In a couple of days it is 50 years since the North Koreans captured the spy ship USS Pueblo, causing the last incident that nearly caused a war between USA and North Korea, or even a nuclear war with the Soviet Union:
I remember it well because I was in the middle of it.
I was on my first ship as Chief Officer on a trip from West Malaysia to Hungnam in North Korea with a cargo of natural rubber.
We run a gauntlet of US warships from the 7th fleet as we headed north along the South Korean coast, being hailed every few miles by question of “what ship, were bound” an then “what cargo”, having to reply by aldis lamp. (My finger got tired)
When we reach the 38th parallel we went inside the 12 mile limit of North Korea to escape, but was followed by a South Korean corvette for a while.
We eventually reached Hungnam, which is about 40 n.miles north of Wonsan, where the Pueblo was held.
What I never learnt until today was this:
It may have been better that we were ignorant of that.
We did learn that the North Koreans had mine fields protecting the harbours, which could have been set off to stop us entering.
Luckily the Harbourmaster had convinced the Coastal Defense Commander that it was some innocent Norwegians entering, carrying strategic cargo for North Korea.
Our crew toured the Pueblo while on a grain run to NK in the 90’s. In the mess hall they played a short low-quality movie showing the details of the capture, always referring to the Americans as Imperialists. I looked around and thought, man, I should take a piece of this thing home, fuck these people. After the movie everyone dispersed around the ship. The uniformed guards hurried to keep an eye on everyone. I circled around and back into the mess hall looking for anything that wasn’t attached. There was nothing. In the middle of the mess hall was an old metal ice cream box with one brass cap missing. I opened the lid and the loose cap was inside. In a moment of hazy thinking, or possibly temporary insanity, I stuck the brass cap inside my sock. Still have it to this day. At the time, I felt it was what any good American should have done. In retrospect, we took our safety for granted in a lot of those ports.
In the not-so-distant past attacking the ships of a nation was tantamount to a declaration of war. I share in the desire to not refight the Korean War, but if we’re not going to take PUEBLO back by force then at least let’s make it so she’s not around to be displayed as a poached trophy. A couple precision-guided munitions should be more than enough to wreck her. Let the Norks howl, there’s precedent:
I don’t know the answer to that one, but the situation was definitely tense and the North Koreans were preparing for war, with full mobilization of every able bodied person.
Although we were not allowed ashore we could see frantic preparation of defensive positions and exercises going on in the port area.
Sailing up the Korean coast with the USN 7th Fleet passing on the outside and a South Korean warship on the inside, shadowing us all the way, was not a very pleasant feeling.
Commanders have the right of individual and collective defense of units under their command. Coming to the aid of an American-flagged ship (let alone warship) under attack in international waters is one of the most basic functions of the Navy. There have been instances of ships getting hung out to dry tactically in the interest of the strategic picture (USS LIBERTY, USS PANAY, etc.) but the “empowerment” is absolute.
An attack on an American-flagged ship is an attack on America.
The Enterprise was nowhere near when the Pueblo got attacked.
You may remember that the Tet Offensive happened in Vietnam around the same time and everybody was busy with that. The 7th Fleet didn’t arrive off the North Korean coast before much later, after the ship was in Wonsan and the crew in detention camp somewhere else.