HURON'S COLLISION IN 1958

Edited by Jerry Proc


 
In November 1958, during exercise Medaswex 27, HMCS Huron was exercising with HMCS Haida and other NATO ships in the Mediterranean. Gales off southern France interfered with the program but at 0315 on 15th, all ships weighed anchor and formed a screen, steaming abreast from Golfe Juan. Huron was one of the last to leave.

As a result of lowering her asdic dome, Huron’s speed was reduced and she dropped abeam to starboard of the 400 foot long French destroyer Maillé-Brézé. Huron then proceeded to increase speed in order to get back into position. Maillé-Brézé was now hunting a submarine contact and began to turn first towards Huron and then across her bows at 18 knots. Huron tried to take evasive action, but at 0424, she struck Maillé-Brézé a glancing blow near the engine room. According to Tom Fullerton, a Huron shipmate who was there at the time, “HURON may have been doing 10 knots, but that was because the order had been given some moments earlier for "STARBOARD 30 (max wheel), FULL ASTERN." We were definitely feeling the shudder (cavitation) of the FULL ASTERN command when the collision occurred. I believe we were doing about 16 knots on our way (as other vessels were) to 18 knots when Maillé-Brézé altered her course to Starboard, leaving her position in the screen, disobeying orders, and started running down an ASDIC bearing, which happened to be HURON”.

Maillé-Brézé's frames were bent inwards for a length of 25 feet along her starboard side and her aluminum structure was damaged as far as ten feet inboard. A starboard gun mounting was severely damaged somewhere close to midships. Piping, machinery, electronics and armament were badly affected, but her seaworthiness was hardly impaired.Huron's bow had been crumpled as far as No.10 frame and was displaced 50° to starboard. Her bulkheads were shored up and she tried to get underway stem first. She soon became uncontrollable and a French tug towed her astern into Toulon, France. Four more tugs and occasional assistance from her own engines got her into drydock. Huron's compliment was reduced to a repair and steaming crew, the rest being distributed among the other Canadian ships in the force. After the wreckage was cut away and new plating was constructed, bow drawings were sent out from Canada. A prefabricated bow was built and lowered into position on 8th December. It was filled with concrete to give it a reasonable amount of strength for the upcoming cross-Atlantic trip. Repairs were completed on 13th December and the next day Huron left for home.

After she had passed the Azores, gales and snow squalls hit the ship. In the darkness of 22/23rd December, loud crashes could be heard and severe vibration could be felt up forward. It seemed as though someone, had rigged a pile driver in the forepeak. Huron hove to, shored up her collision bulkhead and radioed for an escort. All of the crew in the upper and lower forward area was cleared since plenty of water was coming in. With the coming of dawn, the cause of the problem was evident. The welding on one plate at the waterline had broken loose. When the bow was clear of the water, the plate sprang away from the frames. When the bow dipped under each wave, the weight of water forced the plate back into its proper place.

A T-shaped shore was braced in the forepeak, which helped reduce the vibration a bit, but did not stop the leak very much. A little experiment showed that a speed of 14 knots kept the plates pressed hard against the shores. Later that day air escort arrived followed by HMC Ships Saguenay and then Buckingham. All three ships arrived in Halifax on Christmas Day. Many folks watched HURON on the late-late TV news arriving under the glare of TV lights. The bow of the ship was in bad shape. There was only one report of injury. A rather stout chap, who only slept in a camp cot, suffered some cuts.

Between January and April 1959, Huron was laid up in the Saint John, N.B. drydrock while her bow received permanent repairs. Huron's crew had to be moved ashore during the repairs. As a result, some crew members were assigned to other ships. The reason for that was that the Diefenbaker government had recently taken power and they embarked on a campaign to save money especially in the armed forces. Simply put, it was cheaper to ship the crew home than to pay living-ashore allowances. In early 1960, Huron was sent to Lauzon, Quebec for a major refit.

The collision was widely held to be the fault of the French, who, in their inexperience, were not comparing sonar and radar contacts. They likely thought they had a sub on sonar when they actually had locked onto Huron.  Aboard Huron, the watch couldn't believe was going on, and took evasive action only at the last moment – soon enough to save lives but not soon enough to avoid the collision and the resultant damage.

This was the third instance of HURON damaging her bow during her service life. Her previous prangs happened in Spring 1944 after being rammed by HMS Ashanti in the English Channel. Following that, she ran aground in Korea in July 1953.
 

216_bow_removed.jpg
1 Dec. 1958:  Huron with her damaged bow completely removed. (Photo by Bill Daniels) 

References and Credits:

1) 'The Tribals' by Martin Brice
2) Bill Daniels <bdaniels(at)nexicom.net>

 
 
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