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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Sunday Ship History: Breakaway music

At sea generally the idea is to keep ships far enough apart that they pose no collision risk to each other.

The exception for the Navy is the process of underway replenishment, when massive ships steam in parallel 100- 150 feet apart while one ship (the replenishment ship) transfers fuel or ammunition or food or supplies or some combination thereof to a ship in need of such material.
Underway replenishment (UNREP) is a broad term applied to all methods of transferring fuel, munitions, supplies, and personnel from one ship to another while the vessels are underway. Two general methods of UNREP are used - connected (CONREP) and vertical (VERTREP). They may be used singly or at the same time. In connected replenishment, two or more ships steam side-by-side and the hoses and lines used to transfer fuel, ammunition, supplies, and personnel connect the ships.
The topic of underway replenishment is not new to this blog, I have mentioned it several times and described it before here. The key to understanding how the process works is knowing that one ship (usually the ship that will transfer the fuel or whatever) will steady on a specific course and the ship (or ships) needing to be replenished will drive up along side and steady on the same course and speed. Then the replenishment process begins. When the ship needing supplies has what it needs, the line, hoses, etc connecting the ships are disconnected and the ships break off the engagement and go their separate ways. In Navy terms, the disconnection process is called a "breakaway."

Normally, the replenishment ship will maintain its course and speed and the other ship will increase speed, gaining distance from the replenishment ship until it is safe to turn off the base course and go carry out its mission.

But there is more to the process than the physical connection between the ships. During each unrep, sailors are exchanging information about their ships, themselves and, in sort of a "Six Degrees of Separation" way, talking about people they know that know people known to the other sailor... if you understand what I mean. There is an element of gossips and rumor and more going on.

Remember, most of the time, sailors on ships get to talk only to sailors on their own ships, so the chance to talk to someone outside that somewhat limited circle is appreciated.

Another form of communication comes at the end of the replenishment, when ships might offer up "breakaway music"- - some bit of music that might be able to be connected to the ship. The music is played over the external loudspeakers as the ships move apart, loud enough so that the other crews of the ships can hear it.

For example, the destroyer John S. McCain used to play during the breakaway the song "Big John."
Big John
Big John
Big bad John
Big John

USS Wichita
's breakaway theme was "Wichita Lineman." The lyrics were a very appropriate for a replenishment oiler, which spent lots of time at sea, refueling and replenishing ships:
I know I need a small vacation but it don't look like rain
And if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain
And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

I seem to remember off Vietnam that the destroyer Richard B. Anderson would play the "William Tell Overture" as its theme - her voice call sign was "Masked Rider" (as in the Lone Ranger) so it made sense. Ships that were new and modern might, in their day, play the theme from "Star Wars" (see here). You know, "new" 30 years ago...

In any event, choosing a breakaway theme has lead to some familiar choices like those set out in Wikipedia's
Breakaway music:
* "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson
* "Cheeseburger in Paradise" by Jimmy Buffett
* "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin
* "Hells Bells" by AC/DC
* "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman-Turner Overdrive
* "Life in the Fast Lane" by The Eagles
* "Little Deuce Coupe" by The Beach Boys
* "Eye of the Tiger" by Survivor
* "Crazy Train" by Ozzy Osbourne
* "I Feel Good" by James Brown
* "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)"
* "Ride of the Valkyries" by Richard Wagner
* The William Tell Overture
* "Panama" by Van Halen
Some choices are simply more appropriate than others. USS Pyro (AE-24), an ammunition ship, adopted for a part of a deployment the song "Fire" from "The Crazy World of Arthur Brown."

Pyro in 1972, spent nearly 11 months on the line in a record setting deployment described here:
During her 1972 deployment, Pyro set another Navy record by servicing 364 ships and transferring over 36,000 tons of ammunition.
For her final unrep off Vietnam before heading back to her homeport near San Francisco, the breakaway music included: "If You're Going to San Francisco," "I left My Heart in San Francisco," and "Homeward Bound." And it may well be that the song "Going Home" by the Rolling Stones was heard over the waters as Pyro turned to the East

Spendin' too much time away
I can't stand another day
Maybe you think I've seen the world
But I'd rather see my girl

I'm goin' home, I'm goin' home
I'm goin' home, I'm goin' home
I'm goin' home, bome, bome, bome-bome-bome,
Home, bome, bome, bome, back home
Yes, I am

All those letters ev'ry day
Maybe alright in their way
But I'd love to see your face
When I get home in their place

I'm goin' home, I'm goin' home
I'm goin' home, I'm goin' home
I'm goin' home, bome, bome, bome-bome-bome,
Home, bome, bome, bome, back home
Yes, I am
I don't think you had to be there to get it.

Breakaway songs are a great tradition and, in many ways, a salute to the ships on which so many have served.


  1. Anonymous6:40 PM

    Our breakaway tune on the USS Mahan (1976) was Hawaii 5-0, very coool

  2. Anonymous11:45 PM

    I served aboard the Richard B. Anderson from October 1973 thru October 1975 home-ported out of Yokosuka, Japan. I was part of the ASW division and our underway replenishment station was the amidships station where we handled everything but fuel. I remember fondly the breakaways when we would play the William Tell Overture and the XO would holler "Hi Ho Silver, away!" over the 1MC. I'd be re-securing the lifelines as the ship and healed way over accelerating into her breakaway turn. Great times and a great ship.

  3. Anonymous11:46 PM

    I am the person who first started breakaway music and became the ships dj everyone laughed and made fun of me at the time but once the refueling ship responded with music of its own it was a beautiful site to see