Enterprise VIII (CVAN-65)
Boldness, energy, and invention in practical affairs.
(CVA(N)-65: displacement 85,600 tons (full load); length 1101'; beam 133'; extreme width 252'; draft 35'; speed 30+ knots; complement 4,600; class Enterprise)
Following the 1965 Christmas truce, Enterprise continued supporting Allied troops in South Vietnam from Dixie Station, accompanied by destroyers Brush (DD-745) and Hawkins (DD-873), the latter designated as the carrier’s “rescue destroyer.” Further targets hit by the ship’s embarked aircraft December 1965–January 1966, included both the Hai Phong and Hai Duong Bridges. The brief halt to the fighting, anticipated by some as the harbinger of peace, “produced no discernible chance in enemy behavior.” Any cessation of reduction in the operations was “illusory,” as the skipper noted in his 14 February family newsletter: “Although the pause in bombing the North seemed to mean an easing of hostilities to the people at home, the war was no less real to us.”
Sun Glass 501, an A-4C (BuNo 147704), Lieutenant (jg) Donald C. MacLaughlin, Jr., VA-76, launched with his wingman as a “two-plane strike element” for a strike over North Vietnam, on 2 January 1966. The weather en route was overcast, three–five miles visibility, dropping to zero due to fog three miles south of the target area. The leader made the first Snakeye run at 1,300 feet from east–west, pulling out to the right, after which MacLaughlin advised that he was losing sight of the target. At about 0815, the leader lost sight of the latter, whose transmissions were becoming “intermittent,” though claiming he was receiving without interference. The leader told MacLaughlin “to pull up and hold in clear area,” while he made his second run, but received no answer from 501. Transmitting “in blind” for MacLaughlin to join him over a geographic point at 10,000 feet, the leader orbited the area three times, summoning CSAR forces before returning to Enterprise. Two A-1 Skyraiders from Hancock’s VA-215, launched in response. Later that day, a rescue helo located wreckage approximately four miles east of the target, on the 165º radial of a 1,700 foot hill, 45 miles from Chu Lai TACAN (Tactical Air Navigation System), at about 14º46’N, 108º52’E.
Setting down next to the wreckage, the crew was unable to locate MacLaughlin, finally being forced to leave due to enemy ground fire. The next day a similar effort located MacLaughlin’s body, but was again unable to retrieve him or any of his Skyhawk due to enemy fire. There was evidence that people had been around the “blood-stained wreckage,” and speculation that the pilot survived, the South Vietnamese carrying him away. His loss was considered the “result of direct enemy action.”
The first big strike of the New Year 1966 came when 116 aircraft from Enterprise, Hancock and Ticonderoga flew sorties against VC targets in all four Corps areas in South Vietnam, on 8 January. “Suspected” troop concentrations and storage areas were hit in successive runs, FACs reporting 97 structures destroyed and 94 damaged, all aircraft returning safely.
Gale Force 713, an A-4C (BuNo 147753), flown by Lieutenant (jg) Stephen B. Jordan, VA-36, was on an armed reconnaissance mission as part of a Steel Tiger strike against a Laotian bridge, on 14 January 1966. Obscured by “heavy jungle,” the bridge was difficult to adequately locate and identify from the air and Jordan made four runs over the target before locating it on his fifth pass. Making an estimated 20º dive, 800 feet above ground level at 325 KIAS, Jordan pickled once to drop one retarded MK-82 Snakeye bomb. Other flight members reported that one bomb did impact the normal distance astern almost upon recovery, a large cloud of dust and smoke appeared around Jordan’s Skyhawk. Apparently, Jordan pickle released three-bombs, but though initiating a standard recovery, the pilot “felt three mild bumps and experienced a moderate mushing sensation.” Passing over the target, Jordan experienced further settling and his A-4 contacted treetops beyond the bridge, beginning to heavily stream fuel. His flight leader assessed Jordan’s damage, including the loss of approximately one foot of each wing tip, together with damage to the main landing gear and to the ailerons, the latter “vibrating rapidly.” An A-3 rendezvoused with him for refueling en route to a divert to Da Nang Air Base (AB), South Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Bainbridge’s CIC received Jordan’s emergency IFF signal and it was arranged that the pilot would rendezvous with Bainbridge if possible, before bailing out. However, unable to jettison his remaining MK-82 or to lower his port main landing gear, Jordan elected to proceed toward Enterprise and eject near the ship. The wind was 090º, 15 knots, and the air and water temperature were both 75º. The sea was calm, with wave height estimated at no more than two feet. Jordan ejected approximately 10 NM from Enterprise, while at 10,000 feet and 150 knots, at 1649. By the time he entered the water and deployed his raft, Kittyhawk Angel, a UH-2A (BuNo 149769) Lieutenant James H. Biestek, HC-1 Det M, pilot, the plane guard, raced to the scene. However, as the helo crew attempted to recover the downed pilot, Jordan’s parachute shroud lines were drawn-up into the Seasprite’s rotor blades, entangling Jordan’s legs. Following several tense moments, the helo crew lowered Jordan back into the water, a crewman leaping in to assist the dazed pilot, exhausted from his ordeal. The crewman was able to cut Jordan free and the pilot was lifted-up to safety at 1658, Jordan later noting that he believed the helo approached so rapidly that he and his raft (which he had not fully entered) were blown back into the parachute before it sank. Bainbridge later recovered the gear adrift in the water and the raft.
Enterprise left the line after 45-continuous days of combat the next day, CVW-9 having flown 4,242 combat sorties. Her “weary crew” headed to Subic Bay, Philippines, holding memorial services for those lost in action while en route, before arriving at Subic Bay, mooring to Leyte Pier, NAS Cubi Point, on the 17th.
The seven days in port were “uneventful,” except for a meeting of the U.S. and Philippine Mutual Defense Board, led by Rear Admiral Jack P. Monroe, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Philippines, Major General J.W. Wilson, Thirteenth Air Force and General Rigoberto J. Atienza, General of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, on 19 January.
After a week of rest and recuperation for her officers and men, Enterprise steamed to Hong Kong, anchoring off Victoria Island for a six day visit, 26 January–1 February 1966. Among the sites visited by sailors in Hong Kong was the Tiger Balm Gardens, while some men also “lent their efforts” in support of the St. John’s Children’s Welfare Center.
On 28 January 1966, Enterprise held a reception including a buffet, colors ceremony and displays, for distinguished visitors. Enterprise was “given a rough treatment” by Chinese communist newspapers, especially following a routine press conference presented by Rear Admiral Miller and Captain Holloway on that date, the Peking International News commenting that “U.S. imperialism has recklessly engaged in war intimidation and provocation by showing off its “strength” in Hong Kong.” During this deployment, the British colony was the only foreign port to receive the ship besides Subic Bay.
Soviet intelligence-gathering vessels (AGIs) constantly bedeviled U.S. ships, following tracks and maneuvering so aggressively in their efforts to collect material as to often impede operations, producing navigational hazards. One such Russian “eavesdropper” in the Gulf of Tonkin began to plague Enterprise, but Captain Holloway ordered the ship up to flank speed on a collision course, afterward recalling that the AGI “got the hell out of the way.”
Beginning on the morning of 3 February 1966, however, Enterprise and Bainbridge were followed by a “playmate,” Soviet AGI KO2-1399, whom they affectionately dubbed Ivan. To deal with KO2-1399’s “somewhat troublesome but not insurmountable… antics” fleet tug Molala (ATF-106) received orders to “spy on the spy.” The formation was revised, Enterprise taking the lead, followed by Bainbridge, in turn shadowed by Ivan, in turn “sleuthed” by Molala, the latter conducting “shouldering and blocking tactics.”
Returning to Dixie Station in company with Bainbridge, Hawkins and Samuel B. Roberts on 4 February 1966, Enterprise unleashed her aircraft against VC “strongholds” in II, III and IV Corps in support of Operation Kick Quick IV, 9–10 February, which were “hammered.” About 100 buildings in “camouflaged enemy buildup areas” were destroyed.
On the 11th, Enterprise moved up to Yankee Station, beginning armed reconnaissance and interdiction attacks against VC supply lines in the north two days later. Aircraft from the “Big E” and “Tico” struck “several” roads north of the 17th Parallel, 13–14 February. The next day, her aircraft flew 16 missions against supply areas and bridges, including the Dong Ngam Shipyard, and a highway bridge at Loc Diem. Operations continued throughout the month, but “constantly overcast monsoon skies” prohibited large scale strikes.
On 16 February 1966, Rear Admiral Thomas J. Walker relieved Rear Admiral Miller as ComCarDiv-3 and Commander, Enterprise TG. During his farewell remarks, Rear. Admiral Miller praised the crew, presenting air medals to over 100 pilots and flight officers, noting that “…arduous work, almost unbelievably long hours and combat environment have become a way of life that all hands have taken in stride. Their performance has been superb in every respect.”
During February, the carrier rendezvoused with Bainbridge and fast combat support ship Sacramento (AOE-1), the crew of the latter transferring 327 tons of supplies to Enterprise and Bainbridge in barely 24 hours, a taxing replenishment.
On 18 February 1966, Silver Kite 201, an F-4B, BuNo. 152297, Lieutenant (jg) James T. Ruffin, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Larry H. Spencer, RIO, VF-92, launched as the wingman of a two-plane section on a Big Look CAP mission. Ruffin and Spencer reported radar, TACAN and compass malfunctions, losing sight of their escort due to dense haze, while under control of guided missile destroyer Joseph Strauss (DDG-16), who last held the Phantom II on radar 14 miles north of Hon Me Island, at 19º39’N, 106º04’E, at 1350. The flight leader instructed 201 to squawk emergency IFF, which was detected by a SAR destroyer at 19º39’N, 106º50’E, “an area of high SAM threat.” Four A-4s from Enterprise conducted a “low altitude air to surface search” but failed to locate any trace of 201, being joined by aircraft from Kitty Hawk. Low overcast, fog and poor visibility hampered search efforts. The F-4 was shot down in the vicinity of Thanh Hoa, Spencer being taken by the North Vietnamese after he hit the water following ejection. The pilot was unable to escape his captors, “many junks and small boats” being observed in the area. A Chinese communist correspondent gloatingly described Spencer’s capture: “The Army and people of Thanh Hoa Province neatly brought down an invading U.S. aircraft and captured its American flier yesterday,” continuing by describing how 201 “was hit and burst into flames by the fierce barrage of antiaircraft fire,” local militiamen taking “the American bandit alive.” The spiteful communist propaganda was nonetheless accurate, as Ruffin did not survive, his remains being returned to the U.S. on 3 June 1983, and identified on the 27th. Spencer, captured, did not see home again until 12 February 1973.
Strikes were run on the Bai Thuong Barracks near Thanh Hoa, and a storage area near Vinh, on 20 February 1966. Three days later, Enterprise and Kitty Hawk sent 108 sorties against enemy troop concentration, storage and supply areas south of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).
Enterprise came about from Yankee Station for NAS Cubi Point later that day, arriving at Subic Bay on 25 February 1966. Astronaut Captain Walter M. “Wally” Schirra, Jr., and his wife, “special emissaries of the President,” visited on 6 March. Five days later, Ferdinand E. Marcos, newly elected president of the Philippines, and staff was piped on board by sideboys, greeted by a 21 gun salute and Vice Admiral John J. Hyland, Com7thFlt. President Marcos inspected aircraft and spaces, before departing by helo.
Enterprise stood out the next morning for Taiwanese waters for Operation Blue Sky, a joint “special” AD exercise with the Nationalist Chinese. But at 0530 on the 14th, Bainbridge’s collision alarm sounded as Japanese Nippon Yusen Kaisha tanker Tamba Maru headed on a collision course with the formation, in clear violation of international rules of the road. Only “deft maneuvering” by Bainbridge averted a collision; Tamba Maru continued on without yielding the right of way.
Six hours later, Enterprise launched her aircraft for the demonstration. Vice Admiral Hyland welcomed a party led by Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, who arrived on board from Taipei via an HC-1 Det M helo. “They are more than trained or skilled, they are performing miracles,” observed the Generalissimo regarding the ship’s pilots during the air show, adding that he would remember his visit “with pleasure.”
However, rounding out an eventful day, just before sunset at 1723, at 23º49’2”N, 122º29”E, both ships felt a sudden jar, Bainbridge hauling out to starboard. The origin of the jarring was “mysterious and later evaluated to be of seismic origin,” an aftershock resulting from a magnitude 8.00 earthquake that struck at 1631 on the 12th, at 24º20’N, 122º60”E.
Following the exercise and a reception for the Taiwanese delegation on board Enterprise, she returned “quickly” to Yankee Station to resume interdiction strikes on 16 March 1966, though the monsoon was “at its peak, impeding many scheduled strikes with rain, low foggy ceiling and thunderstorms.”
Hoboken 401, an A-4C, BuNo. 147740, Lieutenant (jg) Frederick C. Baldock, Jr., VA-94, was section leader of an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam, on 17 March 1966. Following an attack on a target, Baldock was last seen at 1453, executing evasive maneuvers “in an area of intense anti-aircraft and surface to air missile defense.” The section leader, 404, had ALQ-51 lock-on, and three minutes later “missiles away” was overheard on the radio, though the caller was not identified. Although no one in the air saw 401 go down, two Enterprise A-4Cs heard a beeper, while three other A-4Cs in the area noted a column of white smoke at 18º34’N, 105º47’E. Crown Alpha sped to the area for a CSAR, and A-1s flew toward a RESCAP area off the coast, however, no trace of Baldock and his Skyhawk were located, though he was tentatively identified as lost over the area of 18º37’N, 105º48’E. Baldock was captured, destined not to return to the U.S. until 12 February 1973.
Gale Force 703, an A-4C, BuNo. 148313, Commander James A. Mulligan, VA-36, launched as “number one” in a division of three aircraft on an armed reconnaissance mission, on 20 March. Attacking traffic on a road, the flight began receiving “intense anti-aircraft and automatic weapons fire commencing at pull up.” Mulligan’s Skyhawk was hit while at approximately 2,000 feet and began streaming smoke, fire and fuel from the vicinity of his aft engine compartment. The strike was aborted, the flight beginning to climb up to extinguish the fire, Mulligan also jettisoning a MK 83 from his starboard wing station, but unable to do so with a hung MK 83 on his port wing station. At approximately 10,000 feet, an explosion was observed in the vicinity of the forward engine compartment, 703 rolling 360º to the left. Mulligan leveled his wings “momentarily,” transmitting and then ejecting, slightly nose down, while at 275 KIAS. Mulligan hit the ground in a marshy area, around 18º28’N, 105º50’E, but apparently lay unconscious for upward of nine minutes, failing to regain consciousness in time to escape capture by six–seven North Vietnamese who arrived and carried him off. The two remaining Skyhawks in the flight made strafing runs with their 20 mm guns in a vain attempt to protect the pilot and to provide cover for a possible rescue, but were unsuccessful. Mulligan did not see freedom again until his return to the U.S. on 12 February 1973.
Also on the 20th, Silver Kite 202, an F-4B (BuNo 151410), Lieutenant Jmes S. Greenwood, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Richard R. Ratzlaff, RIO, VF-92, was conducting an armed reconnaissance as part of a strike against targets near the Vinh Luu Bridge, 40 miles south of Vinh, North Vietnam. Accompanying 202 was Silver Kite 210, another squadron Phantom II. Both aircraft approached the target from barely 100 feet from the west, receiving heavy AAA. Both jets were hit “immediately after bomb release,” at about 1745. The crew of Silver Kite 210 extinguished their fire by reducing power, returning to Enterprise.
Silver Kite 202, however, developed fires in both engines, Greenwood losing control within two minutes. The aircraft pitched nose down and Greenwood instructed Ratzlaff to eject. When they ejected, they were 20º nose down, flying about 250 KIAS, between 6,000–7,000 feet, above low coastal clouds and at approximately 18º20’N, 106º17’E. Greenwood afterward explained his intention to remain with the plane as long as possible in an effort to get well out over the Gulf of Tonkin when they bailed out, as the low cloud cover prevented him from seeing whether they were over land or water. Greenwood, whose legs “seemed numb” from tight straps attached to his leg restraints and bleeding from a laceration to his head, hit the water about three miles out, but Ratzlaff went in barely 100 yards from the beach. There were 15–20 junks and sampans in the vicinity, as well as numerous people ashore who ran out to the water’s edge toward the RIO. Greenwood afterward noted “Just before I hit the water, I noticed one enemy junk about two miles north of us, and many people gathering near the beach near the point where my RIO was descending. I considered him too close to the beach to even think of an attempt to swim for open water…”, noting armed men putting to sea in junks and sampans. Ratzlaff stood little chance against such a horde and was captured, not being released until 12 February 1973.
Observing the fate of his backseater, Greenwood justifiably hesitated to draw attention to himself by inflating his flotation gear, waiting 10 minutes until he spotted Crown Bravo, a USAF Grumman HU-16 Albatross flying search patterns. It was now late in the day, and in the gloom of the overcast, Greenwood proved difficult to spot in the water. The downed pilot fired a pencil flare to alert the Albatross’ crew, but was immediately alerted by gunfire from behind. Turning around, he was stunned to see a boat approaching him, barely 500 yards off and closing rapidly, her occupants intent on finishing the job.
Each time that Greenwood fired a flare, the North Vietnamese on board the vessel, estimated at about 10 men and a woman, with at least two riflemen and a gunner with an automatic weapon, opened up on him, but with the gathering darkness rendering spotting him by the rescuers difficult, his options were understandably limited. The crew of the Albatross made a pass over the junk, exchanging automatic fire with the North Vietnamese and when the latter, by now barely 100 yards away, continued toward Greenwood, following it up with a second pass, dropping two empty fuel tanks, “narrowly” missing the boat. Although the Albatross was hit, the pilot expressing doubt that he could land due to impact holes in the fuselage, the men were undaunted, refusing to leave the downed pilot until the RESCAP arrived, also dropping an orange flare to mark Greenwood.
Enterprise was monitoring the entire battle on her radar and radios, doing everything possible to effect the rescue. Overpass 004, an E-1B Tracer, vectored Hoboken 402 and 410, a pair of A-4Cs, as RESCAP, together with diverting Raven 05 and PND 306, another Skyhawk flight. Both flights hurtled in, making strafing and rocket runs on the junk, causing about half of the North Vietnamese on board to jump overboard, but the other half bravely returned fire at the Skyhawks.
Guided missile frigate Worden (DLG-18) had meanwhile launched Clementine Angel, her UH-2B, Lieutenant Commander David J. McCracken, Ensign Robert H. Clark, Jr., Chief Davis and AMH2 G.E. McCormack, HC-1 Det 5 Froggy Five. Clementine Angel was in contact with the Albatross crew, who told them to hurry, as “enemy junks were closing in on the downed pilot,” and at approximately 1830 the helo arrived on the scene. Two sampans turned and also began closing in.
McCracken later reflected upon their close call. “I flew toward what I thought was the flare, got too close to some junks near the beach, and they opened fire on me. The smoke I saw wasn’t from the marker flare, however, but from a burning belly tank.”
Immediately appreciating the dire situation, McCracken made a firing pass from 50 feet above the junk, enabling McCormack to return fire with the M-60, causing more North Vietnamese to jump, apparently killing at least one man. The firefight was so intense that Clark lent a hand with an M-1 Thompson sub machinegun, almost simultaneously spotting Greenwood in the water.
However, mortar and machine gun fire from shore now erupted around the scene. Clementine Angel hovered over Greenwood, lowering a horsecollar sling that the pilot gratefully grabbed “in a death grip,” and returned to Worden. But as they were doing so, mortar rounds straddled the helo, the splash of the first round lifting the Seasprite’s tail and putting it into forward motion, McCracken later noting that “Getting out of there was my intention anyway–but not in so violent a maneuver!”
Greenwood, who spent upward of an hour in the guided missile frigate’s sick bay in shock and another two–three hours recovering, had been in the water for almost 40 minutes.
Hoboken 411, an A-4C (BuNo 148499) Lieutenant Commander John M. Tiderman, and Hoboken 406, another A-4C (BuNo 148515), Lieutenant Frank R. Compton, VA-94, both launched as a SARCAP, on 21 March 1966. By the time they reached a point approximately five–ten miles off Cap Mui Ron, the ceiling was 100 feet, with thin scattered clouds up to 2,000. During the letdown from 18,000–1,000 feet, the number two man on the starboard side overran the lead aircraft, reducing power and repositioning himself “in a normal three plane, trail formation.” Thus “there was some degree of maneuvering for position at the time of the incident.”
Hoboken 400, flight leader, was leveling off at 800–1,000 feet and the flight was in and out of the cloud tops, indicating the three aircraft did not have visual reference to one another at all times. Suddenly he saw a bright flash in his rear view mirror and lost visual and voice contact with 411 and 406, which probably collided. At 1010, however, while encountering low stratus clouds with tops at 800–1,000 feet, the pilot and RIO of Showtime 613, another F-4B, both saw a SAM off the coast, arching upward at high speed, heading 090º at 1,000 feet. Their initial sighting was a “plume of smoke” and then a “black pencil shaped object” leveling off. Flare 103, an RA-5C, also spotted the contrail but not the SAM itself.
“Missile sighting and loss of Hoboken 411 and 406 correlate in time and position” was one speculative analysis. In addition, Hoboken leader reported two indications of his ALQ-51 light on briefly, and the general consensus was of an SA-2 launching. Raven 302, flight leader of a reconnaissance mission, together with Crowns Alfa and Bravo, Electron 502, Clementine helo and Fetches 53 and 54, two SH-3Ws, were all diverted to assist with the CSAR. Though visibility was poor at the scene, helmets, a lifejacket and similar gear were recovered, their close proximity negating the possibility of successful ejections, reducing the likelihood of anyone surviving. Neither man was ever recovered.
Sun Glass 502, an A-4C (BuNo 148444) Lieutenant (jg) Bradley E. Smith, VA-76, launched as the leader’s wingman in a three plane flight on an armed reconnaissance over North Vietnam, on 25 March. The visibility near the coast was four–five miles in haze, no cloud cover. Spotting a ferry slip at Quang Khe highway ferry, near a river mouth approximately one mile inland, the leader directed 502 to make a 20º Snakeye run on it. Prior to roll in, the number three Skyhawk observed Smith over the water at around 3,000 feet, in a right turn, at 0805. However, no explosion or impact, or bomb detonations were noted, but as 502 failed to appear for the flight’s rendezvous, a CSAR was initiated.
No less than 11 aircraft from Enterprise and Ticonderoga including a pair of A-4s for RESCAP, an HU-16 and destroyer Agerholm (DD-826) and Worden searched for hours, but no trace of Smith or his Skyhawk was discovered, nor any beeper heard. The North Vietnamese, however, announced the capture of “a pilot in the vicinity of Quang Binh City” on the same morning; Smith did not return to the U.S. until 12 February 1973.
From 2 December 1965–31 March 1966, Enterprise’s aircraft flew 7,598 strike sorties into both North and South Vietnam. As March passed into April, the weather remained unpredictable and enemy fire “intensive.” When the ship suffered casualties, they came in “isolated bunches, with sudden shock by all the crew.”
On 1 April 1966, Hollygreen 112, an A-3B (BuNo 142665), Commander William R. Grayson, pilot, det OIC, Lieutenant (jg) William F. Kohlrusch, bombardier/navigator and ADJ1 Melvin T. Krech, crewman/navigator, VAH-4 Det M, was on No. 1 Catapult preparing to launch for a daylight tanker mission in support of strike aircraft while Enterprise was steaming in the South China Sea. Suddenly, the Skywarrior’s nose wheel was observed to collapse aft and the nose settled to the deck. A catapult end speed of 350 knots was recorded, indicating “the aircraft became disengaged from the catapult.” The A-3 immediately dropped off the bow, though the airspeed was considered adequate for the crew to attain “level attitude” prior to hitting the water nose down. Tragically, the crew could neither deploy their parachutes nor survive the impact. The structural failure was suspected of causing the aircraft and the catapult “to become disengaged” at a time that prevented the Skywarrior from “obtaining flying speed.”
Two days later, on 3 April 1966, the crew took a brief break to be entertained by comedian Danny Kaye [David D. Kaminsky] and songstress Vikki Carr [Florencia B. de C. M. Cardona]. Their show was “sandwiched into the operation schedule at 0800,” permitting off duty crewmembers to gather in the hanger bay for the 45 minute show.
At dawn on 4 April 1966, aircraft from Enterprise “dove out of the haze to bomb an enemy supply center at the hub city of Vinh.” For almost a week, the ship’s embarked aircraft “hurled destruction” at the communists, and “only smoking rubble remained when they streaked away on the last run.” Among those on board to witness the strikes were six members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee, led by Deputy Secretary of Defense Cyrus R. Vance, as well as her first skipper, Rear Admiral de Poix.
Retiring from the line on 12 April 1966, Enterprise came about for Subic Bay. While in transit she received a distress call regarding a C-1A, BuNo. 146050, Lieutenant Commander Clayton P. Mays, pilot, and three crewmembers, VAH-4, Hancock that went down in a storm near China while crossing the South China Sea en route from NAS Cubi Point to Kitty Hawk. Enterprise supported Hannah by sending out 90 SAR missions over the next 24 hours, but neither men nor machine were recovered.
Rear Admiral David C. Richardson relieved Rear Admiral Walker as Commander TF 77.7, on 14 April 1966. Enterprise arrived at Subic Bay the next day for a brief stay, before standing out again on the 20th.
U.S. air strikes against VC “supply arteries” gradually eroded North Vietnamese ability to move large convoys over roads, and they enemy began substituting with waterborne shipping, meaning that CVW-9 “found itself with an increasing responsibility against junk, sampan, and barge traffic throughout Vietnam’s complex waterway system.” Strikes between 22–28 April 1966 thus concentrated upon these routes.
British, Australian and Japanese media representatives visited the carrier on 24 April 1966. Two days later aircraft from Enterprise flew a “massive raid” on the railroads connecting Thanh Hoa with Vinh, “causing virtual disruption of these lines of communication.”
Enterprise celebrated her 60,000 arrested landing, on 28 April 1966; she then steamed south for Dixie Station, operating there against “the heavily infested Mekong Delta” during 29 April–7 May 1966, before returning to Yankee Station from the 8th–15th. The 29th of April marked the ship’s 100th (non-consecutive) day of combat; the next day, Lieutenant Commander Walter S. Gray had the honor of flying the ship’s 10,000th strike.
During the first half of May, the “bank of haze that had hampered air operations since March, lay like a thick curtain over North Vietnam from Vinh to the Chinese border and little could be accomplished.” The ship returned to Yankee Station on 8 May 1966, launching interdiction strikes.
Coming about for NAS Cubi Point on 15 May 1966, Enterprise had barely arrived before Typhoon Irma compelled her exit. Cruising along the Filipino coast for three days (18-20 May), she rode out the typhoon before anchoring in Manila Bay, 20–21 May. The next day, Enterprise stopped in Subic Bay to pick up almost 300 crewmembers stranded by Irma before returning to Yankee Station to resume strikes against the enemy, 22 May–5 June.
Early on the morning of 23 May 1966, Gale Force 712, an A-4C (BuNo 147762), piloted by Ensign Karl W. “Butch” Leuffen, VA-36, participated in an armed reconnaissance mission over Route Package 005, North Vietnam. Leuffen was part of a five hour flight by three Skyhawks against Dong Khe Railroad Bridge. The terrain, considered “flat,” was not a problem, however, the ceiling was at 7,000 feet, overcast, with visibility at six NM, but during the pre-brief it was revealed that a flight had located a “target of opportunity” through the overcast. The Skyhawks made three passes over the bridge, encountering “light” but “accurate” AAA, identified as 37 mm guns, barely a minute into their runs, though claiming “all ordnance on target.”
During their third pass from a 30º dive angle from approximately 2,800 feet, while flying around 400 KIAS, at 0305, Leuffen felt “a thump during target run in.” Releasing his ordnance, he recovered at 2,500 feet. Butch Leuffen’s Skyhawk began streaming fuel, the pilot noting a rapid loss of oil pressure. Refueling from an A-4 tanker, he began heading back toward Enterprise, but had no sooner reached the ship, beginning his landing approach from the 180º position when he heard “loud scrapping noises,” and commenced losing altitude. The pilot’s engine seized, forcing him to eject, at 18º15’N, 107º10’E, noting as he did so that his fuel bypass light was lit. Hitting the water and sinking almost two feet before resurfacing, he was quickly recovered by the ship’s plane guard UH-2A, HC-1. Leuffen felt survival was due to “his ability to position himself prior to departing the aircraft.” HC-1 Det 5 transferred from Worden to the “Big E”, on 5 June.
The communists were “moving even more…supply traffic over the water routes,” and aircraft from Enterprise “inflicted heavy damage” to the port facilities at Ben Thuy, on 28 May 1966. Enterprise launched “a large air armada” on the Ben Thuy port facilities, which had taken over “a great deal of Vinh traffic,” on 28 May, the “raid termed a large success.” Over a two day period in May, VA-93 dropped seven North Vietnamese highway and railroad bridges, earning the Blue Blazers the additional nickname of “Bridge Busters.”
Three days later Enterprise launched “one of the major strikes of the war” to date, against the military complex at Nam Dinh, including a railroad yard and a POL storage center, in the Red River region of North Vietnam. Six missions blasted the facilities there, causing “massive destruction to its supply capabilities.
The Nam Dinh area was heavily defended by both AAA, including 37, 57 and 85 mm guns, and by SA-2 SAMs. Attacking aircraft were greeted by a veritable barrage of fire, yet pilots persevered, completing their runs. The flat terrain aided visual identification from the air, and the ceiling was at 10,000 feet with broken clouds.
One flight of four F-4B Phantom IIs from VF-92 dropped a total of 31 MK 82 Low Drag General Purpose bombs on five separate AAA sites, each comprising up to six guns, the first two and the fourth consisting of 85 mm batteries, and the third of 37s. The Phantom IIs were over the guns between 1025–1028, noting “no firing following attack,” though a previously unidentified 85 mm battery at the fifth site surprised aircrews, continuing to fire till the flight was “well clear of the area.”
Another flight of four Skyhawks from VA-93 blasted the railroad yard, destroying as many as 10 boxcars, as well as damaging an “unknown number” of others, together with some buildings, with 52 MK 81s.North Vietnamese AAA opened up as the flight entered the target area, bursting at 7,000–10,000 feet, then shifting fire to below the Skyhawks, which were coming in around 8,000 feet at approximately 450 KIAS, then shifting to above them, then “right on,” tracking. The pilots described the fire as “heavy and accurate,” believing it to be radar controlled. One A-4C, BuNo. 147834, was struck a “glancing blow” in its port wing by an 85 mm fragment, at 1024, recovering and returning to the ship.
Four more Skyhawks from VA-76 plastered nearby port facilities with 58 MK 81s, destroying “at least” six buildings and damaging “many others,” the pilots observing “numerous” secondary explosions. However, the enemy started firing while the A-4Cs were almost 5 NM from the target area, white, black and grey AAA bursts being “seen at all altitudes below 10,000 feet.”
In addition, shortly after departing the target area the flight leader saw a contrail and then an “orange-white burst,” at about 1029. An aircraft in another “flight had a singer tone but did not see the SAM.” Although the Skyhawks in this strike were similarly equipped, they had “no warning,” and a “SAM red call” was not heard until after crossing the coast outbound following the strike.
While the other aircraft were hitting Nam Dinh, a coastal reconnaissance mission by a pair of VA-36 Skyhawks spotted eight cargo junks operating suspiciously, sinking one with six MK 81s, between 1045–1100, at 20º17’N, 106º34’E, the pilots making runs 30 seconds apart.
Around 1100, the enemy fired a salvo of three SA-2s at the aircraft, while the pilots were flying between 500–1,000 feet. The first missile passed ahead of the Skyhawks, the second passed above them, and the third detonated above the pilots, at 20º15’N, 106º36’E. The missiles burst within 150–200 feet of the A-4Cs, which dived at least 100 feet to avoid the SAMs.
Former boxing champion Archie Moore [Archibald L. Wright], came on board Enterprise on 2 June 1966, showing the crew movies of his championship boxing exploits that spanned half a century.
On 5 June 1966, many of the “crew watched with relief as the last launch nosed onto the angle deck.” After pulling off the line and discharging her remaining ordnance and combat material at Subic Bay, Enterprise and Bainbridge finally left for their new homeports on 9 June, CVW-9 aircraft intercepting and escorting over the ships four Soviet Bears (Bears oddly appropriate in view of their California destinations), on the 14th, the ships crossing the IDL the next day and inchopping to Com1stFlt, on 19 June 1966.
Bainbridge detached from the carrier four days later to proceed independently to Long Beach Naval Shipyard, while the carrier returned to NAS Alameda. Newscasters began arriving on board Enterprise on 19 June 1966, and the crew held an improvised end of cruise party on the 20th.
The next day, 21 June 1966, “the Golden Gate Bridge appeared through the morning haze.” Sliding “through the mist” beneath the bridge the ship was welcomed by one of the largest celebrations given a vessel entering the bay since WWII.
Traffic backed up on the bridge approaches for miles as crowds of “cheering people with streamers and signs leaned out over the rails of the Golden Gate.” Whistles sounded and fireboats shot water geysers skyward as the ship steamed into the bay, mooring at NAS Alameda, city officials dedicating the day in honor of the ship. More than a third of the crew went on leave, the remainder taking advantage of “the tremendously warm welcome” extended to them by the people of the area, with San Francisco, Oakland and Alameda proclaiming 21 June as “Big E Day.”
CVW-9 flew 20,076 sorties, 13,020 combat, 2 December 1965–5 June 1966, the wing proudly claiming that “the queen of the seas was married to the king of the air wings,” made 19,131 catapult launches and 18,142 arrested landings, dropped 8,966 tons of ordnance, performed six helo rescues and spent 120 days on the line.
Enterprise remained in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay area throughout the summer and fall for ship’s maintenance and refresher training, being visited by a party led by the Consul General of India, on 28 June. Enterprise moved across the bay into San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, beginning a period of repair and “routine maintenance,” and to “establish a base of operations at her homeport,” 30 June–2 September 1966.
Workers at the shipyard put in 60,000 man days in barely two months on the ship, principally concerned with five major projects: major repairs to all four catapults; installation of an RIM-7E Basic Point Defense Missile System (BPDMS) Sea Sparrow III launcher on the port quarter for AD; modification of all aviation electronic shops to handle the electronic gear on E-2As and A-6s; modification of communications spaces; and “ship painting and cleaning.”
While there Enterprise was visited by Vice Admiral Rickover, Mayor John F. Shelley, San Francisco, and Archie Moore, the boxing champion’s second visit. On 27 August, she was opened to over 2,400 shipyard workers and their dependents.
The carrier held a “fast cruise” for a day and a half checking out the new systems before returning to Alameda, 2–6 September 1966. From then through the end of the month, Enterprise conducted Carrier qualifications and training exercises, preparing for her next deployment to Vietnamese waters.
During the first of two separate underway periods for Carrier qualifications and crew familiarization, (6–10 and 12–16 September 1966), the crew received a party of 14 prominent business and civic leaders, guests of the Secretary of the Navy, and during the weekend between the two cruises, Admiral James S. Russell (Ret.) visited the carrier.
During 10 days of “minor touching up” at San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, CVW-9, comprising VA-35 (A-6As), VA-56 and VA-113 (A-4Cs), VF-92 and VF-96 (F-4Bs), RVAH-7 (RA-5Cs), VAW-13 Det 65 (EA-1Fs), VAH-2 Det M (A-3Bs) and HC-1 Det 65 (UH-2A/Bs), reported on board. Also on board at various times were VQ-1 (EA-3Bs) and Heavy Photographic Squadron (VAP)-61 (RA-3Bs). In addition, VAW-112 (E-2As) would later be established at sea while on board Enterprise in the Gulf of Tonkin, on 20 April 1967.
Meanwhile, Enterprise sailed down the coast for additional training, including test firing her Sea Sparrow missiles, on 26 September 1966. The ship returned for two days early on 28 September, to “check out her arresting gear.” Anchoring for the night, she moored at San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, the next day.
The ship conducted additional drills and air exercises (3–12 October 1966), a period punctuated by tragedy. At 2215 on that day, Flare 102, an RA-5C Vigilante (BuNo 149288), Lieutenant John K. Sutor, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Peter C. Carrothers, radar navigator, RVAH-7, launched from Enterprise on a night reconnaissance mission. Flare 102 climbed to 21,500 feet and returned overhead to attempt to rendezvous with Folder III, the KA-3B duty tanker (BuNo 147650), Lieutenant Deighton A. Hunt, pilot, Ensign Carroll L. Gibson, bombardier/navigator, and AO1 Melvin F. Colby, crewman/navigator, attached to VAH-2 Det M, for inflight refueling practice. Enterprise advised Flare 102 that they were “experiencing difficulty” contacting Folder 111, requesting that the Vigilante connect with the tanker. The two aircraft rendezvoused, Sutor joining Hunt on his starboard wing. At 2315, Flare 102 assumed the lead and was vectored to the marshal point. A section penetration was initiated at 2331. The aircraft each entered the overcast at 1,700 feet, 10 NM astern of the ship, transitioning to level flight at 1,200 feet, 175 KIAS. During the transition to the landing configuration at approximately 2352, at the eight-mile rate, in straight and level flight, they collided, Folder 111 “apparently” striking the Vigilante on the starboard side. Flare 102 rolled to the left in a “nose down” attitude, Sutor shouting to Carrothers to “eject!” Both men were rescued by one of the carrier’s helos and returned to Enterprise, but an “immediate and thorough” search and rescue (SAR) by aircraft from NAS North Island, backed-up by the Coast Guard, failed to locate any survivors from Folder 111.
Enterprise returned to NAS Alameda to prepare for Operation Base Line Two, a major First Fleet exercise giving “battle readiness testing to ships facing deployment in the Far East.” A region of Southern California Special Operations Area (The southern California operating area) was “roped off” to create an area with features approximating those of Yankee Station off North Vietnam.
As Enterprise entered the “hostile sea,” she test fired the missile system, also being subjected to simulated attacks by submarines, motor torpedo boats and aircraft. On 17 October 1966, Vice Admiral Bernard F. Roeder, Com1stFlt, came on board to observe operations.
However, teeth sheered off from a pinion, putting out of action one of the reduction gears of the ship’s propulsion system, this and “minor repairs to the catapults” forcing her to put into San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, 21–31 October.
The ship stood out for a week of carquals for A-3s, F-4s, E-2s and C-2s, 31 October–4 November. On 5 November, a dependents cruise was held, an aerial display being performed. Preparing for their impending cruise, VAH-2 Det M departed NAS Whidbey Island, Wash., for the carrier, on 8 November.
Deploying for WestPac at 1000 on 19 November 1966, a “typically cold, rainy and grey” day, Enterprise passed beneath a small group of well wishers gathered on the Golden Gate Bridge and “churned on through the drizzle” Hawaii-bound. Assigned to CVW-9 were 79 aircraft: 24 Phantom IIs, 28 Skyhawks, six Vigilantes, nine Intruders, five Skywarriors, four Hawkeyes and three Seaprites.
Steaming to Hawaii in five days, Enterprise encountered seas and winds that “were quite high at first,” though calmer weather prevailed as she neared Hawaiian waters, postponing her continued westward sailing to give the crew a brief respite by visiting Pearl Harbor, on 23 November 1966. Subsequently, she completed her ORI, the crew “scurrying to general quarters, at odd times during the day and in the middle of the night.” Lieutenant Governor Andrew T.F. Ing presented Captain Holloway with a state proclamation issued by Governor John A. Burns, declaring “Enterprise Day,” while local newspapers ran stories heralding the arrival of “a new Enterprise,” referring to the ship’s famous WWII predecessor.
Some 20,000 “curious citizens jammed the pier” to visit the carrier that Sunday, but only four hours were allotted for the visitors and the influx proved so unexpected that by the end of visiting hours at 1600, many thousands still had not been able to come on board and the crew reluctantly turned many away. Ten remaining plankowners still served on board, taking advantage of the occasion to celebrate the ship’s fifth anniversary.
The carrier slipped from her berth the following Monday, heading out from Oahu on her westerly course into WestPac accompanied by Bainbridge, destroyers Turner Joy (DD-951) and McKean (DD-784) and guided missile frigate Gridley (DLG-21), inchopping into Seventh Fleet on 3 December 1966. Shortly thereafter she came within range of Soviet reconnaissance patrols, being overflown by Bears on “a few occasions.”
En route to the Philippines, the ship participated in Operation Newboy, an AD exercise, on 7 December 1966. Enterprise moored at Leyte Pier, NAS Cubi Point, the next day, and began loading supplies. Final combat preparations for her embarked squadrons were completed at NAS Cubi Point.
Before sailing again for Vietnamese waters, Rear Admiral Walter L. Curtis, Jr., ComCarDiv-9, broke his flag on board. Standing out on 15 December 1966, the carrier was escorted by Bainbridge, Gridley and Manley (DD-940) to Yankee Station, arriving on the 18th, beginning the ship’s first line period during this deployment, covering 18 December 1966–16 January 1967.
The first jets roared off at dawn on 18 December 1966, Enterprise’s opening strikes of the deployment. Although a low ceiling, fog and gloom from the monsoon hampered those initial runs, the ship nonetheless commenced six months of “grueling combat.” Despite ongoing inclement weather, she flew successful strikes against rail networks and power plants. Enterprise’s A-6 Intruders proved particularly effective during night and foul-weather missions using radar navigation and radar bombing when “low ceilings prohibited visual deliveries.”
Interdiction of enemy supplies proved the primary objective for these earlier strikes, hitting bridges, railroads and supply dumps near Vinh, Thon Hon and Ha Tinh. While the majority of those missions took place under “instrument and night conditions,” her aircraft also participated in both VFR and Iron Hand missions. During a pre-dawn strike two days before Christmas of 1966, her aircraft hit the Vinh Railroad Yard, North Vietnam. Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Miles, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Kenton W. Van Lue, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, both later received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their part in this strike, with a “large secondary explosion” being observed by other aircraft in the area.
That same day (23 December 1966), destroyer O’Brien (DD-725), patrolling about 21 miles north of Dong Hai, North Vietnam, came under heavy fire by 57 mm enemy shore batteries, at 1046. Numerous shells exploded around the ship and although she maneuvered to try and avoid the incoming salvoes, she received three direct hits and suffered two men killed and four wounded. Three divisions of CVW-9 aircraft from Enterprise, together with planes from Kitty Hawk, were diverted from their primary targets to aid O’Brien, and along with the destroyer’s own guns (130 rounds), silenced the batteries. Destroyer Benner (DD-807) relieved O’Brien on station that evening, while Maddox (DD-731), about 10 miles south when the latter was attacked, closed the area, assuming control of strike aircraft. Their presence enabled the damaged destroyer to retire to obtain medical assistance for her men, and then proceed to Subic for repairs; O’Brien returned to sea in less than two weeks.
The 48 hour cease fire over Christmas, and “seasonal poor flying weather” reduced the scope of operations in Vietnamese waters during 21–28 December 1966. Intruders, however, pounded the Hanoi-Vinh Railroad by “generally using a full system radar drop,” and conducted a “limited amount of interdiction of waterborne cargo traffic.”
On the day after Christmas of 1966, Archbishop Francis C. Spellman of New York, Vicar of the Armed Forces, held mass for nearly 2,000 men gathered in the hanger bay. In addition to the two day stand-down during the New Year’s ceasefire, operations over North Vietnam were “further curtailed by the dominant northeast monsoon weather pattern,” 29 December 1966–3 January 1967.
Through 16 January 1967, when she came about from Yankee Station, Skyhawks and Phantom IIs from Enterprise carried out primarily armed reconnaissance missions, “to seek out and destroy” communist waterborne logistics craft, coastal highway bridges and suspected infiltration routes.
Under Secretary of the Navy Robert H. Baldwin visited Enterprise on 10 January 1967; Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown paid a call on the 12th. Four days later, after 28 days on the line, she sailed for Subic Bay, mooring at Leyte Pier, NAS Cubi Point, on the 18th. The next day, Rear Admiral Maurice F. Weisner relieved Rear Admiral Walter L. Curtis, Jr., as ComCarDiv-1, on board Enterprise.
Enterprise stood out from Subic on 26 January 1967, anchoring off Manila for a brief visit (27–30 January, before steaming for Vietnamese waters. Departing Manila on 30 January, she conducted an AAW exercise with British carrier HMS Victorious.
Returning to Yankee Station on 1 February 1967, Enterprise resumed operations against North Vietnam, though poor weather continued to “prevail and discourage” Alpha (maximum-effort) strikes. During this period, coordinated “major strikes” hit the Thanh Hoa Railroad Yard/Siding, Dong Phong Thong Railroad Yard, and both the Hon Gai and Bac Giang Thermal Power Plants.
However, the weather continued to impose restrictions, missions often depending upon “a transitory break in the cloud cover” to enable targets to be seen from the air. Dubbed the “Winter War” by pilots in reference to their difficulties in completing missions, this problem partially abated with the introduction of the A-6, whose modern avionics and systems made possible strikes hitherto restricted by weather. Referring to the tactical advantages offered by their aircraft, Intruder pilots on board Enterprise began to quip that “The weather was terrible, just perfect for us.”
The first two months of 1967 saw Enterprise aircrews paying considerable attention to the railway facilities at Vinh, Thien Linh Dong–both “singled out for particular decimation”–Dong Phong Thuong, Thanh Hoa, Pho Can, Qui Vinh and Ninh Binh, all “soon in need of considerable repair.” In addition, “numerous bombing and rocket” attacks were flown against enemy barges, bridges and supply areas in the mountains near the DMZ. During 4–5 February, aircraft from Enterprise and Ticonderoga hit the Thanh Hao trans-shipment complex, forcing the communists to begin a massive reconstruction of facilities there. Strikes in this period were part of an “interdiction in depth” campaign.
The three-week lunar celebration known as Tet is the most significant Vietnamese holiday. The U.S. and its Allies traditionally observed a truce during this period, and beginning on 8 February 1967, the Tet cease fire, normally authorized for 48 hours, was extended to six days, giving rise to unfounded rumors of an end to the war. However, the war not only continued, but the intervening lull afforded the enemy AAA gunners and SAM sites an opportunity to strengthen their defenses.
At 1145 on 12 February 1967, Flare 105, an RA-5C (BuNo 151623), Commander Donald H. Jarvis, pilot and squadron executive officer (XO), and Lieutenant (jg) Paul M. Artlip, radar navigator, RVAH-7, launched from Enterprise on a Blue Tree photographic reconnaissance mission, escorted by Show Time 603, a Phantom II. At approximately 1240, Flare 105 was at about 800 feet, flying 450 KIAS, on a heading of 30º left bank, beginning a slight right turn, in right echelon formation parallel to the Vietnamese coast. Suddenly, numerous 37 mm and 57 mm AAA commenced concentrated firing almost simultaneously. Both aircraft received heavy fire from the enemy guns and 603 observed a hole in 105’s starboard wing. Both aircraft entered overcast.
Show Time 603 broke in clear on top at 6,000 feet, but failed to locate 105 by either visual or radio search, so immediately alerted CSAR forces, during which the Phantom II crew sighted an oil slick on the water. Almost afterward, the crew also heard a beeper signal, followed by a very weak PRC-10 transmission: “Goodman, Goodman, down here.” Continuing their search for the downed crew, the crew of 603 sighted both men in the water, one in a raft and the other floating approximately one-fourth of a mile away, the impact area at approximately 20º10’N, 106º24’E. Sighting the raft was actually very difficult, as it blended into the “yellowish” water, but unusually, the green flight suit stood out.
An enemy junk, however, was rapidly closing the downed crew, but 603, assisted by a second Phantom II as RESCAP, drove her off. Loosefoot 68, an SH-3A, arrived on the scene at about 1315 to pick-up Artlip, but due to an overheating transmission, was forced to terminate the rescue and return to Long Beach. A UH-2 then arrived and attempted to retrieve Jarvis, but was unable to do so due to a hoist malfunction. Crown Bravo, an HU-16, arrived at 1400, assuming on scene commander. However, the rescuers now came under small arms fire from shore, so a pair of Arab A-1s, together with a couple of Battle Cry A-4s, were vectored-in to suppress the fire with Zuni 5.0 Inch [130 mm] unguided rockets and 20 mm rounds. Thirteen minutes later, Crown Bravo landed and picked up the pilot, the recovery hampered by injuries, including two fractures, to Jarvis’s arm, and his entanglement in parachute shroud lines, together with a helo crewman who had stayed in the water with Jarvis. Crown Bravo returned Jarvis to Da Nang.
Although “prevailing seasonal poor flying weather” impeded operations during the week of 15–21 February 1967,” Enterprise’s aircraft utilized radar bombing and attacked targets “of opportunity” across North Vietnam. Rear Admiral Weisner was relieved by Rear Admiral Roger W. Mehle as ComCarDiv-1, on the 18th.
Toward the end of the week, planes from Enterprise concentrated their efforts on lines of communications “interdiction control points in RT [route] areas south of Than Hao, truck convoys and rail cars” replacing waterborne craft as primary targets following inclement weather problems that “largely limited combat operations to coastal recce [reconnaissance].”
During night operations, a pair of CVW-9 Intruders dropped four CBU-2A cluster bombs, two MK 82 500 lb general purpose bombs and four MK 81 250 lb bombs on a Route 1A “truck bottleneck at a downed bridge,” resulting in six secondary explosions generating “large columns of black smoke.” Ongoing poor weather over North Vietnam, however, compelled diversion of many sorties toward southern Laos.
Show Time 614, an F-4B (BuNo 150413) Major Russell C. Goodman, USAF, pilot and former Thunderbirds (USAF Air Demonstration Squadron) narrator, and Ensign Gary L. Thornton, RIO, VF-96, launched with their wingman, Show Time 601, at 1530 on 20 February 1967. The flight was assigned a “lucrative target” of 20 railroad cars at Thien Linh Dong Railroad Siding, six nautical miles southwest of Thanh Hoa, the AAA plot indicating that the area was “lightly defended.”
Approaching the siding, the flight climbed to 11,000 feet, maneuvering into position. At approximately 1625, 601 commenced its roll-in to a 45º dive to release at 5,000 feet. As 601 leveled its wings in the dive, the crew observed a 57 mm burst over the target, followed seconds later by an explosion at 5,000–7,000 feet. Shortly afterward, 601 spotted a second explosion on the ground northeast of 614’s aim point.
The wingman aborted his dive to search for survivors, but spotted no parachutes nor overheard beepers, and believed the first explosion to be 614 impacting with the ground. Viceroy A-1s arrived overhead to support the search, which was drawing heavy AAA and automatic weapons fire from the area. However, Goodman was killed, while Thornton was captured and did not return home until 4 March 1973.
“Unsatisfactory flying weather predominated over North Vietnam during the entire week” of 22–28 February 1967, “severely restricting activities.” Enterprise Intruders, however, conducted a total of five radar attacks on both the Hon Gai and Bac Giang Thermal Power Plants, North Vietnam. Both plants lay within “the flak umbrellas of Hanoi and Haiphong.”
Leading the first Alpha strike against the latter, accomplished on the night of the 24th, aircrews from VA-35 (Commander Arthur H. Barrie) flew into the teeth of “intense” AAA fire and SAM launches, but had the satisfaction of noting three secondary explosions “accompanied by brilliant arcing and blue sparks.”
Show Time 606, an F-4B, BuNo. 152989, Lieutenant David W. “Hawk” Hoffman, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Robert C. Ewing, RIO, VF-96, launched for a night Barrier Combat Air Patrol (BarCap), on 25 February. The ceiling was 10,000 feet with scattered clouds. After Show Time 615, another VF-96 Phantom II flying as their wingman, was forced to abort its mission, 606 rendezvoused with Piraz, another aircraft, when Hoffman discovered that the Phantom II’s port engine was on fire. Shutting the engine down, Hoffman turned south toward Enterprise, but the aircraft continued to lose altitude, the starboard engine receiving no more than 80% power, so 606 called a “mayday situation.” Folder, an A-3B tanker from VAH-2, stayed with 606 until the latter was at 1,600 feet, approximately 13 NM from Home Plate (Enterprise). Meanwhile, an SH-3A from carrier Bennington (CVS-20) had closed the area to support the SAR. Hoffman and Ewing ejected at 2124, at about 18º17’N, 107º42E, being recovered by an HC-1 helo from the “Big E.”
On 26–27 February 1967, seven crews from VA-35 were involved in the first USN aerial mining operations since WWII. Squadron Intruders dropped two fields of MK-50 and 52 mines in the estuaries of the Song Ca, and in the Song Giang Rivers, North Vietnam, attempting to disrupt enemy coastal and riverine barge and sampan smuggling to VC and Laotian Pathet Lao forces. The Black Panthers flew in low, but although they received some light AAA in the vicinity of Vinh, noted no SAMs.
Additional minelaying missions in March by planes from Kitty Hawk over the Cua Sot, Kien Giang and Song Ma Rivers supplemented those carried out from Enterprise in late February. Although the enemy almost immediately began clearance efforts, the combined minelaying flights forced the North Vietnamese to temporarily suspend utilizing coastal barges for smuggling, as well as seriously curtailing local fishing activities, often used to feed communist troops.
The squadron eventually expended 53 mines in 11 sorties, a unique achievement recognized by a message from Rear Admiral David C. Richardson (ComCruDesGru-5), TF 77, on 2 March 1967: “…The outstanding professional manner in which this task was efficiently and expeditiously accomplished was most satisfying and emphasized again the value of keeping all your tools sharply honed and ready for employment on short notice.”
Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp, Jr., Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), visited the ship for “high-level discussions,” on the 27th.
Enterprise pulled off Yankee Station on 2 March 1967, entering Subic Bay on the 5th. The carrier stood out from Subic for Hong Kong on 12 March, anchoring near Green Island at the British colony, 14–20 March, providing “relief from the rigors of combat.”
Enterprise returned to Yankee Station on 22 March 1967, and beginning the following day, the Ha Tau Naval Supply Complex “felt the wrath of Enterprise air strikes for several days.” Enterprise and her resourceful aviators were demonstrating that “radar significant targets” could be struck by “utilizing the all-weather delivery system of the Intruder.” Additional North Vietnamese targets hit by strikes launched from the carrier included Chi Ne Army Barracks, Thai Nguyen Thermal Power Plant and Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel Mill, the latter two targets over 24–25 March. Opposed by SAMs and heavy AAA, the aircraft still “inflicted heavy damage on the enemy.”
Reconnaissance missions often flew against considerable opposition, but while just as perilous as strike sorties, seldom received much media attention. Unarmed missions proved especially difficult for such crews, requiring steady nerves without the possibility of returning enemy fire. Commander William Winberg, III, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Paul M. Artlip, radar navigator, RVAH-7, flew a “vital” 1.7 hour daylight reconnaissance mission, in RA-5C, covering railroad segments 6A and 6B, together with “heavily defended” Thanh Hoa complex, North Vietnam, on 26 March. A Phantom II from VF-92 provided escort. Though reported as a clear day, haze over the targets reduced visibility.
Winberg approached Thanh Hoa at 1446, from a minimum altitude of 4,000 feet, flying a maximum speed of 670 KIAS, on his way home by 1450. But it was a long four minutes, as he received AAA fire over the targets. Nonetheless, he “continued his run, obtaining 100 percent photographic coverage of his assigned route.” In addition, Winberg decided to extend his flight to gain coverage of both the railroad yard and the industrial complex, discovering a new railroad bypass and a new Petroleum-Oil-Lubricants (POL) storage site. For his resourcefulness and determination, the intrepid aviator was later awarded the Navy Commendation Medal.
On 27 March 1967, Enterprise received her first Battle Efficiency “E” as part of the Pacific Fleet. Two days later, Seventh Fleet officers and men who distinguished themselves in action against the communists, were decorated by a South Vietnamese delegation, including Chief of State General Thieu, Premier Air Vice Marshal Ky, Chief of the Joint General Staff General Cao V. Vien and naval Captain Tran Van Chon, accompanied by a group led by Vice Admiral Hyland, Com7thFlt and General William C. Westmoreland, USA, Commander, MACV. Premier Ky presented awards to several naval aviators, together with Captain Holloway, VA-35’s Commander Arthur H. Barie, Commander Glenn E. Kollmann, Lieutenant Commander Ronald P. Hyde, and Lieutenant (jg) Nicholas M. Carpenter, and Commander James L. Shipman, CAG, CVW-9, received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. The next day Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge visited the ship.
Strikes during April 1967 focused upon the Bac Gian power plant and the Thia Nguyen steel plant. Skyhawk pilots pinpointed enemy bridges and supply caves with Bullpups, while Phantom IIs crews “turned in superlative efforts” against barges.
During the first half of the month Enterprise was assigned to TG 77.0 (Rear Admiral Roger W. Mehle, ComCarDiv-1, embarked in Enterprise, in turn under Rear Admiral Richardson, TF 77, embarked in carrier Kitty Hawk, en route to Yankee Station. On 9 April, Vice Admiral Hyland met with Rear Admiral Mehle on board the “Big E,” while she was steaming at Yankee Station.
The Com7thFlt weekly summary for 5–11 April 1967 summarized operating within the difficult weather conditions succinctly: “Although TF 77 averaged over 100 sorties per day in the Rolling Thunder program, continuing winter monsoon weather patterns remained over North Vietnam during the week. Visible results included destruction of five significant bridges and the damage or destruction of approximately 10 trucks and 200 cargo junks and barges. However, radar-controlled missions continued to maintain U.S. pressure over much of NVN, including two A6A strikes against the Thai Nguyen steel plant north of Hanoi.”
Six Intruders from Enterprise struck the Thai Nguyen Iron and Steel Plant three times, all flights reporting success, and on the 8th, her Phantom IIs “inflicted heavy damage” to several buildings in a storage area 30 miles north of Vinh with 250 lb bombs. An additional strike by her A-6s on the Da Chong Storage Area 37 miles east-northeast of Haiphong touched off a “huge” secondary explosion by 500 lb bombs.
Inflicting such damage, however, did not come cheaply. Show Time 610, an F-4B (BuNo 152978), Lieutenant James R. Ritchie, pilot, and Ensign Frank A. Schumacher, RIO, VF-96, were on a coastal reconnaissance of North Vietnam on 8 April, when they lost utility hydraulic pressures following a hit by AAA, while flying at about 1,500 feet. Ritchie was apparently unaware of the hit initially, but by 1445 was noting the pressure loss. Ritchie was able to guide the Phantom II over the Gulf of Tonkin before both men ejected at approximately 1450, around 9,000 feet, at 20º31’N, 107º11’E, when it “pitched up out of control.” Both men hit the water relatively near each other, about four miles off the coast. Schumacher felt his chute slowly dragging him down, so he pulled the raft over, inflating it on the way down, entering it. Meanwhile, 615 attempted to reach 610 without result and Overpass, an AEW aircraft from Enterprise, lost contact, so a CSAR was initiated.
Overpass diverted a pair of Skyhawks, which arrived as RESCAP, visually sighting the RIO through his smoke signal. Both survivors utilized their URC-10 survival radios and this enabled the SAR crews to localize the effort, “Beepers received loud and clear.” Clementine 1, a UH-2B from HC-1 Det 17, Lieutenant Jaque L. Meiling, pilot, Lieutenant Andrew J. Curtin, co-pilot, ADJ3 Richard H. Hall and Airman Allen E. Salsbury, flying from guided missile destroyer England (DLG-22), rescued both men, in an evolution “completed in a very minimum of time due to close proximity of enemy controlled island areas.”
On 9 April 1967, three V-75 SA-2 Guideline SAMs neared an A-6 approximately six miles before the pilot reached his target. Two of the Guidelines burst at his “10 and 11 o’clock” positions within 200 feet of the aircraft, causing “violent buffeting.” The third blew up directly under the Intruder, causing light damage. After a successful run, the pilot “encountered intense AAA with bursts all around the plane while outbound.”
The next day, Enterprise aircrews “returned to the Phu Cu railroad siding 28 miles south of Thanh Hoa,” accessing “good delivery” of their ordnance. On the same date, CVW-9 aircraft pounded the Ha Tinh highway bridge 25 miles south-southeast of Vinh with 250-pound bombs, “billowing grey smoke” rising from the northern approach to the bridge after the raid.
Between 12–18 April 1967, TF 77 aircraft, including those flying from Enterprise, damaged or destroyed more than 200 cargo junks/barges and more than 50 trucks, in operations “largely limited to radar strikes and random attacks where weather conditions permitted.” During that period, on the 17th, A-4s from CVW-9 pulverized an automatic weapons site 30 miles north of Vinh with Zunis. On the same day, Intruders hit the Thien Linh railroad siding eight miles south-southwest of Thanh Hoa with 500 pounders, and other A-6s struck the Ha Tou naval supply area, 28 miles east-northeast of Haiphong. The next day, “moderating winter monsoons” permitted task force aircraft to inflict damage by “a widespread armed reconnaissance throughout North Vietnam.”
Enterprise arrived at Cubi Point on 19 April 1967. On the 26th, Rear Admiral Horace H. Epes, Jr., relieved Rear Admiral Mehle as ComCarDiv-1. The ship returned to Yankee Station on the 29th, CVW-9 noting upon arrival that the “weather now appears to be clearing to allow strikes up north.” “Big E’s” planes attacked the Thien Linh Dong railroad bridge and siding nine miles south-southwest of Thanh Hoa, interdicting it with 250 and 500 lb bombs, on 29 April. Other aircrews flew against the Ngoc Son storage area eight miles south of Vinh, and dropped a bridge 13 miles south-southwest of Vinh with 500 lb bombs. The ship and her embarked air wing took advantage of the break in the weather to launch alpha strikes against the Vinh and Bai Thuong airfields, the latter cutting the runway in three locations.
Two minor airfields felt Enterprise’s ordnance the next day (30 April 1967) when Skyhawks, escorted by Phantom IIs, “heavily damaged” the Vinh ammunition and fuel storage area with 500 lb bombs. Another flight of A-6s pounded the Hon Gai military storage area 33 miles northeast of Haiphong with 500-pounders, pilots noting a secondary explosion and “several fires.” Meanwhile, her Skyhawks cut the approaches to the Tien Dien highway bridge with air-to-ground missiles.
Also on the 30th, Lieutenant John K. Sutor, pilot, and Lieutenant Peter C. Carrothers, radar navigator, RVAH-7, flew a 1.7 hour daytime unarmed photo reconnaissance mission, in RA-5C, into Route Package IV, over the “heavily defended” areas of Ninh Binh, Phu Ly and Namh Dinh, North Vietnam. The photographs were required to provide pre-strike information for future flights against these railroad targets, consisting respectively of a siding, complex and yard. The Vigilante was escorted by an F-4B, VF-92. Encountering clear weather, the aircraft made their run over the targets, from 1406–1411. Barely two minutes into the run, 85 mm AAA engaged the aircraft, but despite “heavy barrage fire, aircraft buffeting and aircraft damage,” the men completed their mission, making their main run at high speed (a maximum of 620 KIAS) but at low altitude (a minimum of 3,500 feet), so that complete photographic coverage of the objective areas could be obtained. Both pilots evaded the AAA bursts, at least 20 being counted, by “jinking,” opting not to launch Chaff countermeasures. Nonetheless, the RA-5C was hit, receiving damage to its radar altimeter, but Sutor and Carrothers completed their mission. Carrothers “skillfully” operated the “complex radar, navigation and reconnaissance equipment,” and the success of the mission “under extremely hazardous conditions” was due to “careful planning and personal courage,” by both men, for which Carrothers was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The fourth and fifth line periods saw “frequent breaks in the weather over North Vietnam,” enabling more visual sorties to be flown than hitherto possible during this deployment, over 50% of the total sorties flown during May–June 1967. Targets struck included Haiphong’s thermal power plants (east and west), Kep airfield and Van Dien vehicle depot. During one mission against the latter, her aircrew counted no less than 35 airborne SAMs, evading them “through violent evasive maneuvers.”
Planes from Enterprise participated in strikes over North Vietnam in Route Packages II, III, and IV, the Air Force bearing the primary responsibility for Route Packages I and V, during the first week of May 1967. Over “a dozen major bridges” were hit, together with “a large number” of waterborne vessels. In addition, they carried out a successful strike against a SAM site near Thanh Hoa.
On 1 May 1967, Enterprise and Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) launched a “May Day celebration” in the form of a coordinated strike against “MiGs and flak sites”
In the vicinity of Kep airfield. Flying an F-8E from “Bonnie Dick”, Lieutenant Commander Marshall O. Wright, VF-211, downed a North Vietnamese MiG-17 with an AIM-9D Sidewinder.
“The A-4 Skyhawks then took over the show and concentrated on the grounded MiGs,” as enemy pilots desperately attempted to scramble or escape. During the ensuing mêlée, Lieutenant Commander Theodore R. Swartz, VA-76, also embarked in Bon Homme Richard, shot down a Fresco with a Zuni, making him the first and only A-4C pilot to claim that unusual distinction, Swartz receiving the Silver Star for this action. The combined strike force left three MiGs on the ground “burning,” as well as “making the runway unusable.”
On 7 May 1967, the Chi Ne Military Barracks was struck, followed the next day by the Ha Tou naval storage area. Major coordinated strikes were conducted against the Bac Giang and Haiphong (East) Thermal Power Plants, on the 10th and 13th, respectively. In addition, a raid against the Da Chong POL supply base triggered “huge” secondary explosions.
The weather gradually improved over North Vietnam during 3–9 May 1967, allowing naval planes to fly almost 1,200 attack sorties, concentrating upon lines of communications (LOCs) and fixed military installations in Route Packages II, III and IV. Over a dozen bridges were destroyed or damaged, and aircraft from the “Big E’ hammered a SAM site near Thanh Hoa on the 4th, as well as sinking or disabling a number of waterborne craft.
However, during the raid on the SAM site, Battle Cry 314, an A-4C (BuNo 148514), Lieutenant (jg) James S. Graham, VA-113, was lost. Graham was number four of a flight of 10 aircraft. Rolling in, the leader saw 37 and 57 mm AAA bursts, estimated at 5,000 feet. As number three pulled off from his attack he observed 314 below, approximately 20º nose down, wings level attitude, although not burning or smoking. Turning, number three spotted a parachute over the target area at around 3,000 feet. When Graham failed to respond to radio entreaties, the third Skyhawk flew by at 800 feet, Graham stoically waving before he landed in the edge of trees bordering a small village near the target area, approximately two miles from the coast. Graham’s Skyhawk slammed into the ground three miles south of the target. Aircraft remained overhead for approximately 30 minutes, but intense ground fire and the heavily populated area forced them to terminate rescue efforts and return to the ship. Sadly, Graham’s remains were not returned to America until 14 August 1985, being identified on 24 October of that year.
Enterprise A-6 aircrews attacked an ammunition storage area three miles north of Thanh Hoa with 250 and 500 lb bombs, and 20 mm guns, on 5 May. “Dense smoke from the southern half” of the area prevented further damage assessment, but the men claimed “all ordnance was on target.” On the same date, her Phantom IIs “silenced two flak sites” two miles east of Thanh Hoa, some of CVW-9’s other F-4s hitting a storage area 23 miles north-northwest of Vinh with 250 lb bombs, triggering a secondary explosion.
Two days later, her Intruders struck the Dong Phong Thuong Pontoon and Railroad Bridges 12 miles north-northeast of Thanh Hoa with 250 pounders, dropping the former, and the northern span of the latter. The ship’s Phantom IIs destroyed a nearby AAA site.
During the week of 10–16 May 1967, carriers operating in Vietnamese waters, including Enterprise, flew approximately 1,300 combat sorties, with major strikes against Haiphong, Western and Bac Giang Thermal Power Plants, Eastern Plant, which was “put out of commission,” Kien An Airfield, and numerous bridges and waterways, dropping both the Tamda Railroad and Highway Bridges. The alpha strike against Haiphong Thermal Power Plant East on the 10th was fiercely opposed by the enemy, aircrews counting no less than 22 SAM launches.
On 11 May 1967, Skyhawks and Intruders operating from Enterprise, escorted by Phantom IIs, “sliced” the bypass and tracks in the Pho Can Railroad Yard and Station 20 miles north-northeast of Thanh Hba with 250 and 500 lb bombs. Other CVW-9 Skyhawks hit Chu Tu caves, utilized by the North Vietnamese to store military supplies, with 500 pounders and air-to-ground missiles, as well as hitting the AAA site there with additional missiles. Not to be outdone, the wing’s F-4Bs sank a ferry loaded with two trucks, 17 miles south-southeast of Vinh, their 250 lb bombs triggering a secondary explosion.
Two days later, Enterprise A-4Cs “triggered an orange secondary explosion at the Vinh Petroleum Products Storage Area,” five miles north of Vinh, with 250 and 500 lb bombs.
On 18 May 1967, Battle Cry 316, an A-4C (BuNo 147842), Lieutenant Robert J. Naughton, launched as part of a four plane section that split into two flights, the first to tackle four 40 foot barges, and the second comprising Naughton as the lead against Dong Phong Thuong Railroad Siding. The ceiling was 1,500 feet, visibility 10 NM. Rolling in at 450 KIAS from 8,000 feet on a string of boxcars for a 30º LAU-10 rocket attack, Naughton damaged four, but was hit by AAA, tentatively identified as 37 mm, his wingman noting fuel streaming from the centerline tank as 316 was pulling up. Both began heading for the coast when the Skyhawk suddenly burst into flames, Naughton failing to respond to his wingman’s calls, though able to jettison external stores.
The fire continued to burn fiercely, enveloping the A-4 from the mid-fuselage area, aft, altitude now 6,000 feet. At this point, 1235, the Skyhawk was observed to decelerate rapidly, entering a 20º dive, impacting the ground and exploding. A parachute was sighted, and upon hitting the ground, near 19º56’30”N, 105º56’30”E, Naughton contacted his wingman via a URC-10 radio, directing the latter’s strafing runs.
Additional aircraft, including the other two Skyhawks and a Champion flight, arrived overhead, alternating strafing runs with the wingman on low level passes until all ordnance was expended. Big Mother rescue helo “was holding 10 miles off the beach,” waiting for some A-1s for cover, but the latter never arrived. As the aircraft were coming about, people were observed entering the area, Naughton last seen seated on the ground surrounded by five North Vietnamese. He did not return home until 4 March 1973.
Planes from Enterprise “ranged throughout” the theater in the third week of May 1967, making “accurate and damaging” strikes against North Vietnamese supply-support installations. Enterprise and CVW-9 participated in a three carrier coordinated strike against “key” targets in the north, on 19 May. Intruders from Enterprise, backed-up by Skyhawks from CVW-5, embarked on board Hancock, damaged the eastern approach of the “vital” Hai Duong Railway/Highway Bridge, 20 miles northwest of Haiphong, the primary rail link between Hanoi and Haiphong, with air-to-ground missiles. The A-6s also destroyed the nearby railroad station and depot at Thien Linh Dong railroad marshalling yard, with “a barrage of missiles and bombs,” including both 1,000 and 2,000 pounders. In addition, aircraft hit the Van Dien vehicle depot complex. En route to the latter, aircrews encountered a “barrage of SA-2 missiles.” Nonetheless, Skyhawks fired upon four SAM sites in the vicinity of Hanoi, but evasive maneuvers taken by the aircraft precluded battle damage assessment (BDA). The “Big E’s” planes damaged the Thanh Hoa Railroad and Highway Bridge on Route 1A and cratered the approaches to Dong Phong Thuong Bridge. Skyhawks damaged structures at Thanh Hoa Storage Area, and as flak suppressors, Phantom IIs struck three SAM sites. Intruders pummeled Bai Ha Xa truck park and Quang Nap storage area.
At 1020 on 19 May 1967, Ray Gun 502, an A-6A (BuNo 152594) Lieutenant Commander Eugene B. “Red” McDaniel, pilot, and Lieutenant James K. Patterson, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, launched from Enterprise as part of a Rolling Thunder strike mission. Their target was the Van Dien vehicle depot, Hai Duong Province, North Vietnam. Broken clouds were initially reported, the weather being considered adequate for prosecution of the strike, McDaniel’s 81st combat mission over North Vietnam. The aircraft went in from an altitude of 15,000, but experienced “continuous blinking red” (enemy radar attempting to track them) the entire flight and at 1107, 501 noted “missiles lift off,” SAM launches against the aircraft. But though “jinking” all the way in and back, none of the pilots observed AAA bursts.
Nevertheless, upon arriving over the target the weather was overcast at 8,000 feet “at least,” and the flight leader cancelled the strike, breaking left. 500 suddenly spotted three “silver” North Vietnamese MiG-21 Fishbeds “far below” in a loose diamond “on the deck,” and when one of the MiGs broke upward, jettisoned their ordnance.
While flying at approximately 280 KIAS, about 150 feet aft and 200 feet down from the first pair of the aircraft (the flight leader and Ray Gun 502), the wingman saw 502 “jettison all bombs and pull hard rolling just prior to a SAM (believed to be an S-125 NEVA-M SA-3 Goa) detonation at 502’s one o’clock.” McDaniel and Patterson broke right, jettisoning their bombs. 503 felt “pellets hit” (though their aircraft remained undamaged) hearing both the explosion and 502 calling “Being hit,” followed by an ominous silence from the crew of the stricken Intruder. 502 commenced a descending turn slowing in speed heading for a 3,930- foot peak and began smoking.
When just over the peak at around 4,000 feet, both men jettisoned the canopy and ejected very close together, “two good chutes” being observed. McDaniel and Patterson landed on the southeasterly slope of a small basin, while the Intruder impacted nearby, in an area commonly known as “Banana Valley.” Several minutes later, the wingman of the division leader, while egressing from the target, established radio contact with both survivors. McDaniel reported that he was in good condition, whereas Patterson felt he had “badly broken” his left leg and “did not believe he would be able to move.” Due to heavy transmissions and enemy interference in the area, the flight leader believed that 502 was still airborne, checking on other possible losses from the strike. Both aviators were subsequently captured by the North Vietnamese, although Patterson reportedly eluded his captors for three–four days before being taken. Red McDaniel endured captivity until his return to the U.S., on 4 March 1973. However, Patterson did not return home and at the time of writing, his status is considered “presumptive finding of death.”
That same day, Show Time 604, an F-4B (BuNo 152264), Commander Richard Rich, pilot, and Lieutenant Commander William R. Stark, RIO, VF-96, also launched at 1020, as tactical air reconnaissance combat air patrol (TARCAP) for the Van Dien raid. Enemy “SAM activity” was heavy, with as many as 10 missiles seen detonating on the ground and as many as 15 in the air, forcing 604 and its wingman to low altitude attempting to avoid the SAMs. However, upon reaching low altitude, they encountered increased flak.
At that point, the Phantom II called out “Show Time One (the tactical call sign of 604) is hit, one is hit, stick control little sluggish.” Following this while maneuvering hard at low altitude, 604 called his wingman, asking “Do you have me in sight?” The wingman noted 604 breaking right then left and down, simultaneously watching a SAM burst in 604’s “immediate vicinity,” plus two more impact on the ground below. The wingman maneuvered to avoid the missile “fireball,” and had no further visual or electronic contact with Rich and Stark. No CSAR was attempted, the F-4B going down near 20º45’N, 105º35’E. Rich did not survive, his remains being returned to the U.S. on 26 April 2000, and identified on 10 October of that year. Stark was captured, only being released and returning home on 4 March 1973.
Intruders launched from Enterprise destroyed the Nam Ly railroad siding with 500 lb bombs, on 21 May 1967, also “touching off a large orange secondary explosion.” Catching “a barge concentration” three miles east of Vinh, the ship’s A-4s “heavily damaged” four craft, setting off “large secondary explosions which sent white smoke billowing into the air” with 250 and 500 pounders.
“Flying through heavy fire,” Intruders and Skyhawks from Enterprise “blasted” Kep Airfield, a “prime” facility 37 miles northeast of Hanoi, with 500 lb bombs, the following morning. The pilots reported three MiG-17 Frescos “on the ground burning, one heavily damaged,” and multiple hits on the taxiway, together with “heavy damage” to a revetted area and an AAA site. Phantom IIs flying from the ship “silenced” four nearby AAA sites. The same day, the “Big E’s” aircrews also struck a vehicle complex at Van Dien, five miles south of Hanoi, with 500 lb bombs, and her F-4s damaged a nearby AAA site. Aircrews noted a total of 25 SAMs fired at them during this hotly contested strike. Meanwhile, CVW-9 Skyhawks hit a SAM site 45 miles southwest of the communist capital. Enterprise A-4, A-6 and F-4 aircrews “teamed up” for a combined strike against the Da Chong Storage Area with 500 lb bombs, on 23 May. The men destroyed three large storage buildings, setting off “numerous” secondary explosions. On the same date, CVW-9 Skyhawks hit storage buildings on an island 33 miles south of Thanh Hoa, while her Intruders had “good hits” with 250 pounders on a barracks area of a military complex.
The Haiphong (West) power plant was “destroyed” on 26 May 1967. The “fourth period of special operations ended on 27 May,” the ship returning to NAS Cubi Point on the 30th, but leaving on 3 June to be back at Yankee Station on the 5th.
Two days later, at 1125 on 7 June 1967, a pair of VF-96 Phantom IIs bombed a “missile hold area,” near 20º37’45”N, 105º13’35”E. Dropping one string of MK 82s across the road on the west side, and a second string northwest to southeast through the complex, the two F-4Bs obliterated the enemy position with 22 bombs. Meanwhile, Enterprise’s planes also struck Kep airfield, at about 1700, a flight of four Phantom IIs dropping 39 MK 82s on the northern half of “Area Echo,” including revetments, destroying one plane on the ground and damaging two. During that run, Falcon 606 took AAA in the starboard wing while diving at a 45º angle at about 7,500 feet but returned to the ship withour further incident. Another flight of three more F-4Bs put two bombs on the runway, but took heavy fire from 85 mm guns, responding with a “direct hit” on the flak site.
On 6 June 1967, RVAH-7 photographed heavy enemy activity 35 miles southwest of Hanoi, the developed images revealing camouflaged SAM trailers, “not quite well enough” hidden from the prying eyes of the Vigilante. The next day (7 June 1967), Enterprise planes returned with more than unexposed film. Usually on the receiving end of the missiles, the pilots relished the opportunity to take out the SAMs before the weapons “chased them through the air.”
A follow-up reconnaissance flight by a Vigilante from RVAH-7, Comdr. Philip J. Ryan, squadron CO, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) James E. Owen, bombardier/navigator, reported “There were five good fires still burning after the strike,” receiving a burst of AAA directly below Owen’s seat, blasting a large hole in the fuselage.
Champion 406, an A-4C (BuNo 145145), Commander Peter W. Sherman, VA-56, launched as lead of a two plane Iron Hand flight leading a four plane Alpha strike against the Van Dien SAM support depot, at 1150 on 10 June 1967. Although not slated for that strike due to the normal rotation, Sherman had scheduled himself to lead the flight, and had “briefed his section to fly above and in front of the strike group in the most vulnerable position possible, thereby drawing the missile attack on themselves.” These tactics allowed them to retaliate by firing AGM-45A Shrike air-to-ground missiles to silence the SAMs, allowing the strike group to penetrate enemy defenses unmolested. Preceding the strike element at 450 KIAS, 8,000–9,000 feet altitude, Sherman and his wingman reached a position near Ha Dong, 10 miles southwest of Hanoi over the Red River Delta, at approximately 1237, but encountered “heavy SAM activity,” at least 12–15 SA-2s spotted airborne, forcing them to take evasive action. The wingman turned to the right to fire a Shrike, followed by a “right spiral” to avoid a SAM passing beneath his Skyhawk, during which he lost contact with Sherman. There was no further sighting or voice contact with, or beeper from 406. Sadly, Sherman never returned from the mission; he was awarded the Navy Cross, posthumously. His remains were not returned to the U.S. until 16 January 1991, being identified on 29 April of that year.
Rear Admiral Horace H. Epes, Jr., Commander TG 77.8, embarked on board Enterprise, had relieved Rear Admiral Mehle, embarked on board Constellation (CVA-64), as Commander, Team Yankee, at 2300 on 8 June 1967. At 2300 on the 19th, they reversed precedence; Rear Admiral Mehle relieving Rear Admiral Epes.
The Hon Gia railyard and supply depot was hit, triggering secondary explosions, on 12–13 June 1967. Several squadrons from Enterprise later participated in missions against the Hai Duong railyard and supply area. On the 16th, Enterprise Skyhawks “heavily damaged” a highway bypass bridge 40 miles south-southwest of Thanh Hoa, North Vietnam, with “multiple hits” from 500 lb bombs. Meanwhile, her Intruders caused a secondary explosion at the Da Chong Storage Area with 500 pounders, and hit the Bac Giang Thermal Power Plant, 23 miles northeast of Hanoi, with 1,000 lb bombs.
Between 0742–0804 on 20 June 1967, RVAH-7’s Commander Winberg and Lieutenant (jg) Artlip were again taking fire over North Vietnam on an unarmed reconnaissance run in their RA-5C, between Hanoi and Haiphong, flying at a minimum altitude of 3,200 feet, as they photographed the Hai Duong railway/highway bridge (east) and the Thanh Lien railroad marshalling yard (west), escorted by a VF-92 Phantom II. Photography of those installations was “urgently needed” to determine the damage inflicted by a previous strike group, but although the Vigilante received a “heavy barrage” of AAA fire both en route to, and over the target area, together with “continuous alert soundings” for SAMs and enemy aircraft, the men completed their run, enabling strike commanders to accurately access the damage inflicted.
Enterprise left the line on the same date, transferring “Yankee Team Assets” to carrier Intrepid (CVS-11) before pulling in to Cubi Point for a brief visit, 22–26 June 1967, her aircraft having completed 13,435 catapult launches, flying 13,392 battle missions during 132 days of combat operations, 11,470 sorties, the ship steaming 67,630 miles within the Seventh Fleet. Ultimately, Enterprise stood out on the 25th for the U.S. arriving at NAS Alameda on 6 July 1967. Both the ship and CVW-9 were later awarded the Navy Unit Commendation.
Enterprise then began a limited availability at San Francisco Bay Naval Shipyard, Hunters Point, 12 July–5 September 1967. Mayor Shelley of San Francisco came on board on 9 August, and a fast cruise was held on the 31st. Enterprise completed her work and performed sea trials, 5–7 September, after which she got underway for carrier qualifications (11–12 September). The ship accomplished her refresher training off the coast of southern California (15–30 September 1967), with brief visits to NAS North Island and Coronado Roads. During this period, CVW-9 received A-4F Skyhawks with improved electronics and “huskier” engines.
On 9 October 1967, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey visited Enterprise while she lay moored at Alameda, speaking with her crew in the hanger bay. That same date, the Secretary of the Navy announced that the ship had received the Navy Unit Commendation for her previous deployment. Following that, the carrier stood out and conducted carrier qualifications until the 13th, and again between 16–20 October.
Enterprise departed NAS Alameda for refresher training, but after “pulling out [on 8 November 1967]… rapidly and mysteriously sped south.” After the carrier dropped anchor in Coronado Roads on the 10th, the reason for the increased security became apparent the next day, when Enterprise was honored by the visit of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara and Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, the Chief of Naval Operations. Stepping out of his helicopter onto the flight deck at approximately 1400 on 11 November 1967, the President and his entourage heard “several briefs.” Subsequently, the chief executive and his party toured the ship, viewing flight operations before retiring for the night. The next morning, President Johnson led the crew in Veteran’s Day observances on the flight deck, noting that peace talks could be held on “a neutral ship on a neutral sea–where, as specks between the vastness of the ocean and heaven, men might realize the ultimate smallness of their quarrels.” After the President’s departure by helicopter, Enterprise continued with underway refresher training, anchoring briefly at Coronado Roads to embark ComCarDiv-7 on the 17th, before returning to NAS Alameda, on 22 November.
Following participation in Operation Blue Lotus, a First Fleet exercise, 28 November–4 December 1967, Enterprise returned to NAS Alameda for her first Christmas in her new home port, conducting a Family Day Cruise on 9 December, and carrier qualifications, 11–16 December 1967.
Enterprise sailed on her third WestPac deployment on 3 January 1968. Assigned to CVW-9, embarking on 28 December, were 85 aircraft: 26 Phantom IIs, 26 Skyhawks, six Vigilantes, 15 Intruders, five Skywarriors, four Hawkeyes and three Seasprites. On board as guests were AirPac and ComCarDiv-7. On the 7th, Commander, Fleet Air, Hawaii, arrived on board, the ship entering the Hawaian Operations Area the next day.
Enterprise got underway for Midway Island on 9 January 1968. Six days later (15 January 1968), two Soviet Bears aggressively approached the carrier and her screen, but were intercepted and escorted off by a pair of CAP fighters. U.S. Ambassador to Japan U. Alexis Johnson, Commander, Naval Air Forces, Japan, and members of the Japanese Diet, and media, arrived on board on the 18th.
Enterprise, in company with guided missile frigates Truxtun (DLG(N)-35) and Halsey (DLG-23), visited Sasebo, Kyushu, from 19 to 23 January 1968; Enterprise and Truxtun were the first nuclear powered ships to visit the country, and their arrival triggered “wide-spread controversy and violent demonstrations” among anti-nuclear Japanese factions. Nonetheless, all three ships spent their entire visit without a single desertion, absentee or major incident among their crewmembers. Both the mayor of Sasebo and the governor of Nagasaki visited the ship during her stay. As the American ships were standing out of Sasebo on the 23rd, however, the Soviet intelligence-gathering vessel Gidrofon “harassed” Enterprise, dangerously crossing her bows without regard to international rules of the road.
Enterprise steamed toward Yankee Station, but shortly after sailing received urgent word of a burgeoning crisis off Korean waters. On 23 January 1968, the environmental research ship Pueblo (AGER-2) (Comdr. Lloyd M. Bucher) was steaming off North Korea. Armed with only two .50 caliber machine guns, since she was classified as a “non-combatant vessel…configured for hydrographic studies and monitoring of electronic information…” Pueblo had received orders to stay at least 13 miles off the coast, in international waters. Although Pueblo had, at no time, entered North Korean territorial waters (her closest point of approach to land being approximately 15.8 miles from Ung Do Island), the Communists harassed the virtually defenseless American ship for some time, finally surrounding her during the afternoon watch at 39º34'N, 127º54'E with “unanticipatedly bold and hostile forces” including submarine chaser SC-35 and torpedo boats led by PT-604. Two MiGs circled overhead. At around 1330, SC-35 opened fire with her 57 mm gun; soon thereafter, the communists began boarding Pueblo, ordering her to come to “all stop.” At 1432, Pueblo sent her last transmission: “Being boarded at this time. Four men injured, one critically and going off the air now and destroying this gear.” Fireman Duane D. Hodges was killed, while Bucher, seven sailors and one marine were wounded. The North Koreans took the ship into Wonsan, the surviving 79 sailors and two marines of her company suffering deprivation and abuses at the hands of their captors who refused “to accord them even the minimal humane treatment required under international law.”
Contingency plans involved forces “not specifically designated,” ran from a show of force off Wonsan, to retaking the ship, to seizing a North Korean vessel in retaliation. The nearest U.S. ships, however, were almost a day’s steaming (20 hours) time from the scene, and though Enterprise was considered for planning, she and Truxtun, forming TG 77.5, were in the East China Sea some 550 NM (470 air miles) south of Wonsan, “too far for effective use.” In addition, the ship could not stage aircraft through Japan, due to the “status of forces agreement.”
Com7thFlt directed a message to TF 77 to divert TG 77.5 “at best speed” to a position off South Korea (although adding “No Task Group 77.5 ship or aircraft take any overt action until further informed”) at 1506. Enterprise came about at 1550, changing course to the north to proceed to position 32º30’N, 127º30’E. En route, she was informed to be prepared to conduct photographic reconnaissance of the Wonsan area, and at 2356, Seventh Fleet advised CinCPac that “Enterprise was prepared to execute an air strike against a suitable military target or take other action as authorized by higher authority.” Captain Lee estimated that within one and a half hours upon receiving the order, he could launch 20 aircraft, with an additional hour and a half required for them to reach their targets in the Wonsan area. Enterprise operated between Cheiu Do, Korea, and Fukoeshima, Japan, on 24 January. On 1 February, meanwhile, a South Korean delegation, led by CNO, Republic of Korea (ROK) Navy and his deputy, visited the ship. On the 7th, she steamed in the East China Sea.
On 12 February 1968, Enterprise became the flagship of TF 71 (Rear Admiral Epes), established as the response force for the emergency, the linchpin of TG 70.6. TF 71 received orders to steam in the Sea of Japan during the crisis, providing the heavy muscle required by the force in the event of hostilities with Pyongyang. The Seventh Fleet’s Operation Formation Star “surged” reinforcements into the region, including over 300 naval and Air Force aircraft.
However, negotiations with the normally intransigent communists enabled TF 71 to gradually stand down, and Enterprise came about for Vietnamese waters, on 16 February 1968, transferring ComCarDiv-1 to Ranger and proceeding at high speed to Yankee Station, where she was urgently needed in response to the Tet offensive. U.S. naval commands maintained intermittent deployments in the region until Pueblo’s survivors were released, ultimately, three days before Christmas of 1968.
At 1800 on 29 January 1968, the Allies had declared a 36 hour cease-fire over the Tet lunar holiday. Simultaneously, the Viet Cong announced a seven-day truce, running from 27 January–3 February. However, the communists, who had been infiltrating troops and equipment into South Vietnam for months preceding Tet, gambled that an offensive, combined with popular uprisings, would topple the U.S.-backed regime in the south, bringing the war to a rapid conclusion.
Using the truce as a ruse, the Communists launched approximately 85,000 North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and VC troops in attacks throughout South Vietnam on the 30th. The enemy gained almost total surprise and their operations, on a scale hitherto unseen, struck five of the six autonomous cities, including Saigon and Hué, 36 of 44 provincial and 64 of 242 district towns across the south. American sailors and marines operating within the country became embroiled in fierce firefights and desperately needed support.
After two days of upkeep at Cubi Point (19–20 February 1968), Enterprise arrived at Yankee Station and embarked ComCarDiv-3 on 21 February, beginning combat operations the following day. The northeast monsoon season again interfered with operations, however, and “poor flying weather” caused by “a blanket of heavy clouds and torrential rains” across much of North Vietnam restricted strikes. Despite the poor weather, VA-35 Intruders carried out a pre-dawn raid against Hanoi’s port facility on 23 February 1968. The men of VA-35 “dodged a flurry” of SAMs and “a heavy barrage” of AAA, inflicting “severe damage.” Two more strikes were made over succeeding weeks, pilots reporting “good systems runs.” In addition to these operations, her Intruders pounded power plants, railroads and bridges within North Vietnam. In the south, meanwhile, Skyhawks from VAs-56 and 113 and Phantom IIs from VFs-92 and 96 struck communist supply routes and destroyed bunkers, storage areas and artillery positions.
Other CVW-9 aircraft participated in the defense of the beleaguered 26th Marines and South Vietnamese at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam, where, beginning late the previous year, elements of three NVA divisions and VC guerillas had begun digging extensive siege works around the marines’ perimeter in an effort to draw their lines closer, to divert U.S. forces from communist operations elsewhere in northern South Vietnam, notably at Hué. One of the most bitter battles of the war, Khe Sanh became a magnet for both sides’ forces, bleeding each other white as neither was willing to disengage and admit defeat. Striking the base with as many as 1,000 mortar and rocket rounds per day, the enemy clung to the battle tenaciously, but aircrews from Enterprise were among those supporting the marines, dropping 1,000 lb bombs with delayed action fuses, caving in enemy tunnels and bunkers almost as quickly as they were dug, systematically destroying Communist supply dumps, storage areas and truck convoys. Supported by overwhelming air power and artillery, the leathernecks held, and the NVA and VC abandoned the siege, having suffering heavy casualties in trying to reduce Khe Sanh.
Operations against the north, meanwhile, continued. Ray Gun 512, an A-6A (BuNo 152938), Lieutenant Commander Henry A. Coons, pilot, and Lieutenant Thomas Stegman, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, launched at 1910 on 28 February 1968, in company with Ray Gun 507, for a strike against Bai Thuong airfield. Ray Gun 507 hit the Do San coastal defense site about 12 miles from Haiphong. Meanwhile, Ray Gun 512 “reported his intention to execute his mission at approximately 1945.” Coons and Stegman should have reached their “coast-in” by 1950, then nine more minutes overland, but no further transmissions were received. Radar tracking of the aircraft ceased after the two men crossed land, contact being lost at the time of the execute call, when IFF was secured. However, it is believed that Coons and Stegman remained on course, as their last known position corresponded closely with their intended track. Ray Gun 507 proceeded to their pre-briefed rendezvous point, alerting CSAR forces and “cognizant radar-following agencies.” Ray Gun 506 launched from Enterprise at 2045 to supplement CSAR efforts by conducting an electronic search of 512’s intended course, but the CSAR proved unsuccessful in locating any trace of the men or their aircraft. “Very light” AAA was encountered both near the target and at Thanh Hoa. In addition, the left “wing warning indicated presence of enemy radar position on left during runin to target.” 506 “repeatedly overflew” 512’s track but failed to spot any debris until forced to return due to fuel status. Guided missile frigate Jouett (DLG-29) and destroyer Southerland (DD-743), however, recovered debris that included Intruder access plates with what initially appeared to be flak damage, indicating a probable combat loss. However, by 1545 visibility of less than 100 yards precluded further retrieval. At the time of writing, the fate of both men is considered “presumptive finding of death.”
Ray Guns 500, 502 and 504, the latter an A-6A Intruder (BuNo 152944), Lieutenant Commander Thomas E. Scheurich, pilot and Lieutenant (jg) Richard C. Lannom, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, launched at 1805 on 1 March 1968, for a strike against various North Vietnamese targets. 504 was to hit the Cam Pha Military Barracks. At 1837, Scheurich and Lannom reported their “intentions to execute” their mission. This was the last contact with the two men, and IFF being immediately secured. “Coast-in” should have occurred five minutes later, followed by two more minutes overland, but no further transmissions were heard from 504. The other two planes proceeded to their pre-briefed rendezvous point, where they alerted the CSAR package, but the stricken Intruder could not be located by visual, radar, radio or electronic means. No SAM launches were detected by searching aircraft, though some unconfirmed “gun firing” was believed to have originated from Bach Lang Vi Island. Ray Gun 506 launched from Enterprise at 0002 on the 2nd, conducting an “extensive electronic search of intended route and target area of 504 and repeatedly over flew intended track and route between last known position and intended coast-in point with no electronic emissions noted,” only ending the search due to “fuel state.” At the time of writing, the fate of both men is considered “presumptive finding of death.”
On 12 March 1968, an A-6A was lost at sea, probably due to a flame out, its crew not recovered. The next day, a “chance” break in the weather permitted a large Enterprise strike group to hit the Haiphong rail and highway bridge (west). In CVW-9’s only Alpha strike into North Vietnam’s heartland before the bombing curtailment above the 20th Parallel on 31 March, aircrews dropped the span.
Between 16–17 March 1968, Enterprise planes flew a total of 89 Rolling Thunder and Steel Tiger combat/combat support sorties. Three “seeding operations” were conducted by Intruders at the Du Dong and Phu Duc highway ferries and the Hoanh May water interdiction point. In addition, her A-6s hit the Ninh Binh railroad siding and the Cam Pha military barracks; her Phantom IIs and Skyhawks hit an earthen bridge and a small wooden bridge on Route 1A and a secondary road, as well as two 37 mm batteries, a command post and “a suspected troop concentration.” A-4s also fired Shrikes at two radiating SAM sites.
Sadly, the ongoing strikes carried with them the increased likelihood of losses, and at 0207 on 17 March 1968, Ray Gun 510, an A-6A (BuNo 152940), Lieutenant Commander Edwin A. Shuman, III, pilot, and Lieutenant Commander Dale W. Doss, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, launched on a night, low-level strike into North Vietnam. At 0245 a transmission was overheard indicating that 510 was proceeding to execute its assigned mission. Five minutes later 510 broadcast a request to other strike aircraft to keep radio transmissions to a minimum. Shuman and Doss should have been over their target at 0258, but by 0303, when no “bombs away” was overheard, Ray Gun 522, assigned to support the mission in “an anti-missile role,” attempted to establish radio contact with 510. Failing in that endeavor, 522 flew to the pre-briefed lost communications rendezvous point, remaining there until 0345. The exact position of 510’s loss was unknown; both men were captured by the enemy, enduring their captivity until their return home on 14 March 1973.
Enterprise departed Yankee Station on 18 March 1968, arriving at Subic the following day. The ship stood out for carrier qualifications on 25 March, setting course for Yankee Station the next day.
ComCarDiv-1 and Assistant Commander, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) visited the ship, on 29 March 1968, the ship’s company being entertained the next day by a USO show.
Rising popular opinion against the war, meanwhile, had prompted President Johnson to entice the North Vietnamese toward renewing peace talks. In an attempt to express U.S. willingness to make concessions, on 31 March 1968, he announced that the bombing of North Vietnamese targets north of the 20th parallel would stop on the following day. With the advent of the new bombing restrictions and the breaking up of the monsoon weather, aircrews from Enterprise concentrated their operations against enemy trucks, barges, bridges and storage areas near Vinh, and along the border near the DMZ, particularly targeting the city’s transhipment plant, the southernmost collection point for military supplies before they were dispersed along the Ho Chi Minh Trail west into Laos and south into South Vietnam. Typical targets near Vinh were large truck convoys moving under cover of darkness. One attempted to slip past the watchful eyes of Enterprise aircrews on the night of 15 April, a pilot describing it as …more trucks than I could count. Headlights stretched as far as you could see and dispersed into the haze.”
The fighting continued without letup, and on 18 April 1968, while flying an armed reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam, a VA-35 A-6A (BuNo 152951) encountered heavy AAA. While flying at around 450 KIAS during its “pullout” over a bridge, 152951 was struck on its left side, just below the canopy, by a probable 37 mm round, fragments exploding into the cockpit, putting powder burns onto the pilot’s flight suit, puncturing his suit and wounding him below the left elbow. Nonetheless, he safely returned to the ship.
Coming about from Yankee Station on 24 April 1968, Enterprise arrived at Cubi Point, the next day. Following a brief period of rest for the crew and maintenance for the ship, she stood out again on 30 April, arriving at Yankee Station on 2 May.
Commanche Trail 102, an RA-5C (BuNo 149278), Lieutenant Giles R. Norrington, pilot, and Lieutenant Richard G. Tangeman, bombardier/navigator, RVAH-1, launched with an F-4B escort on a photographic reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam, on 5 May 1968. While flying a southerly heading at 5,000 feet, at 1330, the Vigilante was hit by AAA near its bomb bay gas tank and exploded, emitting “a huge fireball.” Commanche Trail 102, “engulfed in flames,” went out of control and “snap rolled,” dropping in two pieces. Both men miraculously ejected, activating their rescue beepers, but upon landing were overwhelmed by enemy troops. Hanoi reported that “The people’s armed forces in Ha Tinh Province shot down an American A-3J plane [sic] at 1330 today capturing the two air pirates who bailed out.” Both men endured captivity until their release and return to their homeland, on 14 March 1973.
Planes from Enterprise flew 121 combat/combat support sorties on 7 May 1968, hitting Vinh airfield, Trai Tranh Xoa, Chu Le, Tho Ngoa, Da Do, Dia Loi, Vinh Luu, Tho Son, Lac Son, Tam Da, Hung Long and Chau Lam highway bridges, Tu Dung and Xom Gia highway ferries and the Nui Moi highway segment. Vehicles on these roads were destroyed or damaged, as were storage areas, where “residual fires were reported.”
At 1454 on that day, U.S. forces in Southeast Asia received startling news: “MIGS (four reported) engaged south of 19 North Repeat 19 North.” During the confusion of the subsequent hours, aircrews flying missions had also to be aware of the possibly increased air threat. Silver Kite 210, an F-4B (BuNo 151485), Lieutenant Commander Ejnar S. Christensen, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Worth A. Kramer, RIO, VF-92, was northeast of Vinh, “coasting out” and barely calling “feet wet” (crossing from land–water outbound) when hit by a SAM at about 1844. Initial message traffic indicated that 210 was downed by a MiG. Ejecting using the alternate ejection handle, both men hit the water, using chute risers to drift further out to sea, closer to SAR forces. The pilot lighting smoke flares to give the SAR helo crew wind direction, Kramer was in the water about 16 minutes, and Christensen six minutes more before both men were picked up by the helo.
In addition, at 1623 that day, Battle Cry 302, an A-4F (BuNo 154214), Lieutenant Commander Paul W. Paine, CVW-9, was returning to Enterprise, following both a strike mission over North Vietnam and the SAR effort for Silver Kite 210. Paine’s Skyhawk apparently was hit by AAA somewhere during the mission, although the pilot may not have been aware of the extent of the damage while making his approach to the carrier. Suddenly 302 slanted toward the water from low altitude. Paine ejected but was so low that his parachute did not deploy in time before he struck the water. Guided missile destroyer Cochrane (DDG-21) and the UH-2C Seasprite plane guard from Enterprise, Lieutenant (jg) John F. McMinn, pilot, Ensign Jack L. Berg, co-pilot, and AZ3 Allen J. Fox and Airman Frank J. Foreback, HC-1 Det 65, both raced to the scene, two nautical miles away, the former lowering her motor whaleboat to assist the helo crew. Arriving at the scene at 1625, the rescuers discovered the pilot unconscious 30 feet beneath the surface, entangled in shroud lines and without any flotation gear. Two rescue swimmers dropped from the helo attempted to cut Paine lose and bring him to the surface. Cochrane’s motor whaleboat arrived and its crew joined the swimmers in recovering Paine, administering artificial respiration. Efforts to revive him proving unsuccessful, they took him back to the destroyer, where a pair of medical officers were flown out from the carrier, but Paine failed to recover.
A massive Alpha strike from carriers steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin, including Enterprise, struck the Xom Trung Hoa storage area, northwest of Vinh, on 8 May 1968. Described as one of the largest enemy POL and ammunition facilities south of the 20th Parallel, three days of bombing devastated the site, triggering “hundreds” of secondary explosions.
At 1050 on 8 May 1968, Champion 406, an A-4E (BuNo 152005), Lieutenant Dennis A. Lawrence, VA-56, launched from Enterprise as part of a flight of four Skyhawks on an armed reconnaissance mission against North Vietnamese communications targets, including Highway 151B, a storage area and a truck park. Arriving over the highway at 1102, the four A-4Es began their attacks from dive angles averaging 45º, at release altitudes of 5.5 miles, cutting the road with four MK 82s and eight MK 83s. Continuing on to the storage area, which received addition attention from the Skyhawks in the form of four MK 82s, they then blasted the truck park with no less than 152 LAU 60 rockets. Pulling off, Lawrence was hit by AAA. It “was apparent” that he would not make it to the sea, so he ejected at about 1215, watching his Skyhawk spin and burn as he descended toward the enemy-infested jungle. After his descent, he ran almost a mile to the top of a hill before being picked up by an SH-3A from carrier Yorktown (CVS-10) after about 32 minutes.
Five days later, on 13 May 1968, Ray Gun 510, an A-6A (BuNo. 152951), Lieutenant Bruce B. Bremner, pilot, and Lieutenant John T. Fardy, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, launched from Enterprise on a night mission against Vinh airfield. Over the target at 2124, 510 dropped 18 Destructor (DST) MK 36 bottom mines from 1,400 feet, encountering AAA. The Intruder was struck by a 57 mm round, however, while over “the northern right end of runway,” the shell slamming into the left wing fold, which caught fire, the impact also blowing out of the panel the aircraft instruments. Bremner flew back to Enterprise, where “the whole ship was treated to a spectacular air show as the plane flew by…looking like a flying Zippo…” Both men “punched out” two miles aft of the carrier, from an altitude of approximately 2,500 feet, but upon hitting the water did not experience additional difficulties, thanks to gentle swells. Bremner was in the water for 8–10 minutes but did not inflate his raft, both he and Fardy being located due to the guard beeper, floodlights and Bremner’s strobe light, by Lieutenant (jg) Thomas A. Matthews, Lieutenant (jg) Harlan W. Woodward, Airman Richard L. Wilson and AE3 Barry E. Puckett, HC-1 Det 65 Riding’s Hoods, in a UH-2C, bringing both men back on board the carrier within 15–20 minutes of ejecting.
Throughout the spring of 1968, meanwhile, diplomatic efforts toward a cessation of hostilities in Vietnam produced rumors of an early return. However, the ship was directed to remain on station in the event of a possible “last push” by the communists to improve the latter’s position at the Paris peace talks, as the enemy’s Tet offensive lost momentum.
Enterprise came about from Yankee Station on 20 May 1968, conducting a memorial service en route, and entered NAS Cubi Point, 22–23 May. She then steamed to Hong Kong, where both the British Commodore, and Commander, Hong Kong, were guests. Her visit, however, triggered a Communist Chinese protest that the colony was being used as a Seventh Fleet base for operations in the Vietnam War. The British quickly repudiated the obvious ploy and the ship stood out as scheduled on the 30th.
Operations continued with increasing ferocity across South Vietnam as Allied forces attempted to regain much of the ground lost during the opening communist attacks in Tet. Enterprise returned to the line, sailing from Hong Kong on 30 May 1968. Arriving at Yankee Station on 1 June, she launched primarily interdiction strikes, also hosting a Spanish delegation led by Chief, Army Central Staff, Director General, Military Academy, Director, Air University, and Director, School of Advanced Studies.
Silver Kite 215, an F-4B (BuNo 150453), Lieutenant Commander Peter A. Carroll, pilot, and Lieutenant Commander Edward P. Sierra, RIO, VF-92, launched on a ForceCAP mission, at 1825 on 2 June 1968. After completing the mission they were returning to Enterprise when the Phantom II unexplicably lost altitude, its nose dropping slowly. Applying more power, back stick and trim, Carroll attempted to correct the situation, but the aircraft continued to drop, forcing the pilot to shout “Eject!” Sierra asked “Eject?” but looking forward toward Carroll could see water through the windshield as they approached the sea and ejected, noting 800 feet on the altimeter as he did so, at 1953, followed by Carroll. Fortunately, both men were spotted thanks to their flares and the pilot’s strobe light and recovered by the UH-2C plane guard helot, Lieutenant (jg) Edward E. Rea, pilot, Lieutenant (jg) Jack L. Turner, co-pilot, ADJ3 Paul L. Swartz, crewman, and AE3 Barry H. Puckett, swimmer, HC-1 Det 65, at 2004–2005.
At 1458 on 7 June 1968, Lieutenant (jg) Roderick J. Edens, Jr., pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) William R. McClendon, III, RIO, VF-92, launched from No. 4 catapult on a BarCAP in an F-4B (BuNo 150994). Immediately after the aircraft left the flight deck, however, Edens attempted to lower the left wing and started to initiate a climbing attitude and a left clearing turn, but experienced “difficulty in moving the stick.” Using both hands in a final desperate attempt to save the Phantom II, which was not responding, Edens told McClendon to eject and then followed suit. At this point, the aircraft was level with the flight deck and just starting to cross the bow of Enterprise. The F-4B impacted the water nose down and still in a right bank about one mile off the starboard beam of the carrier after completing a 180º–200º turn from its original launch course. Lieutenant (j.g.) Rea and his crew again responded, having both men in sight and already hovering in their SAR, ready to recover as the men had barely hit the water, having them both back on board in approximately 10 minutes.
Rear Admiral Cagle relieved Rear Admiral Epes as ComCarDiv-1, on 8 June 1968, and while en route to Washington, DC, to assume his new post as Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, General William Westmoreland arrived on board on 9 June. The general chose Enterprise as the setting for his farewell address to the Seventh Fleet.
Numerous guests who visited Enterprise during this time included Com7thFlt, ComCarDivs-2 and 7, and Lieutenant General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF); on 12 June 1968, Enterprise welcomed a midshipmen indoctrination class.
Interdiction strikes over the “panhandle” of North Vietnam continued without pause. Shortly after arriving over his targets, Trang Mao POL storage area and Nghia Dong truck park, as part of a three plane strike, Champion 414, an A-4E (BuNo 149665), Lieutenant Julian M. Wright, VA-56, experienced two thumps, on 15 June 1968. Noticing fluctuating oil pressure, Wright tried to make it back to Enterprise, but when the oil pressure dropped to zero the A-4E lost altitude and the engine flamed out. Wright managed to restart the engine and climb to 4,500 feet where he ejected at 1057. An Angel UH-2C from HC-2, from America (CVA-66), recovered Wright.
A flight of four A-4Fs from Enterprise hit the Vinh Storage area on 23 June, encountering scattered and broken clouds, a ceiling of 8,000 feet and visibility of 10 nautical miles. One after the other, the Skyhawks swept over the target, maintaining 1,500 yard spacing between then and releasing from 6,000 feet. Although smoke and dust obscured the target area, the pilots expressed confidence that they had hit it hard with 28 MK 82s, a Raygun flight noting secondary explosions, though the strike received 37 mm AAA over the target area. Battle Cry 301, one of the A-4Fs (BuNo 154216), Lieutenant Ernest E. Christensen, VA-113, coasted out, joining up with the others at 10,000 feet. However, 301, probably hit by flak, experienced power problems during join-up, culminating in a flame out just after he went “feet wet.” Attempts to restart failed and Christensen was forced to eject from 5,000 feet. Christensen was in the water approximately 10–15 minutes before rescue by Big Mother 71.
Enterprise aircraft flew 130 combat/combat support sorties on 24 June 1968, “to impede the flow of war material and men to the south.” Intruders “seeded” the Song Ca water interdiction point, Trai Trang and Nui Ngoc choke points, Vinh transshipment point (southeast) and the Linh Cam highway ferry. A-6s blasted the Vinh Railroad and Highway Bridges, the Thanh Dam highway ferry, and “waterborne traffic” on Waterways 9 and 11, as well, claiming damage to as many as 33 vessels.
CVW-9’s Skyhawks destroyed the Xom Trot highway bridge, and hit several other bridges, while at least 10 secondary explosions were noted at the Dia Linh truck park and ammunition storage. Two AAA sites near Ben Thuy Ferry were pummeled, and two–three secondary fires were observed at the Vinh Flat Face radar installation.
As usual, such operations did not occur without cost. Ray Gun 503, an A-6A (BuNo 152949), Lieutenant Nicholas M. Carpenter, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Joseph S. Mobley, bombardier/navigator, VA-35, launched at 1931 on 24 June 1968, in company with Ray Guns 511, 513 and 521, for independent strikes against North Vietnam. 503’s target was the Kim Ma water interdiction point near Vinh. Carpenter and Mobley’s “coast-in” should have occurred at 1955, but at 1956, 503 reported sighting “numerous trucks” at 18º33’N, 105º44’E, vectoring a flight of Skyhawks toward the trucks and then proceeding on its mission. At about 1959, Champion 401, an A-4E, VA-56, and Ray Gun 521, both sighted a “fireball” in the vicinity of 18º37’N, 105º39’E, the former also spotting AAA bursts in the sky over Vinh just moments before. That position coincided with an IFF “squawk” from 503 received by Knicknack 701, an E-2A. Six minutes later, Champion 401 and “other aircraft” received a “beeper” distress signal in the same area. 401 homed in on the signal and established its location to be approximately where the fireball was observed. Subsequently, a momentary beeper signal was received, but was “interrupted frequently” by several “excited” voices talking simultaneously in what was tentatively identified as Vietnamese. Listeners noted no further transmissions. Carpenter did not survive the war, and his remains were only returned to the U.S. on 13 September 1990, and identified on 27 March of the following year. Mobley was captured and did not return home until 14 March 1973.
A ship’s Skyhawk was lost at sea due to a flame out, though the pilot survived and was recovered, on 23 June 1968. Another A-4 crashed on the flight deck on this busy day, due to its nose wheel collapsing, but the pilot emerged uninjured.
On 26 June 1968, Enterprise finally completed her third WestPac tour and came about for home, arriving at Subic two days later. The ship’s company celebrated Independence Day in full dress, while a gun salute honoring the Republic was fired by Naval Station, Subic Bay. The next day a joint U.S.-Australian delegation led by AirPac visited Enterprise, the ship standing out for home, on 6 July. Enterprise returned to NAS Alameda on 18 July 1968, having completed 12,839 catapult launches, with 12,246 sorties -- 9,182 of them combat.
After conducting post-deployment conferences, Enterprise sailed for Operation Northwest Passage, the voyage to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, Bremerton, Washington, on 27 July 1968, with dependents embarked. The ship entered the yard on 29 July. During her stay there, various guests, including AirPac, and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, visited. On 22 September, the ship held an open house for shipyard workers and their families, conducting a fast cruise on the 26th. Completing the “much needed” but limited overhaul, she stood out for her home port on 28 September, arriving home on the 30th, during which the ship and CVW-9 each received the Navy Unit Commendation, and Captain Lee received the Legion of Merit.
Enterprise then alternated in-port periods with carrier qualifications, refresher training and combat readiness exercises in the southern California operating area, 9–25 October, off northern California operations area, 2–10 November, and again off southern California, 12–22 November. Knowing they would eventually be returning to Vietnamese waters, however, the crew pushed themselves hard getting ready during the intervening period -- sometimes dangerously so.
On 5 November 1968, a KA-3B (BuNo 138906) (NJ 311), Lieutenant (jg) Frank J. Carson, pilot, and AMH2 Charles E. Collett, plane captain, launched for carrier qualifications. Completing two touch and go landings, the men came around for their third, commencing their approach with a slight overshoot. As the plane passed over the stern of the ship the wings were level and the landing signal officer (LSO) was anticipating a “good three wire arrangement.” Suddenly, the right wing dropped and the aircraft contacted the deck with the right wing tip and the starboard main landing gear. Carson immediately turned downwind for another approach, attempting to regain control, boltering. The aircraft was directed to NAS Alameda, and though experiencing lateral control problems during acceleration, landed ashore without further incident. Both men escaped uninjured, but the KA-3B received damage, including the wing tip torn from the aircraft.
Later that evening, Drake 305, an RA-5C (BuNo 147850), Lieutenant Commander James K. Thompson, pilot, and TD1 Carl D. Noto, reconnaissance attack navigator, RVAH-3, launched to make three night carrier landings, at 1918. Thompson completed two but on the third landed “extremely hard,” the hook skipping all four wires. An arrested landing was accomplished upon the fourth attempt. The Vigilante suffered extensive damage, however, requiring it to be off loaded to Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) Alameda.
Angel 73, a UH-2C (BuNo 150177) (073), Lieutenant Ronald R. Bradley, pilot, Lieutenant (jg) George G. Kirsten, co-pilot, AMH2 Kenneth S. Carpenter and Airman Brian S. Mullen, crewmen, HC-1 Det 65, lifted off forward on the angled flight deck for plane guard, at 2232 on 16 November 1968. Kirsten made the take-off and climbed straight ahead up to about 500 feet. Approximately one mile ahead and to port of Enterprise, Bradley took control, the tower instructing him to drop down to 250 feet. As Angel 73 began a descending left turn, Kirsten noted that he was unable to see the carrier, which was almost directly aft. Dropping rapidly, the helo impacted the water hard, but fixed wing recovery continued as the carrier attempted to regain radio communication with Angel 73. About 25 minutes after 73 launched, there was a single A-3 remaining to be recovered, and at that time it was determined that no one held visual or radar contact with the Seasprite. After three bolters the A-3 arrested on deck, approximately 41 minutes after Angel 73 had launched. Search helo No. 83, Lieutenant (jg) Jack L. Berg, HC-1 Det 65, pilot, launched from Enterprise at 2255, shortly joined by No. 80, a SAR helo from Kitty Hawk, 45 minutes later. Surface fog and haze impeded rescue efforts to locate the survivors, who fired “numerous” flares. In addition, Berg’s doppler gear became inoperative, his radar altimeter failed in hover, and “gusty winds” and high swells complicating the rescue. At about 2355, No. 80 picked up Kirsten and Carpenter, 83 recovering Bradley, who was unconscious, a few minutes later. Bradley died of his injuries at 0055, and no trace of Mullen was ever found.
On 3 December 1968, Enterprise joined 27 other ships and 31 Naval Aviation squadrons for Operation Beeftrust. This was a seven day First Fleet combat training exercise designed to prepare commands not only for potential Vietnam deployment, but also for situations they might encounter “anywhere in the Western Pacific,” held off the southern California operating area, Enterprise returning to NAS Alameda on the 9th.
Early in that period of training, Folder One, a KA-3B (BuNo 138909), Lieutenant (jg) Tommy L. Masten, pilot, ADJ2 Walter H. Kaess, crewman/navigator and ATC Richard H. Edwards, crewman/navigator, VAQ-132, launched from the No. 1 catapult during the morning watch, at 0946 on 4 December 1968. All preflight and prelaunch checks were normal, the turnup signal was given, the final checks were completed and the salute given. However, at approximately one third the stroke, the nosewheel rose perhaps one foot above the deck. Suddenly, the nose tire and “possibly” the wheel exploded, unidentified “pieces” being observed falling from the underside of the nose of the aircraft. The rate of acceleration decreased, part of the nose gear collapsed, and a length of the bridle arrester flew off to starboard and into the water. The shuttle detached from the KA-3B, which left the bow in a nose down attitude with the right wing slightly low. The aircraft rotated to a somewhat nose high attitude before hitting the water. Just prior to the crash many small splashes were seen ahead of the ship.
“Plane in the water” announced the Officer of the Deck (OOD), the captain ordering “Left full rudder,” followed by “Right full rudder,” in addition to coming to all stop. The crash alarm was sounded, and the plane guard, her old consort Bainbridge, was notified by radio, launching her motor whaleboat. Once the spray cleared, the right wing could be seen intact separated from the fuselage, leaving the upper part of the latter open. ADJ2 Kaess, the only survivor, broke the surface almost immediately, without his helmet. Two life rings were thrown to him, but fell short. However, the plane guard UH-2C, Lieutenant (jg) Harlan W. Woodward, pilot, Ensign Alan W. Jacka, co-pilot, Airman S.B. Griffith and AMH2 J.A. Zils, crewmen, HC-1 Det 65, soon arrived on the scene. Lowering a swimmer once the ship was clear, the shocked survivor, who had injuries to both his arms, was hoisted into the helo, his “rescue characterized by excellent crew coordination and outstanding performances by the swimmer and the efficient calm manner of the first crewman.” Although the men of the SAR team did everything they could to find Masten and Edwards, no trace of either was seen.
NG (Busy Bee) 305, an A-7B (BuNo 154459), Lieutenant Commander Robert J. Simonic, VA-146, launched as the scheduled flight leader of a two-plane night rocket mission assigned a target on San Clemente Island, Calif., at 1856 on 7 December 1968. Rendezvousing with Lieutenant Humphreys, the second man in the flight, the two proceeded on their runs, expending all ordnance, before coming about for Enterprise, Humphreys taking the lead. At 2035, Simonic reported to the ship that he had experienced a PC-2 hydraulic failure, asking to “come aboard as soon as possible or be diverted to Miramar or some other shore base.”
Enterprise granted 305 almost immediate clearance, the pilot responding that he could commence in about 90 seconds. As he descended toward the ship, still over 20 miles out and at about 8,000 feet, Simonic told the ship he was experiencing trouble holding his nose up. Within barely a minute, he requested that they dispatch the SAR helo, transmitting “Passing 35, punching out,” approximately five miles aft of the ship. The HC-1 Det 65 crew arrived overhead in about seven minutes, guided by the pilot’s strobe light. The helo crewman entered the water, but discovered Simonic badly entangled in his parachute and shroud lines. Unable to free him, the swimmer requested help from destroyer Higbee (DD-806), which launched a whaleboat, and did everything possible for the pilot, including keeping his head above water until he could be pulled into the boat and taken to the ship. Artificial respiration, however, proved unavailing, and Simonic was pronounced dead on board Higbee at 2215.
Enterprise deployed from Alameda on 6 January 1969. Embarked was CVW-9, comprising VFs-92 and 96, VAs-145, 146 and 215, VAW-112, RVAH-6, VAQ-132 and HC-1 Det 65. She conducted flight operations on 9 January, prior to arrival in Hawaiian waters the following day. These air operations continued until the ship pulled into Pearl on the 12th.
Tragedy struck Enterprise as she stood out for her operational readiness inspection on 13 January 1969 during the morning watch, on 14 January 1969. At 0819, the ship was at 20º27’7”N, 158º27’5”W, steaming on a 090º course at 11 knots. Visibility was 10 miles with no obstructions to vision, ceiling was 3,000 feet, and there was a gentle breeze with eight foot swells.
Following the 0700 launch of Event 1, there were 41 aircraft on the flight deck. Fifteen aircraft were respotted and loaded for Event 2: four F-4Js, VF-96, CAS; two F-4Js, VF-92, CAP; two A-7Bs, VA-146, CAS; four A-7Bs, VA-215, Strike; one RA-5C, reconnaissance; one EKA-3B Tanker/ECM; and an A-7B Test Flight. There were also two F-4J Alert 5 CAP, an A-7B CAS “spare” and a KA-3B Alert 30 tanker. Twenty-two other aircraft were on the flight deck “in various states of readiness,” maintenance and servicing. Pilots manned their aircraft about 0800, commencing preflight preparations, the order to start them being given 10 minutes later.
During the start sequence No. 6 MD3A Aircraft Starter Unit, known as a Huffer, driven by Airman John R. Webster, was connected to the starboard side of Phantom II No. 105, (BuNo 155785), Lieutenant (jg) James H. Berry, pilot, and Lieutenant (jg) Buddy D. Pyeatt, RIO, VF-96. 105 was configured with full fuel, both internally and tanks, 18,500 lb of JP-5. It is believed that the Huffer’s gas turbine exhaust fumes were pouring directly onto the Zuni rockets loaded onto 105 for two to three minutes, heating them to dangerously high levels.
Suddenly, at 0819, an explosion erupted near the starboard wing of 105, most probably caused by the detonation of a Mk 32 Zuni warhead. Fragments from the warhead ruptured the Phantom II’s fuel tanks, igniting spilled fuel into a “catastrophic” fire spreading “quickly” to adjacent planes. “Within minutes” flames engulfed the entire after end of the flight deck, and exploding ordnance prevented adequate fire-fighting measures, the intensity of the flames and flying fragments preventing many men from even approaching the endangered aircraft.
The primary damage to the ship was caused by explosions of weapons penetrating the flight deck, “sending large, high velocity fragments into compartments below.” Five large holes in the flight deck were made by Mk 82 bombs that “cooked off in the fire.” A series of four explosions occurred between 0822–0826, and four more from 0830–0835. Making desperate efforts to clear the area of potential hazards, the crew had jettisoned all unexploded ordnance into the sea seven minutes later.
Just as the fire began the ship was starting a port turn to facilitate launching aircraft. Captain Lee took the helm seconds after the initial blast, ordering a continuation of the port turn to her head “into the wind,” the maneuver keeping the 18-knot wind blowing the flames toward the fantail, away from the aircraft and the island.
Holes in the flight deck, however, allowed burning fuel to enter lower deck compartments, starting Class A, B, and C fires. Burning fuel spilling over the sides damaged equipment in and around the catwalks and the BPDMS launchers. Fortunately, the holes in the flight deck also provided access for fire fighting water by the damage control parties. Damage to the SPS-33 antenna required heavy repairs during overhaul later in the year.
Destroyers Rogers (DD-876) and Stoddard (DD-566), meanwhile, wasted no time in laying alongside to assist Enterprise’s deck hose teams in battling the blaze, often as close as 50 feet to the carrier, the destroyers being enveloped by smoke. Once the fires above deck were under control, at about 0900, they joined Bainbridge searching for men in the water.
One of the HC-1 Seasprites on deck at the time of the catastrophe had been damaged, but the other, piloted by Lieutenant Commander J. M. Harris, rescued men blown over the side of the ship, his crewman, AMH2 J.A. Zils, making four jumps into the water retrieving shipmates. A flight of planes on a bombing run over the range at Kahoolawe, southwest of Maui, diverted to Barbers Point, the 14 pilots “waiting on the pier” as the ship moored eight hours later.
Enterprise lost 25 men, including Lieutenant (jg) Pyeatt and Airman Webster, that day, and listed two as missing, presumed dead, not recovered. She sustained a total of 371 casualties during the fire; 62 required transfer to the U.S. Army’s Tripler General Hospital, Honolulu, which ordered a “mass casualty” alert, for additional treatment and/or aeromedical evacuation to mainland government hospitals. Among the latter were 10 burn victims airlifted to Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas, a hospital specializing in burn treatment. Damage to aircraft, ground support equipment, aircraft-installed equipment and air-launched weapons due to fire, explosions and salt water proved extensive. Fifteen aircraft were lost: 17 damaged.
Enterprise terminatied her ORI and returned to Pearl on the same date; CinCPac came on board to inspect the damage. ComCarDiv-1 began a preliminary investigation of the fire the next day, the formal investigation board convened by AirPac, with Rear Admiral F.A. Bardshar, ComCarDiv-7, as the senior member, on the 16th, the same day that the SAR for missing crewmembers was reluctantly ended.
The report released by the board, that completed its investigation on 11 February 1969, indicated that “…sound damage control organization, training and execution minimized casualties and prevented the initial fire from spreading beyond the Fly Three area of the flight deck to any significant degree.” Though Enterprise was stricken by the intensity of the conflagration, her crew responded with dogged and selfless determination to save their ship, something reflected in many men receiving citations and commendations for heroism. Enterprise could have commenced operating aircraft again if necessary by noon on the 14th, eloquent testimonial to her damage control parties. Her catapults, arresting system and landing area remained intact throughout the ordeal.
Nonetheless, Enterprise required repairs exceeding $10 million to restore her to “pre-fire conditions,” and replacement costs for the aircraft lost totaled $44,109,442. The crew and workers at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard began immediate repairs to the ship. Pushing themselves hard, these men had Enterprise ready for sea in half the projected time, a point noted on 27 February 1969 by William D. Bennett, President, Pearl Harbor Association, who presented the crew with a plaque commemorating the rapport developed between the crew and shipyard workers.
After conducting a fast cruise on 3 March 1969, and pre-deployment briefings, 3–4 March, Enterprise and her crew were once again prepared for their interrupted WestPac deployment. She stood out of Pearl Harbor on the morning of 5 March, but as she passed the southeast corner of Ford Island, mud and silt injected into her condensers caused her to lose power. She moored on the northwest side of the island to address the condition, and was underway again before the end of the day.
Refresher training in Hawaiian waters (5–9 March 1969) prepared the crew for continuing westward, beginning with their departure from Pearl Harbor on the 11th. Assigned to CVW-9 were 87 aircraft: 26 Phantom IIs, five Vigilantes, 14 Intruders, 30 LTD A-7E Corsair IIs, five Skywarriors, four Hawkeyes and three Seasprites. Crossing the IDL two days later, Enterprise completed five days of operations in Philippine waters designed “to familiarize pilots and crews with specific procedures that would be used in the Yankee Station environment,” 22–26 March.
Enterprise then spent two “brief, busy” days moored at Cubi Point (27–28 March 1969), for refueling, briefings and preparations, ComCarDiv-1 breaking his flag on the 27th. Standing out from Subic Bay on the 29th, the ship arrived at Yankee Station two days later, commencing combat flight operations a little over two hours into the morning watch on 31 March 1969.
Field Goal 604, an RA-5C (BuNo 150842), Commander Danforth E. White, pilot, and Lieutenant Ramey L. Carpenter, bombardier/navigator, RVAH-6, launched with Silver Kite 213, an F-4J escort for a reconnaissance mission, at 1004 on the 31st. They were to cover Route 8 in Laos from Muang Gnommarat to Nape Pass. Both aircraft penetrated the coast at Hué, proceeding toward Laos at 18,000 feet. At about 20 miles south of the assigned rroute, the flight began a descent to about 5,000 feet. After leveling off, they made a 360º turn “apparently to verify starting position of the run.” Turning hard to starboard, probably to line up over the road, Field Goal 604 was making an 80º bank pulling “about 3 G’s” when the aft section exploded “in a large black and orange ball,” at approximately 1055. The Vigilante broke up into several pieces with the forward part of the fuselage and part of the wings forming the largest piece, which seemed to enter into a flat spin. Silver Kite 213 transmitted “eject” several times over UHF radio before this portion of the Vigilante impacted at the base of a nearby ridge and burned. Observers neither saw parachutes nor heard beepers. The escort orbited overhead until relieved by A-1s. Though no AAA fire was observed by the F-4J prior to the explosion, “moderate” automatic weapons fire was noted while orbiting the scene. Speculation focused upon the prospect that a fuel cell was hit by small arms or AAA fire, triggering the explosion. Both men’s remains were not returned until 11 March 1997, being identified on 9 July 1998.
Operations continued until 16 April 1969 with one stand down day on the 9th, being interrupted by unforeseen events to the north. An unarmed VQ-1 Lockheed EC-121M Constellation (BuNo 135749) was on a routine reconnaissance patrol over the Sea of Japan from its base at NAF Atsugi, Japan, on 14 April. North Korean aircraft shot down the Constellation about 90 miles off the coast of Korea, killing all 31 crewmen.
Task Force 71 was activated on the 16th, and dispatched to conduct SAR missions and to protect ongoing U.S. reconnaissance flights, such being conducted over international waters. While steaming on station, Enterprisecame about to reinforce TF 71, at 1239 on 19 April 1969. That same day, while en route to Korean waters, planes from Enterprise intercepted two Soviet Bears in the “vicinity of the task force.” The ships of the force entered the Sea of Japan on 21 April, where they were again threatened by a pair of Bears. Phantom IIs from the “Big E” again saw off the Tu-95s.
Joining with carriers Hornet (CVS-12), Ranger and Ticonderoga and their screens and support ships, Enterprise was subsequently designated as the flagship of TF 71. Transiting the Tsushima Strait en route to Defender Station in the Yellow Sea, on 26 April 1969, Enterprise was visited by Admiral Hyland, CinCPac, on 1 May. After moving south into the East China Sea, on 3 May, the “Big E” was relieved on station by Kitty Hawk on 12 May. Although Enterprise launched no combat sorties during the crisis, she carried out valuable training operations. She remained on station after the departure of the other carriers until tensions between North Korea and the U.S. subsided enough to free her to proceed to Cubi Point where she arrived on 14 May after an “arduous” 47 consecutive days at sea.
Enterprise stood out for Singapore on 21 May 1969, and conducted a port visit from 24 to 28 May. Underway on the 29th, Enterprise reached Yankee Station, beginning her second line period of the cruise with a strike, launched at 0630 on 31 May. The ship’s single operational loss of the deployment occurred during this second line period, a VA-215 A-7B, near Chu Lai, South Vietnam, on 1 June. The pilot, however, was recovered.
“Combat support operations” concluded on 16 June 1969, Enterprisecoming about for Philippine waters. During this WestPac deployment, the ship launched 1,699 strike sorties, and her aircraft dropped 4,351 tons of ordnance, a daily average of 84 and 131.8, respectively. Ordnance delivered included 14,437 high explosive (HE) bombs, 327 cluster bombs and five air-to-ground missiles. In addition to her own 42 underway replenishments, Enterprise “topped off” destroyers 27 times.