A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS JOHN S. MCCAIN DL-3
The Tin Can Sailor, April 2002
Built as a MITSCHER‑class frigate, DL‑3, the USS JOHN S. MCCAIN, was launched on 12 July 1952 and commissioned in Boston on 12 October 1953. She operated out of Norfolk between May 1955 and November 1956 when, she left for San Diego to serve as flagship of DesRon 21 of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. During her first Far East tour, which began in the spring of 1957, she and DesRon 21 joined the Seventh Fleet for patrol duty in the Taiwan Straits and hunter-killer operations with the PRINCETON (CVS-37). Coastal operations along the western seaboard lasted until 15 January 1958 when she sailed for Pearl Harbor. Putting Hawaii behind her on 6 September, she was back on patrol and convoy escort duty in the Taiwan Straits, this time during the crisis over the islands of Quemoy and Matsu, threatened by Communist guns on the China mainland. When the crisis abated, she left for fleet exercises off the Philippines, Okinawa, and the coast of Japan. In December 1958 her crew aided the fire-stricken town of Koniya. She was back at Pearl Harbor on 1 March 1959.
Another Seventh Fleet deployment began in September 1959. During October she went to the aid of the victims of devastating floods in West Bengal, India, delivering antibiotics and other life-saving drugs along with food, and funds for flood relief. She finished the year with antisubmarine and fleet exercises off Okinawa, in the South China Sea, and off Japan. In January 1960 her crew rescued 41 men from the sinking Japanese freighter SHINWA MARU in the East China Sea.
She returned to Pearl Harbor or an overhaul and installation of the Drone AntiSubmarine Helicopters (DASH) and a new sonar dome and Combat Information Center (CIC). Over the next three years the MCCAIN alternated duty in Hawaiian waters with Seventh Fleet deployments. In April 1962, she joined Joint Task Force 8 for Operation Dominic conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission at Johnson Island. Hunter-killer and SEATO operations in the Philippines and local operations in Hawaii took into 1965 when she sailed with the HORNET (CVS-12) fast carrier task force for operations in the Tonkin Gulf. Her first gunfire support mission against the Vietcong was on 24 November 1965.
Operating once more with the HORNET task group in January 1966, she kept close watch on Soviet naval units in the South China Sea and went on for gun line duty off Vietnam. Returning to the states, she proceeded to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in May 1966 for conversion from a frigate (DL‑3) to a guided missile destroyer (DDG‑36). The JOHN S. MCCAIN was officially reclassified guided missile destroyer DDG‑36 on 15 March 1967. The conversion replaced her 3‑inch 70 caliber guns with Tartar missile and antisubmarine rocket (ASROC) systems along with highly sophisticated electronic sensors and communications equipment. Recommissioned on 6 September 1969, she joined DesDiv 92 homeported at Long Beach, California.
During 1970, the MCCAIN completed the trials and tests necessary for full operational service as the flagship of DesRon 23. On 6 January 1971 she left Long Beach, California, for WestPac in company with the JAMES E. KYES (DD-787), MEYERKORD (DE-1058), SCHOFIELD (DEG-3), BROWNSTEIN (DE-1037), and TICONDEROGA (CVS-14). That spring, the new guided missile destroyer participated in antisubmarine warfare exercises and spent two periods of surveillance in the Tonkin Gulf near Communist-controlled Hainan Island. Over the spring and summer she took part in antisubmarine warfare exercises in the Indian Ocean and a surveillance mission off the eastern coast of the Soviet Union to collect information on Soviet or other air, surface, and sub-surface units.
The MCCAIN returned to Long Beach in July 1971 and by February 1972 was steaming for Acapulco, Mexico. Along the way, her crew rescued four civilians and their disabled sloop. In early April she broke off routine operations and headed for the Western Pacific in response to the invasion of the Republic of Vietnam by North Vietnamese forces and the threat to Americans remaining in Vietnam. The largest guided missile destroyer in the Pacific Fleet reached the combat zone on 30 April 1972 to join the battle for Quang Tri. The destroyer dodged hostile fire and supported the evacuation of Quang Tri City before moving on to the North Search and Rescue station in the Tonkin Gulf.
Returning to the gun line on 8 May, she operated at various times with DesRons 19, 23, and 36 between Quang Tri and Hue. In that role, the fire support ships covered South Vietnam’s first helicopter-borne counterattack. The Big John’s guns continued to contribute significantly to the success of the landings, both airborne and amphibious. On 14 May she destroyed a coastal battery near the Cua Viet River as well as enemy supply, petroleum, and ammunition storage sites. At the mouth of the River, two enemy batteries fired on the MCCAIN who silenced one herself and the second with an assist from the PROVIDENCE (CLG-6). On 27 May in a pre-dawn fire mission, the MCCAIN moved into an area targeted earlier by the JOHN PAUL JONES (DDG-32) and accounted for one of the largest number of enemy troop casualties inflicted by a naval gunfire unit since the North Vietnamese offensive began in early April. Her guns cleared enemy positions, killed at least 100 enemy troops, destroyed many guns, rockets, and mortars, and enabled the South Vietnamese marines to advance into enemy-held territory. As a result of the accuracy and effectiveness of her fire, the MCCAIN remained on the gun line until early June as flagship by the gun line commander and DesRon 36.
Back on the gun line between 16 June and 19 July, she supported operations in Song Thanh and Sam Son, firing 3,953 rounds. She returned to Quang Tri Province on 4 August and this time fired 2,675 rounds. On 20 September, the Big John reported to the Northern Linebacker Strike Group for night operations against North Vietnamese targets at Vinh, Dong Hoi, and in the Bay of Brandon. Her linebacker mission complete, she rejoined the gun line to fire 4,714 rounds. By the end of her fourth tour off Quang Tri, she had fired 16,645 rounds of ammunition.
Stateside in 1973 she was occupied with overhaul, refresher training, and repairs due to a condenser casualty and an electrical fire in December that caused severe damage to sick bay and a main cable trunk. In 1974, normal operations were delayed because of another engineering breakdown caused by tampering with turbine number one’s nozzle blocks. Underway finally for the Western Pacific in April, the ship again experienced turbine problems in the Taiwan Straits and spent the rest of her deployment undergoing repairs.
Operations out of San Diego and continued engineering problems took the MCCAIN into April 1977. She then got underway for her last WestPac deployment, which was spent in a variety of fleet exercises. Returning to the states, she was decommissioned on 29 April 1978 and struck from the navy’s lists two days later.