Operation Sea Dragon ships pounded shore installations, preventing NVA passage to South Vietnam.
Klaxons yammered, and the blower announced, "General quarters!" Men rushed down passageways and scurried up
ladders to their battle stations. The guided-missile light cruiser USS St. Paul trained her guns out and hurled salvo after
salvo, a thunder of six-inch projectiles at a target on the dim coast. Suddenly a roaring screech filled the air, huge columns
of water erupted around the cruiser, and the deck plates rang with a hit as an enemy shore battery straddled the ship.
The St. Paul and her escorts were firing at North Vietnamese targets near the port of Thanh Hoa as part of Operaton Sea
Dragon in August 1967, and they were themselves engaged by a radar-directed 130mm shore battery. As part of an effort to reduce
the flow of men and material into South Vietnam by sea, Commander in Chief Pacific Command, Adm. Ulysses S.G. Sharp, forwarded
a plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for naval surface interdiction below the 20th parallel. Following months of political
debate, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara finally approved operating destroyers above the 17th parallel in October 1966.
Originally called Operation Traffic Cop, the mission was dubbed Sea Dragon on Nov. 11. By the end of the year, assigned destroyers
sank more than 380 watercraft and damaged more than 300 others. In 1967, the heavy cruiser USS Canberra - with a Royal Australian
navy destroyer - was added to the operation, and the North Vietnamese essentially ceased trying to infiltrate the south by
sea. On Feb. 20, 1967, McNamara authorized the ships to engage all military facilities and targets ashore below the 20th parallel,
including all logistics chokepoints, radar and communications sites, anti-aircraft and SAM sites within range, as well as
coastal shipping. To counter these raids, the NVA installed a significant number of 130mm shore batteries, which engaged U.S.
warships 10 to 15 times a month. As North Vietmanese gunnery improved, Sea Dragon forces changed tactics, engaging from longer
ranges, and employed smoke chaff and evasive contermeasures. In October 1967, the Australian HMAS Perth suffered the first
casualities of the operaton when it was hit and sustained four wounded. NVA gunners engaged 66 Sea Dragon ships 169 times.
The USS Allen M. Summer was a virtual shell magnet, attacked on 12 separate occasions. The enemy hit 29 Sea Dragon ships -
three of them twice - killing five sailors and wounding 26. No ship was ever put out of action, however. Sea Dragon forces
were called back south of the demilitarized zone, as a result of the Tet Offensive, to provide gunfire support to beleaguered
units in I Corps. However, as the situation stabilized, they soon returned to the hunt in the north. On Sept. 29, the USS
New Jersey arrived on station with her nine 16-inch guns. NVA shore batteries became far more cautious in how they engaged.
When President Lyndon Johnson halted bombing over North Vietnam in October 1968, Operation Sea Dragon ended, and the ships
withdrew south of the DMZ. During the operation, the enemy was forced to restrict logistical and troop movement to inland
routes. Seaborne infiltration virtually ceased. Hundreds of watercraft, structures, trucks, bridges, storage sites and radar
installations were either damaged or destroyed. Operation Sea Dragon is a glowing example of American battle success in a
war we won and then left.