Tag Archives: naval gunfire support

Working the Gun Line

USS Beale (DD-471) crewmembers use a fire hose to cool the barrel of the ship’s forward 5″/38 cal gun. Note the jumble of empty shell casings near the gun mount. Possibly taken during Beale’s mid-1966 naval gunfire support operations off Vietnam. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 103718

During the Vietnam Conflict from just May 1965 to June 1968, U.S. surface warships fired over 1.152 million rounds of ammunition. One destroyer fired over 48 tons of ammunition in a 48 hour period – over 1,300 projectiles. Such high-tempo operations required destroyers providing naval gunfire support to replenish from AEs sometimes several times a week, and store shells temporarily on deck or in mess areas while clocking back in to answer calls on the gun line.

The barrels of the USS Boston, an 8-inch gun cruiser, were worn nearly smooth.

USS Boston (CA-69) Fires a salvo of eight-inch shells at enemy positions, while operating off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam during her 1969 deployment to the Western Pacific. Photographed from a helicopter flying nearby. This photograph was received by All Hands magazine on 12 November 1969.  NH 98300

Secretary McNamara announced that heavy cruisers due to be decommissioned would stay on the Naval List to add weight to the gun line.

This proved critical when the heavy cruisers USS Canberra and USS Newport News gave sustained support to ground forces combating the enemy’s Tet Offensive.

Forward 8-inch main guns of the heavy cruiser USS Newport News and spent cases after a mission off Vietnam.

In her last tour before decommissioning in 1970, the USS Saint Paul (CA-73), a Baltimore-class cruiser fired 3,000 rounds of 8-inch projectiles, often catching hell from shore batteries in return.

USS St. Paul (CA 73) fires at the Cong Phu railroad yard as it is bracketed by North Vietnamese shells in this August 1967 photo

The USS New Jersey, during her single 1968-69 deployment fired over 1,200 16-inch projectiles – proving especially effective in counter-battery fire against North Vietnamese Artillery.

"USS New Jersey in Vietnam" Painting, Tempera on Paper; by John Charles Roach; 1969; NHHC Accession #: 88-197-CE Launched in 1942, New Jersey (BB-62) saw service in WWII and Korea before being decommissioned in 1957. In 1968 she was reactivated and outfitted to serve as a heavy bombardment ship in Vietnam. At recommissioning, she was the only active battleship in the U.S. Navy. Between late September 1968 and early April 1969, she participated in Operation Sea Dragon, providing offshore gunfire support against inland and coastal targets. Soon thereafter, the Navy decided to reduce heavy bombardment forces in Southeast Asia. New Jersey was again decommissioned in December 1969.

“USS New Jersey in Vietnam” Painting, Tempera on Paper; by John Charles Roach; 1969; NHHC Accession #: 88-197-CE Launched in 1942, New Jersey (BB-62) saw service in WWII and Korea before being decommissioned in 1957. In 1968 she was reactivated and outfitted to serve as a heavy bombardment ship in Vietnam. At recommissioning, she was the only active battleship in the U.S. Navy. Between late September 1968 and early April 1969, she participated in Operation Sea Dragon, providing offshore gunfire support against inland and coastal targets. Soon thereafter, the Navy decided to reduce heavy bombardment forces in Southeast Asia. New Jersey was again decommissioned in December 1969.

This sparked Major General Jim Jones in the 1980s, who as a young Marine officer in Vietnam called in direct NGF support from New Jersey to save his unit, to recall about the 24-mile arc of the Black Dragon’s 16-inch gun range offshore, “Within that arc, the WAR evaporates; the enemy quickly learns that there are better places to be and things to do than to serve as a target for these fires that actually alter the terrain.”

Gratefully, we still have ironmen with us today who worked the shells and corrected the fire, and they are sharing their experiences.

The Hampton Roads Naval Museum has been running a great series of first-hand interviews with the men who worked the gun line.

John Uhrin, USS Cone (DD-866), recalls when sleep deprivation resulted in an unexpected target destroyed.

Bill Palmer, USS Goldsborough (DDG-20), recalls the near-constant operations necessary for ships on the gun line.

Herb DeGroft, a Marine NGFS aerial observer, discusses how calling naval gunfire support worked during his time in Vietnam. Interestingly, he flew almost exclusively with Army and Air Force FACs.

Jerry O’Donnell, USS Davidson (DE/FF-1045), describes arriving on the gun line under fire by the North Vietnamese.

Charlie Pfeifer, USS Richard S. Edwards (DD-950), recounts his experience on the gun line during the Tet Offensive.

Tony D’Angelo, USS St. Paul, details the satisfaction of rounds on target and the danger of swapping fuses on the ship’s guns.

Tony D’Angelo, USS St. Paul, remembers conducting harassment and interdiction fire, along with supporting the Marines near the DMZ, during his deployment to Vietnam.

Christmas Eve Fireworks Show

Somewhere off the DPRK on this day in 1950…

USS Missouri (BB-63) Forward turret fires a 16-inch shell at enemy forces attacking Hungnam, North Korea, during a night bombardment in December 1950 LSMR NH 96811

U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Catalog #: NH 96811

USS Missouri (BB-63): Forward turret fires a 16-inch shell at enemy forces attacking Hungnam, North Korea, during a night bombardment in December 1950. In the background, LSMRs are firing rockets, with both ends of the trajectory visible. This is a composite image, made with two negatives taken only a few minutes apart. The photograph is dated 28 December 1950 but was probably taken on 23-24 December.

How you like me now?

Battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) firing her big 14″/45cal guns at Leyte on 20 October 1944, 75 years ago today, during the pre-invasion bombardment. Note her gunfire directors trained towards shore.

Naval History and Heritage Command Catalog # 80-G-288474.

Notably, Pennsylvania was present at Pearl Harbor and, while two destroyers next to her in drydock were not so lucky, was only lightly damaged and was ready for action at sea just six weeks after the attack.

Although a Great War-era battlewagon, she would prove her worth many times over in naval gunfire support across the Pacific, earning the nickname “Old Falling Apart” for her tendency to fire more ammunition than any other ship in such softening up operations.

The Gray Ghost arrives on Yankee Station

Official Caption: “The biggest and fastest guns operating in the Tonkin Gulf belong to the USS NEWPORT NEWS (CA-148). Her 8-inch/55 caliber rapid-fire guns rake North Vietnamese targets daily during Operation Sea Dragon. The NEWPORT NEWS arrived on Yankee Station in October 1967 to enter combat for the first time in her 19 years, 11 October 1967.”

Photographer, Journalist First Class Willard B. Bass, Jr. USN, Wed, Oct 11, 1967, 1127808 National Archives

Commissioned 29 January 1949, “The Gray Ghost from the East Coast,” was a 21,000-ton Des Moines-class heavy cruiser. The pinnacle of U.S. big-gun cruisers, only eclipsed by the ill-fated Alaska-class battlecruisers, Newport News and her sisters Des Moines and Salem (CA-139) carried nine 8″/55 cal Mk 16 RF guns in three 450-ton triple turrets that used automatic shell handling and loading to produce a rate of fire three times greater than that of previous 8″ (20.3 cm) guns.

They could zip out an impressive 10 rounds per minute, per gun, or 90 x 260lb shells in 60 seconds.

Oof.

Forward 8-inch main guns of the heavy cruiser USS Newport News and spent cases after a mission off Vietnam.

Newport News would fire more than 50,000 shells on her 1967 deployment including one incident on 19 December when she exchanged fire with as many as 28 separate North Vietnamese shore batteries, simultaneously, being bracketed by 300 enemy shells without taking a hit.

Newport News would return to Yankee Station two more times before she was decommissioned in 1975, the last all-gun heavy cruiser in US service. She was scrapped in 1993.

This week, however, a model of the Gray Ghost was moved into the gallery of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum by a contingent of sailors from the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG-64). The model is incorporated into a larger exhibit, “The Ten Thousand-Day War at Sea: The US Navy in Vietnam, 1950-1975.”

The new exhibit opened on Wednesday.