The Blue Ridge’s Role
RADM Samuel J. Cox, USN (Ret.), Director, Naval History and Heritage Command
I enjoy every issue of Naval History, and February 2021 is no exception, especially the articles on the 50th anniversary of the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) (“Naval History News,” p. 8) and on Desert Storm (“Weathering the Storm,” pp. 12–19). What may have been the Blue Ridge’s finest hour was deploying from Japan on four days’ notice in August 1990 for what turned into a 284-day deployment to the Persian Gulf during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, serving as the flagship for the largest U.S. and coalition warship force assembled since World War II.
Serving simultaneously as command ship for U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) and the U.S. Seventh Fleet, the Blue Ridge superbly supported Vice Admiral Hank Mauz during Desert Shield maritime intercept operations and then Vice Admiral Stan Arthur during Desert Storm combat operations, during which she was under way for more than 50 consecutive days in the Persian Gulf. Although the USS Mount Whitney (LCC-20) represented the U.S. Navy at the Desert Storm victory celebration in New York City, it was the Blue Ridge and embarked NAVCENT/Seventh Fleet staff that actually had something to do with winning the war.
Shield and Storm Reflections
RADM Thomas F. Marfiak, USN (Ret.)
Thank you for publishing Ed Marolda’s article on Desert Storm (“Weathering the Storm”). It is always a pleasure to receive my issue of Naval History, but reading about events in which we participated 30 years ago adds a dash of extra relish.
In the section titled “Raising the Shield,” the author notes that the USS Independence (CV-62) and Eisenhower (CVN-69) were on hand to defend Saudi Arabian airspace. They may have been present in the Mediterranean or Red seas, but no carriers were present in the Persian Gulf during the major part of Desert Shield. During that period, U.S. Marine Corps F-18s and Canadian F-18s provided the air defense of the Gulf. They were refueled by Marine Corps air refuelers and a Canadian C-9 tanker. Only one dual combat air patrol (CAP) station was manned. Of course, the Iraqis, who had dozens of strike aircraft ready, would wait until one of the CAP was off station refueling before launching a high-speed feint toward the central Gulf. Despite admonitions not to start the war prematurely, we sometimes had closure rates of more than 1,000 mph—not much margin for error. The USS Midway (CV-41) entered the Gulf in late fall but operated in the southern region.
Much is made about the U.S. Air Force and Navy relationship regarding airspace control. We solved that problem by designating the USS Bunker Hill (CG-52) as Eastern Sector Commander, with overall control being with Air Force Major General Buster Glosson in the “Black Hole” near Riyadh. When we needed massive amounts of tanking after the war started, Vice Admiral Stan Arthur went to the Air Force. They provided multiple KC-10s and KC-135s, with each orbit controlled by one of our missile ships.
Mines were a constant problem. The Iraqis would place them in shallow water with mooring chains that would rust and break when the shamal blew through. The resulting free-floating mines posed a lethal threat. We had an ordnance disposal team we would deploy via helo to place an explosive on each mine we discovered. An impressive detonation underscored why we avoided them in the first place. Overall, we destroyed eight or nine mines.
At the truce negotiations, the Iraqis asked for permission to fly helicopters, and the Central Command J-4 gave his assent. The consequence was that Saddam Hussein used them to brutally suppress the Marsh Arab uprising, inaugurating the post–Desert Storm phase in Iraq. Subsequently, we instituted Southern Watch and then Northern Watch, effectively clamping down on his activities.
I agree completely that we learned a great deal about what we needed to do for the future during those days and nights in the crucible of near-war and war. Most particularly, we learned how to build data networks that had capacity and elasticity. We proved that Tomahawk weapons had a real future, and we brought home the vast majority of our men and women to fight another day. And we had no blue-on-blue engagements over the water.
Admiral Halsey’s Orders
Michael P. Gabbola
Reading “Wake’s Valiant Aviators” (December 2020, pp. 22–29) reminded me of an interesting conversation with my father concerning events prior to 7 December 1941. During our discussion, he introduced me to the Saturday Evening Post article, “I Fly for Vengeance,” by Lieutenant Clarence E. Dickinson, USN (10 October 1942). Dickinson was attached to Scouting Squadron 6 and discusses the classified mission of the USS Enterprise (CV-6), although the ship is not named, with additional information.
“We had been delivering a batch of twelve Grumman Wildcats of Marine Fighting Squadron 211 to Wake Island. . . . On this cruise we had sailed from Pearl Harbor on November twenty-eighth under absolute war orders,” Dickinson wrote. “Vice Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., the commander of the Aircraft Battle Force, had given instructions that the secrecy of our mission was to be protected at all costs. We were to shoot down anything we saw in the sky and bomb anything we saw on the sea. In that way, there could be no leak to the Japs.”
As the lieutenant’s narrative explains, the battle force was to engage any and all targets encountered between the Hawaiian Islands and Wake prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. If the geopolitical conditions in the Pacific warranted such extreme orders to a battle force commander, one reasonably can conclude that all Pacific Fleet units would receive similar orders; unfortunately, that was not the case. The Roberts Report (Section IX) indicates both Admiral Husband Kimmel (Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet) and General Walter Short (Commanding General, Hawaiian Department) received war warning messages from the Chief of Naval Operations and Army Chief of Staff, respectively, that emphasized “no offensive action until Japan had committed an overt act.”
Dickinson’s article, to my knowledge never disputed, leaves another Pearl Harbor conundrum: a battle force commander given authority to prosecute any air and surface contacts, while the fleet commander is under restraining orders until the Japanese commit an overt act.