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New Interview with Admiral Holloway: Operation Lion’s Den


Thanks to our friends at Aerocinema: The Aviation Channel, we’re pleased to present a brand new 18 minute interview with Admiral James L. Holloway III, USN (Ret). The former CNO and Naval Historical Foundation Chairman Emeritus spoke at length about Operation Lion’s Den, a 1972 raid by four U.S. Navy warships into Haiphong Harbor to shell enemy shore positions during the Vietnam War. Admiral Holloway was along as Commander, Seventh Fleet, and had a front row seat for the dramatic events that unfolded.

As you may know, we’re currently deep into the planning stages for a new exhibit at the Cold War Gallery based on Operation Lion’s Den. If you’d like to learn more about the exhibit, or make a donation to support its construction, we invite you to read our earlier announcement. Completion of the exhibit is planned by summer 2012 at the Cold War Gallery, part of the National Navy Museum at the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC. Alternately, you can make a donation on our Fundly page.

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  1. Frank Magazo

    Great! I was on the Rowan that night in gun mount 52. About time this story was told.A crew member did a great story on it.” A Dicey Night Up North”. Rowan DD782 Volunteer Crew website.

    • admin

      Excellent write-up, thanks for suggesting the link. We did a short blog post today and mentioned that link so hopefully others will see it as well.

      • I was part the gun crew on one the Newport News’ 3 inch guns. I had a bird’s eye of the action for Operation Lion’s Den. The Newport News’ rate of fire was that of 4 light cruisers and 6 destroyers. Having 9 eight inch guns (203 mm for you army types) and 12 five inch guns (127mm). And of course 4 three inch guns. The PT Boats almost got us…

        • Larry Collins

          And I was on the ammo ship Mount Hood, which did a rendezvous with you right after that, to pick up transients and carry them back with us to Subic.

          I saw the 2″ pipe safety rails bent out at about a 15-degree angle, a result of the blast from your aft 8″ guns at minimum elevation.

          Likely you were throwing ordnance that we had passed you, since we picked up your people at the end of a 3-week line swing up to The Gulf and back down to the carriers at Yankee Station.

          We supplied mostly artillery rounds for you, and bombs/20mm/5″ rounds for The Coral Sea and Independence.

          We asked your transients if you’d lost someone’s helo off the back, a matter of some concern since our own two birds passed you a lot of ordnance on that same deck regularly.

          But they were still all pumped and told us that it was from that aft 8″ mount tracking on a PT boat as it got closer and closer.

          Best I recall (46 years later), he said you hit one of them over the horizon with an 8″ round at a range of 17 miles.

          I guess that attack must have been a little like kicking a hornet’s nest…

          • William Brasington

            Larry: Small correction – All the 8″ rounds were sent at shore targets, as per the plan. Newport News did not engage the PT boats with her main battery. She did use her 5″/38’s to do that, as did my ship, the Rowan. After RADM Holloway got on the horn and called for any available air assets, some A-7’s came in and finished off what was left of the PT boats as the surface group was retiring to the south..

    • Ken Moore

      Hi Frank!! I was there too, with Weave and the boys…MT 51,

      • William Brasington

        I was the Navigator of Rowan in 1972. We fired four Shrike missiles mounted atop our ASROC launcher to suppress the Cross Slot radars and had our four 5″/38’s for counter battery and surface defense. Robison and Providence had the missiles for air defense. Newport News sent over 30 rounds of 8″ against the designated targets. More than anything I think this mission was a statement: We can hit you whenever we want to!
        It was an exciting night and I salute everyone for the job they did. That said, the greatest danger any of us faced that night was our own minefield, which our planned track actually went into until we caught the mistake and corrected it! The crews of the NV PT boats displayed impressive bravery and determination, but they had little chance of getting close enough for a shot. One boat got to about 5000 yards from Rowan before we put it DIW, but that’s still to far for a torpedo shot from a PT boat. Besides, I doubt most of the crew survived to get to that point as we had already had lots of our rounds airburst all around it, riddling it with shrapnel. I watched most of this through a night vision device. They gave their lives defending their country and we lived to tell stories about it. Such is war.


    Outstanding read.Forwarded to other Navy veterans to share.

  3. Howard Westney

    I was onboard Providence in IFDS, Integrated Flagship Data System, on that August night. The majority of the crew only had a hint that something was going down that night when they went through the chow line and Steak and Lobster was being served. Within hours the crew knew what the basic plan was. What I do know from that night is that what I experienced is and has been vividly recorded in my memory. When flag called down to us in IFDS for the latest info on the ‘Mine Fields’ we all knew that this night was going to be very different and no cake walk. With general quarters solidly set it began. We were told that we were third ship in line entering Haiphong Harbor, two destroyers in front of us and one destroyer aft since the only significant armament aft was our Surf-Air Missiles. Providence shuddered as she increased speed and she listed significantly port then starboard multiple times negotiating turns as she navigated the ‘Mine Fiedls’ and then the command to fire occurred and when it was over the Providence had very little 6 inch and 5 inch ammunition left in her magazines. Hours afterward we were at a reduced general quarters when our captain said that we were very successful at the mission and congratulations were coming from the highest authority and command but because of the nature of the mission that the world would probably not hear about the mission for quite sometime. I still wonder to this day why all crews have not been recognized for ‘Lions Den’ with a Medal/Award. Does anyone know differently ? I gratefully thank all my fellow brothers-in-arms for their service and professionalism, especially on that August night in 1972.

  4. greenaway d. r.

    We made them turn their lights off ashore. Breach open Bore clear, No casualties.

  5. Bill Enderland BM-3

    Thank-you for posting this. The Admiral did a great job of adding many details that refreshed memories. I was proud to be a sailor then, and I’m proud to have been one now. When we all pull together there’s nothing we can’t do.

    • robert jones

      On the night of August 27, 1972, I was at my general quarters station onboard the USS Newport News CA148. The area I was stationed in was at the aft section of the ship. I was watching one of my buddies who was manning the sound powered phone in the supply officer’s office. An 8” gun turret was located one deck directly above me on the main deck. This gun fired numerous times during the engagement. Then the firing stop and we proceeded to exit the AO. Suddenly, while I was watching my buddy his eyes widened to about twice their normal size. He whispered to me that there were North Vietnamese PT boats in the area and were making their way toward us. I could feel my pucker factor increase to the of real fear. Just after he informed me about the PT boats, the 8” turret once again started firing in rapid fire. It sounded like the hounds of hell had been unleashed. After what seemed an eternity my buddy of the sound powered phone seemed to relax and he then told me we had splashed some of the PT boats. This was short lived relief as his eyes once again swelled as he related they were stilled worried about torpedoes in the water. It took a few minutes to determine we were in the clear and we once again moving toward safety. When I hear the sound of hail or a heavy rain against a wind, it still reminds me of how shrapnel sounds when it hit the overhead deck above me.

  6. Devon Boyd

    I want to thank him personally from me and my husband, John Boyd, SK2 aboard the USS Rowan that night. If it wasn’t for this wonderful man, he wouldn’t have saved my husband’s life and all the lives of the sailors who were aboard those ships. We have been married over 44 years and have two kids and 5 grandchildren which wouldn’t have been possible without this man’s quick thinking. I believe a movie should be made from this as this was as exhilarating as any war film I have ever seen.

  7. Dana Perkins

    I was on the signal bridge of the Rowan manning a redeye heat seeking missile that night during the Operation Lion’s Den raid. Incoming airbursts pt boats. Lot of action. Bunch of kids doing their job well. Proud of them all.

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