By Ward Davies, Jr.


Ed. Note -- Having been in the Black Gang in most capacities I can emphathize with Commander Davies. Sometimes engineering problems can be real fun. -- Jack

In 1945 I was an inexperienced Engineering Watch Officer on the ADMIRAL C.F. Hughes (AP-124) running from the west coast to Manila and back bringing 5000 soldiers home from the war. The ship had two engine rooms, each with two boilers, a 10,000 HP main turbine driving the generator for the main propulsion motor. There were two turbine driven generators for the ship's power and a 40.000 gallon a day evaporator. The two enginerooms were identical, #1 controlled the starboard motor and #2 the port. The ship ran entirely on split plant operation with #1 powering everything forward and #2 everything aft. The Engineering Watch Officer was in charge in #1 engine room and a second officer was in #2. The auxiliary generators in #1 were not paralleled with the auxiliary generators in #2. It was truly split plant.

Boiler water quality was extremely important. Tests were regularly made to detect any acidity, hardness or salinity. There was an electric salinity alarm in the auxiliary condenser drains and one night I heard it. Immediately I thought we had to shut down before there would be damage to the boilers from salt. I called the bridge and asked them to notify the Chief Engineer. Time went by and there was no result from my request. Time is flexible sometimes especially when one is in a fix. I decided to take drastic action. We were running at our usual 22 knots. I notified the bridge that I had to stop and I rang STOP on the engine telegraph. I hit the emergency trip on the main turbine. The sudden stop of the starboard main motor put such a load on the port propeller that it almost tripped out the #2 generator. I ordered #2 engineroom to take our electric load. That meant the generators in #1 and in #2 had to be paralleled and then #1 powered down. The electrician mates on the two control boards busied themselves with adjusting speed and voltages to be precisely the same before closing the switch between the two power systems. They were too slow for me and I hit the emergency trips on both auxiliary turbines. At that instant the #1 system slowed, and if the man had closed his switch BOTH engine rooms and the whole ship would have been blacked out. As it was the forward half of the ship was blacked out and everything went dead. From the darkness emerged, with flashlights, the Chief Engineer Officer, the Assistant Engineer Officer and several Chief Petty Officers. I was grilled as to what was going on. When I gave the reason: that the salinity alarm had rung (it only rang for a few seconds) the cause quickly was found to have been a momentary splash-over of salt water when the #1 evaporator was being started. It was not a hazard to the boilers, but the sudden loss of power was a real disturbance throughout the ship especially in the enginerooms. And to me!

Now we are ready for the soap. About halfway to Manila a strange smell was present in #1 engineroom. The Chief Engineer and other officers and men tried to locate the source but it wafted here and there in a  playful way and we never found the source. We took our load of soldiers aboard and started back to the States. The salinity alarm occasionally sounded and then went quiet. I did not trip out the turbines this time! I tried to get a sample of the water but I never could get any while the alarm was sounding and what water I did catch was tested and was normal. The boilers were OK and the daily water tests showed that the alkalinity, hardness and salinity were alright. There was some increase in the amounts of boiler compound that were being used to keep the alkalinity in limits. About 60% of our 5000 passengers were having dietary upsets. The doctors aboard were greatly troubled.

During my watches I tried to trace the drain lines that returned condensed steam from various places on the ship. One night before I went off watch at 2400 I wrote down in detail the actions I had taken which were to shut off one line or another and see whether it caused the alarm to stop its occasional sounding. I had determined that there was a drain from the after part of the ship that could be the culprit. I left the information for my relief to check on that drain.

When I went below at 0800 the next day for my watch I found the ship running at reduced speed and #1 engineroom was shut down. There was electric power from #2 however. The Chief Engineer was angry at me for not telling him—that I had known on my previous watch that a drain from the main galley was sending back bad water.  He forgot that for two weeks the signs had been present and increasing in frequency and intensity and he had been told there was a mystery.

The boilers had foamed during the night and odd sounds could be heard in the main turbine. The watch officer called the Chief Engineer and they shut down #1. The steam line to the main turbine was vented into the bilge, and handfuls of a rotten smelling soap went into the bilge. It took 90,000 gallons of feed water to flush out the two boilers and the involved steam lines. The boilers had foamed because of the soap. While the flushing was going on my job was to check the water for hardness (The hardness test consisted of putting a standard soap solution into a test tube of water and shaking it to see whether a permanent lather resulted. In the present case I added nothing to the water and got permanent lather. This went on without rest and very little relief for two days.)

When we reached port and could shut down the boilers for internal inspection we found them perfectly clean! The drain line was traced and it was found that it came from a group of barrel-size cooking kettles in the main galley. They had steam jackets for heating. In one kettle there was a leak in the copper lining. When the kettle cooled the steam around it condensed and some of the contents of the kettle were drawn into the steam space and drained to the engineroom. Also when the steam was turned on by the cook the foul content of the steam jacket was blown into the food, making many of the soldiers sick. The irregularity of the alarms was because they depended on the cook. How was an Engineering Watch Officer to know that?


Ward Davies is a Retired Coast Guard Commander. His email address is

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