I had just gotten off watch at midnight and after mid-rats I retired to a sponson for some fresh air and quiet conversation with my shipmates, with no idea we were about to witness the first strike! We were hanging out joking around when the small boys launched their Tomahawks. There is no way to adequately describe how awe inspiring it was to see what seemed like a hundred missiles simultaneously launch at 0200!
Our first day on station was uneventful as our birds were flying CAP (Carrier Air Protection) and not delivering arsenal. But that, of course, changed as the days drew on. My job during this was Throttleman on Number One Shaft (Starboard Outboard Shaft). When we were launching our attack aircraft, we began the 'Dance of the Throttles'.
To launch our aircraft we needed at least 40 knots of wind across the deck, however, if you've ever been at sea - particularly in the Red Sea - you'll understand that you just don't get 40 knots of wind from Mother Nature. So we had to make the wind by driving the ship fast and hard! To get an 80,000 ton aircraft carrier going fast enough to make that much wind takes quite a bit of steam. Even running with six boilers up, it was a big drain on the system to drive the ship that fast.
Here's where the 'Dance of the Throttles" kicks up. To launch an A-6, FA-18, or F-14 fully loaded with weapons, you need a lot of steam. Coincidentally, that is the same steam we are using to make the wind! So, as we wing open the throttles to speed up the ship, the 'Cat Snipes' warn us of an impending cat launch by screaming "Cat Drag A-6/FA-18/F-14 Cat One" (Cat One was my catapult) over the sound powered circuit. When we hear 'Cat Drag" we rapidly close the throttles to 'give back steam' so the catapults don't drag the boilers off line. By knowing which bird was on deck, we knew how much steam to give back so we could successfully launch our birds while maintaining the right speed. While I was dancing with the Number One Shaft, I had three partners in crime doing the same on their respective shafts. We did this on rotation - eight hours on / eight hours off. Ah, the 'Dance of the Throttles', how I miss it so! We did this for a few weeks until orders came reassigning America to the Persian Gulf to be part of a FOUR CARRIER BATTLE GROUP. Not since World War II had the US Navy fielded a four carrier battle group!
We were in the Red Sea headed south to Gasoline Alley for fuel, bombs and food, enroute to the Gulf. We had a couple of squadrons of A-6's & FA-18's returning from a 'mail run' to downtown Iraq as well as a couple of F-14's flying CAP. To recover the attack aircraft, we needed to maintain a steady speed. The flyboys like it better when the flight deck doesn't wander around aimlessly (typical spoiled brats J ). So here we are maintaining 25 knots on a steady course- a routine watch in the engineering world. Since we are maintaining a steady course and speed, the throttleman (not me this time) wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to the gage boards and out of nowhere, the watch team hears the dreaded loss of lube oil pressure alarm. This alarm was quite distinctive as it strongly resembled an older police siren - a noise we all just love to hear!
When we get a loss of lube oil pressure on a Main Reduction Gear, the unaffected shafts immediately make turns for Emergency Standard (15 knots) and the affected shaft is immediately stopped by applying Astern Steam (basically stopping the shaft by trying to spin it in the opposite direction until it is stopped). When you stop the shaft, the propeller turns into a brake - a solid bronze brake, 22 feet in diameter. We have now stopped the Starboard Outboard Shaft, a maneuver that forces the ship to react faster than a rudder order!
Now imagine you are a pilot on approach to an airstrip in the middle of the Red Sea, an airstrip that is plodding along at 25 knots and looks like a postage stamp from your altitude, when all of a sudden, that airstrip slows down drastically and veers off to the right! Oh by the way, it's about 0300 and the CO isn't fond of late night wake ups, and here we are trying to make it to the Gulf on a tight schedule and our maximum speed available is now 20 knots with the Number One Shaft locked and dragging like an anchor. Let's just say a lot of people were eager for us to fix the problem!
Since nobody was watching the gage boards closely, we had no clue as to what exactly had happened. Eventually, after about 12 -14 hours of fruitless troubleshooting - falling more and more behind schedule - we found the problem. We had sheared the drive shaft for the main lube oil pump. This pump was driven by the Main Reduction Gear and a necessity for operations at high speed since it provided a high capacity (flow) of lube oil. This is a part that is not supposed to fail and therefore is not easy to find and until we can fix the problem, we can't kick up the speed and make it to the Gulf on time. Charlie Oscar is not a happy camper! In an effort to keep the CO out of hot water, we devised a plan allowing us to fix the problem yet still make our deadline.
I dug into the tech manuals and determined just how much lube oil flow was needed for us to turn the reduction gears fast enough to make 35 knots (just over 800 GPM in case you are interested). Now how do we get that much flow with the main oil pump toast? We worked around the problem by using the Emergency Electric Lube Oil Pump (400 GPM) in conjunction with the Stand-by Steam Powered Lube Oil Pump (450 GPM on 120% overload). The only problem with this configuration was the fact that the longer the electric pump ran, the more it leaked as it was not designed for continuous use over 2 hours. Since the steam pump was running at 120% overload, it was overheating - not a good thing when working with flammable fluids near a pump that is beginning to leak. However, it all worked out and we only needed to keep the Number One Shaft locked long enough to disassemble and blank off the attached main pump. Now we could bring the engines back up and turn on the speed. We were able to maintain around 35 knots and still made it to the Gulf in time to launch and not embarrass the CO and Admiral. Plus we got lucky on the repair parts. As it turned out, General Electric - manufacturer of the reduction gear - didn't have a shaft to replace the one that we broke but were in the process of making a new one, a two week turn-around for delivery. Meanwhile, one of my shipmates found out that in theory the part we needed may actually be onboard the ship in one of the store rooms (only about a billion store rooms on a carrier - easy to find!)
Eventually, we finally located the spare parts and were able to restore the pump with little down time and no missed launches.
After that, the rest of the Persian Excursion was pretty uneventful. When we weren't bombing the bad guys, our EOD teams were disarming mines and our helicopters were harassing oil platforms. We even had an S-3 (sub hunter) register a kill on an Iraqi small boat by dropping an external fuel cell and making the small boat go BOOM! Ah good times, good times.
America served her country proud and without major loss from both the Red Sea and Persian Gulf. In addition, she was part of a three and a four carrier battle group -the only carrier to do so. She was a proud ship with a proud crew.
Clinton J. Deemer
USS Nitze DDG 94
For more photos of Desert Storm from Chief Deemer, click here.
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