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CA 148 NEWPORT NEWS

Newport News is a city in Warwick County, Va. which is one of the world's great ship building centers. The second Newport News (CA-148), a heavy cruiser, was laid down 1 November 1945; launched on 6 March 1948 by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, Newport News, Virginia; sponsored by Mrs. Homer T. Ferguson; commissioned 29 January 1949, Captain Roland N. Smoot commanding.

In addition to annual deployments to the Mediterranean from 1950 to 1961 for duty with the Sixth Fleet, she participated in major fleet exercises and midshipman training cruises in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic. In early September 1957, Newport News was on station in the Eastern Mediterranean in preparation for any contingency during the Syrian crisis. In March 1960, while steaming 75 miles northeast of Sicily, Newport News was ordered to proceed to Agadir, Morocco, to render assistance to the survivors of that earthquake shattered city. She steamed 1,225 miles in 40.5 hours at an average speed of 31 knots, arriving on 3 March to provide medical and material aid. With the assassination of General Trujillo and the resulting instability in Santo Domingo, Newport News was underway on short notice on 4 June 1961, and proceeded to a station in international waters off the Dominican Republic to await further orders. When the crisis terminated, the ship returned to Norfolk after conducting training exercises off Puerto Rico.

Newport News' berthing and communications facilities were modified in the winter of 1962 to accomodate Commander Second Fleet and his staff. In August 1962, she participated in NATO Exercise RIPTIDE III, and upon the end of the exercise, made a month long tour of Northern European ports as flagship of ComStrikFltLant, the NATO role of Commander Second Fleet.

Within a month after return to Norfolk, Newport News was underway on 22 October along with other units of the Atlantic Fleet for the Cuban Quarantine. For the next month, acting as flagship for ComSecondFlt, CA-148 was on station northeast of Cuba. When the Soviet MRBM's were dismantled and removed from Cuba, Newport News assisted in the missile count. Upon cancellation of the quarantine, she returned to her homeport of Norfolk the day before Thanksgiving.

Operations from 1963 through 1967 consisted primarily of NATO exercises in the North Atlantic, gunnery and amphibious exercises off the Eastern seaboard and Caribbean, and midshipman cruises. When the Dominican Republic crisis of 1965 developed, Newport News sortied from Norfolk on 29 April for Santo Domingo, where she was flagship for Commander Joint Task Force 122. Newport News remained on station off Santo Domingo until 7 May 1965 when JTF 122 was dissolved, and command was shifted to the Army ashore in the Dominican Republic. She returned to Norfolk, where in June alterations were made to increase her combat capabilities.

1 September 1967, Commander Second Fleet shifted his flag to Springfield, and Newport News departed Norfolk 5 September for a six month deployment to South East Asia. Arriving Da Nang, South Vietnam, on the morning of 9 October 1967, she became the flagship of ComCruDesFlot 3. That night, at 2300, she fired her eight inch rifles for the first time in anger against shore targets in North Vietnam as part of "operation Sea Dragon". For years her powerful guns had served as a major force to keep the peace. Now her strength served well in war during the following months in providing interdiction fire north of the Demilitarized Zone and naval gunfire support for American allied troops in South Vietnam.

The enemy's Tet Offensive in the first half of 1968 engaged the Naval Gunfire Support Unit in its heaviest combat actions of the war. Drawing on resources from all areas and commands, but especially from Operation Sea Dragon, Commander Task Unit 70.8.9 concentrated as many as 22 ships at one time on the gun line. These ships maintained high rates of fire during this crisis period, with the heavy cruisers firing an average of eight hundred rounds each day. In March 1968 Newport News (CA 148) reduced the flow of ammunition to desperately fighting enemy units when it destroyed an NVA logistic complex north of the Cua Viet River. The cruiser departed Subic Bay 21 April 1968 and arrived at her homeport of Norfolk 13 May 1968, via the Panama Canal.

The changing U.S. role in the war and the relatively low level of enemy combat activity in the coastal regions also influenced the naval gunfire support mission in the post-Tet years. The combat action was heaviest in Cambodia during 1970 and in Laos during 1971. Consequently, the naval command limited the number of ships it made available to the fleet's Naval Gunfire Support Unit. The Navy also withdrew many ships with large-caliber guns. Battleship New Jersey (BB 62), which added her devastating 16-inch guns to the firepower on the gun line during late 1968 and early 1969, returned to the United States. Generally, one battleship, one cruiser, four to ten destroyers, and two rocket ships provided support early in 1969. By 1971, an average of three ships steamed offshore, one assigned duty in I corps and the others aided Vietnamese operations in the Ca Mau and U Minh areas.

The US Navy gave its sister service some of this additional time when the fleet sortied into Southeast Asian waters to help stem the Communist Easter Offensive that began on 30 March 1972. This massive, three-pronged enemy attack, which broke across the DMZ, through the Central Highlands, and toward Saigon from the north, sparked an immediate American response. Seventh Fleet cruisers and destroyers steamed into the coastal waters off I Corps and added their 8-inch and 5-inch guns to the South Vietnamese defense of Quang Tri and Thua Thien Provinces. Each day, between 15 and 20 US ships poured fire into the ranks of the North Vietnamese divisions striking for Hue.

The nature of the campaign changed in May when President Nixon ordered the virtual isolation of North Vietnam from external Communist support. Aside from the obvious military rationale, the President sought by this action to end North Vietnamese intransigence at the stalled Paris negotiations. For the first time in the long Southeast Asian conflict, all of the Navy's conventional resources were brought to bear on the enemy. The fleet's surface combatants also helped deny the enemy unhindered use of the inland coastal areas. On 10 May the 8-inch guns of heavy cruiser Newport News bombarded targets near Hanoi from a position off Do Son. In August 1972, Newport News, destroyer Rowan (DD 782), and naval air units sank two of the PT boats that attacked the American ships off Haiphong. By the end of September 1972, the North Vietnamese diplomats in Paris were much more amenable to serious negotiation.

NEWPORT NEWS suffered a turret explosion, 01 October 1972 (20 killed, not 19 as some reports indicate) during a fire mission off the coast of Vietnam. The explosion resulted from the high-order detonation of a projectile in the fore of the center gun of turret two, which vented mainly to the inside of the turret. By some mechanism not clearly apparent, this ignited additional powder charges in all three hoists. The resulting high-energy flame propagated downward almost instantly from charge to charge in the hoists, blowing apart the hoist casings between decks in the way of ignited charges, until for some reason also not apparent, the propagation stopped just above the handling room level. Some 720 pounds of powder burned in the hoists. If flame propagation down the hoists had extended a few feet further, into the handling room level below the armor deck, the extent of possible further damage and casualties might have been catastrophic. The loading scuttles at the bottom of the hoists would have been no protection if the hoists themselves had blown apart, as they did in the levels above. Events could then have led to a magazine explosion, from which the survival of the ship herself would have been in question.

An investigation led by Vice Admiral K. S. Masterson, USN (Retired) reported on 22 November 1972 that "this casualty was not caused by inadequate manning, training, experience, maintenance, or operating procedures in NEWPORT NEWS; nor by defective design of the material involved. Rather, we conclude that it was caused by the premature functioning of the projectile's auxiliary detonating fuze, which resulted from defective fuze manufacture and inadequate product acceptance inspection. ..... The NEWPORT NEWS casualty adds emphasis to what, in our judgment, has become an unsatisfactory present situation with respect to Navy gun ammunition, specifically ammunition safety for fleet users. Since 1965 there have been 23 shipboard in-bore projectile explosions, which have cost millions of dollars, degraded combat readiness, and taken 24 lives. The rate per shot fired at which these explosions have occurred since that date has increased by a factor of more than 25 over the rate for the preceding nineteen years since the close of World War II."

The cruiser Newport News was retired in 1975.




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