Point Honda Research

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Destroyers    Newspaper Articles    Magazine Articles    Books

Navy Department    Court of Inquiry    Courts-martial    Letters

National Archives    Dead-End


Introduction

This Point Honda Research subsite documents the research effort dealing with the naval shipwrecks, which occurred on September 8, 1923 at Point Honda, California—also known as Pedernales Point and La Honda, now Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Additional information on the Point Honda accident is available on the Point Honda Memorial web site www.pointhondamemorial.org.

When our labor at research for more than a year fails to produce new discoveries, it's time to close shop and face reality. There may not be any more new stuff out there. The web page entitled "Dead-End" is devoted to this end. If you are interested solely in those areas where questions still remain unanswered concerning the circumstances surrounding the Point Honda accident, click on this Dead-End link. Once there, you'll find background information based on research and a list of unanswered questions. If you know of or have found an answer to a question, please send an email and we'll spread the word on this site.

The following major topics appear in this section: Chronology of the Last Hours and Main Cause of the Accident.

The day after the accident, an aerial view of the scene was captured on a U. S. Navy Air photo—wing tips of a bi-plane shown—which is currently stored at the National Archives. Seven naval destroyers were wrecked at Point Honda within an area of about 500 yards.

Beginning in the foreground at the bottom edge, the photo shows the Fuller. From there and toward the center, the Woodbury's bow is shown touching Woodbury Rock. On a straight line path from these two ships, and heading toward shore, is the overturned hull of the Young—with only about two feet of her port side exposed. Still in a straight line path from these three ships, and closest to shore, lies the barely visible wreck of the Delphy. To the right of the Young, and closer to shore, stands the Chauncey in an upright position. Finally, in the upper left corner, the bow of the Nicholas appears to be heading seaward, while the dark mass to the right of the Nicholas is the S.P. Lee.

Between 2105 and 2115, on that day, seven destroyers out of a total of fourteen, steaming in column formation with the Eleventh Destroyer Squadron, Pacific Battle Fleet, on a 20-knot, high-speed, endurance test of their cruising turbines, were trapped in a web of sharp, volcanic spires along the rocky California coast and were stranded. 

The attached line drawing of the California coast, near the western entry into the Santa Barbara Channel, shows the Delphy's actual position at 2100, where she executed the fatal turn to 95° true and led seven destroyers to the bluff of Point Honda. 
 


 

Captain Edward H. Watson trusted LCdr. Donald T. Hunter to do the navigating for the entire squadron and to lead them home safely to San Diego. And probably because of this unquestionable trust, LCdr. Hunter was able to convince Capt. Watson that the Delphy was at or near the D. R. (dead reckoning) position at 2100 and able to turn safely into the Santa Barbara Channel. He believed navigating by dead reckoning—the "old-fashioned" way—was more reliable than by following radio compass bearings sent by "new-fangled gadgets" from a naval shore station .

The Destroyers page lists the fourteen squadron ships and the order in which they steamed in column formation, while the Photos page contains more detailed pictures of the accident. Two destroyers received minor damages, while five maneuvered away from danger. The estimated loss of Government property was $13 million. Twenty-three sailors perished in the worst, peacetime accident in U. S. Navy history.

Many years of research by this author produced numerous documents which would be wasted, if not shared. Future naval historians may choose to build upon the findings published on this web site, and hopefully, add new information about the accident, and the conduct of key personnel at the time.

The Associated Press (AP) was in the forefront reporting the accident in practically every major city in the country. The Newspaper Articles page of this site contains relevant extracts from articles which describe the accident in the early stages. It also contains extracts which reported the unusual currents in the Pacific before the accident, and the proceedings during the Court of Inquiry and the General Courts-martial. When warranted, the author's comments are included.

The Navy Department page shows an organizational chart at the highest level, dated July 1, 1923. At that time, Edwin Denby was the Secretary of the Navy under President Calvin Coolidge. This page also contains organizational charts of Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet, Rear Admiral S.E.W. Kittelle, Commanding and Destroyer Squadron Eleven, Captain Edward H. Watson, Commanding.

Links to the Court of Inquiry and the Court Martial also appear on the Navy Department page. Copies of documents from these legal proceedings were obtained from the National Archives, with one exception, the record of trial case of Lieutenant (j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, which failed to be delivered to the National Archives by the Navy Department. However, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, on October 18, 2004, a copy of Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was received by this author from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. Relevant extracts from these documents are included on these pages followed by this author's comments.

The Court of Inquiry, investigating the circumstances surrounding the accident, convened on September 17, 1923 in the Administration Building of the Naval Air Station on North Island, California, and questioned witnesses for 19 days. The Navy Department wanted the Inquiry to be a secret session—no press or public allowed. However, public opinion prevailed, and Secretary Denby was pressured to open the doors to the Inquiry. Newspapers all over the country carried articles covering the legal proceedings.

A seven-member General Courts-martial board began their proceedings—conducted at the Eleventh Naval District Headquarters in San Diego, California—against eleven defendants named by the Court of Inquiry, with the first trial, that of Capt. Watson, on November 5, 1923. The proceedings were also opened to the press and public.

One can only speculate why the Navy Department opened the Court of Inquiry and the General Courts-martial to the press and public when the records of these proceedings were classified for 50 years and not declassified until the 1970s. The Freedom of Information Act required the Navy Department to turn these records over to the National Archives and make them available to the public.

Once the newspapers published the results of the General Courts-martial, interest in Point Honda subsided. In early 1924, the final review by the Assistant Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy was completed, and the JAG of the Navy signed the endorsements of the record of trials by direction of the Secretary of the Navy. The Navy Department classified all legal documents and took custody for the next 50 years.

Years later, books and magazine articles began to appear as naval historians sought to find the missing links in the Point Honda accident. And practically every author made a contribution in the quest for the truth. 

The first magazine article I was able to locate was published in U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings in January 1957. It was written by Lieutenant Commander Richard B. Hadaway, U. S. Naval Reserve. The Magazine Articles page contains a list of articles and extracts which prompt comments from this author.

This magazine article may have stimulated the publication of the first book in 1960 entitled "Tragedy at Honda" by Vice Admiral Charles A. Lockwood, USN (Ret.) and Colonel Hans Christian Adamson, USAF (Ret.). The Preface and Acknowledgements page in this book shows evidence of extensive cooperation with the Navy Department, while the authors gathered "long-forgotten incidents, charts, photographs, and records". Furthermore, the authors claim that the "entire story of that nightmare voyage" has never before been told.

However, the entire story has not been told. The Books page contains a list of the books which were published on this subject. Once again, key extracts are included which contribute extensively to the search for the truth. When applicable, this author adds comments.

This web site utilizes the technology of the 21st century to present the viewer a summary of the findings from numerous records, books, articles, personal letters and other documents. Each and every authors' contribution is appreciated. Every finding of fact and opinion is based on documents from the past. Testimony under oath during the Court of Inquiry or at the General Courts-martial takes precedence over any book, magazine or newspaper article which contradicts. However, when certain facts are missing—or deliberately withheld—from the record, this precedent does not apply. But, by and large, the testimony under oath during a naval legal proceeding is a sailors vow that the truth will be told.

Copies of personal letters between sailors and kin/friends were considered to be primary sources of information. However, if the lone survivor, Gene Bruce—97 years in 2004, who was a 16 year old sailor aboard the USS Chauncey, cannot substantiate the finding, it fails the test. One such letter has been challenged by Gene, and I leave it for the viewer to decide.

A private researcher was hired to search for documents at the National Archives in Washington, DC. Many pieces of correspondence and emails with these parties were generated. Important extracts are included on the National Archives page, most with this author's comments.

Finally, the viewer may send email comments on any topic from email links placed on numerous pages of this site. Kin, friends and interested parties are encouraged to send an email and volunteer to assist us in doing research. The only requirement is to know the definition of an accident and realize when personal responsibility for an accident begins.


Chronology of the Last Hours

For those viewers who lose patience with volumes of textual material on navigation and chasing bearings in the "Old Navy", the following table provides a chronology of major events which took place during the last hours before the fatal crash at Point Honda on Sept. 8, 1923.
 

1849 - 2039

During this time, two bearings were requested by Delphy, one prior to 1907 and the other at about 2016. Operator at Point Arguello told Delphy to wait.

1853 - 1906

During this time, a radio log entry was made at Point Arguello which states Delphy is “causing interference by not listening in before transmitting." Operator at Arguello logs "no time to log properly ship cuts in on another."

1900

Lt. Blodgett reported for duty on the bridge and to relieve LCdr. Hunter for supper. They discussed the navigational situation. LCdr. Hunter favors his dead reckoning position over the bearings received from Point Arguello. Lt. Blodgett thinks they are in a doubtful navigational situation since all bearings so far show the Delphy on a course heading toward the radio compass station.
Capt. Watson was unaware of the situation on the bridge. He was enjoying conversation and supper in his cabin below the bridge with Mr. Eugene Dooman, a personal friend traveling to San Diego.

1900 -1935

Cdr. Roper aboard Kennedy initiates and carries on a radiotelephone conversation with Capt. Watson aboard Delphy on the squadron wave. Delphy could not request bearings from Point Arguello with the spark set (cw Morse code) on a different wave during this time. This author does not know the reason why.
However, Mr. Richard Fulsaas may have a solution, and we appreciate his email contribution. An extract appears in the following row.

"The old spark transmitters of the day (1920 era) emitted a strong wideband of radio frequency interference which would have made it difficult if not impossible to carry on a ship to ship radiotelephone (voice) communication simultaneously. It is likely that radio procedures at that time required the bridge, where the radiotelephone probably was located, to call down to the radio-room requesting that the spark transmitter for Morse code (cw) not be used until the radiotelephone conversation was completed. I do not know this for a certainty but I do have extensive knowledge of seaborne radiocommunications as I was a Radio Officer aboard Army Transports."

1933

Point Arguello attempted to contact Delphy to obtain a transmitted signal because it was their turn for a bearing. No response from the Delphy logged at 1935. 

2000

LCdr. Hunter sent Adm. Kittelle aboard Melville required position report based on dead reckoning alone. He believed that he should see Point Arguello light about 2025.

2000 - 2010

LCdr. Hunter ordered Lt. Blodgett to radio room to get as many bearings as possible. Lt. Blodgett may have called LCdr. Bratton aboard Stoddert via radiotelephone and asked him to request bearings so the Delphy could intercept them, or LCdr. Bratton's Division Commander, Cdr. Roper, may have ordered him to do so.

2011

Point Arguello logged transmitting bearing of 326° to Stoddert.

2012

LCdr. Bratton aboard Stoddert logged receipt of 326° bearing.  Delphy intercepted this bearing. Lt. Blodgett called it up to LCdr. Hunter on bridge. Did not tell him it was requested by Stoddert. LCdr. Hunter said  "it's another impossible bearing, and how could Delphy be inset to shore by 8 miles in 2 hours"? .

2016

Delphy requested a bearing from Point Arguello—was told to wait..

2025 LCdr. Hunter called down to the radio room to ask for a

 reciprocal bearing and to state that Delphy was south of

 Point Arguello.  

2032

Delphy intercepted 330° bearing sent to Stoddert. Lt. Blodgett called it up to LCdr. Hunter on the bridge. LCdr. Hunter also considered bearing as impossible and disregarded it, although when plotted, it indicated Delphy was heading straight for Point Arguello.

2035

Point Arguello sent 168° to Delphy. LCdr. Bell, skipper of Kennedy, intercepted this bearing and logged it as a reciprocal. Two other ships in squadron also intercepted the bearing sent to the Delphy. LCdr. Hunter chose this bearing as correct over all others and plotted it on chart. He then called Capt. Watson to the bridge to make a decision whether to turn eastward into Santa Barbara Channel or go seaward around San Miguel Island.

2039

Delphy requested and received 333° bearing from Point Arguello. LCdr. Hunter disregarded bearing. It showed Delphy still north of Point Arguello. LCdr. Hunter believed he passed the light without seeing it and that Delphy was south of radio compass station.

2040 - 2050

Capt. Watson, LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett discussed the navigational situation. LCdr. Hunter convinced Capt. Watson that bearings from Point Arguello were inaccurate. Lt. Blodgett believed otherwise and requested they slow for a sounding. He was overruled. Capt. Watson did not want to spoil the 20-knot engineering run and ordered a change of course to 95° true at 2100 into the Santa Barbara Channel. Capt. Watson returned to Mr. Dooman in his cabin.

2058

Delphy requested and received 323° bearing from Point Arguello. Too late to change—decision had been made. Delphy was two minutes away from its pivot point.

2100

Delphy turned east to 95° true. The rest of the squadron trailed behind in column formation according to the unwritten “follow-the-leader” tradition of wartime Destroyer Doctrine. 

2104 - 2106 The Young hit a submerged pinnacle reef about 2104 and 

her bottom was sliced open on the starboard side, as she 

rode over the pinnacle to a dead stop, while the Delphy and 

the S.P. Lee, out in front, continued on a course to the cliffs of 

Honda. At about 2105, the Delphy struck head on, and a 

minute later, the S.P. Lee veered to the left to avoid a 

collision and crashed nearby. Four more ships joined the 

wreckage: Woodbury, Nicholas, Fuller and Chauncey.

 

 


 

Main Cause of the Accident

Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan on September 1, 1923

and the

Unusual Currents near Point Honda on September 8, 1923

On September 17, 1923, a Court of Inquiry convened in the Administration Building on the Naval Air Station, North Island, California, to question defendants and witnesses concerning the circumstances surrounding the stranding of seven destroyers and the loss of 23 lives at Point Honda, California, on September 8, 1923.

 

Rear Admiral William V. Pratt, U. S. Navy, presided over the Court. Other members of the Court were Captain George C. Day, U. S. Navy and Captain David F. Sellers, U. S. Navy. The judge advocate was Lieutenant Commander Leslie E. Bratton, U. S. Navy.

 

The Findings of Fact, Opinions of the Court and Recommendations were documented in San Diego, California, on October 12, 1923.

 

In the first opinion of the Court, the direct cause of the disaster which resulted in the stranding of seven destroyers on Pedernales Point (Point Honda), and the grounding of two others in the same vicinity is, in the first instance, directly attributable to bad errors of judgment and faulty navigation on the part of three officers attached to and serving on the U. S. S. Delphy, viz: the Squadron Commander, Captain Edward H. Watson, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Donald T. Hunter, and the Navigating Officer, Lieutenant (j. g.) Lawrence Francis Blodgett.[i]

 

The Court stated in its third opinion that no unusual current conditions existed, but that the set to the north and east was caused by bad steering, together with a certain amount of current which, while not explicitly laid down in the Sailing Directions, may be expected at any time in any direction and should be guarded against by the careful navigator.[ii]

 

Capt. Watson and his counsel, Captain J. H. Tomb, Captain T. T. Craven, and Lieutenant Commander G. L. Walker must have suspected that unusual currents contributed to the disaster because they sent a message to Operations, 12th Naval District in San Francisco requesting verification.

 

To: Operations, 12th Naval District

From: Commander Destroyer Squadron 11

 

Request information concerning unusual currents California coast since Japanese earthquake for use before Court of Inquiry. Please exercise reply by dispatch.[iii]

 

The reply to this message contains contradictory information concerning the current in the vicinity of Point Arguello (less than 2 miles south of Point Honda).

 

From: Operations, 12th Naval District

To: Commander Destroyer Squadron 11

 

Steam schooner Raymond passed Point Arguello 2200 (less than an hour after the stranding) September 8 bound north. Experienced a strong south and inshore current from Arguello to Piedras Blanca. Coast and Geodetic Survey reports slight variation in tide. No other reports received to date.[iv]

 

News wire stories out of Los Angeles reported an unusual current around the channel islands based upon a report from the Captain of the Cuba, which wrecked on San Miguel Island in the early hours of September 8, 1923.

 

The Captain of the wrecked liner Cuba claimed that a mysterious change in the normal ocean current pushed him southward and east of his estimated position coming up en route to San Francisco.[v]

 

On September 4, 1923, four days before the disaster at Point Honda, the New York Times published an article from Los Angeles which described twenty foot waves along the California coast.
 

 


  Huge Swells Are Thought to Be Due to Earthquake in Japan

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 4.—Ground swells twenty feet high, larger than any in the experience of mariners at Los Angeles Harbor, struck the Southern California coast early today and were believed to have been the result of the earthquake and tidal wave which devastated parts of Japan.

 

The swells broke completely over the fifteen foot breakwater and carried away all loose objects, including a boat tender at the lighthouse and considerable lumber piled along the shore.

 

Naval observers said no storm of any size had been reported anywhere on the Pacific, and they thought the huge swells due to reaction on this coast from the Tokio (sic) catastrophe.

 

At Santa Barbara, Cal., the highest seas in years have washed the shores for the last thirty-six hours. Since yesterday afternoon six and eight foot waves have driven bathers back on the beach and at one time the tide came to the sea wall at the foot of the beach boulevard for the first time in several years.[vi]

 

On September 11, 1923, the Associated Press published a news release from Washington, DC, based upon attitudes and opinions of the Navy Department. Two paragraphs from this article pertain to the possible cause of the wayward current.

 

Unofficial description of the scene of the wreck and known peculiarities of the coastal area in which it occurred, led to the belief of some officials that a tidal disturbance of unusual force threw the destroyers far off their course, probably without the knowledge of the officers on board.

 

A possible connection between such a phenomenon and the recent Japanese earthquake was discussed. Records of the hydrographic office (in San Francisco) and reports of naval officers who have served extensively on the California coast agreed that the Santa Barbara section frequently experiences a coastward tide, attributable to no unknown marine factor.[vii]

 

On September 13, 1923, five days after the disaster at Point Honda, the New York Times published an article from San Francisco which described changes in the Pacific noted in California.

 


  Shifting Currents and Tidal Waves May
Necessitate Recharting the Coast
 

SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 13.—Within the past week ten American warships, a passenger liner and a freighter have come to grief off the coast of California as a result of oceanic changes on the heels of the Japanese disaster. Tidal waves that have smashed piers and breakwaters culminated on Wednesday in the wiping out of a Lower California fishing village by a huge wave.

 

The precise nature of the changes off the California coast are still unknown to those whose business is to record, chart and report such disturbances, but there have been at least two positive indications of a change in the nature of the Pacific in this locality.

 

First, there has been noted a definite and strong inshore set of the ocean current at that point.

 

Second, there have been unusual and dangerous waves, at time reaching points ten and twelve feet in excess of the highest normal waves.

The area of disturbance appears from the present reports of Point Arguello to beyond the American-Mexican border line.

 

Whether the oceanic changes on this side are the direct result of the upheaval in Japan, or whether they are due to a secondary disturbance in the bed of the ocean a comparatively few miles off the California coast, is yet unknown. Whether the bed of the ocean here has changed is also a matter of conjecture, and will be until new soundings can be made throughout the area of disturbance.

 

The Hydrographic Office, since the wreck of the seven destroyers at La Honda (Point Honda), has been receiving reports from masters of vessels, all of whom state that a strong inshore set of the ocean current has been noted in the vicinity of Point Conception and Point Arguello.

 

In the meantime mariners are taking unusual precautions when traversing coast routes south of the city.[viii]

 

While doing research on their book in the late 1950s, the authors of Tragedy at Honda encountered inconsistencies concerning the cause of a wholly unexpected current with a pronounced southeasterly inshore set.

 

In hunting around for the cause of such a phenomenon (inshore set), some mariners and oceanographers called attention to the great earthquake staged by Mother Nature in Japan just six days earlier. Almost 40,000 died, about 100,000 were badly injured, and more than 500,000 were made homeless by this terrible disaster. The enormous waves of energy released by the quake could easily, it was explained, have been transmitted across the ocean bottom and set up patterns of wayward oceanic currents. Some scientists held that this was quite possible. Others declared that it was utterly impossible.[ix]

 

On November 7, 1923, Lieutenant Commander Hunter, skipper of the Delphy and self-proclaimed navigator on September 8, 1923, testified at his trial by General Courts-martial concerning the navigational situation.

 

16. Q. If you have any other statement to make to the court relative to navigational work of the Delphy, please make it now.?  

A. I believe that the contributory factors to the loss of the Delphy were unusual and abnormal currents which could not be anticipated with the weather conditions as they were, and to the fact that a very thick fog extended not more than 500 yards from the coast line, when the visibility at the time of the change of course was a good two miles, which prevented us from seeing the danger and taking steps to avoid it.[x]

Lieutenant Commander Hunter taught navigation for two years at the Naval Academy prior to assuming command of the Delphy. On September 8, 1923, he navigated the Delphy by dead reckoning because he did not trust the radio compass signals sent to the Delphy from the station at Point Arguello. Several of the radio signals indicated that the Delphy was heading directly toward the station, although, the dead reckoning position showed the Delphy in safe waters.

 

When questioned about his judgment concerning these bearings at his General Courts-martial, Lieutenant Commander Hunter testified that he could not conceive that the ship had been set in eight miles in less than two hours.[xi]

 

All of the sources used in the research concerning “unusual currents” appear to verify that they existed along the California coast on September 8, 1923, and may have contributed to the disaster at Point Honda. Neither the Court of Inquiry nor the General Courts-martial which followed were able to establish a cause and effect relationship to explain the inshore current sets—nor did they try.

 

So here is the rest of the story—documented in The Tragedy at Honda.

 

The findings of the Court of Inquiry (recommended General Courts-martial be awarded to eleven officers) were greeted with general satisfaction by press, public and—not least—by Congressional politicians. The approval uttered by Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby was reflected widely by the economy-minded Coolidge administration. It was apparent that to certain factions in Washington, the real tragedy at Honda—the loss of seven splendid fighting ships and 23 irreplaceable lives—was of secondary importance. To them the matter of grave concern was that $13,000,000 worth of Government property had been tossed on the junk heap. For that, heads must roll on the sand.[xii]

 

But when the General Courts-martial returned only two convictions out of eleven, the mood changed considerably.

 

While the findings (two convictions and nine acquittals) dissipated the gloom that hung over the Navy, they created deep displeasure in Washington. The wholesale “hangings” that had been expected did not materialize to provide material for political campaigners. There was much talk about drastic Congressional changes in laws that deal with naval courts, to place greater legal power in the hands of the Secretary of the Navy.

 

Even (President) Calvin Coolidge—who seldom ventured an opinion on any subject, including the weather—observed that the “Court Martial has been very lenient with everybody.”

 

As is understandable, Secretary of the Navy Denby was much displeased with the nine acquittals. He believed that stern treatment should have been accorded all 11 of the defendants. He felt that the standards of naval discipline had been let down and that the prestige, performance, and morale of the service would suffer.[xiii]

 

It was the Navy Department’s next move. Commander Leslie E. Bratton was ordered to Washington and appointed the Assistant Judge Advocate to review the records of trial for the Secretary’s endorsement. Commander Bratton was also the Judge Advocate at the Court of Inquiry and the eleven General Courts-martial. On September 8, 1923, he was the skipper of the Stoddert—one of the ships of Division 32, Destroyer Squadron Eleven, which escaped the rocks at Point Honda.

 

After reviewing the records of trial, Commander Bratton recommended that the not guilty verdicts (acquittals) be disapproved. In early 1924, the not guilty verdicts (acquittals) were disapproved by endorsement placed on the court martial records (This author's comment: although, a copy of Lt. Blodgett's endorsement, prepared for signature—By direction on the Secretary of the Navy—was not signed by the JAG of the Navy or his Assistant, Cmdr. Bratton). This action was made public by the Navy Department with the statement noting that disapproval of the findings by the Secretary did not serve as a basis for re-trial of the cases, but was “simply an expression of the Secretary’s views of the Court’s action.”[xiv]

 

Once again, the bottom line took precedence. Years later, Captain H. O. Roesch, who was the commanding officer of the Nicholas at Point Honda, commented about the outcome of the reversal of his acquittal.

 

When all the acquittals were disapproved, we were all in the same boat. The principle effect of these reversals was that all the skippers were put in the position of having been responsible for the loss of their ships. This prevented us from submitting claims for the loss of our personal gear and equipment as did our junior officers.[xv]

 

Concern for unusual current on September 8, 1923 did not exist beyond Lieutenant Hunter’s trial. The Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby wanted heads to roll, and when he failed, he struck back by reversing the Court’s acquittals.

 

If the opinion of a Court of Inquiry was that the accident at Point Honda was caused by a huge tidal wave, which deposited the entire column of 14 destroyers on the rocks in one fell swoop, it would have been deemed an act of God by everyone in the chain of command, and no heads would have been called to roll. But since unpredictable, variable, deep, ocean currents caused by the earthquake in Japan, with hundreds of after-shocks days later, caused the loss of seven ships and 23 lives, an act of God does not apply—or should it have?

 

If you're interested in Point Honda and have some time on your hands, you may want to assist us by doing research in your community. Check your local newspapers and find out if they were publishing in September 1923, and have them archived. If so, search for all articles relating to the earthquake in Japan on September 1, 1923. Also search for any articles that cover the unusual currents on the west coast during the month of September. If you succeed, please send feedback via email. 

 



Endnotes

[i] Court of Inquiry, Opinions of the Court, p. 1029.

[ii] Ibid., p. 1030.

[iii] Elwyn E. Overshiner, Course 095 to Eternity, p. 189.

[iv] Ibid., p. 189.

[v] Charles A. Lockwood, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.) and Hans Christian Adamson, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) Tragedy at Honda, p. 159.

[vi] ProQuest Historical Newspapers, New York Times, Twenty Foot Waves Hit California Coast, Sep. 5, 1923, p. 3.

[vii] Charles A. Lockwood, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.) and Hans Christian Adamson, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) Tragedy at Honda, p. 161.

[viii] ProQuest Historical Newspapers, New York Times, Changes in Pacific Noted in California, Sep. 13, 1923, p. 4.

[ix] Charles A. Lockwood, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.) and Hans Christian Adamson, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) Tragedy at Honda, p. 159-160.

[x] Record of Proceedings of a General Courts-martial, LCdr. Hunter, p. 110.

[xi] Ibid., p. 108.

[xii] Charles A. Lockwood, Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.) and Hans Christian Adamson, Colonel, USAF (Ret.) Tragedy at Honda, p. 205.

[xiii] Ibid., p. 216.

[xiv] Ibid., p. 217.

[xv] Ibid., p. 213.

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Destroyers

Description

A total of 19 Clemson class destroyers—possessing a variety of descriptive names, i.e., four-stackers, four-pipers, and tin cans—formed Destroyer Squadron Eleven in 1923.  A photo of the USS Delphy (DD-261), Flagship of the Commander Destroyer Squadron Eleven, Captain Edward H. Watson, was available on the U. S. Naval Historical Center web site at http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-d/dd261.htm.

The photo shows the Delphy underway, circa 1920, before being fitted with an enlarged deckhouse to carry her after 4"/50 gun. Only one ship is shown; all others are similar, except for their destroyer (DD)  numbers.

The Delphy was built in Squantum, Massachusetts, and commissioned at the end of November 1918. Key specifications are as follows: overall length, 314' x 4 1/2"; length between perpendiculars, 310'; breadth on load water line, 30' x 11 1/2"; mean draft, 9' x 4"; displacement (normal) 1,215 tons; draft aft, 9' x 9 3/4"; speed, 33.91 knots.

The Delphy was equipped with four GE Curtis geared turbine engines—two high-power and two-low power—capable of delivering 27,000  horsepower, two propellers, and four Yarrow oil-burning boilers. Her total weight of machinery was 435 tons.

The four, tall smokestacks which served her four high-pressure boilers were mounted on the main deck. In addition to torpedoes and depth charges, the Delphy's armament included four, 4" guns and a 3" anti-aircraft gun.

When at full strength, her ship's complement consisted of a captain, seven wardroom officers, ten petty officers, and a crew of 114.


Seven Four-Stackers Stranded

On the morning of September 8, 1923,  Destroyer Squadron Eleven departed San Francisco Bay, bound for San Diego. At 0830, the squadron took departure from the light vessel steering various courses and speeds engaged in making practice runs in preparation for Short Range Battle Practice.

At 1130, the squadron  passed Pigeon Point on port beam distant  about two miles on course 160° true, standard speed 20 knots. This was the last definite fix on the journey south.

At about 1430, the squadron changed course to 150° true, Point Sur being approximately abeam but not sighted—reason unknown. 

The squadron engaged in simple tactical exercises of equal amounts to the right and left of the base course. At 1630, the squadron formed a column in the following order:

U.S.S. DELPHY (DD #261) Squadron Leader

 

U.S.S. S. P. LEE (DD #310) 33rd Division Flag

U.S.S. YOUNG (DD #312)

U.S.S. WOODBURY (DD #309)

U.S.S. NICHOLAS (DD #311)

 

U.S.S. FARRAGUT (DD #300) 31st Division Flag

U.S.S. FULLER (DD #297)

U.S.S. PERCIVAL (DD #298)

U.S.S. SOMERS (DD #301)

U.S.S. CHAUNCEY (DD #296)

 

U.S.S. KENNEDY (DD #306) 32nd Division Flag

U.S.S. PAUL HAMILTON (DD #307)

U.S.S. STODDERT (DD #302)

U.S.S. THOMPSON (DD #305)

The U.S.S. J. F. Burnes dropped out of formation during the afternoon due to a boiler problem.

At 2100, the Delphy—leading  the column of destroyers—changed course to 95° true without a previous signal to the squadron—to make the approach to the Santa Barbara Channel. The Delphy sent this signal to the next ship astern, the S. P. Lee, giving the new course, after the change of course was made. In five minutes, the Delphy was engulfed in a thick, coastal fog which cut visibility to zero. It was too late to halt the "greyhounds of the sea" as they sped to destruction.

Within ten minutes after the turn, seven destroyers—names shown in red print—were stranded on California real estate at Point Honda, and 23 lives were lost. The Farragut and the Somers managed to escape the trap with only minor damages.


Photos


 



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Newspaper Articles

Introduction

In the early days following the accident at Point Honda on September 8, 1923, the Associated Press (AP) was in the forefront with newspaper datelines from most major cities on the west coast. Copies of the first and second editions of The San Diego Union on the following day—Sunday, September 9, 1923—revealed only a partial description of an unfolding, major, naval accident. The early morning fog along the coast at Point Honda kept a blanket of speculation over an accurate list of casualties and the names of ships stranded on the rocks.

The following table lists several articles which were published on the Point Honda accident. Extracts from these articles and comments by this author are included on this web page.

 

Newspaper    Heading    Date    Dateline
The San Diego Union   25 Sailors Drown  Sept. 9  Santa Barbara, Sept. 9
The San Diego Union Special Train Bearing Survivors To San Diego; 23 Sailors Lost Sept. 10 Oceanside,  Sept. 10 (2:30 a.m.)
Arizona Republic Death Toll Of Wrecked Destroyers Reaches 29, September 11, 1923 Sept. 11 Santa Barbara, Calif., Sept. 10
The San Diego Union   Admiral Coontz Assigns Inquiry Board Of Officers To Place Responsibility Sept. 11  Santa Barbara, Sept. 10
The San Diego Union   Survivors Of Crews From 7 Destroyers Reach Home Exhausted By Experience Sept. 11 Santa Barbara, Sept. 10
Arizona Republic Armed Guard Fires On Sea Vandals Who Try To Loot Destroyer Sept. 14 Santa Barbara, Sept. 13
Arizona Republic Disregard Of Signals Gets Blame For Crash Sept. 19 San Diego, Calif., Sept. 19
Arizona Republic Chief Of Destroyer Squadron Would Take Blame For Disaster Sept. 25 San Diego, Calif., Sept. 24
Arizona Republic Honda Disaster Due To Mistake In Calculation Sept. 26 San Diego, Calif., Sept. 25
The Naval Weekly "9-TURN", Complete  Narrative of the Destroyer Disaster at Honda Head Oct. 1923 Published by
The Naval Weekly
472 Spreckels Bldg.
San Diego, California
New York Times Acquit Lieut. Blodgett Nov. 11 San Diego, Calif., Nov. 10

It is my intent to repeat facts in Author's Comments whenever necessary to convey the best possible explanation of an extract. Because of the textual length of this page, a viewer may choose to read the extracts from only one or two newspaper articles. If this is the case, repetition will be justified. One who reads every extract and comment, in every article, will encounter this repetition and it may be boring. Kindly consider my purpose and read on.

Send your comments, suggestions and complaints to:

 webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org
 


Newspaper: The San Diego Union

Heading and Date: 25 Sailors Drown, September 9, 1923

Dateline: AP, Santa Barbara, Sept. 9.

Extract 1: Seven Destroyers Enroute to San Diego Are Wrecked. 
The dead were all trapped in their bunks on the Young when that vessel struck and were drowned when the craft capsized within two minutes after she had struck.

Although ordered by their commanding officer (Cmdr. William L. Calhoun) to remain aboard, many sailors jumped overboard in an attempt to get ashore.

Author's Comments: There is ample evidence that some sailors either jumped or fell overboard when the Young hit the rocks and before she turned over, because they were seen struggling in the water by survivors from other ships. There is also documentary evidence that cries from within the hull were heard by survivors hanging on the port side and waiting to be rescued. And days later, when divers used torches to cut into the Young, two bodies were found: Gordon J. Overshiner, Seaman Second Class, and an unidentified body.

This author can only speculate on the statement, if accurate, that men who jumped or even fell overboard, violated their commanding officer's order (to stick with the ship) as a unjustified attempt to place blame on the dead. The originator of this statement wanted to free Cmdr. Calhoun of responsibility for the deaths. And the implied conclusion would have been that the men died as a result of their own misconduct, and not in the line of duty.

The opposite took place. The Court of Inquiry stated in their opinion that the "men (three from the Delphy and 20 from the Young) met death by drowning and that their death was in the line of duty and was not due to their own misconduct." In addition, the same Court recommended that Cmdr. Calhoun "be brought to trial by a General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering a vessel of the Navy to be run upon rocks." 

The newspaper article offers a contradiction: One paragraph leads the reader to believe that all who died were trapped inside the hull, while another paragraph states that many jumped overboard. Did those who jumped, die? Maybe some fell overboard when she was turning over?

Doing research into the accident at Point Honda? Find the answers to these questions or add your comments:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

Extract 2: Three Survivors Reach San Diego.
Graphic details of the greatest naval wreck in history, a wreck which cost the lives of between 20 and 30 men and in which seven of the navy's finest destroyers piled on the rocks at Point Arguello were brought to San Diego tonight by three officers of the U. S. S. Delphy, the first ship to strike the rocks.

Lieuts. L. F. Blodgett, A. P. Mullinix and Ensign Robert C. Greenwalt stepped off the 6:30 train in clothes they had to borrow to make the trip. Lieut. Blodgett  suffered injuries to one of his legs and the other officers were badly battered in the crash.

Author's Comments: The details of the train trips from Point Honda, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles to San Diego, are described by LCdr. Robert Greenwalt USN (Ret.) when he was 85 years old and contributing 14 pages to a book entitled "Honda Left Turn 095" published by Joe Silva in 1986.

LCdr. Greenwalt wrote that at 0130 on Sept. 9, a day after the accident, Capt. Watson instructed him to board the 0400 train to Santa Barbara and escort several personnel who were more seriously injured to the hospital. One of the injured from the Delphy was Lt. Mullinix, who suffered bad lacerations to his feet. He also mentioned that Mr. Eugene Dooman—Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy—accompanied the detail as far as Los Angeles. 

After dropping off the casualties at the Santa Barbara hospital, minus Lt. Mullinix who received some treatment but wanted to proceed to San Diego, the trio—Greenwalt, Mullinix and Dooman—boarded the 0800 train to Los Angeles. When aboard, they met Lt. Blodgett, Head of the Navigation Department and Executive Officer aboard the Delphy, who was also traveling from Point Honda on his way to the San Diego Naval Hospital with a cracked knee cap.

Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Mr. Dooman called the Ambassador Hotel and made reservations. They took rubbing-alcohol baths to remove the fuel oil from their skin, and had their clothes cleaned and pressed. Their noon meal at the hotel was a "big steak and french fried potatoes, washed down with champagne". That same day, Lt. Mullinix, Lt. Blodgett, and Ensign Greenwalt boarded the 1500 train to San Diego and parted with Mr. Dooman.

Capt. Watson instructed Ensign Greenwalt to make his verbal report to the Commandant of the Eleventh Naval District, Admiral Louis Nulton—which he claims he did for two hours immediately after his arrival in San Diego. However, a San Diego news article on Sept. 10 stated Ensign Greenwalt was taken directly to Rear Admiral S. S. Robison, Battle Fleet Commander on North Island, to give a detailed report of the accident.

After Lt. Blodgett received treatment for his injury at the San Diego Naval Hospital, and according to his transcript of naval service, he was transferred to the Melville, Flagship of Rear Admiral Kittelle in Sept. 1923 and served until Feb. 1924. During this period, in addition to regular duties board the Melville,  Lt. Blodgett was a witness/defendant at the Court of Inquiry and a defendant at his General Courts-martial.

Of the three travelers, only Lt. Blodgett knew what took place aboard the Delphy, the lead ship in the column primarily responsible for doing the navigation for the entire squadron. The information Ensign Greenwalt was asked to communicate to the Commandant of the Eleventh District or the Battle Fleet Commander—whichever is correct—was lacking in specifics, because the Chauncey's experience differed considerably from the Delphy's.

One can only speculate that after Lt. Blodgett was treated at the San Diego Naval Hospital, he reported to the Destroyer Squadrons Headquarters, North Island, and awaited the arrival of the Melville, which remained at Point Honda for two days following the accident. He may have eventually told Rear Admiral Kittelle  and/or Rear Admiral Robison what took place aboard the Delphy, and having done so, was shielded from his immediate superiors—Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter.
 



Newspaper: The San Diego Union

Heading and Date: Special Train Bearing Survivors To San Diego; 23 Sailors Lost, September 10, 1923

Dateline: Oceanside, Sept. 10 (2:30 a.m.).

Extract 1: Seven Warships Enroute Here Pile Up On Rocks in Fog off Point Arguello. 
Nineteen of the missing men are from the Young. It is said they disregarded orders and jumped when ship capsized. Those who clung to the steep decks of the Young  were taken off.

Author's Comment: This author's comments in the preceding extract apply here. However, this article is more specific in what it is trying to convey. Whoever originated the information that the sailors who did not stick with the ship violated Cmdr. Calhoun's order were trying to free Cmdr. Calhoun from being responsible for their deaths. And as commented in the previous extract, the Court of Inquiry stated in their opinion that the "men (three from the Delphy and 20 from the Young) met death by drowning and that their death was in the line of duty and was not due to their own misconduct." In addition, the same Court recommended that Cmdr. Calhoun "be brought to trial by a General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering a vessel of the Navy to be run upon rocks." 
 



Newspaper: Arizona Republic

Heading and Date: Death Toll Of Wrecked Destroyers Reach 29, September 11, 1923

Dateline: Santa Barbara, Calif., Sept. 10.

Extract 1: Official List Being Prepared; Tidal Wave May Have Been Responsible for Disaster.
Today it developed that the wrecking of the Pacific mail liner Cuba probably was indirectly responsible for the loss of seven destroyers and many lives about four hours after the Cuba struck. The destroyers, traveling in a heavy fog, mistook radio signals directing the destroyer Reno (attached to Destroyer Squadron Eleven) to the Cuba for instructions for them. The mistake was discovered only a few minutes before the Delphy, the first of seven to run aground, hit, and too late to save them. 

Author's Comments: According to David Grover, the author of a magazine article in Sea Classics, June 1993, the Cuba grounded off San Miguel Island, on the western tip of the Santa Barbara Channel, at 0430 on Sept. 8. Whereas the seven destroyers went aground between 2105 and 2115  on Sept. 8., more than sixteen hours later.

There is no record in the daily log of the radio compass station at Point Arguello to substantiate that the communications from the Reno could have been intercepted by the Delphy and contributed to the accident. In fact, the daily log shows that only three bearings were sent to the Reno on Sept. 8, all between 1100 and 1140: 286.5° at 1100; 238° at 1119; 215° at 1140. All bearings indicate that the Reno was well within range to get a definite fix, one she used to skirt the Channel Islands instead of entering the Santa Barbara Channel. 

At 1130 on Sept. 8, the Delphy was passing Pigeon Point, well out of range to intercept signals from the compass station. The Delphy did not begin requesting bearings from Point Arguello until 1415, when she came into range.
 



Newspaper: San Diego Union

Heading and Date: Admiral Coontz Assigns Inquiry Board Of Officers To Place Responsibility, September 11, 1923

Dateline: Santa Barbara, Calif., Sept. 10.

Extract 1: Story of Fatal Crash Told by Survivors of Wrecked Destroyers Who Arrived in San Diego by Train and Ship; Casualties Continued to Two Ships.
The Young turned over 90 seconds after striking and most of the men now reported missing were penned in the lower compartments with hardly a chance in the world to escape. Survivors of the Young told of hearing the despairing cries of the doomed men as the waters rose around the wrecked craft.

Author's Comments: A day after the accident, a 16-man patrol was left behind at Point Honda to search for bodies and guard the wrecks. Lt.(j.g.) C. V. Lee from the Chauncey, and Ensign William Wright from the S. P. Lee, were in charge of this detail. They remained on duty until Sept. 20, having recovered 13 bodies. Of these, two could not be identified.

A memo on Sep. 22 from Cmdr. H. E. Odell, Medical Corps, aboard the Melville, Flagship of the Commander Destroyer Squadrons, to the Chief of Staff of the Battle Fleet, stated that 13 bodies were recovered, shipped by rail, and received at the University Undertaking Parlors, San Diego, California. Of these, two were unidentified, and one whose identity was not certain: Salzer, C. A., Coxswain. A list of bodies recovered follows:

From the U.S.S. Young
Torres, Enrique, Cabin Steward
Jones, Ernest, Cabin Cook
Salzer, C. A., Coxswain (identity not certain)
Kirby, Edward C., Fireman Third Class
Van Schaak, Vern R., Fireman Third Class
Overshiner, Gordon J., Fireman Third Class
Slimak, Joseph J., Fireman Third Class
Zakrzewski, August, Fireman Second Class
Rogers,Leo F., Fireman Third Class

From the U.S.S. Delphy
Conway, James W. H., Fireman Third Class
Pearson, James T., Fireman First Class

There was only one body from the Delphy either missing or unidentified, that of Cabin Cook Sofronio Dalida. If one of the recovered, unidentified bodies was Dalida, then that leaves the Young with 8 missing and one unidentified. If neither of the two recovered unidentified bodies was Dalida, then 7 men from the Young were missing and so was the body of Dalida.

On Sep. 13, the Arizona Republic reported that Overshiner's body was recovered—and later identified by his father Edgar Overshiner from San Jose, California—from the fire room of the Young by divers who cut into the hull with torches. They also found another body which could not be identified.

After examining the ratings of the sailors whose bodies were identified, one may conclude most were Firemen and members of "the black gang" who performed duties in the lowest holds of the ship—the fire rooms—where danger from  oil-burning boilers producing highly pressurized steam prevailed. In addition, where the distance from fire room to fresh air was the greatest.

This author concludes that due to difficulties divers encountered trying to cut into the hull of the Young with torches amidst a constant, raging surf, the operation was terminated, and the Young became a tomb for the missing sailors.
 



Newspaper: San Diego Union

Heading and Date: Survivors Of Crews From 7 Destroyers Reach Home Exhausted By Experience, September 11, 1923

Dateline: Santa Barbara, Calif., Sept. 10.

Extract 1: All about us (survivors clinging to the overturned Young) were huge rocks jagged and harsh in appearance through the fog as they were lighted for a moment by a flare from one of the many carbide pots thrown overboard from the life rafts. As each wave receded, we could look down at the rocks beneath us and then the angry seas washed it again spraying us with crude oil that floated out from the ship's tanks, threatening to wash us from our insecure positions on the side.

Author's Comments: This article provides more insight to what appeared as burning oil on the surface of the water. With flares for illumination, and lit carbide pots bobbing in the water alongside struggling sailors screaming for help, one could be left with a wrong impression.

There were no burn injuries treated at either Santa Barbara Hospital or San Diego Naval Hospital. Most injuries were lacerations to the feet and hands from scaling the sharp, volcanic rocks at Point Honda.
 



Newspaper: Arizona Republic

Heading and Date: Armed Guard Fires on Sea Vandals Who Try To Loot Destroyer, September 14, 1923

Dateline: Santa Barbara, Calif., Sept. 13.

Extract 1: Two more bodies were recovered, one identified as that of Gordon J. Overshiner of San Jose, Cal. The other had not been identified tonight. Further search of the hulk (after divers cut into the hull with torches) of the Young failed to locate any additional bodies and no more efforts will be made in that direction. It is the theory at Point Honda that all bodies of victims not recovered are afloat and eventually will be washed ashore.

Author's Comments
: On Sept. 10, Lt. Lee, in charge of recovering bodies at Point Honda, was quoted as saying that he will not recover any more bodies until an opening was made in the hull of the Young. Three days later, two bodies were recovered after his condition was met.

This extract contradicts previous statements in the press that there were no sailors trapped aboard the Young when she turned over. In fact, these two sailors who were found in the hull of the Young, "stuck with the ship", as ordered by Cmdr. Calhoun. One can conclude they remained on watch in the fire room while she flooded and turned over in 90 seconds. Their duty was to keep the boilers in operation until ordered otherwise, even with water poured in through her slit, starboard side and the boilers threatening to blow. No such order was given.

Overshiner and the unidentified sailor (who was probably also a Fireman) were not recommended for posthumous citations for remaining at their duty station in the fire room, ready to respond to emergency orders from the bridge, while water poured in and the ship began to turn over. The Board of Inquiry and Rear Admiral Kittelle recommended many of the survivors for citations based upon acts of courage following the accident, and as a result, numerous letters of commendation and Life Saving Medals of Honor were issued. They failed to recognize the two sailors on watch in the bowels of the Young, however, this author and the members of the Point Honda Watch do.
 



Newspaper: Arizona Republic

Heading and Date: Disregard Of Signals Gets Blame For Crash, September 19, 1923

Dateline: San Diego, Calif., Sept. 19.

Extract 1: Officer of Ill-Fated Naval Squadron Believed Radio Station in Error, Probe Board Is Told.
Dead certainty that they were right and a radio compass station on Point Arguello wrong, led navigators of Destroyer Squadron 11 to plot a change of course that hurled seven ships on the rocks off Point Honda and cost the lives of 23 enlisted men, a naval court of inquiry was told here today by Lieutenant Lawrence F. Blodgett, navigation officer of the squadron's flagship, Delphy.

The frank admission that "little weight was attached" to radio signals from Arguello  furnished the chief sensation of the hearing today and ended in the interruption of the witness' account by Admiral W. V. Pratt, presiding member of the court, long enough to name him the thirteenth defendant in the case.

Author's Comments
: Prior to giving his sworn testimony as a witness, and before being named a defendant, Lt. Blodgett thought he could escape prosecution because LCdr. Hunter, skipper of the Delphy, was prepared to testify that he was the navigator on Sept. 8, and not Lt. Blodgett.

In exchange, Lt. Blodgett would protect his superiors—Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter—by withholding testimony that he believed the bearings from the compass station showed the Delphy too far northward and set inshore to make a turn into the Santa Barbara Channel. And that he requested the squadron slow to take soundings.

It is my opinion, that if Lt. Blodgett would have testified truthfully before the Court of Inquiry, it would have altered the outcome of the trials by General Courts-martial considerably.

Lt. Blodgett "stuck to his story" when he appeared as a prosecution witness in Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's trials. Never once did he testify that he thought a doubtful and dangerous navigational situation existed. And never once did the JAG—LCdr. Leslie Bratton—ask Lt. Blodgett directly "if he requested his superiors to slow and take soundings."

After the trials of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, Lt. Blodgett was tried and acquitted of the charge—Culpable Inefficiency in the Performance of Duty—by the same Court after an hour of deliberation. He did not take the stand to testify in his own behalf. In fact, no witnesses were called by the defense. During the trial, LCdr. Hunter testified for the prosecution that he was the navigator, not Lt. Blodgett. The JAG introduced Lt. Blodgett's testimony before the Court of Inquiry into evidence which showed that Lt. Blodgett was performing navigational duties on Sept. 8. This attempt failed to convince the Court that Lt. Blodgett was the navigator. 

Lt. Blodgett was congratulated by members of the Court following the verdict and restored to duty.

According to the National Archives in Washington, DC, Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was not turned over to the Archives by the Navy Department. It was missing from its folder. However, on Oct. 18, 2004, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was received by this author from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. 
 



Newspaper: Arizona Republic

Heading and Date: Chief Of Destroyer Squadron Would Take Blame For Disaster, September 25, 1923

Dateline: San Diego, Calif., Sept. 24.

Extract 1: No Liquor Aboard
He (Capt. Watson) denied emphatically that liquor was in any way responsible for the disaster and said that if any of his officers or men had had liquor aboard their ships he must have known about it, since "destroyers are such small vessels that officers and men are thrown into closest association and one could not conceal liquor from the others."

Author's Comments: Lt. Blodgett's son, Mr. Laurence F. Blodgett, wrote me from Seattle, Washington, on Feb. 8, 2000, only months before his death on Dec. 28, 2000. In this letter, he stated his father told him a story about Point Honda, while they were hunting at Pearl Harbor—at the Ammunition Depot cane fields adjacent to the Depot—early in the morning on Dec. 7, 1941. The following extract from this letter needs to be recorded for future naval historians.

"My father [Lt. Blodgett] received total vindication by the highest court-martial (he was acquitted by a General Courts-martial) ever held in the Navy. After adjournment, a member of the court remarked that they would have changed their verdict and looked at the captains who were dropped in numbers (Capt. Watson - 150 numbers and LCdr. Hunter, skipper of the Delphy, - 100 numbers) for violations involved in the Delphy accident, but my father was a Lt. and the last to testify (during his trial), and they could not recall witnesses. This is my feeling on the Honda disaster.
Being a Lt. and the navigator of the Delphy [although LCdr. Hunter testified at his trial that he was the navigator on Sept. 8, not Lt. Blodgett], who after several calls for help to the Captain, asked him to change course, was pushed aside by the Captain and the ship proceeded onto the rocks. Never mind the designated navigator, my father, wanted to change headings which were laid out by the Captain (Watson), who had been drinking in his cabin with a guest (Eugene Dooman) smuggled on the ship in violation of the Rules."

When this author called Mrs. Rigmor Blodgett in Seattle by phone on June 24, 2002, she told me that if her husband, Mr. Laurence F. Blodgett—son of Lt. Blodgett—were still alive, he would "swear on a stack of bibles" that his father told him Capt. Watson was drinking alcohol aboard the Delphy prior to the wrecks.

During testimony at the Court of Inquiry, Capt. Watson testified that he takes full responsibility for the catastrophe that cost 23 lives, and asked that none of the blame be allowed to fall on the shoulders of his able and loyal subordinates, against whom he had no complaint to make and only words of praise to utter.

Also during testimony before the Court of Inquiry, Capt. Watson denied emphatically that liquor was in any way responsible for the disaster, and said that if any of his officers or men had had liquor aboard their ships he must have known about it, since "destroyers are such small vessels that officers and men are thrown into closest association and one could not conceal liquor from the others."

Capt. Watson did not testify about himself or Mr. Dooman—only about his officers and men. In fact, Mr. Dooman remained the illusive "Delphy's Phantom Passenger" until the late 1950s when discovered by the authors of Tragedy at Honda. In a letter to the authors, Mr. Dooman wrote that he was not called as a witness because Capt. Watson's defense counsel believed that it would damage his case.

One final comment which adds speculation on the subject of alleged alcohol consumption and the resultant behavior of Capt. Watson aboard the Delphy prior to the wrecks. A copy of a personal letter from LCdr. John M. Ashley, Eleventh District Communication Superintendent, San Diego, California, to his friend, Frenchy, on Sept. 24, 1923 was obtained from the National Archives. LCdr. Ashley probably did not realize that when he had his yeoman (RBB) type this letter, a copy would be placed in the superintendents files, and years later, find its way into the National Archives.

The letter contained two typed pages which reported LCdr. Ashley's attendance as a witness during the Court of Inquiry, and his predictions as to the outcome of the investigation, and another page and a half on personal matters. He wrote about the conduct of Radioman First Class F. H. Hamilton, who was on watch at the Point Arguello Radio Compass Station before and at the time of the accident.

"Fortunately the radioman on watch from 1600 to the end was a radioman first class, a crackerjack operator with all kinds of experience. He had his hands full, with various ships, Navy and Merchant. I also have inside dope from the Chief Radios on the Delphy (CRM L. V. Latimore and CRM C. V. Tipsword) who were old shipmates of mine here in the district. This I dare not write even in a personal letter."

CRM Latimore and CRM Tipsword testified for the defense in Capt. Watson's trial. The only noteworthy testimony was when CRM Tipsword, attached to Capt. Watson's staff, stated he recalled the radio phone conversation between Cmdr. Roper and Capt. Watson. Cmdr. Roper called and requested permission to take his division to the aid of the Cuba, aground at San Miguel. It was denied. The conversation lasted about 20 minutes, between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nothing in either of the Chiefs' testimony could bring new light on LCdr. Ashley's statement in his personal letter to Frenchy.
 



Newspaper: Arizona Republic

Heading and Date: Honda Disaster Due To Mistake In Calculation, September 26, 1923

Dateline: San Diego, Calif., Sept. 25.

Extract 1: After hearing LCdr. Hunter's testimony at the Court of Inquiry, the author of the newspaper article arrived at a conclusion that the accident was "an error in judgment and not an act of Providence (God) that hurled seven ships to destruction and 23 men to their deaths."

The article further states that "LCdr. Hunter was being cross-examined by counsel for the other defendants and had just finished citing an unseasonable northerly current and the type of radio compass used at Point Arguello as the real causes of the destroyer disaster when he was interrupted by Admiral W. V. Pratt, senior member of the court."

"Do you mean that the wreck was an act of Providence? asked the admiral, or an error of judgment?"

"I'll have to admit that it was an error of judgment," replied the witness. Then after a long pause: "But as contributory causes, I believe the unusual northerly current we encountered near Point Arguello and the fact that a bilateral compass is used there were partly responsible."

LCdr. Hunter continued his testimony, "I think there is also a possibility that abnormal currents caused by the Japanese earthquake might have been another contributory cause, or magnetic disturbances connected with the solar eclipse affected the compass—but of these I cannot, of course, speak with any first hand knowledge."

Author's Comments: The conclusion drawn by the author/editor of the newspaper article appears not to have been based on LCdr. Hunter's testimony.

This author's conclusion is that LCdr. Hunter stated the accident was due to acts of Providence and an error of judgment. There is ample evidence that the Pacific coast around Point Honda/Point Arguello felt the effects of the Japanese earthquake.

The Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan created more than 200 aftershocks following the 7.9 main event on Sept. 1, 1923. On Sept. 2, an excess of 300 shocks were recorded, including a major event at 1147. More than 300 additional shocks followed from Sept. 3 - 5.

On Sept. 4, four days before the accident at Point Honda, the New York Times published an Associated Press (AP) article from Los Angeles  which described twenty foot waves at Los Angeles Harbor believed to have been the result of the earthquake and tidal wave which devastated parts of Japan. At Santa Barbara, the highest seas in years washed the shores for thirty-six hours. Six and eight foot waves drove bathers back on the beach, and at one time, the tide came to the sea wall at the foot of Beach Boulevard for the first time in several years.

Considering acts of Providence in the realm of the divine, this author believes unusual north easterly currents in the vicinity of Point Honda/Point Arguello—as a result of the earthquake in Japan—caused the ships of the squadron to be off course and become stranded.

In addition, considering human error, this author believes, that because LCdr. Hunter failed to respond to several bearings received from the radio compass station, which when plotted, showed the Delphy too far north to change course to 95° true, he exercised poor judgment.
 



Newspaper: The Naval Weekly

Heading and Date: "9-TURN", Complete  Narrative of the Destroyer Disaster at Honda Head, October 1923

Dateline: San Diego, Calif.

Extract 1: On the bridge of the U. S. S. Delphy, the squadron leader—LCdr. Donald Hunter, skipper of Flagship Delphy leading the formation—ordered his navigation officer (Lt. Blodgett) to take new bearings and decide on a change of course to safely pass around the point at Arguello, where the coast juts far out into the Pacific, and which, safely passed, requires a change of course to the eastward, so as to maintain the relative distance from the coast and not steam out to sea.

In several minutes the navigation officer reported back to his Captain. With the aid of the radio compass at Point Arguello, with which the radiomen were co-operating to ascertain position, the lieutenant had arrived at the decision that the squadron was still steaming some miles to the north of the Point and that a change of course to pass the light at Arguello was not yet necessary.

Author's Comments: This extract from The Naval Weekly was published after the Court of Inquiry adjourned but before the first General Courts-martial, case of Capt. Watson on Nov. 1, 1923.

Early in the hearing, Lt. Blodgett testified under oath before the Court of Inquiry that he did not believe a doubtful navigational situation existed aboard the Delphy, nor did he consider the squadron in any danger when the fatal turn was ordered, and because of this testimony, he was named a defendant and no longer a witness.

Lt. Blodgett was a prosecution witness in Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's trials by General Courts-martial. At no time, during questioning under oath by the JAG and/or the Court, did he testify that he was aware of any danger. Although, there appeared to be numerous opportunities where he could have testified that he believed a doubtful navigational situation existed. Lt. Blodgett's testimony during both trials was similar to his testimony at the Court of Inquiry.

Who contributed to The Naval Weekly about Lt. Blodgett's report that the Delphy was too far north to change course? This information would have been damaging evidence to Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter who were awaiting trial by General Courts-martial. It is this author's belief that Lt. Blodgett provided this information because he wanted the truth to be known after being named a defendant at the Court of Inquiry. Although he reverted back to false and misleading testimony at Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's General Courts-martial. Any viewer interested in assisting in research into this matter, please contact us at webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.

And who were the readers/subscribers to The Naval Weekly in San Diego, home port for many ships from the Pacific Battle Fleet? The author can answer this question. San Diego was a navy town on California's southern tip in 1923, and The Naval Weekly was probably a very popular newspaper amongst naval personnel. 
 



Newspaper: New York Times

Heading and Date: Acquit Lieut. Blodgett, November 11, 1923

Dateline: San Diego, Cal., Nov. 10.

Extract 1Navy Court Congratulates Officer of Wrecked Destroyer Delphy
Lieutenant Lawrence Blodgett, the destroyer Delphy's executive officer on the voyage from San Francisco to San Diego on Sept. 8, when seven vessels of a destroyer squadron were lost, and the third officer to face court-martial on charges of culpable inefficiency, was acquitted in findings read today after the court had deliberated an hour.

He was congratulated by members of the court following the verdict. He will be restored to duty at once.

Author's Comments: What the members of the General Courts-martial did not know was that the JAG, LCdr. Leslie Bratton, who lost Lt. Blodgett's case, would be promoted to Commander and transferred to the JAG Office in Washington, DC, in late December, to review all records of trial for the endorsement of the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby. And when he accomplished this review, he recommended that the finding and acquittal in the case of Lt. Blodgett, and all others who were acquitted, be disapproved.

A letter from the JAG Officer to Lt. Blodgett on Jan. 7, 1924 stated that the Navy Department on Jan. 4, 1924, approved the proceedings, but disapproved the finding and acquittal of the General Courts-martial. It was signed by Rear Admiral J. L. Latimer, Judge Advocate General of the Navy, by direction of the Secretary of the Navy. LCdr. Bratton, the Assistant JAG of the Navy, finally won his case against Lt. Blodgett.

The end result was that Lt. Blodgett protected Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter from severe punishment with his testimony before the Court of Inquiry and at their General Courts-martial. Lt. Blodgett could have been ordered to stand trial for perjury, because he gave false, misleading and evasive answers before the Court of Inquiry that were designed to obstruct the legal process. And it appears that the powers to be wanted to close this incident during Secretary Denby's tenure, so no new trial was ordered.

After taking care of his superiors, Lt. Blodgett was counting on LCdr. Hunter's testimony when he went to trial. And his acquittal by the members of the same General Courts-martial was due to LCdr. Hunter's persistence that he was the navigator aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8. Lt. Blodgett did not take the stand to testify during his trial.

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Magazine Articles

 Introduction

My research reveals that seven magazine articles were published about the Point Honda accident, which occurred on September 8, 1923. The first was in January 1957—thirty-four years after the accident. Five articles were published after 1973, and most show evidence of new discoveries as a result of the Freedom of Information Act.

The following table lists the magazines which published articles on the Point Honda accident. Extracts from these magazines and comments by this author are included on this web page.

 

Magazine    Article    Date    Author
U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings    Course Zero Nine Five    Jan. 1957    LCdr. Richard B. Hadaway
Westways    A Graveyard of Ships    Mar. 1971    Irvin Ashkenazy
Shipmate    A One Way Ticket To Honda    Sept. 1984    Capt. James A. Jordan
Sea Power    The Jinns of Honda    Oct. 1991    Calvin H. Cobb Jr.
Naval History    Destroyer Down    Spring 1992    Dianne Driever
Sea Classics S.S. Cuba: Scapegoat for the Naval Tragedy at Honda June 1993 David Grover
Naval History The Point of No Return June 1999 Gregory Crouch

It is my intent to repeat facts in Author's Comments whenever necessary to convey the best possible explanation of an extract. Because of the textual length of this page, a viewer may choose to read the extracts from only one or two magazines. If this is the case, repetition will be justified. One who reads every extract and comment, in every magazine article, will encounter this repetition and it may be boring. Kindly consider my purpose and read on.

Send your comments, suggestions and complaints to:

 webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org 
 



Magazine: U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings

Title and Date: Course Zero Nine Five, January 1957

Author: Lieutenant Commander Richard B. Hadaway, U.S. Naval Reserve

Extract 1: On the previous Sunday, Sept. 2, 1923, the headlines in most papers read, "Tokyo and Yokohama Wiped out by Earthquake, Fire, Typhoon, and Tidal Wave Saturday Morning." Almost at once, the U. S. Coast and Geodetic Survey noticed abnormal fluctuations of currents and tides on the Pacific Coast, but in the time available there was no way of predicting their set and drift, or how long they would last. That they were evidently strong and contrary to the established current was the misfortune of the Cuba's Second Officer. 

The Cuba, a steamer owned by the Pacific Mail Line, went aground off Point Bennett, on San Miguel Island, near the Santa Barbara Channel, shortly after 0400, on Sept. 8. Although she was a total wreck, no lives were lost.

Author's Comments: The Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan created more than 200 aftershocks following the 7.9 main event on Sept. 1, 1923. On Sept. 2, an excess of 300 shocks were recorded, including a major event at 1147. More than 300 additional shocks followed from Sept. 3 - 5.

On Sept. 4, four days before the accident at Point Honda, the New York Times published an Associated Press (AP) article from Los Angeles  which described twenty foot waves at Los Angeles Harbor believed to have been the result of the earthquake and tidal wave which devastated parts of Japan. At Santa Barbara, the highest seas in years washed the shores for thirty-six hours. Six and eight foot waves drove bathers back on the beach, and at one time, the tide came to the sea wall at the foot of Beach Boulevard for the first time in several years.

This author believes that unusual north easterly currents in the vicinity of Point Honda—as a result of the earthquake in Japan—caused the ships of the squadron to be off course and become stranded.

LCdr. Donald Hunter, skipper and navigator aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, did not trust the bearings from the new-fangled, Radio Compass Station at Point Arguello, which when plotted, showed his ship to be set into shore approximately 8 1/2 miles in less than two hours. LCdr. Hunter also disregarded the request of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, Executive Officer and Head of the Navigation Department, to slow down from 20 knots and take soundings.

Lt. Blodgett may have sent a radio message requesting LCdr. Bratton, skipper of the Stoddert—one of the ships in Division 32 in the rear of the column—to obtain a bearing, since his radio operators were having difficulty making contact with the station. The Stoddert received two bearings: one at 2011 - 326° and another at 2032 - 330°. The Delphy intercepted the 326° bearing, and it was called up the tube to LCdr. Hunter on the bridge. LCdr. Hunter did not believe it was correct, although when plotted, it showed the Delphy to be heading straight for the Radio Compass Station. 

With no concern for unusual currents, and being committed to his dead reckoning position because his required 2000 radio report to the Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Rear Admiral Kittelle aboard the Melville, was based on it, LCdr. Hunter presented the navigational situation to the squadron commander, Captain Edward H. Watson. He told Capt. Watson that his dead reckoning position was correct and that the bearings from Point Arguello were wrong. He also told him that at 2035, after he requested a reciprocal bearing, the station sent 168°, which when plotted, showed the Delphy to be south of Point Arguello, but she was actually 11 1/2 miles and 7° true from her dead reckoning position.

That  bearing alone should have triggered a doubtful navigational situation in the minds of experienced navigators such as Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, to be followed by orders to slow and take soundings. However, that did not occur, because at about 2050 on Sept. 8, Lt. Blodgett's request was disregarded. Capt. Watson ordered a change of course to 95° true at 2100 for entry into the Santa Barbara Channel—and a continuation of the speed run, still at 20 knots.

 



Extract 2: Between 1848 and 2035 radio traffic in connection with the stranded Cuba was heavy, and no bearings were received (by the Delphy). Consequently, the 2000 position of the flagship (Delphy) was a D. R. (dead reckoning) position run forward from the last fix at Pigeon Point at 1130.

Author's Comments: The daily log from the Radio Compass Station at Point Arguello for Sept. 8, 1923 shows that traffic was normal. No radio traffic was generated by the Cuba because its transmitter was out of order.

Radioman First Class F. H. Hamilton, on watch at the compass station, made an entry in the log which states that "A8C (Delphy) causing interference by not listening in before transmitting." This entry was posted sometime between 1852 and 1907. The daily log also shows that at 1933 the compass station called the Delphy but did not get a reply.

Three radio operators from the Delphy were sea sick, so the remaining two-some stood all watches. There is no way to know if these operators were fully trained in communications procedures and Morse Code.

The requested reciprocal bearing received by the Delphy at 2035 of 168° does not appear in the daily log of the compass station.  However, the Kennedy, one of the ships in the 32nd Division at the rear of the column, intercepted and logged the bearing.

There were no bearings requested by or sent to the Delphy between 1848 and 2035, although the Stoddert, another ship in the 32nd Division, requested and received two bearings during that time: 2011 - 326° and 2032 - 330°. Another indication that traffic was not heavy. Only that the Delphy was not requesting bearings.

The skipper of the Stoddert, LCdr. Leslie Bratton, was later appointed the Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) for the Court of Inquiry and General Courts-martial. He was transferred to Washington after the trials to review the records for the Secretary of the Navy. In my opinion, LCdr. Bratton should have been a material witness because he possessed relevant information about the accident, and therefore, should have declined the JAG appointments. 

The 2011 bearing of 326° was intercepted by the Delphy and logged at 2012. LCdr. Hunter dismissed it as incorrect. He was committed to his 2000 report of his location based on dead reckoning, and this bearing was a contradiction. The 326° bearing showed the Delphy set in shore by 8 1/2 miles and heading straight for the compass station.

 


Extract 3: Captain T. T. Craven, defense counsel for Capt. Watson, wrote that "It seems most remarkable that in all the group of vessels no one mind could have sensed the danger, and that not a single question should have been asked which might have indicated to others and to the Squadron Commander an uncertainty which would have awakened a realization of the possibility that the course was hazardous. No such inquiry was made."

Author's Comments: The secret that Capt. Watson, LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett kept to themselves was not shared with Capt. Craven. While on the Delphy's bridge in the presence of his superiors, Lt. Blodgett requested the squadron slow and to take soundings, because he believed that a dangerous situation existed. His request was denied because Capt. Watson did not want to spoil the 20-knot engineering run to San Diego. This contradicts Capt. Craven's statement.

Lt. Blodgett testified as a prosecution witness in Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's trials. Under questioning by the JAG, Lt. Blodgett stuck to the testimony he gave at the Court of Inquiry, that he never suspected a dangerous situation during the squadron's voyage southward. But during his trial, Lt. Blodgett relied upon LCdr. Hunter to testify that he performed the navigation aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, not Lt. Blodgett.  Lt. Blodgett did not take the stand to testify during his trial, in fact, no witnesses were called by the defense. Lt. Blodgett was acquitted of the charge and ordered to return to duty aboard the Melville.

In Dec. 1923, LCdr. Bratton was promoted to Commander and transferred to the JAG Office in Washington to serve as the Assistant JAG of the Navy. His duty was to review the records of trial from the Point Honda accident for Secretary Edwin Denby's endorsement. Lt. Blodgett's record was reviewed by Commander Bratton with a recommendation that the finding and acquittal be disapproved. The JAG of the Navy, Rear Admiral J. L. Latimer, signed the endorsement by direction of the Secretary of the Navy on Jan. 7, 1924. Similar action was taken on all officers who were acquitted.

When the Navy Department records from the JAG Office in Washington were turned over to the National Archives, Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was missing from the files. A charge-out card was in the folder—where the record of trial should have been—indicating it was checked out and not returned. There was no date or signature on the charge-out card.

Commander W. G. Roper, commanding Division 32 at the rear of the column aboard the Kennedy, knew the Delphy was on a course heading toward the Radio Compass Station at Point Arguello. He thought they would turn westward, out to sea, as soon as they obtained a definite fix either by seeing the light or hearing the horn. Commander Roper, and all other division commanders and ship captains, did not know Capt. Watson intended to turn into the Santa Barbara Channel. In fact, Capt. Watson made this decision known to LCdr. Hunter around 2050, only about ten minutes before the actual turn to 95° true.

Commander Roper chose to slow then stop his division after receiving the order by radio phone to take a 95° course on reaching the squadron's turning point. It is not known if he had time to call the Delphy and warn them of the danger. However, in the late 1950s, Commander Roper's Officer of Deck (OOD), then Ensign Samuel Dalkowitz, stated that the bawling out Commander Roper received from Capt. Watson earlier in the evening had a bearing on this issue. Commander Roper was not in the mood to be "chewed out again", if he were wrong. As a result, the Delphy was not warned, although, Commander Roper knew they were in a dangerous situation. None of his ships were involved in the accident.

 


Extract 4: (After the Delphy crashed into the bluff at Point Honda) One fireman (First Class James T. Pearson from Elk City, Oklahoma) coming on deck saw several of his shipmates in the water and jumped overboard to help them. When he hit the water his glasses were broken and pieces of glass pierced his eyes. Blind, he called for help and was hauled back on board the wrecked ship only to lose his reason and rush madly about bruising  his body in a terrible manner until he finally fell unconscious on deck. With the oil covered ship breaking up in the surf and loose equipment banging about, it was impossible to get him ashore. Orders were given to lash him to the mast until the seas calmed and he could be rescued. Shortly thereafter the Delphy broke in two and the mast was carried away. The fireman's body was found several days later, still lashed to a section of the mast.

Author's Comments: On Oct. 25, 1923, Capt. Watson, commanding Destroyer Squadron Eleven at Point Honda, responded to a request from his immediate superior to document the circumstances surrounding the loss of Fireman First Class James T. Pearson. Letters from Oklahoma's U. S. Senator J. W. Harreld, and from Miss Ethel Pearson, were referenced in this request. Included in Capt. Watson's response were extracts from testimony given before the Court of Inquiry by four people: Engineman First Class R. L. Rhodehamel, Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence Blodgett, LCdr. Donald Hunter and Capt. Edward Watson.

In his letter, Capt. Watson states that Pearson and three other men either jumped or fell overboard from the Delphy's starboard gangway and that Rhodehamel came to their rescue. The letter does not state that Pearson jumped overboard in an attempt to rescue his shipmates. In addition, the letter does not include a statement that Pearson's body was found days later still lashed to a section of the mast.

In 1960, the authors of Tragedy at Honda (Charles A. Lockwood, Vice Admiral, USN, Ret. and Hans Christian Adamson, Colonel, USAF Ret.) documented Pearson's heroic effort to save his shipmates, but there is no mention that his body was found days later still lashed to a section of the mast.

The author offers no conclusion to the discussion concerning Fireman First Class Pearson. It is left to the viewer to decide.
 


Extract 5: The last survivor was rescued Sunday afternoon (Sept. 9). A muster revealed twenty-three men missing, most of them from the Young. At first it was feared they had been trapped inside their ship when she capsized, but several days later this was found not to be so. Most of them had drowned while trying to make their way ashore.

Author's Comments: Five days after the accident, deep sea divers used torches to cut through the hull of the sunken Young to search for bodies.

On Sept. 14, the Arizona Republic reported in an article from Santa Barbara, California, dated Sep. 13, that "two more bodies were recovered, one identified as that of Gordon J. Overshiner of San Jose, Cal. The other had not been identified. Further search of the hulk of the Young failed to locate any additional bodies and no more efforts were made in that direction."

Survivors of the Young—hanging on to the portholes on the port side of the overturned ship—told of hearing the despairing cries of the doomed sailors trapped inside, as the waters rose around her.

In his search for the truth about his brother's death, Elwyn E. Overshiner, author of Course 095 to Eternity in 1980, either did not know, or did not want to publish, the fact that Gordon was trapped inside the Young when she capsized about 90 seconds after hitting the rocks. This would have been heart-breaking news for the entire Overshiner family.

For days after the accident, newspaper articles contained statements by the commanding officer of the Young, Commander William L. Calhoun, great-grandson of United States Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, that he gave the order to "stay with the ship", as she exposed her port side after turning over. Implying that sailors who either jumped or fell overboard violated his order. He did not want to acknowledge that those trapped inside "really stuck with the ship, at their posts, until properly relieved."

In my opinion, Gordon J. Overshiner and the unidentified sailor are two more heroes from the Young.
 


Extract 6

Of the eleven officers tried, four were found guilty; one of the four, the Commanding Officer of the USS Nicholas, had his conviction set aside by higher authority. The blame for the accident rested with the Squadron Commander (Capt. Watson), plus the Captain of the Delphy (LCdr. Hunter) and the Navigation Officer (Lt. Blodgett)  of his flagship. The Squadron Commander was sentenced to lose one hundred fifty numbers on the list of Captains, and the Commanding Officer of his flagship one hundred numbers on the list of Lieutenant Commanders. His navigator's sentence is not known.

Author's Comments: On Nov. 10, 1923, Lt. Blodgett was tried by General Courts-martial and found not guilty of "culpable inefficiency in the performance of his duty". He was fully acquitted by the Court.  However, on Jan. 4, 1924, the Navy Department disapproved the finding and acquittal.

Lt. Blodgett did not testify during his trial. There was no testimony before the Court that Lt. Blodgett, in the presence of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, requested the squadron slow and take soundings, because a doubtful navigational situation existed. No witnesses were called in Lt. Blodgett's defense. LCdr. Hunter testified as the key witness for the prosecution and insisted that he performed the navigation on Sept. 8, not Lt. Blodgett. The Court believed him.

A newspaper article out of San Diego and published in the New York Times on Nov. 11, 1923 stated that Lieutenant Blodgett was acquitted of the charge  of culpable inefficiency after an hour of deliberation. The article also states that Lt. Blodgett was congratulated by members of the court following the verdict.

Cmdr. Bratton, the JAG at the Court of Inquiry and all General Courts-martial, who was transferred to the JAG Office in Washington to serve as the Assistant JAG of the Navy, reviewed Lt. Blodgett's record of trial and prepared the endorsement—dated Jan. 7, 1924—for the signature of the JAG Officer, by direction of the Secretary of the Navy. Cmdr. Bratton  recommended that the finding and acquittal be disapproved. The JAG of the Navy, Rear Admiral J. L. Latimer, failed to sign the endorsement; there was no signature on the document. Similar action was taken on all other Point Honda officers who were acquitted.

One can only speculate why the author of this article, LCdr. Hadaway, was unable to locate information from the Navy concerning Lt. Blodgett's acquittal and reversal? Several Point Honda personnel were still alive in 1957 when LCdr. Hadaway wrote this article. With as thorough as LCdr. Hadaway appeared to be in his coverage, it's a wonder that he did not research the outcome of Lt. Blodgett's trial. Somehow the authors of Tragedy at Honda—published in 1960—obtained this information and reported it in their book.

The Preface and Acknowledgements page in the Tragedy at Honda lists numerous names of former officers of Squadron Eleven who were at Point Honda and contributed to the book. One key name was missing: Lt. Blodgett. He died on May 11, 1956 at Tripler Army Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. He retired after WWII as a Lieutenant Commander and lived the rest of his life in Hawaii, or was he banished? However, the name of Lt. Blodgett's son, Mr. Laurence F. Blodgett, was listed.

Less than a year before his death in 2000, Mr. Blodgett wrote me stating "the Navy cannot provide a record of his (Lt. Blodgett) being alive as the Navy lost all records of his life through someone stealing the official records that were on file." And he continued, "How can I provide all of the above information (in a form requesting naval personnel records) on a man who was in WWI, WWII, retired, received payment from the government, died in a government hospital and yet the Navy lost all official records."
 



Magazine: WESTWAYS

Title and Date: A Graveyard of Ships, March 1971

Author: Irvin Ashkenazy

Extract 1: Led by squadron flagship, Delphy, the fourteen four-stackers sailed on a endurance run, their commander, Captain Edward H. Watson, envisioning a big Red "E" for Excellence in Engineering and admiral stripes at its end.

Author's Comments: Other factors motivated Capt. Watson to continue the speed run at 20 knots, no matter what. Capt. Watson had a guest aboard for the trip to San Diego. Mr. Eugene Dooman, a State Department diplomat, met Capt. Watson and his wife, Hermine, at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, and was offered a trip aboard the Delphy to the home port in San Diego, instead of a train ride to Los Angeles. He accepted the sea voyage and claimed that Capt. Watson obtained permission from Admiral Kittelle to have a guest on board. Mr. Laurence Blodgett, son of Lt. Lawrence Blodgett, head of the Navigation Department aboard the Delphy, wrote in his letter to this author that Capt. Watson did not have Admiral Kittelle's permission. This information may have been obtained when Lt. Blodgett was assigned duty aboard the Melville—Admiral Kittelle's flag ship—after the wreck of the Delphy at Point Honda.

In 1921 and 1922, when Capt. Watson served as the naval attaché in Tokyo, Mr. Dooman was the counselor at the American Embassy. Capt. Watson's conduct was probably altered by Mr. Dooman's presence aboard the Delphy. After serving as a desk jockey for two years, Capt. Watson may have wanted to prove he was a decorated WWI hero and a Commodore leading a squadron of "greyhounds of the sea." Telling sea stories about naval battles was history, performance is what counts. Backing down from the 20 knot speed run was the last thing on Capt. Watson's mind. Excessive pride and arrogance was his agenda on Sept. 8, 1923.

Capt. Watson interpreted the order to steam at 20 knots as a requirement, whereas, his competition, Captain Charles Moore, the commanding officer aboard the McDermut, flagship of Destroyer Squadron Twelve, interpreted the order as permissive and utilized safe navigational procedures on his trip to San Diego, which included slowing down from 20 knots to take soundings.

Did Capt. Watson even consider the consequences of entering the Santa Barbara Channel where heavy commercial traffic and fog were the rule, and not the exception? Was he aware that the battleships from the Fleet would be anchored in San Pedro's Los Angeles Harbor, their home port, after a tour in Frisco for Fleet Week? What would have been the outcome if Capt. Watson would have successfully navigated into the Santa Barbara Channel at 20 knots with a column of fourteen destroyers, only a couple hundred yards apart, and a night-time, heavy fog to greet him?

That is exactly what the skipper of the Reno, LCdr. Richard Barry, experienced when he crept into Los Angeles Harbor the night of Sept. 8 and anchored with survivors from the wrecked Cuba, a merchant ship of the Pacific Mail Line stranded on San Miguel Island. When the heavy, morning fog lifted, LCdr. Barry stated that by the grace of God his ship was safely anchored amongst a slew of battleships, not realizing they reserved a spot for him.
 


Extract 2: The author believes Lt. Blodgett is doing the navigation during the hours preceding the accident. There is no mention of LCdr. Donald Hunter, the skipper of the Delphy, or his role as navigator on Sept. 8.

Author's Comments: Lt. Blodgett testified under oath that he was on duty between 0700 and 1200 on Sept. 8. And came on watch again at 1900 to relieve LCdr. Hunter while he went to supper. Bearings received from the radio compass station and logged on the navigational chart by LCdr. Hunter prior to 1900 show the Delphy on a course heading straight for the compass station, and not on its dead reckoning course.

Lt. Blodgett may have discussed this with LCdr. Hunter and may have been told that the required report at 2000 to the Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Adm. Kittelle, would be based on the dead reckoning position and not on the bearings from the compass station, because he did not trust these new-fangled gadgets. But the fact remains that between 1852 and 1907, shortly after Lt. Blodgett went on watch on the bridge, the radio compass station posted an entry in the daily log that "A8C (Delphy) causing interference by not listening before transmitting." And another entry at 1933 that the compass station tried to contact the Delphy without success. There is no other entry from the Delphy until 2039 when a bearing of 333° was sent by the radio compass station. This bearing showed the Delphy still on a course heading for the station.

The exact time is not known for certain, but between 1900 and 2000, Capt. Watson was called on the ship-to-ship radio phone by Cmdr. Walter Roper with a request to take his 32nd Division to the San Miguel area and help with the search for the survivors of the Cuba, which wrecked there early in the morning on the same day. A lengthy discussion took place; Capt. Watson denied the request and "bawled" Cmdr. Roper out for his insistence.

How much time was consumed, and how did this radio phone call interfere with the short-wave communications with the radio compass station? There is a possibility that only one radioman was on watch, and he was not qualified with Morse Code. Five radiomen were assigned to the Delphy, three were allegedly sea sick and may not have been standing watches?

It is my belief that Lt. Blodgett realized the shortcomings of his radio communications and the dangerous situation unfolding and called the skipper of the Stoddert, LCdr. Leslie Bratton, with a request that he contact the radio compass station for bearings. The daily log from the compass station shows two bearings sent to the Stoddert: 2011 - 326° and 2032 - 330°—both, when plotted, show the Stoddert on a course heading for the compass station and well off its dead reckoning.

The Delphy intercepted the 326° bearing at 2012 and plotted it. But it came 12 minutes too late! LCdr. Hunter had already sent his 2000 position report to Adm Kittelle based on dead reckoning. And no way is the former instructor in navigation at the Naval Academy going to admit "he does not know where he's at", especially while leading a column of 14 destroyers in the Pacific.
 



Magazine: Shipmate

Title and Date: A One Way Ticket To Honda, September 1984

Author: James L. Jordan, Captain USN (Ret.)

Extract 1: Their (LCdr. Hunter and personnel on the bridge) confidence was badly shaken when Delphy requested a bearing at about 1415. The bearing showed them to be abeam of Point Arguello, which was still more than 150 miles away. LCdr. Hunter assumed the station personnel must be totally incompetent or incapable of distinguishing a direct bearing from a reciprocal. 

Author's Comments: The author of the article implies that the bi-directional radio compass station should know whether a ship is north or south of the station. That is incorrect. The skipper and personnel doing the navigation have this responsibility. When they see the light or hear the horn, they'll know when they are in the southern quadrant.

The daily log of the compass station for Sept. 8, shows that proper entries were made for the situation described by the author. When a bearing of 167° was received by the Delphy at 1415, her reply to the station was that it was a reciprocal.

The daily log also shows that at 1426 the compass station sent a bearing of 162° to the Delphy. Once again, the Delphy replied and requested the reciprocal of 162°.  At 1438, the station sent a bearing of 326° and said that it was the reciprocal of the bearing sent at 1426.

These procedures were executed properly. After reading LCdr. Hunter's testimony from his General Courts-martial, it is my opinion that LCdr. Hunter, the Captain of the Delphy and the navigator, was aware it was his responsibility to know whether he was north or south of the compass station at Point Arguello.

There is a possibility, however, that having been a navigation instructor at the Naval Academy for two years, and probably a navigator from the old school—when navigation was performed by the stars and by the seat of their pants—it may have been difficult for LCdr. Hunter to put full faith and trust in radiomen on shore sending bearings with new-fangled gadgets telling him the location of his ship.


Extract 2: When LCdr. Hunter requested and received a reciprocal bearing of 168° at 2035 he smiled and said, "Just as I thought, it cuts within two miles of our DR (dead reckoning). I consider that reasonable."

Author's Comments: When plotted, the 168° bearing was actually 11 1/2 miles and 7° true from her dead reckoning position. The Delphy's actual position four minutes later—as shown in the daily log of the compass station—was 333°, still  north of the compass station and heading straight for it.

This information should have created some doubt in LCdr. Hunter's mind regarding his location. But according to his testimony during his General Courts-martial, it did not. He stated that at no time did he think the squadron was in danger.

Lt.



Magazine: Sea Power

Title and Date: The Jinns of Honda, October 1991

Author: Calvin H. Cobb Jr.

Extract 1: Capt. Watson planned to pass Points Arguello and Conception on the evening of 8 September, then head into the Santa Barbara Channel and stay close to the coast. His order for the night run provided for the flagship, Delphy, to navigate for the squadron, with the other destroyers following in line, in accordance with the time-honored "follow the leader" destroyer tradition.

Author's Comments:  This extract makes it appear as though orders for the night run were issued well in advance of the fatal turn. Not so!

LCdr. Hunter, Delphy's skipper and navigator on Sept. 8, presented sworn testimony at his trial that at 2050, when he began presenting the navigational situation to Capt. Watson in the chartroom, he did not know whether Capt. Watson intended to go through the Santa Barbara Channel, or go out by the islands (San Miguel) to the southward.

It is likely that during this time—between 2050 and 2100—Lt. Blodgett was in the chartroom with Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter. And it may be that during this 10-minute window, Lt. Blodgett requested they slow to take soundings because he believed the bearings from the radio compass station were sufficiently accurate—pointing to a dangerous situation. His request was denied!

After this presentation by LCdr. Hunter and request by Lt. Blodgett, Capt. Watson issued the order to turn into the Santa Barbara Channel at 2100, course 95° true. LCdr. Hunter stated that, "I told him (Capt. Watson) that was about what I thought he would do."

Shortly after LCdr. Hunter's testimony, Capt. Watson was called by LCdr. Leslie Bratton, the JAG, to take the stand. When asked how long before 2100 he arrived at the decision to turn, Capt. Watson replied, " About five minutes before 9, five or ten minutes before nine."

No doubt, visions of the Pacific Mail Line steamer, the Cuba, aground on San Miguel Island early in the morning on the same day, and the possibility of encountering an increase in rescue traffic on the south side of the island as a result, caused Capt. Watson to choose passage through the Santa Barbara Channel instead of going around the island.

When the Delphy hit the rocks at Point Honda, Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter thought the Delphy went aground at San Miguel Island.
 


Extract 2: At 2105, Delphy plunged into heavy fog, and almost immediately smashed into the rocky mainland. Hunter thought he had hit San Miguel Island or one of its outlying reefs, so immediately ordered a "nine turn" (simultaneous 90-degree turn to port) signal to the squadron that would have been appropriate if Delphy had in fact grounded on San Miguel. However, she was actually 40 miles north of San Miguel, deep into the Devil's Jaw, and helpless on the rocks.

Author's Comments:  LCdr. Hunter did not issue the order. In their 10th Finding of Facts, the Court of Inquiry  wrote, "The Squadron Commander, Capt. Watson, directed radio signal be sent "9 turn," and "Keep clear to the westward." Visual, blinker signal sent by broadcast method, "Delphy aground." Megaphone used in attempt to warn ships astern.

In its Opinions, the Court of Inquiry stated, "Had the Squadron Commander (Capt. Watson) sent a signal 'I am aground' instead of 'nine turn' and 'keep clear to westward' which conveyed inaccurate information, it is possible that the Chauncey might have been saved."
 


Extract 3: The ensuing General Courts-martial proceedings found Watson and Hunter guilty of culpable inefficiency and negligence. Roesch (skipper of the Nicholas) was found guilty of negligence (a verdict later set aside). All of the other defendants were acquitted.

Author's Comments:  Now here is the rest of the story! The skipper of the Stoddert, LCdr. Leslie Bratton, was the appointed Navy Judge Advocate General (JAG) for the Court of Inquiry and at the General Courts-martial. After the trials, he was promoted to Commander and transferred to Washington in early 1924 to serve as the Assistant JAG of the Navy to review the records of trial for the Secretary of the Navy. 

Commander Bratton reviewed all records and prepared the endorsements for the Secretary of the Navy. The endorsements on the nine acquittals stated that the proceedings were approved but the findings and acquittals of all General Courts-martial were disapproved. In actuality, the JAG Officer, Rear Admiral J. L Latimer, was supposed to sign all of the endorsements by direction of the Secretary of the Navy; his signature was missing.

According to a statement by Capt. Roesch, as published in Tragedy at Honda in 1960, "When all of the acquittals were disapproved (by the Secretary of the Navy), we were all in the same boat. The principle effect of these reversals was that all skippers were put in the position of having been responsible for the loss of their ships. This prevented us from submitting claims for the loss of our personal gear and equipment as did our junior officers."
 



Magazine: Naval History

Title and Date: Destroyers Down!, Spring 1992

Author: Dianne Driever

Extract 1: The second week of testimony (before the Court of Inquiry) delved into the issue of the destroyer doctrine of "follow the leader." Capt. Robert Morris, Commander Destroyer Division 33, testified that to would have been "very much out of place" for any officer of the squadron to suggest to the flagship commander that depth soundings be taken. Although, the Thompson (DD-305)—the last ship in formation—had slowed on her own accord to take soundings.

Author's Comments:  Ms. Driever must have obtained her information about the Thompson from the book Tragedy at Honda. And there is the possibility that this information originated in the detailed testimony before the Court of Inquiry. The author does not possess a copy of this document.

There in no documentation of what took place aboard the Thompson in the summary of the Court of Inquiry dated October 12, 1923, which includes the Finding of Facts, Opinions of the Court, and Recommendations. Likewise, there is no testimony at either Capt. Watson's or LCdr. Hunter's General Courts-martial that the Thompson slowed to take soundings.

Being last in column, the Thompson probably had enough time before the fatal turn to take action, if the ship's radiomen were intercepting bearings and the skipper, LCdr. Thomas A. Symington, sensed that a dangerous situation existed.  Its easy to slow from 20 knots and take soundings when your ship is last in a column. 

There is also the possibility that the 32nd Division Commander, Cmdr. Walter Roper aboard the Kennedy, ordered the Thompson to slow and take soundings. It would have been difficult for the Kennedy to do so because of her position in the column.

To continue with speculation, Cmdr. Roper may have ordered LCdr. Leslie Bratton, skipper aboard the Stoddert, to request the bearings received from the radio compass station at 2011 and 2032, which when plotted showed the squadron heading straight for the compass station. Although, in my previous comments, I suggest that Lt. Blodgett may have requested the Stoddert to obtain these bearings because of the Delphy's difficulty in making contact with the compass station.

If you, the viewer, can help us with research into ship's logs, we need to know why LCdr. Bratton requested two bearings, when—he probably knew—he was in violation of Capt. Watson's order not to do so. Write to us at mailto:hondashipwrecks@yahoo.com.

The outcome of these events is that Cmdr. Roper chose to turn his division seaward, away from danger, when the rest of the squadron followed the leader and made the fatal turn to 95° true.
 



Magazine: Sea Classics

Title and Date: S.S. Cuba: Scapegoat for the Naval Tragedy at Honda Point,
June 1993

Author: David Grover

Extract 1: Capt. Watson's first reaction to the groundings at Honda had been that he had waited too long to turn and that the ships had hit the Channel Islands. Consequently, he must have realized that he was maintaining a 20-knot run with the knowledge that two Navy destroyers (Reno and Selfridge) were out ahead of him somewhere in the Santa Barbara Channel trying to locate lifeboats (from the grounded merchant ship, Cuba) in the fog—a situation pregnant with disaster. 

Perhaps it might be argued if the four ships of DesDiv 32 had been detached (per Cmdr. Roper's request earlier in the evening) to participate in the search, Capt. Watson would have been more cautious with more of his own ships out ahead of him, but nothing in the squadron commander's behavior suggests that he had an acute enough sense of prudence and propriety to think that way

Author's Comments: Mr. Grover's analysis of the situation and his comment about Capt. Watson's behavior is noteworthy; and I concur. This author believes that Capt. Watson wanted to impress his State Department guest, Mr. Eugene Dooman, with a successful 20 knot speed run to San Diego. And it may be that his normally good judgement was altered by other circumstances. No doubt, Capt. Watson trusted LCdr. Hunter, an experienced navigator, to guide the squadron safely to San Diego. But the fact remains; he failed to do so.

Lt. Blodgett's son, Mr. Laurence F. Blodgett, wrote me from Seattle, Washington, on Feb. 8, 2000, only months before his death on Dec. 28, 2000. In his letter, he stated his father told him a story about Point Honda, while they were hunting at Pearl Harbor—at the Ammunition Depot cane fields adjacent to the Depot—early in the morning on Dec. 7, 1941. The following extract from this letter needs to be recorded for future naval historians.

"My father [Lt. Blodgett] received total vindication by the highest court-martial (he was acquitted by a General Courts-martial) ever held in the Navy. After adjournment, a member of the court remarked that they would have changed their verdict and looked at the captains who were dropped in numbers (Capt. Watson - 150 numbers and LCdr. Hunter, skipper of the Delphy, - 100 numbers) for violations involved in the Delphy accident, but my father was a Lt. and the last to testify (during his trial), and they could not recall witnesses. This is my feeling on the Honda disaster.
Being a Lt. and the navigator of the Delphy [although LCdr. Hunter testified at his trial that he was the navigator on Sept. 8, not Lt. Blodgett], who after several calls for help to the Captain, asked him to change course, was pushed aside by the Captain and the ship proceeded onto the rocks. Never mind the designated navigator, my father, wanted to change headings which were laid out by the Captain (Watson), who had been drinking in his cabin with a guest (Eugene Dooman) smuggled on the ship in violation of the Rules."

When this author called Mrs. Rigmor Blodgett in Seattle by phone on June 24, 2002, she told me that if her husband, Mr. Laurence F. Blodgett—son of Lt. Blodgett—were still alive, he would "swear on a stack of bibles" that Capt. Watson was drinking alcohol aboard the Delphy prior to the wrecks.

During testimony at the Court of Inquiry, Capt. Watson testified that he takes full responsibility for the catastrophe that cost 23 lives, and asked that none of the blame be allowed to fall on the shoulders of his able and loyal subordinates, against whom he had no complaint to make and only words of praise to utter.

Also during testimony before the Court of Inquiry, Capt. Watson denied emphatically that liquor was in any way responsible for the disaster, and said that if any of his officers or men had had liquor aboard their ships he must have known about it, since "destroyers are such small vessels that officers and men are thrown into closest association and one could not conceal liquor from the others."

Capt. Watson did not testify about himself or Mr. Dooman—only about his officers and men. In fact, Mr. Dooman remained the illusive "Delphy's Phantom Passenger" until the late 1950s when discovered by the authors of Tragedy at Honda. In a letter to the authors, Mr. Dooman wrote that he was not called as a witness because Capt. Watson's defense counsel believed that it would damage his case.

One final comment which adds speculation on the subject of altered judgment and the resultant behavior of personnel aboard the Delphy prior to the wrecks. A copy of a personal letter from LCdr. John M. Ashley, Eleventh District Communication Superintendent, San Diego, California, to his friend, Frenchy, on Sept. 24, 1923 was obtained from the National Archives. LCdr. Ashley probably did not realize that when he had his yeoman (RBB) type this letter for him, a copy would be placed in the superintendents files, and years later, find its way into the National Archives.

The letter contained two typed pages which reported LCdr. Ashley's attendance as a witness during the Court of Inquiry, and his predictions as to the outcome of the investigation, and another page and a half on personal matters. He wrote about the conduct of Radioman First Class F. H. Hamilton, who was on watch at the Point Arguello Radio Compass Station before and at the time of the accident.

"Fortunately the radioman on watch from 1600 to the end was a radioman first class, a crackerjack operator with all kinds of experience. He had his hands full, with various ships, Navy and Merchant. I also have inside dope from the Chief Radios on the Delphy (CRM L. V. Latimore and CRM C. V. Tipsword) who were old shipmates of mine here in the district. This I dare not write even in a personal letter."

CRM Latimore and CRM Tipsword testified for the defense in Capt. Watson's trial. The only noteworthy testimony was when CRM Tipsword, attached to Capt. Watson's staff, stated he recalled the radio phone conversation between Cmdr. Roper and Capt. Watson. Cmdr. Roper called and requested permission to take his division to the aid of the Cuba, aground at San Miguel. It was denied. The conversation lasted about 20 minutes, between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Nothing in either of the Chiefs' testimony could justify LCdr. Ashley's statement in his personal letter to Frenchy.

But the question remains; did this 20 minutes spent on radio phone between the Kennedy and the Delphy interfere with the Delphy's requests for bearings from the radio compass station on another wavelength using Morse code?

Kindly join us in research for the facts in this matter by sending an email to:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org



Magazine: Naval History

Title and Date: The Point of No Return, June 1999

Author: Gregory Crouch

Extract 1: On the Delphy's bridge (after going aground), Hunter ordered emergency signals sent to the other destroyers. His ship's siren shrieked, but the collision had wrecked the signal searchlight. Hunter incorrectly deduced that his ship had strayed too far south and run aground off San Miguel Island. He told his radiomen to signal the rest of the squadron to make a sharp left turn and "keep clear to westward"—orders he thought would send the other ships into the safe, deep waters of the Santa Barbara Channel.

Author's Comment: The Court of Inquiry stated in its Finding of Facts that the Squadron Commander (Capt. Watson) directed the radio signal be sent "9  turn," and "Keep clear to the westward."
 

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Books

 Introduction

There were four books published about the naval accident at Point Honda, California, on September 8, 1923, now Vandenberg Air Force Base.

 

Title Author(s) Year Published
Tragedy at Honda Charles A. Lockwood & 
Hans Christian Adamson
1960
The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers Charles Hice 1967
Course 095 to Eternity Elwyn Overshiner 1980
Honda Left Turn 095 Joe Silva 1986


Assuming the author's of the four books were as serious as this author in searching for the truth, my efforts on this page will focus on extracting those facts, from each book, which contribute to the best possible explanation of the events before, during and after the accident.

If inconsistencies are located in the books, and sworn statements are made under oath on the same topic—as documented in the report of the Court of Inquiry or in one of the records of trial by General Courts-martial—this author's comment(s) will, more than likely, support the documentation from the legal process, unless deemed otherwise.


Tragedy at Honda
by
Charles A. Lockwood
Vice Admiral, USN (Ret.)
&
Hans Christian Adamson
Colonel, U. S. Air Force, (Ret.)

The most detailed coverage of the accident was provided by the authors of Tragedy at Honda, because in the late 1950's, they were retired military officers with previous experience doing research on military topics. After reading the author's "Preface and Acknowledgements" section, it is obvious the Navy Department contributed significantly to their effort.

After more than thirty-five years, the authors of Tragedy at Honda were fortunate to have been able to locate a representative number of personnel who were present on the cliffs at Point Honda when the destroyers struck California real estate. Their recollections of events were garnished from numerous interviews and letters—some not revealed during any of the legal processes. This author's objective is to extract these findings and present them to the viewer, with comments.

One key player aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, 1923 was Ensign John A. Morrow, Assistant Engineering Officer and Officer of the Deck on duty on the bridge when the accident occurred. He also testified before the Court of Inquiry and as a prosecution witness in the General Courts-martial of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter. In the late 1950s, when the authors of Tragedy at Honda were searching for personnel who were aboard the ships of Destroyer Squadron Eleven, they located Commander John A. Morrow, USN (Ret.).

The authors found Captain John A. Ashley, USN (Ret.), who was a LCdr. in 1923 and the Superintendent of Communications for the Eleventh Naval District. He was also in charge of the Radio Compass Station at Point Arguello. Mr. Laurence F. Blodgett, son of Lt. Blodgett, Head of the Navigation Department and Executive Officer aboard the Delphy, was also located. 

The reason the two officers and one civilian are mentioned here is that they had knowledge, direct and hearsay, of what took place aboard the Delphy on the day of the accident, and the authors of Tragedy at Honda opened the window for us.

Ens. Morrow's testimony during Capt. Watson's trial is contradicted by a statement from Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy, Mr. Eugene Dooman. The author's of Tragedy at Honda included Mr. Dooman's statement in the back of their book. In addition, Ens. Morrow may have contributed more to the authors of Tragedy at Honda in the late 1950s than he did during the naval legal processes in 1923.

Did the author's of Tragedy at Honda obtain a record of trial, case of Lt. Blodgett, from the Navy Department via the JAG Officer of the Navy, or did Commander Morrow reveal to the authors that Lt. Blodgett requested they slow and take soundings because he believed a doubtful navigational situation existed? Or is it possible that Mr. Blodgett told the authors in the late 1950s that his father told him on Dec. 7, 1941, when they lived in Hawaii, that he wanted to slow down and take soundings, but was overruled? Mr. Blodgett wrote that to this author in a letter prior to his death in 2000. He also wrote that Capt. Watson and Mr. Dooman were drinking alcohol in Capt. Watson's cabin under the bridge prior to the wreck. Did he also reveal this hearsay information to the authors of Tragedy at Honda?

LCdr. Ashley had some hearsay information from Chief Radiomen aboard the Delphy—the only two on Sept. 8 were CRM L. V. Latimore and CRM C. D. Tipsword—about events which took place aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, 1923. He declined to reveal this sacred information to his personal friend "Frenchy" in a letter on Sept. 24, 1923, when he wrote, "This I dare not write even in a personal letter." And yet, based upon this author's view, two pages of the letter contained quite a bit of personal information. Did Capt. Ashley reveal the once sacred information to the authors of Tragedy at Honda in the late 1950's?

Any viewer interested in assisting in research into these matters, please contact us at: webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org/research

The authors of Tragedy at Honda also cited the publication "9-TURN" in the Navy Weekly, San Diego, Cal., in their Preface and Acknowledgments. This weekly newspaper revealed that Lt. Blodgett advised the squadron leader (LCdr. Hunter) that it was too early to turn into the Santa Barbara Channel. This publication was distributed to San Diego naval personnel prior to the eleven General Courts-martial, which convened on Nov. 1, 1923. There was no testimony by anyone during the legal proceedings that Lt. Blodgett warned of a dangerous situation—not even Lt. Blodgett.

The entire discussion of what took place on the bridge can be viewed on the Newspaper Articles page of this web site under the Naval Weekly article entitled 9-TURN.


Extract 1: (Aboard the Delphy at 2032 on Sept. 8) A radio bearing from NPK (Point Arguello Radio Compass Station) was called up the tube: "330, true, sir."

Hunter swore under his breath. "Another impossible bearing, Commodore," he said, then called down to the radioroom: "Tell them we are south of Arguello. Ask them for a reciprocal bearing!" After a wait of 10 minutes, his patience wore thin.

At 2035 the reciprocal came back—168—but even that passed two miles to eastward of their assumed position.

Hunter's face was stormy. "That's a bit better," he said, "but they are still a couple degrees off."

"The bearings have been erratic by a few degrees, Captain," said Blodgett, "but they have all put us north of the Point. How about slowing for a sounding, sir?"

The Captain shrugged and glanced at the Commodore. Capt. Watson shook his head.

"No. Not much use—probably can't reach bottom—spoil our engineering run."

Two more bearings came in. They varied by 10 degrees and were to northward, but their reciprocals looked better.

(Watson spoke) "I think we are all right, Hunter. Maybe we will have better visibility and better luck in picking up Point Conception Light. At 2100 change course to ninety-five degrees, true."

"Aye, aye, sir."

The die was cast.

Authors Comments 1: The 330° bearing received at 2032 was requested—in violation of squadron orders—by the Stoddert, a destroyer in Division 32, commanded by LCdr. Leslie Bratton, who was later appointed JAG officer for all legal proceedings related to the accident, including review of the records of trial for endorsement by the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby. LCdr. Bratton should have been a material witness instead of the JAG, because he possessed relevant information about the accident. He should have declined assignment to the position. Any viewer interested in assisting in research into this matters, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

The Delphy intercepted the 330° bearing sent to the Stoddert. And there is the possibility Lt. Blodgett asked the Stoddert by radio phone to request this bearing, because the Delphy was having difficulty making radio contact with their "spark-gap". The radio compass station log contains an entry, which was made sometime between 1852 and 1907, that "A8C (Delphy) causing interference by not listening in before transmitting." There were no bearings sent to the Delphy between 1848 and 2039. However, there are entries that two bearings were sent to the Stoddert: 326° at 2011 and 330° at 2032. Any testimony before the Court of Inquiry or during the trials that the radio compass station failed to respond promptly to requests for bearings before the accident is false.

LCdr. Hunter's testimony before the Court of Inquiry and at his General Courts-martial emphasized that the 168° bearing was not the reciprocal of the 326° bearing received at 2011. But that It was the Delphy's original request for a reciprocal bearing at 2025 based on LCdr. Hunter's belief the Delphy was to the south of the Point, thinking that the station would not know when she crossed over from north to south.

The 168°bearing, which when plotted, showed the Delphy to be south of Point Arguello, but she was actually 11 1/2 miles to the north and set inshore by 7°. The actual and D. R. positions of the Delphy are shown on the drawing of the California coast on the Home page.



Extract 2: (At 2000 on Sept. 8, Ensign Sampson G. Dalkowitz went on watch as the OOD aboard the Kennedy, Flagship of the 32nd Destroyer Division under Cmdr. Walter Roper. The events which took place aboard the Kennedy that night may have reached the authors of Tragedy at Honda in the late 1950s, because his name was listed as a contributing member to the book.)

Ensign Dalkowitz was present on the bridge when Cmdr. Roper ordered the Kennedy to move some 200 yards to starboard (away from shore) from the line of formation and to open the distance between the Flagship and the Chauncey (last ship in the 31st division) to 350 yards. This change of course, which affected only the last division in the column, was ordered by Cmdr. Roper because he was convinced by two Ensigns—Dalkowitz and Max Welborn—that they were too close to the hidden dangers of the nearby shore and should move farther out to sea.

The personnel on the bridge of the Kennedy knew the Delphy was on a course heading straight for the Radio Compass Station at Point Arguello, but thought she would turn out to sea once a definite fix was obtained. This did not take place.

About 2100, the Kennedy received a message by radio phone to take a 095 course on reaching the squadron's turning point; the exact time Delphy was at its pivot point starting to turn. After plotting this course and checking other bearings received from the compass station, Cmdr. Roper realized the Delphy was moving into dangerous territory—too far north of Point Arguello to negotiate a turn into the Santa Barbara Channel.

"It is always idle to speculate on what might have been, but to this day (late 1950s) Cmdr. Sampson Dalkowitz USNR, believes that had it not been for the bawling out the Division Commander had received earlier that day from the Squadron Commander, Cmdr. Roper would have voiced his doubts to Capt. Watson and all the ships in the squadron might have been saved."

Authors Comments 2: The long, drawn-out comments which follow are an attempt to present an accurate description of the events which took place aboard the Delphy between 7:00 and 9:00 P.M.—just prior to the turn to 95° true. And Commander Dalkowitz's statement is a good introduction.

At about 7:00 P.M., Lt. Blodgett relieved LCdr. Hunter on the bridge so he could go to supper. He was given instructions to obtain as many bearings as possible from the radio compass station at Point Arguello. LCdr. Hunter needed these bearings so he could prepare the 8:00 P.M. position report to the Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Rear Admiral Kittelle aboard the Melville.

Between 6:52 and 7:07 P.M., an entry in the radio compass station log states that "A8C (Delphy) causing interference by not listening in before transmitting." Testimony at the trials revealed that some ships were asked to wait until called to transmit. At 7:33 P.M., the station called the Delphy, but failed to get a response. These were the only log entries concerning the Delphy between 7:00 and 8:00 P.M.

Cmdr. Roper called Capt. Watson by radio phone on the Squadron Wave and requested to take his division to search for the lost survivors afloat after the Cuba—a Pacific Mail steamer out of Panama with passengers and cargo—grounded at San Miguel Island early morning on Sept. 8. According to testimony at Capt. Watson's trial, this discussion took place between 7 and 7:30 P.M. and lasted about 20 minutes. Cmdr. Roper had a plan on how to conduct the search and was presenting it to Capt. Watson.

Mr. Eugene Dooman, a State Department guest, wrote in his statement published in The Tragedy at Honda, that he and Capt. Watson "spent virtually the entire day in conversation in the cabin." And that after supper, about 8:30, Capt. Watson was called to the bridge and was gone for about 20 minutes.

In another letter to Charles Hice published in The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, Mr. Dooman wrote that Capt. Watson and his defense officer (counsel) were afraid that Mr. Dooman's testimony would be harmful to Capt. Watson because they were together in the cabin when the Delphy struck. And according to Mr. Laurence Blodgett, son of Lt. Blodgett, Mr. Dooman was an unauthorized guest aboard the Delphy in violation of the rules.

From the above paragraphs, it is possible that Capt. Watson spoke with Cmdr. Roper from his cabin—via a remote handset—and in the presence of Mr. Dooman. A 20 minute discussion, which included a "bawling out", may have had an effect on the Delphy's ability to obtain bearings from Point Arguello with the "spark gap" sending Morse code on the another wave. Contributing to this issue is documentation which states only two of the five radio operators from the Delphy were fit for duty, because three were suffering sea sickness. And were these fit operators proficient in Morse code to request and receive bearings?

Capt. Watson may have had his supper and conversation interrupted by Cmdr. Roper's insistence and time-consuming discussion? The severity of the "bawling out" may have been influenced by Mr. Dooman's presence? But the fact remains that Capt. Watson was absent from the bridge and unfamiliar with the navigational situation until about 8:30 when he was called. It was between 8:30 and 8:50 that Capt. Watson, LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett discussed the Delphy's position since Point Arguello had not been sighted when expected.

There is no doubt that since the Delphy sent its position report at 8:00 P.M. on the Battleship Wave to Rear Admiral Kittelle aboard the Melville—the wave being guarded by all ships in the squadron—based on dead reckoning alone, LCdr. Hunter was locked into his decision. As a former Naval Academy instructor in navigation, he could not bear the embarrassment to admit he was mistaken and had to change his 0800 position report.

LCdr. Hunter had the opportunity to reconsider the Delphy's position when the 8:11 P.M. a bearing of 326° was sent to the Stoddert and intercepted by the Delphy. During his trial, LCdr. Hunter testified he could not conceive that the ship had been set in eight miles in less than two hours. He also stated that according to dead reckoning, the light from Point Arguello was supposed to be abeam at 8:27 P.M. And that having continued the course until 8:25 P.M. without seeing the light, he requested a reciprocal bearing stating the Delphy was to the south of the station. At 8:35, a reciprocal bearing of 168° was sent to the Delphy. He used this bearing to justify and recommend a left turn into the Santa Barbara Channel at 9:00 P.M. to 95° true.

According to Mr. Dooman's letter, when Capt. Watson returned to his cabin at about 8:50 P.M., he said orders were given to change course. At exactly 9:00 P.M., the Delphy established the pivot point for the turn, and the squadron followed the leader.

This author believes that when the Delphy—steaming at 20 knots—turned at 9:00 P.M. leading a column of 13 destroyers, her destiny was set, and even if Cmdr. Roper had time to send warning signals, it would have been too late. Because in about five minutes, the Delphy smashed into the bluff at Point Honda and came to a halt.

Cmdr. Roper was fortunate to be in the rear of the column with his 32nd Division and with enough time to maneuver out of danger. This author disagrees with Cmdr. Dalkowitz's statement that a warning would have saved the ships.

The board members of the Court of Inquiry recommended eleven officers be brought to trial by General Courts-martial. They also recommended letters of commendation to a large number of officers and enlisted men who performed above and beyond the call of duty in the hours following the accident. One of the officers was Cmdr. Roper. His recommendation states "that Commander W. G. Roper, U. S. Navy, be given a letter of commendation for his seamanlike ability and judgment shown by him in handling the division under his command on the night of the stranding of the units of the Eleventh Squadron.

Rear Admiral Kittelle, Destroyer Squadrons Commander, also recommended several officers and a large number of enlisted men for letters of commendation. Cmdr. Roper's name was not on his list, however, LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett were.

This author believes that Rear Admiral Kittelle did not view Cmdr. Roper's conduct worthy a letter of commendation. Instead, he may have felt that Cmdr. Roper's act of omission—failure to warn his superior of impending danger—a court martial offense.



Extract 3: (This extract will dwell on the circumstances surrounding the loss of Fireman First Class James T. Pearson, U.S.S. Delphy, on Sept. 8-9.)
In the late 1950s, the authors of Tragedy at Honda made contact with Cmdr. John Morrow, USN (Ret), who on Sept. 8, was a newly commissioned Ensign aboard the Delphy. He was on the bridge and on watch as the OOD when the Delphy struck. Within minutes, he became an activate participant in the rescue of F1c Pearson.

The authors wrote that the last of four to be rescued by Engineman First Class Raymond Rhodehamel from the oil-covered waters around the Delphy was F1c Pearson—small in stature but great of heart. F1c Pearson had actually jumped overboard to help save his three floundering shipmates (emphasis added by this author). But when he hit the water in a hard belly landing, his glasses were broken and pieces of glass became embedded in his eyes.

Blinded, almost mad with pain, F1c Pearson threshed about in the sea. Twice he vanished from sight. Undoubtedly, he must have swallowed and inhaled a dangerous amount of fuel oil from the leaking tanks of the Delphy. Quickly, Ens. Morrow passed a line to E1c Rhodehamel. Again showing the heroic stuff he was made of, the engineman let go his hold on the sea ladder and joined F1c Pearson in the oily sea. After a desperate struggle, he succeeded in getting the line under Pearson's arms. As the pain-crazed fireman struggled with insane fury, the pair were hauled back to the sea ladder by the sea. The engineman made the bottom rung. But when it came Pearson's turn to be pulled aboard, the situation changed.

The rolling sea became the villain as it tried to crush F1c Pearson either on the pinnacle rocks or against the vessel, so the rescuers towed the line to a more advantageous and less dangerous position. With men assisting from the starboard propeller guard, E1c Rhodehamel was able to get F1c Pearson aboard. Once on board, F1c Pearson cried out insanely with pain. He plunged blindly about the deck, slamming into objects, while his shipmates tried to control him. Just as it seemed he would go overboard again, F1c Pearson toppled, cut and bleeding, upon the steel deck.

At this time, Lt. Blodgett took charge. While F1c Pearson was unconscious, Chief Pharmacist Mate Jordan—with the aid of flashlights held by Lt. Blodgett and Ens. Morrow—tried to remove the glass splinters from the fireman's eyes. However, they were too fine to be seen and CPM Jordan lacked the proper instruments.

Efforts to get F1c Pearson on a raft were futile. He was so slippery with oil and struggled so violently that nothing could be done with him. It was unsafe for anyone to try to put F1c Pearson on a raft in the his current state. He would be a serious menace to the safety of anyone who might be aboard the raft with him.

To ensure F1c Pearson's safety until he could be evacuated, a loop of signal halyard was placed under his arms and he was lashed to an angle iron which supported the destroyer's searchlight tower. That was done so that F1c Pearson would not roll over the side. And if he should recover his senses, he could easily free himself by slipping his arms out of the loop.

When everyone was evacuated, F1c Pearson stayed aboard, anchored to the searchlight tower. From midship of the Delphy came cries for help from the man lashed there. He would have perished if he had not been lashed down. He perished anyway, but it was through no fault of the crew, as they did everything humanly possible to get him off. To the ears of those on the cliffs, his calls kept up through the night. And as one sailor described it (in the late 1950s), "they still ring in my brain." And he continued, "To hear a fellow creature calling for help and not being able to relieve him is the cruelest torture possible to man."

The plan was to try to get back to the Delphy at daylight to evacuate F1c Pearson. But when the time came, the Delphy had broken apart at midship during the night and there was no sign of F1c Pearson. LCdr. Hunter "found no trace of F1c Pearson and there was no way of getting aboard. And while watching the ship, the pounding of the sea carried away the searchlight tower."

Author's Comments 3: Capt. Watson had the difficult task of accounting for the wrecked ships and the casualties. More than 700 sailors were involved, and of these, 38 officers and 517 enlisted men made it to the bluffs at Point Honda one way or another, while an estimated 200 were taken aboard ships standing by to assist in the evacuation. The confusion was obvious after examining the Associated Press reports in the early days following the accident. The numbers and names of ships involved, including the extent of damages, varied from day to day, but always on the rise. The names of the dead and missing fluctuated constantly, as did the spelling. Accurate accounts were difficult to make, but the pressure on Capt. Watson for this information from the highest levels kept increasing. Such was the case when F1c Pearson's relative, Miss Ethel Pearson, read a heart-wrenching description of his death in a local newspaper article.

On Oct. 25, 1923, Capt. Watson, commanding Destroyer Squadron Eleven at Point Honda, responded to a request from his immediate superior to document the circumstances surrounding the loss of Fireman First Class James T. Pearson. Letters from Oklahoma's U. S. Senator J. W. Harreld, and from Miss Ethel Pearson, were referenced in this request. Included in Capt. Watson's response were extracts from testimony given before the Court of Inquiry by four people: Engineman First Class R. L. Rhodehamel, Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence Blodgett, LCdr. Donald Hunter and Captain Edward Watson. It should be noted that there was no statement from Ens. Morrow.

In his report, Capt. Watson states that Pearson and three other men either jumped or fell overboard (emphasis added by this author) from the Delphy's starboard gangway and that Rhodehamel came to their rescue. The report does not state Pearson jumped overboard in an attempt to rescue his shipmates. In addition, there is no statement Pearson's body was found days later still lashed to a section of the searchlight tower. It may be Capt. Watson wanted to shield the family from additional grief, or was there another reason? Let the viewer decide.

Also, there is a possibility, that in the late 1950s, Cmdr. Morrow provided accurate information concerning F1c Pearson's death to the authors of Tragedy at Honda, because he was there. And Capt. Watson could not bear to report that F1c Pearson was Delphy's hero who " went down with the ship", after the Captain abandoned.
 


Extract 4: (In early Nov. 1923, guilty verdicts were indicated in the General Courts-martial, cases of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter.)
When LCdr. Hunter took the stand during his trial—before the same Court that tried Capt. Watson—he testified that "he assumed full responsibility for the navigation of the Delphy." He also stated that he had never detailed Lt. Blodgett as Navigator, and that he himself did all the navigational work, while Lt. Blodgett performed the routine work.

(The same Court opened the trial of Lt. Blodgett a few days later.)
On the first day, Cmdr. Henry Jensen, as counsel for Lt. Blodgett, announced that defense would offer no witnesses. Disdaining Hunter's testimony to the contrary, the JAG, in final argument, held that the evidence showed the accused actually was Navigator, and that he had not performed his duty properly. After a short deliberation, the Court returned a verdict of acquittal. Lt. Blodgett was congratulated by the members of the Court for his actions at Point Honda and testimony during trial. He was ordered to return to duty.

Author's Comments 4: In the late 1950s, a total of 25 destroyermen who were present at Point Honda contributed to the Tragedy at Honda. Their names appear in the Preface and Acknowledgements page. Mr. Laurence Blodgett, son of Lt. Blodgett also contributed.

This author believes that the one-paragraph specifics provided in the book about Lt. Blodgett's trial and acquittal may have emanated from either a copy of the long-lost record of trial, or from information obtained from the contributors to The Tragedy at Honda. If derived from the record of trial, the question remains, "Was this record checked out from the JAG Office in Washington, DC, and either lost, stolen, or misfiled after its return?" If a contributor provided the information, we will never know who it was, unless the information was documented and archived for public access. Any viewer interested in assisting in research concerning this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

One fact remains according to Rebecca Livingston, National Archives, Washington, DC, when the folder which was supposed to contain Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was turned over to the National Archives in the 1970s, a charge-out card was found in its place—with no signature or date.

However, on Oct. 18, 2004, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, a copy of Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was sent to this author by the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. This record shows that Lt. Blodgett did not take the stand to testify in his own defense. LCdr. Hunter's testimony as a prosecution witness and his insistence that he was the navigator aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, not Lt. Blodgett, won the acquittal for Lt. Blodgett. There was no testimony before the Court that Lt. Blodgett requested to slow and take soundings prior to the wreck.


Extract 5: (LCdr. Leslie Bratton was the commanding officer of the Stoddert—one of the destroyers of Division 32 which escaped the trap at Point Honda. He was appointed the JAG officer for the Court of Inquiry and all of the General Courts-martial. In Dec. 1923 after the trials, he was promoted to Commander and transferred to the JAG office in Washington, DC, and became the Assistant JAG under Rear Admiral J. L. Latimer. One of his major assignments was to review the records of trial of the officers tried in the Point Honda accident and prepare recommendations and endorsements for the signature of the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby.)

Before the records of the Court Martial came to the desk of Secretary Denby, they passed through the office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, where that officer prepared an endorsement recommending disapproval of the acquittals of Captain Morris and Commander Pye, ComDesDiv 33 and 31, as well as destroyer commanders Toaz, Calhoun, Davis, Seed, and Booth. The overriding by Admiral Robison of the verdict against Commander Roesch was likewise blasted.

Early in 1924, the not guilty verdicts were disapproved by endorsements placed on the Court Martial records by the Secretary of the Navy.

This action was made public by the Navy Department with a statement noting that disapproval of the findings by the Secretary did not serve as a basis for retrial of the cases, but was "simply an expression of the Secretary's views of the Court's action."

Authors Comments 5: A quick glance at the political atmosphere surrounding the Navy Department in the early 1920s was the Teapot Dome scandal, which began with the transfer of oil reserves from the Navy Department to the Department of Interior. Secretary Denby was involved and his popularity in high office was probably at an all-time low. Many were predicting his departure from public service would take place in March 1924, and so it did.

There is the possibility that a demand by the Secretary for quick action on the review of the General Courts-martial records by the JAG officer was high on the agenda. The general public and Navy Department knew Secretary Denby was displeased with the acquittals. He believed that all eleven defendants should have received stern treatment. Cmdr. Bratton may have heard this personally when he reported for duty in the JAG office.

On January 4, 1924 the Navy Department disapproved the finding—of not guilty—and acquittal of the General Courts-martial of all nine officers who were acquitted. The authors of Tragedy at Honda may have inadvertently omitted the name of Lt. Blodgett in their book.

The copy of the endorsement, case of Lt. Blodgett JAG # 26262-10681A, obtained from the National Archives does not contain a signature. Typed on the line just above the place where the signature should have appeared are the words "By direction of the Secretary of the Navy". And below the place, "Judge Advocate General of the Navy".  A stamp mark appears on the document which shows a check mark next to the name of J. L. Latimer, J.A.G.  Directly below this name is L. E. Bratton, Asst. followed by Acting J.A.G. and the hand-written initials CMA—probably those of Commander C. M. Austin who was then assigned to the JAG office.

An important document affecting the career of a naval officer should have been signed. If the hand-written initials CMA copied successfully, why wouldn't a signature? It appears that Commander C. M. Austin could have signed, since he placed his initials on the document when it crossed his desk. Any viewer interested in assisting in research concerning this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

The outcome of the reversals of all acquittals was that the skippers were personally responsible for the loss of their ships, including their military clothing and personal property.  It also applied to all junior officers aboard the wrecked ships. This action freed the Navy of responsibility for the accident and prevented all officers from submitting claims for the loss of personal property.

Cmdr. Bratton scored a mediocre win with the trials of the Point Honda officers and two more years in the JAG office in Washington.. No retrial for Point Honda officers, no punishment (except a loss of numbers on promotion lists for Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter)—only a hit on their pocketbooks!

The most important comment concerning LCdr.Bratton will now be presented. And the opening statement is that LCdr Bratton should have been a material witness in all legal proceedings and not the JAG officer, because he possessed relevant information about the accident at Point Honda. As skipper of the Stoddert, one of the destroyers attached to Division 32 under Cmdr. Walter Roper, LCdr. Bratton requested and received two bearings from the Radio Compass Station at Point Arguello—326° at 2011 and 330° at 2032. When plotted, these bearings showed the Stoddert and the Squadron heading straight for Point Arguello. One of three options—listed below—existed knowing these requests for bearings by the Stoddert were in violation of Capt. Watson's direct order "not to request bearings" on the run to San Diego.

This author favors option 2, although, the Court of Inquiry—not being aware that the Delphy intercepted the two bearings sent to the Stoddert—leaned in the direction of option 3.

  1. Cmdr. Roper, aboard the Kennedy, did not want another "bawling out" from Capt. Watson and signaled the Stoddert to request bearings, because the personnel on the bridge of the Kennedy wanted to verify the accuracy of Delphy's 2000 position report to Rear Admiral Kittelle, Commander Destroyer Squadrons, aboard the Melville. The Kennedy's "Report of bearings from shore" contains an entry that a bearing sent to the Delphy was intercepted by the Kennedy: 320° at 1817. This is followed by two more entries which show that bearings sent to the Stoddert were intercepted by the Kennedy: 326° at 2012 and 330° at 2032.
     

  2. After 1900, when Lt. Blodgett was on watch on the bridge in relief of LCdr. Hunter, the Delphy was unable to get any bearings from Point Arguello to assist in preparing the 2000 position report. When LCdr. Hunter finished supper and returned to the bridge, he decided that his dead reckoning was more accurate than previously received bearings from shore and began preparing the 2000 report based on his dead reckoning, only. At this time, Lt. Blodgett voiced his concern and requested they slow and take soundings. His request was denied and the report was sent at 2000. Capt. Watson was not informed of this decision, he trusted LCdr. Hunter to do the navigation and provide a safe trip to San Diego. The 2000 report was intercepted by the squadron destroyers, because they were guarding the squadron wave. Not a single division commander or ship's commanding officer questioned the Delphy's position.

    Without LCdr. Hunter's knowledge, Lt. Blodgett made contact by radio phone with LCdr. Bratton aboard the Stoddert and requested that he obtain bearings, because the Delphy was experiencing difficulty making contact with the radio compass station at Point Arguello. Then he instructed his "spark gap" operator to guard the wave and intercept any and all bearings being sent to the Stoddert. And this he did; the two bearings sent to the Stoddert were intercepted by the Delphy. But when they were called up the tube to the bridge, LCdr. Hunter refused to accept their accuracy and stuck to his dead reckoning even when the plotted bearings showed the Delphy too far north and set inshore to make a turn into the Santa Barbara Channel. The first bearing of 326° was intercepted at about 2015, but the die was cast at 2000, and LCdr. Hunter, an experienced navigator, could not change his position report, nor could he admit that he was lost at sea.
     

  3. The personnel on the bridge of the Stoddert consulted with LCdr. Bratton after they intercepted and plotted the Delphy's 2000 position and questioned their position in respect to the Delphy's. On his own initiative, LCdr. Bratton requested two bearings, and the first was 326°  logged in the radio compass station log at 2011. The second bearing was 330° at 2032. Both bearings placed the Stoddert on a dangerous course. LCdr. Bratton alerted Cmdr. Roper on the Kennedy of the situation, and this action saved the 32nd Division from destruction.

Any viewer interested in assisting in research concerning this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

And finally, a copy of Rear Admiral Leslie E. Bratton's biography, that attempts to cover his entire military service, was obtained from the Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC. The relevant portion of the record shows:

May 1919 to August 1921 - Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy
After Aug. 1921 - Commander Destroyer Division 2, Pacific Fleet
June 1924 to June 1926 - Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy

There is no entry that in 1923, LCdr. Bratton served as the CO of the U.S.S. Stoddert, Destroyer Squadron Eleven, Destroyer Division 32, Pacific Battle Fleet. Nor is there an entry that he was assigned temporary orders to the Office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington, DC, between Dec. 1923 and June 1924. The entry "After Aug. 1921" is questionable. Was the biography penetrated to coverup Destroyer Squadron Eleven service in 1923, and by whom?

Any viewer interested in assisting in research concerning this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org


Delphy's "Phantom Passenger"

The authors of Tragedy at Honda managed to obtain and include a statement in their Appendix from Mr. Eugene H. Dooman, a retired State Department Diplomat, who was Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy on the night of the wrecks. The statement is included here in its entirety.

    One day in 1922 a Japanese friend asked me in what year I was born. I answered that it was in 1890.

    "No; I mean what year of the zodiac."

    I did not know. My friend made a mental calculation. "You were born in the Year of the Tiger. Next year is a very unlucky year for those born in the Year of the Tiger. You must be very careful."

    In January, 1923, I was secretary in the American Embassy at Tokyo. I sailed from Tsuruga, a port on the Sea of Japan, under orders to proceed to Vladivostok, which had just been taken over by the Communists. We were caught in a violent storm a few hours after leaving Tsuruga. Tons of ice formed on the bow and raised the stern so far out of the water as to make the ship, which almost foundered, unmanageable, and we crept into Vladivostok five days after we had been given up for lost. In July, while climbing in the Japanese Alps, I had a fall which was just short of fatal. True, I escaped by a few days what is known as the Great Japanese Earthquake of September 1st, although my furniture and library were destroyed. But the last of a series of experiences such as I never had before or since was still to come as I arrived at San Francisco on September 7th on furlough. (I had, by the way, radioed the State Department a day out of Honolulu to ask whether I should turn around at San Francisco and return to Tokyo, but had been told to continue with my furlough.)

    I checked in at the St. Francis Hotel, and in the lobby I met Captain Edward H. Watson, who not long before had completed a detail as naval attaché at Tokyo. I had seen a great deal of Watson and his wife, who was as intelligent and charming as she was beautiful, and we had become warm friends during the two or more years that we had been colleagues. Watson now told me that he had just been refitted and that he was taking it down to San Diego. He said he had a vacant cabin on his ship, and that, subject to his Admiral's approval, he would be glad to have me on board. I eagerly accepted the invitation. An hour or two late, Watson telephoned that the Admiral had given his permission. I had planned, in any case, to spend a few days in Los Angeles on my way home to New York, and I had the hotel porter send off my trunk by express to the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

    Shortly before 7 o'clock on the morning of September 8th, I arrived at the pier, was taken to the Delphy, and greeted by Watson. I was taken by a rating to a small cabin on the lowest deck. A time was to come when I was to weigh with all seriousness its remoteness from the open air. I changed into a heavy tweed suit which I thought would be comfortable in the cold and moderately bad weather I was told we would encounter. I then went up on deck and, on Watson's invitation, joined him on the bridge.

    At about 9 o'clock in the morning, Watson took me down to the Commodore's cabin immediately beneath the bridge; and, except for intervals when he was engaged with his duties on the bridge or elsewhere, and when I went on deck to watch the squadron on anti-submarine and other exercises, we spent virtually the entire day in conversation in the cabin. The Washington Conference on the Limitation on Naval Armament had taken place during Watson's detail in Tokyo as naval attaché, and it has been one of my duties, as of course it had been Watson's primary duty, to follow as closely as possible Japan's naval policy.

    It was about 8:30 at night when Watson and I finished dinner. I sat on a window seat with my back to the bow, Watson facing me across the table. A rating came in with a message that Watson was needed on the bridge. He was away perhaps 20 minutes. As he sat down again at the table, he said that he had given orders to change course. Some moments late, I heard a grating sound as though the ship had scraped bottom, and then immediately came the crash, the ship stopped instantly. I was thrown against the glass at my back and Watson against the table. Drawers flew out of cabinets and there seemed to be an explosion of papers and everything else movable. As Watson dashed out of the cabin, the ship's siren sounded and its searchlight came on. I also ran out on deck. The searchlights were on the second ship, which in a second or two crashed. It also sounded its siren and its searchlights joined with those of the Delphy in lighting up the third ship. And so it went, ship after ship. Each ship in line as it struck seemed to have turned more to the right than its predecessor, and one had turned enough to catch a rock on its right quarter, its headway operating to turn it slowly over on its side. Men could be seen climbing up the sloping deck and on the ship's side as it turned over.

    There was considerable scurrying to and fro on the Delphy, with men rushing to their stations or running for lifebelts. It seemed to be a systematic and organized business, as evidenced by a lad bringing me a lifebelt. I decided that I could be most helpful by keeping out of the way so I headed for the Commodore's cabin to wait there until word came to abandon ship.

    In the cabin, I turned over in my mind whether I should run the risk of going down to recover my wallet which I had left in my cabin and which contained a substantial amount of money and my letter of credit. I went out on deck and asked an officer rushing by for directions to my cabin. He stopped long enough to say that the lower part was flooded. I went back to the Commodore's cabin and remained there until the lights went out.

    I hurried out on deck, and not a soul could I see. I must admit that I was frightened, but I was also astonished and angry that I had been forgotten. As I looked about wondering whether I would not be wise to go forward to the bow, which seemed to be the safest place, I thought I saw a faint light at the very stern. In a moment several flashes of light came on and I could see a number of shadowy figures at some height above the water (on the after-deckhouse). I made toward them. The waist of the ship was low down in the water and the deck was almost awash. I had to pull myself up by the torpedo rails as waves washed over the deck, but I reached a point from which I could clearly see the people on the stern and what was taking place. A line had been secured to a rock in the lee of the stern, and as the ship rolled toward the rock and the line slackened the men were taking turns going over the line. Sometimes the ship would roll back quickly and make taut the line, snapping the man on it feet first into the air. I heard later that two or three men were thrown off the line and were lost. I made my way farther toward the stern and found that the ship had broken apart: to make my way across open water and through a tangle of twisted steel was impossible. I turned back and had almost reached the relative safety of the Commodore's cabin when two men appeared from below: an officer, who turned his flashlight on me, and a rating.
    "Oh," said the officer, "you're the passenger."
    "Yes, and how do we get ashore?" I told him that it was impossible to reach the stern.
    "Well, there's only one way I know, and that's to get into the water," he replied, and turned to a Carley raft. We threw it over the side and jumped. We then found the raft still tied to the ship, our end of the line being, of course, built into the raft. We were not in a comfortable position, with the Delphy rolling over our heads. The rating called for a knife to cut the line. Fortunately, I had a small gold penknife on the end of my watch chain, and keeping a firm grip on my watch I handed the penknife to the rating, who hacked through the line. It was a rough job getting that raft to the rock onto which those on the stern were sliding. It was some 40 feet from land which, at that point, was a sharply sloping rock. Our rock miraculously was connected with the shore by a barely submerged ledge which was exposed whenever a wave receded. A line had been passed along the ledge and secured to the shore, and—as a wave began to recede—one by one we made our way to safety.

    It was about 11 o'clock when I got ashore. Men from the Delphy and other ships who had already reached land were grouped around a large fire of driftwood. I waited for Watson to come ashore, he, of course, being the last from the Delphy, and I stood by while he busied himself arranging for the sending out of search parties, receiving reports, and so on. Shortly after dawn, a search party returned with the body of Fireman Conway of the Delphy. Watson went up to the stretcher on which the body was covered by a blanket. He raised the blanket and looked down on Conway for some moments. Silently, the Captain unbuckled the sword he was wearing and laid it beside the body.

    We had come ashore at a point where the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railway ran along the shore. Early in the morning, we heard a train approaching from the north. Watson told me that, while a special train would arrive in a few hours to take the naval personnel to San Diego, it would be well for me to board the approaching train bound for Los Angeles, which I did.

    I took leave of Watson and sought out the conductor. Not only was I covered with oil from head to foot, but also the only money I had was the change I found in my clothes. I started to tell the conductor of my plight but he stopped me short to say, "Come aboard. You're our guest." He led me into a day coach, covered a seat with newspapers and told me to sit down. He then disappeared and after awhile appeared with a tray on which there was a sumptuous breakfast of ham and eggs, toast and coffee.

    Arriving at Los Angeles I telephoned the Ambassador Hotel from the station, explaining the condition I was in. News of the Honda disaster had already been broadcast, and the hotel said that it would be glad to take me in. When I was taken to my room in the hotel the manager had thoughtfully supplied the bathroom with a five-gallon can of benzene and a five-gallon can of alcohol. I washed myself alternately with benzene and alcohol and after removing the oil I showered and felt reasonably clean. I then had nothing but a bath towel to wear until my trunk arrived, which it did the next morning. The next day, I went down to Coronado to see Watson before leaving for New York. Our last meeting was for me an intense experience. Watson cast aside all reserve. I can only say that his heart and soul were filled by the tragic loss of lives for which he felt himself responsible. Let Light Eternal shine on a great gentleman!

Authors Comments: Mr. Dooman's statement to the authors of Tragedy at Honda in the early 1960s differs from his statement in 1966 to Charles Hice, author of The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers . The controversy surrounds the money that Dooman brought with him when he boarded the Delphy on the morning of September 8, 1923. To the authors of Tragedy at Honda, Dooman stated that his wallet which contained a substantial amount of money and a letter of credit was left in his flooded cabin below deck. In Dooman's correspondence to Charles Hice, he stated that he carried $3,000. in silver, in a valise which was placed in Captain Watson's safe and found later by salvagers.

Any viewer interested in assisting in research concerning Dooman's valise and its contents, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

 



The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers
by
Charles Hice

Charles Hice published his book in 1967. Two major sources were a  reprint of LCdr. Hadaway's magazine article entitled Course Zero Nine Five in U. S. Naval Institute Proceedings and Tragedy at Honda, a book by Vice Admiral Lockwood and Colonel Adamson. Any viewer who desires to read significant extracts from LCdr. Hadaway's article, including this author's comments, may do so by following this link.

A brief summary of this author's comments on extracts from LCdr. Hadaway's magazine article follows:

1. Radio traffic was not heavy due to the stranding of the Cuba. The transmitter on the Cuba was out of order and the radio station log at Point Arguello showed normal traffic flow. An entry in the log indicated the Delphy was not practicing proper communication procedure and therefore had difficulty making contact with the station. 

2. Cmdr. Roper, Division Commander of the 32nd division aboard the Kennedy at the rear of the column, knew the Delphy was heading into dangerous waters when she changed course to 95° true at 2100. There was insufficient time for him to signal the Delphy and alter the inevitable. Four minutes after the Delphy executed the turn at the pivot point, the Young—third ship in the column—struck pinnacle rocks, which tore open the bottom causing her to roll over on the starboard side in about 90 seconds, while the Delphy continued on for less than a minute before crashing into the bluff at Point Honda.

3. After the crash, Fireman First Class James T. Pearson from Elk City, Oklahoma, jumped overboard from the Delphy in an attempt to save three shipmates. He was seriously injured when he hit the water. Engineman First Class Rhodehamel rescued Pearson and the others. Because Pearson was too difficult to handle and take ashore, he was lashed to the starboard supports of the searchlight mast to be rescued in the morning. The Delphy broke in two overnight and the mast was carried away. Pearson's body was found several days later, still lashed to a section of the mast. Capt. Watson submitted a detailed report on Pearson's death, but it failed to state that Pearson jumped overboard to try to rescue his shipmates. He also failed to state that Pearson's body was found days later still lashed to a section of the mast. When everyone, including Capt. Watson, abandoned ship, Pearson stayed aboard and "went down with his ship".

4. Unusual currents around Point Honda, as a result of the Japanese earthquake a week earlier, contributed to the accident and the stranding of the Cuba near San Miguel Island. This author believes the Court of Inquiry dismissed, rather lightly, the impact of these unusual currents on the night of Sept. 8, 1923. There was no statement in the Court's Finding of Facts that for nearly a week before the accident, dangerous currents and ground swells twenty feet high, larger than any in the experience of mariners at Los Angeles Harbor, struck the Southern California coast.

5. Neither LCdr. Hadaway in 1957, nor Charles Hice in 1967, were aware that Lt. Blodgett was found not guilty and fully acquitted of the charge at his General Courts-martial on Nov. 10, 1923. The authors of Tragedy at Honda published this fact in their book in 1960. They also provided information concerning the principle argument in the case: LCdr. Hunter testified for the prosecution in Lt. Blodgett's trial that he was the navigator on Sept. 8, while the JAG officer, LCdr. Bratton, tried to prove that Lt. Blodgett was the navigator. The Court believed LCdr. Hunter.


Charles Hice included in his book numerous letters from military and civilian personnel concerning the accident at Point Honda. Three of these letters contribute to our search for the truth and are reprinted in their entirety.

Letter Written By Date Location
Mr. Eugene Dooman, Retired Diplomat, State Dept. Sept. 26, 1966 Litchfield, CT
Mr. Eugene Dooman, Retired Diplomat, State Dept. Oct. 8, 1966 Litchfield, CT
Captain George M. Grening, U.S. Navy, Retired Unknown Silver Spring, MD

In 1960, the authors of Tragedy at Honda were able to locate and obtain a statement from Mr. Dooman. It arrived after the book was in page proof—almost too late for inclusion. Mr. Dooman's own account of the accident is entitled Delphy's "Phantom" Passenger in Appendix XI. The statement is also included on this web page at the end of the Tragedy at Honda section.

Letter From Mr. Eugene Dooman, Sept. 26, 1966

    "I am very glad to have your letter asking for information about the Honda disaster and Captain Edward Watson, and also very glad to give you all the information I have. However, this is a very large subject, so that I shall confine myself largely to answering your questions, with some other material which appear in the book, (Tragedy at Honda).

    First, about Capt. Watson. His father had been an aide to Admiral Farragut during the Civil War and rose to the rank of Admiral when he retired. He was still living at the time of the disaster. Capt. Watson and I met in 1921 at the American Embassy in Tokyo, he being the Naval Attaché and I the Third Secretary of the Embassy. The Washington Conference on the Limitation of Naval Armament was about to open, and we were both assigned to preparatory work for that Conference, he to study the political questions, which were bound to arise at the Conference in Washington. We saw a great deal of each other and became very good friends, although I was fifteen years younger than he.

    This is how it was on the Delphy. Having received permission to go home on furlough, I sailed for San Francisco and arrived there late one afternoon and checked in at the San Francisco Hotel (St. Francis Hotel). I ran into Watson in the lobby of the hotel. He said, "I'm taking a squadron down to San Diego early tomorrow morning. How would you like to come along?" Of course I replied that I would be delighted. Following his instructions, I went to a wharf at seven o'clock the next morning, found a boat there and went out to the Delphy. A couple of days after the disaster, I visited Watson at his home in San Diego. He told me that his wife and daughter had been with him in San Francisco, and his wife wanted to go on a motor trip with a couple of other women and did not want the little girl with them. Watson, of course, didn't want the girl on his ship. After he saw me at the hotel, he said to his wife that there was only one empty cabin on his ship, that he had promised it to me and that the daughter could not go with him. How providential, as that little girl could never have got ashore.

    You ask if I met Admiral Watson in London. I was at the London Embassy from 1931 to 1933, but Admiral Watson died in 1923, a very short time after his son's court martial. I understand that the old gentleman died from shock, being then about eighty-five years old. So far as the Captain's death is concerned, that was due to natural caused. After the disaster he lost his zest for living and became very despondent.

    You ask about the money I lost in the disaster. When I went to the bank in Tokyo to get money for my travel home, the bank told me that I could get appreciably more if I would take silver U. S. dollars than in a letter of credit or paper dollars, because I would be saving the bank the freight and insurance on the silver. I decided to take the money, $3,000, in silver, as I would be getting an extra $400. That money, in a leather valise, was with me in San Francisco where I intended to take it to a bank and have it converted into a letter of credit. However, when I arrived the banks had closed and I left the next morning before they were to open. I had to take the bag with me on the Delphy. You can imagine how heavy it was, and as I had to swim ashore I had to leave the money in my cabin.

    My own experiences are included in an addendum to "Tragedy at Honda," the book to which you refer, and there is little I can add. Whether Watson was or was not at fault is a question about which I am not competent to comment, but most naval officers with whom I spoke were of the opinion that, when he was in doubt about the position of the squadron he should have stopped and taken several soundings and the charts would have given him his exact position. However, that may be, Watson showed himself as the splendid man that he was when he was tried along with the captains and executive officers of all the wrecked ships. As soon as the court opened, Watson rose and said that he assumed complete responsibility for the disaster.

Author's Comments: Mr. Dooman submitted a statement to the authors of Tragedy at Honda in 1960. In his statement, he wrote that he went ashore on a Carley raft. There was no mention of having to swim ashore. But he does imply that the 3, 000 silver dollars in the leather valise was left in his cabin.

Inconsistencies appear between Mr. Dooman's statement in 1960 to the authors of Tragedy at Honda and the statement he made to Mr. Hice in 1966. In 1960 he wrote that he left his wallet, which contained a substantial amount of money and a letter of credit, in a small cabin at the lowest deck. He could not recover his wallet because the lower part of the ship was flooded. There was no mention of 3,000 silver dollars being carried in a leather valise.

Copies of three documents from the archives at Laguna Niguel, California, indicate Capt. Watson wanted salvagers to inform him when his personal safe was found. He was willing to reimburse them for their services. As documented in Course 095 to Eternity by Elwyn Overshiner in 1980, this author believes that the leather valise with 3,000 silver dollars was locked in Capt. Watson's personal safe in his cabin below the bridge—normally the chartroom. It is not known if the safe was ever found. But Mr. Dooman went out of his way to visit Capt. Watson in Coronado on Sept. 11 before leaving for New York. 

This author can only speculate that Capt. Watson gave Mr. Dooman $3,000 and told him when the safe was found, the books would be balanced. Additional speculation arises concerning the possibility of other sacred treasures—besides Mrs. Hermine Watson's jewelry box—stored in Capt. Watson's personal safe. Maybe there was something else in Mr. Dooman's leather valise besides the $3,000 silver dollars?

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Letter From Mr. Eugene Dooman, Oct. 8, 1966

    I am glad to know that you found my previous letter interesting, and that is not surprising when you tell me that you have been researching the Honda disaster for ten years. It was of course, the greatest peacetime disaster in the history of our Navy, but it has been almost forgotten, and it is therefore interesting to learn that you, who were born seven years after the disaster, have taken time and effort to learn as much as you can about the disaster.

    Rather than answering your questions categorically, I shall try to give you the answers in the following paragraphs.

    About myself: I entered the Foreign Service in 1912 before I was 22 years old. I was first assigned to the American Embassy at Tokyo to become a Japan specialist, which involved learning to read, write, and speak Japanese, to study its laws and its economy—and finally to read Chinese, as the Japanese had adopted Chinese characters, much as English uses Roman letters. In 1931, after serving at Tokyo for 19 years, I was transferred to the American Embassy at London where I served until 1933, when I was brought back to the State Department to take initial charge of relations with Japan. In 1937, I was sent back to Tokyo as principle assistant to Ambassador Grew and I was there on Pearl Harbor Day and was interned with the rest of the Embassy Staff. I got home in August 1942 and was then sent to Moscow as Charge d'affairs of the Embassy. I was brought back to the State Department in May 1943, and was placed in charge of formulating American policies for the occupation of Japan after Japan's surrender. When Japan surrendered on August 14, I requested retirement at the end of that month. I have been retired, then, for 21 years.

    I am now 76 years old and in good shape for my age. I played 18 holes of golf today and am to play again tomorrow.

    In my previous letter, I wrote you the circumstances of my being on the Delphy. The money I had with me was all in silver dollars. I can't now say how heavy it was but I imagine it was somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds. I heard later that it had been found by the salvagers, but I could not claim it without the probability of being called as a witness in the court-martial, and Watson and his defense officer were afraid that my testimony might prove harmful to Watson, as I was with him when the ship struck.

    You might be interested in my personal experience after the account given in "Tragedy at Honda". About five o'clock the next morning a passenger train stopped at the section house where we were. I was dripping with oil from head to foot, but I went to the conductor, told him that I had no money and asked whether he could take me to Los Angeles. He replied that I would be the guest of the railway company. He took me to a day coach, spread newspapers all over the seat and after a short while came back with a wonderful breakfast. When I arrived at Los Angeles, I called up the Ambassador Hotel, said that I had been in the wreck and asked them  to take me in. Of course I got a cordial welcome. I had two or three dollars in change which was enough for the taxi to the hotel. When I got there, the hotel sent up to my room a 5-gallon tin of benzene and a 5-gallon tin of alcohol. I got into the bathtub and got myself clean, but I had no clothes to wear. I wrapped myself in a bath towel and made up my mind to wait for my trunk, which was due from San Francisco the next day. Some time later, the phone rang. It was a girl to whom I had once been engaged but she had married and was living in Los Angeles. She supplied me with a complete outfit of her husband's clothes. The next day money arrived from my bank in New York and I went to San Diego to visit Watson, and then I went on to my family home in New York.

    As to Watson: I am not, of course, competent to say how Watson conducted himself as a naval officer, that is to say, whether or not he was popular and liked by his subordinates. As an individual, however, he was a most attractive person  witty and a most congenial companion. My guess would be that he was well liked by those under him—officers and enlisted men alike. He did not smoke.

    He was retired in 1929. Like most American naval officers he firmly believed that War between the United States and Japan was inevitable, and that idea lay at the bottom of his reports when he was Naval Attaché at Tokyo. On the other hand, it does not seem likely that he could have warned the Navy Department during his active service of a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor specifically, for the reason that Japan, prior to 1925, had neither airplanes or aircraft carriers needed to attack Pearl Harbor. I do not know whether or not he gave the Navy Department such warning while he was in retirement. We in the Embassy at Tokyo warned Washington in January 1941 that the Japanese were preparing to attack Pearl Harbor, but it was ridiculed.

    I appreciate your comments on the responsibilities of command, but you must realize that the assuming of responsibility is what distinguishes a profession from other vocations. Officers of the armed services, diplomats, lawyers, doctors and  ministers of religion, are obliged to make decisions which involve the lives and well-being of others, whereas the decisions of a company executive, for example, normally concern only the financial welfare of his corporation. Professional people are held in respect for the reason that their function is to serve the public, but by the same token they have and inescapable responsibility for their decisions. In my career I had to make decisions which, if later condemned by my superiors in Washington, would have resulted in dismissal. As I wrote you in my previous letter, I am not competent to pass on Watson's decision which led to the disaster, that is to say, I cannot weigh the extenuating circumstances, but a disaster did occur and the man who made the decision had to assume responsibility. And, as you know, that Watson did when the court-martial opened.

    Mrs. Watson was crippled by a fall from a horse very soon after her marriage and walks with great difficulty. We hear from her once or twice a year.

    I was with Watson in a cabin under the Delphy's bridge.
Eugene H. Dooman. (Retired Diplomat, State Department)

Author's Comment: Once again, were Mr. Dooman's 3,000 silver dollars in a leather valise stashed away in Capt. Watson's personal safe, or was the money in the form of a letter of credit left in Mr. Dooman's wallet in the flooded lower part of the ship—as stated in Tragedy at Honda? This is the contradiction.

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Letter From Captain George M. Grening, U. S. Navy (Ret.) 
of Silver Spring, Maryland

    I served with the men who were aboard the ships at the time, but do not remember their names. The story of a Chief Radioman, who was a direction finder operator at the Point Arguello radio direction finder station when the vessels grounded, does stick with me.

    He told me that crew members when they got ashore, acting apparently under orders, had tried to obtain the radio log from them in which were entered the radio bearings given the vessels before they ran aground. Quite a fracas developed over their attempt, he said. I also remember that the accuracy of the D/F bearings was a salient feature of the subsequent Court of Inquiry.

    I visited the grounded Harvard (civilian ship) on the Los Angeles-San Francisco run, when she went ashore nearby in about 1931. The masts of two destroyers could still be seen a short distance away. The Harvard broke up two days later.

Author's Comment: There is no documentation in our possession at this time to substantiate this claim. If it were factual, one can speculate that an additional charge of "obstruction of justice" and/or "tampering with the evidence" would have warranted a more severe sentence than a loss of numbers on the promotion list.

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Course 095 to Eternity
by
Elwyn E. Overshiner

     One of the seamen on the U.S.S. Young's "black gang" in the fire room was Gordon J. Overshiner, an 18-yr. old brother of the author of this book. Elwyn Overshiner was eleven years old when he last saw his brother, who was home on leave in San Jose, California, after Destroyer Squadron Eleven completed Fleet Week in San Francisco.

    It was a Friday morning on Sept. 7, 1923, when Mr. Edgar Overshiner drove the family car to the Young moored at Pier 15, San Francisco Bay, and wished a "bon voyage" to his son, Gordon, who was heading for his home port in San Diego. Elwyn and his sister, Audrey, were stowaways in the back seat of the Studebaker until they reached the pier. They, too, wanted to be a part of the farewell voyage.

    This was the last time the family saw Gordon alive. At about 2104 on the following day, Fireman Gordon Overshiner was on duty in the fire room of the Young when she struck pinnacle rocks at Point Honda and turned over on her side 90 seconds later. Gordon remained on watch and was trapped in the fire room. Several days later when divers cut open the hull with torches, Gordon's body was freed of its tomb and washed ashore.

    It was while reading Elwyn Overshiner's book that this author's better half realized that one of Gordon's shipmates may be a cousin. Fireman Second Class August Zakrzewski from Omaha, Nebraska, was in charge of the watch in the fire room with Gordon Overshiner when the Young turned over. The sea ejected his body from the hull, and he washed ashore a few days later. The 16-man Wreck Patrol—also called the Death Watch—on duty at Point Honda to guard the wrecks and recover bodies, found his body and confirmed identification.

Author's Comment: Elwyn Overshiner spent many years traveling along the west coast, and from coast to coast on several occasions, doing research for his book. It is obvious when one reads the book that he was an author who dwelled upon detail and the human element, including a bit of superstition. Nowhere in his book does he mention that Gordon's body was trapped inside the hull of the Young. One other body, which could not be identified, also washed ashore on the same day. Only 13 out of 23 bodies were recovered, the remaining 10 were listed as missing at sea. There were AP articles which reported these occurrence. It is my belief that Elwyn intentionally left this information out of his book, because he wanted to protect the Overshiner survivors from the heart-wrenching  grief that would have followed. Death by drowning in the open sea is by far a sailor's preference over being entombed in the bowels of a ship.


Extract 1: Shortly after 1800, three identical radio bearings were received from NPK (Point Arguello) indicating that the Delphy bore 320 degrees true from the Compass Station. Not only did these bearings have Delphy much farther north than her own dead reckoning, they had her much closer inshore, and, in fact, heading directly for Arguello Light.

"Sir," Blodgett stumbled and grabbed the chart table firmly when the ship rolled in a deep swell. "I'm concerned that we may not have made the speed over the ground we are using for our dead reckoning. These radio bearings are just too damned consistent to be all wrong."

"Well Larry," growled Hunter, "I'm sure of one thing—those radio bearings are wrong just as many times as right; that has been my experience."

"What about our scheduled position report to Commander Destroyer Squadrons, the Seattle, and Squadron 12 at 2000, Sir?"

"Let me get the Commodore (Capt. Watson)."

Hunter called the Commodore's cabin by voice tube. Captain Edward H. Watson, Commanding Squadron Eleven, a greying (sic) navy veteran of twenty years at sea, stepped into the chart room and nodded to the two subordinate officers. Blodgett edged out of the tiny space and joined the other two officers standing deck watches on the bridge.

Hunter described the dilemma posed by the differences between their dead reckoning position and that indicated by the radio compass bearings from Arguello.

"The immediate question, of course, Captain, is our 2000 position report due in five minutes."

"Hunter, seems to me our immediate problem is more nearly where in hell are we. Let's see what she looks lie," reported the taciturn Watson.

The two men went back over Hunter's computations, Hunter all the while drumming the fallacy of shore to ship radio bearings and their wide margin of error. Watson was sold, the fatal decision made: Disregard the NPK bearings which had them some distance to the north of Arguello, inshore and heading for the light. Their own dead reckoning would put them 8 1/2 miles abeam Point Arguello on a conservative course to safely turn in to Santa Barbara Channel at 2100.

Author's Comment 1: In 1980, Elwyn Overshiner had two sources of information which provided evidence that Lt. Blodgett believed the squadron was too far to the north to be executing a turn into the Santa Barbara Channel: the San Diego Naval Weekly article 9-TURN and the book Tragedy at Honda by Lockwood and Adamson. This extract is consistent with these sources. However, the information concerning Capt Watson's presence on the bridge before 2000 and prior to the sending of the 2000 position report appears to be inaccurate.

In his statement published in Tragedy at Honda, Mr. Eugene Dooman—Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy—wrote that Capt. Watson was called to the bridge at about 2030. This may have been shortly after the 2035 reciprocal bearing of 168°was received. The required 2000 position report was sent about a half hour earlier by LCdr. Hunter. If this statement is accurate, LCdr. Hunter was the officer on the bridge responsible for sending the 2000 position report based on dead reckoning and disregarding the bearings sent by Arguello. Lt. Blodgett believed it was too early to turn and Capt. Watson was in his cabin having supper while conversing with Mr. Dooman—completely unaware of the navigational situation on the bridge.

The order to turn the Delphy to 95° true at 2100 was given by Capt. Watson at about 2050. He then returned to his cabin below the bridge.


Extract 2:  Immediately prior to the departure of Squadron 11 from San Francisco, Commodore Watson received aboard the Delphy a civilian guest, a Eugene Dooman, for passage to San Diego. The only official Navy recognition of Mr. Dooman's presence is found in a one-sentence acknowledgement by Watson appearing in a General Courts-martial transcript. Dooman, it seems, was a civilian employee of the State Department on leave of absence from his job. The two had become acquainted while Watson was assigned as Naval aide  to the U. S. Embassy in Tokyo. Dooman would later be referred to by the news media as the "Mystery Guest," the "Phantom Passenger," the "Civilian," etc. The Navy's lack of candidness over Dooman's presence aboard the Delphy added to the aura of mystery and suspicion in the minds of the general public over subsequent events.

Author's Comment 2: There were eleven trials by General Courts-martial after the wrecks at Point Honda. This author obtained copies of the records of trial, cases of Capt. Watson, LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett—three officers from the Delphy. Mr. Eugene Dooman's name was not found in any of these records, nor was there any entry that Capt. Watson had a guest aboard. It is not known if any of the eight remaining records of trial contained a statement to verify Elwyn Overshiner's finding.

There was no mention of Mr. Eugene Dooman in the Court of Inquiry Finding of Facts.


Extract 3:  (After the Court delivered the findings and sentences for Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, the findings for the remaining nine officers were announced.) The remaining officers were exonerated and returned to duty. Oddly enough, Secretary of the Navy Denby disapproved the findings of innocence of these officers, but his action had no legal validity and resulted only in a notation in their personal records. History seems to view this as somewhat of a "temper tantrum" by the Secretary.

Author's Comment 3: The reversal by Secretary Denby did prohibit the nine officers from submitting claims for personal property lost in the wrecks. The Navy Department, in effect, told these officers they were personally responsible for the loss of their ships, and therefore, they and all of their junior officers, were ineligible for reimbursement for personal property losses, which included their military uniforms. This hit on the pocket books may be considered "legal validity" of sorts—Secretary Denby's attempt at demonstrating fiscal responsibility. Someone else, besides Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter who were "slapped on the hands" with a loss of numbers on promotion lists, has to pay for the loss of seven destroyers and 23 lives.


Extract 4:  Despite the open Court of Inquiry, the American public remained dubious that all information on the Pedernales (Point Honda) smash-up had been revealed. Unfortunately, certain subsequent happenings did little to dispel the aura of cover-up. The official record of the Findings and Opinion of the Court of Inquiry disappeared from the Office of the Judge Advocate General in 1924.

Author's Comment 4: The official record of the Findings and Opinion of the Court of Inquiry was not missing—the National Archives were in possession of the entire report of the Court of Inquiry when Mr. Overshiner was doing research in the late 1970s. Lt. Blodgett's record of trial may have been labeled Volume I of the Court of Inquiry, and it was the missing document. The following paragraphs and table attempt to explain my conclusion.

When eleven records of trial arrived at the Navy Dept. Secy's Office, Record Division, on Dec. 4, 1923, they were individually hand-stamped and assigned numbers as indicated on the following table. Note that the first three cases listed in the table may have been assigned numbers based on an alphabetical sequence of their last names.  The personnel in the office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy referred to these numbers in all correspondence and endorsements.

Although, when Cmdr. Leslie Bratton was permanently assigned to the JAG office between June 1924 and June 1926, after completing nearly six months of temporary duty in the same office from Dec. 1923 to June 1924, he wrote a letter to LCdr. F. L. Lowe on July 13, 1925 inquiring about the missing Volume I of the Court of Inquiry. He may have been referring to Lt. Blodgett's record of trial, 26262-10681. Accordingly, LCdr. Hunter's record may have been referred to as Volume II, 26262-10682, and Capt. Watson's record as Volume III, 26262-10683. The three volumes (records of trial) and the report by the Court of Inquiry were filed in one binder labeled, Court of Inquiry.

A copy of the report by the Court of Inquiry shows that 1,040 legal size pages are included in a single document. It is not divided into volumes. The Finding of Facts, Opinions of the Court and Recommendations are included at the back of the report in pages 1022 thru 1040. This document has never been missing from the Archives.

 

Date of GCM Officer Tried GCM Record No. Navy Dept. Secy's Office, Record Division National Archives Location
11/9/23 Blodgett 58790 26262-10681 Missing from Files
11/7/23 Hunter 58789 26262-10682 RG125, Box 349, File 12847
11/1/23 Watson 58791 26262-10683 RG125, Box 349, File 12847
  Morris 58810 26262-10680

 

  Pye 58957 26262-10725

Missing from Files

  Calhoun   26262-10699

Missing from Files

11/30/23 Booth 58955 26262-10721

 

  Toaz 58954 26262-10722

 

  Davis 58953 26262-10723

Missing from Files

  Seed 58956 26262-10724

 

  Roesch 59006 26262-10761

Missing from Files

When the records of trial were sent to the National Archives in the 1970s, some were missing as shown in the above table. However, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, on October 18, 2004, a copy of Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was received by this author from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. Apparently, the record of trial is still in the custody of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, while being stored at the Federal Records Center. It is not know why the original copy of Lt. Blodgett's records of trial is not stored by the Navy Dept. in the National Archives.



HONDA LEFT TURN 095
by
Joe Silva

    The author of this book served as a signalman in the Navy during WWII and the Korean conflict. He worked for six years toward establishing a memorial to the men involved on the seven destroyers which were stranded at Point Honda on Sept. 8, 1923.

    On September 8, 1983—the sixtieth anniversary—through the efforts of the American Legion William Proud Post #211, Lompoc, California, the memorial was dedicated at the Veterans Memorial Building. Captain Gerald Fulk, U. S. Navy, participated in the service as the duly appointed representative of the Secretary of the Navy.

    The author chose to locate survivors from the wrecked ships for a first hand account of their experiences. Several furnished written documentation which the author included in his book. One of the survivors, Robert Greenwald, Lt. Cdr., U. S. Navy (Ret.), was a young ensign aboard the Chauncey. He provided a detailed description of the events which took place aboard his ship. His written statement also included information concerning his assignment by Capt. Watson to escort injured personnel—via Southern Pacific Railroad—to the Santa Barbara Hospital, and then to proceed to San Diego and report to Rear Admiral Louis Nulty. It was the only significant extract for inclusion on this web page.


Extract: A pro-forma receipt from the head of the hospital sent me on my way to make the 0800 (Sept. 9, 1923) train out of Santa Barbara for Los Angeles. Lt. Mullinex, after some hospital treatment for his feet, elected to go with me, as he was most anxious to get home to San Diego and was unable to otherwise do so. 

Accompanying us throughout this experience, starting with the boarding of the train at Honda (at approximately 0400), was Mr. Eugene Dooman, a personal friend of Captain Watson, and also a supernumerary as a passenger on the Delphy. He was uninjured, and except for being minus some clothing, was otherwise alright. He elected to join our party.

We arrived in Los Angeles before noon and went straight to the Ambassador Hotel as a result of a personal telephone request by Mr. Dooman on the management of that excellent hostelry. From this point on, the experience was a much happier one for the three of us, in that we actually had rubbing-alcohol baths to remove fuel oil from our skin pores. Meantime, our clothes were steamed, cleaned and pressed under emergency order. Finally, we sat down to big steak and French fried potato dinners, washed down by champagne. This helped to restore our sense of well-being, and bring us back into focus. Up to that moment we had truly lived through a nightmare.

The end of the story was a good-bye to Mr. Dooman at the hotel, boarding the 1500 train to San Diego (where they joined up with Lt. Blodgett), arriving at the depot, and embracing my dear wife. I had waited to call her on the telephone from our room in the hotel and thus was able to get through without confusion whatever, so she knew my schedule. A great many of the personal messages attempted for transmission at Pt. Arguello never got through, and this resulted in many anxious moments on the part of relatives all over the United States who got news of the disaster and ships' names before they heard from their kin.

For me, one more ordeal was in the making—I was under orders to report to Admiral Louis Nulton, Commandant of the 11th Naval District. Actually, his orderly was there to pick me up and whisk me away to his office without delay, once I had greeted my wife. So away we went.

For the next two hours I told the admiral what I could to the best of my ability and everything I had observed within the scope of my knowledge of that tremendous affair. By this time, my eyelids were beginning to droop, and observing how close to exhaustion I was, the admiral gave me a pat on the back, commended me for doing a good job of reporting, and sent me home.

Author's Comment: There is a distinct possibility that Ens. Greenwald told Admiral Nulton the following information on Sept. 9, 1923:

1. Mr. Eugene Dooman was traveling as Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy and was told to board the train for Los Angeles by Capt. Watson.

2. Lt. Blodgett—navigator aboard the Delphy, lead ship in the pile-up at Honda—arrived in San Diego with Ens. Greenwald and Lt. Mullinex with orders to report to the Naval Hospital for treatment of a cracked kneecap.

A U. S. Navy organization chart for 1923 shows Rear Admiral Louis M. Nulton as commanding Battleship Division 3, Pacific Battle Fleet. At the same time, the Commandant of the 11th Naval District was Rear Admiral Ashley Robertson. It is my opinion that Lt. Cdr. Greenwald remembered Adm. Nulton's name in 1983, but forgot his title.

The convening authority for the eleven General Courts-martial was the Commander-in-Chief, Battle Fleet, Admiral S. S. Robison. He appointed Vice Admiral Henry A. Wiley as senior member of the Court on October 28, 1923. He also appointed Rear Admiral Louis McC (McCoy) Nulton to the same court. 

Whether he was an authorized passenger or not, Capt. Watson knew that Mr. Dooman should not appear in San Diego when he and several hundred of his sailors arrive by special train on Sept. 10. So he arranged for Mr. Dooman's departure on the train which boarded the injured sailors with Ens. Greenwald at about 0400 on Sept. 9. What was Capt. Watson trying to hide by removing Mr. Dooman from the scene? No doubt, it must have been something which would have added harm to Capt. Watson's career. Based on what his father told him, Lt. Blodgett's son, Mr. Laurence Blodgett, Seattle, Washington, believed that alcohol was the culprit.

Capt. Watson could have dispatched Lt. Blodgett with his kneecap injury to Santa Barbara Hospital with Lt. Mullinex and the other injured sailors. He could have instructed Lt. Blodgett to report to RAdm. Nulton on what took place on the Delphy on the night of Sept. 8. But he chose otherwise. Ens. Greenwald was ordered to make the run because he knew nothing about what took place on the bridge of the Delphy prior to the accident. This is what Capt. Watson wanted; someone who could provide only a general description of destroyers stranded at Point Honda coupled with a loss of a few sailors out of several hundred.

It was an unplanned rendezvous when Lt. Blodgett joined-up with Lt. Mullinex and Ens. Greenwald when the train he was on stopped in Los Angeles at about 1500 on Sept. 9.  An article in the San Diego Union reported that Lt. Blodgett arrived in San Diego on the evening of Sept. 9 with Ens. Greenwald and Lt. Mullinex. Lt. Blodgett stated to the reporter that "they (probably LCdr. Hunter and Capt. Watson) put me on the train at 7 o'clock this morning (at Point Honda) and told me to report to the Naval Hospital (San Diego) for treatment of my cracked kneecap."

RAdm. Nulton's orderly must not have known that Lt. Blodgett was traveling with Ens. Greenwald or he would have taken both officers to RAdm. Nulton's office. A detailed report from the bridge of the Delphy could have been obtained. There is a possibility that Capt. Watson did not know that Lt. Blodgett would arrive in San Diego with Ens. Greenwald, and it appears that RAdm. Nulton was also in the dark. Capt. Watson must have sent a message to RAdm. Nulton in the early morning hours of Sept. 9 which stated that Ens. Greenwald was to arrive in San Diego at about 8:30 PM on the same day with a report on the wrecks at Point Honda.

There is no record that Lt. Blodgett was on orders to report what took place aboard the Delphy to anyone. But there is a record that The Naval Weekly, 472 Spreckles Building, San Diego, California, published an article entitled "9-TURN" which provided detailed information on what occurred on the bridge of the Delphy prior to the fatal turn.  It was published after the Court of Inquiry which adjourned around the middle of October but before the first General Courts-martial on Nov. 1, 1923.

It is this author's belief that Lt. Blodgett provided this information because only he could benefit from it. The following extract from The Naval Weekly contains Lt. Blodgett's advise to LCdr. Hunter about changing course. LCdr. Hunter failed to heed this advice.

On the bridge of the U. S. S. Delphy, the squadron leader (Lieutenant Commander Donald T Hunter) ordered his navigation officer, Lieutenant Blodgett, to take new bearings and decide on a change of course to safely pass around the point at Arguello, where the coast juts far out into the Pacific, and which, safely passed, requires a change of course to the eastward, so as to maintain the relative distance from the coast and not steam out to sea.

In several minutes the navigation officer reported back to his Captain. With the aid of the radio compass at Point Arguello, with which the radiomen were co-operating to ascertain position, the lieutenant had arrived at the decision that the squadron was still steaming some miles to the north of the Point and that a change of course to pass the light at Arguello was not yet necessary.

What the Naval Weekly published differed from the way Lt. Blodgett testified before the Court of Inquiry. Why Lt. Blodgett changed his story is not known, but one can only speculate that his reporting seniors had something to do with it. When Lt. Blodgett first began to testify, he was classified as a witness. However, after the President of the Court detected evidence that Lt. Blodgett was navigating and in agreement with his seniors that a dangerous situation did not exist, his testimony was interrupted by the President, and Lt. Blodgett was advised that he was now a defendant.

It is this author's belief that LCdr. Hunter told Lt. Blodgett that he would testify at the Court of Inquiry and during any and all General Courts-martial that he was the navigator responsible for the change of course which resulted in the wrecks, not Lt. Blodgett. But that Lt. Blodgett must withhold any testimony that he advised Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter that a dangerous situation existed and that it was too early to turn into the Santa Barbara Channel. Both men stuck to their stories to the very end.

Vice Admiral Henry A. Wiley, commander of Battleship Divisions, was RAdm. Nulton's reporting senior. VAdm Wiley was the senior member of the eleven General Courts-martial conducted at the 11th Naval District Headquarters in San Diego. RAdm. Nulton was also a member of the same court. Did RAdm. Nulton brief VAdm. Wiley after he received Ens. Greenwald's report? I think yes, and probably in the presence of their superior and the General Courts-martial convening authority, Adm. S. S. Robison, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Battle Fleet, whose flagship the California was moored at the Naval Base in San Pedro, California.

Neither VAdm. Wiley nor RAdm. Nulton should have been assigned as members of the Point Honda General Courts-martial board. They should have requested to be relieved because they possessed prior and relevant information concerning the accident at Point Honda.

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Navy Department

Introduction

At the top of this listing is an organizational chart of the Old Navy on July 1, 1923 and a brief introduction to doing research with the new Navy in the 21st Century

Efforts to obtain information on Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett's record of trial—via official correspondence, email and telephone—from the Old Military and Civil Records Office, National Archives, the Under Secretary of the Navy, the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, the Bureau of Naval Personnel, and the Federal Records Center are documented on this page.  A forwarded letter to obtain information from Published and Unpublished Congressional Hearings provided a negative response from the Special Assistant, Congressional Liaison Office, Navy Personnel Command.

On Oct. 18, 2004, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, this author received a copy of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett's record of trial by General Courts-martial from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. Apparently, the record was still in the custody of the Judge Advocate of the Navy and stored at the Federal Records Center.

While doing research on the Point Honda accident, I happened by chance to find an interesting link which contained the Navy Directory from July 1, 1923. The naval historian who designed this site presented a vivid picture of the naval and political atmosphere of the times, including photos of prominent naval officers and their ships.

The Destroyer Squadron Eleven organizational chart on this page was modified to show the names of the ships and men who set sail September 8, 1923 on the intended voyage from San Francisco to San Diego. There are only slight differences between the names which appear here and those on the organizational chart of July 1, 1923.


Organizational Chart of "The Old Navy"
on JULY 1, 1923

Edwin Denby, Secretary of the Navy
Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Navy


The United States Fleet  

United States Fleet  

Admiral Hilary P. Jones
Seattle (CA-11) – Fleet Flagship

Captain Wat T. Cluverius, Commanding


Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet

Rear Admiral S. E. W. Kittelle
Melville (AD-2) (F) Cmdr. B. B. Wygant, Commanding


Destroyer Squadrons Eleven

Captain Edward H. Watson
Delphy (DD-261) (F)
LCdr. Donald T. Hunter, Commanding
 

DesDiv 31-ComDesDiv
Cmdr. William S. Pye

Farragut #300 (F)
LCdr. John F. McClain Commanding

Fuller #297
LCdr. Walter D. Seed Commanding

Percival #298
LCdr. Calvin H. Cobb Commanding

Somers #301
Cmdr. William Gaddis
Commanding

Chauncey #396
LCdr. Richard H. Booth Commanding

John Francis Burnes #299
LCdr. M. J. Foster Commanding

DesDiv 32-ComDesDiv
Cmdr. Walter G. Roper

Kennedy #306
LCdr. Robert E. Bell Commanding

Paul Hamilton #307
LCdr. Tracy L. McCauley Commanding

Stoddert #302
LCdr. Leslie E. Bratton Commanding

Thompson #305
LCdr. Thomas Symington Commanding

Reno #303 (on speed run)
LCdr. Richard Barry Commanding

Farquhar #304 (casualty)
LCdr. J. D. Smith Commanding

DesDiv 33-ComDesDiv
Captain Robert Morris

S. P. Lee #310
Cmdr. W. H. Toaz
Commanding

Jones #308(casualty)
LCdr. B. B. Taylor Commanding

Woodbury #309
Cmdr. L. P. Davis Commanding

Nicholas #311
LCdr. H. O. Roesch Commanding

Young #312
Cmdr. W. L. Calhoun Commanding

Zeilin #313 (in dry dock)
LCdr. H. G. Shonerd Commanding

 


Searching with "The New Navy" in the 21st Century

For over five years, this author has been querying the varies agencies of the Navy Department for the missing link in the Point Honda accident—the record of trial by General Courts-martial, case of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, U. S. Navy—without success.

There was no lack of cooperation from military and civil service personnel. Everyone contacted appeared eager to help in the search, but practically every effort failed. Their patience and willingness to help is appreciated. If only the Navy Department, at all levels, could accept the fact that they were not responsible for the loss of 23 lives and seven ships. Personal responsibility for faulty navigation rests with those named at the Court of Inquiry and tried by General Courts-martial. Nothing could have halted "the acts of God", which created the unusual currents at Point Honda.

It is now time to document the most recent efforts for future naval historians who may want to continue the search. My search began in 1997, when I discovered the possibility that a cousin was one of the sailors aboard the U.S.S. Young who perished in the accident: Fireman Second Class August Zakrzewski, U. S. Navy, from Omaha, Nebraska. There are over 200 kin, friends and interested parties on the rolls of the Point Honda Watch, and one or more of these folks may take an interest in continuing this effort.


Old Military and Civil Records, National Archives

On Feb. 27, 2002, Rebecca Livingston, Old Military and Civil Records, Textual Archives Services Division (202-501-5385 Ext. 247), National Archives, Washington, DC, provided documentation that Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was missing from its proper place when the Navy Department turned the documents over to them. And that she was unable to locate any other information about who took the record or the date it was removed. The original custodian of the record of trial was the JAG Officer of the Navy, Washington, DC.

The folder where Lt. Blodgett's record of trial should have been located, contained only a charge-out card. A copy of its contents shows the following:

The card.contains no date or signature.


Under Secretary of the Navy

A letter to The Honorable Susan Morrisey Livingstone, Under Secretary of the Navy, got the ball rolling. It is included here in its entirety.

February 17, 2003

The Honorable Susan Morrisey Livingstone
The Under Secretary of the Navy
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-1000

 Dear Madam:

Please do not forward this letter to Dr. William S. Dudley at the Naval Historical Center for his reply. Over the years, Dr. Dudley and his assistant Kathy Lloyd have done everything in their power to answer my questions, and I appreciated the excellent cooperation they provided. They even enlisted help from Rebecca Livingston at the National Archives in my behalf. The answers to my questions lie elsewhere, and this is why I am petitioning your office. 

On September 8, 1923, seven U. S. Destroyers of Destroyer Squadron Eleven, Battle Fleet, went aground at Point Pedernales (now Point Honda on Vandenberg Air Force Base) and were lost to the sea and salvage. Twenty-three sailors perished in this accident including my cousin, August Zakrzewski, Fireman Second Class, USN.

A Court of Inquiry was convened at Headquarters, Eleventh Naval District, San Diego, California, and within a few weeks, the Court recommended that the Squadron Commander, Captain Edward H. Watson, USN, the Captain of the USS DELPHY, Lieutenant Commander Donald T. Hunter, USN, and his navigator, Lieutenant (j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, USN, be charged with culpable inefficiency and negligence, and that several other officers in the squadron be charged with negligence. The General Courts-martial found Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter guilty as charged, and sentenced them to the bottom of their respective promotion lists with a loss of 150 numbers for Capt. Watson, and 100 numbers for LCdr. Hunter. Lt. Blodgett was tried lastly by the same Court and acquitted. The Judge Advocate General, J. L. Latimer, and the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, A. L. Long, approved the proceedings, findings, and sentence; although, the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation considered the sentences inadequate. In 1924, the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby, also approved the proceedings, findings, and sentence of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter; however, he reversed the General Courts-martial acquittals rendered to Lt. Blodgett and the other squadron officers who were initially charged with negligence.

On page 872, C.M.O. No. 2-1924 in the Navy Department Compilation of Court-Martial Orders, 1916-1937, you will find the review of Lt. Blodgett’s trial and the justification for reversing his acquittal. The file number of Lt. Blodgett’s record of trial is: 26262-10681A, J. A. G., Dec. 18, 1923: G. C. M. Rec. No. 58790. This record is missing from the National Archives in Washington. I was able to obtain the records of trial for Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, which were located at RG125 – Judge Advocate General (Navy), Box 349, File 12847.

Correspondence that I received from Kathy Lloyd at the Naval Historical Center in Washington revealed that in the 1920s the court martial records were under the custody of the JAG. There was a notation on a card where it would be filed, stating that the record had been withdrawn and sent to Congress for Hearings in the 1920s and never returned. In Oct. 2001, Ms. Lloyd called the JAG office and was told that the record was not there. In Feb. 2002, I was sent a copy of this card by Rebecca Livingston, National Archives, and the contents are as follows:

GCM 58790
Blodgett, Lawrence Francis
Lieut.
Sec. A, JAG Office
(Selection Board binder)

Rebecca Livingston did not know  what “Section A” or “Selection Board binder” meant. Could you explain? There was no date on the card, nor was there a name of the person who checked out the record. Is this the usual procedure?

Kindly provide any information that is available on Rear Admiral Leslie Bratton, USN. In 1923, this officer was a LCdr. and the CO of the USS Stoddert, one of the destroyers of Squadron Eleven involved in the Point Honda accident. Although LCdr. Bratton possessed relevant information about the situation prior to the grounding of the destroyers, he was appointed JAG for the Court of Inquiry and later for all of the General Courts-martial. After all of the trials in San Diego were completed, LCdr. Bratton was transferred to the JAG Office in Washington to review the records of trial for the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby. His capacity was the Assistant JAG Officer, and later in 1925, Acting JAG Officer. His review of the records of trial included a recommendation that all acquittals be reversed, and the Secretary approved. In other words, the cases he lost in San Diego were reversed when he transferred to Washington. No new trials were ordered. The most important outcome was that Lt. Blodgett’s acquittal was reversed.

There is a distinct possibility that Lt. Blodgett’s record of trial contains testimony that would clear up many unanswered questions concerning the Point Honda accident, especially the events  that took place on the USS Delphy the night of September 8, 1923. Please assist me in locating Lt. Blodgett’s record of trial. Naval historians have attempted to reveal the truth for many years. I am determined to accomplish this on my watch.

The 75th memorial service honoring the 23 sailors who perished at Point Honda was held at the site of the wrecks on Vandenberg Air Force Base on September 8, 1998. Navy and Air Force Chaplains including color and honor guards participated in the service. More than 200 kin and friends of the deceased were in attendance. A photo of the event is included. Shown in the photo is the anchor from the USS Chauncey which was dedicated at the 50th memorial service. Months after the 75th memorial service, and due to safety reasons and other considerations, the anchor was moved from Vandenberg Air Force Base to the Lompoc Historical Society in Lompoc, California.

Kindly view my web site to learn more about my commitment—www.pointhondamemorial.org

Sincerely,

Stanley A. Golowski
Captain, USMC (Ret.)

CC: Judge Advocate General (Navy)
        Director, Naval Historical Center
        National Archives and Records Administration


Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity

The letter to the Under Secretary of the Navy was forwarded to the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity for reply. A scanned copy of the reply states, "the searches—for the record of trial, case of Lt. Blodgett— have been "unsuccessful" and that "the records apparently have been lost or misfiled in the Federal Records Center."

On Oct. 18, 2004, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, this author received a copy of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett's record of trial by General Courts-martial from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. The forwarding letter was signed by Lieutenant Commander M. E. Brooks, U.S. Navy; the same officer who signed the below letter stating the record of trial apparently have been lost or misfiled in the Federal Records Center. 


Bureau of Naval Personnel

Email contact was made with Mr. Terry Williams at the Bureau of Naval Personnel (901-874-3059) and a copy of the letter to the Under Secretary of the Navy was sent as an attachment. Mr. Williams indicated that he would search the records for Lt. Blodgett's record of trial, and that if he succeeded, he would get in touch. After about six months of silence, this author questioned the outcome of the search and was informed by Mr. Williams that the record could not be located.


Federal Records Center

On May 29, 2003, contact was made by phone with Linda Williams at the Federal Records Center (301-778-1532). An access number was required from Mr. Terry Williams in order for the Federal Records Office to be of assistance. Once authorization was granted, and after a brief search, Linda Williams stated that all records from the 1920s were turned over to the National Archives. And that it would be impossible to verify if Lt. Blodgett's record was in its proper folder.


Published and Unpublished Congressional Hearings

Attempts to locate Lt. Blodgett's record of trial from published and unpublished Congressional Hearings were unsuccessful. The Special Assistant from the Congressional Liaison Office, Navy Personnel Command, was only able to furnish a copy of Rear Admiral Leslie E. Bratton's biography, which omitted an entry about his tour of duty as CO of the U.S.S. Stoddert at Point Honda in 1923, and the fact he was the JAG for all legal proceedings dealing with the accident. It contained an entry that Cmdr. Bratton was in the Judge Advocate General Office of the Navy from June 1924 to June 1926.

Is it a coincidence that Lt. Blodgett's record of trial appears to be missing on Cmdr. Bratton's watch in the JAG office?

And did the authors of Tragedy at Honda manage to obtain a copy in the late 1950s when they wrote a brief paragraph about the conduct of Lt. Blodgett's trial?

Any viewer interested in assisting in research into this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

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Court of Inquiry

Introduction

The Court of Inquiry investigated the circumstances surrounding the accident at Point Honda on Sept. 8, 1923. Their report consists of 1040 pages in a single document, signed by the President of the Court, Rear Admiral William V. Pratt, and by the Judge Advocate, LCdr. Leslie E. Bratton.

The Court's investigation is summarized between pages 1022 and 1040: Finding of Facts, Opinions of the Court, and Recommendations. It is my intent to keyboard this entire document—19 legal size pages—into this web page.

In early 1925, Volume I of the Court of Inquiry was reported missing from the office of the Acting Judge Advocate General of the Navy, Commander Leslie E. Bratton—the former JAG at the Point Honda Court of Inquiry and all of the General Courts-martial. 

On July 13, 1925, Cmdr. Bratton wrote a letter to LCdr. F. L. Lowe at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia inquiring about this missing volume. LCdr. Lowe was assigned to the JAG office at the time when this volume was withdrawn, and Cmdr. Bratton wanted to know if LCdr. Lowe remembered the circumstances surrounding the withdrawal, which might aid in recovery.

In his reply on July 16, 1925, LCdr. Lowe wrote the following: "Several months ago I was directed by the Assistant JAG to get the record of the Honda Disaster for the Secretary of the Navy, immediately." Curtis D. Wilbur was appointed in Mar. 1924; he replaced Edwin Denby. Also, "I understood at the time that the Secretary desired certain information from these records for a committee in Congress." Then he concluded with a statement that he did not remember seeing the record of the Honda Disaster after this time and could not remember his attention being called to it in any way, until Volume I of the Honda case could not be located for the Selection Board.

The National Archives, Washington, DC, informed this author via email that the Court of Inquiry is a single document, not three separate volumes. It is also their belief, that it is possible the missing Volume I in 1925 was Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett's record of trial by General Courts-martial.

A similar event concerning the record of trial by General Courts-martial, case of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence Blodgett, was unfolding in the JAG office. When the JAG office turned over the files to the National Archives, Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was missing. In its place was a charge-out card which contained the following information: GCM 58790; Blodgett, Lawrence Francis; Lieut.; Sec. A, JAG Office; (Selection Board binder). There was no date or signature on this charge-out card. It indicates that the General Courts-martial record of Lt. Blodgett was checked out of Sec. A, in the JAG office, and placed in a Selection Board binder, and never returned.

On Oct. 18, 2004, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, this author received a copy of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett's record of trial by General Courts-martial from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. Apparently, the original copy of the record of trial is still in the custody of the Judge Advocate of the Navy and stored at the Federal Records Center.

When Lt. Blodgett testified before the Court of Inquiry, he stated that he assisted the Commanding Officer, LCdr. Hunter, with the navigation on Sept. 8. Lt. Blodgett told the Court he participated in obtaining the fix at Pigeon Point and laid out the course to be steered on the chart after passing Pigeon Point. In other words, he was performing navigational duties as the Navigation Officer. He even stated before the Court that he was the Executive Officer, Navigation Officer, First Lieutenant, and performed other general ship duties. This is why the President of the Court interrupted his testimony as a witness and told him that he is now a "defendant". Because one of the duties of the navigator was to inform and advise the Commanding Officer, LCdr. Hunter, that the Delphy was running into danger and to take soundings before and after the change of course from 150° true to 95° true, but he failed to do so.

However, during the General Courts-martial of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, Lt. Blodgett testified as a witness that he did not perform navigational duties on Sept. 8, that LCdr. Hunter was the navigator and responsible for the navigation.  LCdr. Hunter backed up these statements when he testified as a witness during his General Courts-martial; he insisted that he was responsible for all of the navigation which caused the accident, not Lt. Blodgett.

Lt. Blodgett did not take the stand during his trial. LCdr. Hunter was the chief prosecution witness who testified that he performed all of the navigation on Sept. 8, and that Lt. Blodgett was not the navigator. The JAG tried to prove otherwise even by introducing Lt. Blodgett's testimony given before the Court of Inquiry. The Court believed LCdr. Hunter and fully acquitted Lt. Blodgett of the charge of "culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty".

It is this author's firm belief that Lt. Blodgett gave false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the legal process during his testimony before the Court of Inquiry and as a witness at Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's General Courts-martial. Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter were active participants in this cover-up, intent on minimizing the severity of their sentences. A retrial appears to have been warranted with a new Judge Advocate, but the Secretary of the Navy thought otherwise. Secretary Edwin Denby was due out of office in early 1924 and wanted closure with the Point Honda accident.

This author did not obtain the entire Court of Inquiry from the National Archives, only pages 1022 thru 1040: Finding of Facts, Opinions of the Court, and Recommendations. In his book Course 095 to Eternity, Elwyn E. Overshiner included some of LCdr. Hunter's testimony given before the Court which was not found in their Finding of Facts. He wrote that after he laid down the 168° bearing received at 2035, he called for Capt. Watson to come to the bridge. Overshiner wrote that Capt. Watson "left his civilian guest (Eugene Dooman) and immediately came up on the bridge". This is evidence that the Court knew that Capt. Watson was entertaining a guest for the trip to San Diego and withheld this fact in their summation—intentionally or not? And what sinister events were taking place in Watson's cabin that the Pacific Battle Fleet was trying to hide?

In the late 1950s, Dooman—the Delphy's Phantom Passenger—contributed a statement to the authors of Tragedy at Honda in the nick of time, just after the book was in page proof, that Capt. Watson and he "spent virtually the entire day (Sept. 8, 1923) in conversation in the cabin"—referring to Capt. Watson's cabin below the bridge.

Charles Hice, author of The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, published Dooman's statement written on Oct. 8, 1966 concerning the silver dollars Dooman had stored in Capt. Watson's personal safe. He wrote that the silver dollars "had been found by salvagers, but could not be claimed without the probability of being called as a witness in the court-martial, and Watson and his defense officer were afraid that my testimony might prove harmful to Watson, since I was with him when the ship struck".

There was no testimony before any of the eleven General Courts-martial that Dooman was Watson's guest aboard the Delphy. The members of the Court of Inquiry knew this as a fact, but those officers serving at the court martials did not. Watson appears to have been shielded after the members of the Court of Inquiry discovered that Dooman was aboard as Watson's guest. Why?

Any viewer interested in researching this particular matter for a conclusion is encouraged to write us at

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org

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COURT OF INQUIRY

TWENTIETH DAY
 

San Diego, California
October 12, 1923

The Court met at 8:30 A. M.

Present:

Rear Admiral William V. Pratt, U. S. Navy

Captain George C. Day, U. S. Navy and

Captain David F. Sellers, U. S. Navy, Members, and

Lieutenant Commander Leslie E. Bratton, U. S. Navy, judge advocate

The Court having thoroughly inquired into all the facts and circumstances connected with the allegations contained in the precept and having considered the evidence adduced, finds as follows:

FINDING OF FACTS

1.    On 8 September 1923, Squadron Eleven, less U. S. S. William Jones, U. S. S. Zeilin, U. S. S. Reno and U. S. S. Farquahar, left San Francisco by divisions with orders to rendezvous off the San Francisco Light Vessel at 8:30 A. M. At 8:30 A. M. squadron took departure from light vessel steering various courses and speeds engaged in making practice runs in preparation for Short Range Battle Practice.

2.    At about 11:30 A. M. squadron passed Pigeon Point on port beam distant about 2 miles on course 160° true, standard speed 20 knots. This was the last definite fix obtained before the grounding.

3.    At about 1430 squadron changed course to 150° true, Point Sur being approximately abeam but not sighted. Wind during afternoon was northwest, force 4-5, sea moderate, visibility at least three miles. Squadron engaged in simple tactical exercises of equal amounts to the right and left of base course. At 1630 Squadron formed column in following order: Squadron Leader, Division Thirty-three, Division Thirty-one and Division thirty-two. The order of ships in column was Delphy (Squadron Leader), S. P. Lee (Division Flag), Young, Woodbury, Nicholas, Farragut (Division Flag), Fuller, Percival, Somers, Chauncey, Kennedy (Division Flag), Paul Hamilton, Stoddert and Thompson. The J. F. Burnes dropped out of formation during afternoon due to boiler trouble.

4.     At 2100 the Delphy changed course to 95° true without previous signal to squadron. Signal was sent to next ship astern, S. P. Lee, giving the new course after change of course was made.

5.    Delphy used a speed of 20 knots as the speed over the ground for computing dead reckoning positions. Consideration was given to participated prevailing currents at this time of year, condition of ships bottom and ships trim. Course of 150° true was used as a safe course, the course recommended by sailing directions being 149° true. Delphy was using a magnetic compass as gyro compass was out of commission due to needed repairs.

6.    Delphy received the following radio compass bearings from Point Arguello: at 1415-- 167°; at 1426-- 162°; Ship was to northward and asked Point Arguello for reciprocal of bearing; at 1438--  326°; at 1813, 1832, and 1848--- 320°; at 2035-- 168°; this bearing was a reciprocal bearing given at request of Delphy who stated we are south of you give us reciprocal; at 2039-- 333°; at 2058--323°. All bearings sent to Delphy indicated ship to northward of Point Arguello except bearing of 168° which was a reciprocal bearing asked for by the Delphy. No radio bearings received by Delphy were sent to ships of squadron.

7.    Delphy's 8:00 P. M. position was by dead reckoning as they did not consider they had obtained satisfactory radio bearings and did not therefore use them in computing their 8:00 P. M. position. Delphy's 8:00 P. M. position was sent to Commander Destroyer Squadrons Battle Fleet and to Commander Destroyer Squadron Twelve. Delphy's 8:00 P. M. position was not signaled to ships of the squadron. No 8:00 P. M. positions were asked for from ships of the squadron by the Squadron Commander or any Division Commander. Delphy's dead reckoning indicated ship would pass Point Arguello light on port beam at 2025 distant 8 1/4 miles.

8.    Radio bearings received by Commander Destroyer Squadron Eleven were obviously in error when considered collectively for navigational purposes, using times of separate bearings with distant run between. No definite fix can be accurately determined for the times of the respective bearings and therefore no definite error can be stated for bearings received. From navigational data available  bearings were accurate within about ten degrees.

9.    Squadron Commander after consultation with Commanding Officer and navigator of Delphy determined upon a change of course to the left by considering the bearing 168° (reciprocal) and laying down various speeds to see where the ship could be on this line. It was considered that a speed of 21 knots had been made good and a course of 95° true was determined upon as leading down the middle of Santa Barbara Channel. It was not desired to pass too close to the unlighted islands to the south of the Santa Barbara Channel. Delphy disregarded all other radio bearings received after 2000 except the 168° which had been given in accordance with the Delphy's request "Give us the reciprocal, we are to the southward." The Delphy was at the time of change of course about 11.5 miles and 7° true from her dead reckoning position on which this change of course was based.

10.    At about 2105 the Delphy ran head on at 20 knots speed on the mainland of the rocky coast at Pedernales Point. No land, rocks or breakers were seen prior to grounding. There was a heavy bank of fog lying over the coast, close in. Engines were backed emergency full speed astern immediately but ship did not move off rocks. Siren was sounded repeatedly. Squadron Commander directed radio signal be sent "9-turn," and "Keep clear to the westward." Visual, blinker signal sent by broadcast method, "Delphy aground." Megaphone used in attempt to warn ships astern.

11.    S. P. Lee obtained last definite fix off Pigeon Point at about 11:30, gyro compass checked with courses. Speed of 21 knots was used for dead reckoning. Intercepted only one radio bearing sent to Delphy at 1832 of 320° true. This bearing checked with D. R. position. Intercepted Delphy 8:00 P. M. position which was considered as a fix determined by Delphy from bearings and all navigational data. Delphy's 8:00 P. M. position was about 3 miles W N W of S. P. Lee's D. R. position. Change of course made at 9:00 P. M. was considered by S. P. Lee a safe course for Santa Barbara Channel. The S. P. Lee did not take any bearings with her direction finder nor did she ask the Delphy for any bearings the Delphy might have from Arguello. The Lee did not request permission to get bearings herself.

12.    When the Delphy changed course at 2100 the S. P. Lee followed in column  and received a signal giving the new course as 95° true. This signal was not passed down the line. Shortly after change of course Division Commander and Commanding Officer on bridge, Delphy observed to apparently stop dead in water, grounding was realized; S. P. Lee's engines turned full speed astern with left rudder. Ship struck while making headway of about 8 knots on mainland and remained fast.

13.    The U. S. S. Young obtained last definite fix on Pigeon Point at 11:32. Magnetic compass checked with courses. Speed of 19 3/10 knots was used for dead reckoning. Intercepted only one radio bearing sent to the Delphy at 1813 of 320° true. This bearing checked with D. R. position within about 2 miles. Intercepted Delphy 8:00 P. M. position which was about 7 miles ahead of Young D. R. position. This was considered as a fix determined by Delphy from bearings and all navigational data. Change of course at 9:02 was considered safe course for Santa Barbara Channel. No signal of change course was received. Commanding Officer was notified of change of course, started to bridge, felt ship strike, was thrown to deck by again striking. Young turned over, starboard side down within about a minute and a half of first striking. She came to rest on her beam ends about 100 yards off shore with her port side about two feet out of water. Men climbed and crawled to ship's port side remaining until ship abandoned.

14.    U. S. S. Woodbury, 4th ship in column, obtained last definite fix at Pigeon Point at about 11:35. Magnetic compass checked course steered. Speed of 20 knots until 1800 and then 19 knots used for D. R. Intercepted radio bearings sent to Delphy at 1815, 1830 and 1845, all 320° true. Bearing at 1830 ran through Woodbury D. R. position. Intercepted bearing sent to Delphy at 2039 of 333° true. This was deemed in error due to bearing of 320, course steered and distance run. Presumed error in interception. Not considered for navigational purposes. Delphy's 8:00 P. M. position intercepted. This was about 4 miles to south of Woodbury D. R. position, reconciled because speed of 19 knots was used from 1800. Woodbury followed the change of course to left, received no course signal. Course was safe to pass Point Conception by Woodbury's navigational position. U. S. S. S. P. Lee was observed to sheer to port, Young to stop. Woodbury sheered to starboard, struck heavily amidships, engines stopped and reversed, ship struck on small rocky island dead ahead almost immediately, and remained there. Crew abandoned ship to this rock that night. Ship was held up to rock by lines from ship.

15.    The U. S. S. Nicholas, fifth ship in column obtained last definite fix at Pigeon Point at 11:36. Magnetic compass checked course steered. Speed at 20 knots was used for D. R. Intercepted radio bearings sent to Delphy at 1438 of 326°, also at 1840 of 320°, and 2035 of 168°, the last two not being reported to the Commanding Officer and Navigator. D. R. position of Nicholas would put ship abeam of Point Arguello Light at 2030, distance eight miles. Nicholas did not intercept Delphy's 8:00 P. M. position. Nicholas made change of course to left following other ships in column. Confusion was noted ahead. Nicholas steered out to port. Engines were stopped and backed two-thirds with rudder left. Ship struck and disabled starboard engine, shaft separated at coupling. Ship grounded on rocks off shore from mainland and remained there. Since has worked inshore. Crew remained on board during night and abandoned ship following day. After Nicholas struck signal from Delphy received "9 turn" and "Keep clear to westward." 

16.    The U. S. S. Farragut, Division Flag 31st Division, sixth ship in column, obtained last definite fix off Pigeon Point at 11:32. Magnetic compass checked with courses. Speed of 20 knots was used in D. R., though 19 also laid off on chart. Intercepted following radio bearings sent to Delphy: at 1813-- 320°, at 2035-- 168°, not known to be reciprocal, at 2039-- 333°, 2058-- 323°. Bearings could not be reconciled with D. R. which would put Farragut off beam of Point Arguello at 2050, distant 7 miles. Commanding Officer was estimating navigational situation with bearings received. Did not use her own position finder. Did not ask Delphy for any other bearings she might have, or request permission to get bearings for herself. Officer of Deck reported head of column changing left. Commanding Officer came out on bridge anticipating Arguello Light had been sighted. When he saw change of course through about 40° became apprehensive; Division Commander and Commanding Officer viewed chart and navigation situation shown to Division Commander. Officer of Deck reported sirens ahead. Engines slowed to 2/3 immediately followed by order of Division Commander, stop, back full speed, gave right rudder to clear ship ahead. Backed until ship dead in water; heard cries of men in water from Young. Thought collision ahead. Observed rocks close aboard on starboard bow, backed full speed; Fuller observed astern, ahead 2/3 to avoid collision. Collided with Fuller about amidships starboard side at whale boat davits, no material damage. Cleared, backed full speed, anchored in 15 fathoms of water; rocks observed close aboard in rift of fog. Dragged anchor, backing, and again anchored in 22 fathoms of water. Farragut struck submerged rock while backing away after clearing Fuller. Leaks in fresh water tanks, secured boilers, remained at anchor over night.

17.    U. S. S. Fuller, seventh ship in column, obtained last definite fix off Pigeon Point at 11:30 A. M. Gyro compass checked course 1° or 2° to right of course signaled. Speed of 20 knots was used in D. R. No radio compass bearings were intercepted. Radio set sharp tuned and no interception can be obtained off the guarded wave lengths which were 310 and 1430. Radio bearings were sent out on 800. D. R. Position of Fuller would pass Point Arguello at 2030, distant 8 miles. Fuller followed the column in change of course to left after 2100. Fuller followed the speed signals of Farragut, Division Flag, next ship ahead, 2/3 ahead, stop, back 1/3. Tremor felt on Fuller, rang up full speed astern, ships astern were closing up. Farragut and Fuller collide, cleared. A large hole was cut in steaming fireroom at time of grounding and boilers were secured; water rising rapidly, men secured and when they left firerooms were filling rapidly and water practically followed them up. Ship never got the full speed astern due to loss of power and was carried by sea onto the outlying rocks near the U. S. S. Woodbury. Ship was not abandoned until following morning.

18.    U. S. S. Percival, eighth ship in column, obtained last definite fix at Pigeon Point at 11:34 A. M. Percival received no intercepted radio bearings. Speed of 19.8 knots used for D. R. D. R. position placed the Percival abeam Point Arguello at 2045, distant 7 1/4 miles. Percival changed course at 2107 following the column. Confusion noted in ships ahead, thought there had been a collision, then observed Young on side from a flash of a search light. Ship backed out on a reverse course keeping ships head 98° true. Farragut backed out ahead of Percival and directed she follow out and anchor in not less than 20 fathoms water. Anchored in 23 fathoms water. Signal of "9 turn" and "Keep clear to westward" from Delphy was not received on bridge until after ship had backed out clear. Ship remained at anchor during night and sent ship's boats to stranded vessels next morning.

19.    U. S. S. Somers, ninth ship in column, obtained definite fix at Pigeon Point at about 11:30. Magnetic compass checked course steered. Speed of 19 knots was used for D. R. Anticipated passing Point Arguello Light on port beam at about 2100, distant 7 miles. Only one radio compass bearing was intercepted. It was reported by navigator to Commanding Officer; it was sent (author questions this) to Delphy, received about 2100 and was 320°. In fact this was a bearing sent to 12th Squadron. Commanding Officer treated it as danger bearing. Somers changed course to left with rest of column. Signal of "9 turn" was received but not executed. Ships ahead showed stop lights 1/3 speed ordered, hard right rudder, breakers ahead close aboard, full speed astern, ship struck twice before clearing, backed to westward then turned on heel going outside 100 fathom curve. Ship remained underway all night, came in following morning at daylight anchored and sent ship's boats to aid stranded vessels.

20.    U. S. S. Chauncey, tenth ship in column, obtained last definite fix at Pigeon Point at 11:40 A. M. Magnetic compass checked with course steered. Speed of 20 knots used for D. R. Expected to pass Point Arguello Light at 2030 distant 7 3/4 miles. No radio compass bearings were intercepted. Radio set sharp tuned. Chauncey made turn with column, observed confusion in ships ahead and ship slowed speed but continued ahead thinking there was a collision. Received signal "9 turn" could not execute it as ships on both sides. Ship continued to forge ahead, passed Young overturned on side with men on it. Rocks were seen ahead and ship then backed emergency full speed astern. Ship struck astern while backing out, lost power and was carried by sea onto the mainland. Ship grounded to the right and further to the eastward from the Delphy. Anchors were dropped, ship was then close to Young and crew of Young abandoned their ship to the Chauncey and thence to shore.

21.    The U. S. S. Kennedy, Division Flag 32nd Division, and eleventh ship in column, used course 148° true as course steered and speed of 19.7 knots for D. R. Intercepted following radio compass bearings sent to Delphy: at 1830--320°; at 2035-- 168°; at 2039-- 333°; at 2058-- 323°, also following intercepted bearings sent to U. S. S. Stoddert: at 2012-- 326° and at 2032-- 330°. Kennedy anticipated picking up Point Arguello Light close aboard.

22.    Upon arriving at the turning point of the head of the column all ships of Division Thirty-two independently turned to the westward and maneuvered their ships to clear water. Division thirty-two remained under way during the night cruising in formation in a thick fog endeavoring to locate the stranded vessels. Specific assignments were made of ships of the division to be prepared to render any assistance possible to designated stranded vessels. Division anchored about daylight. A rift in the fog disclosed the stranded vessels about two miles distant at which time Division got under way, proceeded and anchored near scene of disaster awaiting orders from Commander Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet.

 


        Loss of Life and Injuries to Personnel: (misspelled names not corrected)

That the following men met death by drowning and that their death was in line of duty and was not due to their own misconduct:

U. S. S. Young

Buchan, Ralph K., 184-71-45, Chief Pharmacists Mate

Duncan, Earl, 346-22-69, Seaman Second Class

Grady, Everett W., 316-97-18, Fireman Second Class

Harrison, Ernest C., 359-53-52, Fireman First Class

Jones, Ernest, 154-99-56, Cabin Cook

Kirby, Edward C., 265-34-19, Fireman Third Class

Kirk, Henry T., 336-29-26, Fireman Third Class

Martin, James T., 355-12-90, Seaman First Class

Morris, Wade H., 355-45-54, Seaman Second Class

Overshiner, Gordon J., 375-16-91, Seaman Second Class

Reddoch, Clitus A., 182-60-81, R.M. First Class (last name misspelled)

Rogers, Leo F., 385-25-99, Seaman Second Class

Skipper, Hugh W., 271-04-50, Seaman Second Class

Salzar, Charles A., 273-65-58, Coxswain (last name misspelled)

Shumak, Joseph J., 206-73-26, Seaman Second Class (last name misspelled) 

Taylor, Max H., 103-64-16, Engineman Second Class

Torres, Enrique, 104-43-82, Cabin Steward

Van Schaak, Verne Russell, 320-53-33, Fireman Third Class (first and last name misspelled)

Young, John, 362-88-76, Fireman First Class

Zakrewski, August, 315-89-01, Fireman Second Class (last name misspelled)

U. S. S. Delphy

Pearson, J. P., Fireman First Class

Conway, J. W. H., Fireman Third Class

Dalida, Safronia, Cabin Cook (first name misspelled)

 


That the following men received injuries as noted and that their injuries were received in the line of duty and was not due to their own misconduct:

U. S. S. Delphy

Bauschman, George William, Seaman Second Class, diagnosis, exhaustion from over exposure, wounds, lacerated both feet

Farnum, Thayer Clements, Fireman Third Class, contusion both elbows

Gerlach, Walter C., Machinists Mate Second Class, exhaustion from over exposure

Kraus, Harry Bernard, Fireman Second Class, wounds, lacerated both feet

Lude, Carl John, Boilermaker First Class, wounds, lacerated both feet

Lund, Arthur William, Fireman Third Class, wounds, lacerated both feet

McGahy, William Edward, exhaustion from over exposure, wounds, lacerated both feet

Palmer, Eldrige B., Coxswain, wounds, lacerated both feet

Tagala, Defin, Mess Attendant First Class, wounds, lacerated both feet

Tyler, Gerald Edward, S.M.Third Class, wounds, lacerated both feet

L. F. Blodgett, Lieutenant (j.g.) wounds, lacerated both legs

Mullinix, A. P., Lieutenant (j.g.) wounds, lacerated both feet

Hoff, J. D., Seaman Second Class, exhaustion from over exposure

Ekenberg, Walter John, Seaman Second Class, contusions multiple, whole body

Murphy, William, R.M. Third Class, strained lumbar muscles

U. S. S. Young

Becker, J. J., Gunners Mate Second Class, exhaustion from over exposure

King, J., Seaman Second Class, wounds, lacerated both feet

Scherer, M., Seaman Second Class, exhaustion from over exposure

U. S. S. Nicholas

Knox, Alvin, Fireman Third Class, exhaustion from over exposure

Alexander, R. H., Yeoman Third Class, contusions left knee

Heubel, Joseph F., Engineman First Class, wound, incised, left knee

U. S. S. S. P. Lee

Anderson, Gabriel, Engineman Second Class, cholecystitis, condition not necessarily a result of the wreck although it might have arisen from over exposure

Material

The Delphy, S. P. Lee, Young, Woodbury, Fuller, Nicholas and Chauncey are a total loss.

The money loss is $13,274,952.90. Against this is to be offset the value of salvaged material. Pending the completion of salvage operations the court has no means of estimating the amount of this salvage.

The Farragut was damaged to the extent of almost $8000.00, and the Somers about $20,000.00. Repairs have been made to both of these vessels so that they are now in a serviceable condition.
 


OPINIONS OF THE COURT
Direct Cause of Disaster

1.    In the opinion of the court, the disaster which resulted in the stranding of seven destroyers on Pedernales Point, and the grounding of two others in the same vicinity is, in the first instance, directly attributable to bad errors of judgment and faulty navigation on the part of three officers attached to and serving on the U. S. S. Delphy, viz: the Squadron Commander, Captain Edward H. Watson, the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Donald T. Hunter, and the Navigating Officer, Lieutenant (j.g.) Lawrence Francis Blodgett.

Division into Periods

2.    Based on the testimony adduced, and to determine the degree of responsibility to be borne by the Squadron Commander, the Captain of the Delphy, the Navigating Officer of the Delphy, the Division Commanders of the 33rd and 31st Divisions, the Commanding Officers of the seven stranded ships and the Commanding Officers of the two ships which touched the ground, but which were not seriously damaged and also to determine upon other matters connected with the court's investigation, the court found it fit to divide the period from the time of passing Pigeon Point abeam to the time when the last of the crews of the stranded ships were landed, into three periods, viz:

(a)    The period from the passing of Pigeon Point abeam to the time of the turn of the head of the Squadron to the left on a course of 95, which took place at about 9:00 P. M. September 8th, 1923;

(b)    The period from the time of the turn of the head of Squadron Column at about 9:00 P. M., to a course of 95, to the time of the stranding of the last ship, viz: the Chauncey, in all a period of approximately six minutes;

(c)    The period which elapsed from the time of the stranding of the last ship, the Chauncey at approximately 9:06, to the time on the following day, September 9th, when the crews of the Fuller and Nicholas, the last ships to land their crews on shore, were able to so land them.

Concerning Period "A"

3.    In the opinion of the court, safe courses of 160, from the fix off Pigeon Point, to pass Point Sur, and 150 to pass Point Arguello were safe courses to set. The speed 20 knots during period "A" was not an excessive speed. The D. R. course and the speed as shown by revolutions were not made good, but the Squadron was during this time set in to the coast, and north of the D. R. position at 9:00 P. M. by a very appreciable amount. The court is of the opinion that no unusual current conditions existed, but that this set to the north and east was caused by bad steering, together with a certain amount of current which, while not explicitly laid down in the Sailing Directions, may be expected at any time in any direction and should be guarded against by the careful navigator. During this period certain radio compass bearings were taken by the Delphy, but the fact that these bearings were not transmitted to the ships following, constitutes a neglect on the part of the Squadron Commander, who should have seen that adequate information to insure the safe navigation of their own divisions, it then became the duty of the Division Commanders to ask for such information from their Squadron Commander, or to take such independent action on their own part as would insure the safe navigation of their own units. Particularly did this duty devolve upon the second in command who should at all times possess himself of the requisite information to make him to take over the command of the entire unit and to conduct it in safety. To a lesser degree this same comment applies to the next in command and to the captains of each individual destroyer. Period "A" was the critical period for upon the information possessed by each captain and by each division commander depended his ability to make a correct and accurate judgment of what his action should be as he neared Point Arguello, which was the turning point of the Squadron. The Court believes that too much stress was laid by all ships upon the 6:30 radio bearing, because it checked with the D. R. positions, and that the critical period following between, 8 and 9, when great stress should have been laid upon the receipt of compass bearings was neglected by all ships following the Delphy because, (1) they placed too much confidence in the Delphy's 8:00 P.M. position, (2) because they put too much faith in the 6:30 P.M. intercepted compass bearing. This opinion holds for the ships of the 33rd and 31st division following the Delphy. The opinion of the Court is that the 32nd Division was at all times in possession of navigational information sufficiently complete to enable it to operate safely under all conditions. The Delphy presents a curious case. Confident in their own D.R. and discrediting the compass bearings because they were thought confusing, the attitude of mind of the Squadron Commander, the Captain of the Delphy and the Navigating Officer of the Delphy, was one of complete assurance, at the very time when a doubtful situation had arisen. This situation arose between 8 and 9 and became particularly acute when the Delphy sent the signal "We are south of Arguello" and asked for a reciprocal bearing. The safe procedure at this time would have been to reduce speed, take soundings and proceed cautiously until further radio bearings had approximately fixed the position of the leader. This was not done and it indicated a state of confidence of mind of the leader which was naturally imparted to those following, who had not through their own individual efforts fixed the position of their own ships. The result of the above procedure was that the Delphy, the 33rd and 31st Divisions arrived at the turning point of 9:00 P. M., the Delphy with information inaccurately interpreted and the 33rd and 31st Divisions with insufficient information to enable them to quickly take appropriate immediate action when such action was imperative.

Concerning Period "B"

4.    Had the responsible parties on the Delphy not assumed her position, through bad errors in judgment and misplaced confidence, to be south of Arguello, but had proceeded further on the course 150, it is the opinion of the Court that Arguello Light or the fog signal would have been picked up ahead or very slightly on the port bow, a position which was not unsafe, as the squadron could have been maneuvered quickly to the clear water westward. Particularly would this be true had the speed of the squadron been reduced at 8:30 and soundings taken. The necessity of obtaining a fix at Arguello was apparent as the Squadron was to proceed through Santa Barbara Channel where fog might be expected at any time. This would have been good navigational procedure. Instead of this procedure, the Delphy without a proper fix turned sharply and blindly to the left to the course 95, at a speed 20, and at a distance from the shore, as plotted on the official chart of less than 1 1/2 miles from the reefs off Pedernales Point. In sequence the 33rd and 31st divisions arrived at the turning point and made the turn with the Delphy. At this time or within the next minute or two, and only at this time could disaster have been avoided by the ships following the Delphy. It is doubtful whether the Delphy could have been saved by any  action on the part of any following ships, for the Delphy up to this moment had not indicated her intention to turn, her speed was too high, the officers responsible for her safety were too obsessed with the idea that they were south of Arguello Light, and the distance to the rocks was too short. A signal could not have gone through in time, in all probability. But it is believed that had, at this time, the 33rd and 31st Divisions stood on, instead of turning to the left or had they turned sharply to the right, the 33rd and 31st Divisions would have been saved. This action on their part would not only have been good, but it was imperative, and it was necessary that it be made immediately and without delay. It is probable that this action would have been taken had those two Divisions arrived at the turning point with all the information at hand then in possession of the Delphy, obtained by intercepting bearings, or if this method proved inadequate by directly asking the Delphy for this information, or failing in that by taking bearings themselves as was done in the 32nd Division, even though it was against rules. In the opinion of the Court, no rules or regulations, no formal practice of guarding set radio waves, may preclude a captain or division commander from taking every navigational precaution to safeguard his own ship or division, as was done by ships in the 32nd division and in the 12th Squadron. He must risk a rebuke instead, and must at all times be prepared to take the initiative and to use his own individual judgment, but his errors must not be allowed to creep down the line even at the risk of severe rebuke from the Senior in Command. The Senior may even welcome a suggestion which gives him a point of view other than his own, particularly when he is in a doubtful or hazardous position himself. Having straightened out on the course 95, at speed 20, the position of the Delphy and of the 33rd and 31st Divisions was hopeless, the danger being greatest to those ships nearest the head of the column, and in proportion as they were near the head. Lead by the Delphy straight for the bluff on Pedernales Point with the coast with the coast and reefs on the left hand, with the bluff ahead, neither a turn to the right or to the left could save these ships. The 33rd Division, like the Delphy, was doomed and crashed on the rocks and reefs to the right and left. Only by the promptest of action in backing, induced by the catastrophe to the ships ahead was the Division Commander of the 31st Division able to minimize the disaster to his division and reduce the total losses in his division to two ships. Even this action on his part could not save the Fuller, which ship less lucky than the others had already struck a sunken reef at the moment she tried to back. Quick and prompt action on the part of the Captains of the Farragut, Somers and Percival alone saved their ships, though the Farragut and Somers touched. The damage however was not sufficiently great to render them unseaworthy, or so great in extent as to render them unserviceable for any great length of time. The Chauncey stood on and was stranded due to the Captains not knowing that the accident was stranding and not collision. Had the Squadron Commander sent a signal "I am aground" instead of "nine turn" and "keep clear to the westward" which conveyed inadequate information, it is possible that the Chauncey might have been saved. At least the situation would have been clarified to the entire Squadron. The Commander of Division 32, which Division was in the rear of the column and therefore most favorably situated to avoid the disaster, was also by reason of more complete information better able to cope with the situation which developed immediately following the turn of the Squadron head at 9:00 P. M. By good judgment, good common sense, good navigational procedure, and by the good luck of being at the end of the column, the 32nd Division turned individually to the westward to safety. It is further the opinion of the Court, that with the knowledge in the possession of the Division Commander of the 32nd Division, and of the other ships in this division which was this, viz: that the Squadron had been very much set inshore and to the  northward, that had this division arrived at the turning point at 9:00 P. M., it would not have followed the Delphy in to sure destruction, and the present disaster would have been minimized. For his common sense and alertness the Commander of the 32nd Division is to be commended.

Concerning Period "C"

5.    Periods "A" and "B" reflect no credit upon the Navy. They were the periods when (1) a grave error of judgment was committed by the Squadron Commander, an error which practically caused the stranding of seven ships, (2) when too blind faith on the part of the ships following, was placed in the judgment of the Squadron Commander, (3) when too little initiative on the part of the ships following, in the matter of determining their own independent positions was displayed. The disaster woke Squadron Eleven up. From that instance on, the Destroyer Force, Squadron Eleven, displayed a zeal, courage and coolness in face of grave danger, which is a matter of pride to the Navy and should be to every American. From the Squadron Commander down to the humblest man on board there was perfect discipline and the highest traditions of the service were lived up to. Not a single case, on any ship occurred, where officers or men faltered in their duty, or failed to act calmly or coolly under orders. It is due to this perfect discipline that the loss of life in this disaster was so small. The loss of life was confined to twenty-three men, twenty from the Young which turned over in about one and one-half minutes, and three from the Delphy the first to crash on the rocks. They were lost probably at the time of the crash or shortly afterward. The crew of the Fuller, the most exposed ship, was landed the next day under most trying circumstances, not a man was lost. The crew of the Nicholas slept on board and were landed the following day. The crew of the Chauncey, Woodbury and S. P. Lee were landed quietly and calmly when it became necessary to abandon ship to save life. Not a single attempt was made to abandon ship until the ship itself was a helpless wreck and then only when it became necessary to do so in order to save life. Every precaution was taken and the work was done quietly, orderly and efficiently. Had this not been the case, it is probable that the loss of life in this disaster would have been much greater due to confusion and possible explosion of the boilers on some of the stranded ships. This part of the story reflects the highest honor upon the Navy; it is a story of coolness, calmness, bravery and discipline in the face of grave danger. The conduct and bearing of the Squadron Commander and that of all officers connected with the disaster was at the time and has been since during the entire conduct of the Court of Inquiry beyond reproach and deserving of the highest praise. Recommendations follow for officers and men deserving special mention for conspicuous actions.

Considering Radio

6. After considering carefully the testimony adduced, the Court finds nothing which reflects upon the efficiency of the radio compass installation. A mass of confusing testimony has been brought forward to prove that bearings may not be relied upon, but out of this testimony shines the clear fact that it was not the compass bearings sent to the Delphy which were wrong, but the judgment of the men who interpreted these bearings and who used them wrongly. All night of the 8th of September, the 32d Division cruised to the north and south of Arguello light in a heavy fog working their way through the agency of radio compass bearings and the use of the lead.

Concerning Speed and Soundings

7.    Up to 8:30 P. M. the speed of 20 knots on the course of 150 true was not to be considered excessive. The weather conditions were not such as to make this speed dangerous from the point of view of seamanship and danger of collision with other ships. Destroyers handle better at this speed and current has less time to act on them and drive them from their set course. The H. F. Alexander carrying women and children as passengers, and less able to maneuver quickly did not, under the same conditions consider this speed excessive, as on the same day, September 8th, she was passed proceeding north at approximately the same speed of 20 knots. After 8:30 speed should have been reduced in order to take soundings, and after 9:00 P. M., if it had been necessary to head into the land in order to get a fix off Arguello, the speed should have been reduced to a minimum until the light was sighted or heard, or an approximate fix obtained through the agency of radio compass bearings, checked with soundings. Only so long as the course was parallel with the land and not too close in, or away from the land was the speed of twenty knots a safe speed, but it was safe so long as it did parallel with the land, or was away from the land until the fog shut in, when it should be reduced.

Concerning the "Follow the Leader Doctrine"

8.    An attempt was made to show that the principle of follow the leader was so fundamentally a part of the destroyer doctrine, that to depart from the practice was always a grave error on the part of unit leaders unless they had information in their possession which warranted their so doing. This is no doubt true when the leader is right. A departure from policy, plan or even a strategic conception is rarely permissible, but in the tactical execution of the above much latitude must be allowed the subordinate. Not only must it be allowed, but the subordinate must take this initiative on his own responsibility when his judgment tells him this is the correct course to follow. The matter of navigational procedure comes from nearly under the head of tactical procedure. The Division Commanders and individual ship Captains are always charged with the safety of the unit under their command no matter who leads, unless it be in the presence of the enemy, when destruction of the enemy and not the safety of your own unit are the guiding factors. No destroyer doctrine ever advocated the blind following of any leadership, on the contrary the primary and strongest fundamentals are - - loyalty to the plan and and in this way loyalty to the leader if the plan be correct - - exercise of sound judgment on the part of the subordinate in carrying out the plan, development of the initiative on the part of the subordinate in order that the plan may be most efficiently carried out. Had Nelson at Cape St. Vincent blindly followed the leader John Jarvis would not have gained the victory which he did. Had Nelson obeyed Parker, Copenhagen would not have been the  monument to the British Navy that it is. Blindly following the leader or unreasoning adherence to set regulation is more in accordance with the practice of those leaders of the past who hesitated to depart from the line ahead,  even when advantages would accrue from a departure from such practice. The plan on September 8th was to proceed to San Diego. The procedure at the time of the disaster was a movement in column formation. It mattered little so far as detail went how the plan was executed so long as it was effectively carried out and the tactical details of execution were not at variance with the policy of the leader or would cause him embarrassment. Nothing can replace the use of sound common sense on the part of the subordinate and if he is not furnished with sufficient information by his leader to absolutely safeguard his own unit or to effectively carry out the plan he must ask for it himself, and failing in this he must use every effort of his own to obtain it in order to better execute the general plan and by so doing aid the efforts of the leader. This is imperative and is believed to be much more in accord with destroyer and fleet doctrine than to blindly follow the leader. Through unknown or unforeseen circumstances the leader may frequently err as was the case when Tryon gave an order which resulted in the collision of the Camperdown and Victoria with the loss of the latter with great consequent loss of life.

Unusual conditions at the time of the Accident

9.   In reviewing the testimony, the Court is forced to the conclusion that no unusual conditions existed. It is true that there was fog and that the lights which served as navigational aids were difficult to make. It would have been better practice to have made Point Sur and thus to have obtained a later fix before approaching Point Arguello which was to be turned at night. It is true that a strong northerly wind would have helped to augment the speed of the squadron but this might be offset by bad steering. It is true that with the wind as it was a southerly set might reasonably be expected, but the sound navigator never trusts entirely to the obvious. The price of good navigation is constant vigilance. The unusual is always to be guarded against by every precaution known to navigators, such as the use and correct interpretation of radio compass bearings, and particularly by the use of the lead and a proper reduction of speed. When you cannot see, you hear and feel, until you are sure. The currents on this coast are so variable and so unreasonable in their actions, that they cannot be relied upon definitely and no ship is safe when close to the coast unless it actually knows where it is. Dead reckoning alone can never be relied upon. It is always the Captain who is sure in his own mind without the tangible evidences of safety in his possession, who loses his ship.

Concerning the various degrees of responsibility

10.    In the opinion of the Court there is nothing which will excuse the Squadron Commander- - -the Captain of the Delphy- - -and the Navigating Officer from accepting the full responsibility for the accident. Their responsibility is full and complete and the Court sees no extenuating circumstances.

11. In the case of the Division Commanders the Court finds that they must be held responsible in a measure. It is true that they were following in column, that they could not without permission ask for compass bearings. But the fact remains that they did too blindly follow the judgment of the Squadron Commander, that they did place too much reliance upon the 8:00 P.M. position of the Delphy, that they did place too much reliance upon the one bearing about 6:30 P.M. which unfortunately checked too closely with the dead reckoning position. Between the hours of eight and nine, the critical hours, they did not check on their own initiative the actual position of their own units, and the result was catastrophe. It was possible to ask the Squadron Commander for information. It was possible to unguard the Battleship Wave and the Destroyer Squadron Wave and thus intercept the bearings sent the Delphy. It was possible to ask to take bearings themselves. The amount of traffic from Arguello between eight and nine was sufficient for them to have obtained a rough bearing, without interference to their leader, and thus to have obtained information which would serve to give them an approximately correct estimate of the situation when the Delphy turned shoreward at nine, and that might have enabled them to make a correct and accurate decision of their own at the time. The responsibility of the Division Commanders is much less than that of the Squadron Commander, the Captain and the Navigator of the Delphy---but it is a responsibility nevertheless. Due to the subordinate position they held it was a responsibility which did not involve malfeasance but it does involve nonfeasance to a limited degree.

12.    Concerning the individual Captains of the stranded ships, their case is a peculiar one. They were not only following the Squadron Leader, but they were also following their division commander and in the case of the S. P. Lee and Farragut, the Division Commander was personally on board these ships. Their position was a trying one and there are many extenuating circumstances. They had two leaders whom they must go through before they could slow, take soundings, change course or even ask for radio bearings. They did attempt to intercept radio compass bearings as was shown in the testimony, but unfortunately the two messages upon which most faith was laid were the two most misleading ones, viz: the Delphy's 8:00 P.M. position and the 6:30 compass bearing. They did not know that the Delphy's position was one by dead reckoning and not by fix. However, but to a lesser degree, the same responsibility which rests upon the shoulders of the Division Commanders rests upon them. In the Period "A" up to the 9:00 o'clock turn they were not in the possession of information necessary for them to take action radically out of the ordinary, which action was imperative at 9:00 or shortly after, if they were to save their ships. In other words it was necessary for them to take steps on their own initiative to obtain the information which they should and probably would have obtained had they been acting singly, but which they did not deem so essential in the presence of their seniors. In this they erred and it was an error of judgment, for which they have a measure of responsibility similar, but less, than that resting upon the shoulders of the Division Commanders. There is another aspect of the case. The traditions of the sea are strong, the ideals high, and the rules which seafaring men set for themselves are rigid and hard. Only by living up to the most rigid of standards may the lives of women and children entrusted to the care of seafaring men be safeguarded as far as human effort may make them safe. If a Captain loses his ship, he loses his command even when attending circumstances point almost entirely to his complete exoneration from blame. The Navy can do no less. Each Captain that loses his ship must bear a responsibility due to that loss. Even though a court honorably acquits him of blame he must first assume the responsibility for the ship he commanded. Only by maintaining this standard can the high ideals and traditions of the Navy be preserved.
 


RECOMMENDATIONS

    1. That Captain Edward H. Watson, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charges: I. Culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty, and II. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks.
That specification of the first charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 10 of the Court's opinion. That specification of the second charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 10 of the Court's opinion.

    2. That Captain Robert Morris, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 11 of the Court's opinion. 

    3. That Commander William S. Pye, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 11 of the Court's opinion.

    4. That Commander Louis P. Davis, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 12 of the Court's opinion.

    5. That Commander William L. Calhoun, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 12 of the Court's opinion.

    6. That Commander William H. Toaz, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 12 of the Court's opinion.

    7. That Lieutenant Commander Donald T. Hunter, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charges: I. Culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty, and II. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks.
That specification of the first charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 10 of the Court's opinion. That specification of the second charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 10 of the Court's opinion.

     8. That Lieutenant Commander Walter D. Seed, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 12 of the Court's opinion.

    9. That Lieutenant Commander Herbert O. Roesch, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 12 of the Court's opinion.

    10. That Lieutenant Commander Richard H. Booth, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charge: I. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of this charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 12 of the Court's opinion.

    11. That Lieutenant (j.g.) L. F. Blodgett, U. S. Navy, be brought to trial by General Courts-martial on the charges: I. Culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty. II. Through negligence suffering vessels of the Navy to be run upon rocks. That specification of the first charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 10 of the Court's opinion. That specification of the second charge should cover the offenses set forth in paragraph 10 of the Court's opinion.

Author's Comment: The remaining recommendations numbered 12 through 21 contain the Court's recommendations for letters of commendation for deserving personnel. The Court of Inquiry concluded their report with the following paragraph. 

    The record of proceedings of the nineteenth day of the inquiry was read and approved, the Court being cleared during the reading of so much thereof as pertains to proceedings and cleared court, and the court having finished the inquiry, then at 4:30 P. M. adjourned to await the action of the convening authority.

WILLIAM V. PRATT
Rear Admiral, U. S. Navy, President

LESLIE E. BRATTON
Lieutenant Commander, U. S. Navy, Judge Advocate

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Courts-martial

Introduction

This page includes a brief introduction, followed by key extracts of testimony from Capt. Watson'sLCdr. Hunter's and Lt. Blodgett's General Courts-martial. This author's comments attempt to separate the facts from fiction. If the viewer has any information which contradicts or supports these comments, please send email and describe the discovery. If valid, this page will be edited to support the truth, no matter who contributes.

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The officer appointed as the Judge Advocate General (JAG)—commonly referred to as the Judge Advocate at the trials—for all eleven General Courts-martial was LCdr. Leslie E. Bratton. It is this author's firm belief that LCdr. Bratton should have declined the appointment, because he possessed relevant information about the accident at Point Honda. He should have been called as a material witness, instead of being the Navy's chief prosecutor.

The National Archives, Washington, DC, serves as the custodian for the records of trial by General Courts-martial, cases of Captain Edward H. Watson and LCdr. Donald T. Hunter. The records of trial are available to the general public at a cost. If ordered by mail, the cost is $0.50 per copy. If you go to the National Archives for the records, you pay only the copying cost. There are 283 legal size pages in Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's records, and they are filed under Record Group, RG125—Records of the Judge Advocate General (Navy)—Boxes 349, File 12847.

The address of the National Archives is:

National Archives and Records Administration
Old Military and Civil Records
Textual Archives Services Division
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20408-0001
Telephone: 202-501-5385

When eleven records of trial arrived at the Navy Dept. Secy's Office, Record Division, on Dec. 4, 1923, they were individually hand-stamped and assigned numbers as indicated on the following table. Note that the first three cases listed in the table may have been assigned numbers based on an alphabetical sequence of their last names.  The personnel in the office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy referred to these numbers in all correspondence and endorsements.

Although, when Cmdr. Leslie Bratton was permanently assigned to the JAG office between June 1924 and June 1926, after completing nearly six months of temporary duty in the same office from Dec. 1923 to June 1924, he wrote a letter to LCdr. F. L. Lowe on July 13, 1925 inquiring about the missing Volume I of the Court of Inquiry. He may have been referring to Lt. Blodgett's record of trial, 26262-10681. Accordingly, LCdr. Hunter's record may have been referred to as Volume II, 26262-10682, and Capt. Watson's record as Volume III, 26262-10683. The three volumes (records of trial) and the report by the Court of Inquiry may have been filed in one binder labeled, Court of Inquiry.

A copy of the report by the Court of Inquiry shows that 1,040 legal size pages are included in a single document. It is not divided into volumes. The Finding of Facts, Opinions of the Court and Recommendations are included at the back of the report in pages 1022 thru 1040. This document has never been missing from the Archives.

 

Date of GCM Officer Tried GCM Record No. Navy Dept. Secy's Office, Record Division National Archives Location
11/9/23 Blodgett 58790 26262-10681 Missing from Files
11/7/23 Hunter 58789 26262-10682 RG125, Box 349, File 12847
11/1/23 Watson 58791 26262-10683 RG125, Box 349, File 12847
  Morris 58810 26262-10680

File 12847 ~275 pages

  Pye 58957 26262-10725

Missing from Files

  Calhoun   26262-10699

Missing from Files

11/30/23 Booth 58955 26262-10721

File 12847 ~125 pages

  Toaz 58954 26262-10722

File 12847 ~150 pages

  Davis 58953 26262-10723

Missing from Files

  Seed 58956 26262-10724

File 12847 ~150 pages

  Roesch 59006 26262-10761

Missing from Files

When the records of trial were sent to the National Archives in the 1970s, some were missing as shown in the above table. However, after over five years of diligent searching and thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, on October 18, 2004, a copy of Lt. Blodgett's record of trial was received by this author from the Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Review Activity, Office of the Judge Advocate of the Navy. Apparently, the record of trial is still in the custody of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, while being stored at the Federal Records Center. It is not know why the original copy of Lt. Blodgett's records of trial is not stored by the Navy Dept. in the National Archives.


Extracts of Testimony from Capt. Watson's Trial

Pg 11 - LCdr. Hunter—a prosecution witness— examined by Judge Advocate.

10. Q. What were the movements of the vessels under your command on 8th September, 1923?

A. (After a page describing movements and bearings, LCdr. stated the following.) A speed of 20 knots over the ground was allowed as the sailing directions and my personal experience had shown me that with these conditions of wind and sea a southerly current was to be expected.

Author's Comments: It is easy to comment in hindsight with no pressure to run at 20-knots from San Francisco to San Diego, and no pressure to make the Commodore look good in the presence of his guest, Mr. Eugene Dooman, a State Department counselor, who served with Capt. Watson at the American Embassy in Tokyo. 

The southerly current was non-existent in the vicinity of Point Honda. A northeasterly current—as a result of the earthquake in Japan a week earlier—set the Delphy to the north and inshore 11 1/2 miles and 7° true from her dead reckoning position. Newspaper articles carried by AP reported "ground swells twenty feet high, larger than any in the experience of mariners at Los Angeles Harbor, struck the Southern California coast early on today (Sept. 4) and were believed to have been the result of the earthquake and tidal wave which devastated parts of Japan. Just a small amount of preparation on the part of the navigator, i.e., checking with Operations, 12th Naval District or calling the  hydrographic office—prior to departing San Francisco, may have been enough to cancel the 20-knot speed run and proceed with caution. While enroute, radio messages notifying the Delphy about the Cuba, a Pacific Mail merchant steamer—being stranded off San Miguel Island, should have been enough to cause LCdr. Hunter to question the usually variable currents near the Santa Barbara Channel. But it did not.

Pg. 12 - LCdr. Hunter continues his answer to the above question.

A. From  this time on (1848) until shortly after 2000 no radio compass bearings were received. This was not because no endeavor was made to get them, but due to the extreme congestion of radio compass traffic, due to many vessels rounding Point Arguello and asking for bearings. It was particularly desired to get a bearing at 2000, because it would make a better cut with our course and also we had been ordered to send our 2000 position to commander destroyer squadrons. We were unable to get a bearing until about 2015, when a radio compass bearing of about 326 was received. I am unable definitely to state this bearing because it was the one bearing of the day which appears not to have been intercepted by any vessel of the squadron other than the Delphy. This bearing 326, when plotted on the chart appeared manifestly in error, since in order to be on this bearing the ship would have had to be set to the eastward about eight miles in two hours, which was almost impossible.

Author's Comments: A copy of the original station log from Point Arguello for Sept. 8, 1923 was obtained from the National Archives, Pacific Region, Laguna Niguel Office, Laguna Niguel, California. This log shows between 1852 and 1907 an entry was made by an operator (Hamilton) that "A8C (Delphy) causing interference by not listening in before transmitting." Another entry at 1933 shows that the station called the Delphy but failed to get a response. According to the log, the average response time between receiving and transmitting bearings was normal for the entire day, about two minutes. Traffic did not appear to be excessive.

But the copy of the original station log obtained from Laguna Niguel was not the same document submitted into evidence at the trials. The certified true copy signed by LCdr. Leslie Bratton, Judge Advocate, and introduced as evidence, did not contain the entry about the Delphy causing interference, nor did it contain the 1933 entry concerning the call the station made to the Delphy. In other words, the Court was not aware of the shortcomings aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8. Was this act a deliberate tampering with documentary evidence or an unintentional omission by a clerk typist?

The record shows Capt. Watson and Cmdr. Roper, 32nd Division Commander, had a radio phone conversation on the squadron wave for about 20 minutes between 1900 and 1930 on Sept. 8. Could it be possible this voice transmission prevented or interfered with the "spark-gap" (Morse code) communications on 800 meters between the Delphy and Point Arguello? Maybe equipment problems or personnel shortages aboard the Delphy allowed only one system to be used at a time? 

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Yes, the Delphy's position report at 2000 was based solely on dead reckoning plotted by LCdr. Hunter, because there was no recent bearing to help confirm the exact position. In this author's opinion, when Lt. Blodgett was sent to the radio room to get as many bearings as possible, he realized the shortcomings of the Delphy and the seriousness of the situation and contacted LCdr. Bratton, skipper of the Stoddert, and asked him to get bearings, so he could intercept the signals. And this he did, a 326° bearing was intercepted by the Delphy at about 2015 and called up the tube to LCdr. Hunter on the bridge. At this time, LCdr. Hunter did not know that the signal was originally requested by LCdr. Bratton on the Stoddert. Nor did he know it when he answered the JAG's question. However, the testimony changes two pages later in the record of trial.

In fact, when LCdr. Hunter testified that no other ship in the squadron received a bearing at about 2015 , LCdr. Bratton knew the Stoddert requested and received the bearing: 326° at 2012. And so did the skipper of the Kennedy, LCdr. R. E. Bell, because it was logged in at exactly 2012 on his report of bearings from shore.

LCdr. Bratton should have been a witness instead of the Judge Advocate.

The distance between the dead reckoning position of the Delphy and the actual position at 2100, just prior to the turn to 95° true, was estimated as 11 1/2 miles. LCdr. Hunter's plot on the chart at 2015 produced a difference of about eight miles in two hours, and he did not believe it was possible. Then again, no matter how much experience he had, he may have never experienced sailing the Pacific coast after a major earthquake on the coast of Japan.

Pg 14 - LCdr. Hunter—a prosecution witness— still being examined by Judge Advocate.

15. Q. Lay on the chart exhibit number 2 the radio compass bearings which you have testified as having been received by the Delphy and as having been sent to the commander destroyer squadron 11, battle fleet.

A. (The witness laid off the bearings beginning with the 1438 bearing. His testimony begins after he laid down the 1813, 1832 and 1848 bearings, all 320°.) The next bearing received is the one I am uncertain about, exactly what it was. I do, however, know that the Stoddert received a 326 bearing at 2012 and we received ours about 2015, so for illustration I will use the 326 bearing. We considered this, as I said, a fairly good check and in order to be on this bearing we would have had to be set in a distance of eight miles in less than two hours. However, I plotted myself on this radio compass bearing allowing 20 knots and drawing a line parallel to the course, showing that we should sight Point Arguello in a very few minutes had I been in that position. We were supposed to be abeam of Arguello at 2027. Therefore at 2035 having assumed the possibility of being here and not having seen the light, believing that by the time I could receive another radio compass bearing I would be to the southward of Arguello, so at 2025 the request was made for a reciprocal saying "we are to the southward". Since I had not seen Arguello after assuming myself here I believed that this bearing was radically in error and I had passed it between 2012 and 2035 at such a distance that I could not see it as the visibility was then only about two miles. At 2035 I received a radio compass bearing, 168, at which I was considerably surprised as I had expected to get a bearing in the southwest quadrant so began to consider the possibility of being on this bearing; allowing 20 knots the ship could be in that position on that bearing, but again...

Author's Comments: It is obvious that LCdr. Hunter received additional information concerning the 326° bearing at about 2015. And this all happened between page 12 and page 14 of the record of trial without an entry that the Court recessed. LCdr. Bratton knew of this bearing because his ship requested it. Who briefed LCdr. Hunter while he was on the stand? Or did someone tamper with the record of trial?

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The main point in these comments is that once LCdr. Hunter sent his 2000 position report to the destroyer squadrons commander based on dead reckoning, he was locked-in to his decision, and being an experienced navigator who taught navigation at the Naval Academy, was not about to send a message to his superior to disregard the 2000 position. Nor did he want to admit to Lt. Blodgett that his dead reckoning was wrong and the bearings from the compass station were correct. Nor did he want to tell Capt. Watson he was lost and that the squadron should slow to take soundings—the 20 knot engineering speed run to San Diego must continue. 

Although numerous bearings from the compass station indicated the Delphy too far north and set inshore to make a turn into the Santa Barbara Channel at 2100, LCdr. Hunter chose to put full faith into one, 168° bearing received by the Delphy when he requested a reciprocal and stated "we are to the southward". And LCdr. Hunter knew that it was his responsibility to know whether he was to the north or south of Point Arguello, not the stations.

Pg 22 - LCdr. Hunter—a prosecution witness— still being examined by Judge Advocate.

73. Q. What, if any, consideration was given- - - what soundings, if any, were taken by the Delphy from 1800 on?

A. No soundings whatever were taken by the Delphy at any time for the reason that it never seemed necessary to take soundings.

74. Q. At what speed could the Delphy take soundings?

A. Five knots, accurate soundings.

75. Q. What, if any, consideration was given by the accused, the squadron commander, in reference to the question of slowing and taking soundings?

A. It never occurred to me and I have no reason to believe it occurred to him that it was necessary to slow down or to take soundings due to the visibility conditions, the visibility was about two miles, we were a powerful, handy ship, which can be stopped dead in the water from the 20 knots in 500 yards; the visibility was such that it never occurred to us that we would be able to hit anything without seeing it. The fact that we did so was due to the fact that there was a very thick blanket of fog extending no more than four or five hundred yards from the shore around Point Pedernales (Point Honda); the visibility outside that period was a good two miles.

Author's Comment: In the late 1950s, the authors of Tragedy at Honda may have obtained information about the question "whether to slow and take soundings" from Cmdr. John Morrow, USN (Ret.), who was an Ensign and Officer of Deck (OOD) on watch aboard the Delphy on the night of the accident. In addition, Capt. John Ashley, USN (Ret.) and Mr. Laurence Blodgett, son of Lt. Blodgett, also contributed to the book and had hearsay information concerning the situation aboard the Delphy. One of them may have been the source of the following quote. Any viewer interested in assisting by doing research on this matter please send email to: webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.

The authors wrote that a request was made by Lt. Blodgett in the presence of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter as follows: "The bearings have been erratic by a few degrees, Captain," said Blodgett, "but they have all put us north of the Point. How about slowing for a sounding, sir?" The request was denied because the Delphy "probably could not reach bottom" steaming at 20 knots, and "it would spoil the engineering run."

Pg 40 - Ensign John Morrow, OOD,—a prosecution witness—examined by Judge Advocate.

3. Q. To what duty were you assigned on the night of the 8th of September, 1923?

A. I was receiving instructions in supplies and standing watch on board the U. S. S. Delphy.

4. Q. What watches were you standing on the 8th of September, 1923?

A. I stood a watch from five P. M. until ten P. M.

11. Q. Did you observe the Squadron Commander, the accused in this case, on the bridge at any time while you were on watch?

A. Yes sir, the Squadron Commander was on the bridge most of the time from the time of change of course (095° true at 2100) until the U. S. S. Delphy grounded (2105); I did not turn around. I was up in the forward part of the bridge but after we grounded, as soon as the shock was over and I got to my feet I saw him on the bridge.

Author's Comments: Ens. Morrow credited Capt. Watson with the shortest time on the bridge recorded by any writer: five minutes. This implies that Capt. Watson was not completely familiar with the navigational situation.

A statement from Mr. Eugene Dooman, Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy, to the authors of Tragedy at Honda credit Capt. Watson with 20 minutes of bridge time after 1630. An extract from this statement follows: "It was about 8:30 at night when Watson and I finished dinner. I sat on a window seat with my back to the bow, Watson facing me across the table. A rating came in with a message that Watson was needed on the bridge. He was away perhaps 20 minutes. As he sat down again at the table, he said that he had given orders to change course (to 095° true at 2100). Some moments later, I heard a grating sound as though the ship had scraped bottom, and then immediately came the crash, the ship stopped instantly."

During the 20 minutes away from his cabin, Capt. Watson joined LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett to discuss the navigational situation. Up to this time not a single squadron officer, including LCdr. Hunter who was navigating for the entire squadron, knew which direction the Delphy would turn: eastward into the Santa Barbara Channel or seaward—in a southwesterly direction— to skirt the San Miguel Islands. It was during this time that Lt. Blodgett requested they slow to take soundings because a doubtful navigational situation existed.

What needs to be added at this point is that Lt. Blodgett was a prosecution witness for both trials. Never once did he testify under questioning that he believed a doubtful navigational situation existed, nor did the JAG ask the question directly. Numerous times Lt. Blodgett sided with LCdr. Hunter's and Capt. Watson's statements that no danger was present or anticipated, right up until the time the Delphy crashed. This is the same way Lt. Blodgett testified before the Court of Inquiry, and because of this testimony, the President of the Court, Rear Admiral Pratt, interrupted his testimony to tell him he no longer was a witness, but a defendant.

Author's Firm Beliefs: It is my firm belief that as LCdr. Hunter's Executive Officer, Lt. Blodgett vowed to support LCdr. Hunter's navigation and Capt. Watson's order to turn to 095° true at 2100 throughout the legal process. And in return, LCdr. Hunter promised to assume full responsibility for doing the navigation on Sept. 8, 1923, as long as Lt. Blodgett refrained from testifying about his request to slow to take soundings.

The JAG, LCdr. Bratton, did not know of Lt. Blodgett's request to slow and take soundings. Capt. Watson was tried on Nov. 1, LCdr. Hunter on Nov. 7 and Lt. Blodgett on Nov. 9, 1923—all by the same General Courts-martial. Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter were found guilty as charged and sentenced to a loss of numbers on the promotion lists—Capt. Watson - 150 numbers, LCdr. Hunter - 100 numbers.

Lt. Blodgett was fully acquitted, because LCdr. Hunter testified as a prosecution witness, during Lt. Blodgett's trial, that he was the navigator on Sept. 8, not Lt. Blodgett. The JAG tried to prove that Lt. Blodgett was the navigator by introducing into evidence Lt. Blodgett's testimony given at the Court of Inquiry, but failed. Lt. Blodgett did not take the stand in his own defense; no defense witnesses were called to testify. There was no testimony presented during the trial that Lt. Blodgett requested they slow to take soundings prior to the wreck.

If in final review, a retrial would have been ordered by the Secretary of the Navy, there appears to have been sufficient evidence that charges of perjury, tampering with the evidence, and obstruction of justice could have been levied upon one or more of the principle officers previously tried.

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Pg 45 - Lt. Blodgett—a prosecution witness— examined by the court.

29. Q. What part did you have in the navigation of the Delphy on the 8th of September, 1923?

A. On the 8th of September, 1923, I was assisting the Commanding Officer as much as it was within my power to do so; I was standing watch on that day from seven o'clock in the morning until noon time, from which time I was not on the bridge with the exception of about a minute in the afternoon until approximately seven o'clock in the evening.

30. Q. Are you designated by the Department as Navigator of the Delphy?

A. No sir, I am not.

31. Q. Are you officially assigned by anyone as Navigator of the Delphy?

A. No sir, I am not.

Author's Comment: This is Lt. Blodgett's statement to the court that he was not the designated navigator. LCdr. Hunter confirmed this statement when he testified a few days later, during his trial, that he performed all of the navigation on Sept. 8.

It is my firm belief that LCdr. Hunter agreed to take full responsibility for the navigation on Sept. 8 as long as Lt. Blodgett remained silent concerning his request to slow and take soundings. And both officers stuck to their story. The end result was that LCdr. Hunter lost 100 numbers on the promotion list—a mere slap on the hand—while Lt. Blodgett was acquitted.

Pg 94 - LCdr. Hunter—a defense witness— examined by the accused (counsel).

25. Q. What speed did you assume the vessel under your command was making on this occasion?

A. I assumed she was making at least 20 knots.

26. Q. Between the hours of 11:30 a. m. till 9 p. m. was this speed made good?

A. It was not. 18 3/4 knots over the ground was made good.

27. Q. How do you account for this discrepancy?

A. I attribute it to an unusual and abnormal northerly current.

28. Q. Was this current one that you had anticipated?

A. It was a current which could not be anticipated with the weather conditions then obtained.

29. Q. Did this current attribute to the loss of the vessel?

A. It was one of the contributory causes of the loss of the vessel.

Author's Comment: It was the main cause of the vessel being off course. The northeasterly currents in the vicinity of Point Honda were a result of the earthquake in Japan a week earlier. And its easy to offer in hindsight: If the bearings from Point Arguello would have been accepted as valid and acted upon, the accident would have been avoided.

Pg 95 - LCdr. Hunter—a defense witness— continues to be examined by the accused (counsel).

35. Q. Was there apprehension on your part that soundings were necessary previous to 9 p. m. on 8 September 1923.

A. There was no such apprehension on my part.

36. Q. Considering as you have testified, the visibility existing at 9 p. m. the power to quickly stop destroyers in less than 500 yards at 20 knots and the character of the coast, did you or did you not consider at the time that the course- - -at the time the course was changed, - that it was necessary to sound?

A. It never occurred to me at any time that it was necessary to sound.

Author's Comment: Once again, in the mind of LCdr. Hunter, no danger existed or was anticipated prior to the turn at 9 p. m. And no mention that Lt. Blodgett requested to slow to take soundings. The Court did not hear the truth.

Pg 99 - LCdr. Hunter—a defense witness— continues to be examined by the accused (counsel).

61. Q. Did or did not the squadron commander concern himself with the navigation of his squadron upon the afternoon and evening of September 8th, 1923?

A. He did. He was on the bridge with me practically all day long except at meal time.

Author's Comment: An extract from Mr. Eugene Dooman's statement follows: "At about 9 o'clock in the morning, Watson took me down to the Commodore's cabin immediately beneath the bridge; and, except for intervals when he was engaged with his duties on the bridge or elsewhere, and when I went out on deck to watch the squadron on anti-submarine and other exercises (all before 1630), we spent virtually the entire day in conversation in the cabin.

On Oct. 8, 1966, Mr. Dooman wrote to Charles Hice, author of The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, concerning the loss of his leather valise—locked in Capt. Watson's personal safe aboard the Delphy—which contained $3,000 in silver. " I heard later that it (the leather valise) had been found by salvagers, but I could not claim it without the probability of being called as a witness in the court-martial, and Watson and his defense officer were afraid that my testimony might prove harmful to Watson, as I was with him when the ship struck."

To repeat a previous comment: A statement from Mr. Eugene Dooman, Capt. Watson's guest aboard the Delphy, to the authors of Tragedy at Honda credits Capt. Watson with 20 minutes of bridge time after 1630. An extract from this statement follows: "It was about 8:30 at night when Watson and I finished dinner. I sat on a window seat with my back to the bow, Watson facing me across the table. A rating came in with a message that Watson was needed on the bridge. He was away perhaps 20 minutes. As he sat down again at the table, he said that he had given orders to change course (to 095° true at 2100). Some moments later, I heard a grating sound as though the ship had scraped bottom, and then immediately came the crash, the ship stopped instantly."


Extracts of Testimony from LCdr. Hunter's Trial

Pg 13 & 14 - Capt. Watson—a prosecution witness—examined by Judge Advocate.

5. Q. State the navigational data relative to the voyage of the Delphy, squadron leader, of your squadron, on 8th September, 1923, beginning with the last definite fix obtained.

A. The last definite fix obtained was at Pigeon Point, California, at about 1130, with the Point distant abeam about one mile. From that point the course was set 160 to pass about five miles abeam of Point Sur. Sur was abeam distant about four and one-half miles at about 2:30 in the afternoon, 1430. The course was then changed to 150 and laid to pass about nine miles abeam of Arguello. Standard speed was 20; there was a four to five wind, a little on the starboard quarter, with a rough to moderate following sea, which wind and sea had obtained for two or three days. Radio bearings were obtained during the afternoon and evening beginning at 1415, with a bearing of 167. Another at 1426, 162 degrees; another at 1438, 326,the reciprocal of the preceding bearings, at 1813, 1832, and 1848, the bearing 320 was obtained. At about 2015 a bearing of about 326 degrees was obtained, and about 2025 the reciprocal of this last bearing was demanded and received. Arguello being informed that the Delphy was to the southward. This reciprocal bearing received at 2035 was 168. Another bearing was received at 2039, 333 degrees, and a final bearing received by the Delphy on this day at 2058, 323 degrees. The squadron proceeded along the course 150, with the visibility from two to four miles, passing the H.F. Alexander in the afternoon. This fast merchant ship was proceeding at high speed to the northward, she was well inshore, about 3 miles. At 1900 the commanding officer of the 32nd division called up the squadron commander on the Delphy and had a 20 to 30 minute conversation with him on the subject of the wreck of the Cuba off San Miguel Island. The 8 o'clock position was reported to the Melville and sent out on the squadron wave and furnished to comdesron 12, some twelve miles astern. The squadron commander considered all of the navigational data at hand and discussed it with the commanding officer of the Delphy. After taking into account all of this navigational data available and giving it careful consideration, the squadron commander decided to change course at 2100, and go down the Santa Barbara Channel; he decided on this new course of 95 and directed the commanding officer of the Delphy to change to that course at 2100.

6. Q. How long did the Delphy continue on the course of 95 true?

A. About five minutes, at the rocks of Pedernales at 2105.

Author's Comments: According to the Findings of Fact by the Court of Inquiry, Point Sur was not sighted. The last definite fix was Pigeon Point.

LCdr. Hunter stated in his testimony during Capt. Watson's trial that the reciprocal bearing requested at 2025 was not based on the 326°bearing received at 2015.

When plotted, all bearings received from Point Arguello, except one—the 168° bearing received at 2035—indicated the Delphy to the north of the compass station. LCdr. Hunter disregarded all other radio bearings received after 2000 except the 168° which had been given in accordance with the Delphy's request "Give us the reciprocal, we are to the southward." And so the result was, Capt. Watson ordered a turn from 150° true to 95° true at 2100, believing LCdr. Hunter's briefing that the Delphy's position was on the 168° plot, while vetoing Lt. Blodgett's request to slow and take soundings. The 2039 and 2058 bearings requested by the Delphy were probably Lt. Blodgett's final attempts to show the Delphy heading into dangerous waters. They did not succeed.

Pg 15 - Capt. Watson—a prosecution witness—continues to be examined by Judge Advocate.

11. Q. At what time did the accused first bring to you the navigational situation for discussion with you and in regard to representations relative to the navigational situation for the purpose of determining a possible change of course?

A. Very shortly after 8:30 that night, 2030 in communication time.

12. Q. What bearings, if any, were particularly stressed with regard to this discussion relative to the navigational situation at this time?

A. The bearing at 320 received at 1813, 1832 and 1848, and the reciprocal bearing of 168.

Author's Comments: Mr. Dooman's statement to the authors of Tragedy at Honda supports Capt. Watson's testimony that "at about 8:30 Capt. Watson was called up to the bridge." And if the list of bearings that LCdr. Hunter stressed is accurate, a complete case was not presented to Capt. Watson for consideration, the 2015 and 2039 bearings were missing from the discussion.

It was during this time—between 2030 and 2100—that Lt. Blodgett, in the presence of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, requested they slow and take soundings. The request was denied.

Pg 17 - Capt. Watson—a prosecution witness—continues to be examined by Judge Advocate.

20. Q. Did the accused as a matter of fact, at any time recommend against the speed of 20 knots?

A. He did not, the question of speed was not considered in the discussion preliminary to the change of course because the course of 150 took the squadron clear of soundings.

24. Q. What if any recommendations did the accused make to you with regard to the desirability of taking soundings?

A. No recommendation, but the question of soundings did not come up because the course line was well off soundings.

Author's Comment: A direct quote is proper here. The authors of Tragedy at Honda published Lt. Blodgett's request as follows: "The bearings have been erratic by a few degrees, Captain," said Blodgett, "but they have all put us north of the Point. How about slowing for a sounding, sir?" Where and/or from whom did the authors of Tragedy at Honda get this information?

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Two more bearings came in—333° at 2039 and 323° at 2058—in supported Lt. Blodgett's claim, but neither one was accepted as accurate. Capt. Watson gave the order to change course at 2100 to 95° true.

Pg 17 - Capt. Watson—a prosecution witness—cross examined by accused (counsel).

55. Q. You have stated that you were fully cognizant of the navigational situation before 9 P.M. In the representations made by the accused to you at that time did he infer in any way that there was doubt in his mind as to the position of the Delphy?

A. In no way whatever.

56. Q. Did any question arise as to the necessity of soundings?

A. None arose.

57. Q. From the representations made by the accused to you did you consider it necessary, or did he infer in any way that it was necessary to slow speed, to reduce speed?

A. I did not, and it was apparent to me that he didn't.

Author's Comment: LCdr. Hunter may not have inferred or expressed any doubt as to the position of the Delphy, but this author is confident that when Lt. Blodgett expressed his doubt in the presence of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, the seed was planted in their minds. This damaging testimony was withheld from the Court. And any viewer, even with the slightest legal expertise, can figure out why.

Pg 28 - Lt. Blodgett—a prosecution witness—examined by Judge Advocate.

7. Q. Will you state of your own knowledge what bearings were received by the Delphy on the 8th of September 1923?

A. To the best of my knowledge and belief there were three bearings obtained at about, in the vicinity of 2 o'clock at 1415 a bearing of 162; at 1426, a bearing of 167 and at 1438 a bearing of 326; at 1830 there was a bearing of 320 and a similar bearing at 1832 and 1848; at 2035 a bearing of 168; at 2039 a bearing of 333, and at 2058, a bearing of 323.

Author's Comment: When questioning first began, there was no mention of the 326° bearing at 2012 which was requested and received by the Stoddert, and intercepted by the Delphy. Lt. Blodgett may have requested the Stoddert—commanded by LCdr. Bratton, the JAG—to ask for this bearing, because the Delphy was having difficulty communicating with the radio compass station at Point Arguello, or LCdr. Bratton was ordered to do so by Cdr. Roeper, Division 32 Commander. Any viewer interested in assisting by doing research on this matter please send email to:

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Pg 38 - Lt. Blodgett—a prosecution witness—still being examined by Judge Advocate.

92. Q. What, if any comments, did the accused make after 2000 with regard to the obtaining of radio compass bearings with relation to the sector that they might be in?

A. The only definite comment I remember was after the bearing was received shortly after 2000 in which the bearing was about, I believe 326, when he had me send a message to Point Arguello, stating: " Please send reciprocal, we are to the southward."

93. Q. What bearing did you receive as a result of this service message to Point Arguello?

A. To the best of my knowledge and belief the bearing that was received in response to that message was 168.

Author's Comments: When Lt. Blodgett first began testifying about the bearings received by the Delphy, he failed to include the 326° bearing at 2012, but in question 20 on page 30, he was instructed to examine a chart which had all bearings laid out beforehand. And one of these was the 326° bearing at 2012. Lt. Blodgett examined the chart and stated that the bearings were laid out on the chart properly. He did not question its presence on the chart, and therefore, his silence can be inferred to be his acceptance.

It should be pointed out at this time that when the Court of Inquiry held its investigation, the Court did not know the Delphy intercepted the 326° bearing at 2012. The Court believed that the Stoddert, on its own initiative, requested two bearings: 326° at 2012 and 330° at 2032. But the 326° bearing at 2012 was included in LCdr. Hunter's testimony in Capt. Watson's trial as though it was received by the Delphy, not intercepted. It may be that LCdr. Hunter did not know Lt. Blodgett requested the Stoddert to get bearings because of the Delphy's difficulties communicating with Point Arguello. None of this helped the situation, because LCdr. Hunter did not believe the 326° bearing at 2012 was accurate; he could not conceive being set inshore a distance of eight miles in less than two hours. Nor did he have the courage to amend his 2000 position report to Rear Admiral Kittelle, Commander Destroyer Squadrons. Too many forces were present for him to abandon his dead reckoning position, and the 168° bearing at 2035 saved him from having to tell his Commodore, that he was lost at sea with a column of 13 four-stackers in his wake.

Pg 110 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—examined by his counsel.

13. Q. Was there any neglect on your part to consider radio bearings in connection with speed, dead reckoning, and possibility and desirability of soundings in the determination of the ship's position prior to and at the time of changing course at 9 p. m.?

A. There was no such neglect.

14. Q. Previous to the time of the grounding of the Delphy, did you know or have reason to believe that the Delphy was in the vicinity of and in dangerous proximity to the Coast of California?

A. I did not believe at any time up to the instant that the Delphy struck, that she was in any danger, due to the visibility, the short space in which a destroyer may be stopped dead in the water, even at high speed, and even the shortest space within which she can be turned within 90 degrees.

16. Q. If you have any other statement to make to the court relative to navigational work of the Delphy, please make it now.

A. I believe that the contributory factors to the loss of the Delphy were unusual and abnormal currents which could not be anticipated with the weather conditions as they were, and to the fact that a very thick fog extended not more than 500 yards from the coast line, when the visibility at the time of the change of course was a good two miles which prevented us from seeing the danger and taking steps to avoid it.

Author's Comments: Can the viewer imagine the line of questioning if the Court knew that one person on the Delphy believed the Delphy to be in a dangerous position, heading straight for the bluff at Point Honda? Lt. Blodgett's request to slow and take soundings and the denial by Capt. Watson would have altered the outcome of the trials. Lt. Blodgett protected his immediate superiors from severe punishment. And his silence could have warranted a retrial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. 

It is this author's belief that the JAG officer, LCdr. Bratton, did not know about Lt. Blodgett's request to slow and take soundings. According to the authors of Tragedy at Honda, the JAG tried to prove that Lt. Blodgett was the navigator on Sept. 8, 1923 and should be found guilty of culpable inefficiency in the performance of his duty. LCdr. Hunter testified as a prosecution witness that he was responsible for the navigation aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8. The members of the Court believed LCdr. Hunter, because after a short deliberation, they returned a verdict of not guilty and fully acquitted Lt. Blodgett of the charge. A New York Times article reported that the members of the Court congratulated Lt. Blodgett after the trial and ordered him to be returned to duty.

Pg 111 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—still examined by his counsel.

[As you read this line of questioning, keep in mind that the JAG, LCdr. Bratton, was the skipper of the Stoddert when his ship requested and received the 326° bearing at 2012. Lt. Blodgett, aboard the Delphy, intercepted it and called it up to the bridge to LCdr. Hunter. At the time, LCdr. Hunter did not know the Delphy intercepted the bearing; he was made aware of this during Capt. Watson's trial, which preceded his trial.]

22.Q. What was the dead reckoning position of the Delphy at 2012?

A. The dead reckoning position was at the point marked "7" outside the 100 fathom curve.

23. Q. Then if a sounding had been taken, would that clearly have indicated that the Delphy was or was not on its assume dead reckoning position?

A. It would have indicated that the Delphy had been set in and that it was not on its dead reckoning position.

24. Q. You testified that after having received this bearing you requested, you directed that a service message be sent to Arguello stating that you were to the south of Arguello and to give reciprocal. Did you give this order yourself, or was it given by the Squadron Commander through you and then to Arguello?

A. I gave it to the radio operator myself.

25. Q. Was the squadron commander informed of the navigational situation up to this point?

A. In general, yes. He was not fully informed of the whole situation as I had explained it until after the 168 bearing had been received, and this date had been plotted, which of course takes much less time than it takes to tell about it.

Author's Comments: On page 38, Lt. Blodgett testified he was ordered to send the message to Arguello, and on page 111, LCdr. Hunter states he gave the message to the radio operator. It appears that too much emphasis was given to the handling of this message. When LCdr. Hunter asked for the reciprocal and stated the Delphy was to the southward of Arguello, he assumed full responsibility for the outcome. The bi-directional compass station relies upon the ship's captain/navigator to know when their ship crosses over from north to south or south to north. There was no way that the station could keep track of every ships whereabouts, and this author believes LCdr. Hunter was aware of this.

The important fact in this testimony is that the JAG, as skipper of the Stoddert, requested and received the 326° bearing at 2012. This alone makes LCdr. Bratton a material witness because he possessed relevant information concerning the accident. He should not have been serving as the JAG in any of the legal proceedings.

Capt. Watson was called to the bridge after the 2035 reciprocal was received and plotted. He had only a few minutes to grasp LCdr. Hunter's representations concerning the navigational situation, and I believe he trusted LCdr. Hunter to do the navigation with a minimum of supervision. His order to change course to 95° true at 2100 was based upon LCdr. Hunter's advice. If he would have acted upon Lt. Blodgett's request instead, seven ships and 23 lives would have been saved. 

Pg 114 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—re-examined by his counsel.

42. Q. Did you observe the fog after the Delphy struck?

A. I did.

43. Q. Would you state that the fog around the light was such that it would be obscured from a distance of three-quarters of a mile?

A. As it actually was, I am certain that it would be obscured from a distance of three-quarters of a mile, because after the wreck I walked to within that distance of the light and did not see it, I had not seen Arguello light yet.

Author's Comments: I am certain that LCdr. Hunter, and everyone else stranded on the bluff at Point Honda after the accident, learned that Point Arguello was less than two miles to the south of their location. And that it could be reached by following the Southern Pacific railroad tracks. Why was LCdr. Hunter walking to Point Arguello? No one asked the question.

Captain George M Grening, USN (Ret.) provided a statement to Charles Hice, author of Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, that he had some hearsay information from a Chief Radioman, who was a direction finder operator at Point Arguello when the vessels grounded. He said that when the crew members from squadron eleven got ashore a party was dispatched, apparently under orders, to get the radio log from the station in which were entered the radio bearings given the vessels before they ran aground. He told Capt. Grening that "quite a fracas developed over their attempt" to get the log.

Although several personnel from Point Arguello testified at the trials, there is no record that anyone mentioned anything about a "fracas" to get the radio log. And since the radio log for Sept. 8 was introduced into evidence at the trials, it can be assumed that it was safe in the custody of the station and not surrendered to anyone. However, if this event did occur, it could have resulted in additional charges: tampering with the evidence and obstruction of justice.

Did LCdr. Hunter lead a party of sailors to Point Arguello in an attempt to get the radio log? Any viewer interested in assisting by doing research on this matter please send email to: webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.

Pg 115 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—examined by the Court.

53. Q. Having in mind the Navy regulations which make the commanding officer responsible for the safe conduct of the ship under his command at all times, and having received the order of the squadron commander to change course of the Delphy at 2100 from 150 true to 95 true, did you suggest to the squadron commander, or did you request permission of the squadron commander to slow?

A. I did not.

Author's Comment: It is hard to believe no one involved with the General Courts-martial of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter testified during their trials that Lt., not even Lt. Blodgett. The JAG failed to ask this critical question even when Lt. Blodgett was on the stand testifying for the prosecution, and Lt. Blodgett did not volunteer this information, although there were times during his testimony that he could have. Everyone appears to have been testifying to protect Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter from severe punishment.

The Naval Weekly, a popular newspaper for naval personnel in the San Diego area, which was published after the Court of Inquiry adjourned but before any of the trials, reported "that the navigator's plot showed the squadron was still too far to the north to execute a change of course into the Santa Barbara Channel."

To the best of my knowledge, the Associated Press never did? Any viewer interested in assisting by doing research on this matter please send email to: webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.

Pg 117 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—still examined by the Court.

63. Q. Did you detail Lieutenant Blodgett as Navigator, and did you require him to perform all duties in the making of reports required of the Navigating officer by the Navy Regulations?

A. I did not detail Lieutenant Blodgett as Navigator in the sense that I required him to do the navigation of the ship. I performed practically all the navigation of the ship myself. He performed all the duties with regard to supplies that the head of the navigation department ordinarily performs, and never detailed him officially as such. He did take care of those duties of the navigator in regard to supplies and routine work. I was the navigator of the ship myself, actually.

Author's Comment: This was LCdr. Hunter's promise to Lt. Blodgett, that he would take full responsibility for the navigation of the Delphy on Sept. 8, if Lt. Blodgett would withhold testimony that he requested they slow and take soundings. Both officers kept their promises.

Pg 120 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—still examined by the Court.

89. Q. Was there any opportunity to anticipate prior to the actual change of course at 2100 that there was to be a change of course at that time?

A. We had been--

90. Q. I will change the form of that question. The course was changed at 2100 from 150 true to 95 true. Had you knowledge prior to 2100 that the course was going to be changed at that time?

A. Yes, sir, about--

91. Q. How long prior to 2100?

A. About ten minutes, I should say. I showed the squadron commander everything that I have shown to the court here, and this was after all had been plotted; the bearing at 2035 came in and this was also plotted. I then went down to the squadron Commander's cabin and asked him if he would come up and take a look at the chart and tell me what he intended to do. I did not know at that time whether he intended to go through Santa Barbara Channel, or to go out by the islands to the southward.

Author's Comment: It probably took all of five minutes for LCdr. Hunter to lay down the 168° bearing received at 2035, and another few minutes to give it some credibility. This gives Capt. Watson about ten minutes to hear LCdr. Hunter's representation concerning the navigational situation. And also time to hear Lt. Blodgett's request to slow and take soundings, before giving the order at about 2050 to make the turn from 150° true to 95° true at 2100. In all probability, this author doubts if LCdr. Hunter spent much time discussing the bearings received from Point Arguello, which when laid down on the chart, showed the Delphy still to the north of the station and heading straight for it.

Capt. Watson trusted LCdr. Hunter's navigational abilities and when he placed more emphasis on his dead reckoning and a single 168° reciprocal bearing over several bearings from the radio compass station, Capt. Watson was swayed in that direction. He chose LCdr. Hunter's representations over what Lt. Blodgett recommended, and ordered the fatal turn to take place at 2100. Capt. Watson returned to his cabin at about 2050 to join his traveling companion, Mr. Eugene Dooman.

Pg 121 - LCdr. Hunter—testifies in his defense—re-cross examined by Judge Advocate.

96. Q. This change of course made at 2100 from 150 true to 95 true, was made by the squadron commander after the representations given to him by you as to the navigational situation, is that correct?

A. It is.

Author's Comment: Capt. Watson spent too much time in his cabin with Mr. Dooman, and not enough time on the bridge with LCdr. Hunter. He placed too much trust in LCdr. Hunter's navigational abilities and not enough trust in bi-directional radio compass stations. After his trial, Capt. Watson was transferred to Hawaii and remained there until his retirement in 1929. He died in 1942, allegedly depressed over the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. LCdr. Hunter's hair turned white within a year after the accident. The numbers they lost on the promotion lists kept them from being promoted.

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Extracts of Testimony from Lt. Blodgett's Trial

Pg 8 & 9 - LCdr. Hunter—a prosecution witness—examined by Judge Advocate.

10. Q. Did the accused (Lt. Blodgett) at any time assist the commanding officer in the navigation of the ship?

A. The status of the accused was not one of being the actual navigator of the ship, possibly more in the status of assistant navigator; the commanding officer considered himself, and was in fact himself, the navigator of the ship.

11. Q. Did the commanding officer assign the accused certain duties with relation to the performance of navigational work?

A. The accused took care of the routine duties pertaining to the navigation of the ship, such as supplies and the care of the log.

13. Q. Was the accused on the bridge at the time of passing Pigeon Point at about 1130?

A. He was.

14. Q. What, if any, navigational work did the accused do at that time with relation to laying down a course of the U.S.S. Delphy?

A. I don't remember that he laid down a single course that day.

21. Q. You have stated that you do not remember exactly that the accused in fact laid any course on the chart. For purposes of refreshing your memory if it was brought to your attention that the accused in testifying before the Court of Inquiry stated that he laid certain courses on the chart, would that aid you in refreshing your memory in that regard?

A. If he so testified, he probably did, I was under the impression that I laid all courses on that day.

Author's Comment: From the above questioning, it appears that the JAG is clearly establishing that Lt. Blodgett was performing navigational duties other than routine duties. And if the Court believed the same, all other duties of the navigator would rest on the shoulders of Lt. Blodgett. Warning the Commanding Officer of an impending dangerous navigational situation would be one of those duties. Requesting to slow and take soundings would be another.

But the Court did not believe Lt. Blodgett was the navigator on Sept. 8.

Pg 19 - LCdr. Hunter—a prosecution witness—examined by Judge Advocate.

81. Q. In view of what occurred (seven destroyers stranded and 23 lives lost) do the bearings 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10 indicate that the Delphy was too far to the northward to change course from 150 true to 95 true at 2100?

A. In view of what occurred, there is no doubt but that they all show that, but we didn't know it at the time.

82. Q. Did the accused advise you as commanding officer that the ship under your command was running into danger?

A. He did not. He would not have sufficient grounds to make such report.

83. Q. Did the accused advise you at any time to take soundings before or after the change of course from 150 true to 95 true?

A. He did not, for the same reason.

Authors Comment: This line of questions and answers verifies that LCdr. Hunter did not wish to reveal that Lt. Blodgett did advise that a dangerous situation existed. And Lt. Blodgett appears to have supported this cover-up because he failed to testify otherwise in any of the legal proceedings.

The article 9-TURN in The San Diego Naval Weekly, which was published before any of the eleven General Courts-martial, states that the navigator (Lt. Blodgett) advised the commanding officer that the Delphy was too far to the north to change course. And on page 44 in the Tragedy at Honda the authors state that Lt. Blodgett advised the commanding officer in the presence of Capt. Watson to slow for soundings because the bearings from Point Arguello showed the Delphy to be north of the station.

Lt. Blodgett sat in silence during his trial while LCdr. Hunter committed perjury. Lt. Blodgett could have testified truthfully before the Court of Inquiry and at his own trial. His misleading testimony was an obstruction of justice designed to protect his seniors from severe punishment, while LCdr. Hunter's perjured testimony that Lt. Blodgett was not the navigator was intended to clear Lt. Blodgett of any wrong-doing. The Court acquitted Lt. Blodgett based on LCdr. Hunter's testimony, and according to an article in the New York Times, congratulated him at the end of his trial.

Pg 33 - Counsel for the accused made the following closing statement

Gentlemen, we submit this case to the court with this brief argument: that the commanding officer of the Delphy should know even better than the accused who was the navigating officer of the Delphy on the 8th of September and what responsibility attaches to the accused.

Pg 33 - The judge advocate made the following closing statement

In reply the judge advocate in making his closing argument merely again calls attention to the fact that the Commanding Officer of a ship does not designate the responsibility. The Navy Regulations are the things which govern the responsibility of an officer in regard to the duties that have been assigned him on the ship.

Author's Comments: The Court believed LCdr. Hunter was the navigator and fully acquitted Lt. Blodgett of the charge: Culpable Inefficiency in the Performance of Duty.

The following four paragraphs summarize important facts pertaining to sworn testimony given by LCdr. Hunter and Lt. Blodgett at the Court of Inquiry and their General Courts-martial.

When Lt. Blodgett testified before the Court of Inquiry, he stated that he assisted the Commanding Officer, LCdr. Hunter, with the navigation on Sept. 8. Lt. Blodgett told the Court he participated in obtaining the fix at Pigeon Point and laid out the course to be steered on the chart after passing Pigeon Point. In other words, he was performing navigational duties as the Navigation Officer. He even stated before the Court that he was the Executive Officer, Navigation Officer, First Lieutenant, and performed other general ship duties. This is why the President of the Court interrupted his testimony as a witness and told him that he is now a "defendant". Because one of the duties of the navigator was to inform and advise the Commanding Officer, LCdr. Hunter, that the Delphy was running into danger and to take soundings before and after the change of course from 150° true to 95° true, but he failed to do so.

However, during the General Courts-martial of Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter, Lt. Blodgett testified as a witness that he did not perform navigational duties on Sept. 8, that LCdr. Hunter was the navigator and responsible for the navigation.  LCdr. Hunter backed up these statements when he testified as a witness during his General Courts-martial; he insisted that he was responsible for all of the navigation which caused the accident, not Lt. Blodgett.

Lt. Blodgett did not take the stand during his trial. LCdr. Hunter was the chief prosecution witness who testified that he performed all of the navigation on Sept. 8, and that Lt. Blodgett was not the navigator. The JAG tried to prove otherwise even by introducing Lt. Blodgett's testimony given before the Court of Inquiry. The Court believed LCdr. Hunter and fully acquitted Lt. Blodgett of the charge of "culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty".

It is this author's firm belief that Lt. Blodgett gave false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the legal process during his testimony before the Court of Inquiry and as a witness at Capt. Watson's and LCdr. Hunter's General Courts-martial. Capt. Watson and LCdr. Hunter were active participants in this cover-up, intent on minimizing the severity of their sentences. A retrial appears to have been warranted with a new Judge Advocate, but the Secretary of the Navy thought otherwise. Secretary Edwin Denby was due to be replaced in early 1924 and wanted closure with the Point Honda accident.

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Letters

Introduction

This page contains personal letters written by sailors, kin and friends who were either involved with the shipwrecks at Point Honda or are parties interested in naval history, who have some information to contribute.

The first two letters were written by two young ensigns, both addressed to their mothers. Ensign William (Will) D. Wright and Ensign Thomas (Tommy) F. Carlin were roommates at the Naval Academy just three months prior to the accident on Sept. 8, 1923.

The voyage with Destroyer Squadron Eleven, Pacific Battle Fleet, was their first at-sea experience as officers of the U. S. Navy. Ensign Wright was assigned  to the USS S.P. Lee, Flagship of Division 33, whereas, Ensign Carlin was assigned to the USS Farragut, Flagship of Division 31. 

Both ships were involved in the accident; the S.P. Lee stranded near the coast at Point Honda and was a total loss, while the Farragut managed to slow and back from danger with only minor damage. No lives were lost on either ship, although, some sailors suffered cuts on their feet scaling razor-sharp, volcanic rock.

Ensign Wright and Ensign Carlin had no idea that someday they would be sharing a World Wide Web page in the 21st century with letters to their mothers—not exactly roommates, but close.

The third letter published here was written by Lieutenant Commander John M. Ashley, Eleventh Naval District Communication Superintendent on September 24, 1923 to his buddy Frenchy. Little did he know that the yeoman with initials RBB, who typed the letter, would place a copy in the files. A copy was obtained by this author from the Regional Office of the National Archives in Laguna Niguel, CA.

Note that on page two LCdr. Ashley states, "I also have inside dope from the Chief Radios on the Delphy who were old shipmates of mine here in the district. This I dare not write even in a personal letter." What sinister event(s) took place?

If you are interested in assisting in research, find the truth about what took place aboard the Delphy on the night of the wrecks and email your findings to: webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.

Laurence F. Blodgett, son of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett the navigator aboard the Delphy, wrote the fourth letter to this author on Feb. 8, 2000. He mentioned that he was saved from terminal cancer. However, his God had a another plan, he passed away the same year on Dec. 28—may he rest in peace. It appears he had something important to tell in his letter. And since I believe he meant for it to be revealed, it is posted here for all time and for everyone.

In his letter, Laurence Blodgett stated that "Captain (Watson) had been drinking in his cabin with a guest smuggled on his ship in violation of the Rules." Mrs. Rigmor Blodgett, the wife of Laurence Blodgett, told this author over the phone that if her husband were still alive, he "would swear on a stack of bibles that his father told him Captain Watson and his guest (Eugene Dooman) were drinking alcohol aboard the Delphy."


Ensign Thomas (Tommy) F. Carlin's Letter

Ensign Carlin was aboard the Farragut when he wrote the following letter to his mother on Sept. 9, a day after the accident.

"At 2109 (9:09 PM) I heard one blast on the siren which is the signal for collision. This was followed by three blasts on the whistle which is the signal for full speed astern. When I got topside I saw the most ghastly spectacle I ever hope to see. Dead ahead of us was a destroyer sinking (USS Young). She was heeled over on her side, afire with oil burning all around her. That was not so bad as the terrible unearthly cries and moans of the men in the water swimming in the burning oil and being burned to death. Men calling for help all around in voices that will haunt me until my dying day.

We started to back and then came a sickening thud—we were aground! We backed full speed and bang—we were rammed by another destroyer (USS Somers). The collision mat was put over the side—all hands were ordered to standby to abandon ship.

We continued backing until soundings gave 12 fathoms. We let go starboard anchor and were lowering boats to go to the aid of the sinking ships when rocks were again sighted close aboard. The Captain (Cmdr. W. H. Toaz) told me to let the anchor slip, meaning to cut the stopper and let all the chain out. At about 100 fathoms the chain got fouled so we had to back full and drag the anchor.

We were getting calls for help but we were helpless ourselves and could not go to their assistance. The whole thing made one sort of sick at the stomach so that food was not desired. The whole thing was terrible. I shall never forget it.

This morning our condition was such that we could go in closer and send boats ashore. Coast Guard vessels of much sturdier build than our lifeboats were bringing the survivors out to the destroyers that escaped the calamity. A railroad track was near the beach and special trains were rushing out the 700 survivors as fast as they could.

Just think of it. Seven ships upon the beach, one of them sunk (Young), one broken in two (Delphy) and the rest being broken to pieces by the breakers. The latest report as to loss of life was 27men. My roommate, Will D. Wright, was on the S.P. Lee, but I am quite sure he is safe.

Someone will surely get 'hanged' for this awful calamity and I suppose it will be Captain Watson of the 11th Squadron. There are a million details I could go into but I will tell you about them later. I am hardly normal yet."


Ensign William (Will) D. Wright's Letter

An email from Douglas S. Wright, Captain, USN (Ret), revealed that his father, then Ensign William D. Wright, USN, was aboard the S.P. Lee on September 8, 1923. Ensign Wright had just graduated from the US Naval Academy three months prior and was on his maiden voyage when Squadron Eleven stranded on the rocks at Point Honda.

After the accident, Ensign Wright remained at the scene of the wrecks with a crew of sailors to retrieve bodies and guard the ships. On September 21, 1923, he wrote a letter to his mother describing the accident and his part in it.

Captain Wright gave us permission to post his father's letter on this web site. The scanned version of the 10-page letter he zipped to me via email exceeded the capacity for this site so it was painstakingly keyboarded with utmost care. Thank you for the contribution, Captain Wright.

An update from Captain Wright revealed that his father had better luck for the remainder of his career and retired as a Rear Admiral following WWII. Also, that his second son carries on the Navy tradition and is currently a Lieutenant F-14 Tomcat pilot. Congratulations to the Wright family devoted to keeping America safe.

San Diego Hotel
San Diego, Calif. 21 Sept. 1923

Dearest Mother,

I arrived here yesterday from Honda and was plenty glad to get away from there because it is the dirtiest place I have ever seen.

On Saturday night the eighth the squadron composed of 18 destroyers was steaming down the coast in a heavy fog. We were in a column formation, that is in one long line, the S.P. Lee being second in column. By some trick of fate we were miles off our reckoning. I am not sure why, — a court of inquiry  is trying to dope that out now.

About nine o'clock I was in my state room preparing to go to bed. I heard our engines reverse and our siren scream so I threw on my coat and grabbed my life preserver. Before I could get out of my room I felt us hit. We slid past the first rock we hit but before I could get topside we had crashed again. When I reached the main deck we were heeling over to port and the stern was sinking. I ran to the fire room which was fast filling and we got the word to secure.

All lights were out as the first hole we got was right at the generator. The ship was listing over about 30° and it was impossible to launch a boat on the high side and equally impossible on the low side on account of the terrific surf. The seas were breaking all the way across the ship and one had to watch himself to keep from being washed overboard.

Pretty soon the Captain gave the word to abandon ship. The executive officer told me to get a line over to the beach which was only about fifty feet away. The beach was a precipitous bluff about a hundred feet high. The sea was running so high that no one could swim over without being dashed to death against the rocks.

I got a life raft over and finally got a line secured to some rocks at the base of the bluff. In the meantime they had gotten another one across up forward.

We then ferried the men from the ship to the rocks in the two life rafts. When we were all ashore it took us an hour to get up the bluff.

When we got up we heard the cries of men on the Delphy the leading ship, which was broken in two. We worked to about 2 o'clock getting men off her and the Young which turned over. The Young had ripped her starboard side open and turned over in about 80 seconds. All her survivors were standing on the side of the ship which was barely sticking up above water. They got ashore by a line to the Chauncey and another line to the beach.

At dawn we saw there were three more on the rocks. Two of them were against a rock about two hundred yards from the beach and another was just off the port bow of the S.P. Lee. Those by the rock had gotten on the rocks and stayed all night and the men on the Nicholas (just off the bow of the Lee) had spent the night in the rigging. We got them ashore by a line Sunday morning.

Twenty three men were lost — three from the Delphy and the rest from the Young. About a hundred were slightly injured.

At 4:30 p.m. Sunday the survivors less another officer, myself and sixteen men left for San Diego. We guarded the ships and recovered bodies. A salvaging party arrived about three or four days later and went to work but our duties continued.

I did not take off the wet clothes I came ashore in for 60 hours and did not sleep more than two hours out of the twenty four for five days. The worst thing about the wreck was the oil. The fuel oil tanks were broken and everything was a sea of oil.

One poor fellow on the Delphy (James Pearson) was knocked down when she hit, breaking both legs. He jumped over the side and was blinded by the oil. When they fished him back aboard he was a raving maniac. They could not take him across the slender line to the shore as  he fought everyone who came near him. Finally they lashed him aboard so they could come back and get him in the morning. In the morning the Delphy with her lone maniac crew was in the cradle of the deep.

We had recovered 13 bodies before I left and I got so used to handling gruesome, bloated, mangled and half eaten away corpses that (I) could be an undertaker without the slightest sensation.

We are all attached to the base now and will probably start putting new destroyers in commission. Pretty near all of us are witnesses at the court of inquiry so there isn't much to do except wait around.

I got one letter from you and the note from the bank but the rest is up at Honda and I will probably get it in a few days.

I recovered most of my stuff but lost a good deal at that. I will get the money for it eventually, I suppose.

With worlds of love to all.

Devotedly,
Will

P.S. I wired you the night of the wreck but in the large volume of traffic it was lost.


Author's Comments on Ensign Carlin's Letter: Some documentation was located that substantiates fire on the water around the overturned Young, but only Ensign Carlin's letter describes in detail sailors being burned to death by fire in the water, presumably from burning oil.

This author concludes that Ensign Carlin did see fire on the water, but from burning carbide pots thrown from life rafts which set off flares. The men in the water were probably struggling to stay afloat; the top layer was thick with oil pouring out from damaged ships. Seeing men screaming for help in the water next to something burning, may have led Ensign Carlin to believe they were being burned to death. I hope this is not true.

There were no sailors treated for burn injuries at either Santa Barbara or San Diego hospitals. And not a single newspaper, magazine or book reported that the oil was on fire and sailors were being burned.

For the sake of mercy for the 23 sailors who perished in the accident, if death at sea must be, a death by drowning is more desirable than death by burning.


Lieutenant Commander John M. Ashley Letter


Laurence F. Blodgett Letter

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National Archives

Preface

This page contains information and documentation obtained from the National Archives in Washington, DC, and the Regional Office in Laguna Niguel, CA, concerning the naval accident at Point Honda on Sept. 8, 1923. It includes a brief paragraph on the history of storing General Courts-martial records of trial by the Navy Department and a detailed explanation of discoveries from recent research.

Future naval historians may decide to continue this research, and the best way is to reveal on this web site our successes and to document on this page our failures. The overwhelming support and documentary contributions from the dedicated personnel at the Archives enlightens us on the search for the truth. And the contents of this web site is evidence the gap between 1923 and the present is about to close.

On top of the list of major failures is our inability to obtain a copy of the record of trial by General Courts-martial, case of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, U. S. Navy. And the lost, stolen, or misfiled record, in all probability, contains the information that will help close the gap.
 


History

In the 1920s, the records of trial by General Courts-martial were stored in the Record Division of the Secretary of the Navy's Office, Navy Department, Washington, DC. Although the trials by General Courts-martial of eleven officers were opened to the public and press in San Diego, California, the records of trial remained classified by the Navy for 50 years. In the 1970s, when they were eventually released from the federal system and turned over to the National Archives, Washington, DC, Lt. (j.g.) Blodgett's record of trial was missing.
 


Discoveries from Recent Research

The folder where Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett's record of trial should have been, contained only a charge-out card. A copy of its contents shows the following:

 

GCM is the General Courts-martial Record Number 58790. The record was stored in Sec. A, JAG—Judge Advocate General of the Navy—Office, and it was checked out to the Selection Board binder. The charge-out card did not contain a date or signature. One may conclude Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett was being considered for promotion and the board desired his record of trial.

A copy of Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett's Consolidated Index Card (a personnel/administrative card) contains a few relevant entries. ( Uncommon abbreviations were typed in full by this author.)
 

  1. COURT INQUIRY (Binder No. 12847)- - Stranding & grounding of Destroyers, Squadron #11, near Pt. Arguello, Calif, 9-8-23. (9-17-23 ec) Navy Department File No. 26835-2527.

  2. G.C.M. (General Courts-martial) No. 26262-10681; (Binder No. 12847)

  3. G.C.M. (General Courts-martial) - Tried on above charges - (acquitted) (11-9-23) G.C.M. No. 26262-10681

  4. CLAIMS reimbursement for clothing lost on USS Delphy. 4-11-24; 26514-283:43 ml

  5. LAW BOOKS, Request for- - 10101-133 (5-4-24-mm)

  6. EXAM BDS. (Examination Boards) (Failed Proficiency) - - 2-10-25-mm 26260-15315

  7. DUTY in Office of JAG - Request for. (3-30-25) 28259-128 EM

There is a possibility someone from Examination Boards in item 6 above, checked out Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett's record of trial on Feb. 10, 1925 and failed to return it to the JAG office.

Any viewer interested in assisting in research into this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.


Events related to Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett's record of trial were unfolding in the JAG office in July of 1925. The Acting JAG of the Navy—a familiar figure at Point Honda—Cmdr. Leslie Bratton, former CO of the Stoddert, Division 32, Destroyer Squadron Eleven, and the JAG officer in all legal proceedings pertaining to the Point Honda accident. After the trials were over in San Diego in Nov. 1923, and after his promotion to Commander in Dec. 1923, Cmdr. Bratton was assigned temporary duty in the JAG office, Washington, DC. He reviewed the records of trial for Secretary Denby's endorsement. The outcome was to recommend disapproval of the finding (not guilty) and acquittal in all nine cases, including that of Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett. 

However, a copy of the endorsement to Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett, which was prepared for the signature of the JAG of the Navy—By direction of the Secretary of the Navy—failed to be signed by anyone. An office stamp mark on this copy showed that L. E. Bratton was the Asst. JAG. And while on the subject of the Consolidated Index Card, there is no entry concerning the disapproval of the finding and acquittal. However, there was an entry on 4-11-24 that Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett submitted a claim for the clothing lost at Point Honda. If he was reimbursed for the loss, its because the Navy did not support the recommendation by the Secretary of the Navy. Did the disapproval of the acquittal prevent the nine officers from filing claims for clothing and personal property, as stated by Captain Roesch to the authors of Tragedy at Honda in the late 1950s?

Any viewer interested in assisting in research into this matter, please contact Point Honda Memorial/Research at:

webmaster@pointhondamemorial.org.

Back to events in the JAG office in July of 1925. A copy of a letter dated 13 July 1924, from the JAG of the Navy, to LCdr. F. L. Lowe, USN, U.S.S. Nokomis, Navy Yard, Philadelphia, Pa., concerning a "Record of the Court of Inquiry in the Honda Disaster" was obtained from the National Archives, Washington, DC. Item 1. states that "Volume I of the subject court of inquiry has been mislaid."

Item 2 states, "Information is desired as to its possible whereabouts. It is understood that during your tour of duty in this office this volume was withdrawn. A statement from you relative to any information which you have as to the time, the purpose, or the person by whom withdrawn, whether a receipt was obtained, and any details as to the surrounding circumstances of withdrawal which might aid in recovery, would be appreciated." No signature appears on the letter, however, an office stamp shows L. E. Bratton, Acting JAG.

LCdr. Lowe responded on 16 July 1925. He wrote in paragraph 1 that "several months ago I was directed by the Assistant Judge Advocate General to get the records of the following Courts of Inquiry for the Secretary of the Navy (newly appointed Curtis D. Wilbur) immediately: the Honda Disaster; the Mississippi Explosion; the Trenton Explosion. I took up the first two records immediately. If I remember correctly I delivered these records to Commander Furlong in Operations though I am not sure of this. I understood at the time that the Secretary desired certain information from these records for a committee of Congress."

Then in paragraph 3, LCdr. Lowe wrote, "I do not remember seeing the records of the Honda Disaster or the Mississippi Explosion after the time above indicated, nor do I remember my attention being called to them in any way until Volume I of the Honda case could not be located for the Selection Board. Volume I may have been returned from the Secretary with the remainder of the record. If it were returned in the routine manner it would not have come to my attention, but would have gone to Watson in the messengers office direct who would have filed it. Apparently he filed the Mississippi case and remainder of the Honda Case at some time and destroyed any note or receipt which he may have held, without noting that one volume was missing if such was in fact the case."

Author's Comments: After numerous letters and emails with Rebecca Livingston at the National Archives, Washington, DC, concerning the missing record of trial, case of Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett, her conclusion is that Volume I of the Court of Inquiry may have been Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett's record of trial, because the original report of the Court of Inquiry consists of 1,040 legal size pages in one document, filed under Navy Department File No. 26835-2527. It is not broken down into Volumes I, II and III.

Furthermore, the numbers assigned to General Courts-martial records by the Navy Department, Secretary of the Navy's Office, Record Division, may shed light on the dilemma. The following table shows that Volume I is associated with Record Division 10681 and may have been Lt.(j.g.) Blodgett's record of trial.  Also, note Volume I and 10681 coincide with an alphabetical listing by last name—Blodgett.
 

Date of GCM Officer Tried GCM Record No. Navy Dept. Secy's Office, Record Division Possible Volume No.
11/9/23 Blodgett 58790 26262-10681 Volume I
11/7/23 Hunter 58789 26262-10682 Volume II
11/1/23 Watson 58791 26262-10683 Volume III

 



The following email from Rebecca Livingston, National Archives, provides a verbal description of the information contained in the above table.

From: Rebecca Livingston
To: Point Honda Watch
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 10:35 AM
Subject: Pont Honda

The U.S. Navy records of proceedings of courts of inquiry and General Courts-martial are filed in one numerical series.  It is not possible to mix up courts of inquiry and General Courts-martial because they are filed together.  Blogett's case is still missing.  Since there is a charge out card (previously sent to you), I don't believe it is misfiled.  It is more likely to be with Blogett's promotion and retirement examination board records.  I do not know who has custody of these board records.  We have the board records for officers who were dead or completely retired before 1942.  I suspect the later records are still in the custody of the Judge Advocate's General Office,  but I don't know anyone who has gotten access to them.

I took another look at the Court of iInquiry/General Courts-martial records.  They are not marked by "volumes" or parts, as far as I can determine.  I do not know if the missing Volume I mentioned in the letters refers to the court of inquiry or Blogett's case.  I can't tell which volume you want copied because the records do not have volume numbers.  The court martial of Watson and Hunter are in one box.  The court of inquiry is in the second box.  Archives staff labeled the boxes Part I, II, III, but I don't think this relates to the volume designation referred in the Navy letters.

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Dead-End

After almost ten years of research on the Point Honda naval accident, it is difficult to write that this effort now draws to a close. However, by publishing a list of unanswered questions, hope remains eternal that somewhere deep in someone's archives an answer or two will be forthcoming.

If you're a naval history buff of sorts, contact the Point Honda Watch by email if you discover the answer(s) to any of the below listed questions. A brief summary of the background information from research precedes the question(s).


1. Background Information from Research:

    The Delphy's Phantom Passenger, Eugene Dooman, was Capt. Watson's civilian guest aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, 1923. According to Dooman's statement published in Tragedy at Honda, Watson obtained permission from the Admiral (Kittelle) to allow him to make the trip.

    A letter addressed to this author from Laurence Blodgett, son of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, navigator and ExO aboard the Delphy, states that Watson did not have permission to bring Dooman aboard as his guest.

    In his statement to Charles Hice, author of The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, Dooman wrote that Watson and his defense officer were afraid that Dooman's testimony (before Watson's General Courts-martial) might prove harmful to Watson since they were together in Watson's cabin when the Delphy struck the bluff at Point Honda.

Question 1:

Did Admiral Kittelle authorize Eugene Dooman to travel with Watson aboard the Delphy on Sept. 8, 1923?


2. Background Information from Research:

    Confusion exists between the authors of three books concerning the carryon items Eugene Dooman brought with him when he boarded the Delphy, and how he managed to get ashore when the ship was being abandoned.

In the Tragedy at Honda, published in 1960, Dooman's statement to the authors indicates that he may have been carrying a suitcase with a change of clothing, a wallet with a substantial amount of money, and a letter of credit. The wallet and letter of credit were in Dooman's small cabin on the lowest deck when the Delphy wrecked. The cabin flooded, and Dooman could not recover his possessions. Dooman, an officer and a rating got ashore in a Carley raft, which was thrown over the side.

Dooman's letters in 1966 to Charles Hice, author of The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, state that he was carrying a leather valise which contained $3,000 in silver. Dooman intended to convert it to a letter of credit in San Francisco but lacked the time to do so. Later he heard the money had been found by salvagers. Dooman added that he left the money in his cabin since he had to swim ashore, and the weight of the money would have made it impossible.

In Course 095 to Eternity published in 1980, author Elwyn Overshiner states that Dooman boarded the Delphy carrying 3,000 silver dollars, and that Watson placed the coin in a small personal safe in his own cabin along with some of his personal effects, reported to include his wife's jewelry box. Overshiner concludes that Watson's safe was to become part of an intrigue which exists to this day.

Question 2:

Did Dooman carry a letter of credit or a leather valise with 3,000 silver dollars?

Question 3:

And if there was a leather valise, did it contain anything else?

Question 4:

Did Dooman swim ashore or did he jump to a Carley raft?


3. Background Information from Research:

    Laurence F. Blodgett, son of Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, navigator aboard the Delphy, wrote a letter to this author on Feb. 8, 2000. He wrote about a conversation he had with his father while bird hunting at Pearl Harbor on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. His story of what took place aboard the Delphy—although purely hearsay— was that Watson and Dooman were drinking alcohol in Watson's cabin on Sept. 8, 1923. Watson denied any use of alcohol by his men during the Court of Inquiry. He said nothing about himself.

    Blodgett mentioned in his letter that he was saved from terminal cancer. However, his God had another plan. He passed away the same year on Dec. 28—may he rest in peace.

    An officer's steward or cabin cook oftentimes prepares/serves meals to high ranking officers. Aboard the Delphy, Captain Watson, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron Eleven, was the most senior officer onboard. The identity of the rating who served Watson and Dooman in Watson's cabin is unknown. One of the three sailors from the Delphy who perished on Sept. 8, 1923 was a cabin cook by the name of Sofornio Dalida, from the Phillipine Islands.

    A written report states that a total of fifteen bodies were recovered from the ocean, while two could not be identified. Identity was deemed not certain in all cases. Dalida's name is not on the list.

    There are two accounts of how Dalida died.  In the book Tragedy at Honda, the authors state that Dalida "slipped from the life line", which was a breeches buoy of sorts rigged from the Delphy to rocks on the bluff at Point Honda. Another sailor from the Delphy, James W. H. Conway, also slipped from the same line and fell into the oily water between the ship and shore and drowned. The other account for Dalida's death is in The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers. In this book, Charles Hice wrote that Dalida "jumped over board" from the ship.

Question 5:

What are the circumstances surrounding the death of Sofornio Dalida?


4. Background Information from Research:

    Capt. George M. Grening, U. S. Navy (Ret.) wrote a letter to the author of The Last Hours of Seven Four-Stackers, Charles Hice, which was printed in the book. It states that Grening heard a story from a Chief Radioman who was a direction finder operator at the Point Arguello radio direction finder station. The Chief Radioman told Grening that a crew who got ashore after the wreck at Point Honda—acting apparently under orders—had tried to obtain the radio log book which contained the radio bearings given the vessels before they ran aground. He said that quite a fracas developed over their attempt.

    There was no testimony given at either the Court of Inquiry or at any of the General Courts-martial that this incident took place. Several naval personnel from the radio compass station were called to testify during the legal proceedings, including the Communications Superintendent, LCdr. John Ashley.

    Our research could not substantiate this hearsay information concerning the radio log book.

    Questions concerning the heavy fog often came up during the hearings. During his trial by General Courts-martial, Hunter took the stand and testified that he walked south from Point Honda to within three-fourths of a mile from Point Arguello, and did not see the light because the fog was thick along the coast on the night of Sept. 8, 1923. The total distance from Point Honda to Point Arguello is approximately two miles.

Question 6:

Did Hunter lead the crew to get the log book from the radio compass station at Point Arguello?

Question 7:

Was Blodgett a member of the crew ?

5. Background Information from Research:

    Watson did not want Dooman to be on the special train taking the majority of the sailors to San Diego on Sept. 10. When the 0400 Southern Pacific Lark stopped at Point Honda on Sept. 9, he told Dooman to board it to Los Angeles. He also ordered Ens. Robert Greenwald, USS Chauncey, and Lt. Mullinex, USS Delphy, to board the train with 13 injured sailors and take them to the Santa Barbara Hospital for treatment.

    The injured were dropped off successfully and Dooman, Greenwald and Mullinex continued to Los Angeles. Upon arrival, they checked in at the Ambassador Hotel, got cleaned up and dined on steak, French fries and champagne. At about 3:00 PM on Sept. 9, they boarded the train from Los Angeles to San Diego. Blodgett was also on this train to San Diego, having departed Point Honda at about 0700 on Sept. 9.

    When Blodgett arrived in San Diego around 1830 on Sept. 9, he was interviewed by a reporter. He told the reporter that they put him on the 0700 train out of Point Honda and told him to report to the Naval Hospital in San Diego for treatment of his fractured kneecap.

    Greenwald told the reporter that he was directed by Watson to make a verbal report of the accident to Adm. Louis Nulton. The newspaper article states that an orderly picked up Greenwald in a limousine and took him to North Island to give his report.

Question 8:

Since Blodgett was also injured, why didn't he board the 0400 train from Point Honda with the other injured sailors who were to be treated at the Santa Barbara Hospital?

Question 9:

Did Watson and Hunter know Blodgett was traveling alone to San Diego on the 0700 train?

Question 10:

Why didn't Watson choose Blodgett to make the verbal report to Adm. Nulton since Blodgett was more knowledgeable of what took place on the lead ship? Greenwald was a junior officer from the USS Chauncey, the last sea-going casualty.

6. Background Information from Research:

    There exists ample evidence that three officers from the Delphy were responsible for a massive cover-up: Capt. Edward H. Watson, Commodore Destroyer Squadron Eleven;  LCdr. Donald T. Hunter, Commanding Officer, USS Delphy; Lt.(j.g.) Lawrence F. Blodgett, Navigator and Executive Officer, USS Delphy.

    If retrials had been ordered by the Secretary of the Navy, all three officers would be facing additional charges for obstruction of justice, and perjury—making false statements under oath.

    Research also revealed that the three officers were present in the tight quarters of the chartroom behind the bridge of the Delphy when Lt. Blodgett's request to slow and take a sounding was denied by Hunter and Watson. Blodgett knew the squadron was in danger, while Hunter was able to convince Watson that the bearings could not be trusted, and his dead reckoning was correct. Watson placed too much trust in Hunter's navigational abilities, and as a result, 23 sailors perished and seven destroyers became stranded at Point Honda.

    After Blodgett was named a defendant during the Court of Inquiry because it appeared that he was doing navigational duties, the major part of the cover-up was initiated. Hunter and Blodgett entered into an agreement with Watson's approval. During all of the legal proceedings, Hunter would testify that he was the navigator, not Blodgett. And Blodgett would not testify that he recommended they slow and take a sounding. Hunter and Blodgett stuck to their agreement and testified in this manner throughout the General Courts-martial proceedings.

    Watson and Hunter knew that Blodgett's testimony, if given truthfully, would result in severe punishment, if they were found guilty of the charges. Blodgett wanted to protect his superiors, and at the same time, salvage his own career. Blodgett did not take the stand to testify during his trial. He watched and listened to Hunter convince the Court, under tremendous pressure from the JAG, LCdr. Leslie Bratton, that he was the navigator, not Blodgett. Blodgett was acquitted and congratulated by the Court.

    This background information is critical because it clearly shows that Blodgett's survival after the crash could have serious consequence on the careers of two senior officers, especially Watson's, because he was anticipating a promotion to Rear Admiral.

Question 11:

Did Blodgett know the circumstances surrounding Dalida's death?

Question 12:

Did Blodgett know of, or was he involved with the attempt to get the log book from the radio compass station?

Question 13:

Did Blodgett fear for his life and board the 0700 train alone, without anyone's awareness, for safety in San Diego?


7. Background Information from Research:

    The National Regional Archives in Laguna Niguel, California, provided a copy of a personal letter typed by a yeoman on Sept. 24, 1923 for LCdr. John M. Ashley, 11th Naval District, Communications Superintendent—officer in charge of the Point Arguello Radio Compass Station—and addressed to Frenchy (a personal friend). The yeoman placed a copy of the letter in the office files, probably not realizing that someday it may be in our hands via a request to the national archives.

    Ashley made several comments about the proceedings at the Court of Inquiry and his testimony before the Court. His conclusion to Frenchy leaves vast speculations as to what sinister or illegal events took place aboard the Delphy on the night of the accident. Ashley's exact words are included here.

"I also have inside dope from the Chief Radios (Chief Radio Men: Leon V. Lattimore and Carl DeWitt Tipsword) from the Delphy who were old shipmates of mine here in the district. This I dare not write even in a personal letter." (Emphasis added by this author.)

Question 14:

Did Ashley tell the authors of Tragedy at Honda what he knew when he contributed to the book, but did not write it to Frenchy, ?

Question 15:

Did Ashley know Blodgett requested to slow and take a sounding?

Question 16:

What did Ashley hear from the Chief Radios and not write to Frenchy?


8. Background Information from Research:

    The Naval Weekly, published in San Diego, California, printed an article about the Point Honda accident entitled "9-TURN". It contained information that did not appear in print in any other newspaper. Nor was this information disclosed in any of the naval legal proceedings, beginning with the Court of Inquiry. The key extract from the article is included here.

"On the bridge of the U. S. S. Delphy, the squadron leader (LCdr. Hunter) ordered his navigation officer (Lt. (j.g.)  Blodgett) to take new bearings and decide on a change of course to safely pass around the point at Arguello, where the coast juts far out into the Pacific, and which, safely passed, requires a change of course to the eastward, so as to maintain the relative distance from the coast and not steam out to sea.

In several minutes the navigation officer reported back to his Captain. With the aid of the radio compass at Point Arguello, with which the radiomen were co-operating to ascertain position, the lieutenant had arrived at the decision that the squadron was still steaming some miles to the north of the Point and that a change of course to pass the light at Arguello was not yet necessary."

    This extract from The Naval Weekly was published after the Court of Inquiry adjourned but before any of the eleven General Courts-martial. The Court of Inquiry was in session for 19 days beginning with Sept. 17, 1923, while the first General Courts-martial, case of Capt. Watson, convened on Nov. 1, 1923 

    Blodgett testified under oath before the Court of Inquiry that he did not believe a doubtful navigational situation existed aboard the Delphy, nor did he consider the squadron in any danger when the fatal turn was ordered, and because of this testimony, he was named a defendant and no longer a witness.

    Blodgett was a prosecution witness in Watson's and Hunter's trials by General Courts-martial. At no time during questioning under oath by the JAG and/or the Court, did he testify that he was aware of any danger. Although, there appeared to be numerous opportunities where he could have testified that he believed a doubtful navigational situation existed. Lt. Blodgett's testimony during both trials was similar to his testimony at the Court of Inquiry.

Question 17:

Who contributed to The Naval Weekly about Blodgett's report that the Delphy was too far north to change course?

Question 18:

Who provided the authors of Tragedy at Honda with the information that Blodgett requested to slow and take a sounding?


9. Background Information from Research:

    LCdr. Leslie E. Bratton was the Commanding Officer of the USS Stoddert, the 13th destroyer in column formation with Destroyer Squadron Eleven on Sept. 8, 1923. The Stoddert was assigned to the 32nd Destroyer Division, commanded by Cdr. Walter G. Roper aboard his flagship the USS Kennedy.

        There exists sufficient evidence to substatiate the fact that the Stoddert requested and received two bearings from the Point Arguello Radio Compass Station on Sept. 8, 1923: 326° at 2011 and 330° at 2032. Both requests were in violation of the Squadron Commander's order not to request bearings from the station. Capt. Watson was leading the squadron aboard the Delphy in "follow the leader" fashion —also known as destroyer doctrine—and providing the navigation for all 13 ships in column formation.

    Bratton and Roper knew that the two bearings, when plotted on their respective navigational charts, showed the squadron on a dangerous heading straight for the radio compass station. As a result, Roper directed his division to move starboard—seaward, away from danger—approximately 200 yards and open the distance between the Kennedy and Chauncey to 350 yards. Neither officer reported the apparent dangerous, navigational situation to Watson.

    Days after the stranding of seven destroyers at Point Honda, Bratton was appointed the Judge Advocate General (JAG) for the upcoming naval Court of Inquiry—convened to investigate the circumstances surrounding the accident at Point Honda. Bratton also served as the JAG for the eleven General Courts-martial that followed.

    In San Diego, the findings from eleven General Courts-martial were two guilty, and nine not guilty. Bratton lost nine cases. After the trials, Bratton was promoted to Commander and transferred to the JAG Office in Washington, DC, to serve as the Assistant JAG of the Navy and to review all eleven records of trial for the Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby. As a result of Bratton's recommendations, all nine findings and acquittals were disapproved with an endorsement signed by the Secretary of the Navy. This reversal prevented the eleven officers from submitting claims for reimbursement of personal property lost at Point Honda. No retrials were ordered.

Question 19:

Did Roper direct Bratton to request bearings from the radio compass station, or did Bratton act on his own initiative?

Question 20:

Did Blodgett call Bratton on the squadron wave and ask him to request bearings from the radio compass station, since the Delphy was having difficulty with communications?

Question 21:

Why didn't Bratton decline the appointment as JAG, since he knew that he possessed relevant information concerning the accident and could have been a key witness?

Question 22:

Why didn't Roper or Bratton call Watson on the squadron wave and alert him of the dangerous situation?

Question 23:

 Did Bratton request transfer to the JAG Office in Washington, DC, or was he ordered?

Question 24:

Why does the Naval Historical Center in Washington omit Rear Admiral Leslie E. Bratton's tour of duty as CO of the Stoddert, and his assignment as JAG during all naval legal proceedings in the Point Honda accident, from his biography.

 

Do you think you have an answer to a question? If so, send an email and we'll check it out.

 


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