Collision at Sea: USS Blackfin SS-322 and USS Bainbridge DLG(N)-25
 by Larry Carpenter with contributions by Donald Brown

Click on photos for full-size view


The following is a short exchange of e-mail between Larry J. Carpenter ( formally aboard the USS Bainbridge DLG(N)25 and Donald F. Brown ( formally aboard the USS Blackfin SS322. It refers to an incident that occurred in the South China Sea between late 1965 and early 1967. Although it wasn’t a major event in time, it may be a noteworthy ‘pictorial’ event for all submariners around the world to see.

It briefly describes a collision that occurred between the two vessels. Even though the collision was minor, the pictures leading up to it are of particular interest as they present a view, most have never seen. It should be noted that these pictures were taken with a Kodak instamatic camera, with no zoom. About the least expensive piece of equipment you could get back then.

In December 2000 Larry Carpenter started searching the internet in hopes of finding some reference to the submarine that was involved in a collision with the surface ship he had been on. While no longer certain of the date of the event, the pictures he had, were processed in June of 1967 following his WestPac cruise. Having first arrived off ‘Yankee Station’ in late 1965, he therefore had a date range from which he could work. With that, and his recollection that the sub was the USS Blackfin, he contacted Trenton Browne (, who hosted a Blackfin web site. In his e-mail to Trenton, he only referred to the incident as an "unpleasant event’, as he wasn’t sure if he had the right sub. Trenton, not having been aboard USS Blackfin during the event, forwarded the e-mail to Donald Brown, another shipmate who served on the Blackfin, to respond to Larry’s inquiry.


Don Brown of the Blackfin wrote to Larry Carpenter:

Trenton Browne forwarded your message to me for answering. I am not sure if Trenton was on board when the "unpleasant event" happened. I was.

I forget the exact date, but yes it was in the mid to late 60's. USS BLACKFIN had just left Subic enroute to Yankee Station and was conducting some ops with BAINBRIDGE and some other ships. Upon conclusion of exercise, the skipper of BAINBRIDGE asked our skipper if we would dive close aboard as his crew had not seen a submarine dive. We accommodated and as a result of the winds from one direction and the current from another, the two ships had a minor collision. We were swept underneath BAINBRIDGE, causing us to take about a 55 - 60 degree roll to starboard.


It so happened that we had both periscopes up and our radio antennae up. All of these sustained severe damage and we had to return to Subic for about 14 or 15 more days to receive and install replacements.


Don Brown


Larry Carpenter’s message back to Don Brown:

Thanks for your reply. I never was quite certain of the boat's name, that was 30 years ago, and time tends to fade some memories. However, not the events of that day.

Our Captain passed the word that the Blackfin would be diving off our starboard side for those that were interested. Not many went topside for the event. But a few did and three of us had cameras, myself included.

I was fortunate enough to get a six-picture sequence of the dive. The first five shows what most would consider a typical set of events. From your decks going awash; to the con only on the surface; to a periscope trailing water. Fairly standard stuff! It's my last picture that is fascinating. You see, I only had those six shots remaining in my camera when I went topside. And it was during the process of taking those shots that I realized that the Blackfin was looming ever larger in my viewfinder. I looked aft and noticed our wake trailing off to the starboard side. Believe it or not, we were executing a 'right rudder' turn. It was apparent that we were going to cut across the Blackfin's course. Having only one picture left, I waited until just before grabbing the railing to brace for impact before snapping it. And let's just say, that last picture, well - - -, it gets up close and in your face with a submarine at sea. A view not many in this world have seen. I suspect a view most sub mariners would find 'interesting'.

I'm grateful that we only damaged your scopes and antennae. It certainly was a close call. And the impact might have been minor, but the tension at the moment has lasted a lifetime.

Incidentally, I know your scopes were up and being manned. After snapping my last shot, I watched as the fellow on the other end of that scope was scanning the horizon away from us. Within the last few seconds he returned to scan what must have been in his view about 180 degrees of gray. He scanned from the bow to the stern at a fairly constant pace. Then abruptly returned to the bow as if in pure dismay, spun around and down he went. I can only imagine what was going through his mind at the time. In my own, - - why wasn’t collision sounding on the general alarm.

Take a look!




And the final telling photo... taken from the main deck USS Bainbridge, starboard side, leaning over the railing!


Photos and Story - Copyright 2001 Larry Carpenter

[Reproduced with permission from the author]

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