HMAS Melbourne, Killer Ship
HMAS Melbourne was called a jinx ship, however her two most serious disasters were both caused by human error and incompetence, in this case on the bridge of the USS Frank E. Evans in 1969.
USS Frank E. Evans, DD 754
During the course of SEATO Exercise SEA SPIRIT and in the early hours of 3rd. June 1969, HMAS Melbourne and USS Frank E Evans collided in the South China Sea. Within minutes the bow section of the Evans sank with the tragic loss of 74 lives. The aft section was secured to the starboard side of Melbourne and all survivors brought onboard, before it was cast adrift. As tragic as the event was, the crew of Melbourne were nonetheless officially recognised for their subsequent rescue actions by the US government.
This photo was taken from HMS Cleopatra (F28), a Royal Navy frigate just moments after the collision when Melbourne cut the Evans in two (L to R): Melbourne, then the smouldering & sinking bow section of Evans and further to the right, a huge pall of steam from the boilers in the aft section of the ship.
The Melbourne Age on 3rd. June wrote:
"At 4.12 a.m. today Manila time, the Australian carrier HMAS Melbourne was involved in a collision with the U.S. Destroyer USS Frank E. Evans approximately 650 miles south-west of Manila in the South China Sea. Ships were taking part in SEATO exercise Sea Spirit and the exercise has been terminated and the ships reverted to their national commands . . ."
Ironically the USS Everett F Larson almost collided with the Melbourne the day before this tragic accident and the Captain onboard Melbourne issued a stern warning to all the American ships to take more care when maneuvering round or near Melbourne. At a subsequent Court Marshall held at Subic Bay, the Captain of Evans was exonerated as "he was in his cabin asleep" and the OOD, officially unqualified to have the bridge of a ship at sea without supervision, "made a deal" whereby he pleaded quality to 3 of 6 charges and received a written reprimand and promotion prospects were reduced by 1000 places.
He celebrated the result at the officers club in Subic Bay:
"The evening of Friday, 12th. September, the accused (OOD) celebrated his sentence with not only his defense council, but the prosecutor and military judge where the sound of champagne corks popping mingled with the laughter" and both they and the USN promptly forgot the 74 American sailors lost as a result of dereliction of duty and gross incompetence.
The day after the collision the aft section of Evans was secured alongside USS Everett F Larson, towed to Subic Bay and two years later, sunk as a torpedo and gunnery target on 10th. October 1969 by USS John R Craig.
In Australia the usual contempt for the Australian Public by politicians was expressed as both the Prime Minister and Minister for the Navy lied about aspects of this disaster to protect the relationship between Australia and the United States of America!
Melbourne proceeded to Singapore Naval Dockyard where she was made seaworthy for the voyage home to Sydney. In Singapore it was feared the the CO would be replaced and a buzz started and became so loud that it was noticed: "If the CO does not take Melbourne back to Australia the ship would not be sailing!" The flagship of the Royal Australian Navy was but a hairs breath away from a full blown mutiny!
|The damaged bow of HMAS Melbourne.||Bow section of Evans which sank quickly.|
|Aft section of Evans alongside Larson.||For the second time in her career, a new prefabricated bow was fitted
to Melbourne in Sutherland Drydock at Cockatoo Island, Sydney.