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.
Haze Gray Photo Feature
Disaster at Honda
Destroyers on the Rocks
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
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
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
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 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.
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
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.
View from inland.
Looking seaward: Chauncey is closest, Young capsized
astern, Woodbury and Fuller on the outer rocks.
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.
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.
Ground level closeup from the north.
S. P. Lee in the forground, Nicholas (broken in two) is
View from the top of the cliffs.
Another view of S. P. Lee (forground) and Nicholas (center
of picture, broken into two sections)
Ground level closeup from the south.
A third view of S. P. Lee (right) and Nicholas (at left,
broken in two)
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