After getting the tactical situation in CIC, I went to the bridge, which was just forward on the same level on this class of ship. I reported to the OOD that I was ready to commence turnover and the on-watch JOOD, a chief, and I commenced our turnover.
The first thing JOODs routinely do on turnover is inventory the classified material on the bridge, including the tactical code books which are kept in a strong storage cabinet, serving as a safe, located in the right center of the bridge. After we had jointly verified all classified materials was present or accounted for we joined the on-watch Officer of the Deck (OOD) and his relief for a brief joint discussion of the tactical situation. We could clearly see Haiphong and at least one fuel tank was on fire from an earlier fighter bomber attack.
Very shortly after we had started our discussion we received a call from the aft lookout on the fantail that electrified us all. “Bridge, Aft Lookout. Two jet aircraft just passed low over us, lit their afterburners and have commenced a climbing turn off our starboard quarter. I think they may be coming back to attack us. I am going off-line to seek shelter.” His warning was followed a few seconds later by what sounded to me like two 5’38” naval canon rounds being fired in quick succession. I happened to be the left most of our group of 4, facing the starboard side of the ship and also saw two flashes. The 5’38” is the main battery on the destroyer who was accompanying us and I assumed it was firing at either the hostile aircraft or surface targets, possibly the NV PT boat (or boats) reported to be in the area by ELINT, so I was not scared nor was I aware we were under air attack. The fact that the aircraft had afterburners meant to me that there were either US, or if, North Vietnamese, were MiG-21 fighter aircraft with no ship attack capability, so there was no threat. Funny the things you think of in combat and how fast your mind works. Also funny how wrong you can be!
I took a step or two toward the starboard wing of the bridge thinking I might be able to see the PT boat, even thought it was a very dark, moonless night. Back in those days my night vision was famous. I could see many things no one else could see at night. I knew that was true when I was a Boy Scout, but had not really thought about it until I was on HORNE. As the aft lookout I would report things no one else could see except through the night vision glasses. It got to be a game and people used to test me all the time. I demonstrated time and time again my eyesight was very unusual, which I had not really had confirmed until I went to sea in the Navy. Thus, it was not unrealistic that I hoped to help fight WORDEN by using the old mark one, mode zero eyeball.
All that changed literally in a flash, and very loud explosion high up on our main mast. The ship shook, or more accurately, shuddered, but not too violently. Again, I was not too scared. (I guess I am a slow leaner.) My immediate thought was something like: “Those PT boats hit us with a small missile, maybe an anti-tank weapon of some type…Lucky shot!” .I took another step or two toward the starboard bridge wing. Those few steps may well have saved my life as the whole bridge, especially the overhead, exploded like a sparkler with a very, very loud “BANG”. There were pieces of red-orange very hot shrapnel flying all over the place, ricocheting off everything, the floor, the radar scope housing, the charts table, the walls, the lee helm with the engine-order handles, the armor plate windows. The only place where the shrapnel was not thick seemed to be right where I was standing. It was swarming all around me and the other three most senior people on the bridge, but it hit every other person on the bridge, seriously wounding all of them. At the time, I thought I was the only one not hit. The concussion of the explosion had blown me into the air and it was like flying through the middle of a big sparkler.
As I was airborne I saw out of the corner of my eye the anti-submarine rocket (ASROC) launcher, an eight cell “pillbox launcher” on the fore deck just forward of the bridge, take multiple hits. In a combat zone it was fully armed with eight missiles and many of the “sparkler” hits bounced off the launcher, but others clearly penetrated it. Luckily none hit and ignited either the warheads or the rocket fuel, but smoke trickling from the launcher seemed to indicate something was on fire in the launcher, which I knew to be fully loaded with live rounds with substantial warheads. Not good! Not good at all! I was now truly scared.
The concussion had knocked most of us a foot or more into the air. The picture of the damaged to the launcher in my mind to this day is from an angle that you cannot see from standing on the bridge unless you are very tall or on a ladder very near the overhead. I clearly saw the top of the launcher getting hit. As I knew the launcher was fully loaded with live ordnance, ignition of the rocket fuel was of special concern to me. I could easily envision the fuel fire igniting a warhead, which would probably have ignited the warhead next to it, and start a chain of explosions. That launcher was right on top of the Terrier missile magazine, the primary weapon system of this cruiser. It too was full of fully armed and fueled long range missiles with lots of fuel and smaller, but still deadly warheads. If they exploded the front of the ship could be blown off. It occurred to me I probably had just a few more seconds to live. (A healthy imagination is not a particularly good thing to have in combat…)
I instantly decided that I was probably the senior surviving officer on the bridge and the best thing we could do would be to be sure our lights were off, because I was convinced the PT boats were launching missiles aimed on out lights, and to set General Quarters, to get the damage control crews up and on their way to their stations before the bow blew off and killed everyone on the bridge. It is funny how your mind works when faced with probably death. My one thought was to try to save as many of my new shipmates as possible. I knew we were not at full “General Quarter” (GQ) and knew we needed to be at full GQ to both fight the ship and conduct successful damage control. I still thought we were under PT boat attack and I was much more worried about taking a torpedo in an engine or boiler room than anything else, except maybe having the bow blown off from the explosion of the Pillbox’s missiles.
I called out “Sound General Quarters!” and heard the quartermaster of the watch respond “Sound General Quarters, Aye, Sir!” I did not have the authority to issue that command, but I was not sure who was still alive on the bridge. It seemed entirely possible to me that I was the senior surviving officer on the bridge. I subsequently discovered this was not true as I heard a voice call out “What course to steer?”
I was still more than a little dazed from the concussion and that became apparent when I tried to remember the reciprocal of northwest as digits, so I called out “180” which would get us out of the immediate area of Haiphong, which was north-north-west of us. I knew we would need to turn about 40 degrees to port off 180, but I could not remember if we needed to go 140 (the right course) or 220, a very bad course which would take us further into danger along the NV coast. Indeed, about this same time our port 3’50” gun battery opened fire, which further heightened the impression we were under PT boat attack. I also knew we had slowed the ship not long before the hit and knew we needed to increase our speed. The off-going OOD had regained his feet and alertly grabbed the wheel which was running free because the helmsman was seriously wounded. I discovered that he was the person I was talking when I staggered over to see who had the wheel. He had the wheel but there was no one on the engine order telegraph, which sends commands to the engine room to tell it to set a specific speed. There are two indicators. One reads speeds in the old traditional way, “Ahead Flank” through “ALL Stop” to “Back Full”. The other is 3 numbers for each engine. “0-0-0” to “9-9-9” You are supposed to move the handles to the desired speed range “FLANK” “FULL”, “HALF” “SLOW” and then fine tune it with the digital display. The speed range indicator was no problem to figure out what to set. We needed “FLANK”. But we also needed to set the appropriate digits. What was the setting for our top speed? In my dazed state I just could not remember that either. Finally, either the OD or I, I really cannot remember who, rang up “FLANK” and I dialed in 9-9-9 (three times our actual top speed of 3-3-3). I figured the guys in the engine room, who surely would have heard the two explosions and the call to QG and would get the message we wanted everything they had. They did, and we rapidly built up to our maximum speed. In talking with them later we all had a bit of a rueful laugh. They understood completely. They too had heard there was a PT boat in the area and were more than happy to give us every knot they could squeeze out of her. They were not anxious for us to take a torpedo, especially in the engine room, where they worked. It would have been instant death for them as the scaling oil and water exploded in their very crowded spaces.
Very shortly after that I realized some of our running lights were still on full bright and I walked over to the panel which controlled the lights. Again, I was too dazed and flash blinded to figure out how to turn the lights off. I was standing there trying to figure out what to do when the Quartermaster of the Watch (QMOW) came from his hut just behind the bridge and asked what I needed. I told him we needed to turn off our lights as there probably an enemy PT boat stalking us. Enough said! He quickly reached up and expertly flipped the master switch turning off all external lights. I congratulated him and turned my attention to helping the many wounded. I was trying to stop their bleeding any way I could, mostly making bandages from their clothes. Wanting to get the wounded off the bridge I asked the QMOW to pass the word for the corpsman to lay to the passageway outside of the Captain’s in-port cabin. I remembered on HORNE that cabin was designed to be easily converted into an emergency room. And it was immediately below the bridge, and thus easy to get wounded to, either by carrying the most wounded or, if they were able, on their own. This action did have the unfortunate effect of suggesting to many in the crew all over the ship that the Captain had been hit. Not my intention at all…an unintended consequence, for sure.
As I was working on stopping the bleeding from about 10 men another minimally wounded person came up and reported there was at least one seriously wounded person on the port bridge wing. I was not happy to go out on the weather deck when we thought we might be raked by machine gun and small cannon fire at any moment, but I did not want to leave my shipmate out there, either, so off I sprinted. “Get him and get back” was running through my mind. I quickly found him laying in a pool of blood. In looking for his wounds I found the back of his head was crushed. The concussion that blew those of us on the bridge up in the air must have thrown him into the bulkhead. I made a cradle for his head from his shirt and carried him down to the passageway I had just asked the corpsman to go to. When I got down there he was already hard at work bandaging the wounded I had sent down to him. I carried in the young man and asked the corpsman to look at him immediately as he was very seriously wounded. The corpsman moved over to the man in my arms and conducted a quick examination. He looked up at me without saying a word. I will never forget the look of hopeless horror on his face. There was nothing anyone could do except make the young man more comfortable in his last moments. I went back to the bridge and saw the situation was pretty much returning to as normal as it could.
One of the other junior officer saw me and reacted with horror. I had to ask him “Why are you so horrified to see me?” and he asked “Are you wounded?” “No, but I have been helping the wounded.” “Have you seen yourself in a mirror?” “No, why?” “Go look!” In that my job was pretty much done on the bridge I went down to my cabin and looked in the mirror. I was completely covered and soaked in blood. I peeled off my khaki’s and threw them into the shower, climbing in after them. I was so exhausted and emotionally spent I sat down and nearly went to sleep there…. With the hot water running on me.
Later the next day CAPT Schick made a point of seeking me out and thanking me. I felt completely inadequate, a man had died in my arms, and I really did not know what to say. So, I just said “Thank you. I am sorry a man died.” He also showed me a piece of one of the missiles that had it us. It was only a couple of inches square but the marking was clear – “Made in USA.” The fragments of the two missiles that hit us were all over the topside of the ship and they told the story that we had been hit by a US made SHRIKE anti-radiation missile. I felt sick.
I learned much later that the SHRIKE anti-radiation missile was indeed made from the 5’38” shell, so I was not entirely crazy in thinking I was hearing a 5’38” firing two rounds, it is just that I never considered they were coming from an aircraft and were aimed at us. Why us? Once I knew it was a SHRIKE that had hit us and we that had been briefly radiating our SPS-48 air search radar just before the missiles hit the rest was easy to figure out. That radar operates at very near the same frequency as the FAN SONG B, the missile target acquisition radar of the Russian surface to air missile system NATO calls the “Guideline”. It was widely deployed in North Vietnam. Both the Navy and the Air Force flew aircraft equipped with SHRIKEs whose mission was suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD). The seeker in those missiles were designed to home on that frequency. We were close enough to the shore that two of those aircraft had mistaken us to be an enemy surface to air (SAM) site. Detailed investigation of the damage done by those two small missiles was revealing. We lost our main air search radar, the SPS-48, three of the four missile fire control radars, the SPG-55, our secondary air search radar, the SPS-43, and one of our two surface search/navigation radars. Judging by the shrapnel impact patterns on the upper weather decks it was easy to see most of the damage to our radars was done by the first of the two missiles that hit us. The second missile had hit the roof of the bridge, right over where I was standing. Luck for me that the missile’s warhead was designed to spray very lethal small cubes of steel out to the sides but not straight ahead. The SHRIKE was a very effective weapon.