Officer, Peter, Mai Cong River discussed on John Batchelor
First nineteen sixty eight on the MAI Cong river aboard the West Chester county called the west co- by its crew. It is a ship that is supplies the Vietnam war, but this night, it is the target of Viet Cong, especially Viet, Cong frogmen, Peter a very good evening to you to remember your shipmates to remember the night of November. I hear now fifty years later, the west co- is on the MAI Cong river, which you describe which can be described as coffee colored, and it's tied up with a lot of equipment and ships all around it. But I wanna take to the moment of the explosion. You've just finished your watch. And you're in your cabin in officer coun- country. What do you remember about the explosion and your first thoughts? Good evening to you. Peter evening, John. What I remember about my thoughts. Is the ship actually lifted and there was a tremendous explosion. And we knew something had happened and immediately general quarter sounded it was dark. It was dark you'd art completely dark. It was three twenty two in the evening in the morning. And your job at that point was to figure out whether you're sinking or not was the ship already in trouble. Could you feel it you could feel that ship listing to the starboard where the explosion had happened? But the great fear aside from the ship listing was the amount of ammunition and high explosives that we had on the tank deck of that could explode at any time. You lost a number of your shipmates that night, and they're to be remembered in this. But also, you didn't lose everybody including yourself because of what's about to happen. First of all, let's stylish Vietnam war. This is the nine hundred and sixty eight which is the critical year after Tet when the American public has grown exhausted. When the Johnson administration is attempting to negotiate an armistice or some kind of end of the Vietnam war that will not be successful. There is an election in days an election that will plunge. The United States into more turmoil in these coming years, but your job on west Coa at that moment is to keep it afloat. What is the ship that you're on? What is it? Do. What is the scale of it? How many are on board you Peter L S T landing ship tank. It's about three hundred and eighty some odd feet long. And what they were originally built for was to go up on a beach. Open the bow doors, lower the ramp and the equipment and personnel would either way to a Walker shore into battle. For the Vietnam war there over the LS teas were served in the Vietnamese war. When we were mind, we were actually the ammunitions supply ship for the mobile riverine force has four one one seven noble reinforced with what is called the Brown. Water navy and consisted of many small boats. PBR's small monitor boats, Woodford, actually travel, the rivers canals and. Get personnel on. Mommy personnel to where they were supposed to be going. Yeah. Munition aboard the ship was about three hundred fifty tonnes of my explosives three hundred fifty tonnes comes out to about seven hundred thousand pounds to make it easy for people to understand that's about twenty truckloads of high explosives that were in the tank deck and what the intent of the. Viet Cong scuba divers attached the mind to the ship was to blow up all of the ammunition the ship and the surrounding ships a whole task force one seventeen would have been destroyed if that one time let's go to that. Because you've now solved what the explosion must captive captain Brennan who was in office or country as well was thrown from his cot his first stop was that it was a rocket attack. Because that it was always possible without amount of amunition on board a rocket comes in. And you're all blown to kingdom. Come see. You're kind of you're living with the fact that span things go wrong. We're in trouble. That's what you're living with. That's correct. But it turned out. It wasn't a rocket attack. In new said, these who knew that there were frogmen for the Viet Cong who knew that. They had limpet mines have they ever tried an attack like this before they had about four years earlier attacked and L S T with. More recently there had been some rocket attacks. The Tom green county another LSD was attacked by rocket with some loss of life on it. So that was the initial fear would then it was a rocket attack. You are working all the time on this supply ship because you're the supply chain, you're delivering foodstuffs and amunition and gasoline to small boats that run up on are those the ones called AMI's. They are there. They're called PBR's actually the. A lot of them looked like little monitor shifts like from the civil war little gun turrets on them. And they would. Assault the toll boats, and they were tied up next to or attached to or in this construction around west coast. So you actually have a city of people, and and and warships around you. That's that's correct. And we also had over one hundred and fifty US army soldiers stationed aboard who would go out on these PBR's. As they were called to duty. Let's be detailed about this. Because Peters made available to me a history of this. It was one hundred and seventy five soldiers of ninth infantry divisions. Third battalion thirty four artillery as well as the crews of the navy's river assault division. Plus the crew of west coast. Okay. You're in trouble. Peter you're in trouble. And you're an officer to take charge, but you've lost all lights, and you have to put together a ship to to write it. How is it that you solve the fact that the ship is sinking at this moment? Well, LS tease by the very nature had balloting tank. So that they could go up onto the shore. Fortunately, we haven't lost all power and. Although a lot of the senior petty officers were either killed or injured there was one petty officer who went to his damage control station, which was in the bow of the ship where there was a pumping facility to d- ballast the starboard tank. Ballast tank and when they damage control assistant the officer. Got in communication with them on the sound powered phones told them what to do. They d- ballast tanks and the ship at one point in time. Captain Bannon tilt that we were going over. But fortunately, they were able to d- ballast so much water that was coming into the. Ship from the openings from the damage from the by on the mining news as much water going out to the emptying the ballast tanks. So it's like you man, the pumps if this eighteenth century, and the captain Aubrey was in charge. I'm thinking of the Patrick O'Brian series. Aubrey would say everybody on the pumps gonna work at twenty four hours. That's that's about it. Now, the maycom river is a tidal river, right? He goes up and down. Title member are you at high tide or low tide at this point. I don't recall there wasn't a lot of tidal variation in the metro ever at that time. So what we have now is ship. That's not going to sink, but they think that and this area of Vietnam is always going to be vulnerable to follow up attacks. So at this, you don't know if there's going to be more minds, you had no idea if they're going to be more minds, we have no idea what's going on. But you've got injured crew everywhere. We now move to chief Sullivan who is he? And where is he will? He actually he was promoted to cheat TV received the silver star for his performance in saving us crew. He would actually in his compartment first class petty officer compartment, which is one of the compartments was damaged in the mining. Basically, the deck of the compartment was blown up to within. Less than the foot of the overhead the ceiling, and he was able to you know, climb out. He was near the the the ladder to get out. But other people weren't so fortunate, and there are other people in the other compartments who will also trapped he rally than. I believe is compartment. Immediately started doing first aid. And to all the people that was still in the compartment who is still alive. Didn't he have a bad injury? His knee was badly injured and bleeding and. You know, he just kept down at he knew his duty. And this is the great thing about the Coleman in the navy that you know, they know what their duty is. And they perform it. Heroically, but it's dark down there. People have to get to him. And meanwhile, you're you're fighting that you're trying to right the ship. So I take you back. This is the young Peter love where are you at this moment in the first half hour of the crisis. First half hour, I'm in combat intimation sided with just behind the bridge. Sending out the messages and receiving the information that we can. And just waiting to see what happens. So what we have. Here is a situation that could deteriorated any moment. You've got the ship is no longer sinking. But it's still dark. Dawn is in. What about an hour hour about an hour. You don't have lights you have you establish. Did you have emergency power that you could go to? We did get some emergency power on get some lighting on but not in all of the ship and not in the part of the ship that had the sustained damage. There are crews working in through to rescue what they can because the internal part of the ship has been torn apart by this bomb. So when we come back, let's rescue the west go, but there's a part two to the crisis of beginning November first nine hundred sixty eight about fifty years right about now. It's the West Chester county L S T and Peter love. Now. A captain United States navy retired was then an ensign and is remembering his shipmates. I'm John Batchelor. This is the John Batchelor show..