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USS MISSISSIPPI (BB-41) 1924 Turret Explosion

Started by siege1863 , Jul 28 2009 04:29 PM

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#1 siege1863

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 04:29 PM

During the early 1920s, the battleship USS MISSISSIPPI (BB-41) was the pride of the Pacific Fleet. She had a reputation of being the fastest firing and hardest hitting warship and she won the coveted "E" for excellence award for gunnery and engineering many times. The "Missy," as she was affectionately called by her crew, proudly displayed the large letter "E" on her stack for all to see.

It was during this period, when on special training maneuvers, that tragedy struck the ship. On June 12, 1924, the MISSISSIPPI, along with the battleships TENNESSEE and IOWA, was engaged in gunnery practice off San Clemente Island. The ships were simulating a chase, firing only their forward turrets at close range. Several salvos were fired by each ship, but then there was trouble with "Missy's" number two turret. The right gun had just fired and was returned to loading position and the plug opened. The next shell was rammed into the gun and the four powder bags on the spanner tray were rammed into place behind it. As the rammer was withdrawn, there emerged from the breech a small grayish ball of smoke and flame followed by a large flash. Flame and gases immediately filled the gun compartment, passed through the safety doors above the shell table to the other two gun compartments and through the peep doors to the turret officer's booth. Almost instantly, forty-five men and three officers were dead from asphyxiation. It was one of the worst disasters suffered by the Navy during peacetime.

An inquiry found that there had been inadequate air pressure forced through the gun to expel the incandescent gases and other flammable residue after firing. Smoldering material left in the gun had ignited the powder charge of the next shot. The flames and gases had overcome the men so quickly that recovery crews found many of the men still at their positions. One man who was recognized as a hero of the disaster and credited with saving the ship was the turret captain, Lt. (jg) Thomas E. Zellars. He had instinctively closed the doors to the ammunition hoist and flooded the magazines. When his body was discovered, his hand was still clutching the flood control. Later, the Navy would honor Zellars by naming a destroyer after him.

Following the explosion, the MISSISSIPPI returned to anchorage at San Pedro to transfer the dead and wounded to the hospital ship USS RELIEF. Because there were still unfired rounds in the other two guns of Turret No. 2, the ship was anchored just inside the breakwater. This was a wise decision on the part of the captain. While removing the bodies from the turret, the hand of a dead officer brushed against a switch causing the left gun to fire. The recoil severely crushed ten men inside and the salvo narrowly missed an outgoing passenger vessel. Fearing that the same might happen with the remaining gun, the captain moved the MISSISSIPPI outside the breakwater. The last shell and charge was removed the next day.

Funeral services were held June 17 on Trona Field at San Pedro. Forty-seven coffins were arranged on the field. Lt. Zellars' body had already been sent to Georgia for burial. Naval officers in dress uniforms stood in front as 1200 sailors in dress blues stood on the sides of the coffins. Two hundred sailors of each battleship of Battleship Division 4 were present. Another 2700 sailors observed the services. A Marine rifle squad fired three volleys.

Here is a series of six photos of the funeral...

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#2 siege1863

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 04:34 PM

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#3 siege1863

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 04:37 PM

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#4 siege1863

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 04:40 PM

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#5 flyer333555

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Posted 25 December 2009 - 11:13 PM

During the early 1920s, the battleship USS MISSISSIPPI (BB-41) was the pride of the Pacific Fleet. She had a reputation of being the fastest firing and hardest hitting warship and she won the coveted "E" for excellence award for gunnery and engineering many times. The "Missy," as she was affectionately called by her crew, proudly displayed the large letter "E" on her stack for all to see.

SNIP!



Where was the Missy Dec 7, 1941? Out of commission? Or had she been transferred to the Atlantic Fleet?

#6 Dirk

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 02:53 AM

Very interesting thread and a great read. Thanks for sharing it.

#7 teufelhunde.ret

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 03:26 AM

A tragic reminder ...the costs of peace time training can be paid by lives as well.

#8 siege1863

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 07:28 AM

Where was the Missy Dec 7, 1941? Out of commission? Or had she been transferred to the Atlantic Fleet?


Here is one of my postings from another collecting forum. It will answer your question...

After completion of basic naval training in the Spring of 1941, Bernard D. Fidler, of Burlington, Iowa, was given duty aboard the battleship U.S.S. MISSISSIPPI. Almost immediately upon his assignment to the ship, he found himself in the midst of the war, although the U.S. was "officially" neutral at the time. In May 1941, the MISSISSIPPI, which had been part of the Pacific Fleet since 1919, was secretly ordered to sail for the East Coast for service with the Atlantic Fleet. She arrived at Norfolk, Virginia, in June but soon shifted her base to Newport, Rhode Island. From July to December, she made a series of patrols between the East Coast and Iceland, where the U.S. had recently established a base at Hvalfjordur. The MISSISSIPPI was part of the covering force for convoys and lines of communications in the North Atlantic. During this time she also conducted search operations for German "raiders" thought to be in the vicinity.

Seaman First Class Fidler was just seventeen years old when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. fully into the war. Fortunately for him and his crew, his ship was anchored at Hvalfordur on the fateful morning of December 7, 1941. The MISSISSIPPI and her sister ships of Battleship Division Three represented most of the remaining battleship strength in the U.S. Navy. Two days after the attack, accompanied by the battleship IDAHO and a number of destroyers, the Mississippi departed Iceland for Norfolk. Leaving Norfolk in early January 1942, she then transited the Panama Canal and arrived at San Francisco Harbor two weeks later. The MISSISSIPPI was once again with the Pacific Fleet.

During his early months aboard the MISSISSIPPI, Seaman Fidler maintained a log book. Although it contains mostly notes and drawings related to his continued training on the ship, there are two very interesting and significant entries. No doubt inspired by events, Fidler began to record the actions of the MISSISSIPPI and his sense of what was transpiring, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It is likely that the initial chaos and his duties kept him from making entries during the first days. However, what he writes on December 10 and 11, 1941, tells the story well. Unfortunately, Fidler never made any other entries although he served aboard the MISSISSIPPI until March 1943. Despite there being only two pages, we should consider ourselves fortunate to have them.

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"Dec. 10. 1941- Enroute Hvalfordur, Iceland to Portsmouth, Va.

At last we are steaming homeward in company with the U.S.S. Idaho and four destroyers.

I imagine that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had a bit to do with us leaving Hvalfordur, but we sure got out of there in a hurry after the Japs started firing. The fleet in Pearl Harbor must have been asleep and I do not mean dozing.

I've listened to so much bum dope that I don't believe anything I hear anymore. The Oklahoma capsizing is straight dope.

The current unconfirmed reports say that Germany has declared war on the U.S., which doesn't make much difference. They have been throwing torpedoes at us for the past four months.

H.M.S. Prince of Wales and H.M.S. Repulse have gone down. Japanese observation planes have been seen over San Francisco. What's our Navy doing anyway? The Senator from Michigan has asked for a Court Martial of leading admirals and in the 14th Naval District.

The ‘dope' is out that we are going to the West Coast after our stay at Portsmouth. Maybe I will get to see Hotel Street after all. Anyway, what's left of it. We'll see.

If Germany has declared war on the U.S., they should be bombing Iceland soon."

Edited by siege1863, 26 December 2009 - 07:35 AM.


#9 siege1863

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 07:34 AM

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"Dec. 11. .0710 [7:10 am]

We just outran several units of the German fleet (submarines). Destroyers report there are six subs in back of us.

The U.S.A. is now at war with Germany, Japan, and Italy. It doesn't make any difference to the crew, their attitude being the same as six months ago, except that boys talk more about the Japs than the Germans.

The British lost the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. I'll bet the Prince took something down with her. She was bombed from the air.

Flash! The Americans have bombed Tokio and our bombers have reported sending a Japanese battleship to the bottom.
Right now I worry only about the U.S.S. Mississippi.

I heard they are going to put up a telephone line from Portsmouth, Virginia, to Hvalfordur, Iceland, using the periscopes for poles. They are thick, alright. I still think we will make it without any casualties."

Edited by siege1863, 26 December 2009 - 07:37 AM.


#10 JosephC

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 09:34 AM

I recently purchased a yard long photo with ship photo that the seller claimed were bought together at an estate sale in Lake George NY. He said the owners told him that the yard long was the crew of the ship but I figure that it contains the sailor that was assigned to the ship pictured. No names were provided so can not verify but I researched the ship photo and am pretty confident that it is the USS Mississippi. See attached.

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#11 JosephC

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 09:39 AM

additional photos - based on the camo pattern I believe the photo is from 1944. The yard long is dated 1942.

I collect yard longs - mostly army or armored WWII but do have some Navy. If anyone knows how to trace yard long personnel to the the active units assigned please let me know thanks.

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#12 Salvage Sailor

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Posted 26 December 2009 - 11:16 AM

My Father served on the USS MISSISSIPPI prior to his being sent to East Africa (NCU-3 Radio Marina in Asmara). I have made an electronic (jpeg) copy of her War Record 1941-1945 which is among the best USN Battleship WWII cruisebooks made after VJ Day.

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#13 101CH47

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Posted 29 December 2009 - 08:36 PM

BB-41 suffered another turret explosion killing 43 men 20 November 1943 off Makin Island.

#14 dbrown

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 02:29 PM

Thanks for posting. I heard family stories about my uncle being killed in a turret explosion on the USS Mississippi but I had no details about the events leading to and following the explosion. Very informative. By the way, my uncle's name was Francis Zacharias.

#15 siege1863

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 04:33 PM

Thanks for posting. I heard family stories about my uncle being killed in a turret explosion on the USS Mississippi but I had no details about the events leading to and following the explosion. Very informative. By the way, my uncle's name was Francis Zacharias.


You might like to see my original copy of the Memorial Address. Your uncle is the last named MISSISSIPPI sailor. Note, however, he is identified as Frederick.

1924_MemorialX.jpg

#16 siege1863

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Posted 08 May 2010 - 04:52 PM

Here is a portion of a realphoto postcard showing the removal of the dead once the ship returned to port. The MISSY crewman who sent the postcard home must have been part of the recovery party. On the back, he marked the place where each body was found! Only the turret officers can be identified. All others are marked with an "X."

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#17 dbrown

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Posted 11 May 2010 - 05:24 PM

You might like to see my original copy of the Memorial Address. Your uncle is the last named MISSISSIPPI sailor. Note, however, he is identified as Frederick.

1924_MemorialX.jpg



Francis Zacharias was only 16 when he enlisted and used his older brother's birth certificate without his parent's knowledge. He is buried in St Mary's cemetery in Pittsburgh PA. The tombstone inscription reads "Francis J. Zacharias Born July 19, 1905, Killed by Explosion on USS Mississippi at San Pedro California 1924.

Thanks again for the information.

#18 navyman

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Posted 21 May 2010 - 01:13 PM

Hi,
I got this little group of items that belong to someone who served on the USS MISSISSIPPI and thought this would be a good place to show them.

This guy served on the USS MISSISSIPPI and USS NEVADA from 1917-1919. There's some paper with this group and his hat. There is also a picture of what I think is the USS MISSISSIPPI.

Jason

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#19 navyman

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Posted 21 May 2010 - 01:15 PM

Last document

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Jason

#20 67Rally

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Posted 23 May 2010 - 09:13 PM

Although I don't have any documentation to support this...my uncle was a musician serving aboard the Tennessee (a plankowner) and this story was mentioned by my grandfather - that several band members from the various battleships were called to provide ceremonial music for the service in San Pedro. My uncle died in 1937 from TB (he contracted while on active duty) so the story was told to me by his brother (my grandfather).

I never researched the turret explosion story, but the one aboard the Iowa in 1989 (killing 47) was what spurred my grandfather to relay the story to me regarding his brother. I was on active duty at that time.


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