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War Stories

USS New Jersey 16 inch Guns – Practical Joke

Tom "Sam" Dooling - Updated July 23, 2023


I originally wrote this story as though I had actually adjusted artillery fire from the USS New Jersey – keeping in mind that my 70+ year old brain is not as capable as it used to be – and remembering things from 50+ years ago becomes a little dicey sometimes. Once I wrote and published the story on the Centaur Web page, someone expressed some surprise that the New Jersey 16” guns could reach from the ocean to our area of operations. A little more research was done and it became apparent that perhaps I was the victim of a prank played on me by one of the artillery fire control guys.

Since I was one of the Centaur Cobra guys who liked to shoot artillery and had done quite a bit of it, particularly operating out of the Tay Ninh TOC, I had developed a “radio” relationship with the fire control guy that handled most of the requests – and we often joked over the radio on the ins and outs of the effectiveness of artillery, as well as having a little fun in doing creative and amusing BDAs for the artillery results.

I believe that it was in the fall of 1969 that I was assigned by the Tay Ninh TOC to run a scout team just north of the Boi Loi Woods. Some LRRPS in the area indicated that there was a large force of NVA moving through the area and there were also reports that there was an a large group of NVA/VC bunkers in the area. The scout (can’t remember who it was) reported a lot of activity and numerous bunkers that had been exposed by 105 artillery from the day before. I received permission to shoot in the area and pretty much expended all of my rockets. The area was double and triple canopy, so even though I was shooting 17 lb. rockets, they had the proximity fuses installed and were just blowing holes in the jungle triple canopy.

I called back to the TOC to see if we could get either 8 inch or 175mm artillery support to do some damage. The TOC turned me over to their artillery guy who said he could do better than 8” howitzers – how about some 16” navel guns. Keep in mind that I am by the Saigon River quite a way from the ocean, but being a naïve 20-year-old, I just assumed that he was telling the truth.

I said what the heck, let’s give her a try. According to him, he got the USS New Jersey fire control guys on the radio and they said they had some time and 16” shells they could support with. I gave them the grid coordinates and they provided me with the gun-target line (hinting that I might want to stay away from that area). They fired their first round announcing “shot” and time of flight. I was watching the target grid (keeping well north of the gun-target line) and I actually saw the shell traverse the last hundred meters or so before it hit pretty much exactly where I wanted it (made a very satisfying explosion). I said perfect and asked if they could run a line of shells spaced 50 meters apart from their initial shell going south. They said they could provide 5 more rounds and would ask for adjustments between rounds.

So, I hung around for the next five rounds – and since I had a pretty good idea of their inbound trajectory, I was able to actually see the rounds traverse through their last few hundred meters of flight.

We sent some troops into that area the next day and found that the shells had destroyed a number of bunkers that had been hastily abandoned.

As I believe it turned out, they were probably shooting 8” canon and I was completely fooled. I believed that I had actually been adjusting naval guns from a WWII naval battleship!!!!!

Pretty good joke.