Battle of Brandon Bay – Part I
Submitted by: LCDR Jim Chester (USN Retired) – 5/21/09
The USS Turner Joy (DD-951) was rushed overseas early in December, 1972 to use its new 5” 54cal MK 42 Mod 10 gun mounts that could reliably fire 40 rounds per gun per minute. With the 3” 50cal automatic twin mount rated at 50 rounds per barrel per minute, the Turner Joy could put out 220 rounds per minute. Quite a display of conventional firepower from a single destroyer. The barrels became so read hot, that the paint peeled off half the barrel and one could see the projectiles going through the now transparent gun barrel. The magazine crews couldn’t keep up after three minutes and the rate of fire slowed to around 30 rounds per gun per minute for a total of about 150 rounds per minute; still an awesome display of conventional firepower from a single destroyer.
Originally assigned to the now “hot” gunline just below the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at the 17th parallel, the ship was later reassigned to the Surface Striking Force (Commander Task Unit [CTU] 77.1.1) on about 6 January 1973 to participate in offensive operations in North Vietnam dubbed Operation Linebacker II. The ship did maritime interdiction operations of enemy forces going to South Vietnam from North Vietnam by day and at night did three waterborne surface strikes in company with the USS Cochrane (DDG-21) and USS McCaffery (DD-860). This routine along with replenishments and a lot of four boiler operation quickly exceeded the physical and psychological endurance of the crew. However, the crew was pumped up and adrenaline kicked in and everybody was on overdrive. The strike messages came with the latest intelligence on the enemy gun, missile and air installations. Usually we had light to moderate enemy shell fire that we were up against when we attacked inland targets.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE BATTLE OF BRANDON BAY.
The strike message received on the 11th of January was far different in scope in terms of our offensive effort, not to mention the defensive effort from the enemy. Intelligence had us up against at least 40 shore based guns; 130mm (5.1inch) or larger, North Vietnamese patrol boats, MIG-19’s and MIG-21’s and Surface to Air Missile (SAM) batteries. The battle plan was for TU 77.1.1 to conduct a coordinated strike with B-52’s, numerous fighter-bombers and Combat Air Patrol (CAP) to attack Troop Staging areas and Petroleum, Oil, Lubricants (POL) storage sites in the vicinity of Vihn, North Vietnam about 100 nautical miles north of the DMZ. The plans called for a large number of B-52’s dropping about 900 tons of bombs, and conducting a coordinated strike with the 3 destroyers attacking from seaward at high speed, followed by an attack from fighter-bombers. After plotting all the data from the strike message and the latest intelligence message concerning defensive installations, platforms and sensors, we became very concerned. We formulated our individual battle plan for inclusion into the coordinated battle plan. The battle plan had the 3 destroyers of TU 77.1.1 starting the seaward surface attack 35,000 yards from the beach at high speed (over 32 knots) on zigzag courses in a loose line abreast (approximately 2,000 yards between ships). Each ship would be on four boiler operation (split plant) with all systems operational by 2000. All engineering systems, gunnery systems, electronic systems and fire control computer systems, including our new Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) and new laser beam for instantaneous range to target that allowed us direct hit capability with the first round of 5 inch at ranges up to and slightly in excess of 10,000 yards, depending upon atmospheric conditions. The afloat Commander was embarked in USS Cochrane, which was the middle ship and the USS McCaffery was to the north. USS Turner Joy was the southern ship. The threat axis went from 240 degrees true clockwise to about 050 degrees true once we were inside Brandon Bay. Not a great proposition. The enemy also had some deadly B240Z J-band fire control radars that tracked the trajectory of our shells and through a fire coordination center, returned deadly accurate counterbattery. In addition, we had to worry about air threat, so the USS Cochrane was to have their Standard I SAM battery ready to go and the USS Turner Joy and USS Cochrane had to be ready to shift to Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) gunnery on short notice, backed by shoulder launched Redeye short range SAM’s. If enemy patrol boats were encountered, those would be engaged as we encountered them.
The battle plan also had the 3 ships firing on our final approach leg at about 12,000 yards from the beach, prior to a high speed starboard turn that would put all ships in a loose line of column. We had our Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) system (AN/ULQ-6B) and chaff launching systems (STACK CHAFF) checked out and ready to go. Every GQ station above the main deck, with the exception of damage control parties had flak jackets and steel helmets, plus a number of personnel had side arms should it come down to that. All missile hazards were identified and stored or tied down, all radars and other electronic systems tuned, tweaked and peaked and our civilian techrep (Hal Settle) that we took into battle with us peaked and tweaked the FLIR and the laser. In case a ship was disabled by enemy shell fire, we had our mooring lines faked on deck for us to go alongside, lash the ships together and then get underway, all the while under fire. All the assigned targets had to be fired upon before the request to engage counterbattery would be approved from the Surface Strike Commander in USS Cochrane. The plan was briefed to all concerned and by 1830 or so we were ready to go.