Two Navy Ships

Often, Navy families have it as tough on deployment as their Sailors. This first-person narrative illustrates some of the unknowns families face:

I am 10 years old, sitting alone on the living-room floor watching a Peanuts holiday special. It’s the Saturday before Thanksgiving – Nov. 22, 1975.

The cartoon is just about over when a special news bulletin interrupts at 8:25 p.m.: “The aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy and the USS Belknap have collided in the Mediterranean Sea.”

Then: “Oh, my God.” It’s my mom’s panic cry echoing from the kitchen.

Within seconds, the telephone rings and neighbors knock on the door of our Port Lyautey home in Virginia Beach.

My dad, Petty Officer 1st Class Newton Blihar, had started his day aboard the Belknap.

Go to the link to read the rest. . .

8 thoughts on “Two Navy Ships”

  1. You should meet and talk with some of the men who survived my ship’s collision (lost 74). Men at sea are some the the bravest men in the world when it comes to losing their ship.

  2. Coffeypot
    I do believe that those who survive loss at sea are amongst the brave.

    What ‘civvies’ do not understand is that there is no fire department out at sea, nor any additional emergency services who will turn up to assist.

    If I may…

    May 23rd 1982.

    A young, newly promoted Corporal RM dug into a slit trench over looking San Carlos Water; weapon cocked and locked; cursing profusely, with his breakfast over his boots…

    During the Falklands War I watched HMS Antelope, (Type 21 ‘A’ Class Frigate) being attacked in two waves by 4 Argentinean SkyHawks, as she sat defending herself (and others) in San Carlos Water. Her nominated role was to perform air defence duty at the entrance of the water that was dominated by high mountainous features either side.

    This she did unflinchingly, with the young, and the old & bold crewmen ‘giving as good as they got’.

    Five minutes earlier to the attack we received an ‘air raid warning red’ allowing us precious time to prepare a hot defence. All guns and weapons from shore side as well as ships weapon systems were pointed skywards; arcs inter-locked towards the approaching fast jets.

    (It was a bright, bitter cold, beautiful day; a marine had just kicked over my stove along with my breakfast)!

    The reasoning behind small arms anti/aircraft fire is to distract the pilot making his bomb run. Fixed point Interlocking arcs of fire placed in front of the 600-mph fast jets create a projected lead umbrella, their choice is to through it or around it!
    There is no direct aiming procedure, just squirt and watch the tracer arc slowly into the air, (almost gracefully).

    Antelope fought back against her aggressors, but without manoeuvre room she had to sit and take it to protect her big sisters further along the water.
    (One of which was SS Canberra aka “The Great White Whale”; the troop ship whose only defence were 7.62mm GPMG’s that bristled from every nook and cranny).

    On the first attack a Skyhawk dropped a 1000-pound bomb, which hit and penetrated Antelope’s starboard side under the bridge, just above her waterline. It failed to detonate; however the impact killed a crewman. The Skyhawk was shredded by small arms fire from Antelope, assisted by the weapon systems of additional shipping that sat within the waters.

    The marines from each shore side position were relentless in their efforts to sustain a lethal fusillade of fire, which proved to be effective. So much so that they attracted their own deadly attacks the following day.

    Antelope’s second attack came straight after, with one SkyHawk taking a burst of 20mm from Antelopes cannon. (It smashed through the ships mainmast structure killing the pilot as it disintegrated into the cold waters of San Carlos). One of his bombs also hit and pierced the ship without detonating.

    At the ‘all clear’ Antelope stood down from her role and moved to a more sheltered position within the waters near Ajax Bay. A rigid raider powered out two Royal Engineer EOD Techs to sort out her unexploded ordnance. She anchored no more than four hundred metres from my position close to Ajax Bay.

    The approaching arctic winter en-route to the Falkland Islands was yet another enemy to fight. Defensive prepping and personal admin continued throughout the remainder of the day, it was almost dusk when the order to ‘stand to’ came through.

    Antelope was still in clear view when the first 1000 ‘pounder’ went off; it tore the ship open as well as one of the Royal Engineer’s. The pressure wave bounced between the high-sided valleys, I felt it hit my chest, and I also felt sick for those poor souls on board. They fought the fires valiantly but the loss of power meant abandoning ship, in darkness, surrounded by the icy waters of the Atlantic.
    A Landing Craft from HMS Fearless rescued the crew. The RM Coxswain Corporal Alan White who mastered the LC received a commendation for his work.

    It was bitter-bitter, cold that evening. The air was calm and still with the temp slowly dropping past freezing. I was sat with one of my marines in a fire trench, sipping scalding hot tea from a tin mug as we watched the magnesium from the Antelope’s air defence missiles burn through. The bright magnesium glare illuminated the whole valley, it reflected and danced on the cold shimmering Atlantic water; the glow was hypnotic and almost warmed our cheeks.

    WHAM!!! The second 1000 pounder went off, with an almighty ear-battering explosion, far more colossal than the previous one. I saw the whole sky light up as the pressure wave fired out across the water and hit me in the chest. I looked at my watch; it was 20:20 hrs (I know this to be true as I still have my patrol commanders note book that also details sentry lists and timings etc).

    May 24th 1982.

    “Stand To”. Prior to dawn breaking there was an uneasy feeling as the sun crept forward to announce the start of a new day. Sadly, there in front of our defensive positions sat the Antelope’s bow pointing 45 degrees skyward; its heavy gun locked in position pointing forward along the bow in defiance to the heavens. Her back was broken in two; her aft end screws were also clearly visible.

    Throughout the day we all watched on as we finalised prepping, then slowly she slid ‘hissing & steaming’ down into her crystal clear watery grave.

    My true thoughts were for ‘Jolly Jack Tar’ who had endured loss; especially those previously out in the hostile Atlantic several days earlier. Selfishly, I thought to myself “we are losing ships, which is our mode of transport out of this place”.

    Later all eyes were on the “Great White Whale” as we moved inland to engage with the Argentinean Forces.

    As RM’s we were created, designed and trained to fight shore side in arctic conditions, (which, against high odds we did to great success). Fighting at sea was alien to me, though my time would come years later.

    Many years later prior to my termination; I had the great pleasure and privilege to work alongside a ‘civil servant’ who was an ex Charge Chief ‘Stoker’ (WOII) RN on board HMS Ardent, when she suffered 15 direct air attacks. The stories of which I cannot do true justice too here.

    Through my ‘sea service’ I also encountered other crewmen who had suffered the loss of shipmates as well as having a RN Ship taken out from under them, each during the Falklands campaign. Again, I could not do true justice to their stories, and in truth, they are not mine to tell.

    ‘Hearts of Oak’ one and all.

    Yours Aye.

    1. I also ‘doff’ my cap to those honourable Argentinean Air Force pilots, who first had to face the Royal Navy’s sea Harrier’s (Combat Air Patrol), after which those that were left chose to come through (and not go around) a thick umbrella of 7.62 mm full metal jackets.

  3. I’m always awed by stories like this – especially ones told by the men who survived or their children. The band of brothers thing is beyond me never having experienced such a thing – and the families who waited at home – another sort of band of brothers. I share lots of my uncle’s stories from Vietnam, because I am close to him and he has allowed me into his circle of friends and family. Although I am always on the outside of that circle, because I was not actually a part of things, it has given me an appreciation and love for our military folk and their families.

    My cousin (my uncle’s daughter) celebrated her birthday 47th birthday last week. My uncle tells the story of being in the Ia Drang battle for days and getting back to the FOB (?) desperate for news of his pregnant wife at home. He had a letter from his mother (my grandmother) sent via the Red Cross announcing the birth of his daughter – she was born during the days of the Ia Drang Battle. To say the least, she is very special to my uncle.

  4. EB: I too doff my cover to you and to the Argentinians. I don’t have your self-control of not telling the sea-stories of others. Some of my stories I can’t tell on a blog, so I must be a scribe for others.
    Lou: Great tale about your cousin.
    navydavy: Wow, great heroes. Nukes and all, they fought the fire.

  5. EB, though I never had to face that kind of danger, I served with and are now friends with those who did. And you are correct in that I, too, could not do my mates justice in this space. But the stories I heard from WWII, Korean sailors when I served and the survivors for the collision of the USS Frank E Evans DD 754 and the HMAS Melbourne on 3 June, 1969. All I can say is, “I just served. They did the real Navy stuff.” And I do appreciate and enjoy your stories. I would love to sit around and drink a few pints and talk to you.

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