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Operational History of U.S.S. COLLETT (DD-730)

as the Argentine Navy destroyer, A.R.A. PIEDRA BUENA (D-29)

1974 - 1988

 

1974 -- The USS COLLETT (DD-730) and the USS MANSFIELD (DD-728) were towed from San Diego, California to Puerto Belgrano, Argentina by the tugs ARA ZAPIOLA (A-2) and ARA SOBRAL (A-9). The COLLETT and MANSFIELD were bought in "as is" condition for a total of $336,000. The convoy made stopovers at Manzanillo, Rodman, Puerto España, Fortaleza, Salvador do Bahia, and Rio de Janeiro. They arrived at Rada La Plata on October 1, where the COLLETT and MANSFIELD were kept as reserves.

 

1974/1975 -- Both ships were inspected. Although it had been planned to strip COLLETT for spare parts, she was found to be in good enough condition to be made active again. By secret decree 1496/75, plans were made for her repair. The rehabilitation work was assigned to the "Talleres Generales de la BNPB" (in English, the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base Shipyard). 

 

1976 -- Repair began on the COLLETT on February 4.  Juan Carlos Abbondanza directed the work. Material from the MANSFIELD was used to repair the COLLETT.  Work continued throughout the year.  

 

1977 -- Repair work continued. When the work was finished, the ship was inspected. It passed the port's proofs during May and June. The ship was commissioned on May 17 as ARA PIEDRA BUENA (D-29). It became the fourth ship with this name. The ship was then assigned to the 2DIVIDES (in English, the second destroyer division) of the "Flota de Mar" or "FLOMAR" (in English, the "Sea Fleet.") The ship followed the training plan of the year. In October, PIEDRA BUENA caught several vessels violating fishing laws in Argentinean waters. In one case, PIEDRA BUENA fired upon the AURELIA, a fishing vessel from Bulgaria, when she refused to stop.

 

1978 -- The ship performed the same tasks as last year. On July 8, it received its combat flag as a present from the Japanese Navy when they visited Buenos Aries. In September, PIEDRA BUENA participated in the annual fleet inspection. In December, the ship deployed as part of the "Flota de Mar" in the Magellan Strait area because of the tension with Chile and the frontier problem in the Beagle Channel.

 

1979 -- The ship performed the same tasks as last year. It took part in naval exercises in the South Atlantic. The Exocet MM38 anti-ship missile system was installed.

 

1980 -- The ship complied with the Exercise Plan of the year with the tactical group of the "Flota de Mar," as it had last year. It visited Necochea in November, and took part in the "Unitas XXI" operation.  (Unitas is a joint USN-ARA Anti Submarine Warfare and Naval warfare exercise, carried out every year).

 

1981 -- The ship complied with the Exercise Plan of the year in the South Atlantic with the first division of the "Flota de Mar." For the Necochea anniversary, it represented the Navy along with the LST ARA CABO SAN ANTONIO (Q-42), which is a locally built ship based on LST 1152; and the SSK ARA SANTA FE, which was the former USS CATFISH (SS-339). PIEDRA BUENA also took part in the "Sea Venture '81" and "Unitas XXII" operations.

 

1982 -- FALKLAND ISLANDS WAR -- The ship was initially assigned to the task force which covered the amphibious force. The task force had the mission of acting in case other countries made aggressive movements northwest of the Falkland Islands.  "Operativo Rosario" (the Falkland Island capture from the United Kingdom) was completed on April 2. After April 16, she was assigned patrol duties. On April 29, PIEDRA BUENA was then assigned to TASK FORCE 79.3, which also included the cruiser ARA GENERAL BELGRANO (C-4), which was the former USS PHOENIX (CL-46); the destroyer ARA BOUCHARD (D-26), which was the former USS BORIE (DD-704); and the merchant tanker, YPF PUERTO ROSALES.  The mission of TASK GROUP 79.3 was to be ready to act but stay outside the exclusion area declared by the enemy (the United Kingdom, or UK). The UK forces called the exclusion area the “TEZ,” or “Total Exclusion Zone.” It extended 200 nautical miles from the islands, although the center was not clearly defined.  The task group was followed by the nuclear submarine HMS CONQUEROR since April 30, when it received an order to attack the cruiser ARA GENERAL BELGRANO, even though it was outside the exclusion area and proceeding west.  The submarine attacked at 1600 hours on May 2 with two torpedoes that caused the cruiser to sink and a possible third torpedo which may have hit ARA BOUCHARD (D-26), but did not explode. Both destroyers, D-29 and D-26, began evasive action against submarines in the area, and received air support from the Rio Grande Naval Air Station because of the submarine threat.  The ARA GURRUCHAGA (A-3), which was the former USS  LUISENO (ATF 156); and the hospital ship ARA BAHIA PARAISO (B-1) came to the scene.   PIEDRA BUENA began the search for survivors in rough seas. At 1040 hours on May 3, the first two rafts were sighted. By 1750 hours, the ship had rescued five rafts of survivors (42 sailors), while the BOUCHARD and GURRUCHAGA had rescued five rafts of survivors (81 sailors). Rescue tasks continued by other means. By May 9, 770 men, out of the crew of 1093, were rescued.  In all, PIEDRA BUENA rescued 18 rafts of survivors (278 sailors). The ship arrived at Ushuaia on May 10,  and then proceeded to the naval base in Belgrano port on June 10 at the end of the conflict.

 

1983 -- The ship took part in naval exercises with the first division of "Flota de Mar." The ship also visited Punta Quilla on the anniversary of the death of Commandant D. Luis Piedra Buena. Completing her final voyage on November 29, PIEDRA BUENA steamed into the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base.  

 

1984 -- The ship was assigned without crew or command to the naval base arsenal on January 4.  

 

1985/1987 -- On 2/18/85, the PIEDRA BUENA was decommissioned from the ARA and stricken from the ships' register by decree number 305/85.  

 

1988 -- On September 15, the ship was assigned as a target. On November 6, the ex PIEDRA BUENA was given  to the commandant of ARA SOBRAL. (Recall that in 1974, the SOBRAL and ZAPIOLA towed the COLLETT and the MANSFIELD from San Diego to Puerto Belgrano. Also, recall that the SOBRAL was a former USN tug.)  The ex PIEDRA BUENA was sunk while being towed by the SOBRAL in a naval missile exercise of the "Flota de Mar."  The Fatal Blow was delivered by an MM38 missile fired by the (then) newly commissioned ARA ESPORA (P-41), a
locally built MEKO 140 FFG.  

 

NOTE: This history is based on a 1993 letter from the Argentine Navy Attaché in Washington DC in reply to the COLLETT Association and a 2000 e-mail reply from Santiago Aversa, (http://www.fuerzanavales.com), an historian with the Argentine Navy, to Bud Birk (bud_birk@udlp.com). In April 2001, Frank Olderr  (f_olderr@yahoo.com) combined these at times ambiguous histories and sent his draft in an e-mail to Santiago Aversa, requesting his review. Santiago graciously accepted the request, and made many corrections and clarifications and even provided new information, for which we thank him.