USN KA-3B vs. Russian Trawler AGI…

One more round of us vs. them… From a friend who was on the Bonnie Dick when this happened… Frito was a Phantom RIO and loved the guys that flew Texaco…

The Russian “Trawlers” (NATO designation: AGI for Auxiliary General Intelligence) with what looked like one thousand “fishing” antennas plied the Gulf of Tonkin on a daily basis… needless to say, it was a cat-and-mouse game to see what havoc they could expend towards our two carriers operating there 24 hours a day.

Since the U.S. government had proclaimed the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin three miles off the coast of North Vietnam and Hinan Island, People’s Republic of China, to be international waters, American ships in the Gulf were bound to obey the international rules of the road for ocean navigation.

This meant that if the Russian ship maneuvered herself into the path of an aircraft carrier where she had the right of way, the carrier had to give way even if she was engaged in launching or recovering aircraft.

The navigation officer was constantly trying to maneuver the ship so that the trawler wouldn’t be able to get in position to abuse the rules of the road and gain the right of way.

Sometimes he was successful in sucking the trawler out of position, but the room available for the ship to maneuver was limited by our on-station requirements, and sometimes the trawler was successful interrupting our flight operations.

The pilots of the air wing were strictly forbidden to take any action against the Russian ship, but one day CDR John Wunche, the commanding officer of the heavy tanker KA-3B detachment, had finally had enough of the Russians’ antics.

John Wunche was a big man with bright red hair and a flaming red handlebar mustache. He was a frustrated fighter pilot whom fate and the Bureau of Naval Personnel had put into the cockpit of a former heavy bomber now employed as a carrier-based tanker.

CDR Wunche flew the tanker like a fighter and frequently delighted the tactical pilots by rolling the “Whale,” as we all called the KA-3B tanker, on completion of a tanker mission. Consequently, John’s nickname was “the Red Baron.”

On 21 July 1967 he proved just how appropriate that name was.

The “Bonnie Dick” had nearly completed a recovery. The Russian trawler had been steaming at full speed to try to cut across our bow, and the bridge watch had been keeping a wary eye on the intruder. For a while it looked as if the Russian would be too late and we would finish the recovery before having to give way to the trawler.But a couple of untimely bolters extended the recovery and the “Bonnie Dick” had to back down and change course to comply with the rules…

The LSO hit the wave-off lights when the “Whale” was just a few yards from the ramp. John crammed on full power and sucked up the speed brakes for the go-around. The “Bonnie Dick” began a sharp right turn to pass behind the Russian, causing the ship to list steeply, and there, dead ahead of John, was the Russian trawler.

He couldn’t resist. He leveled the “Whale” about a hundred feet off the water and roared across the mast of the Trawler with all fuel dumps open like a crop duster spraying a field of boll weevils.

The Russian disappeared in a heavy white cloud of jet fuel spray, then reemerged with JP-4 jet fuel glistening from her superstructure and running lip-full in the scuppers. The Russian trawler immediately lost power as the ship’s crew frantically tried to shut down anything that might generate a spark and ignite the fuel.

She was rolling dead in the water in the Bon Homme Richard’s wake, her crew breaking out fire hoses to wash down the fuel, and the “Bonnie Dick” steamed out of sight, completing the recovery of the Whale. 

Needless to say, the Red Baron was an instant hero to the entire ship’s company.


USN KA-3B vs. Russian Trawler AGI… — 24 Comments

  1. Awesome. I used to hear stories like that when hanging around the older pilots (as long as they didn’t shoo me away). I love it!

  2. That’s awesome. Right place, right time, and quick to react.

    If only someone had been smoking on deck at the time.

  3. We had fun with the SMLM(Soviet Military Liasion Mission) vehicles that occasionally would try to follow us into our training areas. We had fun running one into ditch. I will do a blog posting of that in a day or so. Gotta get some background and pics…..Gotta have pics. Thanks for the memories 🙂

  4. Rev- Yep, lots of those ‘sea stories’ were in fact REAL! 🙂

    Bob- Yep!

    MM- One can only wish…LOL

    WSF- 🙂

    BP- We will!

    Wing- According to Frito, the rest of the cruise he was covered 🙂

    MrG- Yep photos affirm 🙂

    Paw- I think he liked the booze better!

  5. That’s a good one!
    A good friend of mine worked on one of the big Range and Tracking ships back in the day. They constantly had “trawlers” shadowing them, and one day The Old Man got tired of it. He called the Comms guys, and told them to point their main antenna right down the throat of the “trawler”, and blast them with everything they had. Since their main antenna was in a radome, the “trawler” couldn’t see where it was pointed.
    They cut loose with several thousand megawatts of ERP (Effective Radiated Power; the combination of RF output AND antenna gain), and he said they didn’t know one of those tubs could turn and run so fast.

  6. I really enjoy your stories.
    Thank-You for sharing them.
    I would love to be able some day to set down with you and hear these stories in person.

  7. Drjim- Yeah, there were a “lot” of little stories like that over the years 🙂

    Tim- I dunno, but I’ll ask 🙂

    DC- Isn’t it though!

    Fuzzy- They are NOT all mine, but I’d love to sit down over a beer with ya!

    Andy- 🙂

  8. Please salute that tanker driver for me. If you or he ever get to south Texas look me up I’ll hoist a few glasses of Scotch with ya.