Posts Tagged ‘USS Bonefish’

USS Miami Fire: What, Where, What Now?

And now for something completely different... | Posted by Rebekah
May 30 2012

Health issues and client work (I do graphic arts and writing in addition to the historical research for this blog…besides all the regular stuff you do with and for your family!) have bogged me down lately, but I do pay attention to some of the search terms that bring people here, and I want to give my readers what they want (or stories they may never find otherwise!) so with a <gasp> moment today, here we go…

There have been submarines in the news a lot lately…from the wreck of the WWII Japanese midget submarine recently discovered off Sydney Australia, to the recently discovered U-1206, to US First Lady Michelle Obama sponsoring the new submarine USS Illinois (joining ranks with former First ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton)…the list goes on and on.

It’s unusual to see this many submarines all at once, but interesting.

As I’ve reached a breathing space in my most recent project for a museum client, I decided to tackle the news story that I noticed a lot of searches for lately: The fire aboard the Miami last week.

Miami, first of all, is a Los-Angeles class submarine which entered service in 1990.  The Los Angeles class boats are the third largest class of submarines in the Navy (second only to the WWII-era Balao and Gato classes, respectively) and have been serving since 1976.  If the Navy continues in their policies, it is unlikely that any Los-Angeles class submarine will be opened for public display as a museum ship, so what we know about their layout relies on information the Navy releases.

Like all nuclear submarines, Miami occasionally has to go into drydock, not only for the normal repairs for regular wear-and-tear that the sea puts on any ocean vessel, but also possibly to overhaul/replace the nuclear plant or fuel rods.  A lot of what exactly happens is, obviously, top secret and kept vague, but what has been released is that Miami entered drydock at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard (Kittery, Maine) for a scheduled 20-month overhaul on March 1, 2012.  Once secure, her nuclear plant was shut down, though her nuclear fuel rods were left on board.   From what I understand from nuc sub vets, if a sub is undergoing significant overhauls or repairs, shutting down the nuclear plant seems to be a standard step.    All weapons, from torpedoes and missiles down to likely the small arms, were also removed.

A submarine is a much more cramped and limited space to work and live in than a surface ship, and when you combine that with welders, braziers, grinders, electricity and other sources of sparks and flame, it can get…interesting.  To that end, whenever there is a possibility of fire, there is a fire watch on duty.  His job is to make sure every safety precaution is taken to keep fire from breaking out and, if it does, keep it from spreading.

The fire on Miami started around 5:45 pm on May 23, 2012, and burned for 12 hours, 5 minutes.  From all accounts, it was a fierce blaze.  These quotes jumped out at me from the accounts I’ve been reading:

“There was stuff burning that I didn’t even know could burn on a submarine,” John Dwire Jr., one of the firefighters, said Tuesday.

Deep inside the hull, Dwire said, he had to cut through the burning wires and cables overhead and then duck or crawl just to get to the fire in the forward section of the Groton-based attack submarine.

“Submariners had their hands full with Miami Blaze” by Jennifer McDermott, the Connecticut Day, May 30, 2012

“It’s like going into a chimney,” said Portsmouth Naval Shipyard firefighter David Funk, who described insulation and wiring fueling a smoky fire that became hot enough for aluminum to burst into flames.

Firefighters offer harrowing account of Maine sub blaze as investigators work to assess damage”  The Washington Post, May 25 2012

Smoke billows from the Miami through the night as the crews worked. Due to the heat, toxic fumes, and oxygen problems, firefighters had to work in shifts, often lasting less than an hour.

In total, seven people were injured between the fire and the fighting, but all, thankfully, have  already been released from medical care.

How or what caused the fire on Miami has not been disclosed, and a thorough investigation is underway about it.  The problem with studying the Sub Force is, for security reasons, we (the public) might never be told the details of all that happened.  Still, what has been released is the fire was located in the command and control and living quarters of the Miami, which puts the fire about here:

A cross section of a Los-Angeles submarine with the possible burned sections (according to description) highlighted.

Apparently, once the firefighters left the submarine, the damaged sections of the boat were sealed, preventing a small stray spark from reigniting another fire.  It’s only been recently that the Miami was opened, vented, and inspected.

From what I’ve been able to find out, the investigation will now (likely) center on some the following questions:

1.) What started the fire and how did it spread?

2.) Were all fire precaution procedures followed?

3.) Where was the fire watch when this went on?

4.) Did everyone follow procedures to limit human injury and casualty and damage to the Miami?

5.) Was this preventable based on current safety procedures (and if so, who carries the blame?)

6.) If this was due to a unique or unforeseen set of circumstances, will more or better fire procedures prevent this from happening again?

There are likely more questions, but those are the ones that seem to pop up in my reading.   On the line could be the careers of the shipyard’s CO (if he did not enforce proper procedures that could have prevented or lessened the damage to Miami), the CO of the Miami (same reason on board his boat) the Fire Watch on duty (if he had fallen asleep or somehow been absent from or derelict in his duty, for example), anyone else involved,  and the future of the Miami herself.

The investigation is currently estimated to be complete in 2-3 weeks.

Miami was scheduled to be practically torn apart and reassembled over the next 18 months, so her future will be partially dependent on what the fire DID.  There are rumors (gotta love scuttlebutt) that the portion of the boat that was damaged was already pretty well gutted, so that’s a point in her favor.  Officially, over 3 million gallons of water were used in dousing the blaze, and some compartments were nearly flooded, so there’s bound to be some water damage as well as fire.  If the heat of the fire damaged her frame or structure in some way that would make her susceptible to underwater weakness, or something else that would seriously compromise the Miami without extensive repairs, the Navy may choose to scrap her instead, despite her relatively young 22 years.  If the damage would cause only a few more months and millions, and the forecasted use of the Miami over the next twenty years outweighs having one less US submarine in the oceans, they may decide to add the fire repairs to the roster and keep moving forward.

How these decisions are made are complex and multi-faceted.  When the San Francisco ran into an underwater mountain in 2005 and practically removed her bow up to the forward battery (one of the few times you can clearly see the sonar array in a submarine’s bow), one of the factors that saved her from being scrapped was the fact that she had just recently come out of an overhaul, including a complete refueling.  It was more cost-effective, from the Navy’s point of view, to keep the San Francisco with her new fuel rods and updated technology, and replace San Fran’s bow with the bow of her soon-to-be-retired sister USS Honolulu.

The exposed bow of the San Francisco after her collision. The ruined sphere that looks like it's made small tiles is the sonar dome. Source: NavSource


A fire that ended a submarine’s career early was the fire on the USS Bonefish in 24 April 1988.  While at sea, a leak caused a battery explosion and fire.  The fire was so intense that it reached 1200 degrees and melted the crew’s shoe soles on the deck above the battery compartment.  Three men died and the Bonefish was abandoned at sea.  The remaining 89 submariners were rescued by helicopters from two nearby aircraft carriers and a whaleboat.  The damage, once Bonefish was towed into drydock and examined, was too severe to fix, and she was scrapped.

USS Bonefish fire at sea. The smoke (and toxic fumes) from the fire are billowing out one of the few vents available to it. The crew is gathering on deck preparing to abandon ship. The helicopter is from a naval aircraft carrier that happened to be nearby, and the lifeboat is likely from the whaleboat that assisted with rescue.


So what happens to the Miami the next few weeks and months will depend on the findings of the investigation.  Whatever is announced to the public, it’s likely that if she’s saved, the damage was minimal, or minimal enough to warrant her return to the force.

We can all hope for the best, and be thankful that whatever happens, if there is a casualty, it’ll be Miami, none of her crew.



For more information:  (Written by a former submariner so he knows what he’s talking about)  (Features some of the repercussions that the Portsmouth Yard could face due to the fire.)  This article features more about the fire watch and how the procedures that are normally followed in drydock cases.

The Deck Logs and a Memorial Service for a Flier Man

Memorial Ceremony, Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
Nov 09 2010

The National Memorial Service for the crew of USS Flier might have been back in August, but there are services still happening around the country every day to honor men lost during WWII, and one of the men from USS Flier, electrician’s Mate, Thomas “Sonny” Bohn, will be honored at 11 am on Thursday, November 11 (that’s Veteran’s Day for those paying attention) at the Memorial Shrine in Easton PA.

There were a LARGE number of Flier families originating in that area, so if you can make it, go, and then introduce yourself to Donna Musselman and Terry Bohn, niece and nephew of Thomas Bohn.  All her life, Donna grew up with the photo of her lost uncle displayed at her grandmother’s house, but little could she find out about his loss, until recently.

She, along with her cousin Terry, decided to give her uncle the burial and memorial service he couldn’t have in 1944.  As a veteran who died in military service, he was entitled to a military marker (there’s something I enjoy sending my tax money in to support!) but she still had to raise enough money to purchase the base and pay for the stone erection fees on an existing grave (his parent’s).

She contacted her local news channels and in a few days, not only had her community given enough to pay for the marker’s placement, but also an indetifying tag linking him to his brother (another military veteran buried in the same graveyard) and also found a scholarship in her uncle’s name at his alma mater.

It’s nice to know that even when the world seems to be going crazy (then and now) people still like to draw together as a community to honor those who gave their all so the rest of us could live in peace and freedom.

Thomas "Sonny" Bohn, and the memorial marker being dedicated at the memorial service on Thursday. Rest your Oar, Sailor. And Thank You.

So if you can make it, 11 am, Memorial Shrine, Easton PA.

And below, you’ll see the deck logs for today.  <YAWN>  Actually, I’m sorry to say, most of November is a yawn.  But there are little nuggets that peek through, and when they get REALLY boring, we’ll just talk about other things, like what does a submarine look like inside and out?  How could these men escape a damaged and sunken sub? How can divers and ROVs be used for shipwreck exploration?

The deck log reveals why the Navy is both brillant and annoying. On 7 Novmeber 1944, the only things that happened on Flier was the crew had roll call to make sure they were all there (they were), then they charged the batteries twice during the day and at the end of the day, told the OOD (Officer of the Deck) all about it. I'm sure he was enthralled. And that's what happened, but thanks to Naval paperwork requirements we KNOW that's all that happened (worth official note, that is.)

On 8 November even less happened. They took attendance and stayed moored at the dock all day.

Today, 9 November, they at least took on Battery water. THis is significant, because it indicates that Flier is getting ready to leave to transit to Pearl and real patrol. Battery water had to be purified. Any chemicals at all could cause a problem. At sea (where water trucks are not plentiful) Flier carried filters to make seawater into fresh water, but there was a catch: any salt that got past the filter, if it came into contact with the battery during the daily washings, could react explosively and destroy a submarine. There are a number of submarines whose fates are completely unknown, even from the Japanese records, and a battery explosion is one very likely scenario for their fate. A battery explosion DID happen on USS BONEFISH in 1988, killing 3 men and forcing the submarine into early decommissioning and scrapping.

A fascinating first person account of the USS Bonefish fire.

Location Location…

Where was Flier 66 years ago today? | Posted by Rebekah
May 27 2010

They’re all on the move today.

Flier is back on the map again (remember she didn’t exist yesterday?) and in the middle of nowhere making for the southern tip of the island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan) where she’ll curve south and patrol along the western shores of Luzon Island in the Philippines (the Philippines looks a bit like a sitting wolf howling at Taiwan.  Luzon would be the wolf’s head, and Palawan would be the foreleg with the Balabac Straits just below the paw.)  Nothing else happened today.  The most interesting thing that happened, according to  both the war patrol report and the deck log, was the daily battery charge.

Robalo is returning from her most recent patrol, her crew looking forward to a well deserved break, and their ship needing a lot of repairs still.  She’s going to pass Exmouth Gulf since she doesn’t need the extra fuel to get all the way back to Fremantle.   She’d been out for 51 days and, despite dealing with major handicaps in terms of broken systems needing constant repairs, she’d managed to do her duty, stalk several convoys, fire twenty of her twenty-four torpedoes and claimed the destruction of one tanker.  (Sadly, this was not awarded to her by JANAC (Joint Army-Navy Assessment Committee ) after the war, so officially, Robalo has no kills to her record.)  Once in Fremantle though, she had  a six-page laundry list of major repairs that needed to be done.  Just the major repairs, never mind a few little tweaks here and there.

Redfin, accompanied by the Harder, has left Fremantle and they are bound for Exmouth Gulf, training with each other in different tactics all the way.  They were escorted by the HMAS Adelaide.

What’s really interesting is all the surrounding boats coming and going out for Fremantle which give a glimpse at just how busy a port she was.

As usual, Redfin is the yellow and Robalo is the green. I decided all other submarines will be white for the purposes of these maps, though Harder will appear again in the story, if only obliquely.

From the War Patrol Reports alone of the Redfin and Robalo, we know the positions of Harder, Crevalle, Flasher and Angler, all of which were either coming to or leaving from Fremantle.  Strangely enough, though Redfin and Robalo are on track to pass each other and probably did on the 28th or 29th, they either didn’t see each other or didn’t record seeing each other.  (Redfin would make note of seeing Bonefish and Lapon over the next two days though, which adds another two submarines so the tally of boats in this general area at this time)

When you consider that Fremantle was one of two American Submarine Bases in Australia, and that Freo also served as base for British and Dutch submarines as well as a variety of battle and supply ships for those three countries, the sheer speed and insanity of that port must have been almost unbelievable.