The USS Pueblo – Pyongyang, North Korea - Atlas Obscura
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Pyongyang, North Korea

The USS Pueblo

Captured in 1968, the Cold War spy ship is the only U.S. Navy vessel being held by a foreign government. 

The U.S.S. Pueblo is an American intelligence-gathering ship captured by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on January 23, 1968. The “Pueblo Crisis” was a major incident in the Cold War but remained little-known, as it was overshadowed a week later by the Tet Offensive attacks of the Vietnam War.

At the time of the capture, North Korea stated that the ship had strayed into their territorial waters, but the United States maintained that the vessel was in international waters.

The Pueblo was initially approached by a submarine chaser and its nationality challenged. The Pueblo responded by raising the U.S. flag. The DPRK vessel then ordered the crew to stand down or be fired upon. The Pueblo attempted to move away but was attacked by the sub chaser, three torpedo boats, and two MiG-21 fighter aircraft.

The Pueblo was taken into port at Wonsan and the crew moved to POW camps; upon their release, some of the crew stated that they had been starved and regularly tortured while in North Korean custody. This treatment had worsened when the North Koreans realized that their prisoners were secretly giving them the finger in staged propaganda photos.

Commander Lloyd M. Bucher, Commanding Officer of the Pueblo, was tortured and put through a mock firing squad ordeal in an effort to make him confess. Eventually the North Koreans threatened to execute his men in front of him, and Bucher relented. On December 23, 1968—exactly 11 months after being taken prisoner—the crew was taken by buses to the DMZ border with South Korea and ordered to walk south across the “Bridge of No Return.”

The Pueblo officially remains a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy and is currently moored along the Taedong River in Pyongyang. It is the only ship of the U.S. Navy currently being held “captive” and is now used as a war museum. Tours are officially conducted by military guides who refer to Americans as “U.S. Imperialist Aggressors,” and a propaganda video is shown prior to commencement of the tour in case any doubt remains.

Know Before You Go

As with most sites of interest in North Korea this has to be organised officially. Photos are allowed from on board the vessel (including of the guides and .50 cal guns) but not of the exterior from the dock.