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USS Conyngham Visit to Aalborg, Denmark, July 1988
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The visit of the USS Conyngham (DDG-17) to Aalborg in northern Denmark on July 2-5, 1988, could have been a routine port visit. Following only two months after the so-called port visit election, which was provoked by a parliamentary majority instructing the minority government to inform visiting warships of Denmark's ban against nuclear weapons on Danish territory in peacetime, USS Conyngham's visit instead became a test of Denmark's willingness to continue to accept nuclear weapons in its ports.

USS Conyngham was a nuclear-capable destroyer. A sister-ship to the USS Buchanan (DDG-14) that was used to test New Zealand's nuclear ban in February 1985, the USS Conyngham was equipped with the nuclear-capable ASROC (Anti-Submarine Rocket) weapon system. ASROC could carry either a conventional or a nuclear warhead, but it was not possible to tell from a distance what type was on board the ship. Therefore the USS Conyngham's nuclear "fingerprint" was all that could give an indication. And there were plenty of nuclear indications.

During the 1980s, the years prior to the visit in Aalborg, USS Conyngham passed eight nuclear weapons certification inspections. A briefing paper on the USS Conyngham's armament and history was published in Denmark by Greenpeace shortly before the visit. The briefing paper included a description of the ship's nuclear profile as revealed by official navy documents. (download briefing paper from right-hand column)

What was not known at the time, however, was that USS Conyngham in the months immediately prior to the arrival in Denmark underwent additional nuclear weapons certification in connection with a weapons onload following a brief dry-dock period. The last inspection, a Nuclear Weapons (Navy) Technical Proficiency Inspection (NTPI), was held on April 26, 1988, only two months before the destroyer arrived in Aalborg. The following is a chronology of the nuclear weapons related events on the ship in the months prior to and following the port visit to Denmark:

USS Conyngham Nuclear Work-Up Prior to Denmark Visit, 1988


Description & Remarks

02/08-10/1988 At Yorktown Naval Weapons Station (NWS), VA, for weapons onload following dry-dock period.
Deck Log:
(02/08) 21:45 SM2 Tartar missile dropped on deck of the 01 level aft. 21:47 Manned all General Quarters Station fwd of frame 134. Material condition Zebra set. 21:55 Notified DESRON 2 of incident. 22:01 Fire department arrived on the scene. 23:12 E.O.O. team arrived. 23:20 D.C. Central reports all secure and missile safe to remove from topside. 23:25 D.C. Central reports missile being removed by weapons personnel.  Both dolly and missile are being removed from topside at this time. 23:37 Crane in position to remove dolly and missile.  23:49 Broken dolly removed from ship. 23:52 Preparing to move missile. 23:55 Missile 4 ft. off deck. 23:56 Missile removed from ship. 23:59 Set material condition Yoke throughout ship. 0011 Secured from general quarters. (02/09) 2:26 Onload completed. To commence at 0900 10 Feb 88. (02/10) 8:43 ASROC magazine alarms 84, 85 and 86 de-energized for ammo onload.
04/01/1988 Inport Norfolk Naval Station, VA.
Deck Log: 9:08 FZ (electronic warning for nuclear weapons area) alarm de-energized. 9:19 FZ alarm re-energized.

Inport Norfolk Naval Station, VA.
The ship passed a Nuclear Weapons (Navy) Technical Proficiency Inspection (NTPI) with outstanding final grades.
Deck Log: (04/26) 8:34 84, 85 & 86 FZ alarms switches have been de-energized. 14:56 DESRON TWO logged aboard. 19:03 Commence Fire Drill. 19:25 Secure from Fire Drill. (04/27) 7:25 ASROC alarm has been de-energized.

06/02/1988 Inport Norfolk Naval Station, VA.
Deck log: 8:29 Daily magazine temperature report location 3-178-0-M, max. 78 deg. min 70 deg. Duty GM GMM1 Cole.
06/03/1988 Departed Norfolk for Northern European cruise.
(Note: during the cruise, magazine temperatures were reported daily in the Deck Log).
07/02-05/1988 Port visit to Aalborg, Denmark. First U.S. post visit since Danish election in May provoked on the issue of nuclear port visits. A Greenpeace anti-nuclear demonstration awaited ship and prevented docking for more than eight hours. "CONYNGHAM's measured response to the demonstrators was lauded by CINCUSNAVEUR, and greatly enhanced the image of the U.S. Navy in Europe," according to the ship’s Commander.
Deck Log: (07/02) 6:25 Sounded one prolonged blast. Greenpeace demonstrators in water port bow. 6:26 Captain has the conn. 6:29 Man in the water off the bow. 6:30 Standby to charge water hoses. 2 additional men in water off bow. 6:32 Men in water, clear on port side. Man in water, stbd bow. 6:36 Additional man in water port bow. Man is clear port side. 6:38 LtJC Chambers has the conn. 6:46 Permission granted to charge water hoses port side/stbd side aft. 6:51 Hosing down stbd side to fend off boats. 6:54 Small boat port side, attempting to attach banner. 6:56 Hosing down port side to fend off boats.  6:59 At this time Danish police boat delivered coffee to Greenpeace demonstrators. 7:00 Small boat port side attempting to attack to side of ship-fochsle area. 7:03 Small boat attached flag to ship's port side. 8:19 Diver clear port bow, attempting to reattach. Diver reattached to knifedge. 8:20 Attempting to anchor. 8:21 Lost steering way. 8:22 Diver clear, safe to anchor. 8:23 Let go port anchor. Captain has the conn.  8:24 Hold anchor at 15 fathoms. 8:25 Diver attached to anchor chain. Anchor holding. 8:31 US Naval Attaché Denmark arrived.  8:43 Demonstrators attached banner to ship's knifedge. 8:47 Police boat removed banner. 8:56 US Naval Attaché Denmark departed. 9:03 Small boat tied up to anchor chain. 9:05 Small boat detached from anchor chain. 10:15 Diver is off the anchor chain. 15:05 Lowering anchor to remove Greenpeace boat.  15:43 Moored.
07/08-12/1988 Port visit to Cobh, Ireland.
08/25-09/21/1988 Participated in NATO exercise Teamwork 88.
09/23-29/1988 Port visit to Trondheim, Norway.
10/11/1988 Arrived in Norfolk Naval Station, VA.
Deck Log: 9:41 Received ASROC daily temperature sheet.

After the visit to Denmark, USS Conyngham continued to Cobh, Ireland. Like Denmark, Ireland also has a policy against nuclear weapons on its territory (including ports), but furthermore prohibits visits by warships taking part in naval exercises. USS Conyngham sailed straight from Cobh to the large-scale Teamwork 88 NATO exercise in the Norwegian Sea. After the exercise, the ship visited Trondheim in Norway, a country which like Denmark and Ireland do not allow nuclear weapons on its territory.

In 1989, the U.S. Navy began the process of retiring three tactical naval nuclear weapons systems (SUBROC, Terrier, and ASROC). The USS Conyngham formally lost its nuclear capability in March 1990, when the nuclear ASROC was omitted from the ship's updated list of instructions.

Two months later, in May 1990, USS Conyngham suffered a major fuel oil leak and fire in the forward boiler room, killing one person and injuring 18 others. The cost of repairing the old destroyer prompted the navy to scrap the ship. USS Conyngham was decommissioned in October 1990 and broken up for scrap by J+L Metals in Wilmington, NC, in 1995.

© Hans M. Kristensen | www.nukestrat.com | 2004-2005

download documents:

Department of the Navy, USS Conyngham (DDG-17), "Command History [for 1988]," September 26, 1989. (0.48 MB)

» Department of the Navy, "Ship Manpower Document (SMP) for USS Conyngham (DDG-17)," OPNAVINST 5320.109B, September 16, 1985. Excerpt.  (0.27 MB)

background papers:

» Joshua Handler and William M. Arkin, "A Briefing Paper on the USS Conyngham's Armament and History," Greenpeace, June 24, 1988. (62 KB)

» Hans M. Kristensen, et al., "U.S. Naval Nuclear Weapons in Sweden," Greenpeace, Neptune Papers No. 6, September 1990.
(3.4 MB)

» Hans M. Kristensen, "The Neither Confirm Nor Deny Policy," unpublished working paper, August 2004. (0.4 MB)

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