Emergency Breakaway – USS St Louis

Re-supplying a ship under way at sea is dangerous all by itself. Two ships, sailing close to each other connected by steel cables. One mistake could send the ships crashing together, or strain and sever the cables causing havok on the deck. In a carefully choreographed production, supplies and sometimes personnel would get transferred between the two ships as quickly as possible.

When the re-supply ship is a tanker the danger is escalated. Multiple lines are strung, then thick fuel hoses are passed across and locked into place. As the fuel transfer begins thousands of gallons of fuel stream through those hoses. Any accident, any mistake could destroy both ships in a massive fireball

I happened to be on deck during one refueling, watching the intricate “dance” on the deck. Of course, no unnecessary personnel were allowed anywhere near the portion of the deck being used for refueling. Suddenly the worst scenario developed, incoming enemy aircraft!

The hoses popped loose and then cables were released. The hoses fell into the water. The ship lurched hard to the left as the tanker veered hard right. I had to grab something to keep from falling over. Stuff was tumbling across the deck from the high side to the low side. Despite the apparent chaos, and the occasional tumbling sailor, activity on the deck did not stop during the breakaway. Seemed like each Sailor had something specific he was doing and was not going to be distracted.

The aircraft never did get to us, no idea what went on there. And we didn’t try to re-establish the refuel. Just kept what we had and went on.

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