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Sinking The Kittiwake

Navy’s Kittiwake Scuttled Off Cayman Islands

By James Donahue

About 40 private vessels, many of them carrying former crew members, stood by January 5, 2011, as the U. S. Navy’s decommissioned submarine rescue ship Kittiwake was scuttled off the Cayman Islands. The old ship slowly sank in an upright position to become an attraction for sport divers and a coral reef for the fish.

Many thought it was a fitting end for a gallant ship after 48 years of service to the nation’s submarine fleets on the high seas. The 2,200 ton ship was carefully sunk to a depth of 67 feet where it will be an easy visit for sport divers and even snorkel divers.

The old ship had been rusting, anchored with a ghost fleet of decommissioned Navy ships at Fort Eustis, Virginia, on the James River Reserve since it was officially retired in 1994.

The Kittiwake was launched in 1945 at Savannah, Georgia, and put in service the following year. She sailed the high seas, mostly serving submarine fleets operating in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and Caribbean. The ship was standing by when the ballistic missile submarine George Washington successfully launched the first Polaris missiles ever fired from a submarine beneath the sea in 1960. 

The following year, while on duty off Key West, the crew of the Kittiwake rescued 12 Cuban refugees and carried them to safety at Key West.

In 1966 Kittiwake entered the North Sea to assist in locating and salvaging the World War II era midget German submarine Hai.

The only recorded mishap during the Kittiwake’s long career occurred on April 23, 1984 at Norfolk, Virginia, when the ship collided with the attack submarine Bergall in the harbor. The accident was blamed on a maintenance crew that had incorrectly rewired the ship’s main drive motor so that it rotated in reverse. When the order was given to get underway to leave the harbor, the engines drove the ship backward and into the side of the submarine.

A subordinate somewhere down the line obviously took some heat over that little mistake.


Submarine Rescue Ship Kittiwake