Harold “Butch” Heckel’s Memories
I was on board the USS Hampshire County from May 8, 1968 to April 15th 1970 and would like to add to your history. I don’t recall being in 4 typhoons in 4 weeks. 3 may have been smaller ones, but one when we loaded 102 Marines, with 18-58 ton tanks and a 60 ton tank retriever on the tank deck, and 2-1/2 ton trucks and jeeps on the main deck, was memorable. About sunset, before they shut down the main deck, the waves were about 15 feet high. We could stand on the fantail and watch that 358 ft. long steel ship bend in the middle, the way a yardstick does when you hold it by one end and shake it. Shortly after midnight, (I had only been off the mid watch and in my rack a short time), a thunderous crash resounded from the tank deck. By this time the wind was about 90 knots and the waves were running 30 feet high. One of the tanks had broken a tie down chain and was sliding back and forth, between the tank deck bulkhead and the tank next to it. That roll was recoded on the ship’s inclinometer as being 55 degrees. (the maximum it could take without capsizing. Being the senior Damage Controlman on board, I spent the next 72 hours shoring the tank tight against the one next to it, trying to weld cracks on the starboard side main deck and shoring all four walls of compartments three decks down on the port side to stop the bulkheads from oil canning. If the tank had continued to slide back and forth, it would have continued to break chains on adjacent tanks and started a chain reaction that would have resulted in the ship capsizing with that much weight shifting back and forth as we rolled over the tops of those waves. After we had secured the tank with shoring, someone noticed that the main deck was cracking from the scuttle hole of our berthing compartment toward the starboard side of the ship. For several hours, I was hanging off the ladder to the scuttle hole trying to arc weld the crack shut enough to stop it from continuing to crack. I got knocked completely of the ladder several times when seawater, from the waves washing over the main deck, would run through the crack on the main deck and run down the welding rod, stinger and my arm. While I was doing this, I received a report that the bulkheads in compartments, directly opposite this crack, on the port side of the ship were panting, or oil canning, every time we came over another wave and the flat bottom slapped down on the water in the next trough between waves. Once I had stopped the crack on the starboard side main deck, I moved over to the port side, and we spent the next day and one half shoring those compartments, all four directions, three decks down, with 6”X6” redwood timbers to stop the bulkheads from oil canning. You can only bend metal so many times before it breaks. During one 24 hour period in this typhoon, we steamed into the wind at full (12.7 knots) and went backwards one mile. Once we were out of the worst of this typhoon, the soundings on several amidships ballast tanks would not go down, even though we had been pumping them continuously. I unbolted the void cover on one of them and went down inside to determine why. I found about a 3” hole in the bottom of the ship. I got a 6” redwood DC plug and sealed the hole. I could still hear water running, and when I stepped over the next I-beam in the bottom of the ship, I could see a blue line all the way across. I found the same thing on the ballast tank on the starboard side. We had been very fortunate that we had not cracked in half in that typhoon. A tanker ahead of us, calling for help, did crack in half. I never found out if that crew survived or not. We continued to Okinawa and off loaded the marines. From there we went straight to Guam. When they got the ship in drydock, they found it was cracked all the way across the bottom, and had started to crack up the sides. Once I saw that, I was extremely thankful for all the hard work and long hours the guys had put in to shore up the compartments on the port side. If we had not done that and welded shut the crack on the main deck, I doubt that anyone could have survived in the open sea in that typhoon. I hope this detailed account of what put the Hampshire County in drydock has not bored you.