Gun Range

Adventures on the Santa Barbara Missile and Gun Range

After returning in early 1973 to California from the '72-'73 gunline tour, we spent a month or so welded to the pier in San Diego taking leave. The Navy, in its inscrutable wisdom, then decided that we ought to go out to the Santa Barbara gun and missile range in the Channel Islands and qualify in naval gunnery and anti-aircraft missile operations. This after having fired fourteen thousand or so rounds in seven months in Vietnam (no missile shoots as I recall, however).

So we took the week and steamed up to the range in sparkling weather, all hands grumbling nevertheless, having been pulled prematurely from the pleasures of San Diego, and checked in at the range. Seaman McClain, from First Division, had the fantail watch, and called me on the bridge where I was the JOOD. "Christ, Mr. Petty, you're not going to believe this, but I think we're taking incoming!" "McClain, what the hell are you talking about, we're off the coast of California!? "I'm telling you, there is a series of rounds hitting the water bearing 270."

I go over to the port wing to check it out and sure enough, there are waterspouts appearing a thousand yards away! But wait, what's that moving through the water. . .ah ha! a school of humpbacks on their way to Mexico. Secure from General Quarters, McClain!

After the gun shoot (can't remember how well we did, but the guns were definitely on their last legs before our overhaul in Long Beach, leaking quarts of hydrualic fluid at every recoil) we prepared to fire a missile at a drone that was going to launch from the mainland. Bob Beckman and his Missile Division people were running all over the place making sure everything was going to well. Dan Nichols was sitting on some bitts out on the main deck, said "I don't know what all the fuss is about, it'll either go or it won't." In the event, it went. We actually knocked the drone down and had to go retrieve it.

BM1 Selvig, Seaman McClain , a couple other guys and I went out in the motor whaleboat to put a hook on the thing which was floating in a calm, clear, glassy sea. McClain and I are reaching way out over the side of the boat with hooks while Selvig drives the boat. All of the sudden I see something moving in the water out of the corner of my eye, and this monster shark, who appears to be about twenty feet long (he was big, but you know how fish grow in sea stories) is cruising in the water directly beneath us. McClain and I jump right back in the boat, Selvig gets us in closer and we hook up the drone, tow it back to the ship, where I recall we lifted it onto the Asroc Deck with Asroc handling equipment, to be returned to Seal Beach.

Anyone who actually remembers these incidents and can prove intentional embellishment should call my attorney.

Ralph Petty


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