In early 1971 I was aboard USS Wasp (CVS-18) on a cruise. We initially intended to go to Guantanamo Bay to undergo an Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI). The inspection was just what it sounds like. Were we ready for anything? Just before the cruise we got orders to go to the Mediterranean Sea to work with some sort of destroyer that had a secret sonar system. Our job was Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW) and it made sense to work with a smallboy tasked with the same job. But what about the ORI?
We were told to pick up the ORI inspectors in Bermuda and do the inspection while we transited the Atlantic to Gibraltar. Which we did. The inspectors came aboard and the next few days were spent in simulated wartime ASW. It was a busy time but nothing we didn’t know how to do. So I thought.
When we got to Rota, Spain, the carrier anchored and we got a debrief on the ORI in the wardroom of the Wasp. Let’s just say, the inspection hadn’t gone well. Damage control was our Achilles heel. After the inspectors listed our deficiencies, we were all waiting for the Captain to step forward, have someone take his sword, cut the buttons off his uniform and break his sword in two. Instead, the chief inspector said, “However…”
However? We all looked at one another. There was no however after that report. The Captain was going to be cashiered.
“However,” the inspector went on, “there is nothing contemplated in the near future except peacetime steaming.” The ship was allowed to work on its deficiencies while we spent the next several weeks in the Med. On the way back from Rota to the US, we’d repeat the ORI. End of discussion.
The next several weeks were confusing. We did lots of drills to remediate our deficiencies. But there was the super secret sonar ship. I launched more than once to go work with the secret destroyer, only to be recalled for one reason or another. We never saw it. What we did was head to the eastern Med where two attack carriers were already steaming.
This was fun. A typical carrier assumes it owns the 50 miles of airspace around it. With three carriers in the tight confines of the eastern Mediterranean, our control areas frequently overlapped. I once was flying plane guard in the starboard delta pattern (flying racetracks to the right side of the carrier as it steamed forward launching and recovering aircraft, waiting for someone to fly into the water). A flight of 2 A-7s flew right through our pattern at about 500 feet. The attack carriers never got the hang of operating so close to us.
After several weeks in the Med, we picked up the ORI inspectors at Rota and did a retake on the way east across the Atlantic. We scored very well across the board. After seven weeks we made it back to home port.
Later I heard a CBS report on the Arab Israeli war threat while we were over there. Apparently when war threatened, the US sent two attack carriers in the Med to the east where the action was. The Soviets countered with submarines from the Black Sea fleet entering the Med. The US riposted by sending an ASW carrier (that would be us) into the eastern Med to counter the subs. Peacetime steaming. Eventually things cooled down and the war didn’t happen. (War did break out on Yom Kippur of 1973, but that’s another story).
Thinking back, I remembered in late 1970, just months before our aborted ORI, our sister air group based aboard USS Intrepid had an emergency recall. The recall happened over a weekend right before they were to be deployed. Intrepid left port on Sunday instead of the planned Tuesday and milled around east of the US for several weeks before coming home. A helicopter pilot from that air group told me they were issued door guns for their H-3s to do armed Search and Rescue. Now I understood why.