Near twilight on January 21, a modified Soviet type S0-1 subchaser passed within 1600 yards of PUEBLO doing about 25 knots. It emanated no radar, or other electronic signals, nor were any crew seen. PUEBLO's officers decided she had not been identified so radio silence was continued. PUEBLO had received transmissions, but had maintained radio silence to hopefully avoid, or at least delay detection. If PUEBLO were detected the North Korean military would do their best not to provide any electronic intelligence. None of the US Navy radio messages from headquarters directed to PUEBLO mentioned the North Korean provocations which had been taking place while she was alone off the North Korean coast. (Had the silence been an unrecognized clue?) After a brief stay near Myang Do, PUEBLO proceeded further south into Operational area Mars to be stationed off the North Korean port of Wonsan. She would stay here through January 23rd and then depart for the Tsushima Strait.
Anecdote: Cold and Colder
January 22 was an unusually sunny day and electronic intelligence (ELINT) started to pick up. Maybe PUEBLO's luck was changing. After lunch, two gray North Korean fishing trawlers (Russian-built Lenta class) approached and began circling at about 500 yards. They left to reconnoiter but returned again to circle PUEBLO at close range; approximately 25 yards. The ship’s photographer PH1 Mack took photographs and PUEBLO broke EMCON attempting to send off SITREP-1, her first electronic messages to USNAVSECGRU Kamiseya. Though the Communication Technicians and Radiomen tried to raise a response to their radio messages throughout the night, they were unsuccessful. Due to ionospheric conditions, a reliable communications frequency was difficult to maintain. Repeatedly PUEBLO was asked to change frequency to try and improve reception in Japan. Finally, 14 hours later, at 10 AM on January 23 contact with Kamiseya was made and SITREP-1 transmitted.
No radio messages were directed to PUEBLO concerning the attempted January 22 North Korean raid on the South Korean Blue House. Approximately, 40 hours before the attack on PUEBLO, a 31 man North Korean squad, dressed in South Korean uniforms, had infiltrated across the DMZ. They then moved south to within 1 block of the Presidential Palace before being detected and defeated. Informing PUEBLO of the Blue House raid was discussed by officers at the spook locker in Yokosuka, Japan. But, with 1 day left on her mission off the North Korean coast, the decision was made not to inform PUEBLO.
The only radio messages directed to PUEBLO contained the latest NBA scores.
January 22, 1968 - the prelude
Monday 1245 local time 15NM off Wonsan Op area Mars
NK trawler arrives off starboard side.
.... Break EMCON, transmit SITREP-1
the PUEBLO Incident
Blue House, Office of the
President of the Republic of Korea
By ten o’clock on the evening of January 19 a group of 31 North Korean Army lieutenants had slipped through the DMZ and were racing south across the mountains toward Seoul. By ten on the evening of January 21 they slipped behind a ROK Army screen and penetrated to within 1000 yards of the ROK President’s residence before being discovered and attacked. President Park and his cabinet ministers grasped the enormity of this latest outrage. They would insist upon retaliation against North Korea and this would spell trouble for the United States.
By 8:15AM on the morning of January 22 Captain Thomas L. Dwyer, USN, assistant chief of staff for intelligence, COMNAVFORJAPAN, had reached his office inside the Yokosuka spook locker and was leafing through the traffic from Seoul. Did the Blue House raid signal a threat to PUEBLO? Should they tell Bucher to abort his mission? The raid had occurred less than twelve hours before, and the reports were still too fragmentary. The best thing to do was solicit the admiral’s advice. They could present the facts and offer recommendations; they could even order Bucher to come home immediately, but it would be wiser to let the admiral make that decision himself. And now Admiral Frank L. Johnson, USN, Commander Naval Forces Japan, was shaking his head. "The things these North Koreans do; they’re unpredictable", he said. Dwyer and Lt. Edward E. Brookes, USN, should keep him informed, meanwhile PUEBLO would stay on patrol.
Trevor Armbrister: Matter of Accountability
"The things these North Koreans do; they’re unpredictable!"
ADM Frank L. Johnson USN, Commander Naval Forces Japan, January 22, 1968
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Actual photo by PH1 Mack (below) of one of the Lenta class North Korean fishing trawlers
(frames taken from NK propaganda film)
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