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Don't Get MAD, Get BAR

That Bleeping Blimp !

Aboard the USS Robinson, 1955:

Operating out of Norfolk NOB, NC, we spent a couple of weeks in submarine Hunter-Killer (HUK) operations. Our HUK group was made up of a jeep helicopter carrier, four cans, four choppers with dipping sonar, two blimps from Cherry Point, NC, and a patrol plane from Breezy Point (I think), the air station next to NOB Norfolk.

The blimps had Magnetic Airborne Detectors (MAD gear). If they cross anything with a magnetic signature, a needle dips, and in our drills, if the operator sang out "MAD contact", the SN in the rear of the gondola threw out a dye marker and a hand grenade (to notify the sub he was under attack). I am controlling all these aircraft because, I suppose, the Robinson had ComDesDiv 322 embarked.

So the 'copter on the starboard bow gets a contact and the Commodore assigns the Robinson and one of the blimps to attack it. Now picture this: I have to reconfigure the chopper screen, the blimp screen, and the can screen to make up for the loss of one of each. Plus, the formation turned away from the contact, so we have a new formation course and all the screens need to be reoriented. Plus, CIC has to shift from search to attack mode. Any one of these is enough by itself. Fortunately there was another air controller in Healy, so I turned the reorientation problem over to him and set up for attack. (Dave Replogle was the Healey's CIC as I recall; we trained together.)

At this point there was an enormous thump from overhead, where the Hedgehog anti-submarine weapons were located. I called the Bridge asking why we had fired Hedgehogs at 2000 yards when their range was 200. The officer of the deck (Sam Northrup, Ltjg USNR, I think) said he was too busy to talk. There was an 18" shuttle in the port side of CIC and somebody opened it. Yellow powder filled the air and I hollered at the Radarman on the SPS-6 (air search radar) "Where is that blimp?" The reply was: "Just crossed our bow, sir."

When the blimp crossed the Robbie, the magnetic needle deflected, and without looking below the operator must have called "MAD contact". The hand grenade exploded in the water just off the port bow and the dye marker hit the 0-1 deck port-side. Our boat falls were bright yellow from then until the Bos'n's Mates could reeve new lines.

I am hearing Air Control Common being keyed and released, repeatedly. Lt(jg). Northrup told me later that our Captain Zawacki wanted to chew out the blimp but the Commodore blocked him. So the Captain called on the 1-MC annunciator for the duty Gunner's Mate to report to the bridge with a Browning automatic rifle. He reportedly was going to "hemstitch the next 'poopy-bag' that crosses our bow". Commodore Cunningham sent word to me to send the offending blimp back to Cherry Point and we would do without him.

Recalled by Dick Gruny, LTJG