Bowditch Records the Siege of Malta, Oct-Nov, 1967
(Contributed by Earl Adams.)    
Bowditch was in the yards in Valetta, Malta, in Oct-Nov, 1967.  The OcUnits had photo labs with enormous cameras for map making, and OcUnit One also had an outstanding photographer.  The government of Malta requested that OcUnit One make archival quality copies of the original records of the Siege of Malta (1565), records which had never been reproduced.  Our photographer was kind enough to make copies for the crew.  I do not know how many pages were in the original document, but I have 11 of them.
  The Siege of Malta took place in 1565 when the Ottoman Empire attempted to invade the island. Malta was held, and successfully defended, by the Order of the Knights Hospitaller of St. John of Jerusalem, known as the Knights of Malta since 1530. The siege is considered one of the greatest in military history.  
Siege1b-r.jpg (287056 bytes) Click the thumbnail for an album of the 11 prints.  The correct order of the pages is unknown, so I did my best.  These pages represent only a fraction of the complete document.  My Latin is a little rusty, so you will have to translate for yourself.


- COLLISION AT SEA, 13 Nov 1973 -
This photo of Bowditch with heavy bow damage (click to enlarge) has been posted at NavSource Online:


The caption reads:

"Bowditch (T-AGS-21) moored pierside, date and place unknown. Note the heavily damaged bow caused by a collision with a merchant ship."

(The photo is credited to Bill Valashinas.)

This commentary was received from Bruce Voigts, 1/20/2008:

"I was on the ship in November 1973 when we had the collision with the Ivory Coast Freighter Penelope.  I believe the picture is taken after we made it back to Cartagena, Spain.  They did some minor repairs there, and then sent us back to the states (Bethlehem Shipyard in Baltimore, MD) for a bow replacement and a few other repairs.  Our crossing speed was limited to 8 knots forward progress and took a long time.  I was OcUnit 1's Radioman at the time and had to process all the emergency traffic that occurred during this incident.  In this picture of the broken ship, I am third from the right.  The individual on the extreme right was the unit's Photographers Mate. I unfortunately do not remember his name."

This commentary and the great color photos were received from Richard Newman, 4/23/2008:

"Our keel punctured the Penelope below the water line.  We then pivoted and slammed side to side causing damage to the super structure.  We lost a fresh water tank in the bow causing Bowditch to came up out of the water.  The Penelope circled us once, then headed for port. We sat dead in the water while an assessment was made and then headed for port."

A nicely composed photo of T/N Penelope framed by the gash in Bowditch's bow, contributed by Richard Newman. The photo was taken in Cartegena, Spain, before the "minor" repairs mentioned above by Bruce Voights.  Penelope appears to be sitting very low in the water on an even keel, with a badly crumpled bow.  Note Penelope's deck cargo of trimmed tree trunks.

(Click to enlarge.)
The gash enlarged.

(Click to enlarge.)
Bowditch's bow, peeled open like a tin of sardines.

The photo was taken straight down from the starboard side of the fo'c's'le.
Damage to the superstructure. T/N Penelope
T/N Penelope, viewed from the starboard deck of USNS Bowditch, just aft of the superstructure.  The photographer was probably standing on the No. 5 Hold cover.  Penelope's operator is "AFRICA-LINE", as painted on her side.

Bowditch, her bow now straightened.
Bowditch sports a cool Band-Aid.

The ship's comedian suggested we paint the patch orange with a sign that said “OUCH!” NAVOCEANO said we did not need the publicity.


This document in the National Archives, 1974STATE002144, is a copy of a telegram dated 042349Z JAN 74 from the U.S. Secretary of State to the American Embassy in Abidjan. The subject is "USNS BOWDITCH - T/N PENELOPE - COLLISION 13 NOV 1973".

Here is an abstract of the telegram:

"The owners of the Penelope have not submitted a claim for damages resulting from this collision, resulting in a delay in settlement. A preliminary survey of damage to the Penelope was made in Cartegena in November, 1973, and a supplemental damage survey will be made when Penelope is dry-docked in Genoa in January, 1974.

Navy JAG cannot determine liability until collision investigations and damage reports are completed. Navy MSC reports will not be completed for a minimum of 60 more days. Preliminary results, however, indicate no Navy liability as Bowditch was the privileged vessel in a crossing situation prior to the collision.

The U.S. Navy will promptly pay up, but only if we're found liable."

The telegram was signed by Henry Kissinger.

So the NavSource photograph was taken when Bowditch docked in November, 1973, after her collision with Penelope.

The telegram was sent to the US Embassy in Abidjan, of all places! According to my Geographer, Abidjan is/was the Capital and largest city of the Ivory Coast. I'm supposing that this is because T/N Penelope was registered in the Ivory Coast or the owners are located there. It looks like the collision happened in the Med near Spain, as a preliminary damage survey of Penelope was made in Cartegena.

Bowditch was "the privileged vessel in a crossing situation". In other words, the collision was the fault of T/N Penelope.

Our shipmate Matthew Ekdahl was transferred from Bowditch in Malaga, Spain, in November 1973, just prior to the collision. A likely scenario is that the collision occurred soon after Bowditch sailed from Malaga.  Matthew heard about the collision later, when he was a student at the Naval Postgraduate School.


- THE GREAT CARGO HOLD FIRE!, 21 May 1975 - 
(Courtesy of Roger Gilfert
While in port in St. John's, Newfoundland, for generator repairs, USNS Bowditch managed to mysteriously catch herself afire in No. 4 Hold.  Fortunately (depending on your perspective) for security and operations, this was the only cargo hold which actually was used for cargo!  The cause of the fire was never determined.
The St. John's Evening Telegraph of May 21, 1975 dutifully fabricated its own cover story for OcUNIT One's mission:  the Bowditch is an "American Navy supply ship".

Additional photos can be found in Roger Gilfert's Photo Gallery.
A second article in the St. John's, Newfoundland, The Daily News was printed the next day, May 22, 1975. Bowditch Fire Newspaper Article - 01b-1200.jpg (818656 bytes)