April 16.

Capt. McCaffree said he was forced to depend on visual observations from that time until the crash, and that visual observation was "extremely difficult" because the ships were operating with only "red truck lights."

The skipper said he followed the course of the destroyer through binoculars and ordered "all engines back emergency" when the truck lights of the Hobson began to move steadily closer. However, the Hobson's lights "closed rapidly and the ship passed across."

Only Minute Elapsed

A portion of Capt. McCaffree's testimony was taken behind locked doors for security purposes.

Counsel for the court, composed of three rear admirals, asked the soft-spoken skipper how much time elapsed between his order to back all engines and the collision.

"About one minute." Capt. McCaffree replied.

"And at the time you gave the order, you knew the Hobson was in dangerous proximity? Did it occur to you to give a whistle signal?"

"Yes." Capt. McCaffree answered.

However, he went on to explain that he felt the whistle signal would be confusing because of the nearness of the two ships. He said he did not believe he would have had time to sound the whistle three times. One whistles he said signifies a right turn, two blasts a left turn, and three blasts means reverse the engines.

Later, Capt. McCaffree, an An napolis graduate, was asked who had control of the Wasp at the time of the collision and the skipper replied: "I did."

"Just Rained Lifejackets"

Failure of the radar aboard the Wasp was the first hint of any trouble on the giant carrier prior to the collision.

All earlier testimony had indicated that Lieut. Commander William J. Tierney, captain of the Hobson, had lapsed somewhere in negotiating the night maneuver.

After the collision, Capt. McCaffree said there was "no organized search" immediately for survivors. He said it "just rained lifejackets."

Capt. McCaffree, who testified for 35 minutes, said the Wasp jettisoned 59 inflated lifeboats to the Hobson crew members, 1250 lifejackets, and 11 lifeboats.

"There were so many people in the water that there was no organized search," he said. "We just picked up everyone we could."

On Monday, the three-man board heard a survivor of the Hobson quote his dead captain as saying, "somebody didn't change course," just before the collision.

Seaman Peter A. Mahoney of Providence said he ran to the chart house when the bow of the Wasp knifed into the Hobson and saw Commander Tierney.

"The ship was listing badly but I didn't think then we would sink." Seaman Mahoney added. "I asked him, 'What happened captain?'

"He said 'somebody didn't change course.' Then he was washed away by the sea."

Ensign Donald E. Lane of Buuchanan, N.J., testified he was watching the Hobson's radar screen before the crash.

"I saw the distance between the Wasp and the Hobson closing fast," he said. "When it shortened to 1240 yards, I called the bridge and I asked them what the hell they were doing with the range closing so fast."

"I asked them if they had missed the signal (from the Wasp that it was making a sharp right turn). The said no, they were making the turn now."
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Go back to the Hobson Collision Page

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Thanks to the USS Wasp Association for information.
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