Tag Archives: Operation Sea Dragon

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.

Big J gets one of her lost 40mm mounts back

"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.

When USS New Jersey (BB-62) was built, the wounds of Pearl Harbor were still fresh in the minds of battleship sailors and the new series of capital ships were stacked deep with 40mm and 20mm cannons, designed to fill the sky around the ship with a hurricane of flak to break up Japanese air attacks. The battlewagon carried no less than 80 40mm/56 cal Bofors cannon, arranged in 20 quad mounts. The ship and her crew earned nine battle stars for her World War II service and four for her service in the Korean War before she was put into mothballs in 1957.

The only battleship called in from “red lead row” for service in Vietnam, in 1968 she was stripped of her Bofors cannon– obsolete against jets– and all were destroyed except for one mount that was left as a display at (the now closed) Philadelphia Navy Yard, where she was built.

Now, as part of a crowd-sourced fundraiser to restore the gun and send it to Camden, New Jersey where the battleship has been as a museum ship since 2001, it has been picked up from Philly and moved to the Mahan Collection museum where it will be restored before reunited with the retired naval warship.

More in my column at Guns.com.