The USS Pueblo was sent to the North Korean coast to gather intelligence on the country's secret communications. Capture was not part of the plan. Hear the whole story in Giles Milton's Unknown History podcast.
Captain Lloyd Bucher was in command of the most sensitive mission he had ever undertaken. On January 22, 1968, a North Korean assassination squad had attempted to kill President Park Chung-hee of South Korea. Now Bucher was ordered to sail his ship, USS Pueblo, to the North Korean coast and eavesdrop on the country’s secret communications. America urgently required intelligence about one of the most unpredictable regimes in the world.
As the USS Pueblo approached Korea’s territorial waters, Captain Bucher realized that his ship was being trailed by a North Korean chaser vessel. Soon after, the chaser vessel was joined by four torpedo boats, a second chaser and two MiG-21 fighters. Bucher received a message ordering him to submit to a search or risk attack.
He knew that there was no question of the Pueblo putting up a fight. Her ammunition was stored below decks and her machine guns were wrapped in cold weather tarpaulins. At the very time when they were urgently required, the weapons were unprepared for action.
The North Korean vessels attempted to send boarding parties to the Pueblo, but Captain Bucher skilfully manoeuvred his ship in order to prevent this. His evading action came at a price. One of the North Korean chasers opened fire with a 57mm cannon, blasting directly into the pilothouse, the nerve centre of the ship. One member of the crew was killed.
The smaller vessels also turned their guns on the Pueblo, forcing Captain Bucher to come to terms. Outgunned and surrounded, he had little option but to comply with the North Korean demand to search the vessel. Bucher hurriedly ordered his men to destroy as much sensitive material as possible.
The US Navy authorities based in Kamiseya, Japan, had managed to keep in radio contact with the Pueblo. As a result, the commander of the Seventh Fleet was aware of the ship’s situation. Yet nothing was done.
To hear more, listen to the full episode of our podcast, Unknown History, in the top right hand player of this page or on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. Plus, connect with Giles on Twitter and Facebook.
This post is roughly excerpted from When Churchill Slaughtered Sheep and Stalin Robbed a Bank. You can order a copy of the book, which is now available,on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books-a-Million, and Apple. Check here for more on other books by Giles Milton.