Operations with CTU 71.1.1.

Excerpts 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. Ships like mine, USS Rich (DD 820), usually were initially assigned to the Vietnam gun line to provide naval gunfire support (NGFS) to on shore forces. However, it was common for many destroyer crews to suddenly find their ship attached to Commander Task Unit (CTU) 71.1.1, which meant their ship would become a participant in special combat operations along the Vietnam coast.

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

On December 1, our ship was attached to CTU 71.1.1. Task Unit 71.1.1 comprised of our ship, the guide missle destroyer USS Wilson (DDG 7) and the destroyer USS Rowan (DD 782). The Commander of CTU 71.1.1, was embarked on board USS Wilson. For the next five days we participated in both daytime and nighttime raids on various targets along the North Vietnam coast principally at areas in the vicinity of Brandon Bay and the Dong Hoi Gulf. During these raids, ships frequently received heavy counterbattery fire from the coastal North Vietnamese gun batteries.

USS Henry B. Wilson DDG-7. Charles F. Adams-class guided missile armed destroyer.*
USS Rowan (DD-782) underway. U.S. Navy #NH 103512. Public domain.

It was early afternoon on December 5, 1972. Our ship, received a call for gunfire support via CTU 71.1.1. The grid coordinates were passed to us for a newly located coast radar station on Hon Co Island. Everyone in the Navy, called the place “Tiger Island.” Once our ship received the order from CTU 71.1.1, we immediately brought the ship in formation with USS Wilson and USS Rowan to the required course and speed to close the island.

Hon Co Island, better known to the U.S. Navy as “Tiger Island.”

Tiger Island was reported to be loaded with anti-aircraft and big gun shore batteries with fire control radar sites. Our ship had attacked Tiger Island twice before along with two other destroyers several days before and we got a lot of J-band radar directed big gun counterbattery fire from the island. Though the NVA’s J-band fire control radar directed gunfire had not resulted in any direct hits on our ship, they had gotten close, closer than any of us had experienced so far. I know some in the bridge team felt a bit of apprehension about going up against the big NVA guns on Tiger Island again.

At 1458, the ship went to GQ stations and we began maneuvering the ship to close the range to Tiger Island. At 1521 we began to recieve NVA counterbattery from the island and the XO began maneuvering the ship at various courses and speeds to avoid the hostile fire. At 1530, the ship commenced fire on the target with two rapid four-round salvos from both mounts 51 and 52. Within moments after firing, we got more heavy NVA counterbattery in return, with multiple counterbattery splashes all around the ship. The XO maneuvered the ship farther away from the shore and then brought the ship broadside to the beach. We had good gun target lines and ranges to the gun batteries that had fired on us. Our ship opened up on the NVA gun batteries, and for about the next 30 minutes, we fired 340 HE projectiles with reduced and/or full service charges onto the targets. At the same time, Wilson was forward of our bow at 3,000 to 4,000 yards firing her 5-inch/54 caliber guns and Rowan postioned off our stern was firing her 5-inch/38 caliber guns at their respective targets on the island.

USS Rich (DD 820) forward gun mount 51. Twin 5-inch/38 caliber guns. Photo by shipmate Ron Ciervo.

After the order to cease fire at 1607, the ship stayed in the area a short while before proceeding to take station off Wilson, bearing 000 degrees at 2,500 yards. After taking station off Wilson, and Rowan, all three ships in our task unit came to a northerly heading, now proceeding further north along the North Vietnam coastline to our next strike mission position…To read “Striking Eight Bells,” use one of these links to booksellers: 

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©2018 George Trowbridge
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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.

One thought on “Operations with CTU 71.1.1.

  1. I was there on the firing line in 1972. My ship was the USS Eversole DD-789 and to my knowledge, we were only accurately fired upon once and it was only a near miss and not a hit. I don’t know which I hated the most, those night time firing runs which used up lots of Ammo or those UnReps in the Gulf to replenish our supply of ammo only to return night after night to do the same thing over and over again. This was the only action I ever saw during my 20 years 1957-78 and I think I hated loading Ammo more than I did those nighttime firing runs because I was able to stand my watch in radio central with little worry about the enemy ever scoring a major hit on our ship. That was something I learned not to think much about and why I was in this ship firing at an enemy on a radar screen instead of the hand to hand combat that required our Army and Marines to perform. While I enjoyed a hot meal and a warm bunk, those poor souls were at the receiving end of the hornets nest that we poked and stirred up night after night without having to suffer the consequences. Thank God for Hong Kong, Subic Bay and all those other ports of call that made it all worthwhile. I often have to wonder today with most of those places gone or sadly lacking in pretty women, just how the poor souls survive those boring Westpacs that have changed so much over the years that I would no longer even care to go there and fight the PC police that would rather lock you up than allow you to have a good time on a well deserved port of call. Melvin E. Holliday RM1 (SS) USN Ret.

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