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L'uss Barb Soccorre L'equipaggio Di Un B-52

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Un interessante resoconto del coraggioso salvataggio dell'equipaggio di un B-52 precipitato in un tifone da parte del sottomarino nucleare USS Barb

 

tratto da: Popular Mechanics, gennaio 1977

 

 

 

 

 

Rescue from the heart of a typhoon

Crewmen of a downed bomber are saved from a raging sea in a daring feat by nuclear subs fighting 40-foot waves.

by Capt. Charles Barton, USN (Ret.)

 

Capt. Leroy Johnson, pilot of Cobalt 2, a B-52G of the Strategic Air Command, taxied into takeoff position at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. It was past 4:00 a.m., July 8, 1972. Two other planes in the flight already were airborne. Airman Daniel Johansen, gunner and , at 21, the youngest menber of the crew, felt the power surge, the runway bumps, then liftoff.

With Typhoon Rita building up to a full-scale blow, the B-52G died at 30,500 feet. Six crewmen hit the silk to experience a night of horror.

Lights dropped away in the predawn darkness as the aircraft headed seaward above the surf that crashed against Guam's precipitous northeast coast. Crosswinds from local showers burbled over the cliff, tossing the plane, an indication of bad weather throughout the Western Pacific. Three tropical storms were on or near their flight path. The nearest would grow into Typhoon Rita - a storm they'd come to remember. As the bomber climbed through 20,000 feet, Johansen's headset came alive. "I've lost airspeed readings." It was the captain. "it's out over here, too," replied his 25-year-old copilot, Lt. William Neely III. "Johansen, come forward and give us a hand." The gunner unstrapped and went to the flight deck. The pilots looked worried. Johansen read out corrective actions from the manual. It called for more power. But even when this was applied, Cobalt 2 still dropped behind the other planes. Capt. Johnson leveled at 30,500 feet, let the aircraft pick up speed in a short descent, and engaged the automatic pilot, with "altitude hold." A few minutes later the plane began to shake. Suddenly the autopilot disengaged and the nose pitched down. The rate-of-climb indicator pegged out at 6000 feet per minute down, and the altimeter began to unwind.

 

 

CREW MUST BAIL OUT

 

The pilots struggled for control. Johnson snapped orders. "Everyone to your seats." Maj. Ronald Dvorak, 35, the electronics warfare officer, watched Johansen climb back in his gunner's seat. "strap in!" he yelled at him. The shaking increased violently, and the angle of the plane approached a dive. The gunner struggled to hook up for ejection. His throbbing head and pounding heart muffled the interphone. Then came the order: "Everybody out! Bail out!" Johansen armed his ejection seat and saw Dvorak eject. He pulled his own trigger and shot through the open hatch, somersaulting through space. The chute opened with a jolt. It looked small. He was swinging wildly. The risers which attached the chute to him were twisted. He pulled them apart and his body spun as they unwound. Sharp snapping sounds came from the left, then the right. Fear jolted Johansen. He thought the risers were breaking! He grabbed frantically to keep from falling, but it was only the sound of tack lines breaking free. As he stopped spinning, the chute blossomed. He felt faint.

 

 

AIRCRAFT ENDS IN FIERY CRASH

 

Now he lowered his survival kit on its retaining line so it dangled 10 or 15 feet below and helped dampen the swinging. He inflated his life preserver and looked around. Low in the night sky, he saw the running lights of their aircraft, then a brilliant flash as it struck the sea. The flare lighted the chutes of at least three other crew members below him. He tried to steer toward them without success. He blinked his flashlight, but no one responded. At the last moment he unsnapped the covers from the parachute canopy releases and crossed his arms through the risers to prevent falling from the chute prematurely. As he neared the raging sea, he could hear and see huge waves, their crests blown to spray on a stinging wind. The moment his feet touched the water, he pulled the canopy release rings and plunged feet first beneath the surface. His chute blew free. He surfaced and swam to his raft which had atuomatically inflated. Once in it he lay back to calm himself. The luminous dial of his watch read 5:25. It would be daylight soon. He felt okay; nothing had broken, and he hadn't swallowed water. But the weather was getting worse.

 

 

TROUBLES PLAGUE CHUTISTS

 

Using his flashlight, he opened his survival kit and made several distress calls on the radio. He shot off one flare which made a brief mark in the dark predawn. Nothing happened. He put out a sea anchor and the raft rode better. Patches of plankton fluoresced as each wave broke. Lt. Kent Dodson, 25, the navigator, was having trouble. The sight of their B-52 exploding in the dark had hypnotize him and delayed his preparation for water entry. Just as he reahed for the release rings a strong gust yanked the chute.

He hit the water swinging and a great, rolling wave tossed him into his shroud lines, which snared him like a fishnet. Time and again he slipped below the surface. Luckily, Dodson was a strong swimmer. Struggling for breath., he slashed line after line with his pocket knife and finally fought free. He climbed into his raft and lay panting for an hour, recovering. One line he'd cut was to his survival kit. With daylight, the sea increased and the wind drove a stinging rain. Dodson could see rescue aircraft, but without signaling devices had no way of making contact. Eventually a C-97 buzzed him. He'd been spotted. That night the waves, wind and rain built higher. Dodwson fought to keep his raft from overturning. He was exhausted. "Good God," he thought, "Is this the end?"

 

 

NUCLEAR SUBS ORDERED OUT

 

On the morning of July 8, the nuclear fast-attack submarine Barb was in Guam's Apra Harbor completing repairs on a hydraulic pump prior to a six or seven-week Marianas patrol. News of Typhoon Rita was no worry. The big sub would sail submerged and untroubled below the surface. That's what everyone thought. Instead, from the Joint Search and Rescue at Agana, orders were requested and issued to the Barb's skipper, Commander John Juergens: "B-52 down in vicinity 12-07 north, 140-20 east...three of six crewmen sighted by rescue craft...Proceed best speed..." An hour later a similar "operational immediate" went to USS Gurnard, a sister sub inbound from Japan. Within an hour the Barb slipped past Apra's harbour jetty, entered deep water and nosed under. Lt. Cmdr Mike Rushing, engineering officer who would be officer of the deck during the rescue attempt, had been up for 36 hours supervising the repairs. Now he slept. Cruising submerged at flank speed, all was smooth. An undercurrent of excitement permeated the ship. Chief Torpedoman Jon Hentz of Brunswick, Me., penned a quick letter to his wife: "We left Guam in a hurry , there are two tropical storms headed here and a B-52 crashed at sea 300 miles away . . ." Nuclear submarines like Barb and Gurnard don't carry banks of batteries or great volumes of fuel, which occupy nearly half the hull space of conventional subs, and they're much larger - about as long as a football field and more than 31 feet in diameter. In the crew's mess of the Barb, 30 men can be fed at once, and in minutes the compartment converts to lounge or theater. It was here the crew gathered to discuss ways of rescuing the downed airmen.

 

 

PROSPECTS NOT PLEASANT

 

The prospects were not pleasant. A submarine is designed to perform submerged, not on the surface. In any sea, her keelless cylindrical hull rolls and wallows like a sick whale. Further, when surfaced, a sub is "conned" from a three-by-four-foot cockpit bridge atop the "sail" which projects like a dorsal fin 15 feet above the center of the hull. It houses ladder and communications link between control room below and upper bridge, and also serves as a fairing for masts and antennas. The cockpit itself, separated from the ship by a watertight hatch, is open to the weather.

Chief Torpedoman of the Barb, JonHentz, recieves the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism. He swam a line to survivors.

There is no provision for getting down to the main deck from the cockpit, nor is access to the deck possible from deck hatches except in calm weather. Even small waves wash into open hatches. In this operation there was a real risk that survivors pulled from the sea would be dashed to death against the hull. It was decided to bring them over the port sail plane, a winglike vane extending some 10 feet out from the sail. Though even at the tip they wouldn't quite clear the hull's bulge, it would be far less dangerous than working from the main deck. Finding the men in the storm-tossed sea would be less difficult. Military aircraft already were circling them. Sophisticated navigation and communications equipment would solve the rest. That evening at 7:30 Lt. Cmdr. Rushing, refreshed by sleep, came on duty, stepping around a clutter of rescue equipment being readied. Barb was still submergeed when the PA system clicked on: "This is the captain. Commander Submarine Squadron 15 report five B-52 crewmen have been sighted by aircraft, but heavy weather has forced surface ships to turn back. Barb and Gurnard will handle the operation." Juergens then instructed Rushing to come to periscope depth. As the ship rose above the 400-foot level, the men began to feel surface motion. At 200 feet Rushing noted the ship was rolling 10 degrees each way. It was about 11 p.m. when Barb came to periscope depth, rolling and pitching violently. Lt. Cmdr. Jim Okeson could hear radio communications between the orbiting aircraft and Guam Search and Rescue Control. Barb was about 12 miles from the rafts.

 

 

SUB SURFACES VIOLENTLY

 

 

By midnight the sub had closed the distance enough to surface. Suddenly she was sucked upward. Instead of a normal keel depth reading of about 26 feet, the reading dropped to 11. Instantly the ship heeled over on her beam. Men swore. Some ended against bulkheads or dangling from handholds. The ship hung for a moment, then went the other way. Rushing shouted course changes to the helmsman, looking for mnimum roll. One heading took her nearly head on into the seas, which broke over bow and sail, forcing her beneath the surface. This would never do with men on the bridge. Trial and error found a "best course," but it was still rugged. Men hung on as best they could. Some were sick. Never had Barb taken such a beating. Her single screw drummed air when it lifted clear. The impact of the stern and sail planes slamming back into the waves sent shudders through the hull. "let's go." Rushing and Torpedoman Steve Glasgow climbed the pitching bridge trunk. As Rushing opened the hath to the cockpit, wind whistled and water slopped in. The men clambered through. It was dark. Wind-driven rain and salt spray stung their faces. They careened to the four compass points as mountainous waves tossed the ship like a canoe riding rapids. They had to yell to be heard above the storm's roar. Their course toward the survivors was now with the seas. Though they were drenched by rain and spray, water boiled into the cockpit only occasionally. They tied themselves to the structure to keep from being swept overboard. At 1:15 a.m. the rain stopped briefly and they saw a brilliant flare about three miles ahead. Aircraft orbiting in the light radioed that eight rafts (some dropped from the planes) were visable. Even the empties were marked by lights. Lt. Lee Price, manning the periscope in control, was first to spot lights., and notified the bridge. Minutes later, in the flailing cockpit, Rushing could see three sets of lights bobbing up from behind giant waves. "Port 5 degrees," he ordered, steering for the closest. Suddenly a red flare blossomed off port bow.

 

 

SURVIVOR SIGHTED

 

 

"Steer two-nine-zero," Rushing ordered. "Notify the captain we have a survivor in sight." He tried to put the Barb to the right of the raft, so they'd approach upwind. An orbiting aircraft dropped a flare revealing the full extent of the mountainous seas for the first time. Rushing wished he hadn't seen it. Capt. Juergens, Lt. Ron Ricci the Barb's weapons officer, and Chief Hentz came crowding up into the cockpit. They could hardly move. Glasgow unstrapped and went below. Juergens tied himself in beside Rushing. Ricci and Hentz, equipped with life jackets and lines to keep from washing overboard, rigged a Jacob's ladder down the side of the sail to the safety track on the deck. Then they clambered down to the port sail plane. Typhoon winds ripped the wave crests to shreds, blasting rain and spume in disorder. White water rolled over sail plane and bridge. Rushing's approach to the raft put the wind-driven rain and spray at their backs, and the tossing raft came in sight some 10 yards off the port bow. As it passed amidships, Hentz aimed the throwing gun and fired. The line snaked out of sight in the darkness. He tried a weighted line, but the wind carries it off. As the raft passed, Ricci yelled, "Hey! You okay?" and heard an affirmative yell. "We'll pick you up in a couple of minutes." "Okay." The response whisked away on the wind and the distance widened. Rushing ordered engines to back down. As she slowed, Barb rolled 40 degrees. A wave buried the bow and she began to go under. Ricci felt himself float off the sail plane, tethered to a submerging ship. Hastily, Rushing ordered the helmsman back to his original course on forward speed. The ship sloughed off its load of water and rose again. Several attempts to turn brought seas over the sail and water cascading down the hatch. Finally, by scrambling below, securing the hatch, changing coures, then returning to the bridge, they were able to find a better approach.

 

 

WIND BLOWS RAFT AWAY

 

The raft was now a mile distant. It was 2:20 a.m. On the second run the wind blew the raft out of reach before they could fire a line. They tried the downwind side. The wind blew the weighted line back at them. On one try they fired a line right over another raft that hove in sight. There was no response. It appeared empty.

Path of Typhoon Rita and course of ailing B-52 (dotted line) are shown in the map above. The plane went down directly in the path of oncoming storm, which grew as it swept past the survivors who had parachuted into the sea.

At 4:26 a.m. Juergens decided that further attempts in darkness would endanger both survivors and rescuers. Wet and exhausted, they clambered back down the trunk banging the hatch behind them. Barb submerged to wait for the dawn. At 7:40, after a hot shower and soup, Rushing returned to the bridge. It was light, with heavy overcast and intermittent rain. The eye of Typhoon Rita had passed abeam. Though still rough, conditions had improved. Aircraft still orbited the survivors. Using their radioed vectors, Rushing conned Barb toward a group of three rafts. As the distance closed, he made out two or three men sitting motionless in the nearest. "Rescue team to the bridge!" he ordered. Ricci, Hentz and Gary Spaulding, an electronics technician, hauled themselves up through the hatch with their gear. The plan was to shoot a line with a harness to each survivor. One by one, they'd be pulled through the water to the sail plane where Spaulding, a giant of a man, would lift them aboard and help to keep them from being battered as they were hoisted up the side of the sail. The harness line was fed down the bridge trunk to the control room where six men would provide the muscle to pull the survivors into the cockpit. Rushing maneuvered the Barb to put the raft on her lee. The shifting wind blew the raft first one way then another. One minute the thing would ride a crest high above the submarine, then disappear in a trough under her bow the next.

 

 

LINES KEEP MISSING

 

At 20 yards, Hentz shot a line. It blew off on the gusting winds. A second attempt was better, but it whipped just before the men could grab it and drifted away. The raft drifted out of range. Hentz, a top scuba diver, offered to swim a line out. "You don't have to," Juergens said. "I want to," Hentz replied. He clipped the line to his belt, timed his jump to coincide with the crest of a wave, then swam like hell to clear the ship. Wave after wave swamped him. He was thrown violent about on the crest of larger waves as they exploded in the wind. Finally, he reached the raft. There were three men in it - Lt. Neely, Maj. Dvorak and Lt. Dodson, who was exhausted. He had been lying down out of sight with his head pillowed on the lap of one of the others. Dvorak had broken his elbow during ejection and couldn't use that arm. The next step was to get a heavier mooring line to the raft. Gary Spaulding hurled a weighted messenger line, but it fell short. Hentz swam out to recover it. The heavy mooring line was hurled out and secured to the raft. It was about 8:15.

 

 

ALMOST DOESN'T MAKE IT

 

Hentz was wrung out, but he knew he'd be needed on the sub to help haul the survivor aboard. With safety line secured around him, he started the long swim back.. As he neared Barb, he saw the screw come completely out of the water. The next moment all he could see was the top of the sail. Several times he saw the forward flood ports -- sea intakes close to the hull bottom. Some of the swells had to be 40 feet high. By now Hentz was so exhausted he had doubts about making it, but with Spaulding pulling the line, he soon neared safety. Waiting for a big wave, he kicked upward as Spaulding tugged. The wave dropped him on the hull safety track three feet from the dangling Jacob's ladder. The next wave threw him against the side of the sail. He grabbed the ladder and willing hands helped him stay up. Trundled off to his quarters, he lay on the floor recovering his breath. Topside, the crew moored the raft 25 yards off Barbs port quarter. Rushing's problem was to keep the raft downwind and the men clear of the screw, while preventing the sub from sliding into the trough where she would roll so violently the survivors might be endangered. It called for a remarkable feat of ship handeling. Lt. Dodson was the first brought aboard. A life jacket was sent out by messenger line, and the crew started pulling him in. Dodson later recalled: "They pulled me to the conning tower and I hung there like a dead man, I was so tired. Then this big guy, the strongest man I had ever seen, pulled me over the edge of the conning tower." Dodson was lowered down the trunk into control.

 

 

TWO MORE BROUGHT IN

 

Dvorak and Neely, being less tired, were brought in more easily. By 10:00 a.m., the orbiting aircraft had vectored Barb to the next raft. With a single shot, Spaulding sent a messenger line over a lone survivor's head. The man grabbed it, pulled out the heavy line and the harness, buckled up and started swimming. The sub heeled over as the swimmer approached. Everybody heaved on the line and as the sub righted itself the survivor popped from the ocean like a penguin and landed on the sail plane. It was Airman Johansen. He had been in the water about 28 hours. The pickup had taken 13 minutes. Barb was getting good. Meanwhile, the Gurnard was having problems. She had reached the scene after Barb. Any thoughts that Cmdr. Clyde Bell, the skipper, had of making a quick rescue were quickly dispelled by the 70-mph wind. At one time the force of the seas tilted and shoved her to a depth of 150 feet before the crew could fight her back up. Finally, Cmdr. Bell elected to withdraw so as not to interfere with Barb or endanger the survivors. But he stayed on the surface to maintain radio contact with the aircraft. He had been assigned the job of co-ordinating the rescue efforts. At daybreak, spotter aircraft directed Gurnard to the aircraft commander's raft. Capt. Johnson, having ejected last, had become separated from the others. As the ship maneuvered to try for a pickup, wind and waves conspired to prevent more than one chance per approach to get a line out. When they pulled along side, the raft blew one way and the submarine another. When they both drifted in the same direction, the raft moved faster and soon outranged the line gun.

 

 

SUPERB SEAMANSHIP NEEDED

 

Each atttempt required superb seamanship, maneuvering to stay along side as visibility closed periodically to 500 yards in drenching squalls,and the ship rolled 60 degrees across the sky. What made matters worse, Gurnard's sail was nearly twice as high as Barb's, rising some 35 feet above the waterline. A pulley-mounted hoist had to be rigged between bridge and trunk base, with a harness line feeding through to men in the control room. At long last, using a heavier line, Chief Torpedoman W.A. Neilson got a successful delivery right across the raft. Then Capt. Johson grabbed it, hauled in the rescue line and donned the harness. In the cockpit, Lt. Cmdr. Ed Morgan, officer of the deck, waited until the mast completed a dip toward the raft. The he yelled the crucial command:"Heave!" In the control room the crewmen slipped and scrambled on the tilting deck to keep the line coming in. Johnson was snatched from his raft and flew through the air. As the ship rolled upright, the line hoisted him over the top of the sail. Someone tackled his boots and dropped him to the cockpit.

 

 

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

 

Johnson's feet hit the deck. He looked at the makeshift rig and shook his head. Later he told how he had been thrown from his raft three times during the night. " I must have bailed 15,000 gallons of water," he said. The mission was accomplished. Enroute to Guam, Commissaryman Curt Avery of the Barb baked a cake in honor of Lt. Dodson's 26th birthsday. The celebration was dampened by the absence of the B-52's radar navagator, Lt. Col. J.L. Vaughn.

Arriving in Apra Harbor, Guam. B-52 copilot Neely is on bridge in flight suit.

Aircraft had sighted his body floating face down, still tied to his raft. Air Force and Navy crews who maintained vigilant watch over the survivors day and night at dangerously low altitudes in the jaws of a typhoon had made the spectacular rescue possible. Admiral Bernard A. Cleary, Commander-in-Chief Pacific Fleet, put it well. " The coordination and teamwork were superb," he said. "I have never seen a more professionally executed operation in the face of so many difficulties." Adm. John S. McCain, Commander-in-Chief Pacific, radioed: "This rescue presented the ultimate test of professional skill and courage of the airmen and seamen involved." Each ship was presented the Meritorious Unit Commendation, and 10 submariners who played perilous topside roles recieved individual commendations. It was, indeed, a job "well done."

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