Tuesday, September 25, 2007

USS Harwood

I was on the bridge of the USS Hull just a few hundred yards away from the USS Harwood when they got hit.

We were the two destroyers operating on the Gun Line of the DMZ that afternoon. The Harwood was an older destroyer fitted with 5"38 guns, we had 5"54 guns. The difference was the barrel length, they had barrels 38x the bore, we had barrels 54x the bore. The bigger guns also had a higher rate of fire, but this afternoon it was really the range of the longer barrel that mattered.

The Harwood received a fire assignment a ways inland that was going to require them to get very close to shore. The bad guys had mobile shore artillery hidden in the tree lines behind the beach so getting too close to the beach had a real danger attached to it. I was on the bridge when our Captain offered to take the target because we could reach it without getting so close to the beach. The Harwood declined the offer. I got the impression that their Captain was a little insulted.

We didn't have a target at the time. I was the bridge messenger and went out on the starboard wing to watch the shooting.

They were very close in to the beach and it didn't take long before they started drawing fire. Four splashes near the fantail, I saw a column of water from a 5th splash on the other side of the Harwood, and a direct hit on the after gun mount. We immediately began firing and rushed the beach, laying down down shells along the length of the tree line behind the beach as rapidly as we could, the Harwood took to sea at full speed, once they got out of range of the shore guns we also disengaged, heading away from the beach area.

The Navy kind of had a policy to try to not lose a ship to a country with no Navy, so the shore-to-ship battles never lasted long.

The Harwood action resulted in one Bronze Star on the Harwood. I suspect it had a V attached. I don't know what the action was that earned the Star, but I suspect that running across an open deck to tend to wounded sailors while the ship was both under fire and taking high speed evasive action would qualify as heroic, even in the Army. (It really is hard to stay on your feet when a small ship is making a sharp turn while under heavy accelration and the deck is wet.)

I was watching the whole thing. I counted 6 incoming rounds, counting the direct hit. A Stars and Stripes story I read later said between 20-30 incoming. That story also said 4 dead. The Harwood website says 2 purple hearts. Don't believe everything you read in a newspaper.

The thing about the story that never got written about was that it didn't have to happen. It happened because of career competition between to ship captians. It's just another reason I'm not real impressed by senior military officers.

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