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Humpday History Highlight

By Wyatt Earp | August 26, 2009

<i>The escort destroyer USS William D Porter.</i>

The escort destroyer USS William D Porter.

I’d probably wager dollars to donuts – Mmm . . . donuts – that most of you haven’t heard this story. At least I hope that’s the case, since I like to educate as well as entertain. I think this week’s HHH does the trick.

This, like so many highlights recently, is taken from one of my favorite books: .

The Close Call of the Porter.

On November 14, 1943, FDR and his chief military advisers were secretly crossing the Atlantic aboard the USS Iowa on their way to an Allied summit meeting in Tehran. Tremendous care was taken to hide the identity of the VIPs in order to assure their safety.

Suddenly a torpedo was seen heading straight for the Iowa. Everyone aboard thought they were under attack from a German submarine. But in fact, the torpedo came from an American ship.

The escort destroyer USS William D. Porter had accidentally fired the torpedo during a drill. As danger alarms went off and crewmen headed to battle stations, the battleship Iowa maneuvered sharply and avoided the torpedo, which exploded just a hundred yards off the stern. The force of the explosion rocked the Iowa so violently that one officer aboard shouted, “My God, he hit us!” But the ship was not harmed at all.

History records a successful summit that helped secure an Allied victory. But there could have been a very different outcome – if not for a near miss.

Probably never heard about that amazing story, have you? I know I hadn’t. Knowledge is power, kids!

Topics: HHH | 11 Comments »

11 Responses to “Humpday History Highlight”

  1. RT Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    That’s just crazy and freaky! Someone was looking out for them that day. :)

  2. John D Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Interesting. First time I’d heard that one.

  3. Ingineer66 Says:
    August 26th, 2009 at 11:49 pm

    I know a fair number of obscure history stories and had not heard that one.

  4. xformed Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 12:31 am

    Dude…had that up in my blog a year or so ago….still funny every time i run across the story, tho.

  5. Old NFO Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Actually I had :-) That incident was the impetus for the Sacred Cow…

  6. Rich Rostrom Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 2:12 am

    I knew about this. Can’t remember where I read about it, but it wasn’t that long ago. Ah, now I have it – it was in a supermarket potboiler set during WW II, which claimed a lot of bizarre secret history about the Tehran Conference.

    Anyway, while it was a dramatic moment, I don’t think it could have made any real difference. One torpedo wasn’t going to sink Iowa, even with a direct midships hit: 48,500 tons, mucho compartmentation. It took four hits to sink Prince of Wales, which was only 35,000 tons.

  7. Jon Brooks Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 5:17 am

    And thus the first historical documentation of the now often used phrase…”Opps!” was born.

    Good post wyatt..thanks.

    Wasn’t FDR on a ship once and reported to have seen a UFO?

    Rich..It only took one hit to the Hoods magazine to make a comparable sized ship vanish when the smoke cleared. Of course that was a 16? or 18? inch shell hit thru the deck down.

  8. Bohemond Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 9:13 am

    “One torpedo wasn’t going to sink Iowa, even with a direct midships hit: 48,500 tons, mucho compartmentation. It took four hits to sink Prince of Wales, which was only 35,000 tons.”

    Except that PoW actually had better torpedo protection than the Iowas, which were just enlarged South Dakotas. No, one hit (especially if the warhead wasn’t armed) wouldn’t have done it- but it could well have meant an embarrasing tow into harbor and an extended stay in drydock. Scrubbed the mission, certainly. After all, FDR chose Iowa both because she was new and big, but also because of the safety from U-boats given by her 33-knot speed.

    Hood really isn’t comparable at all- a WWI battlecruiser, hastily uparmored on the stocks after Jutland, she nonetheless didn’t have adequate protection against plunging fire (and it’s still a topic of debate what exactly caused the explosion- it may have been rockets foolishly stored on deck).

  9. Jon Brooks Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    My mistake, they were UFO sightings by members of the crew on the USS FDR. Visit Youtube, pretty interesting.

    Thanks Bohemond. I would tend to think the main magazine went off by direct shell impact, for her to go down that quickly, but with the Bismarks shell impacts and if rockets were stored above decks, the flying debris the rocket secondaries etc., that may have done the deed to ignite the magazine also.

    There was a video of WW2 camera footage from Leyte Gulf I think, where the cameraman was filming the
    ubiquitous kamakazies being shot out of the skies and some crashing into our ships. There was a direct hit on one destroyer or crusier. In the camera footage the ship
    detonates and the opaque concussion wave, perfectly hemisperical, extended out to what seemed to be about
    2 to 3 miles in diameter. It essentially looked like a baby nuke. Like the Hood essentially no survivors.
    Sailors are brave but crazy. Give me solid ground.

  10. Tennessee Budd Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    Actually, I had heard it, but I’m hardly representative.

  11. USAdmiral Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Ironic. How bad the Captain of the Porter shit his pants?