Veteran Was Part of One of the Navy's Worst Peacetime Disasters

Expended cartridge cases and powder tanks from the USS Hobson's 5/38 guns litter the deck, after firing in support of the Normandy invasion off Utah Beach, 6 June 1944. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph/ Rear Admiral Kenneth Loveland)
Expended cartridge cases and powder tanks from the USS Hobson's 5/38 guns litter the deck, after firing in support of the Normandy invasion off Utah Beach, 6 June 1944. (U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph/ Rear Admiral Kenneth Loveland)

ST. MARYS -- Bill Creed experienced much during his 26 years in the Navy, but one day in particular is seared in his memory.

Creed, of St. Marys, was a young petty officer 1st class who served as an aviation metalsmith aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp on April 26, 1952 when one of the worst peacetime disasters in Navy history happened.

He was in his bunk room, taking off his shoes after his work shift ended after 8 p.m., when he heard an unusual noise.

"I heard this bump," he said. "My first thought was it was a plane that didn't make it. Then all the bells and whistles went off. They announced to the whole ship, 'collision, collision, collision.'"

He ran to the deck and learned his ship had just broadsided a destroyer, USS Hobson, splitting it in two. Within five minutes the boat sank, Creed said.

Sailors from the Hobson didn't have time to grab their life jackets.

"We could hear them out there," Creed said. "All of them from the Hobson were treading water."

Creed said his crew was ordered to throw anything in the water that could float to help the survivors.

The seas were choppy in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1,200 miles east of Boston, the night of the accident. Creed's job was to help survivors, where the big concern was hypothermia.

There were other issues the carrier also had to deal with, such as a 75-foot gash in its bow plates from the collision and the fact that aircraft assigned to the carrier were still in the air and they were running low on fuel.

The carrier abandoned its search and rescue effort to move into position to allow its aircraft to land. Other ships that accompanied the Wasp, on what was its first deployment since it was recommissioned in 1951, continued rescue operations.

The initial maneuver to turn the carrier into the wind to recover aircraft apparently confused Hobson navigators trailing the Wasp. The destroyers' role was to recover any crew if planes were ditched during landing attempts. The destroyer crossed in front of the carrier, costing the lives of 176 men. Another 61 crew members, some who treaded water for hours, were rescued.

"They were all grateful to be alive," he said.

Creed said it took three weeks for his ship to limp back to a New Jersey shipyard for repairs, a voyage that would normally take three or four days. Commanding officers kept the crew working non-stop as a way to keep them from thinking too much about the collision.

"We always had something to do to keep us busy," he said.

Shipyard workers in New Jersey cut part of the hull off a sister aircraft carrier in mothballs, USS Hornet, and welded it on his ship.

"Within 30 days, we were underway to Norfolk to pick up airplanes again, while civilian and Navy welders were still working on the ship," he said.

Creed would eventually become an officer, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. He had many memorable experiences, such as being part of the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the collision 64 years ago remains the most vivid memory of his career.

"It's a night I will always remember," he said. "I learned you don't have to be in a war zone for stuff to happen."

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