April 19,1989

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Dec 2, 2005
17 years ago today, at 0955, there was an explosion in the center gun of the number two gun turret aboard U.S.S. Iowa. 47 Damn good men died.
I was 18 years old. Today I honor my fallen shipmates. I think of them and miss them evey day.
Crewmember's Name Rate/Rank Hometown
Tung Thanh Adams Fire Controlman 3rd class (FC3) Alexandria, VA
Robert Wallace Backherms Gunner's Mate 3rd class (GM3)(FC3) Ravenna, OH
Dwayne Collier Battle Electrician's Mate, Fireman Apprentice (EMFA) Rocky Mount, NC
Walter Scot Blakey Gunner's Mate 3rd class (GM3) Eaton Rapids, MI
Pete Edward Bopp Gunner's Mate 3rd class (GM3) Levittown, NY
Ramon Jarel Bradshaw Seaman Recruit (SR) Tampa, FL
Philip Edward Buch Lieutenant, Junior Grade (LTjg) Las Cruces, NM
Eric Ellis Casey Seaman Apprentice (SA) Mt. Airy, NC
John Peter Cramer Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Uniontown, PA
Milton Francis Devaul Jr. Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Solvay, NY
Leslie Allen Everhart Jr. Seaman Apprentice (SA) Cary, NC
Gary John Fisk Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2) Oneida, NY
Tyrone Dwayne Foley Seaman (SN) Bullard, TX
Robert James Gedeon III Seaman Apprentice (SA) Lakewood, OH
Brian Wayne Gendron Seaman Apprentice (SA) Madera, CA
John Leonard Goins Seaman Recruit (SR) Columbus, OH
David L. Hanson Electricians Mate 3rd class (EM3) Perkins, SD
Ernest Edward Hanyecz Gunners Mate 1st class (GM1) Bordentown, NJ
Clayton Michael Hartwig Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Cleveland, OH
Michael William Helton Legalman 1st class (LN1) Louisville, KY
Scott Alan Holt Seaman Apprentice (SA) Fort Meyers, FL
Reginald L. Johnson Jr. Seaman Recruit (SR) Warrensville Heights, OH
Nathaniel Clifford Jones Jr. Seaman Apprentice (SA) Buffalo, NY
Brian Robert Jones Seaman (SN) Kennesaw, GA
Michael Shannon Justice Seaman (SN) Matewan, WV
Edward J. Kimble Seaman (SN) Ft. Stockton, TX
Richard E. Lawrence Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Springfield, OH
Richard John Lewis Fire Controlman, Seaman Apprentice (FCSA) Northville, MI
Jose Luis Martinez Jr. Seaman Apprentice (SA) Hidalgo, TX
Todd Christopher McMullen Boatswains Mate 3rd class (BM3) Manheim, PA
Todd Edward Miller Seaman Recruit (SR) Ligonier, PA
Robert Kenneth Morrison Legalman 1st class (LN1) Jacksonville, FL
Otis Levance Moses Seaman (SN) Bridgeport, CN
Darin Andrew Ogden Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Shelbyville, IN
Ricky Ronald Peterson Seaman (SN) Houston, MN
Mathew Ray Price Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Burnside, PA
Harold Earl Romine Jr. Seaman Recruit (SR) Brandenton, FL
Geoffrey Scott Schelin Seaman (SN) Costa Mesa, CA
Heath Eugene Stillwagon Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Connellsville, PA
Todd Thomas Tatham Seaman Recruit (SR) Wolcott, NY
Jack Ernest Thompson Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Greeneville, TN
Stephen J. Welden Gunners Mate 2nd class (GM2) Yukon, OK
James Darrell White Gunners Mate 3rd class (GM3) Norwalk, CA
Rodney Maurice White Seaman Recruit (SR) Louisville, KY
Michael Robert Williams Boatswains Mate 2nd class (BM2) South Shore, KY
John Rodney Young Seaman (SN) Rockhill, SC
Reginald Owen Ziegler Senior Chief Gunners Mate (GMCS) Port Gibson, NY
One of my buddies was staitioned on Iowa when this happened, ET3 Byrd, and was part of the 1st firefighting team that entered the blown turret....

He later on served with me in ST4, and described that scene as the worst he ever had the displeasure of seeing.... My hats off to those brave men who perished that day...
remember seeing repetitive videos on the media of this tragedy.

ok I never did hear what actually happened as to cause, can this be described if possible. I can appreciate not if the emotions are too high in regard to this ........

E ~
So, you know byrd! Cool! Tell him Watts said hello!!!!
As far as what happened, 50 year old propellant, that was stored in what amounted to a pole barn on a barge in chesapeake bay. was rained on, frozen, and baked at 130 degrees during the summers.
Propellant was packaged in silk bags. Silk sliding along a polished brass powder tray, static electricity ignited 660 pounds of powder.
Theories on the cause of the explosion have ranged from sabotoge to gross incompetence.... None of these have been conclusively proven (or disproven) and many a heated debate has been had discussing the probable cause.... Here is a short write up from Battleships by William H. Garzke, Jr. and Robert O. Dulin, Jr. Copyright 1995, Naval Institute Press...

Orders were given to Turret II to commence firing. The crew of this turret prepared to load all three guns with dummy shells and D846 propellant, unlike the type D845 propellant used in Turret I. The D846 propellant, normally restricted to service 1,900-lb High-Capacity (HC) shells, was being used as part of a continuing developmental program to control and perfect the velocity and long-range accuracy of the 16-in guns. Official prohibitions against using the D846 propellant were based on the desire to limit high pressures in the guns, although reduced charges had been fired in these and other battleship guns during World War II. This special five-bag charge (the guns had a maximum capacity of six bags) resulted in a maximum pressure of about 38,700 psi, well below the normal service pressure of about 49,700 psi, and much less than half the theoretical strength limit of about 90,000 psi. The D846 charges would not create an inherently unsafe condition for firing this gun.

The breeches for the two outer guns were closed and locked within 17 and 44 seconds of the order to load and then elevated to their firing positions. Their powder hoists were lowered to the powder flat. GMG3 Robert Backherms was the rammerman for the center gun and was new to his position. GMG3 Richard Lawrence was the cradleman, and GMG2 Clayton M. Hartwig was acting as the gun captain for the center gun in place of Lawrence. The projectile for the center gun was rammed into the rifling, and three powder bags dropped into the loading tray. In accordance with normal practice, Hartwig should have inserted a small lead pouch behind powder bag number 1 and then shoved powder bags 1 and 2 into the breech, allowing room for two more powder bags to fall into the loading tray. Hartwig might have placed another small pouch behind powder bag number 2 before the last three bags were pushed into the gun by the ramming mechanism. These two lead pouches were to "de-copper" the guns. (Note 1) It is unlikely that Hartwig would have delayed the gun-firing process had he missed placing one of these pouches. Rammerman Backherms reached for the lever to activate the rammer that would push the five powder bags into the center gun. His actions sent the powder bags at a low ramming speed some 24 inches farther into the gun chamber than prescribed, so the last bag was not at the correct distance to the firing charge in the breech door. This spacing, well beyond the maximum of 4 inches, was undesirable because it can contribute to inconsistent ballistic performance or to a misfire. The last bag should have been positioned so that the mushroom of the plug was just touching the ignition bag of the last charge when the breech was closed.

The following conversation ensued in Turret II that morning:

GMCS(SW) Reginald O. Ziegler (turret captain)-"Left gun is loaded. Good job! Center gun is having a little trouble. We'll straighten that out."

GMG3 Richard Lawrence Center gun cradleman -"I have a problem here; I am not ready yet."

Ziegler, now shouting to LTJG Robert M. Buch-"Tell plot we are not ready yet. There is a problem in the center gun!"

GMG3 Richard Lawrence (with annoyance) - "I'm not ready yet! I am not ready yet!"

Unidentified Seconds later- "Oh my . . ."

It should be noted that Lawrence had signed off as the captain of the center gun, and Hartwig had acted as the gun captain in his place. The gun captain had complete control of the loading and ramming of a shell and powder into a gun. Hartwig was believed to have been hunched over the breech door, presumably to investigate what happened. A few seconds later, a voice stated over the turret's intercom circuit, "Oh my . . ." The breech of the center gun had not been closed, and the rammer was still in the barrel when smoke, unspent powder grains, flame, and hot gases burst out of the open breech. Hot gases swept through the lower turret substructure and erupted through the three gun ports, the vent ducts, and the rangefinder hoods (see Figures 7-1 and 7-2). The gun bloomers (Note 2) were ripped from the turret's faceplate and blown away from all three gun ports. Thick, hot, gray smoke billowed forth, scorching the teak deck beneath Turret II, which was pointing to starboard. The antiflash seals in the scuttles to the powder magazines prevented a much greater calamity, a catastrophic explosion that likely would have destroyed the Iowa. Eleven crew members in the lower magazines, outside the rotating turret substructure, survived the holocaust, which killed forty-seven of their shipmates in the inferno above and within the turret substructure. One of the crew in the magazines of Turret II turned on the sprinkling systems in the magazines, and seven to eight minutes after the powder fire occurred in the turret, Captain Moosally ordered the magazines flooded. The powder and BL&P shells in the right and left guns were not affected and were later removed by fire-fighting teams. Powder for the next salvo had already been placed in the turret's lower revolving structure, according to procedure. Working its way into the lower substructure of the turret, the fire scorched some of these powder bags, and some caught fire. The flooding of the magazines extinguished these fires.

Secondary explosions briefly hampered the fire-fighting efforts, which succeeded in extinguishing the last of the fires within ninety minutes of the initial explosion. The fires and explosions consumed some twenty-five of the forty-five bags of propelling charges stored on the deck in the powder flat, in addition to two or three of the five bags that had been loaded into the center gun. (Note 3)

The force of the deflagration was so intense that it propelled the 2,700-lb BLIP shell some 44 inches into the rifling of the gun, where it stalled because the energy of the burning propellant had exited into the turret {see Figure 7-3). The center gun's rammer chain first began to move backward in its housing some 23 inches and then collapsed from the forces generated by the burning powder bags. The fifteen sections of the rammer were propelled backwards out of the gun and toward the turret officer's booth. The Mk 3 computer was destroyed, the optical rangefinder was wrecked, and much of the turret's interior structure and equipment was damaged or destroyed.

Despite exhaus-tive analysis of the physical evidence and post-accident experimentation through September 1989, the Navy was unable to exactly duplicate the accidental explosion that was believed to have occurred in the Iowa's turret. It is important to emphasize in these trials that the D846 propellant and black powder were also tested to determine their ignition properties. For example, a cigarette lighter required more than nine minutes to ignite the black powder through the quilted patch on the powder bags. The powder grains that make up the powder bags took 2.5-3.5 minutes to ignite, depending on whether they were inside a polyethylene wear-reducing jacket or the plain silk material. It proved impossible to ignite the powder bags by ramming or dropping them from heights of 40 and 100 ft. The powder grains were also insensitive to electromagnetic radiation. Post-incident analyses of the charges in the lowa's powder magazines confirmed that they were in a safe, stable condition.

A primer {similar to a 0.30-caliber blank rifle cartridge), fired from the breech block, normally ignited a bagged propelling charge. The gun was designed to prevent the primer from being fired until the breech block was closed and locked. Each bagged charge had an ignition pad containing black powder sewn onto its base and was quilted to spread the black powder evenly so that there would be virtually instantaneous Within milliseconds ignition. Each bag ignited the next in sequence, that is, it burned from the end much like a cigarette, creating a pressure that would propel the shell out of the gun. A test was done to determine if a preignition of the primer could have initiated the explosion, but preignition was proved to have been unlikely with an open breech block.

Tests were done at Dahlgren in 1989 on a 16-in/50 Mk 7 gun, using five bags of D846 propellant and the techniques employed in the lowas to load and fire these guns. Overrams of the type that had occurred in the lowa's turret were replicated without incident.(Note 4) Systematic tests were conducted: charges were initiated at each bag location, and measurements were taken of the pressures and of the movement of the projectile up the barrel. These tests determined that the point of ignition that caused the projectile travel in the center gun was most likely located between bags 1 and 2 or bags 2 and 3. Finally, the investigators decided to remove the rammer and its chain from the center gun of Turret II and take them to Dahlgren, where they were reassembled in a fixture similar to a 16-in gun. As the rammer and its mechanism were taken apart, each part was closely examined for the slightest evidence of failure; nothing indicating failure was found. In May 1989 a test was done with a timing device similar in size to the lead pouch and placed between bags 2 and 3, and the investigators found that this arrangement closely replicated what had occurred on board the Iowa.
The Navy Department and Congress exerted great pressure on the investigative teams to determine a cause for this disaster and the loss of forty-seven lives. After all possible accidental causes had been ruled out, the investigative officer concluded that sabotage was the most probable explanation for the tragedy. Minute traces of residue trapped in the projectile's rotating band (see Figure 7-4) when the shell had been driven into the gun tube, provided strong evidence of sabotage-steel wool, calcium hypochlorite, and glycol were found. Thorough experimentation confirmed that a plastic bag containing a glass tube filled with these everyday materials, positioned between the first and second bags, and then rammed into the breech, could have caused approximately what had occurred in the Iowa's gun. This type of sabotage would have explained the location of the projectile in the gun tube and the residue found trapped in the rotating band of the shell. Tests were conducted with a 16-in gun and a device that had the same chemical properties as those of the residue found in the rotating band of the shell. These tests indicated that it was possible for such a device to trigger an explosion such as the one that occurred in the Iowa.

The findings of Admiral Milligan's team, read before a press briefing in September 1989, were greeted with dismay and disbelief. The identification of one crewman Clayton Hartwig as the perpetrator of the incident seemed to be the best explanation of the cause since he was acting gun captain. Admiral Milligan commented to the press, "There's an assumption you have to make. He was the gun captain and controlled the loading of that gun." Senator Alan Dixon called the Navy's findings "guesswork."

The likelihood of sabotage has been neither proved nor disproved conclusively, nor has an accidental ignition brought about by inexperience been confirmed. Forensic evidence col-lected in the turret from the remains of the deceased did show that there were lighters and other items not permitted by regulations in the gun house during this gun exercise. However, the cause for this turret deflagration will never be known conclusively, although personnel skilled in ordnance and ballistics have indicated that the accidental ignition of the propellant is a less likely explanation of the cause of the explosion. Warships, designed to be capable of destroying the enemy, are by their very nature susceptible to accident or tragedy-careful design, prudent equipment maintenance, adherence to regulations, and sound personnel training can lessen but can never completely prevent the likelihood of an accident. This unfortunate mishap might have been averted if Captain Moosally had authorized more gunnery drills, a situation that may have raised the crew s morale and lessened the potential for disaster. However, this would not have averted an intentional act of suicide or sabotage.
I was an HT.
Lesofprimus, I hope you don't believe a single word of that stuff you posted.
As a member of R division, I was in the middle of all the clean up and investigation. They know what happened. A few years after the explosion, the truth came out, but it was buried way back in the back of the papers, rather than platered all over the front page. What I posted above is a short but accurate description of what happened.
I was just putting out the official version of what was found out....

Minute traces of residue trapped in the projectile's rotating band when the shell had been driven into the gun tube, provided strong evidence of sabotage-steel wool, calcium hypochlorite, and glycol were found. Thorough experimentation confirmed that a plastic bag containing a glass tube filled with these everyday materials, positioned between the first and second bags, and then rammed into the breech, could have caused approximately what had occurred in the Iowa's gun. This type of sabotage would have explained the location of the projectile in the gun tube and the residue found trapped in the rotating band of the shell. Tests were conducted with a 16-in gun and a device that had the same chemical properties as those of the residue found in the rotating band of the shell. These tests indicated that it was possible for such a device to trigger an explosion such as the one that occurred in the Iowa.
I cannot look past this small piece of evidence.... What were those chemicals doing in there??? If theres no valid explaination, somethings afoot.....

And besides, if it was what u said it was, why didnt it happen before, and why couldnt they re-create or duplicate the explosion???
Lesofprimus, There's no way Clay could have put anything in there without being noticed. There were four other men in that gun room. a space about the size of a small bathroom. Even if everyone else was pre occupied, and looking other places, the Rammerman would have had his eyes focused on that tray, and the Gun Captain. There's just no way. I cannot speak to tests performed off-ship. However, from what I saw of the Navy's willingness to overlook facts in favor of a quick, clean explanation that kept the Navy's tit out of the wringer...........
The Navy was VERY quick in labeling it a suicide, I agree, but without a valid explaination as to why those very specific chemicals were where they werent supposed to be, it will always be a mystery.....

Couple of snapshots.....


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