Commander Tyler Parks’ POV
Commanding Officer, USS Chosin (CG-65)
Ben’s voice came over the radio, a terse message that sounded innocuous but told of some success. They had recovered something, and were heading to the rendezvous point for pickup. I looked over at the Officer of the Deck. “Lieutenant, set course for Checkpoint Alpha.”
”Aye aye, Captain.”
The Conning Officer, an ensign in charge of course and speed, spoke to the Helmsman who controlled the rudder and the engines. “Helm, all ahead standard, left full rudder.”
“All ahead standard, left full rudder aye.” The ship started to move, the gas turbine engines loading as the variable-pitch propellers rotated to push it forward.
The OOD came back from where the quartermaster was laying down the course line to the spot marked on the chart. “Conn, set course 012.”
“012 Aye. Helm, steady course 012.” My cruiser had been stationed in a box in open water twenty miles south of the pickup point, and we had been steaming back and forth all day. We had two Iranian Revolutionary Guard patrol boats shadowing us, staying a few miles east at all times.
“Bosun, sound General Quarters,” I said. The speedboats had seen us turn and accelerate, and they were already up on plane and heading towards us. The alarm sounded throughout the ship, and I grabbed my flak jacket, helmet and binoculars from the rack behind my chair. All over the ship, hatches were being closed and secured and firefighting crews staffed. The bridge started to fill with people, including Gunner’s Mates and Marines. With the threat from small boats that were too small and close for our five-inch guns to fight, we had adapted and taken on board a Marine Weapons platoon. Fighting positions were installed around the ship, and both fifty-caliber and light machine gun mounts were added.
I reached over to the communications box and selected the Combat Information Center. “Combat, Captain, weapons safe." I don’t want anything to start by accident. The Iranians were famous for harassing US warships, but I had a place to be. I looked at the radar screen and scanned the horizon, it was clear. “Conn, ahead flank,” I said.
“Ahead flank aye,” he said. The ship continued to accelerate towards its maximum speed of thirty-one knots. The speedboats could go faster, but this would make it tougher for them to intercept.
“Captain, combat, multiple high-speed craft detected, eighteen miles bearing 062,” the speaker said. I looked at the radar, sure enough, it was patrol boats out of Bushehr. The Iranian Navy and Guard had boosted their numbers with all the activity lately, and they were bolder than ever.
I looked out off the starboard bow, they were still too far out to pick up. “Combat, estimate time to intercept package for us and the patrol boats.”
We were pushing fast through the waters now, and there was no was we’d be able to do a normal transfer with all them around. “Deck, Captain, rig a cargo net starboard side and ready a winch,” I said. They didn’t specify what they picked up, whether it was the submarine or a body or two, but we had to be ready.
The two shadows were now about six hundred yards off our starboard quarter, and one of them decided to call us on the marine band radio. “Cruiser Chosin, this is the Iranian Navy, slow and turn west or be fired upon,” it said.
“Hand me the damn microphone,” I said as I walked over. “This is Navy Warship, operating in international waters and exercising our freedom of navigation. We are not turning or slowing, so stay out of our way.”
“You are violating Iranian sovereignty, you have one minute to comply or be fired upon.”
I called Combat. “Combat, Captain, weapons tight, mark targets.” The five-inch guns, loaded with high-explosive rounds, swung to starboard, the aft gun taking the shadows while the forward swung to track the boats coming out from Bushehr. “Radio, Captain, send a flash message to the Admiral, recovery in progress and hostiles inbound, they have threatened hostile action.”
“Yes sir,” radio said. The fighting positions were fully manned and ready, just waiting for the signal. The boats were now three hundred yards out. “Captain, boats off starboard quarter are inside minimum gun distance,” Combat said. “Lincoln will have F-18’s over us in fifteen minutes.”
“Ten minutes too late,” I said. I got on the radio to Ben. “Gumbo, this is Bowl, multiple shrimp inbound, prepare for drive-through pickup.”
“Roger that Bowl, hold the brown rice, extra mini red.” I had to laugh at the little code we’d worked out, perfect for when you have a Cajun on board. They knew they had patrol boats coming, and we were going to pick them up without stopping. Now I knew they had the submarine, and they would be using the infrared markers to give us their position. Ignore the brown rice meant don’t worry about the fishing boat, they were going to abandon that and let it go forward on its own. It was a good plan, it would help to distract the patrols.
Now we just had to get there. The minute was up, and they hadn’t fired. Their boats had heavy machine guns forward and aft and might be rigged for suicide boat operations, so it was dangerous to let them too close. Our rules of engagement did not allow me to fire on them unless it was a last resort, so we didn’t.
I went out on the starboard bridge wing, watching as they came closer and closer. One slowed to stay off our starboard beam at about fifty yards, while the other continued at full speed to overtake it. “Combat, intercept time on those boats out of Bushehr?”
“Eleven minutes, sir. Seven minutes to pick-up position.”
Yeah, this was going to be fun. Deck division had rigged the cargo net at the aft superstructure, and the boat davits had been disconnected and attached to the bottom. “We’re ready, Captain,” the First Lieutenant shouted up.
The patrol board off our starboard beam was still in place, but the other was now about a hundred yards ahead. The Officer of the Deck was watching him through the binoculars. “Sir, you don’t think he’s going to SHIT HE’S CUTTING ACROSS OUR BOW.”
“CONN RIGHT FULL RUDDER” I shouted. The ship heeled to port and we turned towards the stern of the speedboat, but when you are 567 feet long and over 9,000 tons displacement, you don’t change course that fast. “SOUND COLLISION,” I shouted when it was clear we wouldn’t avoid it.
The ship shuddered as the sharp bow chopped the back third of the patrol boat off. Our evasive action had turned us right into the path of the second patrol boat, which had now opened fire. “RETURN FIRE, FIRE AT WILL,” I shouted over the 1MC, and we did. “Conn, resume course.”
The machine guns lit up the patrol boat, knocking its forward gun out in a few seconds and leaving it burning ten seconds later. We evened back out on course. “Four minutes to pick-up, Captain.”
“Bosun, get out the night vision goggles. Conn, standard speed.” Getting on the 21MC circuit to Damage Control, I verified no flooding reports for the bow. We’d check for damage later.
“Captain, Combat, missile launches bearing 050 range eleven miles.”
“Weapons free, semi-automatic operation,” I said. The ship’s SPY-1A radar had detected the missiles launched from the patrol boats and was calculating intercepts. All it took was a human to confirm the firing command. Five seconds later, vertical-launch Standard SM-2 missiles were shooting up and angling to intercept. The forward and aft five-inch guns started to rapid fire, their fire-control radars guiding the rounds to the patrol boats that had fired on us. Two missiles exploded, then there was the buzz of the Phalanx close-in weapons system before a third exploded just a half-mile or so away. The three-thousand-round-per-minute gatling gun continued firing until the pieces were in the water.
The action was transmitted over secure links to the other warships in the Gulf, and the entire Fleet went to General Quarters. “Jim, take the conn and do the pickup. Skid into them.” I handed him the night-vision goggles, we were two miles away and closing fast.
“Aye aye, Captain. This is Lieutenant Ransom, I have the deck and the conn.”
I watched on the display screens what Combat was seeing; our guns had knocked out two of the patrols, and the third wouldn’t last. Thirty seconds later the guns went silent. Things weren’t going to be that easy, though.
I divided my attention between the monitoring of the aircraft contacts coming out of Iranian military airfields and the pickup. Jim had located the sub and the people, and this next part was going to test the hell out of his shiphandling. He steered about twenty degrees right of the target, taking the engines to all stop. As we approached, he ordered hard left rudder. When a ship turns to port, it doesn’t happen immediately, it continues forward (advance) as it moves to the left (transfer). With no engine thrust, he was essentially putting the ship into a skid. He made a few adjustments, but the package bumped into the side of the ship and the two men grabbed on to the cargo net. We’d almost stopped, so when the boat davit was raised, the net caught the minisub and the people. As soon as they were out of the water, I clapped him on the shoulder. “Turn south and go to flank as soon as they are aboard,” I told him.
I needed to be down in Combat. I left the Executive Officer on the bridge, and went down the ladder to Combat, a huge space with large display screens from which the weapons systems were run. “Captain is in Combat,” one of the men announced as I came in.
The Weapons Officer was in the Tactical Action Officer chair, on a headset with his men. I sat in the Captain’s chair next to him, feeling the ship accelerate and heel to starboard. The men must be on board, and we were getting out of Dodge. I put on the headset, listening to the chatter as I familiarized myself with the tactical situation. I had time, so I switched to the radio, calling Admiral Smith on the Lincoln, who was the Task Force Commander. I took about a minute to brief him on the small boat action and the pickup, and he concurred with my return to the southern Gulf.
“Captain, multiple missile launches bearing 080 range 32 miles.”
I ended my call, he was seeing the same information over the combat information link. Four bogeys were being tracked, and they soon disappeared over the horizon. “Probably Noor’s from land launchers,” the TAO said.
“Weapons free, fire at will,” I reminded him. We let the combat system do its job; as the targets were picked up, the system calculated intercepts, fired missiles and guided them to intercept. Six had been fired, missiles got four, Phalanx got one, and one hit just aft of the superstructure. The explosion rocked the ship, and alarms were sounding everywhere.
I switched over to the Damage Control circuit. The Bridge reported missile impact was just below the port helicopter hangar, and there was massive damage and fire. Sprinkler systems had activated, and firefighting crews were responding. It was bad; the explosion had torn a huge chunk out of my ship, and we were fighting hard to save it.
Thirty minutes later, we had the fires out and were limping back south at ten knots. We had five confirmed dead and eleven missing. We couldn’t land helicopters, but the USS John Paul Jones had already sent one helicopter to pick up injured, and more from the USS Abraham Lincoln were on the way. By some miracle, the hot war had been limited to our immediate area. Tensions were high, the Fleet was at DEFCON-1. All inbound targets were to be considered hostile.
We were a gentle push away from the start of a major war. I hoped the CIA missions were worth it, because my ship and crew had paid a high price.