Prince Phillip

When USS GYATT (DDG-1) was being made ready for builder’s trials in the Boston Naval Shipyard, I had certain planning responsibilities and I was also designated as the officer in charge of the Builder’s Trial Board. About six weeks before the trial I sent copies of a proposed trial agenda to certain technical specialists in the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance and Bureau of Ships. Each had been responsible for development or procurement of a unique system in the U.S Navy’s first guided-missile destroyer. I received comments from all but the designated guru for the Denny-Brown Stabilizer. This anti-roll engine, a first for the U.S. Navy, was intended to steady GYATT for missile fire-control purposes. To the delight of many it would simultaneously reduce the incidence of mal de mer.

Since it was known that the stabilizer was an off-the-shelf model that had been designed for much larger and slower ships, the Yard’s Design Division had proposed a conservative test program. With GYATT proceeding at ten knots, the underwater fins would be manually operated to induce rolling to no more than five degrees to each side. Then the control system would be switched to automatic. Special recorders would plot the manner in which the ship steadied about the vertical. Next the induced roll would be increased by another five degrees with subsequent switching to automatic and so on until GYATT was rolled thirty degrees to port and to starboard. The entire sequence would be repeated at twenty, thirty, and thirty-five knots. Because the stabilizer test would be time consuming, and because the rolling would disrupt other tests that could have otherwise been performed simultaneously, the job of putting together the overall test schedule was difficult.

On 28 November 1956 GYATT was underway about an hour and performing other tests per schedule when I walked into the wardroom. The stabilizer guru was loudly proclaiming to a small audience, “We don’t have to do this, we don’t need that,” etc. as he was striking out items from the very copy of the trial agenda that I had sent to him six weeks before.

The arrogant bureaucrat didn’t care about other tests that had to be performed and about the fact that people throughout the ship were already responding to the published test agenda. Change would be difficult and would jeopardize coordination. I surprised myself with the ferocity of my reaction. I reminded him in no uncertain terms that his comments were solicited more than a month before. Mortified, he left the wardroom.


Seeing that I had up a full head of steam, Sir William Wallace, the eighty-two year old inventor of the stabilizer who only the day before had arrived in America, quietly asked if he could speak to me. Aside, he told me a story in his delightful Scottish brogue, “The first Denny-Brown stabilizer was installed in HMY BRITANNIA, Queen Elizabeth’s yacht. Just minutes before getting underway Prince Phillip and his cronies showed up unexpectedly to see for themselves what the stabilizer could do. At the top of the accommodation ladder the Prince turned forward and climbed to the pilot house. His buddies, to a man, retired aft to the plush horseshoe-shaped cocktail lounge that followed the curvature of the ship’s stern.”

Sir William continued, “Having no underway experience at that time, I too prepared a very conservative test agenda that featured using the hand-lever control to increase induced roll bit by bit. Like you I also used the public address system before each event in order to advise everyone on board of what was about to happen. The Prince is not known to be patient. After the first two cycles he asked to take the control. Who was I to tell the Prince, ‘No’?

“Ignoring the microphone, Prince Phillip pushed the control lever hard over. BRITANNIA instantly rolled to just over thirty degrees and we spent the next few hours picking broken glass out of his entourage.”

The canny Scot after so cooling me off, proposed more or less the same changes that I had rejected just a few moments before.

I accepted the true guru’s advice.


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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