USS Iowa Turret Explosion
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Basic Information

On April 19, 1989, the battleship USS Iowa was performing artillery exercises near Puerto Rico when an explosion occurred in its Number Two gun turret. The explosion killed 47 crewmen.

A US Navy investigation into the explosion concluded that one of the slain crewmen, Clayton Hartwig, had deliberately triggered the explosion with an electronic device, based chiefly on the evidence that Hartwig had taken out a life insurance policy some time before the incident. Investigators working on the case leaked the speculation that Hartwig was gay, and embittered over some personal problem; although the official findings said nothing about the man's sexual orientation.

The families of the dead sailors and the media howled "Cover-up!" and Congress ordered its own investigations. The Senate Armed Services committee commissioned an independent laboratory to go over the Navy's technical analysis. They found no evidence whatsoever of any kind of detonation device in the turret's wreckage.

The USS Iowa was originally commissioned in 1943 and saw active service during World War II and the Korean War. Decommissioned in 1958, she remained docked in the Navy's reserve fleet until brought out of mothballs in 1983 as part of President Ronald Reagan's plan to beef up the Naval fleet. In order to speed the refitting, many repairs to the ship's guns and engines were left incomplete and her final inspection by the US Navy was not performed until two years after re-entering active service. The inspection found numerous problems with the engines and gunnery systems, but the ship was allowed to remain active, and served briefly in the Persian Gulf

In 1989, during a training mission in the Caribbean Sea, the ship's chief gunnery officers persuaded the captain to permit experiments using "supercharged" powder bags and specially designed shells to increase the range of the guns. Some other officers expressed concerns that the charges of powder exceeded the tolerances of the 16-inch guns, especially considering the maintenance problems they had with the guns; but these worries were overlooked.

Then, on April 19, during exercises for a visiting Admiral, the powder in one of the Number Two turret guns ignited, causing the fatal blast.

The analysis of the disaster performed by the independent lab concluded that the explosion had been caused by overraming the powder bags as the gun was being loaded. The Navy re-opened it's own investigation and withdrew it's statement that Hartwig was to blame. However it disagreed with the lab's assessment and said only that the causes of the explosion could not be determined.


Game and Story Use

  • The PC's are investigating a disaster on board a naval vessel, but the top brass seem determined to obstruct them. Can they uncover the truth? Can they handle the truth?
  • The PC's are serving on board a naval vessel. The captain seems eager to cut corners to impress his superiors, but you can see that this is a recipe for disaster. How can you prevent disaster from happening.
  • The disaster occurs! A huge explosion that has killed dozens and may kill more! It's up to you to contain the fire and the resulting damage and get the wounded to safety!
  • After the disaster, the brass want to cover up the whole fiasco, so they've singled out one or more of the PC's, or perhaps a friend killed in the disaster, as convenient scapegoats. How do you clear the accused's honor and expose the truth?
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