The rest of July 1972 continued as the established routine, time on the gunline alternating with missions on targets in North Vietnam.
Back in the US the presidential election campaign course was becoming apparent. The negotiations with North Vietnam dragged on. Henry Kissinger, often described as brilliant a description with which he has no disagreement, says in his book "Ending the Vietnam War":
Later on, the myth developed that Nixon, for domestic political reasons, was eager to end the war before the election. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I have repeatedly shown, Nixon was exceedingly wary of negotiations in general (unless he had a nearly ironclad guarantee of success and especially with the North Vietnamese. As his election prospects improved, he saw no domestic reason to pursue them. In July, he still saw some benefit in keeping his Democratic opposition off balance by periodically announcing private meeting with Le Duc Tho. But after the debacle of McGovern's vice presidential nominee, Senator Thomas Eagleton -- forced of the Democratic ticket because of undisclosed health problems -- Nixon lost interest even in that. As the weeks went by, he became convinced that he had narrowed McGovern's support to a fringe that would oppose him regardless of what he did on Vietnam. On the other hand, settling even on the terms we had put forward publicly might well displease some of the conservative groups he considered his base. Nixon saw no possibility of progress until after the election and probably did not even desire it. Even then, he preferred another escalation before sitting down to negotiate.Continued below
The August began as described in the USS Newport News command summary as:
1 AugustOn August 5th the ship returned to Subic Bay, Philippines for the first time since June. The days were spent chipping paint, or linoleum tile up and holystoning the deck. The guns were relined to compensate for wear of constant firing. Exposure to salt water required surfaces to be regularly maintained. Too much paint on the superstructure of a ship can cause the center of gravity to shift up making the ship unstable. This allows the Navy to keep sailors busy swinging chipping hammers and brushes. The decks of large gunships were laid with teak wood to which absorbed the recoil better than steel. Holystoning was throwing sand down and giving each board a hundred licks with a brick fitted into a broom handle. Evenings were spent drinking San Miguel beer at establishments which had been catering to the tastes of sailors on shore leave since the days of the Spanish. The town of Olongapo was reached by a bridge across what was called Shit River from the smell. Under the bridge were young people in boats with nets yelling throw money. Small boys swam down to get the ones that were missed.
The ship refueled from USS HASSAYAMPA (AO 145) at 0815. She also rearmed from USS SANTA BARBARA (AE 28) AT 1148.
Firing two missions accounting for 606 8-inch rounds filled the remainder of the day.
Troop and artillery targets were fired upon during three missions. No GDA [Gun Damage Assessment] was observed as the shp fired 321 8-inch and 16 5-inch rounds.
The ship assisted the South Vietnamese 268th Brigade in moving into Quang Tri City to surround the enemy held Citadel on three sides' firing 174 8-inch rounds
NEWPORT NEWS was detached from TU 70.8.9, and before joining TU 77.1.2, rearmed with the USS PYRO (AE 29), at 1438.
Joining TU 77.1.2 NEWPORT NEWS conducted a special gunfire strike against eight targets, comprised of five coastal defense sites and four radar sites threatening surveillance operations in the vicinity of Hon La Island. Three-hundred ninety-six rounds of 8-inch were delivered against eight targets in eight minutes. Five secondary explosions were observed and air reconnaissance the following day reported, "CD sites were well worked over with many craters and all warehouses between sites had been flattened." General Quarters was in effect from 2000 to 2142, the period of attack.
Mid month its was back to the gunline. The National Security Council had not forgotten about us. They determined that it was time to send a message to Hanoi that they could be struck anywhere. Since they did not have twitter they thought it would be neat to send a couple of cruisers to shoot up Haiphong Harbor. It was considered an elegant addition to B-52 strikes. Risking ships in an attack on a heavily defended target in an area if anything went wrong a ship would be helpless far away from friendly forces would show how bold and determined they were. This also furthered the strategic policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) by showing the US was not altogether rational.
James L. Holloway, later to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came aboard the Newport News for the ride. Every bio for him or summary of his career I've seen says he led a multi cruiser strike into Haiphong Harbor. He wrote a chapter about it in his book Aircraft Carriers At War. I had the opinion that he came along to punch a ticket for combat and bragging rights.
I went last year to the opening of the exhibit at the Navy Yard Museum Annex exhibit about the battle. Admiral Holloway obtained several hundred thousand dollars from a big defense contractor to build the exhibit. (Yes, that Navy Yard in Washington.). If you are interested in American and especially American Naval history the museum is well worth a visit.
The Admiral said that he had grave misgivings about the attack. He implied that he felt it was his obligation to go. He did voluntarily put himself in harm's way and is due respect for that. If the attack had gone badly as the responsible fleet admiral his career would have been over in any case.
Prior to going to General Quarters on the approach I was on watch back in the Electronic Warfare (EW) room and twirling dials on the radar detection equipment. We picked up the only significant signal our section ever did during the cruise. There was a strong signal with a good bearing which the lead Petty Officer identified as a PT boat. The lead ship role for EW was assigned to one of the destroyers. We had a secure radio which we had never had and would never again use. The EW section had separate call signs which I don't remember nor the call sign of the EW section in charge. For convenience I will use the ship's call sign which was Thunder and as a editorial comment use Don't Know Ship as the call sign for the lead EW section. The call went something like:
DON'T KNOW SHIP this is THUNDER. We have a surface radar from a North Vietnamese P-6 Torpedo Boat bearing 090. Over
THUNDER this is DON'T KNOW SHIP. Ah yeah well Roger ah there is like a lot US helicopter frequencies in that range. Don't think it is a problem. Over
THUNDER: Roger signal is strong and steady. US helicopter's use tubes for radars and their signals tend slide frequency. Soviet's use crystals which keep a constant frequency. This signal is solid. Over.
DON'T KNOW SHIP: Roger do not concur, DON'T KNOW SHIP OUT.
That was the only time we had ever performed a significant military function back there. Our lead technician was on the intercom to the bridge repeatedly telling them that we had the good information until they told us to shut up.
The Chaplin always gave a prayer over the ship's loudspeakers prior to going to General Quarters. We timed him to get an idea of how bad the night's mission was going to be. This was the longest one ever and really struck terror when he went for the 23rd Psalm.
Map of Lion's Den Above is the track of the Newport News during Operation Lion's Den. The link to left is a much more detailed map on the USS Newport News Association website.
The call of "General Quarters, General Quarters all hands man your battle stations. Set Condition Zebra [all water tight doors latched down] throughout the ship." was made and I left the aft of the ship to go to the Combat Information Center behind the bridge. I put on my sound powered phones, grabbed my trusty grease pencil and wrote down ranges and bearings for radar contacts from behind the board. The Admiral was in the room doing a good job of staying out of everybody's way. It is my recollection that he ducked like a President having a shoe thrown at him when the guns first went off. I was pleased to see they were tracking a "Skunk" at the bearing we had reported. If we took a torpedo I could say "We told you so."
The two cruisers and two destroyers turned eastward, and slowed for shore bombardment. After the 6 inch gun cruiser Providence and the destroyer Robison finished their targets they turned south and retired. The Newport News and the destroyer Rowan continued east to hit further in targets the eight inch guns could reach. Coastal Defense fire was significant but not effective. A little shrapnel found on deck the next day. As we left three or four PT boats attacked. Much more frightening than the sound of gunfire was the silence during the several long minutes when the PT boats were coming from straight ahead where the guns had been disabled to protect the antenna. At least Pearl Harbor could have been told that the ship had been hit by a torpedo coming in from the bow. The PT boats were hit by naval gunfire and later reported sunk by carrier planes. This was described as the first night time surface ship battle since World War II, and was the last time a Battleship or Heavy Cruiser ever engaged in surface combat.
There is a audio recording of the battle from ship's circuits made by Newt Robinson, a crew member, and posted on the NN website. The above is a 8 minute recording during contact with the PT boats. If you are really really interested there are recordings for the entire action here. The numbers given in the recordings are angles to contacts. They are given as either "true" or "relative" bearings. True bearings are compass points -- 000 is due North, 090 is East, 180 is South and 270 is West. Relative bearings are given relative to the bow of the ship 000 is straight ahead, 090 is right or starboard, 180 is due aft, and 270 is port or left of the ship. Foxtrot is military call for "F" given when a flash is reported along with a bearing. Mother Fucker is a naval phrase signifying awe and respect.
Below is Admiral Holloway's description of the night's events starting at around the 1:38 mark of video. It's long, and emphasizes his role, but actually quite an amazing performance for a 90 year old man. I am surprised how he slights Captain Zartman, but I guess you don't get to be Chairman of the JCS by giving credit to others.
After the mission the ship returned to the gunline for a few days, spent a couple of days evading storms and spent another week of the familiar routine:
5 SeptemberThe next day while the ship was just getting underway to adjust our position on the gunline, James Sansone fell overboard when the aft starboard side five inch mount was being turned from pointing to the shore to a normal traveling position with the guns facing aft.
Supporting VNMC troops NEWPORT NEWS fired seven missions through the day, accounting for 371 8-inch and 66 5-inch rounds. No GDA was observed.
Two missions were fired, with 496 8-inch and 36 5-inch rounds
The ship rearmed from the USS VESUVIUS (AE 15) at 1236
NEWPORT NEWS refueled from the USS KIWISHIWI (AO 146) at 0824.
More than 900 rounds were fired through the day, as the ship undertook three missions and expended 361 8-inch and 619 5-inch rounds.
The ship rearmed again from the USS VESUVIUS (AE 15) at 0812. Returning to the line she fired three missions totaling 509 8-inch and 320 5-inch rounds.
NEWPORT NEWS supported another amphibious demonstration north of the Qua Viet River to relieve the NVA pressure on the South Vietnamese front line positions. Firing two missions she poured out 346 8-inch and 120 5-inch rounds.
At 1359 she rearmed with the USS SURIBACHI (AE 21)
It was a clear day with calm seas, a life ring was thrown towards him and he was seen swimming towards it. Several boats were quickly lowered, and a nearby destroyer launched a helicopter he disappeared and was not able to be found.
Here's a picture posted on the ship's association website that was posted from his life before the Navy.
On September 11th the Newport News left for a weeks of RR in Hong Kong.
Next One Planned Part 4 Tragedy