Journal Entry  -  October 1, 1999  -  Day 20

Friday Morning Position Report
8:00 a.m., Mountain Daylight Time
Latitude:

18 Degrees, 37 Minutes North

Longitude:

104 Degrees, 54 Minutes West

Days Run:

62.2 Nautical Miles

Speed:

5.18 Knots (Average)  running at reduced speed due to a fixed ETA of October 16 at the Panama Canal.

Total Run This Leg:  1,198.2 Nautical Miles
Total Average Speed:  5.24 Knots
Hours / Days This Leg:  228.5 Hours, 9.52 Days
Distance To Go This Leg:   1,749.6 Nautical Miles to the Balboa Sea Buoy, Panama
Estimated Time Of Arrival:  7:00 a.m., Saturday, October 16
Present Course:  125 Degrees South by Southeast
Winds:  Southerly at 12 Knots, down from yesterday
Seas:  8 Feet Confused
Swells:  Coming from multiple directions
Barometric Pressure:  1009 Millibars
Air Temperature:  82 Degrees
Visibility:  Good at 10 Miles or more
Skies:  Partly Cloudy
Sea Floor:  Depths here are between 1,800 and 2,530 Fathoms, or between 10,800 and 15,180 Feet

Position:   USS New Jersey "The Big J" is flooded in sunshine this morning, 40 Nautical Miles Southwest of the port town of Manzanillo, on Mexico's Pacific coast, the re-fueling stop for Captain Kaare Ogaard's "Sandra Jane" scalloper on her way from New Bedford, Massachusetts through the Panama Canal to Alaska in the spring of 1969.

"USS New Jersey" Faces The Panama Canal, 1968

The new world that USS New Jersey entered on the day of her third commissioning, April 6, 1968 in the Philadelphia Navy Shipyard, brought a mixture of realities - cheers for her return to service, the ship's thirteenth Commanding Officer, Captain J. Edward Snyder, detoured aboard on his way to other duty, the international climate of war in Vietnam, the recent capture of the USS Pueblo in waters off North Korea, and an uncertain Panama Canal.

New Jersey had been mothballed since 1957.  Before recommissioning, she was re-fitted with improved electronics and a helipad, as well as beefed up again for heavy bombardment duty in Vietnam.  Her sister ships, Iowa and Wisconsin, berthed in Philadelphia, were left idle as BB-62 left the Navy yard for Norfolk, Panama and her new Long Beach home port.  After full scale sea trials to get her in fighting shape again, she was off to Vietnam.

Captain Snyder, a 1945 Naval Academy graduate with a master's degree in nuclear physics, assumed command with a schedule to meet: get her recommissioned, get her to Long Beach, get her ready to fight, then get her to Vietnam.   But first, decide about the Panama Canal transit.

"The Navy gave me a choice, gave me a personal choice, of whether to go through the Canal or go around," now retired Rear Admiral Snyder said in an interview.  "I'm not sure why they offered me a choice, I only assume it had to do with security, and I'm just assuming that, I don't know that for a fact," he said.  "I was not privy to that high a level by the time I left the Secretary's office.  I was just like any other commanding officer, except that I had the battleship."

Security concerns were generally heightened because of the takeover and capture of the USS Pueblo off North Korea just two and a half months earlier, on January 23, 1968.  The U.S. Navy oceanographic research vessel's Captain and crew were held prisoners in North Korea for a time thereafter, causing a storm of protest at home.

Captain Snyder analyzed the Panama Canal passage in the context of security, and decided to proceed through after the stopover in Norfolk.

"I looked at the various alternatives for about a week, and I finally decided that to meet the schedule, I had to go through the canal.   The schedule was to get to Vietnam qualified, by the end of the month.  I got there one day early," he said.

"You're very vulnerable when you go through the Canal," he said.  You're only going half-a-knot, somebody can jump aboard if they want to, and I didn't have any Marines."

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had directed that no Marines were permitted to serve aboard the New Jersey.  "Yes, that was very unusual.  I don't know for a fact, but I think it was because the Secretary wanted to be sure that the re-activation was quote, cost-effective, if you know what I mean.  They thought that Marines were gilding the lilly."

Snyder was basically concerned about controlling the situation through the Canal.  "When you go through the Canal in a military ship like the New Jersey, there's nothing you can do, except small arms.  I mean you can't do anything with a 16 inch gun," the retired former skipper said.

"I think you'll see it when you go through the Canal, how totally helpless you feel.  I was concerned about who came aboard, and I personally saw to it who would be permitted aboard," Snyder explained.

"In my own history in the Navy, I had had problems with officers from foreign countries coming aboard carrying side arms.  I would never permit a person to come aboard with a sidearm.  I would have them turned in at the quarterdeck and then drawn out when they left, and this includes policemen.  I don't believe in anybody running around aboard my ship carrying side arms unless I'm in control.   That maybe sounds strange to you, but that's just the way I operate," he said.

Once he decided he would make the Canal passage, the Captain was confronted with another problem, this one purely physical, and the same one that focused the attention of every other skipper of an Iowa class battleship - squeezing her through the narrow locks with only inches to spare on either side of the ship.   So he took some precautionary measures before they entered the locks from Cristobal's Atlantic side.

"We had stopped at the entrance to the east side and cut off all the protrusions, the scuppers, overboard discharges, and everything on the flat part of the sides.  We were joking that, well, maybe we'd have to grease the belly as we went through, but we didn't have any problems until we got to the Pedro Miguel locks, the one that's obviously tighter than any of the others," the Captain related.

It was indeed a tight squeeze, but everyone was making the best of it. Sailors were even hosing down the smoke and dust on the sides caused by the ship's scraping the lock walls.  Then, what no one anticipated came next. The USS New Jersey was stuck inside the lock.

"All of a sudden," Snyder said, "as we're coming through, you see all the sailors looking over the side and not being able to see the water.  It's just dark between the ship and the lock, and you look up on the tracks there where the diesel locomotive tow mules pull the ship through, and they raised up a hair, seemed to strain too much, began to shudder, and making no progress," he said.

"I volunteered to use the engines, and I explained to the pilot that on that class of ships, the inboard screws were very well protected, that I could control the revolutions-per-minute down to one revolution per minute, and he said 'Yes, let's do that'," Snyder said.

"I got the chief engineer on the telephone, and I told him that I wanted him to stand behind the throttle man to be sure and be ready for me if I told him to stop, to put the reverse steam on to bring the propeller to an instant stop," Snyder explained.  We managed by using one or two turns of the inboard props."  That was June 4, 1968, USS New Jersey's seventh Panama Canal transit.

Captain Snyder and his crew of Jersey men, with his new recommissioned battleship safely through the Panama Canal, threw a "big party" in Balboa on the Pacific side of the Canal that evening.  The next morning, they were finally on their way to Long Beach, and soon, Vietnam.

Submitted by Bob Wernet onboard the Sea Victory.

 

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Line Drawing of Big J

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