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The Digression Podcast

Chris and Jody are Air Force vets who enjoy military history and folklore. This is their podcast. They tell stories. They digress. A lot.

Feb 24, 2023

The Belknap and Kennedy collision was a tragic incident that occurred on December 22, 1975, during a training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea. The USS John F. Kennedy, an aircraft carrier, collided with the USS Belknap, a guided missile cruiser, causing significant damage to both ships and resulting in the deaths of seven sailors and injuries to dozens more.

The incident began when the Kennedy, which was operating as the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, was conducting a night-time refueling operation with the Belknap. As the Belknap was preparing to take on fuel, it made an abrupt turn to avoid another ship in the formation, and in the process, collided with the Kennedy. The collision caused severe damage to the Belknap's bow, and a large fire broke out on the ship's flight deck.

Despite the efforts of the crew and the other ships and aircraft involved in the rescue response, seven sailors were killed in the incident. The Belknap suffered extensive damage and had to be towed back to port for repairs. The Kennedy also sustained damage but was able to continue its operations.

The Naval Safety Center conducted a thorough investigation of the incident, and it was determined that a series of errors and miscommunications on the part of the crew of the Belknap led to the collision. The crew had failed to properly communicate their intentions to the Kennedy and had not properly set the ship's radar, which led to confusion about the ship's position.

In the aftermath of the incident, the Navy implemented a number of changes in procedures and training to prevent similar incidents in the future. These changes included revisions to the rules of the road for ships at sea, increased emphasis on communication and teamwork during training, and improvements in the design of ships to make them safer and more survivable in the event of a collision.

The Belknap and Kennedy collision was a tragic incident that resulted in the loss of life and significant damage to two ships. However, it also served as a reminder of the importance of proper communication and teamwork in preventing accidents at sea. The lessons learned from the incident have been used to improve safety and training in the US Navy and other navies around the world.

We'd like to give a special thanks to Jody's dad, retired SCPO Roy Hanks, who provided a first-hand account of the events that occurred on that December night. 

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