In 1959, DesDiv51, comprising the Rowan DD782, the Gurke DD783, the Henderson DD785, and my ship the USS Southerland DDR743, were plane guarding the USS Bonhomme Richard CV31, better known as the Bonnie Dick, in the S. China Sea. The Southy Maru, our nickname for the Southerland, had just come off Formosan Patrol duty between Quemoy and Matsu Islands.
It was a black night with no moon and very little horizon visible. In the screen for the carrier, my ship was assigned station Oscar which was 1000 yards dead astern. We were able to keep station by putting the statameter on her stern light and radar images. Station Oscar was a tough assingment for the can's OD's and bridge watches as there were sudden course changes, speed changes, launching and recovering aircraft, screen rotations, poor communications between ships with TBS and blinker lights. However, station Oscar provided the aircraft with a beacon at night when approaching down wind and turning at wing tip distance on our mast head light to align on the glide slope of the carrier.
As I came up the ladder from below to relieve the officer of the deck for the midwatch my eyes began to adjust to the red lights in the pilot house, There was a sense of anxiety on the bridge as we were running at 26 Kts and expecting a course change to be executed.
The OD suddenly saw the Stb. Green side light of the carrier and knew she was in a right turn. He immediately gave right full rudder to the helmsman and we started swinging ship. Our Captain, Verner Utke-Ramsing, standing on the port bridge wing belayed that order and took the conn. He immediately gave the command to the helmsman for left full rudder.
As we came around, both side lights of the Bonnie Dick became visible and then the port light light as we steadied, passing port to port at about 75 yards. Looking up from our bridge we saw the angle deck of the carrier almost over our port side. We were fortunate no collision occurred.
Neither CIC nor the bridge ever received an executed course change order by the carrier. A return to our assigned station was executed, the oncoming watch standers relieved and another day of steaming was commenced by the Southy Maru.
All is well that ends well.
George L. Johnson
USS Southerland DDR743