The Navy has at last revised its official verdict on the tragic explosion aboard the battleship Iowa. Careful investigations of the prevailing conditions inside the ship's 16-inch gun mount, the ammunition bags used to feed the cannon and the equipment used to load it have led to the conclusion that in all probability the fatal blast was an accident.
Since 1989, naval officers have stoutly maintained the explosion could have been caused by only sabotage. A mean-spirited probe of the friendship of two Iowa sailors, Clayton M. Hartwig and Kendall L. Truitt, resulted in charges that Petty Officer Hartwig, who died, had sparked the blast in a despondent suicide. That ugly and unsubstantiated claim unfairly added hardship to several families' heartache.
It is understandable that the Navy wanted to protect its investment in resurrecting the heavy gunships. The performance of battleships during the Persian Gulf war as artillery platforms, missile launchers and seats of command vindicated the claims of supporters. Early fears about the vulnerability of the battleships' "outmoded" bag-loaded weapons were shown to be groundless when experts noted that Army guns were also bag-loaded.