OXCART and the Pueblo Incident:
(the following is courtesy Roadrunners Internationale.com
(note USS PUEBLO was not a quasi US Navy ship: editor)
All Americans who followed the news of the capture of the “research “quasi-Navy ship USS Pueblo by the North Koreans on January 23, 1968 were truly moved and horrified by their plight. American soldiers were fighting for freedom from communism in South East Asia. The U.S. was deep into the Vietnam War. There was concern among the Communists in the region about the war spreading, especially with the large number of American troops stationed in South Korea. The North Koreans, via the Soviets, were very itchy about this situation, they were looking for a piece of meat for their propaganda and they fell upon the USS Pueblo.
The Pueblo during its first mission had all the problems that could possibly come to a light cargo ship that was converted by the Navy into a new AGER-2 (Auxiliary General Environmental Research 2) class outfitted for surveillance. No one in the Navy really seemed to know what an AGER-2 class ship was not, nor even what its true mission was. Due to its position in the reconnaissance world, it was “ Of the navy” but not “in the Navy”. The classified segment of the mission meant that the Pueblo was only a “broker, much like the CIA and the A12 with the USAF’s support of the project, men and supplies were carried over to Pueblo which the ship’s commander had no real control over. It was a definite conflict of interest and a source of internal strife.
Although the Pueblo was supposedly on a mission to map the sea bottom, she was actually caught spying on Wonsan Harbor. North Korean patrol boats captured the Pueblo while she was in international waters, killing one and taking 82 crew members captive. In those terror filled hours after the boarding, Washington was trying to discern through diplomatic means what was happening so many miles away. At the same time, it was clear that US intelligence would need to examine the situation directly. The crews’ lives were at stake, and there was no time for second-guessing. It was necessary to find out immediately what was going on and it there ever was a case for real time reconnaissance, this was it.
In the normal plan, the USAF was supposed to back up the Navy, and there was a specific protocol for the Pueblo. When the Pueblo went on a mission, it was supposed to have “critical support”. The Fifth Air Force was on “ strip alert” in the event that something happened. The Commander, Naval Forces (CNF) in Japan, whose request would be forwarded to CINCPAC (Commander in chief Pacific) who would then authorize the alert aircraft to launch, could only summon help. In this incident, however, the Air Force was too distant to provide helpful intervention. The nearest aircraft carrier was the USS Enterprise, which was 450 miles away and wouldn’t be able to launch a flight quickly enough to prevent Pueblo’s takeover by the North Koreans.
The Pueblo had set sail from Sasebo, just off Japan on January 11, 1968. With a crew of 83-6 officers, 2 civilians, and 75 enlisted men-the ship was to patrol the eastern coast of Korea, north of the northern boundary in the Sea of Japan. It wasn’t a particularly dangerous mission-at least that was what Capt. Charles M Cassel, assistant chief of staff of operations for (CINCPACFLT) (commander in chief, Pacific fleet) thought and told Pueblo commander Lloyd Bucher. As a matter of fact, USS Banner, sister to Pueblo, had performed the same mission a few months before with no incident at all. However, a strip alert had been ordered for Banner. Pueblo would have to go it alone.
Pueblo had been instructed to remain at least 13 miles off the shores of North Korea at all times. The crew would maintain radio silence unless the Pueblo came under surveillance by passing ships. Pueblo was to remain at least 500 yards from any commercial ship and to keep her 50mm guns under wraps, unless she came under attack. The small blessing of the 50 caliber guns came after the Israeli Six Day war, during which Israel attacked the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. The incident justified the arming of all AGERs.
The Pueblo was untouched from the time it left Sasebo until January 22, just 11 days later. On January 21, at 1500 hours, Pueblo encountered two fishing boats; one had approached closing to 100 yards, only to with draw and later return to close at 30 yards. The fishing boat then departed. Seeing no reason to break silence, Pueblo did not report the incident to CINCFLT until approximately 10:30 hours January 23rd. The fishing boat encounters turned out to be the beginning of the end for Pueblo. An hour later, the ship was being challenged by the North Koreans.
By noon, January 23, Pueblo reported it was challenged again, this time by a North Korean submarine chaser. The chaser sent this message: ‘Heave to or I will fire”. Pueblo quickly reported its position off the Korean coast at a range of over `12 miles. Pueblo also replied with the international flag signal “ I am in international waters”. Pueblo reported this information by radio to command center in Japan some 52 minutes after the encounter. The word was sent to CINCPAC, who in turn notified CINCPACFLT. The pacific fleet commander notified the USS Enterprise and her sister ships, Truxton and the destroyer Highbe. But it was too late. By 12:10 hours, the North Koreans sub chaser had radioed in, “The name of the target is GER1-2. I judge it to be a reconnaissance ship. “It is American guys. It does appear that there are weapons and it is hydrographic mapping ship.”
By 1300 hours, three patrol boats joined the sub chaser and there were two MiG aircraft in the air overhead. The sub chaser was backing toward Pueblo, clearly intending to board the ship. Pueblo turned away and signaled her intention to leave. That was at approximately 13:15 hours. By 13:27 hours the sub chaser ordered the patrol boats out of the way because it was intending to fire on Pueblo. Pueblo relayed a message CINCPACFLT with and SOS. The captain’s message reported,” We are being boarded, initiating emergency destruction of classified equipment. Request help SOS.”
By 13:45 hours, Pueblo was being fired on, had three wounded, and the crew couldn’t uncover their .50 caliber guns. Pueblo was boarded at 14:32 hours, at which time the ship made its last call for help. There was no one to help her, but soon US intelligence would find her from distant skies.
CIA director Richard Helms notified the Black Shield forces at Okinawa to be ready for takeoff at 21:00 hours on Jan 25th (which would have been January 26 according to the difference in time from Washington to Okinawa) The memo from the White House read:
” returning 4 1/2 hours later”. The film would be offloaded and sent to a classified location (which turned out to be the 67th Reconnaissance Squad stationed at Yokota, Japan) for processing. No later than 04:30 EST January 27th, which meant there was no room for error. Helms also indicated that there would be no additional resources or support beyond that normally used on a Black shield mission over North Vietnam. CYGNUS and her pilot were going out alone, as usual. The total time over denied territory would be 17 minutes. The photographic resolution would be 1 to 3.5 feet. Yes the CIA had it all worked out.
BX 6847 was to be flown by CIA pilot Jack Weeks, with article number 131. The takeoff planed time was 10:10 Z (Zulu) the actual time of takeoff was 01:11Z the time planned enroute was 4:01 hours, the actual time it took was 4:00Z. Weeks landed back at Okinawa by 05:11Z now all this may have sounded simple but it wasn’t. Weeks takeoff was normal and the first aerial refueling was completed leaving #131 with 7,500 lbs of fuel. Weeks was on his way. All was proceeding normally except that as the flight went on, Weeks had a problem over Hangnam. His right inlet failed to retract all the way and an unstart in the right inlet made its nasty appearance. Weeks had been in straight and level flight at Mach 3.19 and had started a right turn heading southwest. Weeks operated the inlet manually and had a bad spike actuation. Weeks had exited denied territory at something over 80,000 ft for the last time over Hangnam. This was tough route to fly with both the climb and cruise temperatures being way above normal. For Weeks to make his first two passes both altitude and speeds he had to up trim the engines to 820 degrees “F” for a total of twenty minutes. This lined #131 up for an extensive engine inspection later on back at the base. Weeks left the first air refueling with 67,500 lbs and arrived c? aerial refueling with 67,800 lbs and landed back at Kadena with just under 13,000 lbs. According to the cable from General Paul Bacalis written discussing the mission: “ Jack had to use some skill and cunning to make this mission good and he did.” It was a bit later through the photography that Weeks had taken that the PUEBLO had been sighted in Wonsan harbor. A flash message was sent to John Paragosky, a chief on the OXCART program notifying him that the Pueblo had been found. This was in addition to the reason for the mission which was to provide intelligence to the U.S. 8th Army as to further insurgency by the North Korea. None was sighted, but at least we all knew that the Pueblo was sitting in the frozen Wonsan harbor and had not been dismantled. So much could not be said for the crew of the Pueblo, who were being systematically tortured by the North Koreans. The crew was later released much worse than could be believed some 18 months later.
There is another flight that needs to be talked about here. As anyone who knows anything about OXCART history, we know that trying to get the pilot’s names attached to any undertaking is practically impossible. Now, however, as the archives open up a bit further, we may someday know more about what the OXCART pilots were up against. There is one flight however, none of us will ever see, at least that was what we were told by the CIA, “Not in our combined lifetimes” The BX6853 mission has never been mentioned. Yet there is something urgent that should be mentioned here. Frank Murray who, as we all know, overflew the same North Korean area in a second mission that also looked in on Pueblo (she had been moved by then) and flew much of the same area that Weeks did, had his mission BX6853 classified for other reasons. Murray, however, has to stand on the contract that he signed with the CIA way back when. This means Murray flew a mission that he can never disclose. Why? Because where Murray flew is not only a CIA secret, it’s so deep a secret that all the FOIAs out there will never bust it loose. There is little know about BX6853 except that Murray covered much the same territory as Weeks, however, where Murray went after that is going to be a point of conjecture for a long, long time.
Both Weeks and Murray followed each others paths over North Korea, Weeks being the first and Murray being the second. The last mission over North Korea , flown by Jack Layton on May 8, 1968 was the last mission ever flown by the OXCART aka CYGNUS. Black Shield had come to a close, over the same area that had started its powerful mission, a mission that ended too soon.
the PUEBLO Incident
A-12 OXCART landing
(click for large view)
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