Pueblo Incident:Attacked by
North Korean Military Forces

The USS PUEBLO's first operational mission was conceived by the and was tasked through the Naval Security Group Command. This first mission was primarily a period for training and testing. With no current information available on hostile activities by North Korean forces, the officer in charge at US CINCPACFLT assigned the mission a risk assessment of  minimal. All attempts by PUEBLO's commanding officer to upgrade this assessment to hazardous were rebuffed.

Like the USS LIBERTY AGTR-5, PUEBLO operated under the assumtion that help would be available if needed. The US 7th Fleet, US Forces Korea, and the US 5th Air Force, Fuchu, Japan were informed of PUEBLO’s mission, but because of the minimal risk assessment, the US Navy made no specific requests for support. The tasking for similar USS BANNER missions had been rated as hazardous, and fighter aircraft had been made available on a strip alert status and 2 US Navy destroyers had maintained station within 50 miles of BANNER. When 5th Air Force personnel questioned the lack of request for strip alert status for PUEBLO’s mission, they were verbally informed that they would not be needed.

In addition to the lack of ready protection, the US Navy maintained the same communications procedures and methods for the PUEBLO mission as LIBERTY had operated under during her fateful mission of  June 1967. The PUEBLO's inability to establish reliable communications with a higher command authority would be a similar repeat of the problems that contributed to the lack of help for LIBERTY. Unfortunately, it appears nothing was learned from the LIBERTY incident.

PUEBLO sailed from Yokosuka, Japan on the cold, gray morning of January 5, 1968 to transit to Sasebo. A picture taken of PUEBLO shortly before her departure shows some of her superstructure. PUEBLO departed Sasebo, Japan on January 11, 1968 and headed northward through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan to perfrom her mission; the surveillance of North Korean naval activity, the monitoring and recording of Korean coastal radars and surveillance of soviet naval units operating in the Tsushima Straits. In route, PUEBLO was hammered by a winter storm, had trouble making headway, and took several dangerous rolls while tacking. The ship moved to the northern part of its first Operational Area Pluto, between 42 and 41 north latitudes, the weather was cold and ice formed on the ships deck and superstructure and had to be cleared. One sunny afternoon while in area Pluto, the tarps were taken off the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the rail and gunnery practice was held, but the target bobbing about 20 yards off starboard was never hit. The northern half of this area was visually and electronically uneventful except for siting of Japanese and Russian freighters. Only the oceanographers obtained original data, water temperatures and salinities. PUEBLO moved south to the area off Song-gin still in Pluto. Again, ice, no electronic intelligence, only water samples and temperatures. So, PUEBLO moved south into Operational Area Venus between 41 and 40 north latitudes to lie to off Myang Do.

Near twilight on January 21, a modified Soviet type S0-1 subchaser passed within 1600 yards of PUEBLO doing about 25 knots. It emanated no radar, or other electronic signals, nor were any crew seen. PUEBLO's officers decided she had not been identified so radio silence was continued. PUEBLO had received transmissions, but had maintained radio silence to hopefully avoid, or at least delay detection. If PUEBLO were detected the North Korean military would do their best not to provide any electronic intelligence. None of the US Navy radio messages from headquarters directed to PUEBLO mentioned the North Korean provocations which had been taking place while she was alone off the North Korean coast. (Had the silence been an unrecognized clue?) After a brief stay near Myang Do, PUEBLO proceeded further south into Operational area Mars to be stationed off the North Korean port Wonson. She would stay here through January 23rd and then depart for the Tsushima Strait. Anecdote: Cold and Colder

January 22 was an unusually sunny day and electronic intelligence (ELINT) started to pick up. Maybe PUEBLO's luck was changing. After lunch, two North Korean gray fishing trawlers (Russian-built Lenta class) approached and circled at about 500 yards, left to reconnoiter and returned to again circle PUEBLO at close range, approximately 25 yards. The ship’s photographer took photographs and the PUEBLO broke EMCON and attempted to send off SITREP-1, her first electronic messages to USNAVSECGRU Kamiseya. Though the Communication Technicians and Radiomen tried to raise a response to their radio messages throughout the night, they were unsuccessful. Due to ionospheric conditions, a reliable communications frequency was difficult to maintain. Repeatedly PUEBLO was asked to change frequency to try and improve reception in Japan. Finally, 14 hours later, at 10 AM on January 23 contact with Kamiseya was made and SITREP-1 transmitted.

No radio messages were directed to PUEBLO concerning the attempted January 22 North Korean raid on the South Korean Blue House. Approximately, 40 hours before the attack on PUEBLO, a 31 man North Korean squad, dressed in South Korean uniforms, had infiltrated across the DMZ. They then moved south to within 1 block of the Presidential Palace before being detected and defeated. Informing PUEBLO of the Blue House raid was discussed by officers at the spook locker in Yokosuka, Japan. But, with 1 day left on her mission off the North Korean coast, the decision was made not to inform PUEBLO. The only radio messages directed to PUEBLO contained the latest National Basketball Association scores. 

The morning of January 23rd was relatively mild (in the 20 degrees F), with a thin overcast and light seas. PUEBLO moved landward from its overnight position 25 miles offshore to 15 miles off the island of Yo Do. Minor ELINT was active. SITREP-2 was prepared indicating PUEBLO was no longer under surveillance and would revert to radio silence. Receipts were received for both SITREPs from headquarters in Japan around noon.

The clouds had thickened during the morning and the day had become dreary and was getting colder. Lunch in the ward room was interrupted by a call to the captain from the bridge that a ship 8 miles out was headed towards PUEBLO. Three minutes later another call came saying the ship was 5 miles out and closing rapidly. It was a North Korean subchaser, S0-1, approaching at 40 knots.

The two civilian oceanographers went on deck to take ocean observations and the signal flags so indicting were hoisted. The ship's position had been verified by radar when the subchaser was first sited. As the subchaser neared it became obvious that it's crew was at battle stations. At 1000 yards it asked PUEBLO's nationality and the captain responded by raising the U. S. flag.

A message was intercepted at 1210 by U. S. sources from the S0-1 to shore: "The name of the target is GER-2. I judge it to be a reconaissance ship. It is American guys. It does not appear that there are weapons and it is a hydrographic mapping ship." (Moody, et al)

Three torpedo boats were sighted closing in from the northeastern coast.

The subchaser moved to 500 yards and signaled HEAVE TO OR I WILL FIRE. PUEBLO was already dead in the water? After re-checking that the distance from the nearest land was 15.8 miles, PUEBLO replied I AM IN INTERNATIONAL WATERS. There were now four North Korean vessels of war menacing the PUEBLO, the subchaser with her 57mm and the three torpedo boats with their machine guns. And to make matters more ominous, two North Korean MiG's did a low flyover and a forth torpedo boat and second subchaser were sited heading towards PUEBLO. She got underway seaward with the oceanographic gear still over the side. The oceanographers hauled it in when the PUEBLO slowed for a couple of minutes.

At 1306 the S0-1 radioed ashore: "... According to present instructions we will close down the radio, tie up the personnel, tow it and enter port at Wonsan. At present, we are on our way to boarding. we are coming in." (Moody, et al)

A group of North Korean military men with AK-47’s had transferred from one subchaser to a torpedo boat which then approached the PUEBLO's aft starboard side so these men could board. PUEBLO maneuvered to prevent this and to depart the area. With the North Korean vessels cutting across her bow she increased speed slowly to 12 knots. Unfortunately, the calm seas were aiding the smaller, but much faster boats. The first subchaser to arrive pulled along side flying the signal flags HEAVE TO OR I WILL OPEN FIRE and opened fire with her 57mm guns while the torpedo boats raked the superstructure with machine gun bullets as PUEBLO tried to maneuver in order to present as small a target as possible and still head away from the coast. The 57mm explosive rounds struck the radar mast, and flying bridge, wounding the captain and two other men on the flying bridge. It became obvious that this was not typical harassment. The captain immediately ordered destruction of all classified materials and modified General Quarters (no hands above deck.) PUEBLO continued eastward. The migs roared by overhead again. Another volley from the subchaser and torpedo boats followed. Machine gun fire continued to rake the PUEBLO. Her .50 caliber guns were mounted on the starboard and stern rails without protection, and were wrapped in frozen tarps. The ammunition was stored below. No attempt was made to man them. A torpedo boat uncovered one of its tubes.

PUEBLO crew was trying frantically to destroy classified materials; burning and shredding documents and smashing equipment with hammers and axes in the Sod Hut, burning documents in an incinerator behind the stack, and even dumping stuff overboard because the volume of sensitive material on board was too great to be shredded and burned quickly.

Meanwhile PUEBLO had stopped and the firing stopped. The subchaser signaled FOLLOW ME HAVE PILOT ON BOARD. PUEBLO soon proceeded at 1/3 speed toward North Korea, then 2/3 speed, then stopped. The subchaser and two torpedo boats resumed firing. This last salvo had mortally wounded Duane Hodges and injured several other men who had been jettisoning documents over the side.

PUEBLO proceeded at 1/3 speed to halt the gunfire and to permit destruction of materials. Radio contact with Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan had been continual so they were aware of Pueblo’s situation. "Some birds winging your way." Was the last message PUEBLO received.

The subchaser signaled her to stop and a torpedo boat pulled along side with the boarding party. The PUEBLO's men were gathered on the fantail and forward well deck where they were forced to sit blindfolded, with their hands tied. Any resistance was met with punches, kicks or bayonet jabs. Anecdote: Transition

PUEBLO again continued towards Wonson at 1/3 speed. When PUEBLO was definitely inside North Korean territorial waters she was stopped and a group of higher ranking officers boarded from another torpedo boat. A North Korean civilian pilot rang up all ahead flank speed and took the wheel. While a brief inspection of the ship was conducted by the North Korean colonel, the PUEBLO crew was herded into the forward berthing quarters.

After PUEBLO docked in Wonson, her crew, bound and blindfolded, was removed and led in front of a crowd of North Korean civilians which was yelling and screaming insults at the Americans. The Hispanic crew members were being attacked by the soldiers because they were thought to be South Koreans. Anecdote: Arrival in Wonsan Eventually the crew were put on buses with the windows covered and taken to a train, also with windows covered, which took them to Pyongyang where the press was waiting with klieg lights and cameras at the railroad station. The crew were then taken by bus to the first compound of their imprisonment.

The USS PUEBLO in Wonsan.

Prepared by Harry Iredale from "Bucher: My Story" and rememberances.

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Last Modified Wednesday, April 5, 2000