Tin can sailors

Looking back at serving on both the USS Wisconsin (BB-64) and the USS Missouri (BB-63) provides a unique perspective. These two behemoths were among the ships assigned to summer training cruises for NROTC midshipmen in the summers of 1951 and 1953 respectively. Sailing out of Norfolk, the 1951 Wisconsin cruise visited Halifax, Guantanamo Bay, Colon, and New York City, – where she managed to drag her mooring buoy ashore in New Jersey. She was simply too much for the buoy’s concrete anchor and the heavy downstream current with approaching low tide.

The 1953 cruise on the Missouri crossed the equator, the occasion for a magnificent initiation ceremony into Neptunis Rex’ Ancient Order of the Deep. While steaming toward Rio’s anchorage, we encountered some ground swells that produced a series of rolls in excess of 45 degrees. This provides something of a thrill when seated on the back of a dinosaur.

The ride we experienced on the battleships was insignificant when compared with that of the Tin Can Sailors. Exactly where or when the term Tin Can Sailor originated is unknown. What may be inferred is that the very fast, mobile, and much smaller ships known as destroyers (DD) and destroyer escorts (DE) when afloat in a large ocean, resemble tin cans afloat almost anywhere, but in a stormy sea the ride is awesome. They bob and weave and pitch and yaw and splash and wallow in the water as if they were really cans.

On our return trip from Brazil to Norfolk, the tin cans would often come alongside for refueling or re-provisioning, or both. The exercise included firing lines from one ship to another, then hauling successively larger lines across the open water until the means for transporting goods or fuel was sufficient. This meant cargo nets for supplies, or a four inch hose for fuel. With two ships underway in heavy seas, this operation is performed with great caution.

On one occasion, the destroyer escort USS Tabberer (DE-418) came alongside for refueling. The seas were substantial, and to establish a steady platform for transfer, both ships headed directly into the approaching waves. Because transferring thousands of gallons of fuel requires a period of time, there was ample opportunity to observe the Tabberer as she labored into the heavy seas. The following pictures show the Tabberer with her Bow Up and Bow Down, while transferring fuel. One should take special note of the troops mustered along the starboard side of the forward 5″ gun turret. The ride into and out of the waves from this vantage point can provide an exhilarating and enhanced view, – for a moment. Then comes the fall!

Bow high and dry

Bow high and dry

Note the fuel line attached. Note as well the sailors, probably midshipmen, mustered on the main deck as they rise precipitously to observe the operation. Finally note the keel portion of the bow 3-5 feet above the trough of the wave. Ride ’em cowboy, but hold on with both hands.

Bow down

Bow down

Whatever goes up comes down. Except for the first picture, few would guess this picture is the Tabberer still taking on fuel, while the five inch turret and a division of sailors are unexpectedly taking on salt water like drowned rats, totally out of sight. The bow splash is level with the overhead in the conning tower, the Tabberer’s first structure directly astern.

It is with a little envy that the battleships were incapable of providing the same level of thrilling ride as that offered all the Tin Can Sailors. “Toto! I don’t think we are in Kansas any more.”

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