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Old 01-09-2020, 06:55 AM
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Arrow Did You Know the Vietcong Sank A U.S. Aircraft Carrier?

Did You Know the Vietcong Sank A U.S. Aircraft Carrier?
By: Robert Beckhusen - National Interest - 01-09-20

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At the time a huge defeat for the United States, today the incident is little remembered.

Key point: The Vietnamese still celebrate this victory to the present day.

It was shortly after midnight when two Viet Cong commandos emerged from a sewer tunnel that emptied into Saigon Port, each man carrying nearly 90 pounds of high explosives and the components needed to make two time bombs.

Their target was the largest American ship in port, USNS Card. An escort carrier that saw distinguished service as a submarine-hunter in the North Atlantic during World War II, during the early morning hours of May 2, 1964, Card was part of U.S. Military Sealift Command.

The ship supported an escalating military commitment of the South Vietnamese government that occurred well before the Tonkin Gulf Incident. Since 1961, Card had transported both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to the beleaguered nation as well as the U.S. pilots and support crews need to operate them.

The commandos swam toward Card, where they spent about an hour in the water attaching the charges just above the waterline near the bilge and the engine compartment on the ship’s starboard side. They set the timers and quickly swam away.

The charges exploded. Five civilian crewmen on board Card died, the explosion tore a huge hole in the engine-room compartment and a proud ship that had survived German U-boat attacks was on her way to the bottom — the last aircraft carrier in U.S. military history to date sunk by enemy action.

The sinking of the Card was stunning victory for the Viet Cong, yet little remembered today. It illustrated how vulnerable naval vessels can be even when faced with a low-tech enemy … and how difficult maintaining port security can be in a war with no real front.

But it also demonstrated how resilient American naval forces are. In 17 days, salvage crews raised Card out of nearly 50 feet of water, and six months later the ship returned to service for another six years.

Not surprisingly, North Vietnam celebrated the sinking of Card, considering it a propaganda victory of the first rank. The U.S. government refused to even acknowledge the vessel’s sinking, telling the public the carrier had only been damaged.

The North Vietnamese government even commemorated the event by portraying the operation on a 1964 postage stamp.

Naval vessels often have a mystique about them — they look formidable, bristle with weapons and aircraft, and have the ability to project a nation’s power anywhere on the planet. In particular, aircraft carriers are the symbol of a nation possessing “great power” status.

But they are vulnerable to attack. For example, there are reasons why even aircraft carriers have numerous escort vessels — destroyers, guided-missile cruisers, even submarines — to protect a carrier as well as engage the enemy.

We shouldn’t be too surprised when an enemy takes out a naval vessel in combat, even if it is a commando with a time bomb, James Holmes, a naval historian and analyst who teaches at the U.S. Naval War College, told War Is Boring.

“We shouldn’t get carried away with thinking of warships as ‘castles of steel,’ or latter-day dreadnoughts, or whatever,” Holmes said. “A castle is a fortification whose walls can take enormous punishment, whereas most modern warships have thin sides — the nuclear-powered carrier being an honorable exception. So a guy with a charge can do a lot of damage.”

Holmes said the sinking of Card “provided a preview” of the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 — a textbook case of a low-tech assault taking out a prime example of U.S. naval might.

Al Qaeda operatives mounted a suicide attack against Cole, a guided-missile destroyer, using a small boat packed with explosives that targeted the American ship while she was docked in Aden harbor. The blast tore a huge hole in the vessel, killing 17 sailors and injuring 39 — the deadliest attack on a U.S. Navy ship in recent history.

The blast from the explosion reached Cole’s galley, killing and wounding many there as sailors were lining up for lunch. Investigators later said they did not consider the timing of the attack a coincidence.

Fifty years ago, penetrating harbor security was a major concern as well for the perpetrators of the attack on Card.

Lam Son Nao, 79, the leader of the Viet Cong commandos, was a maintenance worker at the port at the time of the attack. He used his job as cover while he gathered intelligence, hid explosives and planned the mission.

Despite patrol boats filled with harbor police, Nao and his companion were able to mount their operation because of careful planning and the corruption of Saigon law enforcement.

“For the Card mission, my fellow operative and I pretended to be fishermen,” Nao said in an April 22, 2015 interview with Vietnamese News Service. “When our boat reached Nha Rong Wharf, the police chased us to the bank of the Thu Thiem Peninsula. To avoid having my boat inspected, we pushed the boat to a swamp, so that the police boat could not reach it.”

Nao told the harbor police that he wanted to shop at a market on a nearby island, offering to share part of the clothing and radios he planned to buy there. Then, he gave the police a generous bribe — and they let Nao go his way.

The aftermath of the attack on the Card rallied American rescue and salvage crews to deal with a severe crisis. The American brass and Pres. Lyndon Johnson wanted to keep the results of the attack as quiet as possible.

However, raising Card would be a major salvage operation.

Five Navy divers investigated damage to Card. One said he found the remains of a U.S.-made demolitions pack — evidence that the Viet Cong might have used stolen American military munitions.

In the meantime, the Navy sent the salvage vessel USS Reclaimer and the tug USS Tawakoni to Saigon Port to begin pumping water out of the sunken vessel. Despite poor diving conditions and numerous equipment malfunctions, salvage crews raised Card in a little more than two weeks.

Soon, both Reclaimer and Tawakoni towed Card out of Saigon harbor on their way to the U.S. Navy port of Subic Bay in the Philippines for repairs.

Naval vessels are very flexible ships capable of recuperating from serious battle damage. Apparently, Card was no exception — ships are often “re-purposed” in the U.S. Navy and enjoy long lives in service, Holmes said.

“The carrier Midway went from being a World War II carrier to a modern supercarrier over the course of her life, which reached into the 1990s,” he said. “That philosophy — deliberately build ships to allow for easy changes and upgrades over a long life — is making a comeback.”

Even Cole survived her attackers. After 14 months of repair, Cole departed dry-dock on April 19, 2002, and returned to her homeport of Norfolk, Virginia.

The ship deployed again in 2003. Cole remains in operation with the Sixth Fleet. Card decommissioned in 1970.


USS Card - ACV-11 (built 26-March 1943)
Bogue-class escort carrier
DescriptionUSS Card was an American Bogue-class escort carrier that saw service in World War II. She was the flagship of Task Group 21.14, a hunter-killer group formed to destroy German submarines in the North Atlantic Ocean.

SAIGON, South Vietnam, Saturday, May 2—Communist terrorists sank a United States aircraft transport in Saigon Harbor today.

All 73 men of the civilian crew were reported safe.

The Vietcong guerrillas blew a hole into the 9,800‐ton U.S.S. Card below the waterline. The ship had arrived here with a cargo of helicopters and fighter bombers.

It was the first time a major United States vessel had been sunk in the battle against the Vietcong.

The Card had taken on a cargo of old helicopters for return to the United States and had been scheduled to sail later today. How the explosive was put in or on the ship was not determined.

The explosion occurred at 5 A.M, [5 P.M., Friday, New York time], and the ship began sinking almost immediately.

The ship settled onto the muddy bottom of the 48‐footdeep Saigon River with her flight deck and superstructure above water.

Capt. Borge Langeland, the 55‐year‐old civilian skipper, of New Orleans, said there was a possibility the ship would capsize.

The Card had World War U service in the North Atlantic and has a Presidential Citation from her clashes with Nazi U‐boats.

Captain Langeland said the full extent of the darrage to the Card, or the size of the hole, had not been determined “but the hole must be very big and it probably will be many weeks before the Card can leave Saigon for the United States.”

“The explosion hammered through the ship, jarring engine room attendants,” Captain Langeland reported. “The ship began to take water immediately, forcing several crewmen to hurriedly evacuate their quarters. The crew immediately closed off the lower compartments.”

Second Mate Raymond Arbon, 45, also of New Orleans, who was on watch at the time of the explosion, was knocked down but unhurt.

Pieces of the ship's steel railing and planks from the pier to which she had been moored were scattered across the wharf and the Card's steel superstructure was bent by the blast.

The Card, built in 1942, is now under charter to the United States Military Transport Service, and manned by an all‐civilian crew. She has made several trips to Saigon in the last year, carrying helicopters, planes and vehicles.

There was a question as to who was responsible for the external security of the ship.

United States Navy sources said South Vietnamese soldiers were on duty near the Card during the early morning hours. But the Americans said they could not confirm reports that the Army had taken over security from Saigon's water police.

Captain Langeland said the Card herself “does not put out extra (shore) security while we are here.”

In the action in South Vietnam, four United States Marines were wounded Thursday and a copter was downed.

The guerrillas fired on a fleet of Marine helicopters taking South Vietnamese forces out of a battle area 35 miles west of the northern city of Da Nang.

A Marine officer and an enlisted man were wounded in one helicopter, a spokesman said. A Marine enlisted man in another helicopter was also hit.

The Vietcong fire knocked out the engine of a third helicopter. A crew member was wounded as it fell. The United States spokesman said the crew had destroyed the helicopter before they were rescued.

The last reported successful sabotage of a foreign ship in Saigon Harbor was during the 1946–54 Indochina war, when Communist‐led forces sunk a French transport. The hull is still in the muddy waters of Saigon River.


Personal note: I had just finished survival school and on the wall at our base they posted volunteers wanted for VN duty - I was the first to sign up and departed 30 days later for VN.


O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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