In recent issues (1988-89) of the United States Naval Institute journal ‘Naval History’ a fairly detailed coverage has been given to the circumstances surrounding the boarding and subsequent capturing of the intelligence-gathering ship, USS Pueblo (AGER-2) 800 tons by the North Koreans on 23 January, 1968, taking her 83-man crew as hostages for 11 months.
As the Royal Australian Navy played a small but vital part in the Korean War, a review of the above account will be of interest to members of the Naval History Society of Australia.
Commander Lloyd M. Blucher came from service with submarines to skipper Pueblo which had been commissioned in May, 1967. He immediately set to fitting the ship out for surveillance work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, although under severe curtailment of staff due to the allocation of a limited budget resulting in some drastic measures, such as,
(a) scuttling was by provision of a sledge hammer to knock off the sea valves!
(b) inadequate provision for destruction of classified material.
(c) supply of two .50 calibre machine guns with only mounting brackets fore and aft on the deck but no armour shield nor any armour protection around the bridge.
In the course of her duties, about noon on 23 January, while off North Korea and beyond the twelve mile territorial limit, with the ship at modified general quarters, Pueblo came under attack by four P-4 torpedo boats and one SO-1 gunboat. After much manoeuvring Pueblo was boarded at 1445, taken to the port of Wonsan and the crew were to remain prisoners of war until the 22nd December.
The American command was aware of a warning from the North Koreans threatening Pueblo for a period of several weeks before they seized her, and with the abortive raid on 22 January to assassinate the South Korean President known as the ‘Blue Raid’, it surely would have been prudent to advise Pueblo and direct her further from the coast.
The final message from Pueblo read as follows: ‘I’m being attacked. Help. Help.’
Incredibly, there appears to have been no firm immediate response. The USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) was off Subic Bay when it intercepted the message but was unaware of a USN ship by that name and so did not take any action. Had it done so the capture of Pueblo may have been avoided.
Immediately upon release Blucher faced a court of enquiry, as against a possible court martial, that incidentally may have been too damaging to navy administration, which acknowledged the lack of proper provision and planning of the Pueblo surveillance excursion, thus this was the initial mistake.
In the second instance, unquestionably the navy failed to correctly monitor the movements of Pueblo and have back-up contingency plans to render timely assistance, if required.
Thirdly, the captain of Pueblo had a strong obligation to prevent his commissioned ship from falling into enemy hands, irrespective of the resulting circumstances.
So summing up the various writers in ‘Naval History’ — what was the final analysis?
It appears that the navy did not appropriately fit out the ship and failed to adequately monitor the movements of its forgotten fledgling.
How true the saying that two wrongs do not make a right.
Last, but not necessarily least, even though Blucher stated his concern for the welfare of the ship’s company had the ship been sunk for whatever reason, nevertheless, a commander ‘does not just give up his ship’ for he has a special trust to his crew and his country.
So, nor does three wrongs make a right…