Afloat cryptologic operations in 1972 while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin by Mr. Thomas Stovall.
I joined the Navy mid-1971. After boot camp I was sent to Pensacola, FL to take a course in Morse code and then a class in direction finding. We were known as spooks to most of the other navy ratings. I was a CTR, or at the time, Communications Tech Radioman. Our job was to listen to hostile and potentially hostile nations. Finishing school I was sent to the Philippines and I joined up with other CT rating spooks. We had two CTI’s (interpreters trained in the Vietnamese language). We also had two CTO’s (operators) capable of sending our data received encrypted to those that needed the information. We had one CTM (maintenance) who could hook up and repair our equipment. We had one more CTR as I was a CTR for a total of two Radiomen (capable of receiving Morse code which was used by the North Vietnamese.) Plus we had our officer in charge. The duplication of CT’s was so that we could man our stations around the clock.
Our team of spooks was sent first to the USS Mahan DLG-11, a guided missile frigate in the Gulf of Tonkin in May 1972. A Quick Van was attached to the superstructure at Subic Bay, Philippines where we crowded into during our Gulf of Tonkin stations. We honed our craft cryptologic skills quickly as Operation Linebacker was underway, which was trying to curb the Easter Offensive by the North. Between 10 May and 23 October 1972, the United States lost a total of 134 aircraft during intense bombing of the north. The North Vietnam Air Force was about 200 migs total. Their loses were 63. AAA accounted for the majority of our loses, then SAM, then migs. Our team had a lot to do to provide timely and accurate information to those who needed it.
After 30 or so days as the Mahan was leaving the gulf, we and our quick van were helo’d to the USS Parsons DDG-33, an incoming Destroyer in June of 1972. Finally after another 33 or so days as the Parsons was leaving we were helo’d to the USS Biddle DLG-34, a Guided Missile Frigate which was stationed near Haiphong Harbor North Vietnam at station PIRAZ (Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone). The Easter Offensive by the North was still showing signs of success as their troops were backed by their artillery and tanks. It is estimated that the equivalent of 15 divisions of infantry and 600 tanks were used by the North during this offensive.
The enemy did not like Biddle that close to Haiphong Harbor, so on a moonless night during bad weather, when our carrier planes were nonexistent, 2 Migs came out feet wet hugging the sea to keep off our radar. However, we spooks knew they were coming and put manual entries into the NTDS (Naval Tactical Data System) indicating hostiles. The distance from them and our ship was only a couple minutes based on the migs afterburner speeds. We went to General Quarters and immediately fired our Terrier missiles in the same breath. One mig was destroyed and the 2nd mig ran for home just as 3 more migs were detected by us spooks. The Captain had our ship at top speed with zig zag turns and the migs were so close that the last Terriers fired could not lock onto target. For the first time since WWII, our ship began a barrage fire with the 3 inch and 5 inch guns rapid firing continuously. One more mig was destroyed, as one other fled for home. We knew for certain that a third mig pilot saw us and that pilot wanted to kill us. He overflew us and everyone on board held their breath for the bomb to come. It never came. We never found out why.
Our shotgun, the frigate USS Gray FF-1054, witnessed our fire and someone on her said that we looked like a 4th of July show with all our guns and missiles being fired. The crew performed flawlessly and the guns rapid fired until ordered to stop.
As the Biddle was being replaced in late July and headed for Subic Bay, we spooks were helo’d to Da Nang and then helo’d to Phu Bai. A few months after the conclusion of Operation Linebacker, our team transferred to Udorn, Thailand where we stayed until about the end of the US involvement in South Vietnam. We had to replace one CTI during our time on the USS Parsons who had suffered some mental problems. Otherwise we had the original team.
I have no pictures of that time period of Vietnam. I have no pictures of me either in the Navy. I was a CTR3 during the engagements but made CTR2 before I got out in 1976. I would have stayed in if my experiences when going home on leave didn’t happen. For example, the worst time was when I came home on a C-130 filled with our wounded. We landed at Travis AFB and outside the high chained link fence were rioters with signs of hatred for us. They were from Berkeley. They threw garbage at us coming off the plane, even though the majority departing was wounded, many of whom were on stretchers. I’ll never forget that as long as I live.
5 December 2018 at 14:19
I was in the GOT 1969 thru 1971 doing the same job. The men I served with were America’s best. I served on DDG’s, DLG’s, and DLGN’s.
5 December 2018 at 18:11
I was in the GOT 1972-1973 TAD to the USS Worden, USS Gridley and USS Reeves. Later, TAD to USS England, USS Fox and USS Charles Berry. CTM2 out of NSGD FES Yokosuka, Japan (1972-1974) and NSGD FES, Subic Bay (1974-1976).
5 December 2018 at 19:55
I was on the USS Essex, we were the first SecGru team to serve in the waters off Vietnam Nam in 1954 when the French fought their last battle ar Diem Bien Phu. Went back in 1969 serving on USS Valley Forge and USS Cleveland.
5 December 2018 at 22:49
I went tad from San Miguel in 71-72 time frame. Replaced a CTO on either the Worden or mayhan. The mission was transfered to one or the other. Spent 3 days/nights shelling the coast in ground support. Then went to yokuska, then back to San Miguel, then returned to USS Saratoga to finish my 6 months tad. The Cto I replaced, his enlistment had run out.
6 December 2018 at 02:30
NAVCOMSTA San Miguel Oct. 70 – January 72, 3 TADs total 10.5 months. USS Ticonderoga CV-14, USS Preble DLG-15 and USS FOX DLG-33. PIRAZ Pirate CTRSN Similar GOT duty but no action that summer messing with us. TICO was carrier landing in Grumman prop mail plane. Sailed the equator to ‘decode’ the Indonesian War Games for 5-6 weeks. After Hong Kong port ‘o call. dropped me off in Yokosuka(??) to catch plane back to PI. Didn’t even get my seabag cleaned out then out again for two back to backs at PIRAZ. I was the NTDS operator in CIC last two line periods. That was easy living and fun when we went to General Quarters. Why me? I was low man on the list. Going back home? Guess they got tired of my jokes in the shack. This crew hopped to the USS Sterrett DLG-31 I went stateside. Street was involved with the Battle off Dong Hoi and got a kill (???) https://ethw.org/First-Hand:The_Naval_Tactical_Data_System_in_Combat_-_Chapter_7_of_the_Story_of_the_Naval_Tactical_Data_System
6 December 2018 at 17:32
Yes the USS Sterrett got a kill from a mig too close for comfort. The other mig turned into the USS Higbee and dropped a 500 lb. bomb on her 5″ inch mount. It was April 1972 and the first time in Naval History that migs attacked a US warship.
7 December 2018 at 01:39
I was in the Gulf of Tonkin some 18 years before, in 1954 while serving in a SecGru Detachment on the USS Essex. We were the first SecGru team to serve in the waters off of Viet Nam. It was at this time the French fought their last losing battle at Diem Bien Phu.
16 November 2019 at 16:57
Tom — Thank you for the work you and your guys did. It probably saved our lives. I was on the ship during that attack at my GQ quarters with the ships Gyroscope. E-4 IC3
Based on being so close to Haiphong Harbor I believe the ship was exposed to agent orange. I wound up getting prostate cancer with no family history. I put a claim into the Navy and was turned down twice. According tot he Navy we were Blue water sailors. Don’t know if you ever sat on the fantail of the ship and looked in the water but we were sitting in disgusting brown water with snakes.
Did you or anyone else you know that was on the ship during the 107 days we were in the combat zone contract any kind of cancers? The Navy is now going to re-examine all agent orange claims under public law 116-23 Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act.
17 November 2019 at 19:48
joined Navy just before I graduated H.S. 1965 on the delayed entry program. Went to G’Lakes and left there in Sept. to go to Pensacola, Fl to train as a Communications Tech “O” brancher. From there to Makalapa, Ha – Navommsta Hono. up in the pineapple fields. Left there in 1968 and after being told I couldn’t serve in “country” with out going for 6 months jungle training at Camp LeJune with the Marines – I got put on the USS Oxford AGTR1 “spy” ship out of the Philippines.. Ships service personnel were outnumbered by well over two to one with tech types. As a floating antenna field we were 24/7 spying on the Chinese, Vietnamese, both north and south, Laos, N. Korea and whoever else you can think of.. all while trying to help coordinate ships movements, targets, and even relaying messages from soldiers
in the field trying to get help from “someone” as they were getting shot to hell… Got on the ship as a E5 and left the ship as an E5. I don’t go back very often and try to remember much of this time of my life..
17 November 2019 at 19:51
name Bill and Shitley should have read Bill Hyatt
17 November 2019 at 19:53
Thank you Tom for sharing. I did the PIRAZ tour from mid 67 thru March 68 on the Wainwright and Belknap. We intercepted a message that a combined PT boat and Mig strike was coming after us during the Tet offensive. Thankful it did not happen.
Jerry Robison CTR 3
18 November 2019 at 11:01
Another rest story from our past. I really enjoyed reading this. We were doing the same thing but land based in small places near no-where. Great job and thank goodness you guys survived the attacks.
20 November 2019 at 21:37
Did the same job from 1969 to 1970 no close calls but lots of action and I was assigned to CIC to put in the non radar contacts…I know exactly what he is talking about also a CTR in the main room…real experience
20 November 2019 at 21:38
was on 6 tours on 5 different DLG’s in each zone
7 May 2020 at 20:43
As a ctr, 3 got tours 70-71. Thanks for clarifying the term spook as I was beginning to think it only applied to operation big look participants.
For almost 50 years knew I was a spook but was not sure recently what I did to earn it!
17 September 2020 at 23:20
I was a Gelicopter pulot on Biddle and fly you & your team to Da Nang.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 June 2021 at 04:55
I was on the USS Biddle (DLG-34) as a Disbursing Clerk in August 1972 and I faintly remember you. I’m DK3 Barrera and was on the port 3” 50 gun mount during General Quarters and the water was definitely not Blue but Brown and full of sea snakes I too have been denied agent orange illness’s but still fighting it.
25 August 2021 at 06:43
I was aboard USS Mahan DLG-11 in 72 when the conex box was placed on the ship. We were told not go near it , had a guy with a .45 outside the door.
23 May 2023 at 17:27
I too was on uss mahan in 72
Visited with several spooks when connex was delivered and attached.
Yes since we were accepted as having possible exposure to agent orge I have finally received VA medical.
Bladder cancer 2017, lung cancer 2021, lymphoma 2022
Have received VA medical for the latter 2 cancers.