I was a Fire Controlman (FC) in the US Navy for six years from January 1997 to January 2003 as an Aegis Computer Technician. From September 18, 1998 until I left the navy in 2003 I was stationed on the Leyte Gulf’s sister ship, the USS Vella Gulf (CG-72) which was also in the Roosevelt battle group. I’m here to give my review after browsing through this novel.
It’s nothing but fiction. The author gets so many things wrong, even beside the dramatic combat fantasy added, that I have serious doubts if he was even on the ship during this time period. He appears to change some details about what did happen that actually would have made certain parts of the story more dramatic. I would like to point out some of these fictions and mistakes directly from the book.
“As he began to go back inside following another failed attempt, he spotted something that made his stomach tighten up: the tow tugs were arriving to the piers. These small boats were used on a routine basis to assist the large military warships in leaving port.”
Was the author even there on 9/11? Pignataro is correct in saying the tugs were used on a routine basis. Nothing was routine that day though. One of the most dramatic things that really surprised me that morning was watching ships leaving the piers without any tugs assisting. I had been stationed on my ship for three years when 9/11 happened. During those three years I had watched Naval ships in Norfolk get underway hundreds of times. That day was the FIRST time I ever saw US warships in Norfolk leaving the piers left and right under their own power.
Getting underway was normally very orderly. Dozens of sailors would come out with their pants legs tucked down in their socks on the decks of the ship about to depart. Tugs would saunter up and tie up to the outbound side of the ship. A half dozen or so sailors from neighboring ships would show up on the pier to cast off the lines for them. After half an hour or so the lines would be cast off, the sailors on deck would drag them in, the tugs would toot their horns, and the ships would be pulled away from the pier by the tugs.
Not that day. A few squids were scrambling around on the decks dragging lines and the ships were just taking off. No long drawn out process. Nothing orderly about it.
And NO tugs. I think my jaw actually dropped a little when I saw that. Then my ship did it too. Most of the Atlantic fleet seemed to get underway that day. And then we headed straight for New York.
The reason why no tugs were used, at least for the smaller ships like Cruisers and Destroyers, was pretty obvious. There were only about 14 Navy tugs in Norfolk. The Navy was looking into contracting civilian tug companies around that time as those 14 tugs were getting rather old and they didn’t want to replace or maintain them. Obviously with such a short notice and so many ships getting underway at once not enough tugs would be available. All tugs that were there were probably used for the larger ships like the Carriers, Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) ships, and whatnot.
“The Roosevelt battle group is the only strike force deployable at the moment. Which means that the Leyte Gulf is the only Tomahawk platform deployable at the moment.”
Except for the USS Vella Gulf, USS Ross, and USS Ramage that were also in the Roosevelt battle group and were deployed off the NY coast at the same time as the Leyte Gulf. And let’s not forget about the subs that were Tomahawk capable. I know my ship was just as deployable as the Leyte and was fully primed to do so.
Likewise the idea that a Navy ship would have departed directly from the coast of NYC after 9/11 for a deployment with a skeleton crew of sailors is simply not plausible. For one, the Roosevelt battle group was originally scheduled to deploy on September 18, 2001. When 9/11 happened we scrambled to NYC that day, stayed for a few days, and came back to Norfolk on Friday, Sept 14th. Then the Roosevelt, along with the Leyte Gulf, departed Norfolk again on Wednesday, Sept 19th. My ship, the Vella Gulf, departed a couple days later on Friday, Sept 21st and sped up to catch the rest of the battle group in the Atlantic.
We picked up the very few stranded sailors we had left behind when we got back to Norfolk on the 14th. But half the ship wasn’t on leave on 9/11. We were too close to leaving for deployment. Only a week away. Everyone was already back from their pre-deployment leave well before 9/11 and we were making final preparations for the deployment. My ship left, at most, 12 of our sailors behind when we scrambled to NYC. No ship would have half the crew on leave scattered across the country only 7 days before they were scheduled to leave on a six month deployment.
Even if for some reason we did have to leave members of the crew behind for an Atlantic crossing the military would have flown them to Spain or Italy to be brought aboard by the helicopters when we got across.
“When he finally found them, they were crowded around the rail along with dozens of other sailors who were snapping pictures with cameras and cell phones
The ship was leaving the Atlantic and entering the Mediterranean. As they watched, the famed Rock of Gibraltar rose from a tiny, sandy plot of land up into the blue skies more than a thousand feet.”
This is simply not the reality of what happened. Pignataro is clearly describing a daytime crossing talking about the “blue skies” and people “snapping pictures”. The Roosevelt battle group, including my ship the Vella Gulf, and the Leyte Gulf, crossed the straits of Gibraltar overnight on Oct 1-2 under the cover of darkness. Ever since the USS Cole had got blown up in Oct 2000 in Yemen, the US Navy was much more careful about going through any narrow areas. We went through at battle stations wearing night vision goggles. Cloud cover blocked out the almost full moon that night and you couldn’t see hardly anything without those goggles on. I stood my usual station on the bullnose of the Vella Gulf helping to man the forward .50 cal machine guns so I remember it well.
Then we come to the Suez crossing where the author states the Leyte Gulf, the Roosevelt, and the Ramage entered together on October 3rd. History dot navy dot mil states it was the Leyte Gulf, the Roosevelt, and not the Destroyer Ramage, but the support ship Detroit. A ship that provided fuel, stores onload, etc to the battle group. Not a warship like a Destroyer. The same site states that the crossing began on October 13th.
At first I wondered why the incorrect date was mentioned. Until I realized that the hero of the story, Pignataro, wouldn’t be able to launch the first Tomahawk missile strikes if he went through the Suez on the 13th. The first Tomahawks were launched against Afghanistan on the 7th by the Enterprise and Carl Vinson battle groups while the Leyte Gulf, in reality, was still in the Mediterranean.
Ok, minor details, but the entire scene where the ships are attacked by horsemen with rocket launchers and AK-47s is ridiculous. For one, the Suez is a significant source of income for Egypt generating billions of dollars annually. Egypt in 2001 had a stable, pro-American government. Believe me, the Suez Canal was strongly protected by Egypt from allowing terrorists to harm their financial interests by carrying out attacks on crossing ships. In fact, I can’t find that anything so much as a pellet gun having ever been fired at a US warship in the Suez. The only terrorist attack I’ve found on a ship in the Suez just happened last year in 2013 on a commercial ship causing very minor damage to the ship in question. We all know how much turmoil Egypt has been in since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. That’s the only thing that allowed that terrorist attempt to even be made.
I’m sure the author would say that the attack was all “classified”. I have a very good reason not to believe that it happened at all.
My ship followed the rest of the battle group by crossing the Suez 16 days after the Leyte and Roosevelt did. On October 29th, 2001. During that crossing I covered communications for both the starboard and port side semi-automatic grenade mount operators. If other US Navy ships had been attacked just a couple weeks before we crossed we would have CERTAINELY been briefed on it in detail. Those of us manning the topside weapons were always briefed on any details that were considered anywhere near this important. More so our ship would have been locked down at General Quarters for the crossing. These things did not happen.
There would be a good chance we wouldn’t have even crossed the Suez but instead headed down around the whole of Africa. But to suggest the Vella Gulf wasn’t even notified of the attack and the resultant “large billowing smoke cloud” causing damage received by the “Ramage” during the event?
And don’t even get me started on the Samra boarding. That was the USS Peterson. When the Samra sank, the Leyte Gulf was approximately 11 miles away from the event. There also was no fight on the Samra. The ancient, piece of crap tanker either just sank in rough seas or its crew scuttled it when the smuggled oil was located by the boarding team. We’ll never know for sure. But no obvious hostilities broke out. And certainly no nuclear warhead was found.
Finding terrorists with a nuclear warhead would be the most shocking event of the entire Operation Enduring Freedom campaign. Bush would have used it as justification when he was beating the war drums to invade Iraq. You’d hear about it every time he gave a speech for the next several years. It would have shut up any naysayer against Bush about his handling of the wars started after 9/11.
All the Leyte Gulf did during that event was helping to pull the Peterson sailors and Samra crew out of the ocean.
If Pignataro was honest and just submitted this book as a flight of fancy I wouldn’t feel a need to leave this. But to go around touting it as real to make himself sound all heroic is pathetic and shameful.