WEAPON ALPHA AWAY
By Tom Loucks, Radar Seaman, USN (ret)
U.S.S. John S. McCain (DL-3)
Seaman Loucks served on McCain from June 1963 to May
1966 and currently resides in Grangeville, Idaho
You mention the ASROC or Anti Submarine ROCket. The USS John S.
McCain had the early version of ASROC, called WEAPON ALPHA. It was essentially a
rocket-propelled depth charge that used the 12.75" Mark 1 and Mark 2 underwater
rockets. The "Alpha" was a surface-to-underwater rocket fired from a launcher
that resembled a 5" gun turret. The Alpha replaced the number two 3"/50 mount. Mostly it didn't work. When it was ordered to
fire, it didn't. But there was that one day....
The McCain was in the yards of Pearl Harbor for work on the
engineering system to try to get us underway after some Congressional Junket to
Hawaii. After all, the McCain was about as beautiful as a
ship could be built with her hurricane bow and rounded corners. And
it was impressive to see the lady accelerate to high speed; forty knots
one time. IF the engineering system would work, we were a pretty good
fighting ship. We were nicknamed Building 3 in Pearl
Harbor. Beautiful, but mostly tied to the pier.
Well, the ship was being worked on. And some yard bird
was trying to get the WEAPON ALPHA to work. He had the firing key turned on and
he was doing some testing. AWAY ONE ALPHA! Then
the system jammed or 24 more would have followed!
The system was
aimed straight ahead which sent the rocket toward the USS Arizona (BB-39).
We might have had the distinction of re-sinking a battle wagon and one of the
most poignant war memorials of World War II! But the
warhead just sort of plunked down in the middle of the shipping lane.
Shortly thereafter a States Liner loaded with ammo for Viet Nam
went right over the top of it. The small war head didn't explode
and Pearl Harbor wasn't excavated deeper at that point. The warhead
wouldn't be recovered for several days.
The ALPHA splash was seen by someone in the harbor tower.
He must have plotted it wrong. Because the warhead was found where the
McCain crew reported it, not where the tower reported it.
I was in the O1 berthing compartment and heard the noise.
I thought someone had fallen down the port ladder.
Didn't see anyone. So I kept investigating. Smelled the burned
residue. I drifted toward the quarterdeck to check out what had happened.
There was a bit of chaos on the quarterdeck.
DESRON 25 was temporarily aboard another tin can since we couldn't get underway.
The discussion was whether or not to inform DESFLOT 5, the next senior command
in port. A car came screeching to a halt at the gang way and FLOT 5
charged aboard. It seems that COMSUBPAC was crossing the harbor to Ford Island
when he saw the explosion. He called FLOT 5 from a phone on Ford Island.
Part of the conversations is reported to have been, "Capt.
Henry, I surrender. One of you tin cans just fired at me and I haven't
anything in port to fight back with!" The only one close to getting
hurt was some guy with a small outboard who was passing from Ford Island to the
other side of the harbor. The splash was within a couple of hundred feet
of him. He pulled a quick 180 and beached the boat on the seaplane strip
at Ford Island. When the boat beached, he started running.
The McCain got the usually amount of crap
about how we had embarrassed the Navy, the harbor, the United States, and all of
our mothers. We were ordered to an immediate, emergency underway.
In short, we got our ass kicked out of the harbor. But the engines
wouldn't work yet. So, around 11:45 pm, when we did have steam, the McCain
left -- against federal law -- for a night transit of the harbor. And
we were told that we were not to return!
Once outside of the harbor, the engines held steam and we could join the
Congressional Junket so show what lovely things the McCain could do. We
did well. When our time came to make a dash past the carrier while firing
our WEAPON ALPHA, the system worked again to fire just one. I was JA (captain's
command circuit sound powered phones) talker on the bridge. We all ducked
for cover when the system fired. That is the last time the
We had to remain out of the harbor for some time.
Eventually the harbor master relented and Building 3 was allowed to return.
Not to our usual spot at Mary's Point by the Navy Exchange, but to some
moorage the Japanese hadn't found in '41. After a couple of more
weeks, the McCain was allowed to return to DD row and our proud #3 was restored
to our accustomed place of dignity next to the rusty tin cans.
The WEAPON ALPHA was removed in the second FRAM of the McCain when
she was converted into a guided missile destroyer with ASROC installed in its
place and Re-designated DDG-36.
That is where the guided missiles were installed as well.