Named to honor John Sidney McCain (1884–1945), the distinguished carrier task force commander during World War II, and his son, John Sidney McCain Jr. (1911–1981), the former Commander in Chief, Pacific Command.
John Sidney McCain -- born in Teoc, Miss., on 9 August 1884, to John S. and Elizabeth Y. McCain -- graduated from high school in Carrollton, Miss., and attended the University of Mississippi for a year before entering the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., on appointment from his state on 25 September 1902. Following his graduation on 12 February 1906, he reported to the Asiatic Station, passing as a Midshipman and serving successively in Ohio (Battleship No. 12), Baltimore (Cruiser No. 3), gunboat Panay, and Chauncey (Destroyer No. 3). He was commissioned an ensign in February 1908 (after the two years required by law before commissioning). He married Katherine Vaulx, and their union produced three children: Catherine V., James G., and John S. Jr. (see below).
In May 1908 he reported to Naval Station Cavite, Philippines, where he served for six months as the assistant to the Captain of the Yard. Then joining Connecticut (Battleship No. 18) at Manila in the Philippines in December 1908, he made a part of the global cruise of the Great White Fleet, returning to the United States by way of the Suez Canal. In April 1909 he reported on board Pennsylvania (Armored Cruiser No. 4) while she lay anchored at San Francisco, Calif. In the autumn McCain was transferred to Washington (Armored Cruiser No. 11) and sailed in her for the celebration of the Chilean Centennial in 1910, then passed through the Strait of Magellan the following year to join the Atlantic Fleet.
He was detached from Washington in February 1912, and during the next two years served as Officer in Charge of the Machinist’s Mates’ School, Charleston Navy Yard, S.C. In May 1914, he joined Colorado (Armored Cruiser No. 7), in which he served as executive officer and engineer officer until September 1915, when he became the engineer officer on board San Diego (Armored Cruiser No. 6). McCain remained on the ship while she performed Atlantic escort duty during World War I until May 1918, when he was transferred ashore to the Bureau of Navigation (BuNav), Navy Department, Washington, D.C. He worked there through the Armistice, and was appointed, in August 1920, a member of a board to formulate rules for fixing the precedence of temporary and reserve officers transferred to the Regular Navy.
Detached from that bureau in June 1921, he was ordered to the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., for service in battleship Maryland (BB‑46). He stayed in that ship as her navigator through her commissioning on 21 July 1921 until May 1923, when he returned to BuNav for a second tour, this time in charge of the Officer Records Section. In July 1926 he assumed command of cargo ship Sirius (AK-15), and in September of that year was transferred to battleship New Mexico (BB–40), in which he served as her executive officer until April 1928. For a year thereafter he taught at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., and then (June 1929–June 1931) was Head of the Recruiting Section of BuNav.
McCain next commanded ammunition ship Nitro (AE–2) and in April returned to BuNav, this time as Officer in Charge, Planning Division. In June 1935 he reported for flight training at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Fla. McCain was designated a Naval Aviator on 19 August 1936, and began an assignment as Commander Aircraft Squadrons and Attending Craft at Fleet Air Base Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone, with additional duty as commanding officer of the base. On 4 June 1937, he relieved Capt. Patrick N. L. Bellinger as commanding officer of aircraft carrier Ranger (CV-4), and from July 1939 until January 1941 commanded NAS San Diego, Calif. Upon assuming command of Aircraft, Scouting Force, on 23 January 1941, he was promoted to rear admiral, and then led the planes of the Eastern Sea Frontier against German U-boats (submarines) that attacked Allied ships off the East Coast of North America and in the West Indies during Operation Paukenschlag (Drumbeat). Through 31 August 1942, U-boats sank a staggering total of 609 ships of 3.1 million tons, one fourth of the Allied merchant ships lost to submarine attacks in the Battle of the Atlantic. United States naval planes shepherded convoys, however, detected U-boats, and searched for survivors of attacks, and during this period, the Allies extended a coastal convoy system across American and Caribbean waters and convoyed nearly 157,000 U.S. troops to the British Isles.
On 10 April 1942, the reorganization of the Pacific Fleet abolished the Battle and Scouting Forces and set up new type commands for ships and aviation. With the change, the titles of the aviation type commands became Aircraft Carriers, Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr., in command, and Patrol Wings, Rear Adm. McCain in command. On 20 May, McCain reported as Commander Air Force, South Pacific, a new command established to direct the operations of tender and shore-based aviation in the South Pacific area.
The Americans landed on Japanese-held Guadalcanal, Florida, Gavutu, Tanambogo, and Tulagi in the Solomon Islands during Operation Watchtower -- the first U.S. land offensive of the war -- on 7 August 1942. McCain led Task Force (TF) 63, providing Allied planes flying from New Caledonia and the New Hebrides (Vanuatu) that supported the landings and the subsequent fighting ashore. He later received the Distinguished Service Medal for expanding and developing shore and tender bases, maintaining scouting and strike flights, establishing effective cooperation between the American, Australian, and New Zealand forces that fought under his command, and contributing “greatly to occupation of the Guadalcanal-Tulagi Area” and to the “destruction and serious damaging of numerous aircraft and vessels of the enemy Japanese Navy...”
Returning to the United States, he served as Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) (2 October 1942–August 1943). On 18 August 1943, Secretary of the Navy William F. “Frank” Knox established the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air) to provide naval aviation authority commensurate with its wartime responsibility, charging it with responsibility for “the preparation, readiness and logistic support of the naval aeronautic operating forces.” By other orders issued the same day, five divisions were transferred from BuAer to form the nucleus of the new office, and McCain assumed command of the organization.
He was detached on 5 August 1944, when the Fast Carrier Task Force was reorganized into the First and Second Fast Carrier Task Forces, Pacific, Vice Admirals Marc A. Mitscher and McCain in command, respectively. McCain’s force saw almost continuous action against the Japanese through the end of the war. On 14 September 1944, McCain detached Task Group 38.1 from the main forces and attacked Mindanão in the Philippines, supporting Operation Trade Wind, the landings by the Army’s 41st Infantry Division, on Morotai, Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia), the following day.
On 12 October 1944, Mitscher attacked Japanese shipping, aerodromes, and industrial plants on Formosa (Taiwan), regarded by Allied intelligence analysts as the strongest and best-developed enemy base south of the Japanese home islands, and on northern Luzon. The enemy counterattacked vigorously, and the following day an aerial torpedo slammed into heavy cruiser Canberra (CA-70) while she sailed only 85 miles from Formosa. McCain commanded Task Group (TG) 38.1 and covered the withdrawal of the damaged ship. Heavy cruiser Wichita (CA-45) took Canberra in tow, and the three light cruisers of Cruiser Division 13, Rear Adm. Laurance T. DuBose in command, four destroyers from TG 38.3, and two from TG 38.1 were detached to provide cover. Fleet tug Munsee (ATF-107) then relieved Wichita of towing Canberra and the group set course for Ulithi.
Japanese planes relentlessly struck the ships, however, and on 14 October, an aerial torpedo damaged light cruiser Houston (CL-81). Destroyer Cowell (DD-547) lay alongside the cruiser to render assistance in her salvage efforts but fouled Houston and sustained damage. Heavy cruiser Boston (CA-69) -- later relieved by fleet tug Pawnee (ATF-74) -- took Houston in tow. The intense enemy air attacks on TF 38, together with radio propaganda broadcasts that overestimated the destruction that the Japanese planes wrought, persuaded Adm. Halsey, Commander Third Fleet, to withdraw TG 38.2, Rear Adm. Gerald F. Bogan in command, and TG 38.3, Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman in command, to the eastward to set upon any major Japanese warships that attempted to finish off the “crippled remnants” of TF 38, but the enemy ships did not attack. McCain subsequently received the Navy Cross for interposing his “Task Group between the crippled ships and the major enemy air threat and by his skillful and courageous handling of his forces broke up repeated heavy enemy air attacks and contributed in great measure to the ultimate successful salvaging of the two damaged cruisers…
Appalling weather and difficult terrain delayed the development of airfields on Leyte in the Philippines and the requirement for continued carrier air support influenced the cancellation of a fast carrier strike on Tōkyō, Japan. McCain led TF 38 on two days of carrier raids on Japanese airfields and shipping around Luzon and Mindoro on 5 and 6 November 1944. Planes from aircraft carriers Essex (CV-9) and Lexington (CV-16), and small aircraft carrier Langley (CVL-27), sank heavy cruiser Nachi and smaller vessels. Japanese retaliatory air strikes included a kamikaze suicide plane that crashed Lexington, but the ship controlled the blaze and her guns splashed another kamikaze as it plunged toward Ticonderoga (CV-14). Lexington underwent repairs at Ulithi.
On 11 November, McCain attacked a Japanese reinforcement convoy of four transports and five destroyers in Ormoc Bay at Leyte, sinking all but one destroyer. On 13 and 14 November, the admiral shifted his strikes to the Manila area and central Luzon and sank light cruiser Kiso, destroyers Akebono, Akishimo, Hatsuharu, and Okinami, and 20 merchant and auxiliary ships. On 14 December, McCain’s seven heavy and six light carriers launched fighter sweeps over airfields on Luzon. The planes continued with successive combat air patrols that spread an aerial blanket over the area to effectively pin-down Japanese aircraft on the island, and accounted for a major share of the estimated 341 enemy aircraft destroyed.
In spite of almost continuous harsh weather during January 1945, the Allies invaded Lingayen Gulf on western Luzon in the Philippines, on 2 January. The Japanese reacted vigorously and their planes attacked the invasion forces during the transit from Leyte Gulf. McCain led TF 38, which included seven heavy and four light carriers, a night group of one heavy and one light carrier, and a replenishment group with one hunter-killer and seven escort carriers, and concentrated on destroying enemy air power and air installations. On 3 January, planes bombed Japanese airfields and ships at Formosa. On 6 January, the strikes shifted to airfields and shipping at Luzon in response to Japanese kamikaze suicide attacks, and on 9 January the Pescadores and Ryūkyū Islands, claiming the destruction of more than 100 Japanese aircraft and 40,000 tons of merchant and small warships.
During the night of 9 to 10 January, McCain led his ships on a high-speed run through Luzon Strait into the South China Sea. The replenishment group passed through Balintang Channel. On 12 January the carriers launched strikes along 420 miles of the Indochina coast. Planes sank training cruiser Kashii, 14 small warships, ten tankers, and 16 transports and cargo vessels totaling 126,000 tons. The raiders also sank French colonial cruiser Lamotte-Picquet and surveying vessel Octant in proximity to Japanese ships.
The ships sailed northerly courses to evade a typhoon and on 15 January bombed Japanese targets at Hong Kong, along the Chinese coast, Hainan, and Formosa, the following day concentrating on Hong Kong. The planes suffered heavy losses in the face of robust resistance but sank 62,000 tons of shipping. Inclement weather persisted, and the attackers came about from the South China Sea and on 20 January made a nighttime run through Balintang Channel to strike Formosa, the Pescadores, and Okinawa. Japanese planes damaged Ticonderoga and Langley but the next day United States aircraft raided the Ryūkyūs. During three weeks of action McCain claimed to destroy more than 600 Japanese aircraft and 325,000 tons of shipping.
On 21 January 1945, McCain attacked Japanese airfields and ships at Formosa, the Pescadores, and Sakishima Gunto and Okinawa in the Ryūkyūs. During the two-day raid planes sank a guardboat and 22 merchantmen and fishing vessels and damaged installations. A Japanese aircraft glide-bombed Langley, and an accidental explosion of bombs carried by an Eastern TBM-1C Avenger of Torpedo Squadron (VT) 7 damaged Hancock (CV-19). Two kamikaze suicide planes crashed Ticonderoga and their attacks cost the ship 36 planes, 143 killed or missing, and 202 wounded including her commanding officer Capt. Dixie Kiefer. Ticonderoga made for Ulithi for temporary repairs and then to Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton, Wash. On 20 April she completed repairs and on 22 May returned to Ulithi. Despite these casualties, McCain received a Gold Star in lieu of his second award of the Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership of TG 38.1 (1 September–30 October 1944), and of Task Force, Third Fleet (1 November 1944–26 January 1945).
A typhoon struck the Third Fleet, Adm. Halsey in command, off Okinawa on 5 June 1945. The heavy seas damaged 36 ships: battleships Alabama (BB-60), Indiana (BB-58), Massachusetts (BB-59), and Missouri (BB-63); aircraft carriers Bennington (CV-20) and Hornet (CV-12); small aircraft carriers Belleau Wood (CVL-24) and San Jacinto (CVL-30); escort aircraft carriers Attu (CVE-102), Bougainville (CVE-100), Salamaua (CVE-96), and Windham Bay (CVE-92); heavy cruisers Baltimore (CA-68), Quincy (CA-71), and Pittsburgh (CA-72); light cruisers Atlanta (CL-104), Detroit (CL-8), Duluth (CL-87), and San Juan (CL-54); destroyers Blue (DD-744), Brush (DD-745), Dashiell (DD-659), De Haven (DD-727), John Rodgers (DD-574), Maddox (DD-731), McKee (DD-575), Samuel N. Moore (DD-747), Schroeder (DD-501), Stockham (DD-683), and Taussig (DD-746); destroyer escorts Conklin (DE-439), Donaldson (DE-44), and Hilbert (DE-742); ammunition ship Shasta (AE-6); and oilers Lackawanna (AO-40) and Millicoma (AO-73). Inadequate weather reporting and communications hampered the admirals’ responses; however, a court of inquiry found Halsey, McCain, and Rear Admirals Donald B. Beary and Joseph J. Clark negligent in their implementation of precautions learned as a result of a typhoon on 18 December 1944, noting a “remarkable similarity between the situations, actions and results” of the admirals concerning the two storms.
On 10 July 1945, McCain sailed TF 38, initially composed of 14 carriers, on a series of raids against Japanese airfields, ships, and installations from Kyūshū to Hokkaido, Japan. A replenishment group and an antisubmarine group each included escort carriers. After 16 July, TF 37, Vice Adm. Sir H. Bernard Rawlings, RN, in command, formed around British aircraft carriers Formidable (67), Implacable (86), and Victorious (38), reinforced the Americans. Eight days later Indefatigable (10) arrived. The attack began with strikes on airfields in the Tōkyō plains area. The Japanese camouflaged and dispersed most of their aircraft, reducing the aerial opposition encountered but also diminishing the results obtained. On 14 and 15 July, harsh weather compelled McCain to shift the attacks to airfields, vessels, and rails in northern Honshū and Hokkaido. These strikes wrought havoc with the vital shipment of coal across the Tsugaru Strait. On 17 July, the planes returned to bomb targets around Tōkyō, and night combat air patrols of planes from Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) protected U.S. and British ships that bombarded the industrialized Mito-Hitachi area of Honshū. The following day the carriers launched aircraft against the naval station at Yokosuka and airfields near Tōkyō, sinking eight Japanese ships including training cruiser Kasuga and escort destroyer Yaezakura, and damaging five vessels including battleship Nagato. On 19 July, planes damaged battleship Haruna and carriers Amagi and Katsuragi.
McCain attacked Japanese airfields and shipping along the Inland Sea and northern Kyūshū, supported by long-range strikes by Army Air Forces bombers, beginning on 24 July 1945. Carrier planes flew 1,747 sorties and sank 21 ships including battleship-carrier Hyūga, heavy cruiser Tone, training cruiser Iwate, and target ship Settsu, and damaged 17 vessels. On 25, 28, and 30 July he repeated the sweep. On 28 July planes struck targets between Nagoya and northern Kyūshū. Ships sunk included battleship Haruna, battleship-carrier Ise, training ship Izumo, heavy cruiser Aoba, light cruiser Oyodo, escort destroyer Nashi, submarine I-404, and submarine depot ship Komahashi. Additional vessels sustained damage. On 29 July night combat air patrols and spotters from Bon Homme Richard supported U.S. and British ships during a two-day bombardment of Hamamatsu, Honshū.
On 1 August 1945, the admiral brought the ships about to southward to evade a typhoon. On 9 and 10 August, he launched raids against the Honshū-Hokkaido area and on 13 August against Tōkyō. Allied planners intended for these raids to defeat enemy attempts to concentrate planes for further suicide attacks and in preparation to repel an Allied invasion. On 15 August, Adm. Halsey, Commander Third Fleet, announced the end of the war. McCain cancelled the follow-up strikes and recalled the attackers. The first raid of the day had hit Tōkyō and 15 to 20 Japanese fighters intercepted six Grumman F6F Hellcats of Fighting Squadron (VF) 88, embarked on board Yorktown (CV-10), over an airfield at Tokurozama. The Americans claimed nine enemy planes and lost four Hellcats. The second wave approached the coastline but heeded McCain’s recall and jettisoned their ordnance and returned. McCain received a Gold Star in lieu of his third award of the Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership during these strikes, from 28 May to 1 September 1945.
Vice Admiral McCain was detached and ordered to report to Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal for further assignment in September, but he died on 6 September 1945, at his home in Coronado, Calif., while en route. McCain was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 10 September 1945. A Congressional resolution posthumously appointed him to the rank of admiral, effective on the date of his death. “He was imaginative,” Marc Mitscher eulogized him, “and had great personal courage.”
Vice Admiral McCain (left) chats with his son, Cmdr. John S. McCain Jr., on board a U.S. Navy ship, probably submarine tender Proteus (AS-19), in Tōkyō Bay, Japan, circa 2 September 1945, just days before the elder McCain’s death. Note the (surrendered) Japanese submarine anchored in the background. (NH 92607, Adm. John S. McCain Jr. Collection, Photographic Section, Naval History and Heritage Command)
John Sidney McCain Jr.
John Sidney McCain Jr. -- born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on 17 January 1911 to John S. and Katherine McCain -- attended Central High School in Washington, D.C., prior to his appointment (at large) to the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Md., in 1927. He graduated and was commissioned an ensign on 4 June 1931. He married Roberta Wright of Los Angeles, Calif., and their union produced three children: Jean M.; Capt. John S. III, USN (Ret.); and Joseph P.
He served in battleship Oklahoma (BB-37) (June 1931–May 1932), before reporting for instruction in submarines at Naval Submarine Base, New London, Conn. (May–December 1933). McCain served successively in submarines S-46 (SS-157) (December 1933–January 1934); S-45 (SS-156) (January 1934–November 1936); and as the navigator and gunnery officer on board R-13 (SS-90) (November 1936–June 1938). He then returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor (June 1938–May 1940), before becoming the executive officer and navigator of Skipjack (SS-184) (June 1940–April 1941). He next reported as the prospective commanding officer of O-8 (SS-69), while she completed a refit at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pa., commanding her from her recommissioning on 28 April 1941 until May 1942.
Ordered to the Electric Boat Co., at Groton, Conn., he oversaw the fitting out of submarine Gunnel (SS-253) from June 1942, assuming command of the boat upon her commissioning on 20 August. McCain took the submarine on her first war patrol from the United States on 19 October to take part in Operation Torch -- the Allied invasion of North Africa. One of six submarines assigned to Adm. H. Kent Hewitt’s Western Naval Task Force, Gunnel made reconnaissance runs off Fedhala and her crewmen photographed the beaches on 6 November, two days before the landings, and on D-day on 8 November they made infrared signals to guide the approaching fleet to the beachheads. Later that same morning, one of the divisions of Ranger’s Scouting Squadron (VS) 41, returning from a strike on the Vichy targets, sighted the Gunnel, that flashed the correct challenge. One of VS-41’s planes, however, pushed over and attacked McCain’s boat, and Gunnel hastily submerged, later identifying her tormentor as an “Army P-40.” Fortunately, no damage resulted from the “friendly fire” incident, and Gunnel later surfaced to observe the bombardment of Casablanca. Missions well accomplished, McCain concluded the submarine’s first patrol when he brought her into Rosneath, Scotland, on 7 December. He later took Gunnel to the Pacific, where she prowled among Japanese ships. McCain subsequently received the Silver Star for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” against the enemy while commanding Gunnel.
On 14 July 1944, he was ordered to New London, where he served briefly before reporting in October to Electric Boat to fit out another submarine, Dentuda (SS-335). McCain commissioned her on 30 December 1944, and sailed in Dentuda to the Pacific for her first and only war patrol before turning over command at the cessation of the fighting on 14 August 1945. He received the Bronze Star for his “heroic service” while commanding Dentuda.
Returning to the United States in November 1945, he served in the Bureau of Naval Personnel at Washington, as Director of Records, until January 1949. Again ordered to duty afloat, he commanded Submarine Division 71 (January–December 1949), followed by Submarine Division 51 until January 1950. In February 1950, he joined heavy cruiser Saint Paul (CA-73) as her executive officer, and in November of that year returned to the Navy Department. Reporting to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations), he served as Director of the Undersea Warfare Research and Development Branch until March 1953, when he became Commander Submarine Squadron 6.
In July 1954, he assumed command of attack transport Monrovia (APA-31), and in May 1955 was detached from that attack transport for duty as Director of the Progress Analysis Group in Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). In August 1957, he was designated commanding officer of heavy cruiser Albany (CA-123), and the following March was ordered detached for duty in the Office of the CNO. On 23 June 1958, he reported as Chief, Legislative Liaison, Executive Office of the Secretary of the Navy, and on 9 November of that year was promoted to rear admiral. He became Commander Amphibious Group 2 on 10 August 1960, and on 26 May 1961 he assumed the duties of Commander Amphibious Training Command, Atlantic Fleet.
In September 1962, he reported as Chief of Information, Navy Department, Washington. He left that post a year later to assume, as vice admiral, the duties of Commander Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. While serving in that post he received his first Legion of Merit for his leadership of naval forces in the Caribbean during a crisis in the Dominican Republic. In June 1965 he reported as vice chairman of the Delegation to the United National Military Staff Committee at New York. At the same time he became Commander Eastern Sea Frontier and Commander Atlantic Reserve Fleet. In October 1966, with the reorganization of the Reserve Fleets, he was relieved of the latter command.
McCain was detached as vice chairman in April 1967, and on 1 May became Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces in Europe. He received the Distinguished Service Medal for his “exceptionally meritorious service” while maintaining those forces in a high state of readiness, and for anticipating U.S. requirements and preparing “his command with great professional skill for contingency operations during the Middle East crisis, resulting the strategic location of surface, air, and amphibious forces in the Eastern Mediterranean for the most effective utilization in any contingency…” In July 1968, he became Commander in Chief, Pacific, and in August 1972 was detached for duty as Special Assistant to the CNO. President Richard M. Nixon personally awarded McCain the Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership of the Pacific Command, during a ceremony at NS Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in September 1972.
Admiral Noel A. M. Gayler relieved Adm. McCain in command of the Pacific Command on 1 November 1972, who then retired. Admiral McCain suffered a fatal heart attack while returning with his wife from a combined business trip and vacation to Spain and Portugal on board a United States Air Force Lockheed C-5 Galaxy to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on 22 March 1981. The Galaxy changed course and flew him to Loring Air Force Base, Maine, where he was pronounced dead. Memorial Services were held at Fort Myer Chapel, Virginia, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The second ship named John S. McCain. The first, a destroyer, was originally designated DD-928, but was reclassified to a frigate (DL-3) in 1951, reclassified to a guided missile destroyer (DDG-36) on 15 March 1967, and served from 1953–1978.
(DDG-56: displacement 8,960; length 505'; beam 66'; draft 31'; speed 30+ knots; complement 356; armament 1 5-inch, 2 Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for BGM-109 Tomahawks, RIM-156 SM-2MR Standards, and RUM-139 VL-ASROC Antisubmarine Rockets, 8 RGM-84 Harpoons (2 Mk 141 launchers), 2 Mk 15 Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS), 4 .50 caliber machine guns, and 6 Mk 32 torpedo tubes, aircraft embark (but not accommodate) 1 Sikorsky SH-60B Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) Mk III Seahawk; class Arleigh Burke)
John S. McCain (DDG-56) was laid down on 3 September 1991 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works; launched on 26 September 1992; sponsored by Mrs. Cindy H. McCain, wife of Senator John S. McCain III of Ariz.; and commissioned on 2 July 1994, Cmdr. John K. Ross in command.
John S. McCain took part in the 50th anniversary commemoration of the end of WWII (18 August–13 September 1995). On 2 September aircraft carrier Carl Vinson (CVN-70) became the reviewing platform for the International Parade of Ships. Stretching for over three-miles, the formation of 17 vessels included guided missile cruiser Arkansas (CGN-41), John S. McCain, guided missile frigate Crommelin (FFG-37), Canadian frigate Annapolis (DDH.265), Russian guided missile destroyer Udaloy (Type 1155; which also participated with a pair of Russian vessels in Cooperation from the Sea, a disaster relief exercise between the Americans and Russians), and a Russian Ropucha II (Type 775M) class tank landing ship. Hundreds of sailors and marines packed Carl Vinson’s flight deck to watch the display.
President and Mrs. William J. and Hillary R. Clinton stood in a misting rain at the Punchbowl–National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific with a crowd of WWII veterans and their families estimated at 10,000 to honor the 33,143 veterans buried there, where the President delivered his speech “A Grateful Nation Remembers…” He and the first lady then embarked in Carl Vinson with an entourage that included Secretary of the Navy John H. Dalton; Gen. John M. D. Shailikashvili, USA, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO); Adm. Ronald J. Zlatoper, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet; Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jesse Brown; Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon; and 2,000 veterans. Carl Vinson provided national level command, and control for the chief executive during his visit.
The President and his wife dropped a wreath into the sea in memory of the veterans of the war, and he and Runyon unveiled a stamp series commemorating WWII. The postal service marked the special edition stamps entitled “1945: Victory at last” with “first day of issue,” making them collector’s items, and sold over $10,000 worth the first day. The chief executive ate lunch with selected WWII veterans and crewmen, and later that evening the ship hosted a dance in the hangar bay, where Secretary Dalton presented Carl Vinson, Cruiser Destroyer Group 3, and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 14 with a Meritorious Unit Commendation for supporting the commemoration. The Clintons then went ashore to drop red anthuriums at the Arizona (BB-39) Memorial at Battleship Row at Ford Island, after which they reviewed a parade of veterans through Waikiki. The day’s activities included shows by teams from the different services, including the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels). Carl Vinson also hosted about 8,000 visitors during VJ Day (Victory over Japan) activities on 4 September.
John S. McCain approaches aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk (CV-63) during an underway replenishment in the Pacific, 26 January 2003. (PH3 Todd Frantom, U.S. Navy Photograph 030126-N-1810F-002, Navy NewsStand)
John S. McCain deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom I and on the night of 21 March 2003, the destroyer joined attack submarines Columbia (SSN-771) and Providence (SSN-719), and British boats Splendid (S.106) and Turbulent (S.87), as they collectively fired about 50 BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs) against Iraqi military targets located in and around Baghdad. Allied strike planners deconflicted the routes of aircraft and TLAMs to avoid fratricide (hitting friendly forces) as the missiles arced over the horizon toward the Iraqis.
At approximately 0610 on 10 March 2008, John S. McCain’s bridge watch team spotted a fire blazing on a ship on the horizon while the destroyer sailed off the Korean Peninsula, and she came about and closed the ship. Upon nearing the scene, crewmembers discovered a foundering South Korean fishing vessel and sighted a life raft with 11 people on board, and lowered a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) that recovered the survivors. The fishermen did not report any injuries or require medical assistance, but John S. McCain’s sailors provided them with blankets, hot food, and beverages. Several South Korean vessels reached the area and doused the flames on the fishing boat, and the Americans meanwhile transferred the fishermen to a South Korean Coast Guard vessel.
John S. McCain, Cmdr. Thomas C. Halvorson in command, stood in to Vladivostok, Russia, on 7 May 2007, and took part in celebrations commemorating the 62nd anniversary [on 9 May 1945] of the Soviet victory over the Germans during World War II. Some of the ship’s sailors joined their Russian Pacific Fleet counterparts in a parade.
A USAF Boeing B-52H Stratofortress (Tail No. 60-053) of the 20th Bomb Squadron, 2nd Bomb Wing, deployed from Barksdale AFB La., to Andersen AFB and preparing to perform a flyover celebrating Guam’s Liberation Day, crashed about 25 miles northwest of Guam, at 0955 on 21 July 2008. A few clouds at 1,900 feet and scattered clouds at 22,000 feet imposed the only weather restrictions on an otherwise clear day. John S. McCain, Cmdr. John S. Banigan in command, operated in the area while deployed to the Western Pacific and had just sailed from Apra when she received the distress call. The ship increased to flank speed and made for the crash site, arriving within an hour. John S. McCain expanded her search by using her embarked Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk, and by putting a RHIB into the water. Coast Guard patrol boat Assateague (WPB-1337) and seagoing buoy tender Kukui (WLB-203), a Lockheed P-3C Orion flying from Kadena AB on Okinawa, Sikorsky MH-60S Knighthawks of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 25 and two USAF McDonnell Douglas F-15E Strike Eagles of the 389th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flying from Guam, as well as Guam fire and rescue workers also took part in the unsuccessful search for the six crewmembers. John S. McCain received the Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation for her part in the search.
The ship meanwhile resumed her voyage and crossed the equator on 25 July 2008. “I felt great that I completed something like this,” IC3 Mark Alejandro of the ship’s company observed. “My dad did the crossing the line ceremony, and when I was going through it, that’s what was going through my mind. He did this, I can do this.” The destroyer reached Nuku’alofa, Tonga, on 30 July to participate in the events and activities celebrating the coronation of that country’s King George Tupou V.
John S. McCain joins a combined fleet of 26 Japanese and U.S. ships for Exercise Keen Sword 2011, a multi-threat scenario across the Pacific, 10 December 2010. Japanese destroyers Suzunami (DD-114) and Sawagiri (DD-157), respectively, steam in the column to starboard of John S. McCain. (MCSN Cheng S. Yang, U.S. Navy Photograph 101210-N-9626Y-052, Navy News Stand)
A magnitude 9.0 (Mw) undersea megathrust earthquake occurred off the Tōhoku region of Honshū, Japan, at 1446 on 11 March 2011. The earthquake triggered tsunami waves that reached more than 100 feet in height at places, and caused nearly 25,000 casualties, including more than 15,000 killed. The United States initiated Operation Tomodachi (from the Japanese Tomodachi Sakusen — Operation Friend[s]) to provide humanitarian relief to the victims. A total of 24,000 U.S. servicemembers, 189 aircraft, and 24 ships including John S. McCain served in Tomodachi (12 March–4 May 2011).
John S. McCain (front to back), Canadian multi-role patrol frigate Ottawa (FFH.341), and aircraft carrier George Washington (CVN-73) patrol the Pacific, 12 August 2011. (U.S. Navy Photograph 110812-N-ZZ999-002, Commander, Seventh Fleet website)
On 26 May 2017, John S. McCain, Cmdr. Alfredo J. Sanchez in command, operated as part of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 15, with the Forward Deployed Naval Forces and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 5, when she stood out of Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, for a scheduled six-month deployment to the Western Pacific. The veteran warship operated in the East China Sea, South China Sea, and visited ports in Vietnam, Australia, the Philippines, and Japan.
On the morning of 21 August 2017, John S. McCain reached a position about 50 nautical miles east of Singapore, and approached the Singapore Strait and Strait of Malacca, in transit to a scheduled port of call at Changi Naval Base, Singapore. The two straits form a combined ocean passage that becomes one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, and more than 200 vessels pass through the channels each day. John S. McCain thus entered the southern end of the strait. In the predawn hours the moon had set and the skies were overcast. There was no illumination and the sun would not rise until 0658. The seas were calm, with one to three foot swells. All of the ship’s navigation and propulsion equipment functioned properly.
Cmdr. Sanchez reached the ship’s bridge at 0115, and at 0418 John S. McCain set a modified navigation detail as she approached within ten nautical miles of shoals. The detail supplemented the on watch team with a navigation evaluator and shipping officer, providing additional people and resources in the duties of navigation and managing the ship’s relative position to other vessels. Cmdr. Jessie L. Sanchez, the executive officer, reported to the pilothouse at 0430 to provide additional supervision and oversight to enter port. The warship entered the busy Middle Channel of the Singapore Strait at 0520, but did not intended to set the sea and anchor detail, a team the Navy used for transiting narrower channels to enter port, until 0600.
John S. McCain steamed following procedures established for U.S. Navy surface ships when operating at sea before sunrise, including being at “darkened ship” — the crew shut off all of the exterior lighting except for the navigation lights that provided identification to other vessels, and switched all of the interior lighting to red instead of white to facilitate crew rest and enable watchstander’s vision to adjust to the darkness. John S. McCain set “Modified Zebra,” meaning that all doors inside the ship, and all hatches, the openings located on the floor between decks, at the main deck and below, were shut to help secure the boundaries between different areas of the ship in case of flooding or fire. Sailors left the watertight scuttles on the hatches open in order to allow easy transit between spaces.
Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez noticed that the helmsman had difficulty maintaining course while also adjusting the throttles for speed control. At 0519 he therefore ordered the watch team to divide their duties of steering and manning the throttles, maintaining course control with the helmsman while shifting speed control to the lee helm station, a sailor who sat directly next to the helmsman at the panel to control the two functions, known as the Ship’s Control Console. Sanchez’s unplanned decision confused the watch team, however, and inadvertently led to steering control transferring to the lee helm without the other crewmembers’ awareness — he only ordered them to shift the ship’s speed control. Because the helmsman did not know that they had transferred the steering to the lee helm, he perceived that the ship suddenly lost steering.
Transferring the steering control to the lee helm furthermore caused the rudder to go amidships, and because the helmsman steered 1–4° of right rudder to maintain the destroyer’s course before the transfer, the amidships rudder deviated her course to port. The helmsman reported that he lost steering at 0521, while the ship plotted a course of 229° at 18.6 knots in a port turn. Three minutes later, the captain ordered the ship to slow from 15.8 knots to ten knots, and she reached a course of 178° in her turn. The lee helmsman, however, only reduced the port shaft’s speed as the throttles were not coupled together, and the starboard shaft continued at 20 knots for another 68 seconds before he slowed it. The combination of the wrong rudder direction, and the two shafts working opposite to one another thus caused John S. McCain to turn unintentionally to port into the heavily congested traffic area in proximity to three ships, including merchant vessel Alnic MC, a 30,000 ton Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker also steaming inbound.
John S. McCain steered a collision course with Alnic MC, yet most of the people manning the destroyer’s bridge lost their situational awareness during the confusion. Approximately three minutes after John S. McCain reported her loss of steering, the ship regained positive steering control at aft steering, and the lee helm gained control of both throttles for speed and corrected the mismatch between the port and starboard shafts. Their actions proved too late, however, and at about 0524 John S. McCain crossed in front of Alnic MC’s bow and they collided. Both ships failed to sound the five short blasts of whistle required by the International Rules of the Nautical Road for warning one another of danger, and neither attempted to make contact through their bridge-to-bridge radios.
Alnic MC’s bulbous bow sliced into John S. McCain’s port side aft, tearing a 28-foot diameter hole both below and above her waterline. The merchantman’s stem thrust into the warship centered on Berthings 3 and 5, jolted watchstanders on the bridge from their stations momentarily, and threw those in aft steering off their feet. Some sailors thought that the ship ran aground, while others feared that they were under attack. People nearest to the collision point described it as like an explosion, and those in other parts of the ship compared it to an earthquake. Most of the electronic systems on the bridge temporarily failed, and the bridge began using handheld radios to communicate with aft steering, along with sound powered phones and handheld radios. Aft Internal Communications, a space adjacent to Berthing 5 with communications control equipment, quickly flooded and likely caused the loss of bridge communications.
Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez nonetheless ordered the bridge watch to sound the collision alarm, in order to alert the ship’s company to begin their damage control efforts. The captain remained on the bridge and the executive officer went to the Combat Information Center, and eventually to Berthing 3, so that he could provide oversight in the damage control. The command master chief went to the Central Control Station to manage the damage control and then moved about the ship, assisting crewmembers battle to save the ship. The commanding officer initially directed the battle to save the ship from the bridge and ordered the watch team to announce the collision over bridge-to-bridge, alerting other vessels in the area. The ship also changed the lighting configuration at the mast to one red light over another red light, known as “red over red,” the international lighting scheme that indicates that a ship is “not under command.” Under the international rules, this signifies that, due to an exceptional circumstance such as loss of propulsion or steering, a vessel is unable to maneuver as required. Sanchez then made his way to Central Control Station to check on the status of the damage control efforts. The damage control assistant called away general quarters.
The warship requested tugboats and pilots from Singapore Harbor to assist in getting the ship to Changi Naval Base, at 0530. John S. McCain and Alnic MC floated locked together for several minutes, and within 15 minutes the destroyer began to list to port about 4° as the inrushing water flooded the impacted compartments. Sailors began to locate, report, and track the flooding, fire, and structural damage to the destroyer, and reported major damage throughout the ship including flooding, internal fuel leakage, loss of ventilation and internal communications, and degradation of many of the ship’s other systems.
Crewmembers attempted to account for all of the ship’s company, and continued to do so even as they made emergency repairs, battled flooding, and helped each other out of the damaged spaces. Their damage control efforts challenged them as they attempted to confirm everyone’s location, and they submitted varying reports of missing people during the first chaotic minutes. By the time that they tendered their third complete muster, however, the ship’s chain of command became reasonably confident that they had accounted for all of the crew because sailors consistently reported ten missing people, who all lived in Berthing 5, a space that rapidly flooded from the impact and remained temporarily inaccessible. Berthing 5 was located aft on the port side, and had 18 racks, a lounge and a head. The compartment had two means of escape, a ladder through a hatch with a scuttle, and an escape scuttle into Berthing 3 on the deck above. The collision knocked debris on top of the escape scuttle, which hindered any attempts to open the scuttle and rendered escape very difficult.
Two sailors in Berthing 5 nevertheless escaped from the space. The first crewmember began climbing up the ladder-well leading to the deck above and reached the second step when the collision occurred. The shock of the crash knocked him to the deck and bruised his back and legs. Fuel quickly pooled around him and he scrambled up and back onto the ladder. The sailor climbed out of Berthing 5 through the open scuttle, covered in fuel and water from the near instantaneous flooding of the space. He did not see anyone ahead of or behind him as he escaped. He reported seeing two other people in the lounge area, one preparing for his watch and another standing near his rack. Both of those sailors died, along with eight shipmates resting in their racks when the ships collided.
The second person who escaped from the berthing area heard metal crashing and pushing and the sound of water rushing in. Within seconds, the water reached up to his chest. Debris, wires, and other wreckage hanging from the overhead blocked the passageway leading to the ladder-well, though battle lanterns activated when the normal lights lost power and enabled him to see that he would have to climb over the debris to attain the ladder-well. As the sailor scrambled across the debris to the open scuttle, the water rose to within a foot of the overhead, so he took a breath, dove into the water, and swam toward the ladder-well. Underwater, he bumped into debris but felt his way along. The crewmember stopped twice for air as he swam, the water higher each time, and eventually used the pipes to guide him toward the light emerging from the scuttle. The person afterward reflected upon blindfolded egress training, a standard that requires training to prepare sailors for an emergency and occurred when he first reported onboard, and that it proved essential to his ability to escape.
The first sailor who escaped Berthing 5 alerted a crewmember that others were still inside the space, and the alerted person went to assist them. When he first reached the closed hatch and its open scuttle, however, the water in Berthing 5 surged to the top of the third rung. The man bravely attempted to enter the space, but the pressure of the escaping air and rising water pushed him back up the ladder. In mere seconds the sea rose to within a foot of the hatch, and he saw someone swimming toward the exit and pulled him out of the water through the scuttle. The rescue marked the second and last sailor to escape from Berthing 5, and he survived scraped, bruised, and covered with chemical burns from being submerged in the mixture of water and fuel.
An additional sailor helped them and, looking down into the berthing, saw “a green swirl of rising seawater and foaming fuel” approaching the top of the scuttle. The people at the top of the scuttle checked to see if there was anyone behind the last man out but did not see anybody. The water poured furiously through the scuttle and fought their efforts to close and secure it. The fuel mixed in with the water made one of the crewmember’s hands so slippery that he cut himself while using the wrench designed to secure the scuttle, but the two secured it to stop the rapid flooding of the ship.
Berthing 3 lay immediately above Berthing 5 and spanned the width of the ship. A ladder-well led down into the center of the berthing on the port side, and an escape scuttle located in the forward section of the space led up to the next deck. Seventy-one sailors were assigned to Berthing 3. At 0530, the damage control assistant began receiving reports of a ruptured fire main and water and fuel flooding into Berthing 3. The port side of Berthing 3 suffered substantial damage, including a large hole in the bulkhead. The collision broke loose racks and lockers from the walls and threw them about, scattering jagged metal throughout the space. Cables and debris hung from the ceiling.
Alnic MC’s bow blew apart the bulkhead and threw one of the sailors in Berthing 3 to the deck. Water and fuel quickly pooled around him and he began crawling over debris to escape. Another person helped pull him to the lounge area and toward the ladder, but the injured sailor fell on the slippery deck and struck his head. Two other people, also injured, helped him reach the flight deck, and he was later medically evacuated from the ship.
Limited lighting guided the remaining people as they escaped from the berthing space. Sailors clambered over lockers and other debris, using the high vantage point to also minimize their risk of being electrocuted from traveling through the rising water. Some escaped wearing only their underwear, and many did so bruised and bloodied from injuries sustained in the collision and covered in fuel. At least one man attempted to move the metal rack pinning a trapped shipmate, and realized that he could not move it alone. The sailors who escaped Berthing 3 provided some of the first reports that the space was severely damaged, that it was rapidly taking on water, and that people were trapped inside.
When the executive officer heard those reports he gathered a group of sailors, including some of those who evacuated Berthing 7, and went to check on the ones in Berthing 3. The accident pinned several crewmembers in their racks, but, as the two ships pulled apart, the twisted metal shifted and most of the crewmembers in that berthing compartment fought their way free as the debris moved. One of the sailors was pinned in his rack beneath two collapsed racks and a number of lockers that became dislodged during the collision, but he pulled himself out when Alnic MC detached.
Two other sailors, however, remained pinned in their racks even after the ships separated. Four members of the crew entered Berthing 3 through the jagged metal and rising water to rescue them. The first of the rescuers heard people shouting for help from inside the space and attempted to enter on the port side. Debris blocked the door; however, so he ran to the entrance on the starboard side of the berthing. One person trapped in Berthing 3 had been asleep at the time of the collision and awoke to the disaster. The man opened his eyes and discovered that he was pinned in his rack, with one of his shoulders stuck between his bunk and the berth above. He felt both air and water moving around him, and heard shouting and he cried out, which alerted people to his predicament. The single battle lantern in the area provided the only light for the rescuers to find the trapped sailor, who could free just his hand and foot outside the rack. The water rose to knee level when the rescuers reached him, but they could not move the heavy debris and used a Portable Electric All-Purpose Rescue System, a “jaw of life” cutting device, to cut through the metal, separate the panels of the rack, and pull the panels out of the way. They labored for nearly 30 minutes before they could free one of the entrapped sailor’s arms, and moments later, the rescuers pulled him from between the racks by his foot. Stretcher bearers carried him to the Mess Decks to receive medical treatment.
The second person lay in a bottom rack in Berthing 3, and the shock of the ships’ colliding lifted his rack off the deck. The force of the crash likely prevented him from drowning in the rising water, but trapped the crewman at an angle between racks that had been pressed together. He could just see some light through a hole in his rack and hear the water and smell the fuel beginning to fill Berthing 3. The crewmember attempted to push his way out of the rack, but every time he moved the space between the racks grew smaller. His foot hung outside the rack and he could feel water. It was hot in the space and difficult to breathe, but he managed to shout for help and banged against the metal rack to get the attention of others. The responders who entered Berthing 3 heard his cries and began assisting him, but he was pinned by more debris than the first sailor they freed. The rescuers struggled for nearly an hour to free the second sailor from his rack. They used an axe to hack through the debris, a crow bar to pull the lockers apart piece by piece, and rigged a pulley to move a heavy locker in order to reach the trapped man. The crewmembers assured him by touching his foot, and when they finally broke the sailor free he was the last person to escape Berthing 3. The man suffered scrapes and bruises all over his body, a broken arm, and a head injury, and could not recall if he lost consciousness at some point during his ordeal.
The damage control teams shut at least one scuttle to Berthing 3 and electrically isolated the space and, at 0608, closed the fire main valves, reducing the amount of flooding. They succeeded in removing the water from Berthing 3 prior to the ship’s arrival at Changi. John S. McCain included “cross flooding ducts” that connected Berthings 4 and 5 and also 6 and 7, and they were designed to distribute water from port to starboard (or vice versa) to keep the ship level if she took on water. The collision caused a six foot long crack in the bulkhead between Berthings 5 and 7 and water moved between the spaces. The people in Berthing 7 escaped through knee level water. At 0530 a crewmember reported sighting a ruptured pipe in Berthing 7, which added to the flooding caused by the cracked bulkhead separating Berthings 5 and 7. By 0605, the water reached a critical depth as it flooded Berthing 7, and damage control teams secured the compartment to prevent the rising water from spreading to the rest of the ship. The force of the collision threw people from their racks in Berthing 4, but they evacuated the space. They reported about four inches of water on that deck at 0544, and by 0627 lost their battle against the inrushing sea and abandoned their efforts to save the space.
The crew’s resiliency and successful damage control and engineering repair efforts enabled John S. McCain to resume her voyage to Changi under her own power at approximately 0630. The collision degraded the ship’s navigation equipment, and while most of the electronic navigational aids on the bridge functioned they illuminated multiple warnings and alerts, reducing the navigation team’s confidence that they could rely on the information. The ship’s company therefore relied on “seaman’s eye” to stay on track and the ship proceeded cautiously at an average speed of only three knots. Lack of ventilation across the destroyer raised concerns based on the amount of fuel that had spilled and the risks posed by rising temperatures inside the vessel, and the heat drove many sailors to the flight deck.
The ship’s medical team established a triage center in Messing, which provided the largest open space on the ship. The team performed medical procedures on the cafeteria-style tables, and treated lacerations and chemical burns from fuel exposure, splinted broken bones, and provided broad spectrum antibiotics to sailors with open wounds. They shifted the triage care back to the Medical office at about 0630, after they treated the initial rush of patients, in order to access their full range of equipment and supplies. As John S. McCain made for Changi at approximately 0915, a Singaporean Air Force Eurocopter AS332M Super Puma of 125 Squadron medically evacuated four seriously injured sailors to Singapore General Hospital, where they were treated for non-life threatening injuries. In total, 48 sailors suffered injuries that required medical treatment. Five people who suffered severe injuries were treated at the hospital and could not return to their duties for more than 24 hours. Of the 48 injured crewmembers, 43 stoically continued to assist with damage control and recovery efforts immediately following the collision.
In the immediate wake of the collision, John S. McCain reported ten sailors missing and five injured. Amphibious assault ship America (LHA-6), with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Amphibious Squadron 3, and Tactical Air Control Squadron 11 Detachment 1, embarked, steamed to the area and at 0715 on 21 August 2017, the squadron assumed the on scene command of the search and rescue for people feared lost overboard through the hole in the ship’s hull. America meanwhile launched Boeing MV-22B Ospreys and MH-60S Knighthawks that searched for survivors in the water. America approached alongside John S. McCain, and two members of the assault ship’s medical team boarded the damaged destroyer and helped her medical team, and also provided intravenous fluids to treat people suffering from heat stroke. Two Knighthawks from America landed on John S. McCain at 1000 and 1030, and delivered damage control equipment to her hard-pressed crew, until John S. McCain reached Changi that afternoon.
Additional international forces at times rendered assistance and searched for survivors in the water including an AP-3C Orion of the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 92 Wing. Singaporean forces involved included frigate Intrepid (75), patrol vessels Gallant (97) and Resilience (82), patrol ships Noble Knight (PCG.56) and Noble Pearl (PCG.54), Police Coast Guard coastal patrol craft Basking Shark (PH.55), Sandbar Shark (PH.56), and Tiger Shark (PH.54), two Super Pumas and one Boeing C-47SD Chinook, and Maritime and Port Authority directed tugs. Malaysian forces included frigate Lekiu (F.30), missile boats Gempita and Handalan, and a Westland Super Lynx 300, augmented by Maritime Enforcement Agency fast interceptor craft Penggalang (39) and Petir (12), and patrol vessels Marudu (3222) and Mulia (3911). Indonesian forces included patrol boats Barakuda and Cucut (866), minesweeper Pulau Rusa, and a Bell NV 409 helicopter.
U.S. Navy aircraft flew patrols within 25 nautical miles of the collision point, and Malaysian and Singaporean vessels searched ten nautical miles on either side of the path that John S. McCain had steamed. The Malaysians discovered a body floating in the water on 22 August, which raised fears among the crew and their loved ones, but examination afterward revealed that the person was a not crewmember. America coordinated a search that lasted more than 80 hours and spanned more than 2,100 square miles, until the Seventh Fleet suspended all of the search efforts outside the ship’s hull at sunset on the 24th.
“My thoughts are with the missing and injured sailors aboard [sic] the USS John S. McCain and their families,” Lt. Gen. Jerry P. Martinez, USAF, Commander, U.S. Forces, Japan, said. “I am grateful to the Republic of Singapore Navy, the Police Coast Guard, and civil authorities for their immediate and professional assistance to the McCain and the merchant vessel involved in the collision.”
“This is what we train for; this is what we do,” Capt. Ramon Bernd, USMC, a pilot flying with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 161 (Reinforced), said while assisting in the search-and-rescue. “Even in tragic situations such as those that have happened to the John S. McCain, we will do everything in our scope to assist.”
American servicemembers based at Singapore, Department of Defense civilians, and families provided clothing, personal effects, food and water to the crewmembers, reserved 180 rooms at the Navy Gateway Inns and Suites, bus transportation from the ship to installation facilities and free Wi-Fi access. An open call center was established to provide phone access to the sailors and their families, and spouse volunteers assisted in setting up distribution centers.
U.S. Navy and Marine Corps divers searched for survivors for seven days, and conducted damage assessments of the hull and flooded areas. Equipped with surface supplied air rigs, the divers accessed sealed compartments located in damaged parts of the ship, and eventually recovered the remains of all ten sailors killed in the collision: 31-year-old ETC Charles N. Findley of Amazonia, Mo.; 39-year-old ICC Abraham Lopez from El Paso, Texas; 26-year-old ET1 Kevin S. Bushell from Gaithersburg, Md.; 21-year-old ET1 Jacob D. Drake of Cable, Ohio; 23-year-old IT1 Timothy T. Eckels Jr., from Manchester, Md.; 28-year-old IT2 Corey G. Ingram of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; 26-year-old ET2 Dustin L. Doyon from Suffield, Conn.; 20-year-old ET2 John H. Hoagland III, from Killeen, Texas; 23-year-old IC2 Logan S. Palmer of Harristown, Ill.; and 22-year-old ET2 Kenneth A. Smith from Cherry Hill, N.J.
When John S. McCain reached Changi, another sailor, one of the ones who had been trapped in Berthing 3, was transported to Singapore General Hospital because of shock symptoms and an injury to his shoulder. Once the ships moored, America hosted John S. McCain’s medical team, and they together treated sailors with cuts and chemical burns from fuel exposure. Until alternative arrangements could be made, America also provided meals for all of the ship’s company and berthing for over 150 sailors whose berthing compartments were flooded. The sailors and marines on board the amphibious assault ship also provided initial support for the destroyer’s crew, including daily supplies, watchstanders, counseling, and communications network support. Three of the five medically evacuated John S. McCain sailors were flown from Singapore to Yokosuka on 27 August. On the 28th the remaining two people were transported back to Yokosuka.
On 23 August 2017, meanwhile, Adm. Scott H. Swift, Commander, Pacific Fleet, relieved Vice Adm. Joseph P. Aucoin, Commander, Seventh Fleet, due to “loss of confidence in his ability to command.” Rear Adm. Philip G. Sawyer, who had already been nominated and confirmed for the position and promotion to vice admiral, then assumed command of the Seventh Fleet. Adm. William F. Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, wrote a memorandum on 24 August to Adm. Philip S. Davidson, Commander, Fleet Forces Command, detailing Davidson’s responsibilities as the head of a chief of naval operations directed comprehensive review.
“During the last 69 days, the USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) were involved in two separate major collisions with commercial vessels while operating in the Seventh Fleet AOR [area of responsibility],” Moran stated in the memorandum. “Recent events indicate these tragic incidents are not limited occurrences but part of a disturbing trend of mishaps involving U.S. warships in the AOR — include the grounding of the USS Antietam (CG 54) in January and a collision between the USS Lake Chaplain (CG 57) and a South Korean fishing vessel in May.”
The memorandum further directed Davidson to “lead a Comprehensive Review of surface fleet operations and incidents at sea that have occurred over the past decade with emphasis on Seventh Fleet operational employment to inform improvements Navy-wide.”
“This week has been a very difficult one for Pacific Fleet and our Navy family,” Swift reflected in a message to the Pacific Fleet on the 24th. “In talking with each of those groups [people he met at Yokosuka and Singapore], what was very apparent to me was the toughness and the resilience that makes our Sailors and families so special. They are fighters. In the wake of two tragic collisions, our hearts may be broken but our will remains strong. The Pacific Fleet has faced adversity before in our history, and no matter the challenge, we have overcome it. The toughness and resilience that I saw in full display by Pacific Fleet Sailors and their families in both Singapore and Yokosuka is part of our heritage…We will determine the causes of these incidents, we will learn from them and we will apply those lessons. What changes need to be made will be made…As much or more so than any of my 34 predecessors as Pacific Fleet commander, I have the utmost confidence in you, the Sailors of Pacific Fleet.”
On 18 September, Vice Adm. Sawyer relieved Rear Adm. Charles Williams, Commander, Combined Task Force (CTF) 70 and CSG-5, along with Capt. Jeffrey A. Bennett II, DesRon 15’s commodore, as part of the ongoing investigation into the multiple accidents within the Seventh Fleet that year. Rear Adm. Marc H. Dalton, Commander, TF 76, assumed command of CTF-70, and Capt. Jonathan Duffy, DesRon 15’s deputy commander, led the squadron. Sawyer relieved Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez and Cmdr. Jessie Sanchez “due to a loss of confidence” on 11 October 2017. The ship’s commanding officer was reassigned to the staff of Commander, Naval Forces Japan, and her executive officer to the Ship Repair Facility at Yokosuka. Cmdr. Edward A. Angelinas, the former commanding officer of McCambell (DDG-85), assumed duties as the acting captain of John S. McCain, and Lt. Cmdr. Ray Ball, the former chief engineer on board Antietam, became the destroyer’s acting executive officer.
The investigators determined that the collision was “avoidable,” Adm. Richardson announced when he released the report on the collision on 23 October 2017. The crash, “along with other similar incidents over the past year, indicated a need for the Navy to undertake a review of wider scope to better determine systemic causes. The Navy’s Comprehensive Review of Surface Fleet Incidents…represents the results of this effort.”
The Navy determined the following causes of the collision that cost the crew so dearly:
Loss of situational awareness in response to mistakes in operating John S. McCain’ s steering and propulsion system, while navigating through the “high density” shipping.
Failure to follow the International Nautical Rules of the Road, a system of rules to govern the maneuvering of vessels when risk of collision is present.
The watchstanders who operated the ship’s steering and propulsion systems had insufficient proficiency and knowledge of the systems.
The investigators noted that from the time when Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez ordered the helm and lee helm split, to moments just before the collision, four different sailors were involved in manipulating the controls on the Ship’s Control Console. In addition, several of the sailors on watch with control over steering served temporarily from Antietam, and the two ships had significant differences between their steering control systems. Those people received inadequate training to compensate for the differences. A number of the watchstanders on the bridge lacked a basic level of knowledge on the steering control system, and in particular, how to transfer steering and thrust control between stations.
The ship steamed into harm’s way amidst multiple vessels and the commanding officer should have set the sea and anchor detail earlier. His plan for setting the detail proved a failure in risk management, because it required the crewmembers to turn over their watch stations only 30 minutes prior to when the ship was supposed to pick-up the pilot — and while sailing in the congested channel with limited time to maneuverer out of danger. Furthermore, neither ship sounded her horn or hailed the other via bridge-to-bridge radio.
The Military Sealift Command awarded a contract on 6 September to the Dockwise Marine Company to move the destroyer from Singapore to Yokosuka. John S. McCain stood out of Singapore on 5 October 2017, and subsequently rendezvoused with that company’s heavy lift vessel Treasure, which lowered herself and secured the destroyer on a platform, and then transported her to Yokosuka for repairs.
Detailed history pending.
Mark L. Evans
14 November 2017