Seven Clemson Class Destroyers all wrecked at Honda Point on the 8th. of September 1923
Seven of his ships were wrecked, and 23 sailors died.
An aerial shot of the disaster, taken on the 13th. of September 1923.
San Fransisco to San Diego.
12 Hours later.
When the ships were due to alter course to the east into the Santa Barbara Channel, the radio direction finding ( RDF ) equipment stationed at Point Arguello ( a few miles South of Point Honda ) indicated that the Squadron of Destroyers was , in fact, still to the North of the Channel. But, this warning was not accepted, RDF being in its infancy was discounted. The 14 ships sped on oblivious to any impending danger.
It is note worthy that the Squadron Commander did not take the prudent action of ordering his ships to slow down to allow the depth of water under his Squadron to be measured by the depth sounding equipment that was available. Instead he trusted his own judgement and that of his specialist navigators, and ploughed on regardless of any risks
Map showing the location of Honda Point
It is now dark and quite dense fog came down.
Wrecks of USS Detroyers Delphy, and Nicholas at Honda Point 1923
Next came USS Lee, on observing his leader suddenly stop, she turned to port, but too late, and came to grief North of Delphy.
Next in line, USS Young ran on rocks, ripping open her thin hull, and turning her onto her starboard side, just to the south of Delphy.
The following two ships in line, Woodbury and Nicholas turned to starboard and port respectively, but alas, both ships finished on the rocks.
Next came USS Farragut, one of the lucky ones, her Captain ordered his engines quickly to go astern, and so avoided any disaster.
Now Fuller came to grief near Woodbury.
Percival and Somers managed to escape the fate of their sister ships.
Chauncey trying to rescue men clinging onto the wreck of USS Young unfortunately went aground herself.
The final four ships out of the long line of 14 destroyers had time to avert any disaster, all were able to turn in time to clear the coastal rocks and shoreline.
The plaque to mark the death of 23 sailors in the Honda Point disaster
Court of Inquiry.
This Court recommended that 11 Officers be brought before Courts Martials, these were as follows:-
The Squadron Commander, Captain. Watson, in USS Delphy.
The Captain of USS Delphy, Lieutenant Commander Hunter.
The Navigating Officer of USS Delphy, Lieutenant Jg. Blodgett.
The Divisional Commander of DIV 33, in USS S P Lee, Captain Morris.
The Captain of USS S P Lee, Commander Toaz.
The Captain of USS Young, Commander Calhoun.
The Captain of USS Woodby, Commander Davis.
The Captain of USS Nicholas, Lieutenant Commander Roesch.
The Divisional Commander of Div 31, in USS Farragut, Commander Pye.
The Captain of USS Fuller, Lieutenant Commander Seed.
The Captain of USS Chauncey, Lieutenant Commander Booth.
Note, all of these 11, were United States Navy Officers.
Courts Martials ordered.
These sentences were mild to say the least, given the extent of the grounding of seven destroyers and the loss of 23 lives, those involved were lucky to be treated so lightly. The JAG at the Inquiry and General Courts Martial, Lieutenant Commander Leslie Bratton, was transferred to Washington DC, and ordered to review the findings of the Court and report back to the Secretary of the Navy.
The Secretary of the Navy had not been pleased with the outcome of the Courts Martial.
But it all proved to be too late.
Destroyer Squadron Eleven Commander,
I have observed before that any Captain of a Naval ship who puts his command at risk, and does not take prudent action such as slowing down to take soundings in this case, and then runs aground, is almost certain to pay the penalty at his subsequent Court Martial, ( although in this case, those arraigned before Courts Martial got off very lightly. )
So it happened in the case of these seven destroyers stranding at Honda Point on the 8th. of September in 1923. Any chance of further promotion of Captain Watson, who had won a Navy Cross in WW1, very unlikely. This area is now a part of Vandenberg Air Force Base.
Note of thanks.
I also want to acknowledge his exhaustive research, and documentation of this Disaster at Honda Point, see for yourself at these two links:
Point Honda Memorial web site designed in honor of the 23 sailors who perished in an accident on Sept. 8, 1923, when seven U. S. Navy Destroyers attached to Destroyer Squadron Eleven were stranded at Point Honda, California
Marker depicting the Honda Point area
USS Nicholas aground at Honda Point 1923