1962 - Unitas III

Mullinnix Unitas III - 1962

USS Mullinnix during Unitas III Exercises of coast of South America 1962

Sailing with South America’s Navies
Claude E. Erbsen, Ensign, USN
All Hands Magazine - February 1963

OMEWHERE OFF THE COAST of South America, the sonar gear of a United States destroyer (USS Mullinnix DD-944) detected the presence of a submarine. A Uruguayan captain was immediately notified and he in turn detailed a Brazilian as well as an Argentine destroyer to form a search and attack unit to seek out the intruder hiding deep below the surface of the ocean.

Working smoothly together the two destroyers located the submarine and forced it to the surface.

It was USS Picuda SS-382, the gadfly of Operation Unitas III, a series of combined antisubmarine exercises involving the navies of the United States and the maritime nations of South America.

Designed to stimulate the development of common ASW doctrine and techniques, as well as a unified system of communications, Unitas exercises have welded the navies of South America into an able and skilled ASW force capable of almost immediate action in case of a submarine threat to the sea lanes of the continent.

The product of combined planning, Unitas provides an opportunity for the navies of South America to work with each other, as well as with U.S. ships in the development of increasingly advanced ASW tactics.

Mullinnix Unitas III - RADM Tyree HOUGH ONLY THREE YEARS old, Unitas has established itself as the high point of the South American navies’ annual training schedules, and their ships train throughout the year to reach peak effectiveness during the operation.

The outgrowth of limited bi-lateral ASW exercises along the east and west coasts of South America during the spring of 1959, Unitas has developed into an annual continent-wide exercise involving as many as four countries at once.

Under the command of Rear Admiral John A. Tyree, Jr., USN, Commander of the South Atlantic Force of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet, the 1962 edition of Unitas included Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru. Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela were also scheduled to participate, but the Cuban crisis forced cancellation of the last phases of the operation.

The U.S. Navy was represented by the destroyers USS Mullinnix DD-944, and USS Lester DE-1022, Picuda, and two P2V-7 Neptune aircraft, as well as an R4Y support plane. Mullinnix, a Forrest Sherman class destroyer, served as Admiral Tyree’s flagship.

HE OPERATION began in Trinidad, W.I., on 23 August, when the ships left COMSOLANT headquarters for Recife, Brazil. There they were joined by four Fletcher class Brazilian destroyers, the flagship CT Paraiba D-28 (ex-USS Bennett), CT Para D-27 (ex-USS Guest), CT Parana D-29 (ex-USS Cushing), and CT Pernambuco (ex-USS Hailey). The Brazilian submarine SE Humaita S-14 (ex-USS Muskallunge), and SE Riachuelo S-15 (ex-USS Paddle), also joined the force, together with the Uruguayan destroyer escort Uruguay DE-1 (ex-USS Baron).

The task force began operations as soon as it had cleared the Recife breakwater, continuing to exercise all the way to Rio de Janeiro. There the Unitas forces - known as Task Force 86 - were joined by another Uruguayan destroyer escort, the ROU Artigas DE-2 (ex-USS Bronstein).

Argentine units also joined up in Rio de Janeiro. They included three Fletcher class destroyers newly received from the United States and the submarine ARA Sante Fe S-11 (ex-USS Lamprey).

The three destroyers were the flagship ARA Brown D-20 (ex-USS Heerman), ARA Expora D-21 (ex-USS Dortch) and ARA Rosales D-22 (ex-USS Stembel). The British-built oiler ARA Punta Medanos B-11 joined the task force at sea between Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo.

THREE-NATION SUB GROUP slipped out of Rio ahead of the main body of the task force, lurking outside beautiful Guanabara Bay while the surface units simulated an opposed sortie.

The Most significant aspect of the exercises, COMSOLANT said, was "the ability of the navies of four countries, speaking three different languages, to work closely and effectively." He noted that the continent-wide Unitas exercises have a whole series of bi-national and regional joint exercises.

Between Rio de Janeiro and Montevideo the task force was battered by the heavy winds and high seas of a strong South Atlantic gale. The Argentine aircraft carrier ARA Independencia (ex-HMS Warrior) took several waves over her flight deck while steaming with the task force. Though not a part of TF 86, Independencia provided S2F Tracker aircraft for the operation.

It was during this storm that Unitas suffered its only personnel casualty. A high wave injured Picuda’s officer of the deck when it threw him against a steel angle beam.

A soon as the seas had abated somewhat, the stricken officer was transferred to Mullinnix for medical assistance. At the same time, Independencia volunteered its aircraft to evacuate him to the beach, and Brazil granted immediate clearance to any Argentina aircraft which might be involved in the evacuation.

When it was found he required hospital care, an Argentine helicopter plucked him from the Mullinnix fantail despite high seas and rolling decks. Seasoned naval aviators described the Argentine pilot’s flying as excellent, and praised his skill in hovering only a few feet from the pitching destroyer.

RAMATIC EVIDENCE of the solidarity of the navies of the Americas came less than two months later when President Kennedy decreed a quarantine of Cuba against the introduction of offensive weapons into the island. The response from South America was almost immediate as several nations offered ships to assist. Many of these ships had participated in Unitas.

The first phase of Unitas III ended at Argentina’s naval base of Puerto Belgrano, and the U.S. ships steamed on alone to rendezvous with the Chilean Navy at Punta Artenas, the world’s southernmost city, in the middle of the Strait of Magellan.

At the same time, the U.S. Unitas III air detachment headed across the Andes to Santiago for a period of maintenance and ground school with the Chilean Air Force. In Uruguay and Argentina the aircraft had operated with local naval air groups flying ASW missions in conjunction with the surface units.

From Punta Arenas the combined U.S.-Chilean task force headed north through the inland passage and along the Pacific coast toward Talcahuano and Valparaiso.

Mullinnix Unitas III - Transfer At Sea HE CHILEAN UNITS which joined the force in Punta Arenas included the recently acquired British-built destroyers Williams and Riveros, and the French-built oiler Almirante Montt.

Riveros had arrived in Chile from England only a month before the start of Unitas, and her presence in the task force pointed out the Chilean navy’s deep interest in the operation.

While the task force neared Valparaiso, two more destroyers and two submarines were readied for participation. The destroyers had reached Valparaiso from Norfolk at the same time as the U.S. Unitas ships had arrived in Punta Arenas from Argentina.

Loaned to Chile by the U.S. Navy, the Fletcher class Lord Cochrane (ex-USS Wadleigh) and Blanco Encalada (ex-USS Rooks) had raced south to Valparaiso in an effort to take part in at least a portion of Unitas.

The submarines SS Simpson and SS Thomson (ex-USS Springer) also put the finishing touches to their training, together with the attack transport Presidente Pinto (ex-USS Zenobia), and joined the operation.

N LATE OCTOBER, Task Force 86 sailed from Valparaiso. At the same time units of the Peruvian fleet left El Callao for quiet Mejillones Bay, just north of Antofagasta, on the edge of Chile’s immense northern desert.

En route to Mejillones, Presidente Pinto served as a simulated convoy while Picuda, Simpson and Thomson skillfully tried to penetrate the destroyer screen around her. Chilean Air Force aviators joined the exercise, cooperating with the surface units in their relentless hunt for the attacking submarines.

At Mejillones three Peruvian destroyers joined the task force. They were the BAP Villar DD-71 (ex-USS Benham DD-796), BAP Guise DD-72 (ex-USS Isherwood DD-520) and BAP Castillas DE-61 (ex-USS Bangust, DE-739). The submarines, BAP Dos De Mayo SS-41, BAP Abtao SS-42, BAP Angamos SS-43 and BAP Iquique SS-44, which joined en route, are modified versions of the Mackerel class.

The submarines attempted to bottle up the task force in Mejillones Bay, but the surface unites succeeded in evading the subs’ surveillance, heading for the calm waters of the open Pacific.

HAT PHASE of the operation had just begun when the Cuban crisis occurred. Admiral Tyree found it necessary to detach Mullinnix for a fast run to El Callao.

Leaving Captain R. Maza, Peruvian Task Force Commander, in charge of the remaining ships, Admiral Tyree headed for El Callao, and within a few hours the COMSOLANT staff was en route to its shore-based headquarters in Trinidad in planes of the Unitas air detachment.

Though curtailed by the Cuban situation, Unitas III yielded rich dividends, both as a training exercise in antisubmarine warfare and as a goodwill cruise.

Like its predecessors, it enabled the participating crews, both officers and men, to develop an appreciation of each other’s professional competence.

"We have worked together, and observed each other closely," Admiral Tyree commented after a series of exercise, "and we’ve developed a deep respect for each other’s professional abilities."

Unitas III thus served the tree-fold purpose of strengthening the ASW capabilities of the Eastern Hemisphere navies, furthering inter-American good-will, and, perhaps most importantly, developing a strong feeling of mutual respect among the hemisphere navies.

Virginian-Pilot Article
18 December, 1962
Courtesy of SOG3 Ken Robarge

This account is from Ken Fogarty of Stratford Connecticut (Sailor on board the USS Lester (DE-1022).

"As a 19 year old SMSN, Unitis III was an experience of a lifetime. It was my first cruise and the first time away from the USA. The Captain's name was LCDR Stringfellow. My fellow Signalmen were John Davis SM1, O'Brien SM2, Don Penn SMSN and Bruce Lawton SMSN.

I was a crew member on the Lester from 1962 to 1964. While in Lima, Peru on our Unitis III Cruise, the Lester and USS Mullinnix DD-944 were ordered to get underway in the middle of the night and as we passed through the Panama Canal we were told of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Lester participated in the blockade until boiler trouble forced us to return to Newport. The boilers also caused problems early on in the cruise when we were dead in the water for 4 days off the coast of Recife Brazil."

Entered port in Trinidad on 21 August 1962
Crossed the Equator on 28 August 1962
Entered port in Recife Brazil on 30 August 1962
Entered port in Rio de Janeiro Brazil on 6 September 1962
Entered port in Montevideo Uruguay on 18 September 1962
Entered port in Bahia Blanca Argentina on 30 September 1962
Passed through the Straits of Magellan about 4 October 1962
Entered port in Punta Arenas Chile on 6 October 1962
Entered port in Valparaiso Chile on 15 October 1962
Entered port in Callao/Lima Peru on 27 October 1962
Entered port in Rodman/Colon on 30 October 1962
Entered port in Trinidad on 12 November 1962
Entered port in San Juan Porte Rico on 19 November 1962
Participated in the Cuban Blockade about 21 Novemember 1962
Mullinnix 12 Nov 1962

The Strait of Magellan is the passage immediately south of mainland South America. It is located between the continent and Tierra del Fuego, and (Cape Horn aside) is the biggest and most important natural passage between the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean.

The strait was "discovered" in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan during the first global circumnavigation. Because Magellan's ships entered it on November 1st, it was originally named Estreito de Todos los Santos .

On May 23rd 1843, Chile took possession of the channel. Today is still under Chilean sovereignty. On the coast of the Strait lies the city of Punta Arenas and the village of Porvenir.

Before the creation of the Panama canal, this was the second-most travelled way to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean (the most used route being around Cape Horn).

It is known as a difficult route due to the inhospitable climate and the narrowness of the passage.

Chart published at Madrid in 1769

Unidentified Forrest Sherman Destroyer in "ALL HANDS" January 1962 edition.

Latins Help, Too
Navy League Magazine
January 1963

Another Task Force entered the scene a short time later. While small in size, its political weight was considerable, for this one was the Combined Quarantine Force containing units of South American navies.

On October 23rd, Rear Admiral J. A. Tyree, Commander South Atlantic Forces, was headed up the west coast of South America aboard the destroyer USS MULLINNIX. Since August, the MULLINNIX had been engaged in ASW exercise UNITAS with South American destroyers.

A message arrived ordering Admiral Tyree to fly to Trinidad to establish Task Force 137. MULLINNIX steamed at flank speed to the nearest airport (Lima) then began its long run up the coast and through the canal.

Another run was underway at the same time. The Argentine ROSALES and ESPORA raced 4,500 miles at flank speed to catch up.

“These boys came to fight,” said the MULLINNIX skipper, Comdr. W. H. Shaw. “They were real disappointed when we didn’t move in.”

On the arrival of the ZULIA and the NEUVA ESPARTA from Venezuela, the force was deployed to the Lesser Antilles, which guard the eastern approaches to the Caribbean.

January 1985

Regional naval co-operation has most clearly manifested itself in recent years in the success of the UNTIAS operations, a series of annual, multi-national training exercises conducted by the navies of South America in conjunction with a small United States Task Force.

In the last summer and fall of 1962 the third operation in the series took three United States ships around South America, starting in Trinidad and proceeding south to the Straits of Magellan and north again along the Pacific coast.

The force included the USS MULLINNIX (DD 944), DD, which served as flagship, the USS LESTER (DE 1022) and the submarine PICUDA (SS 382), which joined forces with South American submarines in testing the ASW readiness of the combined task force. In addition, the United States contributed three aircraft to the operation, two P2V-7 “Neptune” patrol planes from squadron VP-18 and an R4Y support plane.

The exercises on the Atlantic side involved the navies of Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. In the Pacific Chile and Peru took part. Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela had also been scheduled to participate, but the advent of the Cuban crisis forced cancellation of the last phases of the operation.

Other Exercises

Designed primarily to stimulate ASW proficiency, the exercise had given rise to a number of smaller, regional ones, such as the pre-UNITAS joint maneuvers of the Colombian and Venezuelan navies and others by the Argentine and Uruguayan navies. An active program of midshipman exchanges has also evolved during the last few years. Virtually every type of ship is represented in the American navies, from the aircraft carrier to the river gunboat, and there are even a few four-masted schooners used to train future officers.

Extract from an unknown article:

As President Kennedy spoke on the evening of October 22, Admiral Tyree directed a force of Chilian, Peruvian, and U.S. ships from his flagship the USS Mullinnix (DD 944). They were conducting antisubmarine warfare (ASW) exercises off the northern coast of Chile as part of UNITAS III. On being ordered by CinCLant to establish the combined Latin American-U.S. Quarantine Task Force (TF) 137, Admiral Tyree departed the UNITAS operations on October 24. He flew to his headquarters at the naval base in Chaguaramas, Trinidad. The Mullinnix also proceeded to Trinidad via the Panama Canal.

Offers of assistance soon began arriving from Latin America led by the new military government of Argentina. That country’s navy pledged its single aircraft carrier, ARA Independencia, ex-HMS Warrior, two ex-U.S. destroyers ARA Rosales (ex ) and ARA Espora (ex) ………………
(missing info here) ……….
on board their ships during the quarantine operations. I was aboard the ARV Zulia and Lieutenant Orville R. Whaley to ARV Nueva Esparta.

Admiral Tyree activated Task Force 137 for operations on 7 November when he promulgated ComSoLant/CTF 137 Operation order 9-62. The order stated that the force would “conduct naval quarantine operations in the Lesser Antilles passes into the Caribbean Sea in order to intercept designated shipping and prevent the importation of prohibited material into Cuba.” The operation order further stated that the force would “patrol assigned quarantine stations, maintain surveillance, report sightings of surfaces ships, submarines, and when directed, conduct interception, visit and search, seizure, and diversion of designated shipping.

ARV Zulia and ARV Nueva Esparta patrolled stations that covered the passage between Venezuelan mainland and the island of Granada. ARA Rosales patrolled the passage between the island of Dominica and Guadeloupe. The ARA Espora had to cover two stations, one in the Guadeloupe Passange and the other off of Montserrat Island. The Mullinnix patrolled the northernmost station covering the heavily traveled Anegada Passage between the island of Anegeda and Anguilla.

In the nine days the ships of TF 137 patrolled their stations, they reported 153 ship contacts; the Zulia 40, Nueva Esparta 31, Espora 21, Rosales 6 and the Mullinnix 55. Operations ceased on 20 November when President Kennedy ended the quarantine. But ComSoLant did not officiall dissolve TF 137 until 24 December when the…………………..

Another unknown extract from an article:

On November 12, 1962, a combined naval force of the Organization of American States (OAS) set forth on an operational operation in defense of the Western Hemisphere. When combined Task Foce 137 sortied from the U.S. naval base at Chaguaramas, Trinidad, that morning, it represented 11 warships volunteered by six OAS nations in support of the naval quarantine otary preparations made by the Kennedy administration for the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Mullinnix Track Chart for 1960-62. Courtesy Robert Hall

Courtesy Robert Hall

A Personal Account of Crossing The Equator (PDF)
Courtesy Robert Hall

Personal Reflections of Unitas III (PDF)
Courtesy Howard Hart
(Great pictures and memories in the PDF! Thanks Howard!!!)

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