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The Night Before Lightoff (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
I'm very proud of my naval service...and the skills which I learned and used are now a vanishing art; Diesels are cheaper to run and gas turbines have more power to weight and are easier to operate and maintain (you just yank the whole power plant out the stack if it craters...). So I thought that I would document my service memories for posterity. Hope you like it.

The Night Before Lightoff

with annotations…and apologies to Clement Clarke Moore![SUP][SUP]i[/SUP][/SUP]
By Eric H. Bowen
USS Missouri (BB-63) #3 Engine Room “A” shift MMOW, 1988[SUP][SUP]ii[/SUP][/SUP]

'Twas the night before lightoff, and all through the ship,
the sailors were grousing and shooting off lips.
“No heat! No hot water! Cold showers!” they cry,
but when they complain, all we do is sigh.

The shore steam is hooked up and flowing, you see,
but all of it's going to DFT 3.
A feed booster pump runs in recirculation,
so the feed from the tanks gets full deaereation.[SUP][SUP]iii[/SUP][/SUP]

And my watch team is settled all snug in their racks,
(except for the poker game...open with jacks!)[SUP][SUP]iv[/SUP][/SUP]
But down in the fireroom the midwatch still toils,
Before they are through, the water will boil.

By two the DA tank is full of hot feed,
the shore steam is shifted, it has a new need.
The emergency feed pump’s reciprocating starts,
filling the boiler and warming its heart.[SUP][SUP]v[/SUP][/SUP]

There’s just steam for one forced draft blower to spin,
(They purge by the chart...not just on a whim!)[SUP][SUP]vi[/SUP][/SUP]
The electric fuel pump is now on the line,
The burner barrel’s ready[SUP][SUP]vii[/SUP][/SUP]—and now it is time.

At zero three hundred, right on the dot,
the Zippo comes out, the torch is now hot.[SUP][SUP]viii[/SUP][/SUP]
The porthole is opened, the torch goes inside,
and ignites the flame as the fuel’s opened wide.

Bit by bit now the gauge starts to rise,
a hundred an hour is the CHENG’s formal guide.[SUP] [SUP]ix[/SUP][/SUP]
The morning watch paces the steam escalation,
and ensures all is well for plant activation.

Auxiliary steam is now brought on line,
Main feed pumps are started…so far things look fine.[SUP] [SUP]x[/SUP][/SUP]
The oil lab tests the fuel and feed water,
It must be just so…not ‘close to’ or ‘oughta.’[SUP][SUP]xi[/SUP][/SUP]

The 1MC call awakes me from slumber,
‘Reveille, reveille,’ the Boatswain’s Mate thunders.
I dressed all in blue, from my head to my feet,
my dungarees stained with traces of grease.

First reveille, breakfast, and muster (bit late!)
I’m down on the deckplates at quarter of eight.
The watch is relieved, my team is in place,
As top watch I now am in charge of this space.[SUP][SUP]xii[/SUP][/SUP]

The boilers are ready, the pressure’s six hundred,
The turbogen start must now be conducted.
Inspection’s completed, a message is spoken,
And the boiler room answers, “The turbo stop's open!”[SUP][SUP]xiii[/SUP][/SUP]

The aux circ pump's running, the recirc's in high,[SUP] [SUP]xiv[/SUP][/SUP]
the sparky is waiting, he gives us the sign.
Now gland seal! Air ejectors![SUP] [SUP]xv[/SUP][/SUP] Now hand crank the pump!
When you see the beam rise, give the throttle a bump![SUP][SUP]xvi[/SUP][/SUP]

Slowly at first, the shaft rotates and spins,
He speeds it up gently, until it's all in.
The tach reads twelve hundred; the throttle's open wide,
“On the governor, top watch!” the man calls with pride.[SUP][SUP]xvii[/SUP][/SUP]

From my post on the deckplates the vacuum I read,
Twenty-one...twenty-two...and now twenty-three.
At twenty-five inches I leaned back and crowed,
“Number five's ready for electrical load!”[SUP][SUP]xviii[/SUP][/SUP]

The CHENG gives an order, a breaker is closed,
in the fireroom gauges show positive flow.
The torch flames again as the superheater's lit,
It’s six hundred degrees in just a little bit.[SUP][SUP]xix[/SUP][/SUP]

Number three plant is now steaming aux,[SUP][SUP]xx[/SUP][/SUP]
and the other three plants are now starting to rock.
Steam blows from the drains as the cross-connects open,
with the loop to full pressure we really get going.[SUP][SUP]xxi[/SUP][/SUP]

The lower level watch has been marking time,
as we bring on the main it is his turn to shine.
First the steam lube oil pump, then the jacking gear motor,
then SICLOS the main…all is in order.[SUP][SUP]xxii[/SUP][/SUP]

Our upper level watch begins raising vacuum,
Sea suctions are opened…main circ pump’s in action.
Gland seal’s applied; air ejectors on suction,
The hotwell’s aligned, condensate pumps are running.[SUP]xxiii[/SUP]

Before the main engines are ready for steam,
the drains must be opened, the throttles to bleed.
We’ve now reached the climax of our little plot,
the fireroom opens the big main steam stop.[SUP]xxiv[/SUP]

We’ve verified pressure, the drains have blown clear,
we now disengage the main jacking gear.
Crack open the bypass, five turns of the wheel,
Ahead guarding valve…now that’s a big deal![SUP]xxv[/SUP]

The rotors can’t stall, or else they might bow,
we can’t put on way…that you must know!
So ahead, then astern, the throttles are cracked,
An eye on the shaft…first forward, then back.[SUP]xxvi[/SUP]

We’re ready to rumble…the first, not the last,
but soon reports come from the other three shafts.
The chief engineer phones the bridge for to tell,
“Engineering is ready to answer all bells!”[SUP]xxvii[/SUP]

It won’t be long now ‘til we hear the Bridge say,
“It’s time to shift colors…we’re now under way!”[SUP]xxviii[/SUP]
But be sure and know as we steam out of sight,
The World’s Greatest Navy is game for the fight![SUP]xxix[/SUP]

  1. iIn addition to being a personal reminiscence, this poem is intended to document the vanishing art of operating a large marine steam power plant. These annotations amplify on the text and give additional technical details.
  2. ii While watch standers could be and were assigned to any watch in the rotation, the reference here is from the fact that my watch team was chosen to stand “A” shift (0800-1200) during the Operational Propulsion Plant Examination (OPPE) conducted aboard USS Missouri in 1988. This was the shift which drew the majority of the examiners’ attention and ran the greatest number of emergency casualty drills. Number 3 engineroom served as Main Engine Control on the Iowa-class ships, which meant that we were under even closer scrutiny throughout the tests. We passed the examination with flying colors.
  3. iiiIn order to preserve the boiler steel from oxygen pitting corrosion, the feed water is processed through a “Deaereating Feed Tank”. This tank is designed to take advantage of the fact that water’s capacity to hold dissolved oxygen is minimal at the saturation point, or the point where hot water begins to turn to steam. This removes oxygen and also has the added benefit of preheating the feed water which increases overall fuel efficiency. One of the feed booster pumps is run by an electric motor (the other two are steam-driven) and is equipped with a recirculation line back to the DFT for just this kind of evolution.
    In normal operation, the water is “scrubbed” using exhaust steam from auxiliary machinery. However, during lightoff there is only shore steam, which is normally supplied at 150 psi through a small (less than 2 inch) hose. Heating well over two thousand gallons of cold water to the boiling point takes a tremendous amount of steam. And, as the shore steam is also the supply of heat for domestic hot water and space heating, sailors throughout the ship just have to put up with some cold until the plant can be lit off safely and steam begins to be raised.
  4. ivThere was always a poker game going on in M-Division crew berthing. ALWAYS.
  5. vThe Emergency Feed Pump, a steam operated reciprocating pump, was the “do-everything” pump for fresh water down in the fireroom. It could take suction either from the DFT or else directly from the feed storage tanks and send it to the boilers or wherever else it might be needed. While it couldn’t supply enough flow to satisfy the boilers at operating power, it was perfect for startup or for safe shutdown after a casualty.
  6. viWhen lighting off a boiler, it is imperative to ensure that any unburned fuel has been “purged” from the firebox prior to insertion of the lighted torch. Failure to do so can result in a boiler firebox explosion. Missouri’s boilers had a formal chart, drawn up by the manufacturer (Babcock & Wilcox), of the time required to safely clear the firebox for lightoff based upon the amount of “draft” (air pressure) in the firebox. This draft was supplied by the three steam-driven Forced Draft Blowers mounted on the back of each boiler casing. Any two blowers could supply enough draft to fire the boiler at full power; the third was an installed spare should one of the others go down for any reason.
    While using shore steam was the preferred method of lighting off, in a true emergency the plant could be lit off with electric power only, using either shore power or just the internal power from the two diesel generators. One of the fuel pumps and feed booster pumps in each fireroom was electric driven, as were the auxiliary condensate pumps (for the generators); the emergency feed pump could run on compressed air from the ship’s compressors in a pinch. To supply draft, the crew would go into the boiler “uptake” plenum and lay weighted canvas or plywood covers over the holes in the armor deck which allowed exhaust ventilation from the fireroom to escape up to the atmosphere. Then the fireroom exhaust fans (electric, again) would be run at high speed. Since the forced draft blowers took suction from the fireroom exhaust ventilation plenum, this would push enough air into the boiler casing to allow fires to be lit and steam to be raised. There would be no preheating or deaereation of the water, but this was strictly an emergency procedure.
  7. viiThe M-type boilers installed in USS Missouri used “mechanical atomization” to convert the flow of fuel into a fine spray into the firebox. However, mechanical atomization has a limited flow range, so the sprayer plates must be physically changed out when going from a high power range to a low power range or vice versa. There were large racks behind each burner front where spare burner barrels, with a variety of spray plates, were kept to facilitate quick changes. Ideally all the sprayer plates in use would be the same size, but this was not always possible. During “maneuvering” when the ship’s speed might change at any second, the Boiler Techs on burnerman duty might seem to be performing a ballet...or undergoing a panic attack!
    In more modern boilers which do not have the luxury of a large crew to run in “stickshift” mode and must be automated, mechanical atomization does not provide enough of a power range. These boilers normally use steam or air atomization, or else rotary cup burners which use electric power to distribute the fuel. This gives access to the full boiler power range without the need of frequent manual changes to the burner nozzles.
  8. viiiYes, in the renovated and recommissioned warship which was USS Missouri, the steam boilers which were the heart of her power plant were ultimately lit off with a cigarette lighter...normally a Zippo!
  9. ixWhile steam could be raised faster (and would, given orders to put to sea immediately), in order to reduce stress and fatigue on the power plant the system was warmed up at a slower pace. On USS Missouri, the policy was to pace the increase of steam pressure at 100 psig per hour, or six full hours from cold iron to normal working pressure. “CHENG” is a Navy abbreviation for ‘Chief Engineer’, the officer (normally a Commander [O-5] on an Iowa-class) in charge of the engineering department, who was usually present in Main Control for plant startup from cold iron.
  10. x The main feed pumps, as well as most of the auxiliary machinery on Iowa-class battleships, were driven by steam turbines fed from 600 psi auxiliary (non-superheated) steam and exhausting to the auxiliary exhaust system at 15 psi. The aux exhaust steam was used to operate the deaereating feed tank under normal conditions; the plant design was balanced for optimum efficiency at about 15 knots…standard cruising speed. At about this time, as well, the steam-driven fuel oil pumps would have been started to take over the boiler load from the electric fuel pump, which was normally used only for startup.
  11. xi USS Missouri’s M-type steam boilers were operated with “Type B” water chemistry. While at this late date I would not venture to share the exact parameters from memory without checking references, the water was tested once per shift to ensure that it was within limits to ensure optimum boiler life. See this link for an example of the tests run.
  12. xii There is a chain of command in any marine engineering plant. While the Engineering Officer Of the Watch (EOOW) had overall charge of plant operations throughout the ship and might engage, say, the throttleman nearby in casual conversation, protocol required that any orders for the engineroom be relayed through the Machinist’s Mate of the Watch (MMOW). Conversely, any reports which my watch team had for the EOOW would be relayed to him through me, and acknowledged.
  13. xiii Up through this point the ship has been (presumably) on shore power. In starting the Ship’s Service Turbo Generators (SSTGs), the ship is preparing to go fully on internal power. Missouri had eight SSTGs, each capable of generating 1250 kilowatts of electricity, two SSTGs in each engine room. In engine room #3 the generators were #5 and #6. The SSTGs had their own valves to supply superheated steam (the SSTGs and main engines were the only equipment which used superheated steam) from the boilers, known as the ‘turbo stops’.
  14. xiv In order to start turbine-driven equipment such as an SSTG, you first need to ensure that you have somewhere for the steam to go. For these generators two auxiliary condensers were installed in each engine room, one per generator. The exhaust steam from the generators emptied into these condensers, where cold seawater pumped through tubes by the auxiliary circ pumps would condense the steam back into water (condensate). In order to ensure a continuous flow a portion of this condensate was recirculated into the condenser (recirc). When starting the unit, the “high” recirc valve is opened; this dumps the recirculated condensate at the top of the condenser and lets it flow down over the tubes to ensure that it is cooled which helps the condensate pump maintain suction. Once the generator is on line and under electrical load there is enough condensate that this additional cooling is unnecessary; at that time the “high” recirc valve is closed and the “low” recirc valve opened. The recirculated condensate then mixes with the condensate coming into the hotwell at the bottom, providing a slight boost in overall plant efficiency as it is not cooled and then reheated so much.
  15. xv For maximum efficiency the condensers, both auxiliary and main, need to be under vacuum…as high a vacuum as can be achieved. Since “nature abhors a vacuum,” air is always trying to leak in and must be excluded as much as possible and removed when it does get in. “Gland seal” is very low pressure steam admitted to the labyrinth packing glands where the turbine shafts emerge from the turbine casing; it blocks air from being drawn into the turbine casing. “Air ejectors” are steam-operated jet pumps which operate continuously to draw any air out of the condenser and remove it from the system.
  16. xvi An SSTG is an expensive and delicate piece of major equipment. It is designed to require lubricating oil under pressure at all of the bearings at all times while in operation. For startup, oil had to be fed from a hand-cranked pump. Normally, the messenger of the watch or the upper levelman would turn the crank of this pump until the beam of the throttle valve could be seen to rise off of its stop. With the beam down the throttle valve could not be opened…the wheel could be turned, but nothing would happen. But, with oil pressure to hold up the beam, the throttle valve could be opened and allow steam to spin the turbine.
    Once the turbine was spinning an attached lube oil pump would supply all of the oil required to safely operate the turbine…until it was time to shut the generator down. With the throttle valve tripped, the generator would slow until the point when the low lube oil pressure alarm sounded. At that point, someone had to resume hand cranking the lube oil pump until the turbine shaft came to a complete stop. This took several minutes. Although normal practice was to have another watch stander assist the generator watch with this task, an experienced generator watch could handle both startup and shutdown by himself if necessary. I have, several times.
  17. xvii Missouri’s SSTGs were 6-pole alternators. In order to maintain 60 cycles (Hertz), they had to spin at 1200 rpm exactly. A digital tachometer was installed during the 1985 renovations; it was more accurate than the original 1943 frequency meters installed in the switchboards. An adjustable mechanical governor maintained the generator speed in normal operation (‘on the governor’). When generators were being operated in parallel (frequently, for redundancy) the load had to be balanced between them periodically. To shift load from #5 generator to #8 generator (in #4 engine room), the governor for #8 generator would be bumped “up”, slightly, while the governor for #5 generator was bumped “down”. The electrician’s mates at both switchboards would communicate to ensure both generators were equally loaded. To balance current flow, the voltage regulator setting for one generator would be increased while the other was decreased.
  18. xviii While the generators could be started and warmed up with very little vacuum, in order to generate power the vacuum had to rise to 25 inches of mercury. Otherwise the generator exhaust trunk would overheat, which would be hard on the condenser. It also might result in a trip of the generator on back pressure. At 25” of vacuum (measured as inches of mercury below sea level atmospheric pressure) the vacuum was sufficient to allow the generator to operate under load at full power, although higher vacuum was always better (28-29” was normally achievable).
  19. xix “Superheated” steam is steam which has been heated above saturation temperature. In the boiler proper (steam drum), the steam is in contact with liquid water at saturation temperature. Additional heat causes the pressure to rise, possibly to the point where the safety valves will lift. But when the steam is removed from the steam drum (by way of the steam separators and demisters, to remove as much moisture as possible) and then routed back into a separate heat exchanger in the boiler, it gains additional heat and energy which boosts the amount of power which can be extracted in the main turbines and generators. Missouri’s ‘M-type’ (so named because the arrangement of tube banks around the two furnaces very roughly resembled the letter ‘M’) boilers had what is known as a “controllable temperature” or separately fired superheater. Besides the main (saturated) furnace with five burners there was a separate furnace with four burners which raised the temperature of the steam. Since these burner controls were separate, the steam temperature could be precisely controlled by the burnermen on watch.
    In order to light superheater fires without damaging the delicate heat exchanger tubes you had to ensure that there was enough flow of steam through the heat exchanger to remove the heat; otherwise the tubes would burn up and leak. The magic number was a 2” (water column) drop of pressure through the superheater. On smaller ships with M-type boilers, such as WWII destroyers, the required positive flow of steam might not be achieved until the ship was making ten knots (2/3 ahead) or better. However, USS Missouri with her large internal power requirements used enough steam that superheater fires could be safely lit any time a turbogenerator (SSTG) was on line and electrically loaded. The burnermen would raise the temperature of the steam from 480°F (saturation temperature at 600 psig) to 600° when steaming auxiliary, 750° when maneuvering, or 850° when underway steaming at a steady speed.
    Separately fired superheaters give consistent and dependable steam temperatures, but are difficult to automate. Later naval designs with so-called ‘D’ type boilers had no temperature control; the final temperature was whatever it was. In order to ensure positive flow ALL steam passed through the superheater; a ‘desuperheater’ which exchanged heat back to the bottom water (mud) drum was installed to provide saturated steam for auxiliary equipment. Occasionally the desuperheater was external, with a controller which sprayed feed water into the steam to lower its temperature. Naval ships which use nuclear power are unable to use superheated steam as US reactors are designed to produce saturated steam only; their plants must be configured for its use with consequent lower efficiency. But with the virtually unlimited endurance which nuclear power provides, plant efficiency is of secondary importance.
  20. xx When ‘steaming aux’ only the turbogenerators and essential plant equipment are on line, consequently the manpower requirement was significantly reduced. In normal underway operation the engine room watch team consisted of a top watch (MMOW), generator watch, upper levelman, lower levelman, throttleman, and messenger. For auxiliary steaming the throttleman was superfluous and the generator and upper level watch could be combined; indeed, on a few occasions we combined the lower level watch as well so as to steam auxiliary with only three watch standers in the engine room. This was the normal configuration when in a foreign port; it allowed the engineers to keep three section duty with two sections free to go ashore on liberty and leaving the remaining duty section a reasonable work load.
    By way of additional information, when operating one boiler the boiler rooms were crewed with a boilers top watch (BTOW); two burnermen, one for saturated fires and one for superheated, which regulated fuel to the furnaces to control steam pressure and temperature (the BTOW normally controlled the throttle for the forced draft blowers to regulate draft/air flow...very important to keep from unintentionally making smoke), a checkman at the top level of the boiler who had the very boring yet utterly critical job of manually controlling the water level in the boiler steam drum, a lower level watch to operate auxiliary machinery, and a fireroom messenger to make rounds and keep an eye on the equipment, as well as to run errands outside of the machinery space. Two boilers required an additional checkman and two more burnermen.
  21. xxi Naval ships have extensive cross-connects to allow continued operation under conditions of battle damage or malfunctions. The auxiliary steam main was a loop which encircled the entire engineering plant, with one plant ‘hot’ all of the other plants could raise steam in short order (keeping in mind the 100 psi per hour thermal limitation, of course). Main steam could also be cross-connected between adjacent plants; in the event of an emergency order to put to sea while steaming auxiliary in-port those cross-connects could be opened and the duty section would be able to raise vacuum in the mains and get the ship underway on two shafts very quickly.
  22. xxii Lubricating oil is a necessity when warming up and starting up the main turbines; unlike some ships Missouri’s main engines had no attached lube oil pump and either the steam or electric lube oil pumps had to be running whenever the shafts were turning. Normally the steam lube oil pump was operated with the electric pump as a backup which would automatically start if lube oil pressure was lost for any reason. The “jacking gear” is a worm-drive high-reduction motor-driven assembly which connects to the main engines through a jaw clutch; it allows the main engines to be “jacked” (turned over very slowly) while warming up to prevent the rotors from becoming bowed due to the hot steam above and cool vacuum below. It also permits the shaft to be locked if necessary for any reason, even under way with the other three shafts turning. ‘SICLOS’ is a Navy acronym for “Shift, Inspect, & Clean Lube Oil Strainers.” With oil circulating and the shaft being jacked it is an opportune time to open and inspect the strainers (they are a duplex set; one can operate while the other is being cleaned) to ensure that no foreign material is circulating in the oil before the main engines are fully brought on line.
  23. xxiiiMuch as with the SSTGs, the main condenser must be prepared to accept steam before the engines can be warmed up. First the sea suction valves are opened, three of them: The main circulating pump suction, the scoop injection valve (which, as from its name, scoops up water when the ship is moving forward at ten knots or more, meaning that the main circulating pump does not need to run unless maneuvering is anticipated), and the overboard discharge valve to let the water out after it has absorbed latent heat from the exhaust steam and condensed it back into water. These are very large valves, too large to operate manually, so a motorized operator was installed for them. It did have a manual handwheel for emergencies, but your watch might be over before you succeeded in closing the valves manually! (As a point of data, I once tried to open one of these valves with the manual operator. After ten minutes of effort, the valve was less than a quarter of the way open.) So the motor operator was used exclusively.
    With the valves opened the steam-driven main circulating pump could be started in order to run cooling water through the main condenser in order to condense the steam. Again, gland seal steam is applied to the two main turbines...high pressure and low pressure...in order to seal the shaft and keep air from entering and steam escaping. For the main condenser hotwell (the collection point for condensate at the bottom of the condenser), again the appropriate recirculation line...high for startup and maneuvering; low for cruising at sea...opened and the condensate pumps running. For the auxiliary condensers the condensate pumps and circulating pumps were electric (as befits auxiliaries for an electric generator), but in the main steam cycle the pumps on an Iowa-class ship were almost exclusively steam-driven. Only one feed booster pump, one little-used fuel oil pump, and, following refit, one lube oil pump in each plant were electric. USS Missouri could make 32 knots without a single volt of electricity anywhere in the ship! Of course, in such a scenario the engineering plant would become intolerably if not lethally hot in very short order as all ventilation was electrically powered.
  24. xxivAny time that you open a valve to allow hot steam into a cold length of pipe, you are going to have condensation and water hammer. In your home water hammer may be only a noisy nuisance, but with six hundred pounds of pressure behind a slug of water fittings can break and elbows can rupture with potentially lethal results. For this reason drain valves with steam traps as well as “bypass” valves which could allow a slow trickle of steam to warm up the line were installed at all major steam system and cross-connect valves. It was very important to warm the piping slowly and allow all of the water to drain before the large valves were opened. And no steam valve on the ship was larger than the main steam stop, which allowed steam to flow from the boilers into the engine room.
  25. xxvThe ahead guarding valve is another very large steam valve; it is installed immediately before the main engine ahead throttle. The throttle is a very complex assembly; in fact, the ahead throttle is seven separate valves cam-operated from a common shaft to open in sequence. Four of these valves feed the nozzle blocks in the first stage of the high pressure turbine, while the last three are “overload” valves which dump raw main steam into the turbine shells of the first, fourth, and eighth stage respectively. The technical manual laconically notes that opening this last valve fully will “develop power in excess of the rating of the equipment.” In other words, you may go very very fast or you may find that a chain is only as good as its weakest link and break something.
    It is quite possible that one of these cam-operated valves could stick open at a time when it needs to be shut now. For this reason the ahead guarding valve (there is also an astern guarding valve and astern throttle, but they are smaller and much simpler) is installed directly above the throttleman’s watch station. Should the ahead throttle stick he can spin the wheel shut to isolate steam from the main engine until the problem can be corrected. Being a large valve, the guarding valve needs a bypass as well. In this case, the bypass is internal. The first five turns of the valve handwheel open the internal bypass; after which the main valve opens. Best practice is to open the wheel five turns, test the ahead throttle to make sure that it opens and closes properly, and then open the guarding valve all the way.
  26. xxviWith the jacking gear disengaged and steam to the main engines they cannot be allowed to remain still. The hot steam above and the cool vacuum below will cause the rotor to bow. Not a great deal, but enough to cause dangerous vibration at the very high speeds at which the main turbines spin. The solution is to allow the throttleman to crack the ahead throttle a bit, spin the shaft a half revolution or so (of the propeller...the gearing means that the turbine rotors will make several revolutions), and then immediately close the ahead throttle, open the astern, and run the shaft in reverse. Then repeat every thirty seconds or so. As long as the spins are brief, and especially with the other three shafts doing the same thing at random, no motion will be imparted to the ship until the bridge orders an ahead or astern bell. Putting ‘way’ on the ship when the Captain isn’t calling for it is a big no-no!
  27. xxvii“Ready to answer all bells” is the traditional Navy notification that the engineering plant is fully ready to put to sea. Aboard USS Missouri two Engine Order Telegraphs were installed on the bridge; one transmitted commands for the port shafts and the other for the starboard shafts (Running one set of shafts forward and the other aft at the same time allows the conning officer to put a ‘twist’ on the ship which can be extremely useful when maneuvering in tight quarters, especially if tugs are not available). On Missouri the EOTs were set up to allow the bridge to ring up “STOP”, “1/3” (5 knots), “2/3” (10 knots), “STANDARD” (15 knots), “FULL” (20 knots), and “FLANK” (maximum speed). Astern was similar, although no “Flank” was available astern (the astern turbines is much smaller and less efficient than the ahead turbines). Twisting these EOTs to “ring up” a speed change caused a bell to ring in the engine room; the throttleman had a red “answer” pointer which would be turned to match the white “order” pointer so that the bridge knew we had received the order and were complying with it. As there were only two EOTs engine room #3 handled the answer pointer for the starboard shafts while engine room #4 had the answer pointer for the port shafts; the other two enginerooms had only EOT repeaters. Repeaters were also installed in the fire rooms at the boiler fronts; the boiler technicians need to know about and respond to a speed change right now! Another repeater for the port shafts was installed at the throttle board in engineroom #3; as it was used as Main Engine Control it allowed the EOOW to stay aware of the orders for both sides of the ship.
    To be complete, when giving notification of “Ready to answer all bells” the Chief Engineer would also add, “A Flank bell is XX knots” depending upon the configuration of the plant. With four boilers driving four shafts, Missouri could make 27 knots. Doubling the boiler power...and the fuel consumption!...by lighting off all eight boilers gave us only an additional five knots...the power requirement is proportional to the CUBE of the speed! Needless to say eight boiler ops were very rare, which kept our BTs (Boiler Technicians) happy...eight boiler ops for any kind of an extended period essentially ensured that all of them would be “six and six” (six hours on watch, six hours off...but you also had day work to accomplish during the six hours off!) until it was complete. Other plant configurations...say, if a shaft had to be locked underway (as happened on the 1986 Circumnavigation)...could result in other answers to the question of what a Flank bell is.
    For “fine tuning” speed, another telegraph was installed; this one allowed the bridge to ring down the exact engine RPM which they wanted the engineering plant to maintain.
  28. xxviii“Underway—Shift Colors” is the traditional call over the ship’s 1MC (public address system) when the last mooring line has been cast off. “Shift Colors” refers to the fact that US Navy ships fly the national ensign (flag) from the fantail and the Union Jack (fifty stars on a blue field...upper left corner of the US flag) from the bow when anchored or moored, but fly the ensign from the peak or truck of the mast while under way. So, when the ship’s status changes from “moored” to “underway”, colors are shifted...the jack at the bow and the ensign at the stern are hauled down at the same time the ensign on the mast is hauled up to its peak...smartly.
  29. xxixIf you have not figured it out by now, I consider it a rare privilege to have had the opportunity to serve aboard the most powerful surface warship ever built during the years in which the Cold War was finally won. It was a time and a convergence of events which may never occur again, and I will be grateful for the experience as long as I live. Fair winds and following seas to you all, but especially to my shipmates then and now.

--------Eric H. Bowen, August 2019
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Staff member
Wow! I feel like I have received a crash course in the subject, nice! My dad was on the Missouri in WW2 and had great stories to tell of his experience. Thank you for posting your amazing tribute.

Darren White

co-owner and admin
Staff member
Thank you, that was wonderful!
I absolutely needed the notes, because I know nothing of the subject.


Poetry Mentor
Staff member
Senior Mentor
I LOOOOOVE this poem! From the first stanza, you nailed the rhythm and cadence of "T'was the night before Christmas".... Excellent job! I love that you put such a humorous spin on this yarn, it is evident that you are a natural storyteller, thank you for sharing ;)