Honda (Pedernales) Point, California, Disaster, 8 September 1923
Ammunition on Wrecked Destroyers
Point Arguello Radio Compass Station,
About 3 miles south scene of Destroyer Wrecks
19 October 1923
From: Lieutenant Charles F. Osborn (CC), US Navy
Officer-in-Charge at scene of Destroyer Wrecks, Honda, Calif.
To: Commandant, Twelfth Naval District, and Operating Base, San Francisco, California.
Subject: Ammunition on Wrecked Destroyers, (Chief of Naval Operations’ letter #32467/392-(Fb)-0 of September 22, 1923).
1. None of the ammunition has been removed from any of the seven destroyers wrecked off Point Pedernales, California. The Navy Salvaging Party removed and threw overboard the dangerous torpedo-warhead detonators of the Fuller, the Woodbury, Chauncey, S.P. Lee and the Nicholas. The depth charge bomb detonators were taken off the Chauncey.
2. Of the vessels still above water, the Chauncey, the S.P. Lee, the Woodbury, and the Nicholas, the magazines are completely flooded. The Fuller, the Delphy, and the Young are submerged. It is probable that the Woodbury, and the S.P. Lee will capsize during the next period of bad weather and heavy surf. The ammunition problem is not solved by the capsizing and partial sinking of a ship, because the vessel is broken to pieces by the surf, as in the case of the Young. Some of the demolished sections containing ammunition, may drift on to the beach. There is a section of the Young, which has drifted about five hundred feet south and this part is half submerged against the bow of the Chauncey. A second section of the Young has drifted two thousand feet from the hull proper and is on the beach.
3. A number of the depth charge bombs from the racks on the sterns of the Destroyers have been washed ashore. Some of these bombs have drifted considerable distances from the Wrecks. The bombs are not dangerous, unless opened up, as they do not contain detonators.
4. To remove any of the ammunition from any vessel now requires diving operations, or in some cases the pumping out of the magazines. By either means the ammunition on the Chauncey and on the S.P. Lee can be recovered. This question has been discussed with the Contractor, on several occasions, and some plans were drawn up, but to date no attempt has been made to enter the magazines. Naturally the Contractor wishes to secure the more expensive and more accessible equipment before he undertakes diving work.
5. Apparently the Contractor intends to confine all his efforts to salvaging the guns and torpedo tubes and deck gear from the Chauncey and from the S.P. Lee, before attempting to do any work on the outboard Ships. The limited equipment that he has now will not permit doing anything else.
6. The Contractor has reduced his Force by releasing his Diver, and Diver’s Attendant, temporarily, for another job with the Company. He has also exchanged some of his riggers for cheaper labor.
7. In view of the general bad weather and sea conditions, and of the slow progress that has been made to date by the Contractor, and of the limited equipment now available, it is recommended that the hulls be destroyed as they lay. If dynamite be used, it is thought that the hulls with everything in them including the dangerous ammunition will be completely demolished.
Charles F. Osborn
Commander, Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet
Commandant, Mare Island Navy Yard