From The Owasco Chronicles
By Dave Moyer
Every once in a while, no matter how careful or experienced we think we
are, “stuff” simply happens. Well,
“stuff” happened to the Owasco off the coast of Vietnam that could have
resulted in tragedy but, fortunately, turned out to tilt toward the humorous. One sunny day after being assigned a gunfire mission
utilizing our five-inch, we missed our target. We weren’t long or short. We
weren’t left or right. We were high.
Enemy troop movements, bunkers or cover fire would usually call for some sort of artillery action by the nearest ground or sea units. If the result of a five-inch was deemed sufficient and if the target was within the range of a coastal patrol unit, the mission was assigned accordingly. The Owasco just happened to be the nearest unit and was given the coordinates. Usually Army or Marine ground spotters would direct our fire but this time we were being utilized by a “bird-dog” or air-spotter flying a small single- engine light aircraft.
General Quarters was sounded and within a few minutes we were all at our NGFS (Naval Gunfire Support) stations, locked and loaded, ready to fire. The target was carefully plotted. The first round, as usual, was a “willy peter” or white phosphorous. These rounds won’t do any major damage but they do produce bright white smoke making it easier for the spotter to know exactly where the round landed in relationship to the target. This allows the spotter to adjust. The round was a bit long and slightly left. The corrections were made and another “willy peter” was sent on the way. The spotter came back with the “on target” reply we all waited for and ordered three “HE” or high explosive rounds with a “fire for effect.” These are the rounds that hopefully will result in the desired destruction. In fairly rapid succession the three lethal projectiles were sent on their way.
Those of us fortunate enough to be on or about the Bridge during NGFS missions waited for the next transmission. We all looked forward to hearing “On target! Target destroyed! Cease fire!” Sometimes, and just as satisfying, it would be “On target! On target! Fire three (or any number) more HE rounds for effect!” On some occasions we’d simply miss, receive another adjustment, and start over again. This time it was a bit different. After a few seconds we heard a rather panic filled voice screaming, “CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!” A few expletives were also thrown in for good measure. Our spotter then rather abruptly informed us that he was leaving the area and heading back to base and would no longer desire our services (thank-you very much). It took a rather bewildered Captain of the Coast Guard Cutter Owasco to ascertain from the pilot exactly what the reason for his rapid departure was without waiting to give us the results of our efforts. The airman tersely told Captain Fearn that we missed the target. Not long, not short or anything else. We downright missed. All three HE rounds were airbursts, the equivalent of anti-aircraft fire. Not only did we miss…..we missed the entire country of Vietnam and were damned lucky we didn’t end up painting a Piper Cub on the bridge wing!
I hadn’t heard of a nanosecond back then but I’m sure it was the same length of time it took for the Old Man to have the Gunnery Officer in his cabin. Projectile fuses were checked and doubled checked. It seems that the entire magazine was filled with HE rounds attached to faulty fuses. The Owasco along with every other Cutter and Destroyer that took on five-inch HE ammo from a specific supply ship with corresponding lot numbers was ordered back to PI to off-load the faulty ammunition. The Owasco just happened to be the first “lucky” ship to have fired any of those rounds. Additionally she may just be the only ship in the history of the United States Coast Guard to have fired and missed an entire country. (However it could possibly be a common occurrence with our brothers in the U.S. Navy.) So next time someone shrugs their shoulders and says “stuff happens”……..believe ‘em.
*Manure would be the nice word for it.
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