SS Badger State Rocked by Blasts
(Compilation from New York Times Dec. 26, 1969 to Jan. 16, 1970)
Dec. 26, 1969. A Vietnam-bound ammunition ship, carrying 8,900 bombs and rockets equal to 2,000 tons of TNT, was rocked by explosions and abandoned by her crew in rough seas 1,500 miles northeast of Hawaii.
Dec. 27. Fourteen crewmen were picked up by a Greek ship, the Khian Star, and a US Air Force HC130 rescue plane dropped life rafts and dye marker at the site. A Navy spokesman said the Badger State was carrying the rockets and bombs for the Air Force at Danang, South Vietnam under contract to the Military Sea Transportation Service. The bombs included 2,000 pounders which were loaded at the Bangor (Washington) Naval Ammunition Depot. At daybreak rescue planes and ships found no sign of the 26 missing men, some of whom were last seen clinging to life rafts in 20 foot seas. Heavy rains, high winds and thick clouds were impairing the search.
Dec. 28. Only one rescue vessel continued the hopeless search for the men. One body was recovered by the freighter American Dragon; at least four others were sighted, but surging seas prevented recovery. The Badger State was reported to be breaking up in heavy seas.
Jan. 1, 1970. The Navy abandoned plans to salvage the deserted munitions ship after the tugboat Abnaki nervously approached to within 2 miles of the freighter and reported fires still burning. The tug said the freighter had a 8 by 16 foot hole 4 feet above the water line in the starboard quarter. The Badger State eventually sank.
Jan 15. Captain Charles T. Wilson of the SS Badger State testified that the cargo of bombs exploded after a huge wave threw the freighter on its side.
From America to United States: The History of the long-range Merchant shipbuilding Programme of the Unites States Maritime Commission (1937-1952) Volume 2, L.A. Sawyer and W.H.Mitchell London: World Ship Society, 1978/1986
SS Badger State was a US Maritime Commission C-2, launched in February 1944 as the transport USS Starlight (AP 175).
U.S. government investigators critisized procedures for stowing bombs, after a bomb broke loose in the hold of the ship, exploded, and cause its sinking.
The crew fought for 9 days to steady the cargo and several times changed course to find calm seas, but each roll of the ship caused the bombs to roll or slide striking each other or the ship's hull where wood sheathing had splintered away.
Small holes were punched in the hull by the battering of the bombs. Several fell through holes in the tween deck hatch.
One of the bombs exploded and fire swept the ship. No other bombs exploded, but the explosion blew a hole 12 by 8 feet in the hull.
The wind blew away 2 liferafts, 35 men boarded a third raft, but a 2,000 pound bomb rolled out the hole in the side of the ship and capsized the liferaft.
Another freighter arrived to attempt a rescue, but many men were washed away in 30 foot seas while clinging to heaving lines, under attack from albatrosses.
The Badger State remained afire with bombs exploding for 10 days before sinking.
Copy of intercept cable sent by Captain of SS Badger State to States Marine Lines as received by the SS Columbia Beaver at sea about 1000 miles from the Badger State's location.
Radio intercept courtesy of Wally Slough, classmate at California Maritime Academy of Sam Bondy, who was killed on the Badger State.
Intercept SXSA to NMO QSP To CF 32 Info CLF
Rescue Unit Pearl/NAVCOMSTA
Midway/ Pass to States Marine New York
1. All hope for further survivors now non-existant.
2. Badger State very dangerous derelict and may explode at any time.
3. Situation at time of abandoning ship No. 5 hatch holed at upper tween deck level from loose 2000 pound bomb. Tried to restructure using all ships matresses/hatchboards/spare lifejackets/chairs/linen/stewards stores/frozen meat/mooring lines/anything we could use to try and stop them worrying around. Landed pontoons on top of everything to try and stop them. At this time we came about in an attempt to head for Midway and some of the bombs exploded in No. 5 hatch and No. 5 hatch was on fire at that time. The abandon ship signal was immediately sounded.
4. 33 Men were lowered to the sea in No. 1 Lifeboat. No. 2 life boat disabled from heavey seas and unable to lower. All hands at thes time were ( ) as No. 1 Lifeboat drifted aft the painter parted and she smashed against side of ship with no damage. When she was abeam of No. 5 hatch one 2000 pound bomb fell in lifeboat capsizing it. Survivors from lifeboat saw hold on fire through Approx 10 foot hole in side of No. 5 upper tween deck forward and other bombs still rolling around. All bombs were out of their steel cases.
5. Two Rubber liferafts were launched and secured in water alongside ship but sea parted lines and carried them away. No survivors Found in either raft.
6. Five men that were staying on board with me/Chief Mate Leonard Cobbs/ Second Mate Robert Ziehm/ Third Mate William Burnett/ Able Seaman Ed Hottendorf/ And FWT Sam Keneso Assisted launching lifeboat and seeing that all hands were clear. We took to the sea swimming in an attempt to make the rescue ship. Three of us made it -- myself/ Third Mate and FWT.
7. Rescue Ship Khian Star did an outstanding job picking up survivors As seas were over 25 to 30 feet in winds over 40 knots.
8. I do not have the authority to destroy my own ship or and I won't order it sunk now. It is a Floating time bomb. For the following reasons:
No. 1 hatch Claymore mines and detonators are adrift.
No. 2 hatch 500 pound bombs are adrift.
No. 3 hatch small arms ammunition and 500 pound bombs are adrift.
No. 4 hatch was secure but probably has cargo adrift.
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