USS Burns DD-588 (San Clemente Island — 270 fsw)

USS Burns


The Burns has been on my project list for quite some time. Along with the Hopewell, and the Vammen, it one of the trio of San Clemente Island Destroyers that are all deep but can be dived. After the morning dive on the Vammen and a 2.5 hour surface interval, Kevin Bond and I went to check out the Burns.

The Burns is a Fletcher-class Destroyer that was launched in August 1942 from the Charleston Navy Yard. It is a massive warship with a length of 376 feet and a beam of close to 40 feet. Not only was it big, but it had a pretty impressive top speed of 35 knots. Since it was a destroyer, it was armed to the teeth.

Armaments included 5 x 5-inch 38 caliber guns, 4 x 40 mm anti-aircraft guns, 4 x 20 mm anti-aircraft guns, 10 torpedo tubes, 6 depth charge projectors and 2 depth charge tracks. Yeah, that is a lot of power pushing out a lot of armament.

Below is a schematic of a “typical” Fletcher class Destroyer:

You can see the 5 x 5-inch guns. There are three on the stern and two on the bow. Note that when the Burns sank, it had a couple of the 5″ guns removed.

Below is an internal diagram of a typical Fletcher class Destroyer:

Below are some photos from 1943 of the USS Burns (contributed by Mike Mohl) from the NavSource website:

The Burns had an outstanding career in WW II. She was in the Wake Island raid in 1943, the Marshall Islands campaign, the Mariana & Palau Islands campaign and many others. Her history reads like the history of major WW II battles in the Pacific. In January 1944, after rescuing three downed aviators, she ran into a small Japanese convoy and sank all four ships in 34 minutes! She also participated in the attack on Truk Lagoon (Operation Hailstone) in Feb 1944. The Burns received 11 battle stars for her WW II service.

She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 Nov 1972.

On 20 June, 1974 the Burns was used for target practice off San Clemente Island while testing an 8″ 55-caliber Mark 71 gun as part of the Navy’s Major Caliber Lightweight Gun (MCWLG) program. When you think about an 8″ 55-caliber weapon, that is firing a MASSIVE shell out of a very long barrel (440 inches long). That is some serious firepower.

Testing the MCWLG

The Wreck

The Burns lays on her starboard side in about 270 feet of water. The Burns was initially discovered and identified by the UB88 team back in 2009. John Walker and Kendall Raine were the first divers and they dove it with Ray and Kyaa from Sundiver. Since then, the Burns isn’t visited very often given the location and depth, but it has definitely seen quite a few divers.

She is an impressive wreck but is starting to “fall apart” since she doesn’t stand upright and the structures were never meant to horizontal. The smokestacks have collapsed and there is a debris pile building on the sand in front of the wreck.

However, none of that takes away from the awe-inspiring size of the ship. On this dive, unlike on the Vammen, I decided to not take a scooter and to instead concentrate on taking photos. The drop line was a little far away from the wreck so as we swam towards it, you could see the massive shadow start to take shape and you could see the deck and the big 5″ guns. Ray had dropped us on the deck side of the wreck near the stern just like we had requested.

As I took photos, Kevin scootered along the length of the wreck. There was a bit of current and I had somewhat regretted not bringing my scooter and just knowing that there was no way I was going to cover the entire length of the wreck. Therefore, I concentrated on the features on the stern half and primarily the guns.

Our dive plan was that Kevin would scooter to the front of the wreck and then come back towards me. The dive went exactly according to plan and after about 15 minutes Kevin came back and I signaled to him that I would like a lift back to the down line instead of spending the 5 minutes swimming it at 270 feet deep and racking up even more deco. This is why it is so important to have a pre-arranged dive plan before you hit the water. I knew Kevin would be coming back and that I could hitch a ride with him.

The wreck really is impressive and I need to go back at some point and explore more of it.

Deep Wreck Photography

I’ve been thinking a lot about photography on deep wrecks and how to be efficient yet get good quality photos when the wrecks are significant in size. There are three strategies I’m investigating:

  1. Mount a full camera, housing & lights on the front of the scooter – The good aspect of this strategy is that you are “self-contained” but the bad news is that you have a lot of bulk and drag and complexity.
  2. Mount a GoPro and Lights on a scooter – This sacrifices photo quality but is a more compact package. Likely better for movies and not still photos.
  3. Buddy Scooter – In this scenario, I would dive with a buddy and we would split duties. They would have a scooter and I would have a camera. We would have a pre-arranged dive plan and I would hitch a ride until I got to an area I wanted to photograph and then would drop off and take photos. The scooter diver would feel the disconnect and then pull off the trigger and wait for me to take photos. The scooter driver would also probably have a GoPro mounted on the scooter to take movies since I take still photos.

I think Scenario #3 is manageable if you have a buddy you dive with often and that you trust and have good communication with.

Tyler Stalter and I dive this style sometimes when we are looking for new targets. He will tow me on the scooter and then I will take photos and then he will tie a line off and go explore. When he finds something, he will come back and get me to go take photos. We communicate a plan before the dive and then we also have good in-water communication and a sense of what the other is thinking.


As I mentioned above, when we got to the bottom of the line, we could see the shadow of the ship in the distance. I setup my camera and waited a little bit and then snapped a few natural light photos (well, as much natural light as you can get at that depth). I had to boost the exposure way up in post processing so they are grainy, but I think they give a good perspective of the size of the wreck as you can see Kevin in the photos.

Natural Light photos

5″ Guns

The guns on the destroyers are really impressive. They have a 5″ diameter and the 38-caliber indicates a barrel length of 190″ or almost 16 FEET long. As mentioned earlier, two of the five guns were removed prior to sinking.

Misc Photos

Below are some other photos including a set of 5 torpedo launchers and part of the infrastructure that is collapsed into the sand.

Kevin Bond made a great video of our dives on the Vammen and the Burns. A link to his video which shows the really great bow structure of the Burns is at the link below:

Kevin Bond’s Video of the dives


Wikipedia USS Burns Article


Wikipedia 8″/55 Caliber Mark 71 gun

UB88 Burns site


Once again, as mentioned in the Vammen post, a huge “thanks” to Ray, Kyaa, and Craig at Sundiver. We had an amazing day and they know what it takes to support deep, technical diving. Maybe we’ll dive the Hopewell next….

Thanks to Kevin for the tow back to the downline at the end of the dive and for being a good dive partner. We had a plan and we both followed it perfectly.

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