USS GURKE (DD 783)

By Tom Cheatum
1952-1955

The USS GURKE is a DD Type destroyer whose mission is to provide anti-submarine and anti-surface defense to other surface forces. The GURKE is one of 103 Gearing Class destroyers that were built at 8 different shipyards. Originally laid down as JOHN A. BOLE in October of 1944, HENRY GURKE (DD-783) was renamed prior to her launching on 15 Feb. 1945 at the Todd-Pacific Shipyards, Inc., Tacoma, Washington. Ship's sponsor was Mrs. Julius Gurke, mother of Private Gurke. The destroyer was commissioned 12 May 1945, under the command of Commander Kenneth Loveland.

After shakedown along the West Coast, GURKE sailed for the Western Pacific 27 August 1945, reaching Pearl Harbor 2 September. From there she continued west to participate in the occupation of Japan and former Japanese possessions.

Returning to her home port of San Diego, in February 1946, GURKE participated in training operations until 4 Sept. 1947, when she sailed for another WestPac cruise. Two further WestPac cruises, alternating with operations out of San Diego, and a cruise to Alaska in 1948 aiding the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Yukon gold rush, filled GURKE's schedule until the outbreak of the Korean War.


Sitting Ducks - GURKE departed San Diego 5 Aug. 1950 and arrived at Yokosuka 19 August to screen fast carrier task forces off the west coast of Korea, 25 Aug.-6 Sept. She shared with five other destroyers the award of the Navy Unit Commendation to Task Element 90.62 for extraordinary herosim in support of the landing at Inchon (see Inchon bombardment photo), 13-15 Sept. 1950. Steaming up Flying Fish (So Sudo) Channel at flood tide the first day, GURKE bombarded Wolmi Do and the Inchon waterfront. As a member of the "Sitting Ducks", GURKE remained close to shore to provide gunfire support for the landing force. Communist fire concentrated on three of the "sitting duck" destroyers, with GURKE taking three hits with two wounded but suffered no fatalities and only minor damage. The destroyer's 5-inch batteries opened in a prelanding shore bombardment 15 Sept. 1950 until the first assault wave of Marines crossed the line of departure for Wolmi Do, which was secured by high noon. After this initial landing, General Douglas MacArthur made visual signal: "The Navy and Marines have never shone more brightly than this morning." (Additional Sitting Ducks Information)

After the Inchon landings, GURKE screened fast attack carriers launching strikes against enemy positions and supply lines. She also patrolled the narrow Formosa Straits to prevent a Chinese Communist takeover of Formosa, and to insure that Formosa was not used as a base for military operations against the Chinese mainland. During the first year of war GURKE frequently served as flagship of Vice Admiral Struble and the Seventh Fleet's Carrier Task Force 77.
Secretary of the Navy Commendation


The Seige of Wonsan - Compiled by Jim Frisbie   jimfrisbie@cox.net
In February of 1951, a plan was approved to blockade and bombard Wonsan Harbor. This plan was progressive, until it grew into a complete siege, with Navy ships constantly on patrol within the harbor, shelling shore gun positions and receiving increasingly heavy fire in turn. A "custom" grew, where ships within the harbor were named "Mayor of Wonsan". CDR Edward J. Foote of the USS Gurke was mayor from 21 April thru 23 April 1953. The names "Tin Pan Alley", muffler, and Hodo Pando Island are familiar with all who were there. Although the "Mayor" designation was brief, the Gurke's presence in Wonsan Harbor was extensive and included being on both ends of the artillery bombardment. There were several Rules of Thumb which were generally accepted by the destroyers that worked Wonsan. One was that if you go close to the corners of the swept areas, especially those close in shore, your chances of being fired on were increased, because these positions had been zeroed in. Second, if two or more ships were operating in the area close together, the probability of receiving enemy fire was greater. Third, The Communists usually fired late in the afternoon when the sun was in position to make us excellent targets and make it difficult to locate the offending battery. Somebody even coined a phrase for this, the "Wonsan cocktail hour.

Five times in each of the months April, May and June, the Wonsan batteries succeeded in hitting an American ship, usually a destroyer. Some of these were: Maddox had three casualties from a direct hit on the main deck on 16 April. Kyes had nine casualties from a fantail hit. The New Jersey fired 115 rounds in Wonsan on May 5, hitting bunkers, an observation post. And a battery on Hodo Pondo, collapsing the cave mouths and obliterating the firing tracks. The guns were silent for almost three weeks. Again on July 11-12, New Jersey's 164 rounds silenced Hodo Pando batteries for good.

I remember the Gurke being there when this happened. Many other ships reported hit, and these included Henderson on June 17 receiving superficial damage from 80 shore battery rounds. On June 18 the hardest hit was the Rowan. Forty five rounds of shellfire bracketed her, five striking. One shell, thought to be 155mm, punched a two-foot hole on her starboard side at frame 209, a scat 8 inches above the waterline. Another shell demolished the Mark 34 Radar. Several other holes were visible in her side. Nine were injured, two seriously.


Korean Coast Bombardment - Two interludes in the States for repairs and training interrupted GURKE's Korean conflict service. While in action, GURKE bombarded enemy coastal supply routes and installations, once destroying a Communist train through accurate gunnery. She again drew fire from shore batteries 25 June 1953, but escaped without serious damage from two direct hits and the shrapnel of seven air bursts. (Photos) GURKE received seven battle stars for service in the Korean conflict.

When the shooting stopped in Korea in August 1953, GURKE continued patrols in the Far East to help keep the peace. Six- to eight-month deployments to the Western Pacific were alternated with stateside overhauls and training in a full peacetime routine. During 17-18 June 1960, she was a unit of the escort for the cruiser ST. PAUL (CA-73) carrying President Eisenhower on a fast Manila-Taiwan cruise. GURKE also participated in nose-cone recovery work in the American space program. During the GURKE'S Western Pacific Operations in the early 60's she visited four Australian ports and the Fiji Islands. In June 1962, GURKE also saw extensive duty with the Joint Task Force at Christmas Island during the nuclear tests.


FRAM I - After a period of operating with the First Fleet in the Eastern Pacific, GURKE entered Pugent Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton, Washington on 11 July 1963 for a Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM I) overhaul. During this modernization older weapons gave way to new anti-submarine weapons systems making Gurke a fast, capable platform from which to launch a wide assortment of weapons tailored to meet current anti-submarine warfare situations. Emerging 1 May 1964 with an entirely new look, GURKE arrived at her homeport San Diego, California 15 May for fleet operations along the western seaboard.


Vietnam -On 21 October 1964, when she again sailed for the Far East. She arrived in Yokosuka and joined the Seventh Fleet 16 November 1964 to begin duties as a unit of Fast Carrier Task Force 77. The first day of 1965 found GURKE with TG 77.7 in the South China Sea. Long hours were spent on station, plane guarding for the carriers RANGER (CVA-61) and HANCOCK (CVA-19). As the Vietnam conflict became "hot," in late January she served as one of the escorts for an amphibious task group in the vicinity of Da Nang, South Vietnam. Long stretches at sea were punctuated by liberty calls at Subic Bay and Hong Kong. On 20 April 1965, GURKE sailed in company with RANGER for return to San Diego, arriving 7 May 1965. The remainder of the year was filled with a rapid succession of coastwise training exercises ranging north to Seattle, which continued until she again sailed for the western Pacific on 12 May 1966.

After visiting Hawaii, Japan, and the Philippines, GURKE assumed the first of five deployments in the Gulf of Tonkin, late in June, for search and rescue duty. On 1 July, three North Vietnamese PT boats were detected 11 miles away from GURKE and three accompanying destroyers, closing at high speed. Fighter aircraft from CONSTELLATION (CVA-64) intercepted the raiders and sank all three within minutes. The destroyer picked up 19 survivors. (see reproduction of related dispatch from J. R. Reedy CTF 77) While in the Gulf of Tonkin, GURKE refueled helicopters by a new in-flight refueling process enabling them to rescue American pilots downed in hostile territory.

After a brief respite in Hong Kong, Formosa, and the Philippines in August, GURKE resumed duty in the Gulf of Tonkin in September, and set a record in completing 113 in-flight refuelings. On this assignment she bombarded Viet Cong positions in the Mekong and Saigon River deltas. After being relieved early in the fall, she returned home to San Diego, via Okinawa and Japan, arriving 16 November 1966. In 1967, she operated along the West Coast and prepared for future action.

On 20 October 1971, GURKE departed San Diego for her new homeport of Yokosuka, Japan, her 19th deployment to the Western Pacific since commissioning. While in Yokosuka she participated in virtually every major operation of the Seventh Fleet, fulfilling a variety of missions testing every facet of her multiple mission capabilities. After a brief period of special operations in the Sea of Japan in November 1971, she joined Task Force 71 units for continguency operations in the Indian Ocean during the Indian-Pakistani war.

During the first half of 1972, she was deeply involved in combat operations in support of the United States commitment in Vietnam, participating in Linebacker and Freedom Train gunfire strikes against North Vietnam, Naval Gunfire Support missions from the gunline in South Vietnam, and serving as an ASW and gunnery escort for picket units and carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin. For her efforts during this period she was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citations by both the United States and Vietnamese Navies.


1971-1972 In support of Vietnam - by George Cooper
gtcoop@home.com
The GURKE was an exceptional ship and there are a lot of memories from the 1971-1972 period. One very interesting aspect of the period was the introduction of major changes to everyday Navy life brought on by the infamous Z-Grams. All of the sudden, haircut regulations were a bit obscure and lower ranking sailors could store civilian clothes aboard ship and wear them ashore. Some of the senior persons perceived that the traditional Navy chain of command had been abandoned. Everyone had a different impression on the impact of Z-Grams. Also during this period, the Navy became very aware that the drug problems of civilian life were also a major issue aboard ships, and that the problems had to be addressed. The Navy was also pressed into addressing a variety of race relation issues that had unfortunately been ignored up to that time. I recollect the GURKE tropical hour inport work routine which contributed to very efficient, effective and relatively enjoyable San Diego inport periods. It took a very dedicated crew to be able to maintain the tropical hour inport work protocol. Other ships were sincerely envious of the GURKE early liberty calls that were announced each day in port on the 1MC.

The period 1971-1972 was very busy operational period for GURKE. During the summer of 1971, GURKE participated in a Midshipman Training Cruise to Hawaii. In late 1971, GURKE changed homeports from San Diego to Yokosuka as a part the forward deployment of Destroyer Squadron 15 to Japan. The five DESRON 15 destroyers involved in the homeport shift were USS GURKE (DD783), USS ROWAN (DD782), USS BAUSELL (DD845), USS RICHARD B. ANDERSON (DD786), and USS PARSONS (DDG33). The homeport change may seem insignificant; however, there was only a 2-month advance warning for the quick-reaction DESRON 15 deployment, and the Navy requirement was for all crew members to be “volunteers” for the Japan duty. About 40 percent of the crew did not volunteer for the forward deployment, mostly because of the requirement to relocate dependents to Japan, or consequences thereto. So, the crew underwent a 40 percent turnover in a very short period and a large group of new GURKE sailors boarded just prior to departure from San Diego for Japan. The consequent requirement was to re-train the crew which would be required to participate in Vietnam War operations, almost immediately upon arrival in WESTPAC. The entire GURKE crew responded with great energy and the ship was fully ready for combat operations when called on to do so a month or after deployment.

While forward deployed to Japan, GURKE participated in a special Sea of Japan maritime patrol operation with USS WORDEN off Korea. GURKE was later tasked to cut short a Christmas stand-down period and make a quick-reaction deployment to support a naval build-up in the Indian Ocean because of an India/Pakistan incident. More important, GURKE was subsequently involved in the significantly increased Vietnam War operating tempo in the SOUTH CHINA SEA, particularly in 1972 when the United States made a concerted effort to press North Vietnam for a conclusion to the Vietnam War. The overall operating tempo of GURKE in WESTPAC exceeded 75%. During the April-May 1972 Easter Offensive, GURKE was involved in an unending cycle of scheduled or on-call naval gunfire missions, refueling, rearming, and replenishing. The most trying of GURKE’s tasks were naval gunfire support operations off the coasts of South Vietnam and North Vietnam while particularly in Operation FREEDOM TRAIN and Operation LINEBACKER. The principal naval gunfire targets in North Vietnam were railroad yards, coastal highways, surface-to-air Missile sites, early warning radar sites, loading docks, warehouses, troop barracks, storage depots and other logistical areas used to sustain the North Vietnamese offensive in South Vietnam. The gunfire support operations often involved attacking targets as far north as Haiphong Harbor. The daily GURKE schedule usually included participating in a night-time gunfire strike missions with 2-3 other destroyers or cruisers against specific North Vietnam targets. Thereafter, the ship would have to locate and rendezvous with the replenishment group and re-arm the 200-400 5”/38 rounds expended during the naval gunfire strikes, refueling (because of the constant requirement to conduct high-speed destroyer operations), and replenishing stores. The rest of the day was generally used for repositioning GURKE for a follow-on night-time gunfire mission, a harassing/interdiction mission, or conducting a “shotgun ship” support task for the YANKEE STATION aircraft carriers, or the Search and Rescue (SAR) Station ship positioned near YANKEE STATION. GURKE was the target of intense hostile fire during many of her naval gunfire missions in close proximity to the North Vietnam coast. During some of the missions, GURKE received numerous hits from shrapnel, and fortunately, no crew member was wounded. When not at GENERAL QUARTERS for gunfire strike missions the crew stood continuous CONDITION 3 watches in the South China Sea. These intense naval gunfire missions and replenishment operations required the crew to use a lot of ingenuity in getting a little rest each day in order to be ready for the next assigned task.

During this period, GURKE successfully participated in more than 100 naval gunfire support and gun-ship support missions and met every single assigned commitment. During one night-time mission, a strike group consisting of the USS OKLAHOMA CITY, USS GURKE and USS ANDERSON, was involved in a gunfire mission where it was assessed that several North Vietnam torpedo boats operating near the task group were neutralized. During another period, GURKE was ordered to report off-shore South Vietnam to provide naval gunfire support to troops ashore that were involved in a major North Vietnamese offensive against the Citadel at Hue City. Upon arrival, GURKE joined an armada of about 30 destroyers and cruisers that were lined up offshore at 1000 yard intervals and pounding targets as directed by ashore spotters. The sights and sounds of this many warships in this single engagement was unforgettable . During one quick turn-around trip to Yokosuka from the South China Sea for repairs, GURKE was fitted with a SHRIKE Anti-Radiation Missile Launch system atop the ASROC launcher which was intended to be used against North Vietnamese SAM sites. Additionally, GURKE was fitted with a SIDEWINDER heat-seeking missile launcher system on the helicopter flight deck. So, at least for a short period, GURKE was a DDG!. Every single GURKE crew member performed superbly during this period of intense combat operations and GURKE consequently received many commendatory messages as a top performer from CINCPACFLT, COMSEVENTHFLT, COMMANDER TASK FORCE 75, and various other TG/TF Commanders. At least two of GURKE’s officers were later selected for the flag rank of admiral; they are LT Bill Center (Engineering Officer) and ENS Tony Lengerich (Communications Officer).

Participating in the 1971-1972 period aboard GURKE genuinely represented what it means to be dedicated to DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY.



In July 1972 GURKE entered an overhaul in Yokosuka, the first destroyer to do so in many years. Bristling with Sea Chapperal and Redeye missiles, DD 783 resumed operations with the Seventh Fleet in November 1972. Refresher training completed, GURKE participated in the last Destroyer Squadron 15 combat deployment to the Gulf of Tonkin in January-February 1973. Following the cessation of United States combat operations in Vietnam, GURKE entered a period of peacetime operations involving an extended period of readiness improvement and ASW exercises with allied navies in the Western Pacific. Interim missile installations were removed at this time as GURKE reverted to a more normal peacetime role. Additional details of 1971-1972 action


Final Exercises - In October 1973 GURKE'S lifestyle changed with the arrival of USS MIDWAY (CVA-41), in Yokosuka, Japan. GURKE was the first DESRON 15 Destroyer to escort MIDWAY to sea in October 1973, and was heavily committed to her support through out the remainder of her overseas deployment.

In May 1974 GURKE headed south with other Seventh Fleet units for Kangaroo I, an intense multi-threat exercise "down under" with a quick series of visits to Australian ports following completion of the exercises. After return from Kangaroo I, a continuing array of MULTIPLEX'S, READEX'S and multi-nation ASWEX'S provided numerous opportunities for readiness training and improvement. The payoff for this period of training came when GURKE was called upon for participation in the Cambodian and Vietnamese evacuations followed by a support role in the recovery of SS MAYAQUEZ in May 1975. On 12 May 1975, GURKE celebrated her 30th birthday in Hong Kong. Governor Link and North Dakota State legislature marked the occasion by proclaiming May 12th as "GURKE DAY", honoring both the ship and her namesake.

The GURKE was decommissioned and stricken 30 January 1976 and then sold to Greece 17 March 1977 as H.S. TOMBAZIS D-215. In the summer of 1995 the TOMBAZIS was cruising the Mediterranean on it's 50th anniversary, however it was reported recently that the Tompazis was stricken in January of 1997.