USS Hartley Collision (1965)  1 of 2

Last update 7 June 2010


                                       The Collision
                                      Marc Arsenault ET2
                                     (USS Hartley 1960-61)

   On 16 June, 1965, the USS Hartley DE 1029 in route to the anchorage at Lynn Haven Roads and the Norwegian Freighter Blue Master in route to New Orleans, collided at the Chesapeake Bay entrance resulting in extensive hull damage to the Hartley and bow damage to the Blue Master. The official findings of the facts leading up to and following the collision of the USS Hartley and the Blue Master along with personal interviews were compiled nd summarized in the interest of simplicity for this Newport Dealeys reunion 2006 presentation.
The following shipmates contributed photos, personal copies of official files and their verbal recollections of the event.

Reo Beaulieu LCDR Captain of the USS Hartley
John Bonds LT Officer of the Deck
William Litzler LTJG 
Bob Funkhouser QM3
John Fry RD2
John Aluza BT1
Wilbert McCartney MM2
Richard Legg RM1

The circumstances leading up to the collision USS Hartley At approximately 0800 on the morning of 14 June 1965, the USS Hartley departed Newport RI en-route to Lynn Haven Roads anchorage via Virginia Capes operating Areas and was scheduled for arrival on 16 June 0600. In addition to her regularly assigned crew, Hartley embarked a group of Naval Reservists on 13 June for a two week period of active duty for training. Absent on sailing were the Operation Officer (CIC Officer) one RD2 and one RDSN, who were on temporary Additional duty on board the USS Long Beach as observers for training exercises. Preparatory to entering the Chesapeake Bay, The Hartley had reveille at 0345 and had scheduled the Special Sea and Anchor Detail for 0400, to relieve the mid watch. Pursuant to direction in his Night Orders the Commanding Officer LCDR Reo Beaulieu was called at 0345 and was on the bridge at 0348. Upon his arrival the Captain was briefed by the OOD (LT John Bonds) concerning the navigation situation and the presence of surface contacts.

1. A ship approximately two miles ahead, slightly on the starboard side, showing a green running light.
2. A pilot vessel slightly to the right of the contact.
3. Farther to the right , another pilot vessel
4. Another ship farther to the right of the second pilot vessel, showing a green running light approximately four miles.

Blue Master

The Norwegian Motor Vessel Blue Master departed Baltimore, Maryland, en-route to New Orleans Louisiana at 1750 on 15 June 1965. During the transit of the Chesapeake Bay at a maintained speed of 16 knots, the Blue Master experienced weather which was blustery, with rain squalls and increasing northwest winds. Visibility averaged five to ten miles. In the vicinity of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, The Blue Master slowed to 10 then 5 Knots to avoid overtaking the ship Hollandia which was also proceeding southward, in order to provide sea room in the vicinity of the pilot vessel for discharge of pilot. The Blue Master change course left and stopped in order to round up and heave-to to create a lee on the starboard quarter and to facilitate transfer of the pilot to the pilot vessel by small boat. Visibility was 6 miles. Wind was from the Northeast at 40-45 knots, seas rough and confused. The Master of the Blue Master was briefed by the Pilot prior to his departure as to the following contacts:

1. The ship Hollandia, proceeding to sea in an easterly direction.
2. An Alcoa ship holding station between the CH Buoy and the Thimble Shoals Channel.
3. The Maryland Pilot boat Baltimore and Virginia pilot boat Relief were cruising east and south oh the CH Buoy. 4. A fisherman (small wooden trawler) was crossing the Blue Master’s bow inbound.
5. A faint light bearing southeast, distance unknown and was not shown as a contact on the Blue Masters radar.. At 0350 the Pilot relinquished the conn of the Blue Master to the Captain so he could proceed out to sea.


MV Blue Master (Norway)


USS Hartley DE 1029



Intended Courses

The following is a summary of the collision on 16 June 1965, off Little Creek
Virginia between the USS Hartley and the Norwegian freighter Blue Master as
perceived and communicated by John Bonds to Marc Arsenault on 19 February 2006
LT Bonds was the Officer of the Deck at the time of impact.

Time approximately 4 AM

1. Hartley was heading towards Norfolk and due to its location was still
operating under International rules. (no horn signals)

2. Blue Master was heading out to sea and due to its location was operating
under inland rules.

3. No vessel to vessel communications (before VHF radio)

4. Weather was windy (18-25 mph NE winds) with fog.

5. Area was cluttered with many small vessels in the area.

6. There were many confusing targets on the radar. Captain and navigator
were on the bridge, the JOOD had the conn, I was watching the radar,
trying to make sense of the picture. CIC was changing to the sea detail.

7. First visual identification of the contact which was Blue Master was at
045 relative, about 3500 yards, showing target angle of 060 (range and
masthead lights plus starboard running light), and stationary. Later
reconstruction revealed that he had come out of the North Channel
bridge/tunnel opening and was making a lee to debark his bay pilot in
the area between the north and south channels.

8. Shortly afterward, we noticed a red (port) running light on the
Blue Master still on our starboard side, and the contact at 2000 yards.
I advised the CO that the contact had turned to his starboard and was closing.
CO Hartley ordered speed increased to 15kts to cross ahead of the contact,
but continued our course into the south channel bridge opening.

9. Blue Master, now accelerating to sea speed, apparently saw Hartley at the
same time and instinctively turned to starboard.

10. The two vessels converged rapidly. The range decreased to 1200yds, then
to 800yds, then to 400yds, almost as fast as I could move the cursor and
report the range. Hartley turned to port to parallel the approaching ship,
but at about 400yds, with both ships now heading South (Cape Henry light
was dead ahead), Blue Master turned to port—probably realizing that she was
standing into shallow water on her course. The bow turned into Hartley.
CO Hartley order all ahead flank in an attempt to move the ship out of the
way of the approaching merchantman, and at the last moment when it was
obvious we weren’t going to get across the bow, he ordered right hard
rudder to try and swing the stern clear.

11. Blue Master’s bow impacted Hartley at the after bulkhead of the engine
room, and directly into Sick Bay which was obliterated. The hard rudder
swing probably kept the ship from being cut in half by the impact, as
Blue Master was still accelerating to 16kts, and the bow cut to within
30” of the main keel structure of the DE. The angle of the slice into
the hull of the DE was perhaps 30deg from a perpendicular attack.
The avoidance maneuver almost worked, but the ship was severely hit, was
bowled over to port sharply (people on the O1 deck were wet to the waist
afterward either from rolling down to the water, or the water being pushed
up to the deck by the side motion imparted to Hartley by the much larger
ship. The bow towered over the bridge level, of course. After a minute
or two the sideways movement stopped and the ships lay together in the
6-8ft seas, grinding away. Blue Master hailed over, “Do you require
assistance?” Hartley responded, “Yes, please inform the Coast Guard of
our situation.” At that point, Blue Master backed out and proceeded
to sea.

12. In Hartley, the ship had gone to GQ when the collision alarm had been
sounded at 400yds. The DC parties were already out, assessing the damage.
On the bridge, the CO and navigator plotted their position and the drift
of the ship and readied an anchor. When the ship drifted out of the
channel and into shallower water, the anchor was dropped and the ship
secured to it.

13. Meanwhile, the flooding boundaries had been established, and shoring
of the adjacent bulkheads was underway by the courageous DC teams who
worked steadily while watching the bulkhead “pant” with the seas striking it.
The boundaries were shored on both sides, and they held. We kept fires
in one boiler for a while, to provide fire main pressure with the steam
pumps in the fire room, but then began to run out of feed water without
a condenser, and fires were allowed to die out. The emergency generator—the
gas turbine unit under the helo deck aft—was operational, but the power
cables coming forward from it had been sliced by the Blue Master’s bow.
So the lights were out, and stayed out except for battle lanterns.
Black oil oozed out of the wound all night, fouling the beaches at Cape Henry.

14. Next day dawned gray, cold and nasty. But Navy tugs appeared at first light
and attempted to pass a tow line. The messengers were not strong enough to
withstand the surge of the sea between the tug and the ship, and broke
repeatedly when the tow line was put into the water to be pulled (manually)
to the ship. The seas were breaking around the ship and the tug could not
get close enough, so a brave helo driver delivered a stronger messenger line,
dragging it across the foc’sle of the DE, where the entire crew was mustered
to pull in the tow line. It was finally made fast, the anchor chain slipped,
and the tow to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard began.

Five months of repairs commenced immediately, together with a formal Navy
investigation of the incident. Both ships were found to be at fault in the
incident, and shared the damages/loss of services of the ship bill equally,
as I recall.

LT John B. Bonds


USS Hartley 
Anchored off Virginia Beach

Finding of Facts Events transpiring subsequent to the collision

1. Upon with drawing from the Hartley’s side, Blue Master inflicted additional damage to the Hartley superstructure as ships rolled together.
2. Hartley lost all propulsion and electrical power as a consequence of the flooding of the only engine space and severing of the wire way supplying power forward.
3. Preliminary shoring was installed by the repair parties on their own initiative in areas surrounding the damage.
4. Until about 0454Q, The Commanding Officer permitted the Hartley to drift in a southerly direction in order to clear the Chesapeake Bay Entrance traffic lanes and to place the Hartley closer to the shore in the event that it became necessary to abandon ship, finally dropping anchor at Latitude 36-53N, Longitude 75-58W
5. Commencing about 0620Q units of the Coast Guard arrive on the scene and proceeded to take Hartley under tow, succeeding finally at 1438Q when the Hartley slipped anchor and the Kiowa, with the Senec on her starboard quarter, got under way in tow. They proceed up the Thimble Channel to the Destroyer- Submarine Pier 2 arriving at 2340Q
6. On June 18 1965, the Hartley was towed from the D&S piers to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for repairs having first off loaded ammunition.
7. As a result of the collision, the USS Hartley sustained hull and equipment damage estimated in a preliminary survey by the U.S. Salvage Association at $700,000 (1965 $). This estimate did not include the expense of towing the Hartley into port, nor the cost of subsequent salvage of Hartley’s anchor.

Finding of Facts

1. The collision occurred in International Waters.
2. The Hartley at all times was in International Waters
3. The Hollandia was the contact which Hartley passed port to port
between 0350Qand 0355Q. It is probable that the Hollandia merged
with Hartley as a radar target, thus precluding early visual or radar
detection by the Blue Master as a separate contact.
4. The Blue Master approached the point of impact from Inland Waters.
5. The actions of Blue Master in coming to her departure course changed
the presentation of her side light to Hartley from green to red, and had
the effect of an illegal action to change an unequivocal “clear to
starboard” situation into a crossing situation which burdened Hartley
shortly before development of “in extremis”
6. The Hartley was proceeding upon her legitimate course to enter Thimble
Shoals Channel.
7. The development of this collision situation was brought about by the
Blue Masters’s second change of course to the right when the range had
closed to about 1200 yards. This course change by the Blue Master to
the right was illegal.
8. In response to Blue Masters second change of course to the right,
Hartley’s change of course to the left and effort to increase speed to
20 knots were prudent actions and justified by the developed “in extremis
situation. This action, in an unchanging situation, should have enabled
Hartley to parallel Blue Master’s course and run out ahead.
9. The subsequent change of course to the left by Blue Master nullified
Hartley’s evasive action.
10. After sighting Blue Master’s red side light on her own starboard bow,
Hartley’s decision to increase speed to cross ahead of Blue Master was
an error in judgment by the C.O. of the Hartley, and an illegal movement,
despite a reasonable prior expectation held by Hartley that the Blue Master
intended to pass astern of the Hartley and proceed southeasterly to
seaward as indicated by her movements up to that time.
11. A series of short whistle blast sounded by the Blue master construed to
be the danger signal, were heard by the Hartley personnel immediately
prior to the collision.
12. Hartley’s whistle was operative. Yet, Hartley erred in not sounding
any whistle signals, incident to her maneuvers.
13. The action of the Hartley’s Commanding Officer in ordering hard
right rudder militated against more extensive damage to both ships,
probably save Hartley from being severed, and was material factor in
the fact that there was no loss of life, nor occurrence of serious injury.
14. The actions of the damage control parties were proper and effective in
controlling and in minimizing the damage resulting from the collision.
15. The overall conduct of Hartley’s crew subsequent to the collision was
exemplary and in the best traditions of the Naval service.

Finding of Facts

In summary it must be considered that both ships contributed to the
collision through errors in judgment and must be held to share the
culpability: Blue Master’s violation of the Rules of Good Seamanship
as well as the General Prudent Rule in addition to other violations
of the Rules of the Road, make the Blue Master’s culpability
the greater.

A first hand account of the
collision of the USS Hartley DE 1029 and
Norwegian Freighter Blue Master
as told by

HTCM T. D. Lathrop, USN/Ret.


June 1965, Newport, RI, as I walked up the gang way to the quarter deck of the USS Hartley, sea bag on the shoulder, orders in hand, I was greeted by a First Class Ship Fitter, who said "Boy am I glad you're here" handed me a ring of keys, he then saluted the Ensign and called back to me "good luck on this one" and he disappeared down the pier.

After I checked in, I was informed we were getting underway by the weekend to go down to Norfolk area and then head back up for a North Atlantic cruise.

It took a couple of days to get housing arranged, schools for my kids and next thing I knew we were leaving port. I'd been in the shop area one day, met the fellows that made up R division. I found a bunk and locker in the Engineering 1st class section, which was a small 8 bunk compartment off the starboard side of the Engineering berthing. The next day, I took inventory of R division spaces, met more crew and then took in depth tour of the Hartley. Taps, lights out, and sea detail at 0400 next day. I recall reveille, sea detail being announced over the 1MC, then BANG, got knocked out of my rack, lights flickering, people yelling, heard "engine room blew up", "hit a mine", everyone scrambling for the only scuttle out of compartment. When I came through the scuttle onto fantail, I looked forward, could see starboard main deck peeled up in the air, steam blowing and a huge forward section of a dark ship that appeared to have cut us in half. It was pushing us sideways, we were leaning over to the port and I remember looking up what seemed like 80 - 90 feet to their foc'sle area and seeing one small flashlight peering down on us.

The seas were rough, wind blowing, spitting rain, the side push came to a halt, then suddenly the freighter slowly backed out of the ship. The Hartley came upright then slowly started to list to the starboard side. In all the confusion, I don't recall the collision alarm or GQ alarm being announced, which conflicts to the report.

Damage control is an R Division responsibility. I looked around at unfamiliar faces, said we need a damage assessment now, the faces jumped up and took off to investigate. One of the ship fitters opened the DC locker and brought some emergency lanterns.

My new found friend was an engine man 1st class, think his name was Phillyar, a big stout guy.

As the faces came back with their reports, it was apparent the compartment aft the engine room, forward bulkhead and starboard skin would need to be shored up to prevent flooding and further damage.

Yelling out, we need shoring timbers, shoring kit, more lights. Phillyar came back, looked like a northwest logger, with shoring and helpers. We went down into the compartment, it was taking on water. We had to keep a steady stream of lights coming as each one would only last for a few minutes, then die. We got mattresses stuffed into the big rip, backed up with a bunk bottom and shored it into place. Then started on the forward bulkhead, it took two guys to hold the floating shore and one to cut by hand, then stand on them to hold in place so they wouldn't float back up. Overhead shoring was a little easier, you could see the wedges to hammer in place.

We all came back up on deck, told Phillyar we need to start pumping out the flooded space. There was a P-500 on the fantail, rigged it up to pump out, pulled on the starter rope numerous times, finally sputtered to life, then suddenly quit. A quick check revealed that it had seized up.  I told Phillyar, I saw another P-500 forward near foc'sle, bring that back here, we changed everything over to that pump, went to fire it up, we broke both starting ropes, it was seized up tight!! No pumps.

During all that commotion, there was a coast guard helicopter hovering over our helo pad. Someone yelled that the Captain wants to see me up on Helo deck, I ran up there, he said I don't know your name, but do we need any assistance? I told him we need pumps to start dewatering. The coast Guard had lowered a pad and a pencil, I wrote we needed dewatering pumps with suction lines, he retracted the clip board, gave me a thumbs up, flew off, they returned shortly with two big salvage pumps and all the gear, I thanked them with a big thumbs up.

We got everything hooked up and finally started to make headway on dewatering.

I do remember the tug trying to get a tow line aboard. The messenger line would break because of rough seas. On their last effort, you could see the tugs screw kick up sand off the bottom, it was almost time to abandon ship to get ashore, but the helo took the line from the tug and slowly inched his way across the foc'sle and the crew up there was able to hold on, then it was all hands to pull the tow howser on board. 



Follow-on Comments    

LT John Bond 
USS Hartley

I would like to stress again the calm professional courage exhibited by the Damage Control personal, who were standing in knee-deep water with a steel bulkhead flexing about 4 inches in front of them, and a 14 inch scuttle the only way out of the compartment. They all knew if that bulkhead let go before they could shore it, only one person would get out of the compartment. They worked fast, skillfully and with humor. The guy sawing the shoring timber to fit was whistling while he worked. The Navy at its best, doing his job, in the face of quite real danger.






LCDR Reo Beaulieu

     CO USS Hartley

 I would like to make one comment. In both the findings of fact and the opinions, it was noted that the bearing drift on the Bluemaster was always to the right, going from 318 to 330. This was a major factor in my decision to increase speed and pass ahead of the vessel. If Bluemaster had maintained course at that time, we would have certainly passed ahead of her. However, as hindsight would have it, I guess Bluemaster's intent was always to effect a port to port passage. Too bad I didn't realize it at the time. I believe you have done a great job in your presentation. Please let me know how it was received at the reunion and the reactions of others that were involved.


Reo Beaulieu






D&S Piers Norfolk


Richard Legg RM1
Checking out the damage 


Flight Deck looking aft


Ltjg Thasher, Comm Officer, was thrown from his bunk to deck,
stumbled out of after "O" and stared at Blue Master's markings.
Then climbed up the twisted ladder,
through the hatch to the main deck. Ended up on the bridge in his skivies.


Portsmouth Naval Shipyard






Wilbert McCartney MM2 was at his station in the engine room
when the Blue Master's bow came within 4 ft of him.
Note the day light opening above to the dry dock. (Red lines)