Saturday, November 26, 2011

Living On The Line Of Death

By Philip Gardocki

2011 was a poignant year for me.  The “Arab Spring” has me thinking back to 1981, when our destroyer was cruising in the Mediterranean.  Having a standoff with Libya’s Colonel Kaddafi, and later as a show of support for the newly minted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

This story occurred in 1981, shortly after the "Gulf of Sidra Incident", and after the events described in the Cold War Story, "A Bad Day For Communism." This takes place in an environment of heightened military readiness.

I was asked by the Weapons Officer, otherwise known as "Weaps", to come to his office for a discussion. At this time, our ship was hovering about 15 miles from Libya, where we were being offered as a "dare". While we were 3 miles outside of Libyan territorial waters, we were 185 miles inside of Libya’s declared "Line of Death."

Once Weaps assured me that I was not in any trouble,* the conversation began in earnest. It was a confused and disjointed affair as Weaps didn’t know exactly what he wanted, but was trying to explain the situation in a round about manner, and thought we had a method for dealing with the situation. And if this makes no sense to you, then you have a good feel of the how the conversation went.

Eventually he went to the black board and drew out the tactical problem. In short, he wanted to know if we could shoot at aircraft that were operating from an airbase that had a mountain between us and them.

I informed him, that as a beam riding missile, as soon as the mountain cut the beam, our missile would self destruct. Weaps stated that he knew that, but he thought we had a mechanism that would allow us to shoot over the mountain at the airfield beyond it.

The lights went on. "Oh, you are talking about shore bombardment, yes we can do that!" Weaps brightened, this was the answer he was looking for! I thought rapidly, dredging up what was, at most, a 15 minute lecture on a "worse case scenario," from a class two years earlier, while knowing that this was nothing we practiced, but was possible.  This was in the day before the Navy had access to cruise missiles, and most of the navy’s guns were 5".  A mode of operation called "Shore Bombardment" with Terrier missiles was set as a contingency plan, just in case…

Got it!

My body language must have shifted, from pensive thought to full realization, and Weaps could see that, and looked on with great anticipation at the epiphany I was about to invoke. He might have had thoughts of his next yearly review, with mentions of innovation and diligence.

"We can set one of our missiles to detonate at a Cartesian coordinate point that is just about the point where it would lose the beam."

"How will that help?" asked Weaps.

"That should be close enough for the airburst to take out most of the aircraft on the airfield." I said.

Paling slightly, he asked, "Air burst?"

"Oh yes, shore bombardment is only with nuke’s."

In retrospect, I have often wondered about this conversation. The reputation I had with the chain of command must have been a conflicting one. On one side I am sure I was considered flaky, temperamental, and held our officers with low regard. On the other side, I was an excellent troubleshooter, a team player,  scored in the upper 2% of the Armed Forces Qualification Test, and was an armchair military historian. Somehow, despite the anti-fraternization rules separating the officers from the men, the Weapons Officer thought that I was probably the only person that could answer his question and on later examination, he was right.

*I was not a troublemaker, but at least thrice, through no fault of my own, I have embarrassed the XO, once in front of his subordinates, once in front of the Captain, and once to the US Ambassador to Peru.  See the Cold War Story "The Road to Leavenworth" for one of these events.

1 comment:

  1. Stumbled across this... I was also a 55b FTM, back in the 70's...
    Surprising how few today, from the entitled brats who have it so tough to the helicopter moms who wrap them in safty gear to ride a bike just don't get it. We trained for nuclear war. We were ready willing and able to wage it.