A  young

Dennis F. Milliken



A Clock Key


His Trusty


His log, and a good pair of Navy Blackshoes

A true Shipboard Story how Hancock kept time

by Dennis F. Milliken

Ship's ClockSometime during the USS Hancock's 1963 Western Pacific deployment, any number of the ship's company may have noticed a visitor to their workspace or watch duty station carrying a pocket watch secured around his neck by a small lanyard, with the watch, called a comparing watch, tucked into his shirt pocket. Also in company with the timepiece, the sailor would have been carrying a small ledger book and a key. What duty was this sailor performing in helping the Hancock serve her mission in the Western Pacific and the South China Sea?

One of the many fascinating duties that a Quartermaster had duringthose days was insuring that all the clocks on the ship were kept running and set to the same time. There were clocks located in every imaginable place aboard the ship. That is what made this particular assignment a unique one.

One Quartermaster was given this responsibility and had the opportunity to visit and observe all the various working elements of the Hancock. Spaces like Pri-Fly, the Combat Information Center, Communications center, the various engineering spaces, Boiler rooms, etc., etc... some of the spaces that had clocks were secured spaces like Photo Intelligence and other sensitive places where the clocks would be brought out to unsecured areas for setting and winding-up. There were other spaces that held high interest to the QM in charge of clocks. The Captain's In-port Cabin and Mess were always getting first class service.(snacks received from the Captain's Cook and stewards). In short, the Quartermaster that had the time keeping duties roamed the Hancock from Stem to stern, Fore and Aft, topside and below decks!

Because of the number of clocks the Hancock had, a schedule had to be established. All the clocks had to be re-set and wound every seven days. However, some clocks had to be checked and re-set every day or more often if the need arose. Clocks that were in the operational spaces had to be checked daily. Less time sensitive spaces had three day schedules and five day tune-ups. So at least once every seven days the Quartermaster would, in the course of his duties, visit every working or berthing space on the ship! In the small ledger book the QM carried with him, was recorded the compartment number where the clock was located and in the ledger, the amount of time a particular clock was gaining or losing between visits. If a clock was found not to be keeping very accurate time, it could be replaced.

Just how did the Hancock's Timekeeper actually get the correct time anyway?

It would all start in the Chart house, where the three ship's chronometers were kept. At least once a day the Quartermaster would crank up a radio receiver and tune it to a special frequency to listen in on a special transmitting station. The station in the Western Pacific had the call letters of JJY and stateside WWV, plus one other. These stations broadcast the Greenwich mean time in one minute increments. A little voice would announce the upcoming minute after- the-hour and then a series of clicking tones would be transmitted sounding like a ticking clock. Hence the term getting a time-tic. One special highlighted tone would announce the exact time by the minute. The Quartermaster would have his pocket/ stop watch set for the upcoming minute, and listen carefully for the upcoming ticks and final tone signal. When the tone was heard, the QM would start the watch. Daily the chronometers were wound and a record was maintained showing how each time piece was performing, running fast or slow. They were never re-set. They just had to be wound on schedule. When one of the chronometers failed to get this special attention, that would be another story!

The big challenge for the Quartermaster in charge of the ship's time and its accuracy came during the period of time called trans-pacing. It was, and still is, the term used for crossing the Pacific in route to West Pac. The Hancock would pass through a different time zone, seven or eight , almost every other night in reaching its West-Pac destination. Setting and re-setting the ship's clocks, all of them, on schedule was a memory maker for sea-stories to be told and re-told thirty -some years later. Also, maybe not a believable sea-story, the Quartermaster was required to advanced or move back the clock settings in the ward rooms twenty-four hours when crossing the International date line, in order to traditionalize the skipping or advancing of a day when the line was crossed, especially when it was crossed at mid-night local time.

I wonder now how the present navy ships keep and maintain their time? Do they still have the traditional wall mounted time pieces that require setting and winding on a daily/weekly? Or are they all digital and set electronically like the one at the bottom-right corner of a home PC? I do know that the duties of navigation and position tracking has been turned over to computers and satellite navigation, with celestial navigation and dead reckoning being use only for nostalgia purposes. Accurate time was always a must when taking star fixes with a sextant and taking loran readings off the old loran receiver tube that looked like an oscilloscope.

In concluding this Quartermaster tale, there wasn't a day that went by, while keeping track of the Hancock's clocks, where someone would stop and question me as to what the time of day it was in their respective home town.


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