Christmas in Singapore, Part 1

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.” The ship spent the next several days either on plane guard or patrolling areas of Yankee Station.

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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 three damn days to cover the same distance.

On December 23, 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 later that day. 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 next 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…to read “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

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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.

2 thoughts on “Christmas in Singapore, Part 1

  1. I worked in Operations (OE09) aboard Midway and our workcenter maintained all of the navigational equipment on Midway. As electronics maintenance personnel we had to be able to operate this equipment as well as the quartermasters and navigator who navigated the ship.

    The zig zag manuvers you mentioned, when escorting Midway, occurred for two reasons. The first and primary reason is that during flight operations, the ship had to head into the wind even if that wind was a slight breeze of a couple of knots. Aircraft take off and land while heading into the wind. It takes a lot of energy and power to make a wind across a flight deck so taking advantage of the natural wind at sea is a food practice.

    The other reason is that Midway and all aircraft carriers are not as manuverable as your ship. Where you could change course at a relatively high speed in less than a nautical mile, it would take 1 to 2 nautical miles for Midway to do the same. You also posed as a much smaller target as compaired to a large carrier that was 1,000 feet and greater in length.

    While your ship primairly acted as plane guard, you also used your sonar to detect submarine traffic around our ship. Midway didn’t have protection from subs and while I cannot claim how many subs belonging to other nations were in our proximity I do know they were there along with one or two US subs that were assigned to protect us from below the waterline. I know this because at night we could hear active sonar and the only sonar Midway had was a fathometer that was only used while entering or exiting a port. How do I know this? Because I maintained and operated that equipment.

    Sailing the zig zag pattern with course changes at illregular times helped to minimize a successful submarine attack against the ship. All sailors desire to go into port. It’s what we all lived for and while your crew was tired and anxious for port, rest assured that the 4,500 of us aboard Midway were just as tired and anxious. To be honest, many of our crew were invious of our plane guards who, in our preception, just followed in our wake to pick up a pilot or air crew that crashed at sea. Compaired to the activities of flight ops that went on for hours at a time, that duty seemed to be appealing.

    Alas, the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence to those who never get to the other side of the fence. Being my workcenter were the local experts in all navigational equipment and we were in Operations, many of us went to other small surface ships to assist theit electronics crewa repair and maintain their navigational equipment at sea. Knowing a bit more of theater operations than the average sailor I can personally attest the 4,500 sailors on Midway were appreciative of you’re crew’s heroic efforts to keep us save and alive so that we were able to perform our assigned duties . This was despite the fact that few sailors of either crew knew exactly where we were or what we were actually doing there. Thank you for your honorable service and the hardships you endured as a result. I also thank you personally for shairing what duty on a ‘tin can’ was like so other carrier sailors might know what types of duty they experienced while at sea. Two different worlds with one common goal. God bless you and Happy New Year.

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