"Homeland Defense - 1959 Style"

USS Harwood and USS Wasp
with Task Group Bravo
August 1959

Official U.S. Navy photo

In 1959 USS HARWOOD (DDE 861) and USS WASP (CVS 18) operated with Task Group Bravo - one of two U.S. Navy Ready ASW groups - patrolling the western Atlantic for Soviet Submarines.

Task Group Bravo

In 1959 the threat of attack on the United States by the Soviet Union was considered to be very real. In response, we maintained forces in ready status -- trained, fueled, armed, and ready to go into action to defend our country. The legend of SAC - the Strategic Air Command with its B-36, B-47, and B-52 bombers always airborne - remains in the memory of most Americans who were alive at the time. Less well remembered are the squadrons of fighter jets and Nike missile batteries at-the-ready to defend American cities from Soviet bombers. Even fewer people know that the Navy maintained Ready ASW groups to protect our coasts from unfriendly submarines. HARWOOD operated with TG Bravo which alternated with TG Alfa patrolling our East Coast.

Historical Context of Task Group Bravo in 1959

Naval and Related Weaponry of 1959

Source of the Pictures

The following pictures were taken from the USS HARWOOD (DDE-861) during operations with Task Group Bravo in August 1959. HARWOOD was operating out of Newport. The skipper was CDR Voorhees. I was a USNR Lt(j.g.) aboard HARWOOD for my annual reserve duty. All of the following pictures are from my private collection, although some were taken by one of the other reservists on the cruise. I wrote up the descriptions that go with the pictures shortly after returning home.

R. A. Stoehr, CDR, USNR (Ret.)
Pittsburgh, PA
E-mail: rastoehr@pitt.edu

During this operation, a real emergency occurred when a bad fire broke out in the hangar deck of the aircraft carrier USS WASP (CVS-18). A helicopter engine blew up while being tested, spewing flaming aviation gas through the interior of the ship. The flagship sent out a call for its accompanying destroyers to come to WASP’s aid. HARWOOD was the first of the escorts to come alongside, maneuvering perilously close (about 30 feet) so that streams from its fire hoses could be directed into the hangar deck and on the outside of the magazine situated just forward of the hangar bay door. By the time the fires were extinguished, 2 members of the WASP’s crew were dead, 20 were injured or burned, and 5 helicopters and large amounts of the ships stores and equipment were destroyed.


Task Group Bravo had 7 destroyers, mostly DDEs.

USS Lloyd Thomas (DDE 764) is shown in this picture taken from the deck of HARWOOD in August 1959. 

Click on any of the following pictures to see a larger version of the picture.

Most of the DDEs were Gearing class destroyers built during WWII and later converted to exclusive ASW use by changes in armament and sonar. They had four 3in/50 or 5in/38 guns, Weapon A, and Hedgehogs.

The heart of TG Bravo was the ASW carrier WASP (CVS-18) shown here with S2Fs on its bow.

WASP was built during WWII and had a distinguished combat record in that conflict. In 1955 she was converted to an ASW specialist equipped with S2Fs and helos. The S2Fs were high-wing, twin turbo props about the size of a DC3. They were the first carrier planes specifically equipped with gear for detection and destruction of enemy submarines. For detection, they had MAD, sonobuoys, and radar. For destruction, they could carry either conventional or atomic depth charges.

The island of WASP contained the nerve center of TG Bravo -- the flag bridge and flag plot.

The Task Group was closely coordinated.  From the Flag Bridge, RADM Stroh, the TG commander, directed his choice of planes, helos, and ships to respond possible targets . The destroyers could form a screen to protect the carrier or act as plane guards in case an aircraft goes into the sea. Or, the TG commander could order a 2-ship team of the tin cans to form an independent search/attack unit to check out threats approaching the Task Group.

HARWOOD refuels from the carrier.

The units of the task group were interdependent. At maneuvering speeds the destroyers needed to refuel every other day. Here HARWOOD is taking a drink from WASP. While she refuels, the next destroyer is ready to move in as soon a she is done. The sharpness of each ship is continually evaluated by evolutions like this. The objective is to keep the dead time between the refueling ships at an absolute minimum.

USS Lloyd Thomas (DDE 764) operated with HARWOOD as part of TG Bravo.

Here LLOYD THOMAS and HARWOOD simultaneously pull away from WASP after underway refueling.

HARWOOD shows her wake during ASW maneuvers.

Here is a view from the bridge along the port side.

The HUK provided mail service while the task group was at sea.

Mail, both guard mail and personal, was delivered from the carrier to HARWOOD and the other small boys by helicopter. The carrier received mail from the beach by COD -- a transport version of the S2F. Shown here is the HUK -- a Kaman H-43 Huskie -- which also delivered the chaplain on Sundays. These Kaman helicopters featured twin counter-rotating main rotors and a distinctive double-finned tail assembly.

HARWOOD’s main battery consisted of two twin 5"-38 mounts.

The 5"-38 mounts were essentially the same as when HARWOOD was built in 1945 but had been modernized by the addition of a radar gun fire control system. These guns were for use against shore, surface, and aerial targets.

HARWOOD and her sister destroyers formed one essential part of Task Group Bravo.

Here LLOYD THOMAS (DDE-764) steams along off HARWOOD's starboard beam.

HSS helos, with their dipping sonar, provided another element.

When a helicopter took a position in the screen, it was very difficult for a hostile submarine to detect and predict its movements. This was considered to be very innovative at the time.

A Blimp provided another eye for the Task Group.

The Blimp could remain aloft for many hours. In addition to human observers, it carried MAD (magnetic anomaly detection) gear for detecting submerged submarines.

The Task Group was sometimes joined by a Blimp and a shore-based P5M Marlin flying boat.

The combination of assets shown here was capable of following any unknown non-nuclear submarine operating near our shores until the sub had to surface and could be identified.

Fire on WASP created a real emergency.

When a fire broke out in the hangar deck of the USS WASP (CVS-18), HARWOOD responded to a call for assistance from the small boys.


Here smoke is seen pouring from the hangar deck of WASP as HARWOOD rushes to provide assistance. The fire broke out when a helicopter engine exploded while being tested, spewing flaming aviation gas through the interior of the ship.

Port side of WASP with fire in hangar deck.

HARWOOD was one of the first of the escorts to arrive alongside WASP and it took position on the upwind side. Foam from the ship’s fire fighters is pouring out of the hangar deck.

HARWOOD approaching WASP.

HARWOOD rigged her own fire hoses as she approached WASP. Following instructions from the flagship, she took position to direct streams of water into the hangar bay and onto the outside of an ammo magazine just forward of the hangar bay.

HARWOOD's firefighters pour water into WASP.

HARWOOD moved in extremely close to WASP (about 30 feet) so that water streams from its fire hoses could reach the carrier. HARWOOD’s crew did not flinch from doing everything it could to aid the stricken ship, even though the risk from a bump between the ships or a further explosion on the WASP was clear to everyone.

HARWOOD's crew at the rail during the fire.

The crew of HARWOOD continued to direct its efforts at aiding WASP until the fires were out. In this picture you can see how close the ships were.

HARWOOD pulls away from the damaged carrier.

As HARWOOD pulls away, the scars on the port side of WASP show the effect of the fire. As bad as it appeared from outside, the damage left in the hangar bay and adjacent compartments was more devastating. The toll was 2 of the WASP’s crew dead, 20 seriously injured or burned, 5 helicopters and large amounts of ship’s stores and equipment destroyed.

After the fire, HARWOOD remained close-by throughout the night. The next morning, WASP steamed toward Quonset Point while the rest of Task Group Bravo remained on station. Within 24 hours, the USS TARAWA (CVS-40) replaced WASP as the flagship and the Task Group remained on alert off the east coast of the U.S.


For more information about these pictures or if you recognize yourself in any of them please contact rastoehr@pitt.edu .

For more about USS Harwood (DD/DDE 861) check out the following websites:



For more about USS WASP (CV/CVS 18) check out the following websites: