"I felt the ship take a heavy jolt. Shortly afterwards the engines stopped. I hurriedly got out of my bunk, rushed outside – and got the shock of my life: the forward part of the ship was resting on top of large rocks! Huron had run aground."
I am the sole survivor of all the officers of the Executive Branch to have served continuously onboard the destroyer HMCS Huron during her second deployment to the Korean War.
Huron sailed from her homeport of Halifax, Nova Scotia for Sasebo, Japan, on the 23rd of April 1953, via the Panama Canal and across the Pacific, arriving there on June 18th. She departed the Korean theatre on the 6th of February 1954 to return to Halifax, via the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and Atlantic, arriving home on March 17th.
Huron’s operational areas were in the Yellow Sea and in the Sea of Japan, off the East Coast of the Korean peninsula. In the former, she was engaged in screening Allied aircraft carriers: initially the British HMS Ocean, then the American USS Bairoko.
The nature of operations off the east coast of Korea was more varied: interdiction patrols, shore bombardments, train-busting and destroying floating mines.
On one occasion, in company with the American destroyer USS Irwin, we bombarded the North Korean coastal city of Songjin. Shore batteries returned fire at the two ships, obtaining a hit on Irwin’s bridge that caused some deaths and wounded. The ships hurriedly withdrew out of range, stopped, and Huron sent over her medical officer to tend to the wounded. Included among them was the captain in command of an American destroyer squadron, who thereby had earned the dubious distinction of becoming the highest ranking US Navy casualty of the Korean War.
Huron’s orders for the night of July 13/14 were to patrol the two-mile-wide strait separating the island of Yang-do from the coast of North Korea. Yang-do had been taken by the South Koreans early in the war and held against several attempts by the north to take it back. The island was valuable; used by the Americans as well as the South Koreans for intelligence-related operations. Thence the need to protect it against possible further night-time assault from the mainland.
The patrol, in the form of an endless figure 8, was carried out at 12 knots. I was on watch during the First Watch (from 8pm to midnight), and noted that in addition to darkness, visibility became intermittent due to increasingly frequent patches of mist. The ship was being navigated by the Second Officer of the Watch, stationed in the Operations Room where he was plotting the course and fixing the position of the ship by radar every ten minutes or so, a process known as blind pilotage.
Upon being relieved by the officer coming to stand the Middle Watch (midnight to 4pm) I lingered for some twenty minutes on the bridge before heading below to my cabin. On my way down through the Operations Room, I noted that the Middle Watch officer supposedly doing blind pilotage had neglected to fix the ship’s position since taking over the watch some twenty-five minutes before. When I urged him to attend to the ship’s navigation, all I got was an expletive.
A few minutes after turning in for the night about a quarter of an hour later, I felt the ship take a heavy jolt. Shortly afterwards the engines stopped. I hurriedly got out of my bunk, rushed outside – and got the shock of my life: the forward part of the ship was resting on top of large rocks! Huron had run aground on what I later learned was the western-most tip of Yang-do Island – the end nearest to the enemy-held mainland.
How Huron eventually extricated herself from her rocky perch is a long story, and likely one of interest only to professional mariners. Suffice to say, she managed to regain the water under her own power – and by the grace of God. Once free, Huron was towed, stern-first, to Sasebo by the US Navy fleet tug USS Cocopa, where she underwent repairs in the SSK Shipyard.
It wasn’t until October that Huron sailed again – with four new officers, including a new captain.