War on Dirt & Watertight Integrity

Our executive officer, Joe Lee Frank, was infamous for always having us fighting the war on dirt. Of course we were serving on a battleship which was probably more spit and polish than some ships of the fleet. I was warned that would be the case before I requested orders to the Missouri. It was a world war two era era vessel that had much brightwork. We were always holding sweepers and making sure that our spaces both living and working spaces were neat and tidy. Of course it is true of any ship that prides itself on being “ship shape”.

Some of us thought that maybe being in a combat zone and experiencing real combat missions that there could possibly be a relaxation of the need for cleanliness. And there was probably a day or two when the fighting became intense and we were keeping grueling schedules that sweepers was not emphasized. But for the most part the XO executive officer kept us from letting things slide too far. So we had fun making fun of the war on dirt as we were experiencing an actual war.

I am trying to recall what the real effects were that being in combat had upon our normal routine…

Naval vessels have different conditions under which they operate. For example, during peacetime when underway we would set material condition to Yoke. No I think I’m confusing things. This is “material condition” which has to do with watertight integrity,  there also were watch standing conditions, which had to do with possible threats of attack.

There are three main material conditions that I remember. X-ray, yoke, zebra, with each of these having increasingly more watertight doors required to be closed.

If you’ve ever seen the film Titanic, you have saw a problem with watertight integrity. That was the basic flaw in the design of the Titanic. The hull was breached in such a way that water would come pouring in and pass through bulkhead after bulkhead and they had no way to stop it. A warship is compartmentalized. There are watertight doors to almost every compartment. These doors hold air inside of the compartment to help keep the ship afloat in the event it is damaged. So when a ship goes to battle-stations, also known as General Quarters or GQ in anticipation of combat or when a catastrophe strikes like a fire or collision, it sets material condition zebra. Zebra is when every possible door in the ship is closed and dogged or locked shut. The doors have a rubber gasket seal around all of the edges through which water can’t pass. The dogs on a door are the latches that hold the door in place so water can’t get through.