1964 Refueling “Cans” ~ Tom Lutz
Submitted by Tom Lutz, Ltjg. B Division
Refueling ‘Cans” 1964
Bouncing, rolling, pitching, alongside they came in single file, those Greyhounds of the Sea, each taking a gulp of NSFO better known as Black Oil so they could return to their station to guard our bird farm.
I served as the engineering officer on the after station of USS F. D. Roosevelt (CVA 42) during underway refueling for two Med Cruises, which included six Trans-Lants due to an emergency trip to the dry dock.
As B Division JO (which included the oil shack) the assignment first felt like a penalty for being so new, but I soon came to enjoy refueling since there was interplay with the deck division and the most squared away BM-2 I ever met and two of his men. I also got to know the FN phone talker supplied by the Oil Shack (located just inboard of our station) as we shared our dreams and aspirations since were about the same age. Our station was just forward of the starboard deck edge elevator.
I came to appreciate the seamanship skills of the Skippers and ODs of the Cans as they briskly came alongside and backed their engines to match our speed. Our BMs shot the line over (once in a long while Brown, BM-2 would use a monkey fist to show that he could still do it) and the dance would begin…line, rope, cable each spanning the 15 -20 yards between the two vessels. Pelican hook in place, the hose would make its way to our riser and secured by a Rob coupling. “Start pumping” our talker would tell the Oil King and slowly the big hose would inflate and the black oil would begin to flow.
Most of the time refueling went smoothly and quickly. Sometimes the ships would come close enough so that we could carry on a shouting conversation with the sailors on the Can. During the summer of 1964 while we steamed in the Med, there was a contingent of Midshipmen on board for their First Class Cruise.
My Middie (the one that shadowed me) was a big strapping kid that wore size 15 shoes and played tackle on the Naval Academy team. In our company and on the destroyer we were refueling was 1962 Heisman Trophy winner, Roger Staubach. The two Middies shouted back and forth between the two ships and during the process, I was introduced to him. I am sure it was a forgettable moment for Roger, but I obviously never forgot it.
As we made our way out of the Med toward Mayport in early December 1964 there was obviously excitement to get home. I was an EOOW on the mid-watch and there was an understanding between our bridge and Main Engines Control that we would make “going home” turns, which meant to us several RPMs above those rung up on the EOT. Well, sure enough, we got “busted” as the Cans in our company were complaining that they were burning too much fuel and thus becoming lighter and riding higher in the water than normal…and they needed to replenish.
We carried 2.5 million gallons when loaded and always “topped off” before we cleared the Straits of Gibraltar. We had plenty of the “black honey” for everybody in our company, but slowing to 15 kts and coming along side to refuel was problematic for a Tin Can who was low on fuel if the seas were rough. On one of those episodes the Can in question had to make several passes as the formation changed course to make the alongside maneuver possible. After that we settled into 22 kts for the 4 day Trans-Lant instead of the 25 knots we wanted to make.
I gained great respect for those Tin Can sailors as they manned the lines on their main deck and rhythmically pulled them over. It was not until it was time for the span wire that they relied on their deck winch. The Tin Can Sailors were very careful to see that their work was precise and asked us to do the same because anything else would mean a bath down the port side of their sleek, gray, vessel of the ickiest, stickiest, black ooze that they would then have to clean off.
Each time, as we would finish filling them up and all connections were gone, the Destroyer’s OD would goose it and smartly leave our company showing nothing but white water as they went back to their station.
When we were along side a Fleet Oiler we received NSFO on two stations, JP-5 and HEAF (for the COD and a squadron of A1-Hs we had aboard) on two others. That is a lot of hoses going over. Sometimes the oiler pumped fast or sometimes it was slow depending on the age of the ship. The longest time I recall refueling was ten hours when we left New York after being in a dry dock there. Receiving fuel was a geography lesson that sticks with me today: Truckee, Neosho, Mississinewa and Canistoe.
Excitement, boredom, seamanship, ship handling, safety, they were all a part of refueling as I remember it. Throw in a measure of geography and celebrity to make the mix complete. It was part of the Navy life.