USS HOUSTON CA 30
“The galloping Ghost of the
for the USS Houston in the
David C. Faltot
Reprinted with permission from David C Faltot
(excerpts from an article by Brian Dinsley)
It had been 6 months since I had last dove the wreck of the USS Houston. During that dive I experienced a combination of equipment failures coupled with my own poor judgment that landed me in critical condition at
In April of 2004 Dinsley called me and asked for some help. He had a group of divers (British and Australian) who wanted to dive the wrecks of the American heavy cruiser Houston, and the Australian cruiser
I gave Brian’s request some thought and agreed to take them to the wrecks. We met at my home in
We made arrangements for a 65 foot sailboat powered by inboard diesels. It was a great boat and its skipper and owner, Cameron, was an Australian diver who was also part of the dive team. We planned to get underway from the
While we slept a boat quietly pulled up alongside. It was a group of pirates intent on helping themselves to our equipment. They boarded us but one of our Indonesian crew members woke and called out an alert. The pirates, who were in no mood for a fight, quickly retreated as we scrambled up onto the deck. From that time on our crew rotated guard shifts to preclude another attack.
We woke at about to prepare for our dive. It was a gray, overcast morning and the seas were a bit choppy. We got underway again to head toward the wreck of the
Paul and I began getting out gear ready which was a considerable effort considering we were both using twin steel high pressure tanks, each with two separate, independent regulator sets. We use this configuration due to the challenging nature of the dive and our desire to have completely redundant systems including air sources, dive lights, knives, etc. But the result is increased preparation time and a very heavy outfit for each of us.
We finally entered the water, swam to the anchor line and began our descent. We were surprised at the strength of the current as it is usually much more calm early in the morning. We had to carefully pull ourselves down the anchor line because if we happened to let go we would be swept away and would not be able to get back. As we descended the water around us became increasingly dim and we found ourselves in need of our HID lights. We found the bottom at about 125 feet. Visibility was only about 6 feet and I pulled myself across the ocean bottom on the anchor chain with Paul close behind. Once we found the anchor we knew we needed to take a 180 degree compass reading and swim along the bottom, on that heading, while crabbing into the current. Although it was not quite dark on the bottom, it was very dim and we needed our lights to see where we were going. As we swam I noticed that the light went from dim to dark and we still had not found the hull of the ship. We continued to swim and then, directly ahead, appeared a wall of steel. I thought we had found the bottom of the hull and so we began to ascend. To my surprise, and concern, there was a steel ceiling directly overhead that stopped our ascent. As we investigated we found we were surrounded by steel so we began to pull ourselves back, along the ceiling, in the direction from which we came hoping to find the exit. After a few minutes of pulling ourselves through wreckage we saw the dim green light that showed open water. We exited from what we discovered was a large torpedo hole that was in the bottom of the ship.
I believe this torpedo hole was the last of the torpedoes fired by the Japanese. As the
After we exited the torpedo hole we swam up over the top of the hull and found ourselves in the vicinity of number 1 gun turret. We swam back past the Admirals cabin, quarterdeck, hangar bays until we reached the bollard on the port side adjacent to number 3 gun turret. Paul and I stopped here and sent up a buoy, tied to the bollard, for the Australian and British divers. We then hung on to the port side propeller guard and waited for them to join us. After about a ten minute wait we saw the lights of our group as they worked themselves down the buoy line. Upon reaching the ship Paul and I split them up and took them on a very short tour of the ship but we could not stay down long because our air was running low from our ordeal in the torpedo hole and we were already in decompression mode. We slowly made our way up the ascent line stopping at our required decompression stops. The single tank British and Australian divers had no need to decompress so they went directly to their safety stop and then the surface. Paul and I surfaced about 20 minutes later.
Conditions that day on the
I am sure that all the guys harboured their own special thoughts of what the ships crew must have gone through that terrible night 62 years ago. It is one of the worst war tragedies in view of loss of life for
We could see a lot of shell damage to the hull and of course the damage the torpedoes caused was obvious. The ship took a massive battering and is more broken up than the USS Houston. The
The next morning we motored back to the
We entered the water and swam to the buoy that we had previously positioned. Once there we completed our final safety checks and began our descent. We made it to the bollard and then began our descent to the open hatch that led into the bowels of the ship. We entered the crew galley area careful not to position ourselves under anything that could fall on top of us and then looked for the hatch that led into the officers quarters. I entered first as I had the camera and I wanted to get some photos before stirring up the deadly silt that seemed to pervade every crevice on this ship. Even with the use of my HID light the water was murky and visibility was not great. The first thing I saw were bunks that had crashed down onto the starboard side of the compartment. There was a great deal of rubble and, I would surmise, personal effects buried in the silt of the compartment. We saw several steel columns that would have been vertical, floor to ceiling, had the ship been upright. The walls were brown with silt but, with a slight touch, revealed what appeared to be white paint underneath. I tried getting some photos as Paul began exploring the extent of the room. We saw what appeared to be bookshelves as well as fans and lights that were still plugged into the wall. The portholes also appeared to be intact with the battleports still closed. It was an eerie feeling to be in that compartment, knowing we were the first to enter since that fateful night 62 years ago. But we could not stay long. For each minute we remained in that room visibility began to decrease as silt was inadvertently stirred up by our air bubbles and movement. As our visibility decreased we made our way back to the exit hatch which was in the corner of the compartment. We positioned ourselves on the adjacent wall and Paul continued to explore up toward the port side. At this point, with visibility rapidly going to zero, I was more interested in finding the exit hatch. I felt for the hatch along what would have been the ceiling of the compartment and finally my hand bumped into what appeared to be the hatch frame. I quickly ducked my head outside and, sure enough, was looking into the crews galley. I then remained where I was, one hand on the now invisible hatch, and with my HID light on waiting for Paul. I could see his HID light as he moved, about ten feet above my head and he gradually worked his way back down to me. In his exploration he found a ships lamp that was still plugged in and attached to the wall. He recovered it and we subsequently exited the ship.
We photographed the lamp as we exited the hull and then swam forward to the maintenance spaces and 5 inch gun deck. We entered the maintenance spaces, swam forward and exited the port aircraft hanger. In the process we found an empty ammunition box that we also recovered. We then swam back to our entry bollard, dropped the ammunition box and began our ascent and decompression. Due to its weight we could not recover the ammunition box at that time and positioned it to allow for easy recovery at a later date. We decompressed for about 40 minutes and then made our way to the surface. Our fearless skipper, Cameron, picked us up in the zodiac inflatable and we made our way back to the boat.
As the weather turned, it was just a matter of making it back into port, any port for that matter, so we could get off board and head back to
With each dive the