USS Providence Veterans Recall Operation Lion’s Den

USS Providence L-File 2

Cruiser USS PROVIDENCE (CLG 6) in an undated photo. NHHC L-File Collection.

The Foundation has been busily occupied preparing the new exhibit “Into the Lion’s Den” for the Cold War Gallery, and on Thursday, 3 May, we were reminded of the reason we strive to build such exhibits in the first place. The National Navy Museum and the Cold War Gallery were honored by a visit from approximately 60 members of the USS Providence (CL 82/CLG 6) reunion group. Amongst the group were two sailors who were on board Providence the night of the pitched battle in Haiphong Harbor: Gary Cheever and Ken Chambers. For those unfamiliar with the exhibit, it centers around a 1972 nighttime raid by four surface warships of the U.S. Navy deep into enemy waters. The ships successfully bombarded enemy shore positions, and with the assistance of A-7 Corsair II aircraft, fended off a counterattack by North Vietnamese torpedo boats.

The Providence veterans were in town for their annual reunion, and one of the many items on their busy itinerary was a visit to the Washington Navy Yard and the Navy Museum. Early on the afternoon of 3 May, they crowded into the Cold War Gallery, and circled around the Foundation’s Dr. Dave Winkler, who gave them a brief history of the Washington Navy Yard, and explained the reasons behind the development of the Cold War Gallery. After descriptions of the Trident I C4 missile at the Gallery’s entrance, the Ready Room Theater, and the Covert Submarine Operations exhibit, Winkler described the basics of the new Lion’s Den exhibit. It quickly became apparent that two veterans of the battle were in the crowd, and Winkler asked if they wanted to share their experiences. Gary Cheever observed the battle from the vantage point of the bridge, and he offered to speak briefly to the gathered crowd. Following his remarks, we were lucky enough to speak to both Cheever and Chambers.

Providence Reunion 1

Gary Cheever (center, with hat and glasses, turned to his left) speaks to the gathered crowd about Operation Lion's Den

Gary Cheever retired from the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant Colonel, but in 1972 he was a seaman on board the cruiser USS Providence as she steamed towards Haiphong Harbor. The evening of the battle, he was serving as Duty Corpsman on bridge. He watched as the cruiser steamed in formation behind USS Newport News (CA 148) at high speed approaching the harbor. He felt the ship vibrating, as her powerful engines pushed her through the dark water. As they entered the harbor they began a long, u-shaped turn, heading into the narrow harbor, towards their enemy targets ashore. The ship leaned noticeably in the high speed turn, and Cheever felt like the port screw at times was close to the surface of the water, causing the vibration that he felt. All was dark and silent until, according to Cheever, “it seemed like the order to fire was given at the same time for all our ships, I saw that our 6 inch guns were fully depressed, and the next thing I know it was like daylight outside.” He could see enemy shore batteries firing back, using what appeared to be anti-aircraft guns. He was outfitted with a flak jacket and helmet, but when enemy .50 caliber rounds began striking the exterior of the bridge, he ducked for safety behind a bulkhead, peeking out for views through a porthole. Providence steamed at full speed throughout the entire bombardment mission, and consequently Cheever recalls that the strike was over rather quickly.

Providence Reunion 3

Ken Chambers in the Cold War Gallery (model of USS NORTHAMPTON in background) just a few yards from the location of the upcoming "Into the Lion's Den" exhibit

Ken Chambers was stationed in the Emergency Diesel Compartment on board Providence on the night of the battle. While he couldn’t see what was going on outside the ship in Haiphong Harbor, sounds and vibrations told him all he needed to know. As they approached the harbor, Chambers “felt the shafts speeding up, and I knew something was going on.” Fortunately for those below wondering what was going on, without a porthole to gaze out through, the communications system had been patched into the ship’s PA. Sailors throughout the ship could hear their shipmates navigating the Providence and directing fire on the enemy. The ship began shelling shore positions, and Chambers could hear enemy rounds striking the water around them.

We were thrilled to have a brief chance to speak to these two Operation Lion’s Den veterans, and to welcome all of the Providence veterans to the Cold War Gallery. If you’d like to learn more about the new exhibit remembering this daring night raid behind enemy lines, please visit our Fundly page, and consider making a donation to support its construction.

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11 Responses to USS Providence Veterans Recall Operation Lion’s Den

  1. Pingback: Into the Lion's Den Exhibit: USS Robison (DDG 12) | Naval Historical Foundation

  2. Byron Halterman says:

    I was there. USS Providence smoke watch between the stacks of fore and aft firerooms. As said, what a night. Lots of water spouts between CLG 6 and screening destroyer. Didn’t know 50 cal fire was received, thought air burst.

  3. I remember the night well, I was loading powder shells in the 5 inch gun turret. It would be great to hear from any of the members of the MARINE DETACHMENT or MEMBERS of the crew, or Capt. Gibbons. If any more ribbons were awarded after that night, please let me know, as I was sent home on a emergency Red Cross leave when we docked in San Diego, My 26 year old sister and 3 month old god child, had been Murdered back home! Any replies are more then welcome!!! SEMPER FI GUYS , CPL.Joseph C. Mallo U.S.M.C.

  4. W.D. Truesdell PC3 says:

    I was in g.q.station aft high sky that night.

  5. cecil c. Mc Lauglin says:

    AI as a watertender 3rd class on the uss providene when it was put into commision.
    We went to Cuba from Boston came back to boston then was headed for the South Pacific and to 2 days out of Cuba the droped the A bomb and the war was over. We went back to boston for a short time ant then went to Europe for 8 months and was dischared from there..
    Cecil C, Mc Laughlin

    a

  6. Herbert Sprankle says:

    I was the Electricial phone talker in main control during the raid. My dad sent me a newspaper clipping from the Indianaplois star telling about the raid.

  7. Glynn A. Crooks says:

    I was a yeoman that served on board the USS PROVIDENCE (CLG 6) the night
    Rear Admiral Rembrandt C. Robinson, USN was killed. I worked in the Captains
    office. The Admiral was the first Flag Officer to be killed in the Viet-Nam Conflict.
    I served with a lot of great men. I really miss all those I served with.

  8. John J Reynolds 111 says:

    I was there that night at my station in 6 inch gun turret. I was the right gun projectile man. We could not see what was going on from inside. When we came out after it was over the deck of the ship was covered with brass powder casings. I was a seaman in the 1ST div. I also was the swimmer for 1St div. that night we lost the Admiral

  9. Norm Neifert says:

    I was also with the Marine Detachment. I would have been in the 5 inch gun mount, working in the handling room just below the gun mount. I don’t remember the night very well, they all seem to run together.
    I stayed on the Providence until it returned to San Diego and was decommissioned. I was then reassigned to an aircraft carrier and went back to Vietnam for another year.
    I would have most likely been a Lance Corporal at the time.
    Norm Neifert, “Semper Fi.”

  10. Howard Westney, DP1, Dept. IFDS says:

    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. – See more at: http://www.navyhistory.org/2012/03/interview-admiral-holloway-operation-lions-den/#comment-122380

  11. greenaway d. r. says:

    Those Gunners mates and gun crews did some fine work that night. Breach open Bore Clear, No casualties.

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