A Brief History
On June 3, 1969, off the coast of South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, an Australian aircraft carrier, the HMAS Melbourne, hit the port side of the US destroyer, USS Evans, cutting the smaller ship in half.
In the early morning darkness at 3 am (0300 hours) the ships were running without lights when the carrier changed course for air operations. Though the message was sent to the USS Evans to take up position as rescue destroyer (traveling behind the carrier), the order was misinterpreted and the destroyer crossed in front of the turning carrier, causing the bow of the larger ship to strike the port side of the destroyer 92 feet from the bow.
Over 700 feet long and displacing 22,000 tons loaded, the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne was much larger than the USS Evans, at 376 feet and 3218 tons loaded. The outcome of a collision was sure to be worse for the Evans.
The bow section of the Evans broke off and sunk, taking down with it 73 crewmen. Another crewman was pulled dead from the water, totaling 74 dead from the bow. Another 60 to 100 men from the Evans were rescued from the water, and the stern section (3/4 of the ship) remained afloat and was tied off to the Melbourne. The surviving portion of the ship was considered a wreck and was sunk a month later in gunnery practice.
It seems the captain of the Evans had been asleep when the collision took place, though he had left word with the bridge that he should be awakened and informed of any change in course or formation, which he was not. The fault for the collision lay completely with the officer of the deck that did not notify the captain nor did he notify the Combat Information Center (CIC) which is the heart and brains of any warship.
The USS Frank E. Evans DD-754 was a World War II Allen M. Sumner class destroyer commissioned in 1945, heavily armed with 6 X 5 inch guns, 10 torpedo tubes, 12 X 40mm cannons, 11 X 20mm cannons, 2 depth charge racks and 6 depth charge projectors. The ship was capable of traveling 3300 miles at 20 knots, or make a top speed of 36.5 knots (42 mph). The Evans served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, engaging in actual combat in all three wars.
Incredibly, the HMAS Melbourne had also rammed and sunk another friendly destroyer in 1964, when she collided with HMAS Voyager which had like the Evans crossed the bow of the larger ship, sinking from the damage caused and losing 82 of her crew. Although launched in 1945, the Melbourne was not christened until 1955 (as the HMAS Majestic, renamed the Melbourne 2 days later) due to a post war slow-down in military acquisitions. A smaller aircraft carrier, the Melbourne carried only 27 aircraft and through its service life was armed with a variety of 40mm anti-aircraft guns. She served until being decommissioned in May of 1982, later scrapped.
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For more information, please see…
Sherbo, Capt Paul. Unsinkable Sailors: The Fall and Rise of the Last Crew of USS Frank E. Evans. Patriot Media Publishing, 2009.