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USS Pueblo (AGER-2)

USS Pueblo (AGER-2) in October 1967
Career (US) Flag of the United States.svg
Launched: 16 April 1944
Commissioned: 13 May 1967
Captured: 23 January 1968
Fate: Active, in commission, currently held by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
General characteristics
Displacement: 550 tons light, 895 tons full, 345 tons dead
Length: 53.9 m (177 ft)
Beam: 9.7 m (32 ft)
Draught: 2.7 m (9 ft)
Propulsion: twin diesel
Speed: 12.7 knots (23.5 km/h)
Complement: 6 officers, 70 men
Armament: 2 × Browning .50-caliber machine guns

USS Pueblo (AGER-2) is a Banner-class technical research ship (Navy intelligence) which was boarded and captured by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 23 January 1968 in what is known as the Pueblo incident or alternatively as the Pueblo crisis or Pueblo affair. This is considered one of the major incidents in the Second Korean War.

North Korea stated that she strayed into their territorial waters, but the United States maintains that the vessel was in international waters at the time of the incident.

Pueblo, still held by the DPRK today, officially remains a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy.[1] It is currently located in Pyongyang, where it is used as a museum ship. It is the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held captive.


Initial operations

U.S. Army Cargo Vessel FP-344 (1944); Fitting out at the Kewaunee Shipbuilding & Engineering Corp. shipyard, Kewaunee, Wisconsin, Circa July 1944. FP-344 was later renamed FS-344. Transferred to the Navy in 1966, she became USS Pueblo (AGER-2). (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 74689.)

The ship was launched at the Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, on 16 April 1944 as United States Army Freight and Passenger (FP) FP-344. Army redesignated the FP vessels as Freight and Supply changing the designation to FS-344.[2] The ship, commissioned at New Orleans on 7 April 1945, served as a Coast Guard-manned Army vessel used for training civilians for the Army. Her first commanding officer was LT J. R. Choate, USCGR, succeeded by LTJG Marvin B. Barker, USCGR on 12 September 1945.[3]

She was transferred to the United States Navy in 1966 and was renamed USS Pueblo. Initially, she served as a light cargo ship, AKL-44, but shortly after resuming service was converted to an intelligence gathering ship, or what is colloquially known as a spy ship, and re-designated AGER-2 on 13 May 1967. AGER (Auxiliary General Environmental Research) denoted a joint Naval and National Security Agency (NSA) program.[4]

Activity and conflict near the DPRK

USS Pueblo docked in Pyongyang, DPRK

On 5 January 1968, Pueblo left Yokosuka, Japan in transit to Sasebo, Japan from where she left on January 11, 1968 headed northward through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan. She left with specific orders to intercept and conduct surveillance of Soviet naval activity in the Tsushima Strait and to gather signal and electronic intelligence from North Korea.[5]

On 21 January a modified Soviet style sub chaser, SO-I class, passed within two miles (4 km) of the Pueblo.

The next day, two DPRK fishing trawlers (Lenta Class) passed within 25 yards (23 m) of Pueblo. That day, a North Korean unit made an assassination attempt against South Korean leadership targets, but the crew of Pueblo were not informed.

According to the American account, the following day, 23 January, Pueblo was approached by a sub chaser and her nationality was challenged; Pueblo responded by raising the U.S. flag. The DPRK vessel then ordered her to stand down or be fired upon. Pueblo attempted to maneuver away, but was considerably slower than the sub chaser. Additionally, three torpedo boats appeared on the horizon and then joined in the chase and subsequent attack. The attackers were soon joined by two MiG-21 fighters. A fourth torpedo boat and a second sub chaser appeared on the horizon a short time later. The ammunition on Pueblo was stored below decks, and her machine guns were wrapped in cold-weather tarpaulins. The machine guns were unmanned, and no attempt was made to man them.

U.S. Naval authorities and the crew of the Pueblo insist that before the capture, Pueblo was miles outside North Korean territorial waters; the North Koreans claim the vessel was well within the DPRK's territory. The mission statement allowed her to approach within a nautical mile (1.852 km) of that limit. The DPRK, however, claims a 50-nautical-mile (90 km) sea boundary even though international standards were 12 nautical miles (22 km) at the time.[6]

The North Korean vessels attempted to board Pueblo, but she maneuvered to prevent this for over two hours and a sub chaser opened fire with a 57 mm cannon, killing one member of the crew. The smaller vessels fired machine guns into Pueblo, which then signaled compliance and began destroying sensitive material. The volume of material on board was so great that it was impossible to destroy all of it. In his book The Pueblo Surrender - A Covert Action by the NSA, author Robert A. Liston points out that weakly armed spy ships operating alone, and dangerously close to enemy territorial waters normally carry little if any sensitive material on board, to minimize the risk of anything important falling into enemy hands.[7] The crew inside the security space on board the Pueblo had over an hour to destroy sensitive material, before the ship was boarded.

Radio contact between the Pueblo and the Naval Security Group in Kamiseya, Japan had been ongoing during the incident. As a result, Seventh Fleet command was fully aware of Pueblo's situation. Air cover was promised but never arrived. More than likely, no one wanted to take responsibility for an attack on North Korean vessels attacking Pueblo. By the time President Lyndon Johnson was awakened, Pueblo had been captured and any rescue attempt would have been futile.

Pueblo followed the North Korean vessels as ordered, but then stopped immediately outside North Korean waters. She was again fired upon, and a U.S. sailor, Fireman Apprentice Duane Hodges, was killed. The ship was boarded by men from a torpedo boat and a sub chaser. Crew members had their hands tied, were blindfolded, beaten, and prodded with bayonets.

Once Pueblo was in North Korean territorial waters, she was boarded again, this time by high-ranking North Korean officials.

There was dissent among government officials in the U.S. regarding how to handle the situation. Rep. Mendel Rivers said the Pueblo should be returned immediately while Senator Gale McGee said the U.S. should wait for more information and not make "spasmodic response[s] to aggravating incidents."[8]


Crew of USS Pueblo
upon release on 23 December 1968

Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew was moved twice to POW camps, with some of the crew reporting upon release that they were starved and regularly tortured while in North Korean custody.[9] This treatment was allegedly worsened[10] when the North Koreans realized that crewmen were secretly giving them "the finger" in staged propaganda photos.[11]

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commanding Officer of the Pueblo, was tortured and put through a mock firing squad in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented. None of the Koreans knew English well enough to write the confession, so they had Bucher write it himself. They verified the meaning of his words, but failed to catch the pun when he said "We paean the DPRK. We paean the Korean people. We paean their great leader Kim Il Sung".[12][13] (The word "paean" sounds identical to the term pee on.)

Following an apology, a written admission by the U.S. that Pueblo had been spying, and an assurance that the U.S. would not spy in the future, the North Korean government decided to release the 82 remaining crew members. On 23 December 1968 the crew was taken by buses to the DMZ border with South Korea and ordered to walk south across the "Bridge of No Return". Exactly 11 months after being taken prisoner, the Captain led the long line of crewmen, followed at the end by the Executive Officer, Lieutenant Ed Murphy, the last man across the bridge. The U.S. then verbally retracted the ransom admission, apology, and assurance. Meanwhile the North Koreans blanked out the paragraph above the signature which read: "and this hereby receipts for 82 crewmen and one dead body".

Bucher and all the officers and crew subsequently appeared before a Navy Court of Inquiry. A court martial was recommended for the CO and the Officer in Charge of the Research Department, Lt Steve Harris.[14] But the Secretary of the Navy, John H. Chafee, rejected the recommendation, stating, "They have suffered enough." Commander Bucher was never found guilty of any indiscretions and continued his Navy career until retirement.[15]

Bucher died in San Diego on 28 January 2004, partly as a result of complications from the injuries he suffered during his time as a prisoner of war in North Korea.[15]

Pueblo is still held by North Korea. In October 1999, it was towed from Wonson on the east coast, around the Korean Peninsula, to the Nampo on the west coast. This required moving the vessel through international waters. With no Carrier Battle Group available in Korean waters no attempt to recapture the Pueblo was made. This move was done just before the visit of U.S. presidential envoy James Kelly to the capital Pyongyang. The present location of Pueblo is on the Taedong River in Pyongyang, next to the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. It is currently the only American naval vessel held in captivity in the world. It is used by North Korea as one of its tourist attractions.[16]

Pueblo was named after Pueblo County, Colorado. It is the third US Navy ship to be named after the city of Pueblo or Pueblo County. Today it remains the fourth-oldest commissioned ship in the US Navy, behind USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides"), USS Enterprise (CVN-65), and USS Cleveland (LPD-7). It is widely, but incorrectly, believed to be the first American ship to have been captured since the wars in Tripoli. On 8 December 1941, the river gunboat USS Wake (PR-3) was captured by Japanese forces while moored in Shanghai.[17]

Tourist attraction

USS Pueblo is one of the primary tourist attractions in Pyongyang, North Korea, having attracted over 250,000 visitors since being moved to the Taedong River.[18] Pueblo is now anchored at the very spot where the General Sherman Incident is believed to have taken place in 1866. Often tourists are led through the ship by a guided tour. Participants will first enter the ship for a 15-minute video shown from a small TV set mounted in the ceiling, explaining how the North Koreans captured the ship, with contemporary film footage. All areas of the ship are shown, including the secret communications room full of encryption machines and radio equipment, still in a partly disassembled state after they were inspected by North Korean technicians. One highlight of the guided tour is a photo opportunity where visitors may have their pictures taken while holding the rear-mounted machine-gun.

A tour guide speaking in front of USS Pueblo, Pyongyang, 2004

North Korea offers to repatriate the USS Pueblo

During an October 2000 visit to Pyongyang by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, North Korean negotiators reportedly presented an offer to repatriate the USS Pueblo as part of a proposed process of normalizing diplomatic relations between the two nations. However, the Department of State is unable to confirm this claim.

During an August 2005 diplomatic session in North Korea, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg received verbal indications from high-ranking North Korean officials that the state would be willing to repatriate the USS Pueblo to United States authorities, on the condition that a prominent U.S. government official, such as the Secretary of State, come to Pyongyang for high-level talks. While the U.S. government has publicly stated on several occasions that the return of the still-commissioned Navy vessel is a priority, the current overall situation of U.S.-North Korean relations makes such an official state visit seem unlikely. It seems likely that the U.S. government considers the USS Pueblo a low priority, compared to issues such as North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, human rights record, and its relations with South Korea.[19]


Former Pueblo crewmembers William Thomas Massie, Dunnie Richard Tuck, Donald Raymond McClarren and Lloyd Bucher sued the North Korean government for the abuse they suffered at its hands during their captivity. North Korea did not respond to the suit. In December 2008, U.S. District Judge Henry H. Kennedy, Jr. in Washington DC awarded the plaintiffs $65 million in damages, calling their treatment by North Korea "extensive and shocking."[20] The plaintiffs, as of October 2009, were attempting to collect the judgment from North Korean assets frozen by the US government.[21]

See also



  1. ^ "Naval Vessel Register webpage on USS Pueblo - AGER-2". Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  2. ^ | Naval History and Heritage Command Online Library of Selected Images: U.S. Army cargo ship FP-344 (1944-1966) Later renamed FS-344
  3. ^ | World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories: FS-344
  4. ^ Pueblo History.Navy
  5. ^ "Attacked by North Koreans". Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  6. ^ American Society of International Law. Proceedings of the American Society of International Law: at its sixty-third annual meeting held at Washington, D.C. April 24-26, 1969. "Questions of international law raised by the seizure of the U.S.S. Pueblo."
  7. ^ "The Pueblo Surrender - A Covert Action by the NSA". Bantam. Retrieved 03 November 2009.  
  8. ^ Published: 1968. ""N. Korea Seize U.S. Ship, 1968 Year in Review".". Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  9. ^ "South Florida".,0,6869671.photogallery?coll=sfla-home-utility&index=128. Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  10. ^ "USS Pueblo Crew Testimony". Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  11. ^ USS Pueblo Crew Short Story CTO Sea Dogs
  12. ^ Bush lauded for handling of EP-3 incident WorldNetDaily
  13. ^ End of North Korea? The Palm Beach Times
  14. ^ Published: 1969. ""1969 Year in Review". Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  15. ^ a b "Lloyd Bucher, captain of the Pueblo, buried in San Diego : North County Times - Californian 02-04-2004". 3 February 2004. Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  16. ^ USS Pueblo PRI's The World. Retrieved 8 August 2009
  17. ^ Wake History.Navy
  18. ^ Caroline Gluck, "North Korea drags its feet", BBC, . Retrieved 23 January 2007.
  19. ^ " "Saturday feature: Old flag for an old spy ship"". Retrieved 11 June 2009.  
  20. ^ Washington Post, "Damages Awarded In USS Pueblo Case", 31 December 2008, p. 5.
  21. ^ Wilber, Del Quentin, "[ Hell Hath a Jury: North Korea Tortured the Crew Of USS Pueblo in 1968. 4 Victims Fought for Solace in the Courts]", Washington Post, 8 October 2009, P. C1.

External links

Coordinates: 38°59′28″N 125°43′31″E / 38.99111°N 125.72528°E / 38.99111; 125.72528



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