One Good Deal After Another (continued)
3 October 1968: BB 62, The USS New Jersey
At 0130, Captain Hartman’s Fox Company received 4 rounds of 130 mm artillery, suffering 2 KIA and 5 WIA. That had to have been the work of an enemy forward observer. Probably the same guy who had called fire on us 2 days ago. There was no counter battery fire from our side. Either our supporting artillery that was moving had not yet gotten into position or the 4 rounds were not enough to get a good idea of the enemy battery’s location.
In order to get a better understanding of what we were facing, we requested the services of an aerial observer in a Piper Cub type aircraft. The thought was that the plane’s slow speed might be of some help in penetrating the triple canopy that covered much of our operational area.
Flying low and slow, an aerial observer (AO) in a single-engine Cessna O-1 Bird Dog scans the ridge lines over Vietnam. Their "birds-eye view" was invaluable for spotting trouble invisible from the ground, but it left the aircrew dangerously exposed to small-arms fire from the enemy. Photo courtesy of Doug Frank.
The observer arrived during mid-morning and after a few minutes reported empty trench lines to our front. That was worth knowing but not the kind of information we really needed. The observer was then asked to get above the Ben Hai River and look for underwater bridges. The engine noises were still a mystery. What were they? What were they doing? Colonel Michaels, the 3d Marines Commanding Officer had told me (radio) that there was no real indication of enemy tanks in the area but higher headquarters believed that the NVA were using amphibious tractors similar to our tracked Amphibious Assault Vehicle to move supplies and equipment across the Ben Hai River.
Either on 3 October or a few days later, one of the companies found an NVA amphibious vehicle. It had been destroyed by our favorite artillery battery and still contained dead NVA soldiers. One or two more such tractors were found later on.
The aerial observer was a little confused by the request to look for underwater bridges. He was told that the NVA had apparently been moving equipment and supplies across the river on an underwater bridge … a tactic often used by the Soviet Army in WWII and one likely passed on to the North Vietnamese. Within 15 minutes, he found two dirt underwater bridges and Marine attack aviation was used to destroy them.
Sometime during the 3d or 4th, the battleship USS New Jersey was used to shell the area near the former site of the bridges. Each 16 inch round (a real treat to hear if you are a friend and well away from the impact area), resulted in an increasing oil slick on the river. Clearly, the New Jersey had found a fuel storage area and was working it over.
USS New Jersey (BB-62) firing a salvo at targets far inland from its position off the coast of Vietnam. After active service in World War II and Korea, the New Jersey arrived in the South China Sea at the beginning of October 1968, just in time to fire its 16-inch guns for BLT 2/26. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
We are proud to state that the New Jersey’s first fire missions when she arrived in Vietnamese waters were in support of BLT 2/26.