Haze Gray Photo Feature

Disaster at Honda

Destroyers on the Rocks

On 8 September 1923 the US Navy lost one and a half destroyer divisions -- seven ships -- in a mass grounding at Honda Point, California. This peacetime disaster had few equals at the time, and still remains one of the worst such disasters in US Navy history.

On the night of 8 September, the ships of Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 11 were on a 24 hour run from San Francisco to San Diego, cruising at 20 knots. The flagship, USS Delphy (DD 261) was in the lead, followed by Destroyer Divisions 33, 31 and 32; ships as follows:

DesDiv 33: S. P. Lee (DD 310), Young (DD 312), Woodbury (DD 309), Nicholas (DD 311)
DesDiv 31: Farragut (DD 300), Fuller (DD 297), Percival (DD 298), Somers (DD 301), Chauncey (DD 296)
DesDiv 32: Kennedy (DD 306), Paul Hamilton (DD 307), Stoddert (DD 302), Thompson (DD 305)

The ships turned east, supposedly into the Santa Barbara Channel, at 2100 hours. In reality the ships had were headed for the rocky shore due to navigational errors and unusual currents caused by the Tokyo earthquake of the previous week. The ships soon entered a thick fogbank, each vessel following the wake of the ship ahead. 5 minutes after the turn, Delphy ran ashore at 20 knots, quickly followed by other members of the squadron. S. P. Lee went ashore broadside to the shoreline cliffs to the north of Delphy. Nicholas stuck on a reef to seaward of S. P. Lee. Young came ashore aft of Delphy, and was quickly rolled onto her side by the flagship's propeller wash. Woodbury wrecked on a group of rocks offshore, and Fuller was wrecked on the rocks just beyond Woodbury. Lastly, Chauncey grounded inshore of the capsized Young. Somers and Farragut were warned by Delphy's siren and they slowed considerably before coming ashore; both were able to back off without major damage. The other ships of the squadron avoided grounding completely. The ships came to rest in two groups: a main group with Fuller, Woodbury, Young, Chauncey and Delphy roughly in a line, and S. P. Lee & Nicholas together to the north of the other ships. In the aftermath of the grounding Delpy capsized and Nicholas' bow broke off.

Rescue efforts began immediately. The survivors from Young escaped to Chauncey via a lifeline. Fishing boats summoned by the surviving ships worked among the rocks, plucking the crews off Fuller and Woodbury. Local ranchers, awakened by Delpy's siren, hastened to set up breeches buoys from the top of the cliffs down to the wrecked ships. Other survivors waded ashore through the rocks. 23 men were lost, mostly from the capsized Young. The survivors were taken to San Diego by special train shortly after being rescued.

The ships were total losses. They were stricken from the Register, stripped of useable equipment and sold to a scrapper for $1,035. No salvage work was done, and the ships remain where they were wrecked. Chauncey's remains are still visible. The area is now part of Vandenberg AFB.

These photos are from the National Archives. All are dated 13 September 1923, but the ground level shots were obviously taken a few days later, as they show Nicholas' bow separated from the ship; it is still in place in the aerial shots.

Overall View

 [THUMBNAIL] Overall view of the scene, showing all seven ships. Bottom to top at right are Fuller (closest to camera), Woodbury (listing to post beside the rocks), Young (capsized near shore) and Chauncey (upright along the shore). Delphy is barely visible, capsized along the shore above and to the right of Young. S. P. Lee is broadside to the shore at upper left, and Nicholas points offshore at far left, partially obscured by the biplane's wing strut. Nicholas' bow has broken off, but has not yet separated from the ship.

Southern Group

 [THUMBNAIL] A view from the north. Chauncey is upright along the shore, with Young capsized astern of her and Delphy capsized along the shore in the foreground.

 [THUMBNAIL] View from offshore. From right to left: Fuller and Woodbury wrecked offshore, Chauncey upright along the shore, Young capsized astern of her. Part of Delphy's hull is barely visible at extreme left.

 [THUMBNAIL] View from inland. Looking seaward: Chauncey is closest, Young capsized astern, Woodbury and Fuller on the outer rocks.

 [THUMBNAIL] Ground level closeup. Chauncey is at left center, with Young capsized at right center, astern of Chauncey. Woodward and Fuller can be seen among the rocks offshore.

 [THUMBNAIL] Ground level closeup. Chauncey is at center, with the bottom of Young's hull barely visible astern. Woodward and Fuller are among the outer rocks; Woodward is clearly visible listing to port, Fuller is partially hidden by the rocks.

Northern Group

 [THUMBNAIL] Ground level closeup from the north. S. P. Lee in the forground, Nicholas (broken in two) is beyond her.

 [THUMBNAIL] View from the top of the cliffs. Another view of S. P. Lee (forground) and Nicholas (center of picture, broken into two sections)

 [THUMBNAIL] Ground level closeup from the south. A third view of S. P. Lee (right) and Nicholas (at left, broken in two)

Haze Gray & Underway
Naval History Info Center US Warship Histories - DANFS World Navies Today
Photo Galleries Shipbuilding Navsource Photos
HG&UW Home Contact Info About the Site Web Links FAQs Back

Back to the Photo Galleries Main Page

This section of the HG&UW site created and maintained by Andrew Toppan.
Copyright © 1997-2003, Andrew Toppan. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction, reuse, or distribution without permission is prohibited.