15, 1983 |
defends use of battleship in Beirut
By WILLIAM RINGLE
Gannett News Service
- Why the New Jersey?
Why, after the battleship has been sitting
off the Lebanese coast for more than two months, were its huge
guns - which hurl shells that weigh as much as a Volkswagen -
finally used yesterday?
The bombardment, in response to an attack
minutes earlier on unarmed U.S. reconnaissance planes, reportedly
shook the earth along the coast.
In earlier strikes at Druse and Syrian guns
and missiles in the Lebanese mountains, the Navy has used either
fighter-bombers or shellfire by the 5-inch guns on destroyers
or a guided missile cruiser.
Nonetheless, a State Department spokesman
here insisted repeatedly that the cannonading did not represent
an "escalation" of the fighting.
According to Navy sources, five reasons prompted
the local commander, Rear Adm. Jerry O. Tuttle, to decide to
employ the 41-year-old guns, which hadn't been fired in combat
since the Vietnam war:
-- The ability to hit back at once. The policy
of "instant retaliation," started yesterday, so immediately
after purported Syrian guns and SAMs (surface-to-air missiles)
let go at the reconnaissance planes, the New Jersey's big guns
were able to begin pounding the sites. The battleship was two
miles offshore and about 13 miles from its targets.
-- The permanence and "hardness"
of the targets. Use of the 16-inch guns, which can take out a
concrete pillbox with a direct hit, "can only be effective
against targets in fixed positions," a Navy spokesman said.
Some of the earlier attacks on the planes had come from Soviet-made
SAM missiles, which can be launched from the shoulder.
-- The loss of two airplanes and a pilot in
an air strike Dec. 4. The planes then ran into unexpectedly dense
anti-aircraft fire, the Navy said. After that strike, questions
were raised why the Navy had failed to use the New Jersey, which
would not have endangered the pilots' lives. At that time the
Navy claimed that it needed more precision than would be possible
with the guns of the battleship, which then was 19 miles off
-- The terrifying psychological effect of
the shells. As they come in, they "sound as is you were
standing alongside the railroad and a great big freight train
was passing at about 80 miles an hour," according to retired
Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
They leave 20 by 50-foot craters.
In yesterday's strike, the New Jersey's guns
lifted 1,900-pound, high-capacity shells to a point not only
13 miles away, but three quarters of a mile high. Its armor-piercing
projectiles, which weren't used, can weigh 2,700 pounds.
The Navy didn't have a damage assessment immediately.
"It leaves a lot of dents in the landscape," said a
Navy spokesman. Presumably the targeted anti-aircraft guns and
missiles also were in an unpopulated area.
"When you have more space you use naval
gunfire," Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said Tuesday,
"which normally has to be adjusted - which is a polite way
of saying that the first shell doesn't always get right on the
target - sometimes the second one doesn't, either."
"When it does, it's extremely effective,
if you've got room, so to speak."
He said there is no limitation on what option
the local commander elects to use. "Naval gunfire is a very
effective way of interdicting a target... and responding to attacks
on our perfectly legal and very necessary reconnaissance flights."
However, a Navy spokesman claimed that "you
can get the same precision with naval gunfire as you can with
bomber aircraft if you have accurate grid coordinates."
The Navy in Lebanon, with four-man fire-control ground spotters,
can obtain such coordinates, the spokesman said.