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Greeneville (SSN-772)

1996–

The first U.S. Navy ship named for the town in Tennessee named for Major General Nathanael Greene (7 August 1742–19 June 1786), who served with distinction in the Continental Army during the American War for Independence.

(SSN-772: displacement 6,927; length 362'; beam 33'; draft 31'; speed 25 knots; complement 110; armament 12 Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes for UGM-109 Tomahawk submarine-launched cruise missiles and UGM-84 Harpoon submarine launched anti-ship missiles, and four torpedo tubes for Mk 48 Advanced Capability (ADCAP) torpedoes; class Los Angeles)

Greeneville (SSN-772) was laid down on 28 February 1992 at Newport News, Va., by Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co.; launched on 17 September 1994; sponsored by Mary E. Gore, wife of Vice President Albert A. Gore Jr.; and was commissioned on 16 February 1996 at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Cmdr. Robert H. Guy Jr., in command.

The submarine shifted from the Atlantic Fleet to the Pacific Fleet, steaming from Naval Station (NS) Norfolk, Va., on 4 March 1997, passing through the Panama Canal on 12 March, visiting San Diego and Alameda, Calif., from 20–22 March and 25–27 March, respectively, and reaching her new home port of NS Pearl Harbor, Hi., on 11 April. She subsequently became a test platform for the Advanced Sea, Air, Land (SEAL) Delivery System, an innovative special operations vehicle.

Greeneville, Cmdr. Scott D. Waddle in command, and Japanese fishing and training vessel Ehime Maru, owned and operated by Ehime Prefecture, Japan, collided in Hawaiian waters at 1343 on 9 February 2001. The day was slightly overcast and a gentle breeze touched the sea, which rolled in three to four foot swells, and lookouts could see up to six miles. A coastal waters weather forecast, however, advised caution for the waters south of the islands from Kauai to Maui because of isolated thunderstorms to the east that generated strong, gusty 15 to 20 knot winds, which, in turn, produced waves of 8 to 12 feet. Ehime Maru had sailed from the Japanese home islands on 10 January for a 74-day training voyage, stopping for a day at Pier 9 at Honolulu, Hi. There she embarked 20 crewmembers, 13 students, and two teachers, and sailed for fishing grounds located about 300 nautical miles south of Oahu. Greeneville, meanwhile, embarked 16 passengers for a distinguished visitor cruise, and set sail at 0757 for an area bounded by 21°10ˈN, 19°40ˈN, 158°00ˈW, and 157°00ˈW.

Greeneville (SSN-772) 1996-Ehime Maru
Ehime Maru steams serenely in happier times. (Unattributed or dated photograph, Marine Accident No. DCA-01-MM-022, Page 2, NTSB/MAB-05/01, National Transportation Safety Board)

During the afternoon watch, some of the civilian visitors blocked Waddle’s view of a video monitor that displayed the images seen through the periscope, while Greeneville ascended to a depth of 60 feet (periscope depth). Both vessels ominously closed each other during the following minutes, and Waddle later testified that he “swept the scope in low power, went to high power, looked, then panned to the right, saw the island [Oahu]…I can only see the mountain peak, I can’t see the mountains…because of this white haze…Then I could see an airplane taking off…I panned to the right where I thought I would see [S-13 — the submarine’s contact designation for the Japanese ship] the Ehime Maru. I looked over at the remote repeater [own-ship’s data] and I saw the numbers and [thought] that looks right. That’s where the guy is. Didn’t see him. Then went to low power and then turned to the right. I think… the Ehime Maru was perhaps further to the right, and as I swept in low power…missed her. And that’s the only explanation that I can think of as to why I missed the vessel. It was perhaps too far to the right out of my field of view when I was doing my high power search thinking that the degree of optics that I was covering would encompass and overlap that area of uncertainty.”

Waddle said that because there were “no visual contacts” and because the boat’s sonar and electronic support measures did not report threat contacts, “I called [an] emergency deep as a training evolution…It was obvious that it took the control room party by surprise, which, for a training evolution of this type, I intended to do.”

At 1340 Greeneville descended and prepared to carry out an emergency main ballast tank blow—a submarine uses high pressure air to force water out of ballast tanks as rapidly as possible to bring her back to the surface in the shortest possible time. Ehime Maru steamed barely one nautical mile from Greeneville as she turned to course 340°. Several of the visitors manned controls during the ascent, though experienced crewmen supervised the passengers, while the rest held on to whatever they could grab as the submarine rose at a sharp angle. Greeneville suddenly shuddered and a loud noise echoed through the boat. “What the hell was that?” Waddle purportedly exclaimed. The submarine slowed and the commanding officer scanned the periscope, announcing that they had collided with another ship.

The submarine impacted Ehime Maru’s port aft quarter, and her bridge watchstanders looked aft and saw Greeneville broach the surface. Within five seconds the ship lost power, including her back-up systems. The Japanese activated their emergency position indicating radio beacon, but water and fuel flooded into the engine control room. The first oiler afterward recalled that crewmen struggled to escape through the total darkness, and he believed that gushing water carried him through the engine room and up through a deck opening to the second deck. The students had just finished lunch and the survivors recounted how water and oil gushed up the stairwell from the deck below. Some of them went aft in the passageway to muster, wading through ankle-deep oily water.

Ehime Maru settled in the water, and then sank by her stern at a 30° to 45° angle within five minutes. Some of her crew and students went into the water, or waves washed them overboard. Two students were washed off the ladder into the sea. Other people reached the top of the pilothouse, only to be swept off by swells as the ship sank. Some of the survivors afterward chillingly described how the sinking ship dragged them underwater, but that their lifejackets automatically inflated and carried them to the surface. A heavy sheen of oil covered the water after she disappeared beneath the waves. Nine people perished in the tragedy, and ten others suffered injuries.

Greeneville steamed on the surface toward the rafts and debris, while the bridge watchstanders searched for survivors. The submarine established a medical treatment station, manned by a hospital corpsman, in the wardroom. Control room sailors searched the area using both periscopes. Rough seas prevented the men from opening the main deck hatches, and the sail access trunk thus provided the only safe outside access. During the tense minutes following the collision, the commanding officer, officer of the deck, lookout, and two divers manned the bridge. They rigged a Jacob’s ladder -- a rope ladder with wooden or plastic steps -- down the side of the sail. As Greeneville neared the three life rafts of survivors her watchstanders spoke to the Japanese, but they experienced communications issues because of the language barrier. The submariners knew from radio messages, however, that additional help was on the way.

Multiple commands looked for survivors or made for the area to assist during the 22-day search, including USCG Aircraft No. 6570, a Eurocopter HH-65A Dolphin, a USCG Lockheed HH-130H Hercules, USCG cutters Assateague (WPB-1337) and Kittiwake (WPB-87316), the USAF 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, the Federal Aviation Administration, and two Japanese civilian vessels. No. 6570 reached the area about 45 minutes after the collision, and searched for people amidst the debris in the water. A USCG 21-foot rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) arrived and passed among the liferafts, counting survivors and identifying people who had sustained injuries. A USCG 41-foot rescue boat also reached the area, and the Dolphin lowered its rescue swimmer to the boat, which then maneuvered to the liferafts, which the survivors had tied together. The swimmer moved from raft to raft, assessing the condition of the survivors and treating injuries. The four most seriously injured people were taken to Straub Hospital, which treated three of them for nausea and eye and throat irritations stemming from diesel fuel ingestion or hypothermia. The oiler was diagnosed with a fractured right clavicle and hospitalized for five days.

Capt. Anthony T. Cortese meanwhile relieved Waddle of his command of Greenville, and Cmdr. David S. Bogdan relieved Cortese in April. The submarine required an estimated $1.44 million worth of repairs while in drydock at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, from 10 February–11 April. At 1129 on 16 February, Scorpio II, a Navy remotely operated vehicle, discovered Ehime Maru sitting almost upright in 2,003 feet of water, about 1,000 yards from her reported collision point.

Greeneville (SSN-772) 1996-010221-N-0000X-003
Greeneville sits atop blocks in Drydock No. 1 at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, Hi., 21 February 2001. (Unattributed U.S. Navy Photograph 010221-N-0000X-003, Navy NewsStand)
Greeneville (SSN-772) 1996-011014-N-XXXXL-002
Diving support vessel Rockwater 2 lifts Ehime Maru from the ocean floor to a shallow-water recovery site off the coast of Honolulu, 24 October 2001. Electric work-class remotely operated vehicle Quest observes the wreckage. (Unattributed U.S. Navy Photograph 011014-N-XXXXL-002, Navy NewsStand)
Greeneville (SSN-772) 1996-030329-N-5637H-001
Women Divers Hall of Fame inductees Lt. Cmdr. Lori Yost (left), and Cmdr. Gina Harden (right) pose with famed Navy diver, Capt. Bobie Scholley (middle), prior to an induction ceremony where Harden received her Women Divers Hall of Fame certificate and pin, Navy Recruiting District, N.Y., 29 March 2003. Yost is one of the Navy divers who descends on the wreck of Ehime Maru during the salvage and recovery efforts. (Journalist 1st Class John Harrington, U.S. Navy Photograph 030329-N-5637H-001, Navy NewsStand)

Further trouble plagued Greeneville when the submarine, Cmdr. Lindsay R. Hankins in command, and amphibious transport dock Ogden (LPD-5), Cmdr. William R. Edwards in command, collided off the Omani coast on 27 January 2002. The accident occurred while Greeneville attempted to transfer a couple of men via a RHIB to Ogden. Rear Adm. John D. Stufflebeem, Joint Staff Deputy Director of Operations for Current Readiness and Capabilities, described the maneuvering leading up to the mishap as “they bumped—The Starboard aft side of the USS Ogden, to the control side of the port side of the USS Greeneville. The two aft ends touched.”

Neither vessel reported casualties, but the impact damaged the submarine’s port stern plane, and she accomplished repairs at Diego Garcia, British Indian Ocean Territory, from 4–11 February. Ogden sustained a diesel leak in a fuel tank below her water line and completed repairs at Bahrain, from 1–22 February, where Capt. Jon F. Berg-Johnson, the executive officer of amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), relieved Edwards of his command of the ship on 21 February. Cmdr. Lowell D. Crow relieved Berg-Johnson on 6 March.

Greeneville (SSN-772) 1996-121214-N-DB801-113
Machinist Mate 2nd Class Ryan Gagnier runs to his wife for the first hug when Greeneville returns from a deployment to the Western Pacific to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hi., 14 December 2012. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Steven Khor, U.S. Navy Photograph 121214-N-DB801-113, Navy NewsStand)
Greeneville (SSN-772) 1996-121214-N-DB801-041
Commercial tug Tiger 1 nudges Greeneville to the pier at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, 14 December 2012. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Steven Khor, U.S. Navy Photograph 121214-N-DB801-041, Navy NewsStand)

Detailed history under construction.

Mark L. Evans

30 September 2015

Published: Thu Oct 01 07:54:41 EDT 2015