“This is Blackbeard.”

Expanded story 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. Another example of events that year, happened in late August 1972, when a raid off the Do Son Peninsula and Cat Ba Island area at the entrance to Haiphong Harbor was carried out by Task Unit 77.1.2.

USS Robison_DDG 12
USS Robinson (DDG 12).*

On August 27, 1972 the Battle of Haiphong Harbor also known as Operation Lion’s Den, occurred involving one of the few ship-to-ship naval battles of the entire Vietnam War. This raid, which took place off the Do Son Peninsula and Cat Ba Island area at the entrance to Haiphong Harbor was carried out by Task Unit 77.1.2., which included four ships, 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) a Gearing class destroyer.

USS_Rowan_DD782_USN Photo
USS Rowan (DD-782) underway. U.S. Navy #NH 103512. Public domain.
USS Providence (CLG 6) off the coast of Vietnam summer of 1972. Photo By CAPT Rex Settlemoir, USN (Ret.) taken from USS Richard S. Edwards (DD 950).

The purpose of the raid was to knock out coastal defense and SAM sites as well as other military targets in Haiphong Harbor. Captain John Renn, the commander of Destroyer Squadron 25, led the raid from USS Robison (DDG 12) and Admiral James L. Holloway III, the Seventh Fleet commander, also participated as an observer on USS Newport News (CA 148).[1]

At 2200, Newport News went to general quarters as it approached the area in column with the other ships. Holloway joined the skipper of Newport News, Captain Walter F. Zartman, on the bridge, but assured the captain that he was just an observer and “would stay out of his hair.” The four ships approached the channel at 25 knots and began firing on targets two and a half miles southeast of the Do Son light.[2]

USS Newport News (CA 148). Firing on targets in Vietnam with her 8-inch/55 caliber guns, 1972. Photo by PH2 Elvine, U.S. Navy.[3]
Enhanced plot of the operation by Captain Charles Farnham (then Flag Officer USS PROVIDENCE CLG-6) recounting the action during the raid off Do Son Peninsula and Cat Bi area at the entrance to Haiphong Harbor.[4]*

Newport News ceased firing at 2333 and prepared to egress from the harbor. Captain Zartman 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.”[1]

USS Newport News (CA 148) opens fire with her 8-inch/55 caliber main guns on targets in Vietnam in 1972. U.S. Navy Photograph #1151898. Public domain.

The P-6-class Soviet-manufactured fast patrol boat 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).[1]

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.[1][2]

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. Hollway went to the UHF radio handset on the bulkhead of the Newport News’ pilothouse. He pulled the handset from its cradle, punched the power button, and hit the guard channel switch. Now every operational Navy unit within a twenty-mile radius would hear his transmission in the blind: “Attention any Seventh Fleet aircraft in the vicinity of Haiphong,” Holloway announced on a special UHF Navy frequency reserved for such emergencies, “This is Blackbeard (Seventh Fleet Commanders’ personal call sign) on board USS Newport News with a shore bombardment force in Haiphong Harbor. We are engaged with several enemy surface units and need illumination to sort things out. Any aircraft in the area give me a call on guard. What we really need are high-power flares. Blackbeard out.” [1][2]

A-7A Corsair II_VA_93_CVW5_Midway_CVA41_1970s_NNAM
A-7A Corsair II from Attack Squadron (VA-93)/CVW-5 with USS Midway (CVA-41), – 1970s.[6]

Almost immediately an answering voice came up loud and clear on the guard channel: “Blackbeard, this is Raven Four Four, inbound with a flight of two Corsairs (A-7 Corsairs). We have flares and Rockeye [cluster bombs] aboard,” Lieutenant (jg) William W. Pickavance of Attack Squadron 93 replied. Holloway cleared the two planes to attack. One of the A-7s illuminated the area with a flare while the other dropped a Rockeye, which along with gunfire from Newport News and Rowan, finished off the targets. Later, intelligence analysts credited Newport News with destroying one boat, Rowan with damaging a second, and the A-7 with “possibly sinking” a third.[1][2]

Following the engagement, Newport News rendezvoused with Providence and Robison then steamed southward along Vietnam’s coastline to the area of Quang Tri Province to provide the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) troops with naval gunfire support…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.

©2018 George Trowbridge

Some stories in these posts and in 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.

Source materials referenced:

[1] 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

[2] Aircraft Carriers At War Chapter 17  By Admiral James L. Holloway III. http://www.uss-newport-news.com/hist/lions_den_chap_17.php

[3] Photo By PH2 Elvin House, U.S. Navy. Public Domain.

[4] http://www.uss-newport-news.com/hist/lion’s.php/ Operation Lion’s Den.

[5] Photo By CAPT Rex Settlemoir, USN (Ret.) taken from USS Richard S. Edwards (DD 950). http://www.navsource.org/archives/04/082/04082.htm

[6] http://www.seaforces.org/usnair/VA/Attack-Squadron-93.htm. Carrier Air Wing 5 (CARAIRWING FIVE) CVG / CVW-5.

4 thoughts on ““This is Blackbeard.”

  1. I just think it is the NAVY Received from recognition when we were there hose on USS Berkeley d d g 15 65 66 67 and 68 thank you.


  2. Lets not forget the counter battery we received on the Providence from Hainan Island, manned with Chinese soldiers and artillery. We returned counter battery and kick the shit out of all of them.


  3. Hi, I was on the Robison ddg 12 in gun plot. I was privileged to be on a line between CIC and the bridge and was a part of the Communication between them. Exciting and scary at the same time.


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