The following is an update to my article HMAS Hobart Hit During Vietnam UFO Encounter first published in Australasian Ufologist Vol. 7 #1 2003, and also online at http://www.ufoinfo.com/ufoicq/auforn34.shtml
First a recap of the story.
On 15 June 1968 Allied forward spotters along the DMZ -- a no-mans-land separating North and South Vietnam -- reported the presence of dozens of enemy helicopters in the night sky. Allied Command fearing that North Vietnam was now supplying the Viet Cong by air immediately ordered a land, air and sea interception operation: Anti-aircraft guns were rushed to the area, Phantom jets were put on standby, and several Allied warships were requested to patrol the DMZ coast. The guided-missile destroyer HMAS Hobart was one of the available warships for this mission.
The next night the lights duly re-appeared and during quite a melee that lasted four hours several enemy helicopters were reportedly shot down by artillery and air fire; however during this operation several enemy helicopters fled over the sea and the pursuing USAF pilots opened fire on the patrolling Allied ships.
Shortly after midnight the US Navy swift boat PCF-19 was sunk by three USAF missiles with the loss of five of seven crew. At 3.30am HMAS Hobart was also struck by three air-to-air missiles and badly damaged, and two crewmen, Ordinary Seaman RJ Butterworth and Chief Electrician Hunt, were killed and several others were wounded. Four other US warships also came under friendly fire but without further injuries, and the USAF pilots were recalled and grounded.
Later it transpired, no enemy helicopters were actually seen that night, and no wreckage was found despite and exhaustive search, and the evidence indicates the term enemy helicopter was actually code for UFO.
In the article I also presented an account by Jim Steffes, an ex-American serviceman who was aboard the patrol boat PCF-12. He claims his boat actually shot down an enemyhelo that night; however no wreckage was apparently retrieved.
I also reported, the Hobart was haunted by the ghost.
I obtained this information from a letter called Ghost at Sea, which is published at the Castle of Spirits website (Archive Nov. 2000). The author of this letter states the ghost was that of ä Leading Seaman Signalman, who was decapitated by shrapnel while climbing a deck ladder during the 1968 attack.
Concerning the alleged ships ghost I subsequently received this email from Mr Bill Bowley which said:
Having just read your story on the Ref website, it does leave me with a few reservations. Firstly, the Ghost story doesnt add up for a number of reasons. I was the CPOCOXSWAIN in HMAS HOBART from 93 to 95 and again from 98 till her final de-commissioning and do not remember any such discussion during that time re a Leading Signalman ghost. The Coxswain before me was Barry Morgan, ex Royal Navy and had not been in the RAN in 1968, and the same goes for the one in between, again ex - RN and not in the RAN in 1968. If either of them had said such a thing, it was obviously in jest, and indeed no Leading Signalman was killed by shrapnel in HMAS HOBART. As for me, I did join the RAN in 1967 and was serving in HOBART at the time of the missile attack, I joined up with Ray Butterworth who as you know was killed at that time. As for the late CDRE Ken Shands recollections, they were refreshed after he read his own Record of Proceedings, which he sent to Navy Office for the month of June 1968. A copy of this, which is very detailed, is available from the RAN.
I am at present retired from the Navy, and am the President of the HMAS HOBART Association, NSW Section.
Please feel free to contact me at any time re HMAS HOBART.
In response to this message I emailed Bill the Ghost at Sea letter, and he sent this reply:
Thanks for the reply. I had seen that ghost story before, found it amusing but unfounded and simply disregarded it. I think that is a myth that has been fabricated over a few beers at some stage, not an uncommon thing in the Navy. There are a lot of impersonators out there who claim to have served in particular combat operations and it is normally from them that these stories arise. As you know, the only two killed in HOBART in Vietnam were Ray Butterworth and CPO Hunt, neither of whom were Leading rank or signalmen.
I have since discovered the Castle of Spirits website does not have contact details of the Ghost at Sea author, so for the present it may be wise to lay this tale aside until further evidence comes to light.
We now turn to the DMZ lights.
I also received emails from an American veteran, Mr Donald Delano, who confirmed something very strange occurred over the DMZ in 1968. His emails read as follows:
My name is DeLano. I was the artillery observer on Alfa-One during these incidents (HMAS Hobart, etc).
This story has been so badly mangled as to be unrecognizable. Everyone is crediting themselves with discovering these aircraft. The following is the truth as I remember it........
The original sighting was during a night fire mission into the mouth of the Song Ben Hai. We were using what was then secret technology Night Observation Devices (larger version of Starlight Scope) to direct fires onto the enemy forces operating in and around the DMZ. The enemy was staging sampans at the mouth of the Ben Hai and trying to slip supplies south via the South China Sea coastal route. At the time we did not think that they knew we had the capability of observing their activity with anything other than obsolete infrared technology. We had been advised to not let the scope fall into enemy hands. The Naval Gunfire Team was from 1st ANGLICO, I was from the 1/40 FA, and we had an Aussie WO whose name escapes me, but I seem to remember calling him Mac.
As the fire mission ensued, we became aware of lights hovering near the impact area. Presuming these to be friendly aircraft, we radioed 9th Marines in Dong Ha to advise friendlies out of the area. The response was No friendlies in the area.
The craft sensings (not sightings) were relayed back and the hysteria soon ensued. At no time did we identify the aircraft as helicopters. They were very quiet, but they did operate in and around the DMZ. In one incident we saw what appeared to be high speed strobes being used by one over Firebase Charlie-One. This would seem to indicate some type of photoreconnaissance being done. An interesting sidelight is that the craft was engaged by an M42 duster (40mm twin anti-aircraft gun) of the 1/44 AWSP with no apparent effect. Those guns deliver 240 rounds per minute of proximity fuzed ack-ack. No helicopter could have survived that. The guns were the same as the WWII Bofors 40s you see in the old films. Strange, no doubt, but true.
In defense of the young pilot that holed the Hobart it must be said that he probably panicked, flying over the ocean, at night, depending on radar. We had the pilot that sank the PCF-19 up on the Fox-Mike rather than UHF and the excitement in his voice was very evident. He was following a radar sensing and was about to engage when it dropped off his radar. When he nosed down to regain contact, he engaged the first thing he saw, which was, unfortunately, the patrol boat.
I dont believe that those craft were helicopters or aliens. In retrospect, they might well have been lighter than air craft, perhaps balloons of some type. They could not be seen with the naked eye at night. Our scope, which intensified light 40k times, could pick up their tiny running light in the dark, nothing more.
My personal speculation is that they might have been recon craft of the PRC [Peoples Republic of China]. We had just virtually destroyed the NVA [North Vietnam Army] capability
since TET [the massive 1968 Viet Cong offensive] and it is no secret that
Red China was already contributing troops and material to the war effort. That area was the logical coastal invasion route and was, in fact, eventually used by the NVA during the 72 Easter Invasion. I might even go so far as to say that the threat of full-scale Red Chinese intervention, ala Korea, might have contributed somewhat to LBJs decision not to run for re-election in 68. It was just after this that he announced the bombing halt and started withdrawal of US forces, especially the ones in the immediate area of the DMZ.
One unexpected casualty of the NVA Helicopter fiasco was that the remains of one of the artillery observers killed on A-1 a few weeks earlier were never recovered and remain there to this day. His name was David Lemcke. In all the hubbub, I guess that the recovery effort was simply forgotten.
I hope that this message reaches you. It would be a dream if you could somehow get some Aussies to help me recover that boys remains. I returned to VN [Vietnam] in 1990 but was unable to access the site. The US Recovery team in Hawaii has declined to excavate the site, citing the proximity of unexploded ordnance.
I am friends with a Vietnamese expatriate in Sydney. He was born in Dong Ha. Furthermore, I know the former ARVN Engineer Major who built the bunker complex at A-1. He lives in Texas. I have photos of the site.
As I get older and less capable, I truly regret the fact that we were unable to get Lemcke out of there. With regards to the UFOs I guess well never know the truth for a certainty, but I thought that you might be interested in my two cents worth of anecdote.
Have a wonderful New Year.
Donald DeLano (Barzilla@msn.com)
Dons recollections provided fascinating new evidence, and when I asked him if I could publish them he replied:
Of course you may forward my comments where ever you choose. You might also say that Im willing to correspond with any interested parties about this matter and/or the remains recovery efforts. Not to put too fine a point on it, but lights are all that was ever seen, not any describable aircraft. The USAF tried their best to confront these lights without any success and with the aforementioned tragic results. They were totally depending on their radar capabilities, though. There was NEVER any visual contact by anyone that Im aware of.
I, personally, strained my eyes a number of times trying to glimpse some identifiable feature of these lights. In the pitchlike darkness of the nights along the DMZ, one could not even begin to discern that there were aircraft in the area. Considering that we had the considerable advantage of using a classified night observation device, Id speculate that outside of using radar, we had the likeliest chance of doing so.
Ive spoken with Mr Steffes and Im certain that he believes what he says is true. I also know how difficult it is to see something at night behind a light source (think of identifying an auto at night while staring through its headlights from the opposite direction). Steffes was sunk by a USAF jet aircraft. I and others saw and heard the pilot engage the PCF-19.
Neither he, nor anyone else, could possibly ID an aircraft at night behind muzzle flashes, which would severely affect ones visual capabilities. He was rocketed with an air-to-air missile. Its quite as simple as that.
Besides equipment, we had the advantage of sitting atop the dominant terrain feature in the area, which was Alfa-One or Hill 31 on the maps.
It was called Hill 31 because it was surveyed to be 31 meters high while the rest of the area was sea level beach sand or low-lying coastal area. It was situated some three KM west of the South China Sea and three KM south of the edge of the DMZ. It was the easternmost anchor of the old McNamaras Line concept in which fortified positions would allow one ARVN battalion to defend against a PAVN Division. The others were A-2 (Gio Linh), A-3 (between A-2 and A-4, along the trace), and A-4 (Con Thien). A-5 was planned between Con Thien and FSB Fuller (Dong Ha Mountain) but was never built during my tenure there which includes the periods Feb 67 - May 69 and July 70 - Mar 72. I was on or north of A-1 from the time it was being constructed, in the fall of 1967, until I left the immediate area in July of 1968. I must say that Ive several times had the pleasure of directing supporting fires from your fine RAN warships in the area during those times and was grateful for the effective and accurate volume of fires. The HMAS Hobart tragedy mars an otherwise stellar performance during a difficult historical period, by the Royal Australian Navy.
One of the ARVN generals (probably LAM) made all these wild claims about shooting down seven aircraft. This was all nonsense. We did see an occasional MIG to the north and one (MIG) even engaged a USN heavy cruiser (USS BOSTON or USS NEWPORT NEWS, if my memory serves me correctly) on a hit and run sortie and lived to boast about it. You simply had to understand the times and the political presssures. One USAF pilot claimed a kill and gave us the ground coordinates which fell within 300 meters of where we were standing. In the total darkness, we had seen absolutely nothing of any flaming wreckage. The man was simply a glory-seeking liar, no more, no less. In the MIG/Cruiser incident, the MIG pilot was away over the mountains north of the Ben Hai before the ships air defense system opened up. Of course, they claimed a kill. Just wishful thinking on their part is more like it.
Please give my best regards to any and all members of the Australian Military Forces. They all did quite a splendid job over there. Im wracking my brain trying to remember the two Uc Da Loi (Aussie) WOs that worked with the 1st ARVN Infantry. One was Mac and the other was a wiry old guy whose name escapes me, but I remember he took a piece of shrapnel in his rather prominent nose and simply shrugged it off until ordered to go for medical attention. I believe both of these men were former Sgt Majors in the Australian Army and I have a photo of Mac in a group shot along with Lemcke, the fellow still buried there.
Ill try and contact that group you mentioned. Ill probably be in Asia next year (2005), barring any unforeseen mishaps.
Thanks so very much for your input. I truly hope to hear from some interested parties about these incidents. Dont forget to include my e-mail address. Its difficult to remember what it was like when we depended on surface mail, isnt it?
Very Best Regards
Don did dispatch a third email, which read in part:
Just a footnote to the Lights story. During 1970 and until the 108th FA Group pulled out of Viet Nam I managed the Counterbattery Intelligence Center at Dong Ha. We were privy to all the sightings made by F/26 FA (TAB) which was the Target Acquisition Battery responsible for monitoring the enemy via Visual, Sound Ranging and Radar, as we were responsible for relaying these sightings via radio-teletype to the ongoing Paris Peace Negotiations. No further sightings ever developed with regards to UFOs.
Best Regards and Wishing you a Prosperous New Year
Based on the evidence now available it would appear the mysterious intruders were either:
1. Red Chinese reconnaissance aircraft (and the American brass blinked and ordered a cover-up),
2. extraterrestrial craft.
Jon Wyatt is a Melbourne freelance writer and editor.