Story expanded on 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.
On August 27, 1972. Operation Lion’s Den, or the Battle of Haiphong Harbor, occurred, which involved one of the few ship-to-ship naval battles of the Vietnam War. The operation was carried out by four ships designated as Task Unit 77.1.2., which included USS Newport News (CA 148), an 8-inch gun cruiser; USS Providence (CLG 6), a 6-inch gun missile cruiser; USS Robison (DDG 12), a guided-missile destroyer; and USS Rowan (DD 782). Admiral James L. Holloway III, the Seventh Fleet commander, also participated as an observer on Newport News.
The two cruisers and two destroyers conducted a brief night raid against the North Vietnamese forces protecting the port of Haiphong. This operation was a naval gunfire strike against targets in Haiphong, Do Son Peninsula and Cat Ba area. The purpose of the raid was to knock out coastal defense and SAM (surface-to-air missile) sites as well as other military targets in the vicinity of Haiphong Harbor or the “Lion’s Den,” as called by the Navy.
Vietnamese coastal defense gunfire were heavy during the attack. Newport News reported 75 rounds of very accurate hostile fire; Rowan reported 50 rounds of accurate fire as close as 20 yards and straddling the ship. Robison reported 140 rounds of very accurate fire, the closest being 15 yards off the port beam. Providence counted 60 incoming rounds.
Newport News ceased firing at 2333 and prepared to egress from the area. Captain Zartman the Commanding Officer of Newport News, informed Holloway that all of the ship’s targets “had been covered” and that secondary explosions were noted at Cat Ba airfield and an ammunition dump. A short period after cease fire, Combat Information Center (CIC) reported a surface target, designated Skunk Alpha, at 10,000 yards bearing 088 degrees, heading for Newport News at high speed.”
P-6-class Soviet-manufactured fast patrol boats had waited to ambush Newport News in the vicinity of Ile de Norway. Numerous rocks and pinnacles near the island made it difficult for Newport News’ radars to lock onto the patrol boat. The patrol boat’s relative bearing was also dead ahead, making it impossible for the cruiser’s 8-inch guns to fire a low angle shot (an electronics antenna on the forecastle blocked such shots).
Newport News swung hard to the starboard to unmask the battery and commence firing. Within minutes, the contact appeared to be on fire. CIC then informed the bridge of two additional patrol boats 16,000 yards dead ahead. Newport News came hard port to bring its guns to bear on the new targets—a heading that now put the ship on a collision course with the shoals of Ile de Norway.
The zigzagging approach of the patrol boats combined with darkness and the confusing effect of the cruiser’s own fire made it difficult for the 21,000-ton ship to sink these tiny targets. When a call came in from Providence about a possible fourth contact, Holloway told Zartman that he was going to call in air support. “Attention any Seventh Fleet aircraft in the vicinity of Haiphong,” Holloway announced on a special Navy frequency reserved for such emergencies, “This is Blackbeard (Seventh Fleet Commanders’ personal call sign) himself aboard USS Newport News with a shore bombardment force in Haiphong Harbor. We are engaged with several surface units and need some illumination to help us sort things out.”…To read “Striking Eight Bells,” use one of these links to booksellers: Amazon.com: Books, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, BAM –Books A Million, Smashword.com eBooks, goodreads and Thriftbooks.
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.
1. Marine Art By Dale Byhre. https://marineartbydale.com/ Print title; “When Lightning Followed Thunder.”
2. U.S. Naval Institute’s Naval History Blog (navalhistory.org). Naval Bombardment: Into the Lion’s Den. https://www.navalhistory.org/2011/08/27/naval-bombardment-into-the-lion%E2%80%99s-den
3.Aircraft Carriers At War Chapter 17 By Admiral James L. Holloway III. http://www.uss-newport-news.com/hist/lions_den_chap_17.php