USNS Bowditch TAGS-21
Oceanographic Detachment/Unit One

Significant Operations

Scorpion Subsearch June-September 1968

Sometime after May 21, 1968, we lost our brothers aboard USS Scorpion SSN-589.

On 03 June, Bowditch was ordered underway early from a scheduled inport in Bremerhaven Germany, and to proceed to Southampton England. Bowditch arrived in Southampton at 2000, 04 June. We embarked communications technicians and got underway 1300, 05 June, proceeding to an operations area south of the Azores Islands to join the Scorpion Subsearch mission.

In early September, 1968, Bowditch is ordered to terminate survey operations, proceed to Holy Loch, Scotland, and ship a load of deep ocean transponders to USNS Mizar T-AGOR-11 at Lajes Field, The Azores. The transponders are to be launched by USNS Mizar in the continuing search for USS Scorpion. One technician, ETR2 Earl Adams, is assigned to accompany the transponders and facilitate their use.

Contributed by Earl Adams.

USS Scorpion SSN-589

USS Scorpion article in Wikipedia.

Preparing for Transponder Launch

Aborard USNS Mizar. ETR2 Earl Adams is the skinny guy with glasses.

Launching a Transponder

ETR2 Earl Adams is on the lower right with his back to the camera.

Newspaper Article

The loss of Scorpion and the involvement of Bowditch in the search was reported worldwide. All of those news reports have now disappeared behind paywalls, and I have only this badly reproduced copy of one article left. The source is unknown.

On Eternal Patrol
USS Scorpion (SSN-589)

Link to USS Scorpion memorial website..

Bowditch Records the Siege of Malta

Bowditch was in the yards in Valetta, Malta, in October and November 1967. The OcUnits had photo labs with enormous cameras for map making, and OcUnit One also had an outstanding photographer. The government of Malta requested that OcUnit One make archival quality copies of the original records of the Siege of Malta (1565), records which had never been reproduced. Our photographer was kind enough to make copies for the crew. I do not know how many pages were in the original document, but I have 11 of them.

The Siege of Malta took place in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire attempted to invade the island. Malta was held, and successfully defended, by the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights of Malta since 1530. The siege is considered one of the greatest in military history.

Contributed by Earl Adams.

Siege of Malta

Click the thumbnail for an album of the 11 prints. The correct order of the pages is unknown, so I did my best. These pages represent only a fraction of the complete document. My Latin is a little rusty, so you will have to translate for yourself.

Collision at Sea: November 13, 1973

Bowditch with Heavy Bow Damage

Bowditch with heavily damaged bow caused by a collision with a merchant ship.

This commentary was received from Bruce Voigts:

"I was on the ship in November 1973 when we had the collision with the Ivory Coast Freighter Penelope. I believe the picture is taken after we made it back to Cartagena, Spain. They did some minor repairs there, and then sent us back to the states (Bethlehem Shipyard in Baltimore, MD) for a bow replacement and a few other repairs. Our crossing speed was limited to 8 knots forward progress and took a long time. I was OcUnit 1's Radioman at the time and had to process all the emergency traffic that occurred during this incident. In this picture of the broken ship, I am third from the right. The individual on the extreme right was the unit's Photographers Mate. I unfortunately do not remember his name."

Photo from Navsource is credited to Bill Valashinas.

T/N Penelope and USNS Bowditch
at Cartagena, Spain

A nicely composed photo of T/N Penelope framed by the gash in Bowditch's bow, contributed by Richard Newman. The photo was taken in Cartegena, Spain, before the repairs. Penelope appears to be sitting very low in the water on an even keel, with a badly crumpled bow. Note Penelope's deck cargo of trimmed tree trunks.

Cmmentary from Richard Newman:

"Our keel punctured the Penelope below the water line. We then pivoted and slammed side to side causing damage to the super structure. We lost a fresh water tank in the bow causing Bowditch to came up out of the water. The Penelope circled us once, then headed for port. We sat dead in the water while an assessment was made and then headed for port."

Bow Damage

Bowditch's bow, peeled open like a tin of sardines.

The photo was taken straight down from the starboard side of the fo'c's'le.

Photo from Richard Newman.

Superstructure Damage

Photo from Richard Newman.

T/N Penelope

Photo from Richard Newman.

T/N Penelope

T/N Penelope, viewed from the starboard deck of USNS Bowditch, just aft of the superstructure. The photographer was probably standing on the No. 5 Hold cover. Penelope's operator is "AFRICA-LINE", as painted on her side.

Photo from Richard Newman.

Bowditch With Bow Straightened

Photos from Richard Newman.

Bowditch Sports a Cool Band Aid

The ship's comedian suggested we paint the patch orange with a sign that said “OUCH!”. NAVOCEANO said we did not need the publicity.

Photos from Richard Newman.

This document in the National Archives, 1974STATE002144, is a copy of a telegram dated 042349Z JAN 74 from the U.S. Secretary of State to the American Embassy in Abidjan. The subject is "USNS BOWDITCH - T/N PENELOPE - COLLISION 13 NOV 1973".

Here is an abstract of the telegram:

"The owners of the Penelope have not submitted a claim for damages resulting from this collision, resulting in a delay in settlement. A preliminary survey of damage to the Penelope was made in Cartegena in November, 1973, and a supplemental damage survey will be made when Penelope is dry-docked in Genoa in January, 1974.

Navy JAG cannot determine liability until collision investigations and damage reports are completed. Navy MSC reports will not be completed for a minimum of 60 more days. Preliminary results, however, indicate no Navy liability as Bowditch was the privileged vessel in a crossing situation prior to the collision.

The U.S. Navy will promptly pay up, but only if we're found liable."

The telegram was signed by Henry Kissinger.

So the NavSource photograph was taken when Bowditch docked in November, 1973, after her collision with Penelope. The telegram was sent to the US Embassy in Abidjan, of all places! According to my Geographer, Abidjan is/was the Capital and largest city of the Ivory Coast. I'm supposing that this is because T/N Penelope was registered in the Ivory Coast or the owners are located there. It looks like the collision happened in the Med near Spain, as a preliminary damage survey of Penelope was made in Cartegena. Bowditch was "the privileged vessel in a crossing situation". In other words, the collision was the fault of T/N Penelope.

Shipmate Matthew Ekdahl was transferred from Bowditch in Malaga, Spain, in November 1973, just prior to the collision. A likely scenario is that the collision occurred soon after Bowditch sailed from Malaga. Matthew heard about the collision later, when he was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School.

The Great Cargo Hold Fire: May 21, 1975

Fire in No. 4 Hold

While in port in St. John's, Newfoundland, for generator repairs, USNS Bowditch managed to mysteriously catch herself afire in No. 4 Hold. Fortunately (depending on your perspective) for security and operations, this was the only cargo hold which actually was used for cargo! The cause of the fire was never determined.

Courtesy of Roger Gilfert.

Newspaper Article

The St. John's Evening Telegraph of May 21, 1975 dutifully fabricated its own cover story for OcUnit One's mission: the Bowditch is an "American Navy supply ship".

Additional photos can be found in Roger Gilfert's Photo Gallery.

Newspaper Article

A second article in the St. John's, Newfoundland, The Daily News was printed the next day, May 22, 1975.

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