Home » News & Analysis » U.S. Amphibs Return to Iceland After Rough Seas Cause Damage, Few Minor Injuries


U.S. Amphibs Return to Iceland After Rough Seas Cause Damage, Few Minor Injuries

The amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) transits the Arabian Gulf as part of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group in August 2014. US Navy photo.

Two of the three ships in the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group had to return to port in Reykjavik, Iceland, after heavy seas en route to Norway injured a few sailors and caused damage to one ship’s well deck.

According to a Navy news release, “the amphibious dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) experienced heavy seas during the evening of Monday, October 22, 2018. As a result, the ship’s Landing Craft Utilities (LCU) and well deck experienced damage. The Gunston Hall is in port Reykjavik, Iceland for further assessment.”

Amphibious transport dock USS New York (LPD-21) also returned to port as a precautionary measure, according to the release.

U.S. Naval Forces Europe spokesman Capt. John Perkins told USNI News that the few sailors who were injured during the heavy seas suffered minor injuries, were treated and have returned to duty.

USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7), the largest ship in the group, did not turn back and is continuing on to Norway for the Oct. 25 start of the live portion of NATO exercise Trident Juncture 2018. USNI News was in Iceland to observe the exercise.

A landing craft utilities (LCU) enters the well deck of the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Gunston Hall (LSD 44) on Oct, 3, 2018, to embark on the ship for Trident Juncture 2018. US Navy photo.

All three ships had stopped in Iceland for a pre-exercise training event. The ships were delayed in arriving to Iceland due to heavy seas. Several sailors and Marines involved in the exercise told USNI News that many onboard were sea sick and that the ships altered their course to avoid even worse conditions. The Iwo Jima ARG was supposed to participate in an amphibious landing on Oct. 16, which was pushed to Oct. 17 due to the delay in arriving in Iceland. The landing was eventually canceled due to rough surf in the landing zone.

The ARG was supposed to move to Norway for the live portion of the Trident Juncture exercise, which runs Oct. 25 through Nov. 7. The amphibious portion of the exercise will involve sailing the ships into a Norwegian fjord and launching surface craft and helicopters to put Marines ashore.

It is unclear if New York and Gunston Hall will make it to Norway for any of the exercise. The Navy news release notes there is no timeline yet for the assessment of the damage to the ship.

While aboard Iwo Jima, several officials told USNI News that the Navy and Marine Corps were aware of their inexperience in cold weather conditions and the heavy seas of the North Atlantic and therefore were practicing good risk management – noting this was an exercise and not an actual contingency and they didn’t want anyone getting hurt.

“This is not war, there is not an imperative that I do something right now today,” Expeditionary Strike Group 2 Commander Rear Adm. Brad Skillman told USNI News.

He noted the need to be flexible and respond to weather and sea challenges as they present themselves, saying, “in an exercise like this, you build an exercise out and it’s on paper and it’s a plan. So you’ll have, I want to do this planned exercise event at this day and this time, I want to do the next one two hours later, and the next one two hours later. Well what happens if you have high winds or heavy seas that day? You have to decide whether you want to pick up and move it to another day or you just want to cancel it.”

  • Rocco

    Having taken part in Joint Venture in 81 with the British above the artic circle I know the feeling. Thankfully I was on a carrier.

  • Ed L

    I was up that way on an LPD in 78 NATO cruise. The North Sea and Norwegian Sea were pretty rough. We spent a lot of time touring around the Well Deck and Vehicle storage areas making sure the tie downs stayed tight. Keeps one on their toes

    • Rocco

      You betcha.

      • Ed L

        While our helicopters were not flying due to the weather the British And Norwegians were still flying

  • b2

    Shallow draft amphibious ships not made for real blue water operations like CVNs, CG/DDGs and old FG-7, etc. Same limitations exist for those small jeep carriers that operate withamphibs…but I would have thought everyone in the US Navy this. knew this…. Flagships were also amphibs once like C2Fs USS Mount Whitney…
    Somedays I think the entire concept of real, bluewater, naval seapower has been forgotten in the past 25 years…

    • Ed L

      They are no more shallow draft than a Frigate. Vessels with well decks have a different underwater hull configuration that a Frigate or Aircraft Carrier. If you desire the an Amphibious ship with a well deck to have an underwater hull configuration of a frigate or Aircraft Carrier that gator would have a draft of over 40 feet

      • Curtis Conway

        Well, at least the Amphibs are getting away from flat bottomed boats. The LPD-17 does better than the old models. Heavier too.

  • DaSaint

    Tough area to operate. But good experience. Landing craft may not have been properly secured. I wonder how many were injured.

    Will have to conduct ASW operations up there at some point. Can’t see a LCS faring well there at all. I’d think they would get pretty tossed around, although the trimaran should be more stable. Dunno. Need a hull form designed for North Atlantic and near Arctic operations. Something with a good North Atlantic pedigree…

    • Curtis Conway

      The LCS would probably twist in half at some point. Wrong hull-form for Blue Water Operations, and THAT sea state for sure. Of course an Engineering Casualty in that weather can cost you the whole show.

      • DaSaint

        So true!

  • Curtis Conway

    I hear the explanation and like the caution of the commanders . . . but you can’t get the experience if you don’t go there. We did for two weeks. It was not fun. I can recall times when almost everyone was not at peak performance for some period of time, but we got through it, gained experience, and the FORCE was better for it. Learned some valuable lessons we did. However, if you are not there . . . you can’t learn the lessons. It’s a shame an LCS was not in the group. I would like to see how they would have fared in that weather.

    • Rocco

      Kudos we aboard the Fid did a month + ! The Navy new an LCS wouldn’t be able to handle it. Last thing they need is …More bad press!

      • Curtis Conway

        I cannot imagine what a month would be like. Vestfjord was great though. I recall seeing the carrier and an Iceberg, and thinking . . . man . . . that is one BIG Hunk of ice!

        • Rocco

          Yeah we played war games with Sea Harriers . It was very hard to do air operations as sea water kept getting in the fuel system. Not to mention waves coming over the bow!! Lol. Little scary. Guess where the Brits headed after that?

      • Barnacle Bill

        Indeed. During Ocean Safari 87, when FORRESTAL (First In Defense) was proceeding northeast of the Faroes toward the Vestfjord, sea state was nasty and the escorting FFG was pitching badly. We reassigned her station to 300-500 yds astern in the carrier’s wake to try and easy the ride for her. It helped but by not much. Those OHP-class sailors were a hardy bunch on that exercise.

        As an aside, Google “Ocean Safari 1987” and read the top screed from the WaPost entitled “Our Risky Naval Strategy Could Get Us All Killed” – July 3, 1988. The author laments such exercises as tweaking the Bear too much back then. Phbbbbt. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how none of the author’s fears occurred and the Navy’s operational knowledge, ability and character was enhanced from these sustained and aggressive type of exercises. I am glad to see the Navy at least try to relearn these atrophied skills. Now if ship readiness can be raised to support such efforts and the Sailors training in them, maybe we can get back to where we should be before “world peace, unicorns and skittles” broke out in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

        • Rocco

          Copy that! Ships company or squadron?

          • Barnacle Bill

            Ship’s Company SWO

          • Rocco

            Me too

    • Kypros

      I too would have been interested in seeing how an LCS would have fared in those rough seas. Soon, these 3 dozen ships will have to either start proving themselves or proving their critics correct. I hope they end up being surprisingly capable. Not really holding my breath, though.

      • Curtis Conway

        The LCS should be used in the temperate zones only. I would limit operations to East Pacific and Western Atlantic near the coast, 4th Flt AOR, and perhaps other lower risks littoral areas of operations, which are mostly anti-drug, anti-pirate, and presence operations.

        We will have to replace the MCM ships at some point, and the LCS modules will soon be up to speed. The aviation support for Sea Dragon and its upgrade (if they use an MH-53K) replacement will be good for dragging the sled.

        Anti-terrorism missions will increase, and speed will always be of the essence in those mission sets. Since aviation support is superb on the LCS (with their great speed) they are an obvious choice to support SOF/Marine Raider Battalions.

        At some point in the future they may be required to be a visual communications node filling spots in the grid in a intense EM jaming environment.

        • Kypros

          Excellent post and I see it the same way. The LCSs will eventually contribute to the security of the United States, but within aforementioned
          limits. But repeating myself here, a Frigate can’t be limited to littorals and temperate climates. Lets hope those tasked with the FFGx decision, make the right one.

          • Curtis Conway

            I would like to see a 9-RMA SPY-6 on this some day if not up front. The current request is for a 3-RMA unit in three array faces. It’ll be good for a little over a hundred miles. The 9-RMA SPY-6 has the same coverage as the current SPY-1 radar. THAT will handle SM-6 for endo-atmospheric intercepts. Let the Destroyers and Cruisers handle the longer range, higher altitude stuff, which they will be required to do anyway, and the FFG(X) should be ready to take the lower tier altitude duty when that eventuality happens . . . AND IT WILL.

            Since one of the stated FFG(X) missions is ‘Escort’ it should be able to do this anyway. If we can’t get a full length Mk41 VLS cell, then let’s pull the booster and just give them a very capable shorter range SM-6 (SM-2 Blk V?).

            Then, the hull should be Ice-Hardened so it can handle a little ice (but not an Icebreaker). One meter thick or less is all that is required. The NORDEFCO folks do this all the time, and is standard on some of their surface combatants. You should also be able to go North of the Arctic Circle and everything be alright in heavy weather. Been there and done that.

        • Rocco

          Agreed, it’s all their good for!!

  • tim

    … I would have loved to see a video, or get some basic info on what constituted “too much” so that they had to turn around, but understand we do not want to advertise. Also, how much is now political? In light of the fact that we lost sailors due to negligence in our recent past, was coming about a nod to the lawyers?

  • jjm

    What we learn from this should be classified — just like the Japanese lessons learned in the typhoon before WW-II.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Sounds like the worst possible place to be at sea.

  • Hugh

    Drafts to undersides of keels or undersides of projections?

    • Rocco

      Draft is from the water line down!! 3rd deck on most ships!!

      • Hugh

        Actually my question related to the quoted drafts of 27′, 23′, 21′, 22′,30′ & 17’6″. Were they all to the USK which sort of relates to displacement and seakeeping, or are some the drafts of projections (eg a sonar dome which protrudes 5′ below USK) and which are handy to know when navigating in shallower waters…..? Just comparing apples with apples.

        • Rocco

          Well yes goes without saying! Your most lowest would be the sonar dome or the rudder on large ships! But LCS don’t have this as they have jet drive or a sonar dome.

    • USNVO

      Usually it is the navigational draft (lowest projection). If you look at the ships in drydock, this is usually the SONAR dome for ships with large sonars and the screws for other types of ships. For instance, on a DDG or CG/DD963 class, that would be to the bottom of the SONAR dome, the bottom of the keel is more like 20-25ft. A Fletcher or FFG-7 class has a much smaller dome so you are talking about the screw. Even then, without recognizing that the LHD, LPD ands LSD have completely different hull forms, it is a silly comparison. Not as silly as the original post though calling LPD, LSD, and LHD shallow draft since they aren’t, nor are they flat bottomed. They have a fuller stern, but even that is somewhat deceptive since they ballast down to flood the well deck. The biggest difference is that the LHD is 40,000LT+ while the LSD and LPD are smaller.

      • Hugh

        And just to muddy the waters, the FFG7s often had a keel sag up to 8″, so the baseline was taken through 2 points which made the actual midships draft below the baseline and the fore and aft drafts above. Further confusion is in MEKO 200s for the RAN and RNZN (and maybe the others) where there is a set trim of 800mm by the stern, and the forward drafts start 400mm above the baseline and the aft drafts start 400mm below! These make for interesting docking calculations……

        • Rocco

          What do you mean by keel sag??

          • Hugh

            Keel sag is where the underside of keel is not flat throughout its length but at midships is lower than the ends as built, eg on the 3 RAN Charles F Adams DDGs the keels amidships were about 4″ lower than fore and aft, and on the 4 US built Oliver Hazard Perry FFGs they were around 6″ lower amidships, and each ship was different, so the docking cradles had to be built higher at their ends accordingly. And they were not smooth curves, but had an amount of up and down “sawtooth”, which had to be allowed for as well. Hence a nominal flat baseline was chosen for each ship and this was used for the stability calculations etc.

          • Rocco

            OK…Lol I spent time in Philly yards & never heard of it put that way! Did tank inspection. On a small scale having owned boats we call this chines! I always referred to this as bottom curvature! Your lowest section being admidships for engineering spaces, then gradually curve up towards the stern depending on how long & ships how many propshafts as in a carrier would be the next lowest points as well as the rudder (s) .

          • Hugh

            Hulls below and above water generally taper at each end, sometimes involving chines, (which makes for interesting shapes of plating, eg Stealer Plate etc). However the bottom along the keel is generally designed to be flat. (The 2 FFGs built in Australia have flat keels to within plus/minus 1/4″)

          • Rocco

            Agreed… Interesting on the FFGs

  • Kypros

    Their blue water performance would be relevant if either is chosen as FFGx.

    • vetww2

      Heaven forbid

    • Rocco

      Let’s hope not!! Don’t listen to his BS

  • Robert Piotrowski

    Calm seas never made a tough sailor.

    • gonavy81

      LCS… Aluminum ships, broken Sailors.

      • Rocco

        OK Marvin

    • Rocco

      Copy that!!

  • Curtis Conway

    Baltic for sure and probably the North Sea. Hopefully never the Arctic. We have some Amphibs that will testify to that today via experiences during Exercise Trident Juncture 18.

  • Joseph Dadi

    A long time ago i transited Hawaii to San Diego on LPD-6 through a tropical storm. I snuck just outside the flight deck hatch to have a look…. weird looking clear sky’s, a gail wind, and sea state of 6 (my guess). Waves were crashing over tube ride style like shore breaks in the middle of the pacific. We took some minor damage and the motor whale boat ripped off its supports and was destroyed; banging against the side of the ship for and hour or so. I was 21 and felt rear sorry for WW2 mariners and pilots in the water in these kind of unsurvivable conditions.

    • Rocco

      Kudos. Good to see you survived it to tell your story today! You earned your sea legs!

    • Donald Carey

      Gale wind, not gail*

      *Free English lesson

      • Rocco

        Lol as apposed to breaking wind instead of braking wind!!

        BTW don’t we name wind storms after women??

  • vetww2

    In 1946, with the war over, I was sent to Alaska as a stick holder for a surveyor.(Embarassment for a once intrepid tank driver), we went on a ship called the “Henry Failing”, which it did, losing the port bilge keel in a storm and committing all meals to a 2 way trip. I sympathize