The Auxiliary Navy Ships (AO, AE, AOE, AF, AK, AD, AR, and AG’s) kept the fleet armed, fueled, supplied, repaired and ready for action during Vietnam. May 15, 2020 is the 45th Anniversary of the last official battle of the Vietnam War, the repatriation of the U.S. ship S.S. Mayaguez. This is the story of one of the lesser-known ships of that rescue action: the USS Kiska AE-35.
The USS Kiska was in Subic Bay and berthed at the ammunition pier when the Mayaguez was taken on May 12. On May 13 the Kiska received emergency orders to proceed immediately to the Cambodia area and rig the ship for towing.
When the Kiska approached Cambodia waters, two radar contacts were following the ship and closing on the ship. Several maneuvers failed to shake the contacts. The ship was brought to General Quarters and the Kiska fired two rounds of star shells from its 3 inch 50 Cal anti-aircraft guns over the bow of one of the gunboats and the gunboats retired quickly. This is the only action that can be found where an ammunition ship fired guns in anger during the Vietnam War.
The Kiska arrived near Koh Tang island on May 15th and joined the battle group with the Coral Sea. Emergency radio beacons from the crashed Air Force helicopters were heard on the radios. When it was determined three Marines were missing, a Seal team was dispatched to the USS Coral Sea for a rescue operation. The Kiska was tasked to supply one of its two H46 Sea Knights for the rescue attempt. Air crew and ships company were in process of mounting machine guns on one helicopter when it was cancelled early in the morning of May 16. There was anger and disappointment among the crew because we felt we were leaving people on that island.
The Kiska refueled and re-armed the USS Harold E. Holt and Henry B. Wilson and the USS Coral Sea. All of the wounded Marines and Air Force personnel that were on the Coral Sea were transferred to the Kiska via its helicopters at that time to be transferred to the Air Force Base in Thailand.
The Air Force arranged with Navy command to meet the Kiska at sea before reaching Sattahip, Thailand and flew a group of different type helicopters to pick up the injured as no H53’s where available due to damage. They flew what they had. The gasps and bad jokes from the Air Force pilots when they discovered they were landing an Air Force helicopter on a moving Navy ammunition ship flight deck was our entertainment for the day.