Thursday, July 19, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Carriers Deliver Hefty Punch-'Tonkin Yacht Club' Crews Proud

November 12, 1966

Aboard USS Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gulf of Tonkin—The three aircraft carriers steaming in the Gulf of Tonkin have the code name Yankee Station, but Navy humorists have dubbed them the "Tonkin Yacht Club."

Being a land-lubber, the sight of three huge Seventh Fleet Carriers, with their destroyer escorts milling around them in these dark blue waters, made the distinct impression that this operation was anything but a yacht club.

The Roosevelt and the carriers Coral Sea, and Constellation, combine to give a hefty air punch in our offensive against the North Vietnamese. And each of these ships is a complete fighting unit. Intense pride is shown in the operation of each.

A Navy courier plane picked me up in DaNang, and after a 40-minute flight, we touched down on the deck of the 21 year old, 64,000 ton FDR.

My pilot on the flight was Lt. Cmdr. A.J.Smith, 42, Jacksonville, Fla. He spoke of the FDR with great pride as if she were an elderly dame, meant to be indulged and pampered.

Smith said of duty aboard a carrier: "It's a gentleman's way to fight a war."

He should know. He began his Navy career in 1942 as a machine gunner on a dive bomber. He saw action in nearly every battle in the South Pacific.

He didn't become a pilot until 1955, and has been aboard the FDR two years.

The FDR didn't come to Yankee Station until August, but already her planes have dropped hundreds of tons of bombs and rockets on military targets in North Viet Nam.

I always wondered why ships are referred to as living entities, and once aboard the Roosevelt, I learned why.

This mass of welded steel actually seems alive. A pulse can be felt running through the entire ship. It is always a strong beat, but when air strikes are launched, the beat picks up as the 4,000 man crew goes into action and shakes the ship from slumber.

The noises on the flight deck are shattering when the fighters and bombers start their engines. And each time the steam catapults blast a jet from the deck, a slight shudder runs through the ship.

No place is busier or more dangerous than an aircraft carrier flight deck.

The jet engines, revved up to 100 per cent power for take off, are capable of sucking men through their intakes.

The force from a jet exhaust can blow a man overboard.

In landings, crippled planes may skid across the flight deck, mowing men down. Or, planes may return with faulty bombs or rockets the pilots could not get to fire at their targets. Such un-expended ordnance could be jarred loose by the impact of landing and sent bouncing over the flight deck.

The jets, which hit the flight deck at more than 135 miles an hour, depend on grabbing one of four arresting cables with their tail hooks. Sometimes the cables break. The loose ends of the cable can quickly cut a man in half.

Only the skilled and completely alert are allowed on the flight deck during launch and recovery procedures.

The FDR prides herself in safety and has won three Adm. Flatley awards for aviation safety. It is the only carrier ever to win three such prizes.

The FDR was launched in April, 1945, and commissioned as a ship of the line on Oct. 27, 1945. She was built to be practically invulnerable to Japanese Kamikaze attacks, which had damaged or sunk so many of our ships toward the end of World War II. But the FDR did not see action, or launch her planes offensively, until she steamed into the Gulf of Tonkin.

She hopes to make up in a hurry for all the action she's missed.

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