Christmas in Singapore

Excerpt from; “Striking Eight Bells: A Vietnam Memoir.”

“Another story on what most Americans don’t know about the Navy’s role in the Vietnam War?”

Many Americans probably believed that by 1972, the war in Vietnam was essentially winding down. However, for the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, 1972 would prove to be a busy year of conducting numerous and dangerous combat operations.

At 0210 on December 16, my ship USS Rich (DD 820) arrived back off the coast of South Vietnam at MR1, Point Allison after completing another ammunition on-load from USS Santa Barbara (AE 28), and then a fueling-at-sea (FAS) replenishment with USNS Taluga (AO 62) out at Yankee Station. Our ship checked in with the NGLO and the ANGLICO Marine spotter at Point Allison. Our first gunfire support mission began 30 minutes later at 0240. This fire mission was a long one, firing 170 HE rounds on two targets for about an hour and a half.

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USS Rich (DD 820). A Gearing (FRAM I) class destroyer.*

At 0500 that morning a message arrived from CTG 75.9 detaching us from gunfire support duties and directing us to rendezvous with aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA 41). Our ship was being assigned carrier escort duties out at Yankee Station. The other news was that Midway would be going to Singapore for Christmas and our ship would be one of her escort ships. Now, there was some damn fine good news.

On the morning of December 17, our ship departed from our MR1 station at Point Allison shortly after 0500. Our orders from CTG 75.9 were to proceed on duties as assigned and rendezvous with the carrier battle group under the command of CTG 77.3. Out in the Gulf of Tonkin, CTG 77.3 assumed tactical control of our ship at 0810. Initially, our ship was ordered to maintain visual signaling distance, but to stay within a distance of five nautical miles from USS Midway.

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Area of MR1, Point Allision.

Now that our ship was out at Yankee Station with the carrier battle group, we shifted to Watch Condition III. Watch rotations again went to four hours on, off eight hours. So far we had spent 22 exhausting days in Vietnam either on the gun line at MR1 or taking part in raids attacking North Vietnamese coastal defense or other targets. Operations had gone on essentially around the clock. The entire crew was exhausted. Our ship being assigned to CTG 77.3 was a welcome break. Our ship was ordered to take station 1,500 yards off the starboard quarter of USS Midway for “plane guard.”

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USS Midway (CVA 41) in the Gulf of Tonkin.*

On December 20, most of our day was spent waiting for USS Midway to complete her FAS replenishment with USS Wabash (AOR 5). After Midway completed her breakaway maneuvers with Wabash and was clear, then our ship went alongside Wabash for FAS replenishment. At about 1600, USS Midway finally came to a southerly course at a speed of 25 knots, beginning the passage to Singapore. Our ship was assigned to stay at a station 2,500 yards astern of Midway. Essentially, we would follow Midway the passage distance of 650 nautical miles to Singapore.

For destroyers, escorting an aircraft carrier during a passage could be frustrating. Unlike destroyers, aircraft carriers didn’t follow straight route legs to get from points “A” to “B” as fast as they could. No, they had to zigzag the whole damn way, still conducting flight operations while en route. A destroyer would make the passage from the Gulf of Tonkin to Singapore in about 40 hours. Midway would take over three damn days to cover the same distance.

On Christmas Eve, the ship arrived at the ANZUK Naval Basin, which was part of the former British Sembawang Naval Base, and docked with our starboard side to Berth 6 at about noon. The Sembawang Naval Base was located in Sembawang at the northern tip of Singapore. The British Naval Forces had withdrawn from Singapore in 1971. ANZUK was a force formed by Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom to defend the Asian Pacific region.

The ship was going to be docked in Singapore for seven days. Since the dock offered Hotel services such as steam, freshwater, and electricity, the ship’s boilers and engineering plant would be shut down and go to cold iron status. This made all of the snipes in engineering pretty happy since now they all could get some liberty and time off the ship in Singapore. There were a number of British, Australian, and New Zealand naval ships also docked in the basin.

The crew really needed this break. It had been 30 long and hard days since leaving Subic Bay. Except for three hours or so tied to the dock at Da Nang in Vietnam, the ship had spent all of its time underway since leaving Subic Bay. The endless days on the gun line, running Linebacker operations at night, and the daily underway replenishment evolutions had taken a toll on both the crew and the ship.

Many were excited about the prospect of going to the Bob Hope USO show on board aircraft carrier USS Midway the next day, Christmas. Others just wanted to get off the ship for a while, or take some time to rest and relax. As the ship went to sea and anchor detail for entering port, the list to sign up for those that wanted to go to the Bob Hope USO show was posted outside the Ships Office. I wanted to go, but by the time the sea and anchor detail was secured and I could get below, the list had already been taken down. Only a limited number from the ship could attend the USO show, and the list was full.

I was a bit disappointed, thinking it would have been cool to actually see Bob Hope in person. Our generation had grown up watching him on television and in the movies. Besides all of his television shows and films, Bob Hope was well known for his unwavering support of the troops and the exhausting USO performance tours he had been doing since World War II.

One thing that was noteworthy about our time in Singapore was that the character of the crew had changed. The change I’m referring to had to do with any personality conflicts, friction, or tough feelings that might have existed between some crew members back in Norfolk. All of that was now gone. Everyone in the crew, officers, the chiefs, and enlisted now seemed to have a strong sense of comradeship with each other. In spite of what we had just gone through, our morale was high; you could say we had very good “esprit de corps,” or team spirit. Our commanding officer, the XO, the ship’s officers, and the entire crew had been battle tested, all had done their respective jobs, and had done them well. I don’t think this fact had actually sunk in with anyone on board until our time in Singapore.

The ship’s crew went into the four duty section rotations for our time in port. The ship was going to be on holiday routine for most our stay, which meant that except for duty days, everyone had liberty. I had duty the first day on Christmas Eve and was assigned to the afternoon watch and the mid-watch on the quarterdeck for the day. Starting with Christmas Day, I would have three full days of liberty before my next duty day… If you would like to read more stories from my book “Striking Eight Bells,” use one of these links to booksellers: Amazon.com: Books, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, BAM –Books A Million and Smashword.com eBooks.

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©2018 George Trowbridge
Get a copy of  “Striking Eight Bells” signed by the author with the “Striking Eight Bells” bookmark. Use this link to: “Get a signed copy.”

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ISBN-10: 1945812338. ISBN-13: 978/1945812330/978-1945812361

The stories in these posts and the book; “Striking Eight Bells: A Vietnam Memoir,” reflect the author’s recollection of events. Some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of those depicted. Dialogue has been recreated from memory. Dates, times, and locations were recreated from declassified U.S. Navy records and others. Photographs used are either public domain or owned by the author. Illustrations and maps used were either created by the author or in the public domain. The stories in these posts and the book are solely the opinion of the author and not the publisher, Richter Publishing, LLC.

*Image was found in public domain or it could not be established after reasonable search, that any claim existed to the image. Image used for illustrative purposes only and is not the property of the author. Where ever possible credit for the image is indicated in the caption.

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