Death and valor on a warship doomed by its own Navy


The way the Navy breaks down tasks in the bridge is a little different then the merchant side but the principle is the same.

As far as yards, 1000 yds ~1/2 mile.

My guess is that the captain expected that the ship was clear of traffic when he went below. I’ve had a couple captains that didn’t understand the pattern of the lines of traffic off Japan and expected once the traffic thinned out away from the port that the ship was in the clear.

I think there was CPA limits, evidently disregarded? I’ve seen that on the merchant side. "Call me but “wink wink” don’t call me for cpa under 2 miles…

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I am assuming that the ships in the area were on the same time in which case the second officer would have had the watch on the Crystal Ace.
Like most masters approaching this area I would have been on the bridge for the 8 to 12 and dozed fully dressed for the other watches.
My own ship when I was last in these waters would have the AIS information displayed on the ECDIS and one of the two 3 cm radars. The 10cm radar being used for navigation and longer range monitoring of traffic.
The Fitzgerald would have appeared at about 10 miles on the 10cm radar without a AIS label and the ARPA giving a speed of 20 knots would mean that it could be deduced that it was no fishing boat.
I wonder if the Japanese investigation of the incident (if there was one) interviewed the OOW of the ship’s that were in the vicinity?



Yes, I miss read your post. Having experience in traffic is the key to seeing the patterns in the traffic you need to see to be able to handle it with little effort.

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The Propublica version is difficult to finish, as my emotions prevent me from finishing. Emotions of rage & sorrow. Because I was a radarman on destroyers in the early Seventies, I have intimate (yes, and dated) knowledge of a CIC. I spent too many hours on a SPS-10 surface search radar & a SPA-25 PPI scope to understand how the operators on FITZ were incompetent in basic radar use.

We were all required to know how to tune the radar (the officers were not that good at tuning, but they knew when the picture sucked. And it was a performance factor for RD3 & RD2!! We also knew what pulse-width (short or long) to select for conditions. We knew what the range resolution and bearing resolution was for a give PW. That no-one on watch in FITZ CIC or the bridge knew the radar was set at long-range detection is unfathomable.

What isn’t mentioned in this reading, was the discovery of bottles of urine and weight-lifting equipment in CIC when the ship docked. (FROM NAVY TIMES, 14JAN19 - "Nothing captures the disarray aboard the destroyer better than this detail of a visit by Rear Adm. Brian Fort, who oversaw the investigation, to the vessel’s combat information center: “He saw kettlebells on the floor and bottles filled with pee”. Clearly a sign of poor leadership!!

The OOD, Ltjg Coppock committed the most grievous of errors: 1) She passed too close to two other vessels without calling the Captain in accordance with the night/standing orders. 2) She didn’t tell the Captain about an incident in May when she miscalculated distance to a fishing boat. 3) She didn’t pay attention to the SPS 73’s radar contact with a 3/4 mile CPA on the stern. 4) And didn’t sound the collision alarm, which undoubtedly would have saved those 7 sailor’s lives.

Yes, the captain is responsible. Yes the squadron commander is responsible. Yes COMSEVENFLT is responsible. But in the end, it’s the OOD who failed. She had a chance to stop the ship (assuming the article is correct that ABurkes can stop in 500’ to from 20kts).

I’m going to try and finish reading the article. But not now, I’m still fuming mad.

While I have strongly condemned the OOD, and the CO, and the admirals, I also congratulate and salute the crew who saved the vessel. They were true sailors & heroes.

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Been There, Done That, from both sides of the angle.

-Navy… Too damn many tasks on the bridge in excess of seamanship. reports, 21 MC, endless reports of an admin nature… etc.

Put two Warrant Officers unconcerned about promotion up there with a pair of lookouts and shut the F-ck up. They will get you safely where you need to go.

Retired OSCS Radar Navigation Officer… Also Master of several MSC vessels and other types including an Antarctic Icebreaker. Get off my bridge!!! Too many folks, too many reports !!!

Qualified as pilot for Tokyo Wan and other ports… keep it quiet, keep it simple. Entered Tokyo without radar at night, yea a pucker factor but that is what our grandfathers did on every approach.

Keep it simple. See It… Stay away from It. !!!



Here is part two of the series.

YEARS OF WARNINGS, THEN DEATH AND DISASTER ProPublica. Part two of a series;

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I’ve read the official documents related to this case. This is the first I’ve had opportunity to read individual experiences and a timeline reproduction. I do understand the issue much better than I did reading the cold investigative work. I believe one of the critical factors was there was no “eyes on” from the bridge both sides of the ship. Had there been eyes on from the critical location the collision may indeed have been avoided. In that respect, conclusions remain valid.

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Congress is interested in this piece, and our own leadership is not.

“These two collisions were a tragedy, there is no doubt about it,” Davidson said. “And all the senior leaders of the Navy feel a tremendous amount of accountability for it. But the fact of the matter is 280-odd other ships weren’t having collisions.”

I’m about as Joe Navy as they come, but this “steady as she goes” shit is going to get more sailors killed. Anything you read about is window dressing. This is the real attitude of Big Navy.



Here is another view on the ProPublica articles

The Fitzgerald Collision: In Search of the Onus

Bryan McGrath

The problem with this narrative is that it is incomplete, and it removes from positions of obvious responsibility and culpability the very people most responsible for the accident — the commanding officer and other officers standing watch when the accident occurred. The American people should understand that while there were clear and present systemic issues with how the Navy trained and maintained its Japan-based ships, the Fitzgerald tragedy was the result of profound professional negligence perpetrated by people who either should have known better or did know better and chose to act otherwise.

I don’t agree with this at all, McGrath honestly believes people will be reluctant to hold the crew accountable? I don’t see that happening.

The way the Navy is set up now officers just have to advance in rank so that they no longer will be in command of an actual ship at sea. Once you advance above that you’re set for life. Until then you just have to never turn down a mission and keep your fingers crossed. Just need a little luck.

Two ships collided, 280, for every captain that fails 140 get promoted. Not bad odds.



That piece by Brian McGrath is pathetic. He’s saying that the blame lies with the ship and crew alone, that leadership ashore bares little responsibility for the accident. Let me explain the folly with an analogy:

It’s snowing. The roads are icy. A parent give the keys to a corvette to his unlicensed sixteen year old and tells her to drive her siblings to the store. Along the way she looses control of the muscle-car on a patch of black ice and gets into a terriable accident, killing her brothers and sisters.

Now, whose fault is it? Would we blame the sixteen year old driving a 300 hp car on icy roads? Or would we blame the parent for being stupid enough to put an unlicensed kid behind the wheel of a powerful car in an ice storm?

Legally it’s the kid’s fault. She was behind the wheel. Morally it’s the parents fault. An adult would know better. Should know better.

McGrath would be pleased to send the sixteen year old to jail for manslaughter while giving the negligent parent a pat on the back. McGrath is a disgusting apologist who should crawl back into the pocket of whatever lobbyist he crawled out from.



The way that I was used to was the ship was part of a flotilla where my own vessel was commanded by a commander. The lead vessel of the flotilla was commanded by a Captain. All the specialist officers in the lead ship were one rank higher than normal and they conducted periodic inspections of the other ships in the flotilla.
The Admiral was at sea in the flagship, normally the carrier, and wasn’t some want to be politician living in a grace and favour mansion with Filipino staff.
The management lost control over their oversight in a situation where by its very structure, did not allow those at the bottom to take any effective corrective action.



Dunning-Krueger effect, in summary.

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So I finally made it through. That was quite a read, thanks for sharing. Some thoughts and questions in random order:

  • I fully understand how inexperienced and fatigued personnel can succumb to helmet fire and make a bad move in collision avoidance. What I don’t understand is how you can spend your whole working life in front of a radar console without figuring out how it works. If that was me, you’d need an armed guard to keep me from exploring the grey areas of its operational envelope. Just sitting there day after day without taking an interest in the equipment speaks either of a destructively stringent organizational culture, or of disastrous personal qualities in the people manning the station.

  • Who on earth thought it was an acceptable solution to use a hierarchical menu of any kind to perform station hand-over, let alone a drop-down menu on a touch screen?! I get that the universality of a touch screen interface appeals to the bean counters, what with the low cost of rolling out changes and all, but how deep has the disconnect gotten between procurement and ops?

  • The most interesting bit was in part 2, at least for me. It’s yet another example of the soot laden grease of modern corporate culture smudging everything it touches. Such stories are rife throughout the Western world, but this one is particularly jarring both in the scope of the consequences and in how cleanly the persons responsible were able to get away. The damage being done to our defense forces is hard to estimate and probably permanent.

  • If the article was correct in assessing how little consequence this had, we should all be very afraid of what happens when China starts making moves…

  • That article by McGrath was indeed pretty daft. The more thoroughly I looked at it, the less it seemed to say. So despite being set up for failure, the crew is responsible? No shit, that’s how the 100/100 split of responsibility sharing works!



That is precisely what the Navy wanted and what it got. Can’t have those people thinking for themselves … or even being capable of such behavior.




This is what’s called saying the quiet part out loud. Better I suppose then all the top brass who are saying the opposite.

One of Davidson’s stops in November 2017 was in San Diego, and inside the base’s movie theater, he addressed hundreds of concerned commanders and officers. He was met with a series of tough questions, including a particularly sensitive one: If the commanders believed their ships were not ready, could they, as the Navy had promised, actually push back on orders to sail?

Davidson, according to an admiral inside the theater, responded with anger.

“If you can’t take your ships to sea and accomplish the mission with the resources you have,” he said, “then we’ll find someone who will.”

Posted too soon, Davidson is back on script.

Davidson, who today is the top military commander in the Pacific, said through a spokesman that his remarks in San Diego might have been misinterpreted, and that he only meant to say that if ships were not fit to sail, they would be replaced by others that were. No one, he said, would be fired or replaced for responsibly raising safety concerns.



Lawyers for the families of the sailors lost in the casualty are saying “Thank you, God” as they draw up the motions to subpoena Davidson for a deposition…



And the check is in the mail, I’ll only put the tip of it in, and I’m from the government and I’m here to help.



You bet. Davidson hasn’t got a shred of integrity left.



This is why finding fault based on formal stated or written rules is of such limited value.

The formal rule is captains can just say the ship is not ready:

If the commanders believed their ships were not ready, could they, as the Navy had promised, actually push back on orders to sail?

Everyone knows that promise is nonsense. Here’s the real, but unwritten rule:

“If you can’t take your ships to sea and accomplish the mission with the resources you have,” he said, “then we’ll find someone who will.”

Likewise the captain can write in the night or standing orders something along the lines “call me if in doubt”. In this case if anything goes wrong the rule has been violated and the blame shifts from the captain to the watch officer regardless of the circumstances.

In many cases this is only useful as a tool to point fingers or to avoid blame. A similar thing happens with the COLREGS.

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