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North Korea Seizes US Navy Vessel, Detains Crew.

(JED) -- On January 23, 1968, the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), a US Navy electronic-intelligence (FLINT) ship, was boarded and seized by North Korean forces as she patrolled the Sea of Japan off the coast of the North Korean city of Wonsan. The North Korean move was a continuation of a series of hostile activities against the Republic of (South) Korea (ROK) and US personnel stationed in the region, and the first time in over 150 years that a US Navy vessel had been hijacked on the high seas.

Eighteen days earlier, the Pueblo had sailed from Yokosuka, Japan, stopping briefly at the Japanese port of Sasebo, before continuing on through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan to carry out her mission: surveillance of North Korean and Soviet naval activity, as well as FLINT-gathering against North Korean coastal radars. The first several days were uneventful, save a few sitings of Japanese and Soviet freighters, but on January 21, off the coast of Myang Do, a North Korean modified 50-1 subchaser, doing about 25 knots, passed within 1,600 yards of the Pueblo. The subchaser emitted no radar or other electronic signals, and the crew of the vessel could not be seen. The officers aboard the Pueblo concluded that she had not been identified by the subchaser and continued towards waters off the coast of Wonsan.

ELINT activity picked up on January 22, and in the early afternoon, two North Korean fishing trawlers approached the Pueblo, circling at about 500 yards, left, and then returned to circling at close range -- this time at about 25 yards. The Pueblo broke communications silence and attempted to send a situation report to headquarters at Kamiseya, Japan. Ionspheric conditions prevented transmission of the report until 10 am the next day.

That day, the Pueblo moved towards the coast from its overnight position 25 miles out to 15 miles off the island of Yo Do. A second situation report was then sent, stating that the North Korean surveillance of the Pueblo has ended and that the ship would return to radio silence. Headquarters acknowledged receipt of both situation reports at approximately noon. Not long afterwards, though, a vessel was spotted about eight miles out, headed for the Pueblo. Three minutes later, the ship -- now only five miles from the Pueblo was identified as a North Korean subchaser, closing at 40 knots. As the subchaser approached, it was determined that its crew was at battlestations. At 1,000 yards, the suchaser asked the Pueblo's nationality, in response to which, the ELINT vessel raised the US flag. Three North Korean torpedo boats were then sited closing in from the northeast, as the subchaser closed to 500 yards and signaled. "Heave to or I will fire." After making sure she was still in international waters (the Pueblo w as 15.8 miles offshore, just under a mile outside North Korean waters), the Pueblo sent a response to that effect. At this point, two North Korean MiGs did a lowflyover, and an additional subchaser and torpedo boat were spotted heading towards the Pueblo.

As the Pueblo tried to leave the area, one of the torpedo boats tried to pull alongside her for a boarding attempt, but the Pueblo maneuvered away from the North Korean vessel. The Pueblo increased speed to 12 knots, but this was no match for the much fater North Korean ships. The first subchaser to arrive pulled alongside now and fired its 57 mm guns, striking the radar mast and flying bridge, wounding Captain Bucher (who later received a Purple Heart) and two others. Mean while, the torpedo boats opened fire with their machine guns. At this point, Captain Bucher ordered the destruction of all classified materials and for everyone to get below deck. The MiGs streaked over the Pueblo again, followed by another volley from the North Korean ships. The crew of the Pueblo hurried to destroy classified materials -- burning and shredding documents, smashing gear with hammers and axes, and even tossing some material overboard.

The Pueblo then stopped fleeing and was ordered by one of the subchasers to follow it, which the US Navy vessel did, stopping once only to draw another salvo from the North Koreans. This volley killed one and injured several others who had been tossing documents overboard and served to force the Pueblo to follow to prevent further gunfire and to permit the continued destruction of sensitive material. Headquarters, meanwhile -- which had been in constant contact with the Pueblo and was aware of the situation -- sent its last message: "Some birds [aircraft] winging your way." These birds, however, never arrived.

Eventually, the Pueblo was boarded and taken into the North Korean port of Wonsan, where the crew, bound and blindfolded, was taken off the ship. After detaining the crew for eleven months, during which they were subjected to regular beating and horrid living conditions, the North Korean returned them to the US. To this day, however, the Pueblo herself has not been returned and, in fact, has been turned into a museum in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
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Title Annotation:USS Pueblo hijacked in 1968
Comment:North Korea Seizes US Navy Vessel, Detains Crew.(USS Pueblo hijacked in 1968)
Author:Rivers, Brendan P.
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Previous Article:Deep Impact.
Next Article:Complex Negotiations.

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