In a new approach to interdiction, in February 1967 carrier aircraft had begun dropping bottom-lay mines in the mouths of key North Vietnamese rivers. Later in the year advanced mines were laid in additional inland waterways and on land approaches to bridges and other crossing points. This measure to diminish the enemy's growing use of coastal and inland waterways for movement south complemented the ongoing armed route reconnaissance operations against road traffic, antiaircraft sites, and other targets of opportunity. Although normally prohibited from operations within 10 miles of the center of either Hanoi or Haiphong and 20 miles from the border with China, naval air units were authorized on several occasions to bomb critical targets within the restricted zones. For instance, in May Bon Homme Richard(CVA 31) aircraft penetrated the enemy's heavy defenses around the capital and knocked out the Hanoi electrical power plant.
Another catastrophic carrier fire, this time in Forrestal, occurred during these successful operations. The ship had only been at Yankee Station for several days in July when a Zuni rocket was accidently touched off on deck. The rocket set off a chain reaction of explosions and fire among 750-pound bombs, fuel, and other inflammable materials. Firefighting parties from the ship and from destroyers Rupertus (DD 851), Samuel N. Moore (DD 747), and George K. Mackenzie (DD 836) extinguished the fire on deck in little over an hour, but the conflagration below decks raged on for 14 hours. Other ships converged on the stricken carrier to rescue men in the water or use their helicopters to ferry casualties to medical facilities afloat. The cost of the fire was high. One hundred thirty-five men were killed or missing and 63 more were injured. The loss of 21 planes, partial destruction of 31 others, and damage to the ship put Forrestal out of action for many months. It never returned to Yankee Station.
Continuing operations against critical targets, Oriskany aircraft shut down the Hanoi thermal power plant in August. That same month naval aviators dropped the center span of the Lang Son rail and highway bridge, only eight miles from the border with China, and for the first time in the war attacked the naval base at Van Hoa, causing extensive damage. In September attack squadrons from Oriskany, Constellation, Coral Sea, and Intrepid (CVS 11) hit previously off-limits areas in the port of Haiphong and in the smaller ports of Hon Gai and Cam Pha.
When the fleet stood down for the New Year's bombing halt at the end of December 1967, it had completed a year of intense combat. The Navy's 77,000 combat and support sorties far surpassed previous periods. While the enemy continued to supply and reinforce his units in South Vietnam and Laos, the effort required a significant diversion of military resources and heavy importation of vital munitions.
The enemy's Tet Offensive, which began on 30 January 1968 in South Vietnam, demanded the immediate attention of Task Force 77. Communist forces threatened most of the country's major population centers and the isolated Marine outpost at Khe Sanh. In Operation Niagara, the Navy joined the other services in massive air strikes against North Vietnamese units besieging Khe Sanh and helped turn the tide on the enemy. The crises in South Vietnam and abysmal flying weather over the North severely limited operations there during the first three months of 1968. Whenever possible, aircraft from Coral Sea, Kitty Hawk, Enterprise, Ticonderoga, Ranger, Bon Homme Richard, and Oriskany dropped mines in river mouths and at vital choke points south of Vinh and attacked targets of opportunity along infiltration routes. In one instance at the end of March, carrier attack aircraft pounced on a large enemy convoy suddenly exposed by a break in the weather. Of the hundred or more trucks in the convoy, 98 were destroyed or damaged. In addition, Task Force 77 attack squadrons hit selected targets, such as the rail and highway bridges along vital Route La at Long Ngoc, Thanh Hoa, and Dong Phong; those at Haiphong and Kien An; and the Vinh, Ke Sat, Cat Bi, and Bai Thuong airfields. Other key targets included power plants, railroad yards, naval facilities, barracks, and heavy industrial plants at Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh, Hai Duong, Hon Gai, and Cam Pha.
When President Johnson halted bombing in the northern two-thirds of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in early April 1968, the Seventh Fleet mounted a concentrated interdiction effort between the 18th and 19th parallels. Diminishing the flow to the south of North Vietnamese forces and supplies now was the sole objective of the Rolling Thunder program, and naval planners selected the targets. In this new phase, carrier air units mined and bombed traffic control points, which included ferry crossing sites, railway and highway bridges, storage areas, truck parks, fuel dumps, inland waterways, and roads where they were constricted by surrounding geography. Sea Dragon cruisers and destroyers steaming along the coast shelled many of the same types of targets, as well as enemy waterborne logistic craft and coastal defenses south of the 19th parallel.
To focus the effort even further, in May, Vice Admiral William F. Bringle, the Seventh Fleet commander, designated three areas containing the most important choke points in the vicinity of Ha Tinh, Vinh, and south of Phu Dien Chau. Each area received the full attention of separate carrier task groups, which carried out round-the-clock strikes against the resourceful enemy. Then in August, Task Force 77 concentrated the major part of its air and surface strength against the southern traffic control area around Ha Tinh. This was the turning point of the campaign. Unceasing day and night air strikes, armed route reconnaissance, and shore bombardment caused the North Vietnamese truck traffic to back up so that it became prey to further attack. During August, American naval forces destroyed or damaged over 600 trucks, the highest total of the campaign, forcing the enemy to rely more heavily on coastal and inland waterway transport. Monsoons and the resulting muddy conditions on land also played a part in this shift. U.S. air and surface forces destroyed or damaged almost 1,000 waterborne logistic craft in September, the greatest number during the six-month interdiction operation.
When all bombing in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam ceased on 1 November 1968, the North Vietnamese logistic flow through the panhandle and along the coast had been reduced to a trickle. That the enemy's post-Tet offensive in South Vietnam during the fall of 1968 was weak and of short duration can be ascribed in part to the success of the interdiction effort mounted by the Seventh Fleet. However, the entire Rolling Thunder antiinfiltration program was only partially successful. Heavy weather, operational restrictions, and Communist determination to win in the South made prosecution of the air campaign difficult. As a result, the enemy was able to receive foreign support, supply his forces in the field, and launch large-scale offensives against U.S. and allied armies. Nonetheless, the three-year campaign by Task Force 77 forced the North Vietnamese to divert tens of thousands of regular and paramilitary troops, critical civilian workers, and untold material resources to keep open their lines of communication. Because of the fleet's air and surface operations in Laos and North Vietnam, the enemy's attacks in the South were long-delayed, under-strength, and short-lived. Rolling Thunder was essential to the success of American arms on the battlefields of South Vietnam.
Amphibious Landings in South Vietnam
The fleet provided even more direct support to the campaign in South Vietnam with its long-established Amphibious Ready Group and Special Landing Force (ARG/SLF). The powerful, versatile, and mobile formation capable of striking along the length of the South Vietnamese littoral and far inland.
During this period, the ARG usually consisted of three or four ships, including an amphibious assault ship (LPH), a dock landing ship (LSD), an attack transport (APA) or an amphibious transport dock (LPD), and a tank landing ship (LST). Other amphibious vessels often augmented this force. The Marine SLF was composed of a medium helicopter squadron equipped with 24 UH-34s and embarked in the LPH. An infantry battalion landing team, reinforced with artillery, armor, engineer, and other support units, comprised the ground combat element. These men and their equipment were divided among the ships, enabling landings on shore by helicopter, by the force's 41 organic tracked landing vehicles (LVT), or by both methods. The fleet provided additional assistance for amphibious operations, including carrier air cover, naval gunfire support, supply by the Logistic Support Force (Task Force 73), and medical support by hospital ships Repose (AH 16) and Sanctuary (AH 17) positioned close offshore. Naval personnel also served in Marine units as medical corpsmen, chaplains, and spotters, the latter in 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company detachments. Furthermore, underwater demolition team, SEAL, beachmaster, and special communications beach jumper units supported operations on shore. At various times during the war, transport submarines Perch (APSS 313), Tunny (APSS 282), and Grayback (LPSS 574) carried Navy underwater demolition teams, SEALs, and South Vietnamese marines to points off prospective landing beaches. Once there, the naval special warfare men silently exited the boats, swam or rowed rubber rafts through the surf, and carried out vital reconnaissance or other special operations ashore.
The Seventh Fleet's Commander Amphibious Task Force (Commander Task Force 76) exercised operational control of the ARG (Task Group 76.5) and the SLF (Task Group 79.5) at sea. With the deployment of another ARG/SLF, assigned the designations 76.4 and 79.4, respectively, to the South China Sea in April 1967, the amphibious flotilla was divided into ARG/SLF Alpha and ARG/SLF Bravo.
Following the landing on 8 March 1965 of Marine forces at Danang, which marked the beginning of a new era in America's Southeast Asian involvement, naval leaders awaited additional amphibious shipping and prepared plans for employing the ARG/SLF against the enemy. In the interim, the task group protected Qui Nhon until Army units arrived, and covered the landing in II Corps of the Army's 1st Cavalry Division.
During this preparation, the U.S. command took advantage of good intelligence to launch Operation Starlite, perhaps the greatest amphibious success of the war. Discovering that the 1st Viet Cong Regiment planned to attack the Marine enclave at Chu Lai from a coastal village 12 miles to the south, General Westmoreland directed the III Marine Amphibious Force, the chief Marine command in South Vietnam, to preempt the assault and destroy the 1,500-man enemy unit. Between 18 and 25 August, a cruiser and two destroyers poured accurate naval gunfire on the enemy concentration as the Seventh Fleet Amphibious Ready Group landed Marine units on the beach. Other elements were helicoptered inland from Iwo Jima (LPH 2) and Chu Lai. By the end of the week-long battle, the 1st Viet Cong Regiment was pushed up to the sea by three Marine and two South Vietnamese battalions and then pounded by air and naval gunfire. At the cost of 45 Marines killed and 203 wounded, the allied force inflicted 623 casualties on the enemy unit, putting it out of action for some time.
Seeking to complete the destruction of the Viet Cong unit that had withdrawn further south to the Batangan Peninsula, in September U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine, and South Vietnamese forces, including Coastal Force elements, conducted Operation Piranha. Learning from the costly Starlite setback, however, the Communists now avoided pitched battles on the coast and evaded the allied search. Although 178 enemy soldiers were reported killed, contact was light throughout the action.
By the end of September 1965, U.S. leaders were prepared to initiate an amphibious campaign against Communist forces along the entire South Vietnamese coast. COMUSMACV and fleet commanders planned a series of ARG/SLF raids, designated Dagger Thrust, in support of the Market Time antiinfiltration effort against Viet Cong bases, supply points, and small units. The first three raids were carried out in rapid succession between 25 September and 1 October as the force struck at target areas near Vung Mu, Ben Goi, and Tam Quan in II Corps, but without finding any significant sign of the enemy. On 30 November the Navy-Marine team first struck at a suspected Viet Cong infiltration base on Cape Ke Ga southwest of Phan Thiet and then at Phu Thu in northern II Corps on 5 and 6 December. Neither strike was successful. The program was hampered by dated intelligence, some enemy foreknowledge of U.S. intentions, and prolonged preparations.
The focus on destroying the enemy's main force units also continued as naval amphibious forces conducted operations Blue Marlin I and II near Tam Ky and Hoi An in November. Again, the results were negligible. Then from 9 to 19 December, III Marine Amphibious Force units and the fleet's ARG/SLF combined with South Vietnamese troops to strike at their old nemesis, the 1st Viet Cong Regiment, again up to strength and located in the hills west of Chu Lai. Although the three Marine and three South Vietnamese battalions killed 407 and captured 33 of the enemy and seized over 100 weapons and 60 tons of ammunition, the cost was very high. Ambushes and other tactics left 181 South Vietnamese troops killed or missing and 141 wounded. The Marines suffered 45 dead and 218 wounded.
In Double Eagle, the largest amphibious operation to date in South Vietnam, the ARG/SLF forces joined Marine and South Vietnamese units in a lengthy sweep for enemy regiments near Quang Ngai City and Tam Ky in I Corps. From 28 January to 1 March 1966, the allied force searched for Viet Cong units, but the enemy's good intelligence network enabled him to avoid significant contact.
Again in March and April the allies mounted a multiunit effort to find and destroy Communist forces. In Operation Jackstay, which lasted from 26 March to 7 April, the Navy-Marine ARG/SLF combined with other U.S. and South Vietnamese units to attack the Viet Cong in the Rung Sat swamp that surrounded the vital shipping channel to Saigon. Although most enemy units evaded the search, the allies, at least temporarily, disrupted operations in the Viet Cong base area.
Following the unproductive Operation Osage in April and May 1966, U.S. leaders concluded that the growing allied strength in coastal areas would keep the enemy from concentrating large units there in the future. Thus, amphibious raids and sweeps along the shore were no longer considered valid tactics. From June through September, in a series of operations labelled Deckhouse, the ARG/SLF joined Army or III Marine Amphibious Force troops in lengthy multibattalion combat actions inland. Still, the results were disappointing for the Navy-Marine team as the enemy, except during Deckhouse IV, declined to stand and fight.
Beginning in October 1966, the growing menace from North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units moving south through the DMZ drew the ARG/SLF to the northernmost reaches of the Republic of Vietnam. Before the end of the year Vice Admiral John J. Hyland, Commander Seventh Fleet, temporarily established an additional amphibious task group positioned just offshore for quick reaction. While Deckhouse V was undertaken during the early part of 1967 in the Mekong Delta, the year's other 24 amphibious operations took place in I Corps. Further, most ARG/SLF combat actions were in support of the Marine stand against the fierce thrusts of the North Vietnamese Army at Dong Ha, Con Thien, and Quang Tri City and in the DMZ itself. The amphibious force, permanently augmented by another ARG/SLF after April 1967, was often used to extend the allied flank at sea, block Communist movements, land troops in the enemy's rear, or reinforce front-line units. Troops deployed by helicopter or amphibious craft, cruisers, and destroyers provided this ready, mobile, and powerful assistance. Noteworthy actions included landings in the southern half of the DMZ in May and operations in August and September to prevent the Communists from disrupting South Vietnam's national elections. While the ARG/SLF accounted for over 3,000 enemy killed during the year, the force's support enabled other allied units to inflict even greater damage on the North Vietnamese Army.
During January 1968, the ARG/SLF Marines carried out four heliborne operations ashore in I Corps. The enemy's massive Tet Offensive, launched on the 30th, soon demanded the suspension of amphibious landings and long-term commitment ashore of the fleet's Marine forces. During the next four months, the ships of both ARGs served as havens for the Navy's riverine combat and logistic craft deployed to the area for the emergency. This sea- based support was crucial to the eventual allied military success in the northern reaches of South Vietnam. From June to the end of the year, the amphibious task forces took part in nine I Corps operations that decimated Communist forces fighting to hold Hue and the surrounding region.
Bombardment from the Sea
In addition to mounting amphibious operations, the fleet aided the allied ground campaign in South Vietnam with naval gunfire support. The 1,200-mile coastline allowed the Navy to take advantage of the mobility and firepower of its surface ships. Because the waters off the northern and central regions of South Vietnam were deep, the guns on many Seventh Fleet cruisers and destroyers could reach targets in one-third of the land area of I Corps. Also covered were large segments of the coastal provinces of II and III Corps. Shallow-draft vessels bombarded many additional areas in the Mekong Delta. Relatively safe from the enemy, the gunfire support ships operated by day or night and often in the foul weather that swept the South China Sea.
Throughout this period, the Seventh Fleet's gunfire support ships off South Vietnam formed the Cruiser-Destroyer Group (Task Group 70.8). The subordinate Naval Gunfire Support Unit (Task Unit 70.8.9), in coordination with MACV, actually directed operations along the coast. Ships were assigned to the group from the fleet's cruiser-destroyer command and from the Royal Australian Navy, but were also temporarily attached from carrier escort units, from the Sea Dragon force steaming off North Vietnam, and from the amphibious force. In addition, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard combat craft conducting inshore coastal and river patrols often provided gunfire support for allied operations. Typically, one cruiser, four destroyers, one inshore fire support ship (IFS), and two medium rocket landing ships (LSMR) comprised Task Unit 70.8.9. However, the number varied and totaled as many as two cruisers, 18 destroyers, and two rocket ships during the heavy combat in 1968.
The ships and the weapons they carried were diverse. Heavy cruisers like Saint Paul were armed with 8-inch/55-caliber guns, able to fire 26,000 yards, and shorter range 5-inch/38-caliber guns, accurate at 15,000 yards. Guided missile light cruisers Topeka (CLG 8) andOklahoma City carried 6-inch/47-caliber guns, effective at 22,000 yards. While many of the fleet's destroyers carried the shorter range gun, the more modern ships were armed with 5-inch/54-caliber weapons capable of hitting targets at 22,000 yards. The IFS and the LSMR, which carried both the shorter range guns and rocket launchers able to propel 380 5-inch rockets a minute up to 10,000 yards, were shallow-draft vessels, especially useful off the Mekong Delta shore.
Naval bombardment operations generally took two forms: (1) unspotted fire on preselected areas where the enemy was thought likely to be found and (2) fire requested for and directed on specific troop formations, fortifications, and supply facilities by aerial spotters and fire control parties on land. The airborne observers were usually U.S. Army or U.S. Air Force forward air controllers flying O-Le Bird Dog aircraft, while ground personnel were naval officers serving with detachments of the Fleet Marine Force's 1st Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company. These men often saved an allied ground unit from being overrun or helped destroy a Communist force before it could present a real threat.
Beginning in May 1965, individual Seventh Fleet cruisers and destroyers ranged the South Vietnamese coast, initially bombarding Viet Cong supply caches used to support the Communist seaborne infiltration effort. These coastal missions were the norm until August, when guided missile light cruiserGalveston (CLG 3) and destroyers Prichett (DD 561) and Orleck (DD 886) joined in support of amphibious Operation Starlite. At one point during the battle, the ships killed or wounded one hundred Viet Cong soldiers caught on the open beach. On another occasion, in October, Ozbourn (DD 846) steamed into the Rung Sat to pour fire into a Viet Cong attacking force. Throughout the year 72 Seventh Fleet ships fired close to 90,000 large-caliber rounds, which destroyed or damaged 4,000 enemy structures and 66 small craft and killed or wounded 753 Communist troops.
Augmented by Carronade (IFS 1) and St. Francis River (LSMR 525) in April 1966 and Clarion River (LSMR 409) and White River (LSMR 536) the following month, the Naval Gunfire Support Unit increased its bombardment of the enemy. This assistance was especially welcome in I Corps during the latter half of the year, when main force NVA units attacked south through the DMZ. Indeed, from mid-1966 on, the naval command concentrated the majority of the gunfire support ships off I Corps where combat was heaviest and the geography most favorable for inshore bombardment. In one action on 13 September, Stormes (DD 780) guns killed over 200 enemy troops in three hours of firing. By November almost 40,000 rounds were expended each month by the surface group off South Vietnam. Throughout the year the force killed 3,000 of the enemy and damaged or destroyed 35,000 structures.
As they had the previous year, in 1967 the cruiser-destroyer rocket ship group again provided preparatory bombardment for amphibious landings, such as Operation Deckhouse V in January, and direct fire support. Because of the increasing demands of the Sea Dragon effort off North Vietnam, however, in March 1967 the Naval Gunfire Support Unit temporarily lost its one cruiser and two destroyers. The arrival of Australian guided missile destroyer HMAS Hobart (D 39) in South Vietnamese waters partially offset this loss. But, accidental explosions in the 5-inch/54-caliber mounts in Manley (DD 940) andBigelow (DD 942) during the spring again reduced the number of ships on the gun line.
Reflecting the ease with which fleet units moved between operational theaters, in May, Sea Dragon and Task Unit 70.8.9 combined forces off the DMZ in the strongest concentration of American surface gunfire ships since the Korean War. Cruisers Providence and Saint Paul and five destroyers took part in Operation Beau Charger, an amphibious landing and sweep into the southern half of the DMZ.
The fleet's surface ships were essential for dealing with the many Communist artillery batteries that fired into South Vietnam from positions in the northern half of the DMZ and southern North Vietnam. In addition, enemy coastal guns menaced allied ships and craft offshore. On 29 August 1967, DuPont (DD 941) lost one sailor killed and nine wounded when one of the 40 Communist shells that straddled the ship hit home. The following month, on the twenty-fifth, Communist fire struck Mansfield (DD 728) killing one bluejacket and wounding another two men. The naval force, however, returned this fire many fold. With six or seven destroyers continuously deployed offshore in I Corps by November, enemy coastal gun emplacements and field artillery positions often were blanketed with naval gunfire. Indeed, the surface ships fired 500,000 rounds in 1967, approximately twice as many as they had the previous year, with the great majority of them falling on I Corps targets.
The enemy's Tet Offensive in the first half of 1968 engaged the Naval Gunfire Support Unit in its heaviest combat actions of the war. Drawing on resources from all areas and commands, but especially from Operation Sea Dragon, Commander Task Unit 70.8.9 concentrated as many as 22 ships at one time on the gun line. These ships maintained high rates of fire during this crisis period, with the heavy cruisers firing an average of eight hundred rounds each day. In February, guided missile heavy cruiser Canberra (CAG 2), guided missile light cruiser Providence, and seven other surface ships poured fire into enemy targets in Hue, including the fortified Citadel. This naval support was critical to the allied recapture of the old Imperial City. The following month, Newport News (CA 148) reduced the flow of ammunition to desperately fighting enemy units when it destroyed an NVA logistic complex north of the Cua Viet River. In another instance, in May Henry B. Wilson (DDG 7) decimated a North Vietnamese battalion, killing 82 of the unit's troops. In similar actions during the first eight months of 1968, naval bombardments inflicted over two thousand casualties on the reeling Communist forces. Thus, during more than three years of deployment offshore, the Naval Gunfire Support Unit had become a valuable component of the allied forces defending South Vietnam.
The primary objective of the Market Time coastal patrol was to prevent the enemy from strengthening his forces in South Vietnam through seaborne infiltration of supplies and munitions. The U.S.-South Vietnamese effort was established on 11 March 1965. North Vietnamese Naval Transportation Group 125 used steel-hulled, 100-ton trawlers and seagoing junks, to infiltrate the South. The Viet Cong operated smaller junks, sampans, and other craft within South Vietnamese coastal waters, and limiting this movement also became a responsibility of the Market Time forces.
The coastal surveillance operation was organized around nine (initially eight) patrol sectors covering the 1,200-mile South Vietnamese coast from the 17th parallel to the Cambodian border and extending 40 miles out to sea. Within these areas, ships and craft of the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the South Vietnamese Navy searched for contraband. American aircraft operating from ships offshore and from bases in South Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines flew search patterns over the Market Time area. By 1968 the patrol generally was divided into three zones: (1) an air surveillance sector farthest out to sea; (2) an outer surface barrier patroled by large U.S. ships; and (3) an inner, or shallow-water, barrier patroled by U.S. and South Vietnamese boats and craft and Coastal Force junks. Mobile units of Inshore Undersea Warfare Surveillance Group 1, Western Pacific Detachment, deployed to South Vietnam in April 1966 to form an additional screen.
Market Time forces aided the allied cause in other ways. The naval gunfire support offered by these American and Vietnamese ships and craft often was of vital importance to ground units locked in combat with the enemy. The naval units also served as blocking forces in encirclement operations conducted near the coast and on large rivers. The transportation of friendly troops and the evacuation of civilians constituted other important tasks. And, as with most American forces in South Vietnam, the Market Time units worked to win friends for the allied cause by building schools, donating food and clothing, and performing other civic actions.
During the first half of 1965, the Seventh Fleet operationally controlled the Vietnam Patrol Force (Task Force 71), the American component of the Market Time effort. The Naval Advisory Group, headquartered in Saigon, served as the liaison between the fleet, COMUSMACV, and the South Vietnamese Navy. The five U.S.- Vietnamese coastal surveillance centers set up at Danang, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Vung Tau, and An Thoi coordinated actual operations. To improve mutual understanding and communication, U.S. and Vietnamese naval officers sailed in the vessels of the other service.
On 31 July 1965, formal control of the American Market Time force passed from the Seventh Fleet to the Naval Advisory Group, which in turn activated the Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115). The fleet continued to provide logistic and administrative support. The command function was further refined on 1 April 1966 when Naval Forces, Vietnam, was established, relieving the NAG of responsibility for Market Time operations. In addition, the naval support activities at Danang and Saigon took over logistic and administrative duties. The next year, in July, Commander Task Force 115 moved his headquarters from Saigon to Cam Ranh Bay.
The years 1965 to 1968 witnessed a great increase in Market Time resources and the full development of patrol tactics and operating procedures. During the first months of the patrol in 1965 an average of 15 destroyers or minesweepers steamed off South Vietnam, with at least one ship assigned to each of the sectors. Soon, however, radar picket escorts (DER), with better fuel efficiency and electronic equipment, replaced the destroyers. Furthermore, to help the Vietnamese Navy's Coastal Force and Sea Force (American naval leaders were dissatisfied with their operational performance), in June, the U.S. Coast Guard began dispatching 82-foot cutters (WPB), eventually totaling 26, to Southeast Asia. The operational chain of command extended from Commander Task Force 115 through Commander Coast Guard Activities, Vietnam (established on 3 February 1967) to Coast Guard Squadron 1. This latter command controlled Coast Guard Division 11 stationed at An Thoi, Coast Guard Division 12 at Danang, and Coast Guard Division 13 at Cat Lo. To augment the inshore patrol, the Navy bought 84 Swift (PCF) boats designed by the Louisiana-based Stewart Seacraft Company and deployed them to South Vietnam. These 50-foot, 23-knot vessels, armed with .50-caliber machine guns and an 81-millimeter mortar, became the mainstays of the Navy's Coastal Surveillance Force. Under Boat Squadron 1 (later Coastal Squadron 1), Boat Divisions 101, 102, 103, 104, and 105 (redesignated Coastal Divisions 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 on 1 January 1967) operated from bases at An Thoi, Danang, Cat Lo, Cam Ranh Bay, and Qui Nhon, respectively. In June 1967 the Navy activated an additional Swift boat unit, Coastal Division 16, at Chu Lai in I Corps.
The harbor defense and surveillance units in the ports of Vung Tau, Cam Ranh Bay, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, and Vung Ro, Inshore Undersea Warfare Units (IUWU) 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively, operated a total of 16 large personnel landing craft, 25 Boston Whalers, and 8 picket boats in operation Stable Door. The 45-foot picket boats, which began to reach Vietnam in June 1967, carried a crew of one officer and five men and two .50-caliber machine guns, twin-mounted. In each port the units constructed harbor entrance control posts and equipped them with radios and surface search radars.
During 1967 and 1968, the continuing demand for Market Time vessels resulted in the deployment of 15 Coast Guard high endurance cutters (WHEC) to South Vietnam. Operating under Coast Guard Squadron 3, activated with the first deployments in the spring of 1967, the WHECs added their search radars, one 5- inch/38-caliber gun, six .50-caliber machine guns, and two 81- millimeter mortars to the patrol's firepower.
In addition, beginning in 1967, the newly built Asheville-class patrol gunboat (PG), designed specifically for coastal operations in the Third World, made its first appearance in Southeast Asia. That March, Commander Coastal Squadron 3 began surveillance of South Vietnam's coast with Gallup (PG 85). Coastal Flotilla 1 was then created to direct the operations of this unit and the new Coastal Squadron 1, with Asheville (PG 84) and Crockett (PG 88). The 165-foot Pgs, capable of 37-knot speeds, carried one 3-inch/.50-caliber gun forward, one 40-millimeter gun aft, and four .50-caliber machine guns. At first plagued by mechanical and repair part replacement problems, the shallow-draft and well armed Pgs became a useful Market Time resource. But hydrofoil gunboats Flagstaff (PGH 1) and Tucumcari (PGH 2), assigned to Task Force 115 later in the war, proved not as satisfactory in operation. These revolutionary vessels were unsuited to patrols in the rough seas off Vietnam and were too mechanically complex for the repair facilities in the combat theater.
Various aircraft flew aerial surveillance of South Vietnam's coastal waters. For a brief time in 1965 A-l Skyraiders operating from carriers at Dixie Station covered the central Vietnam coast. This mission was shared and then taken over by a patrol squadron based at Sangley Point in the Philippines and equipped with the advanced P-3 Orion aircraft. Throughout this period, five to seven P-2 Neptunes stationed at Tan Son Nhut near Saigon ranged up and down the South Vietnamese littoral along designated patrol tracks. In addition, from May 1965 to April 1967, Martin P-5 Marlin seaplanes operated from seaplane tenders Currituck (AV 7) and Salisbury Sound (AV 13), periodically anchored at Condore and Cham islands and at Cam Ranh Bay. To compensate for withdrawal of the older seaplanes in early 1967, the Navy stationed a squadron of twelve P-2s ashore at Cam Ranh Bay and a detachment of P-3s at Utapao in Thailand. The P-3s patroled the Gulf of Siam. On an intermittent basis, U.S. Army Bird Dog observation aircraft and South Vietnamese Douglas C-47s watched over several critical coastal sectors.
To improve the effectiveness of the anti-infiltration system, the Navy emplaced surface search radars on Son and Obi islands south of the Mekong Delta and on Re Island east of Chu Lai and upgraded communications between headquarters, coastal surveillance centers, surface ships and craft, and aircraft. Greater use of junk and sampan identification manuals, South Vietnamese identity papers, and passes for fishermen tightened the coastal net. MACV intelligence also focused more attention on the Communist maritime effort.
There was scant evidence in 1965 of Communist seaborne infiltration. After the Vung Ro incident in February, the allies detected not one trawler closing the shore. Relatively few of the junks and smaller craft stopped and searched in shallow water were found to carry enemy personnel or contraband. During this period, however, the patrol was not functioning with maximum effectiveness because the Americans and the South Vietnamese concentrated on refining patrol responsibilities, search sectors, operational tactics, command and communications procedures, and other essential matters. Furthermore, while the number of vessels in the command increased, the total still was insufficient for complete coverage of South Vietnam's coastal waters.
On the evening of 31 December 1965, however, Hissem (DER 400) detected a small trawler heading for shore off the Ca Mau Peninsula. When the trawler's master knew the allies had spotted his ship, he turned it around and headed north, aborting the mission. The first concrete success of the new program occurred in May 1966 when Market Time forces intercepted and destroyed another infiltrating trawler on the coast of An Xuyen Province. The vessel's recovered cargo consisted of mortar and small arms ammunition manufactured in the People's Republic of China during 1965. Again in June, Task Force 115 units tracked a steel-hulled vessel that fired on Coast Guard cutter Point League (WPB 82328) before running aground on the south coast of the Mekong Delta. In addition to the damaged ship, the Vietnamese-American defense force captured over 100 tons of munitions destined for the Viet Cong. In December 1966, the Coastal Surveillance Force detected another trawler headed for Binh Dinh Province and forced it to abandon its mission. On the first day of the new year, Swift boats from Coastal Division 13 and Coast Guard cutter Point Gammon (WPB 82304) gave chase to a Communist vessel, compelling the crew to blow up their ship near the mouth of the Bo De River. Completing the year's tally, in March and then in July, Market Time aircraft, ships, and craft prevented two steel-hulled trawlers from landing their cargo on the beaches near Quang Ngai.
During this lucrative period of the Market Time patrol from January 1966 to July 1967, many enemy junks and sampans were destroyed, captured, or forced to abort their missions. Most American and Vietnamese patrol vessels now were deployed to coastal waters and functioned with relative efficiency. The combined patrol force inspected or boarded over 700,000 vessels in South Vietnamese coastal waters.
From July to the end of 1967, the allies detected no trawlers attempting infiltration. Then, in February 1968, in an apparently desperate attempt to supply Viet Cong forces fighting for survival in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive, the enemy dispatched five ships into South Vietnamese waters. Nearing his destination, the master of the first ship gave up the attempt and shaped course for home. Task Force 115 units forced another ship aground near Danang, where the crew scuttled her. Under fire from American vessels off Ca Mau, a third trawler exploded and sank. The allies forced another ship to beach northeast of Nha Trang and then destroyed her with gunfire. The last ship, spotted from the air out to sea, reversed course and returned north. Following this serious setback for the enemy, the Market Time patrol did not discover another infiltrating trawler until August 1969.
Aside from this crisis-related gamble at Tet, by 1968 the North Vietnamese were deterred from the use of this avenue of seaborne infiltration as a major means of supply. The Coastal Surveillance Force was increasingly effective at intercepting larger vessels and even the more numerous but low cargo capacity junks and sampans.
Other factors contributed indirectly to the success of Market Time. From November 1966 on, the Sea Dragon operation off North Vietnam reduced the enemy's coastal traffic. At the same time, the Communists developed less costly and more efficient means for supplying their forces in the South. Beginning in December 1966, and with the tacit agreement of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, the Cambodian head of state, the enemy began using the port of Sihanoukville in the supposedly neutral country as a secure transshipment point for munitions destined for the Mekong Delta battleground. Not wanting to widen the war, President Johnson refused to authorize any allied operation to close the port to Communist shipping. In addition, the Ho Chi Minh Trail had become a well-established supply complex that sustained Viet Cong and North Vietnamese units in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones. Nonetheless, the Market Time patrol accomplished its primary mission by deterring the enemy's use of the sea to support the political-military offensive against South Vietnam.
The Naval Command in South Vietnam
In contrast to the carrier, amphibious, and naval gunfire support forces and, at least during early 1965, the coastal patrol force, which Commander Seventh Fleet directed, the Navy's forces within South Vietnam were operationally controlled by COMUSMACV. Initially, General William C. Westmoreland exercised this command through the Chief, Naval Advisory Group. However, the increasing demands of the war required a distinct operational rather than an advisory headquarters for naval units. As a result, on 1 April 1966, Naval Forces, Vietnam, was established to control the Navy's units in the II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. This eventually included the major combat formations: Coastal Surveillance Force (Task Force 115), River Patrol Force (Task Force 116), and Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117). The latter unit formed the naval component of the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force. Commander Naval Forces, Vietnam (COMNAVFORV) also controlled the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, which supplied naval forces in the II, III, and IV Corps areas. Naval Support Activity (NSA), Danang, provided logistic support to all American forces in I Corps, where the predominant Marine presence demanded a naval supply establishment. NSA Danang was under the operational control of Commander III Marine Amphibious Force.
COMNAVFORV also commanded the Naval Advisory Group and the Seabees of the 3d Naval Construction Brigade; the Military Sea Transportation Service Office, Vietnam, which coordinated the gargantuan sealift to Southeast Asia; the Officer in Charge of Construction, Vietnam, who handled in-country construction by civilian contractors; the Naval Research and Development Unit, Vietnam, which tested new equipment in the field; and Commander Coast Guard Activities, Vietnam.
The great strategic and economic importance of South Vietnam's extensive inland waterways made it clear from the beginning of the war that the Navy would be in the front rank of the allied forces. Laced by 3,000 nautical miles of rivers, canals, and smaller streams, the fertile Mekong Delta south of Saigon, where the largest segment of South Vietnam's population lived, constituted the country's rice bowl. Northward along the coast to the DMZ, sizable rivers stretched inland past vital population centers such as the old imperial capital of Hue. Throughout the country the road and rail system was rudimentary while the waterways provided ready access to the most important resources. The side that controlled the rivers and canals controlled the heart of South Vietnam. U.S. naval leaders were determined that allied forces would command these waterways when they established the River Patrol Force (Task Force 116) on 18 December 1965. From then until March 1966, the Navy procured river patrol boats (PBR) in the United States, prepared the crews at the Coronado, California, and Mare Island, California, training centers, and deployed the units to Southeast Asia for Operation Game Warden. On 15 March 1966 the River Patrol Force was also designated River Patrol Squadron 5 for administrative and supply purposes. By 31 August 1968, the force consisted of five river divisions, each controlling two 10-boat sections that operated from combat bases along the major rivers or from ships positioned in the rivers. The Navy reconditioned each of the ships so they could serve as floating base facilities for a PBR section and a helicopter detachment.
River Patrol Force Dispositions
River Division 51 Can Tho/Binh Thuy
River Division 52 Sa Dec (later Vinh Long)
River Division 53 My Tho
River Division 54 Nha Be River
Division 55 Danang
Support Ships -- 1966
Belle Grove (LSD 2)
Comstock (LSD 19)
Floyd County (LST 762)
Jennings County (LST 846)
Tortuga (LSD 26)
Garrett County (LST 786)
Harnett County (LST 821)
Hunterdon County (LST 838)
Jennings County (LST 846)
The PBR, the ubiquitous workhorse of the River Patrol Force, was manned by a crew of four bluejackets, equipped with a Pathfinder surface radar and two radios, and commonly armed with two twin- mounted .50-caliber machine guns forward, M-60 machine guns (or a grenade launcher) port and starboard amidship, and a .50-caliber aft. The initial version of the boat, the Mark I, performed well in river patrol operations but was plagued with continual fouling of its water-jet engines by weeds and other detritus. In addition, when Vietnamese sampans came alongside for inspection they often damaged the fragile fiberglass hull of the PBRs. New Mark Iis, first deployed to the delta in December 1966, brought improved Jacuzzi jet pumps, which reduced fouling and increased speed from 25 to 29 knots, and more durable aluminum gunwales.
Task Force 116 also employed the experimental patrol air cushion vehicle (PACV), three of which operated in the Mekong Delta during 1966 and 1967 as PACV Division 107. During 1968, the PACVs deployed to the Danang area as Coastal Division 17. Although able to move with great speed over shallow, marshy areas, such as in the Plain of Reeds, the PACVs proved to be too noisy and too mechanically sophisticated for riverine war in South Vietnam. After the Tet emergency, the craft were shipped back to the United States for reevaluation.
A key component of the Game Warden operation was its air support element. Initially, the Army deployed detachments of two UH-1B Iroquois helicopters and their crews to PBR bases and river-based LSTs. Beginning in August 1966, however, air crews from the Navy's Helicopter Support Squadron 1 replaced the Army personnel. Then on 1 April 1967, the Navy activated Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron (HAL) 3 at Vung Tau with responsibility for providing Task Force 116 with aerial fire support, observation, and medical evacuation. By September 1968, the 421-man "Seawolf" squadron controlled detachments of two helicopters each at Nha Be, Binh Thuy, Dong Tom, Rach Gia, Vinh Long, and on board three LSTs stationed in the larger rivers of the Mekong Delta. The Bell UH-1B "Hueys," armed variously with 2.75-inch rockets; .50-caliber, 60-millimeter, and 7.62-millimeter machine guns; grenades; and small arms, were a powerful and mobile complement to the Game Warden surface units.
The River Patrol Force commander led other naval forces, including the highly trained and skilled SEALs. By mid-1968, the 211-man SEAL Team 1, based at Coronado, fielded twelve 14-man platoons, each composed of two squads. Generally four or five of the platoons at any given time were deployed to South Vietnam, where one or two of them served with the special operations force in Danang and another three operated from Nha Be as Detachment GOLF in support of the Task Force 116 campaign in the Rung Sat Special Zone. Beginning in early 1967, the Atlantic Fleet's SEAL Team 2 provided another three platoons, two of which were stationed with the Game Warden units at Can Tho. These units launched SEAL operations in the central delta area. Although focused primarily on the areas to the south and west of Saigon, the SEALs also mounted operations in the I and II Corps Tactical Zones.
These elite naval commando units carried out day and night ambushes, hit and run raids, reconnaissance patrols, salvage dives, and special intelligence operations. Normally operating in six-man squads, the SEALs used landing craft, SEAL team assault boats (STAB), 26-foot armored trimarans, PBRs, sampans, and helicopters for transportation to and from their target areas. Mobile, versatile, and extremely effective in their dangerous work, the SEALs were a valuable fighting force in the riverine environment of Vietnam.
Mine clearance forces also were essential to the security of Vietnam's waterways. Nowhere was this more crucial than on the rivers near Saigon, the country's most vital port. Viet Cong mining of the main shipping channel, the Long Tau River, which wound its way through the Rung Sat Special Zone south of the capital, could have had a devastating effect on the war effort. Consequently, on 20 May 1966, the Navy established Mine Squadron 11, Detachment Alpha (Mine Division 112 after May 1968) at Nha Be, under Commander Task Force 116. From 1966 until mid-1968, the minesweeping detachment operated 12 or 13 minesweeping boats (MSB) reactivated in the United States and shipped to Southeast Asia. The 57-foot, fiberglass-hulled vessels were armed with machine guns and grenade launchers and carried surface radars and minesweeping gear for clearing explosives from the key waterways. The Navy also deployed three-boat subordinate units to Danang and Cam Ranh Bay. Detachment Alpha's strength increased in July 1967 when the first of six mechanized landing craft (LCM(M)) that were specially configured to sweep mines arrived at Nha Be.
Game Warden operations got underway in early 1966. Naval leaders set out to secure the vital water passages through the Rung Sat and to establish patrols on the large Mekong Delta rivers. On these latter waterways, the Viet Cong transported arms and supplies brought in from Cambodia, shifted guerrilla units, and taxed the population. The Navy created two separate task groups to direct operations in the respective areas.
On 26 March 1966, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine, and South Vietnamese forces kicked off Operation Jackstay, the war's first major action in the Rung Sat. PBR units (including one section from Tortuga), minesweeping boats from Nha Be, SEALs, and helicopters operated together to sweep the area. At the end of the 12-day effort, the allies had killed or captured 69 of the enemy; destroyed Viet Cong supply bases, training sites, and other logistical facilities; and, at least for a time, restricted enemy movement in the zone.
The enemy, however, remained a potent threat. In one month, August 1966, Viet Cong mines in the Long Tau heavily damaged SS Baton Rouge Victory, a Vietnamese Navy motor launch minesweeper, and MSB 54. In November, a Viet Cong mine sank MSB 54. And on the last day of the year, American forces discovered a Soviet-made contact mine in the shipping channel. The Americans and the South Vietnamese intensified minesweeping operations and the enemy continued to fight back. In February 1967 Communist recoilless rifle fire and mines destroyed MSB 45 and heavily damaged MSB 49.
By the spring of 1967 the rapid buildup of allied forces in the Rung Sat area, the refinement of tactics, and improvement of weapon systems began to reduce enemy effectiveness. During the year Vietnamese Regional Force and U.S. Army 9th Division troops conducted aggressive sweeps ashore in coordination with the helicopter, PBR, and MSB units; the better equipped LCM(M)s augmented the minesweeping force at Nha Be. SEALs began sowing mines throughout enemy-held areas, and both PBRs and MSBs added rapid-fire, 40-millimeter grenade launchers to their armament. From mid-1967 to mid-1968, the Viet Cong continued to ambush shipping on the Long Tau with mines, 122-millimeter rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, recoilless rifles, machine guns, and small arms. Quick action by allied reaction forces, however, often cut short these assaults. Thus, ship damage and personnel casualties were relatively light. Other attacks never occurred because PBR and SEAL patrols upset enemy plans or the MSBs and LCM(M)s swept up mines. Consequently, the Communists were unable to sever the vital lifeline to Saigon, even when their forces were fighting for survival during the Tet and post-Tet battles of 1968.
Game Warden operations in the central reaches of the Mekong Delta began on 8 May 1966 when PBR River Section 511 of River Division 51 at Can Tho patroled a stretch of the Bassac River. Soon afterward, other units initiated surveillance of the upper Mekong and the My Tho, Ham Luong, and Co Chien arms of the mighty river that emptied into the South China Sea.
In two-boat random patrols Task Force 116 sailors checked the cargo and identity papers of junks and sampans plying the waterways, set up night ambushes at suspected enemy crossing points, supported the SEALs with gunfire and transportation, and enforced curfew restrictions in their sector, usually no more than 35 nautical miles from the base.
Game Warden operations in the central delta registered only modest success from 1966 to 1968. Only 140 PBRs were on station to patrol many miles of river and canal. As a result, they could canvass only the larger waterways. Still, the Task Force 116 patrol forced the Viet Cong to divert troops and other resources to defense and to resort to less efficient transportation on smaller rivers and canals. During 1966 the task force refined its tactics, evaluated the performance of its boats and weapons in combat, and regularized its operational procedures. At the same time naval leaders repositioned the LSD and LST support ships inland because heavy seas at the river mouths made operations from there difficult. The year 1967 opened with the accidental loss of a PBR during launching operations from Jennings County and the first combat loss of a river patrol boat. These events foreshadowed a busy and dangerous year for the Game Warden sailors who boarded over 400,000 vessels and inspected them for enemy personnel and contraband. In the process, the River Patrol Force destroyed, damaged, or captured over 2,000 Viet Cong craft and killed, wounded, or captured over 1,400 of the enemy. However, the U.S. Navy suffered the loss of 39 officers and men killed, 366 wounded, and 9 missing in battle.
The Tet Offensive of 1968 fully engaged Task Force 116. Because of their firepower and mobility, the PBRs stiffened the defenses of numerous delta cities and towns that were under siege by the enemy. The river patrol boat units were key elements in the successful allied stands at My Tho, Ben Tre, Chau Doc, Tra Vinh, and Can Tho. The enemy prevailed only at Vinh Long, where the Viet Cong overran the PBR base forcing the defenders to withdraw to Garrett County. Despite this and a few other temporary setbacks, Task Force 116 reestablished firm control of the major delta rivers by mid-year and helped cut short the Viet Cong attacks on Saigon.
The river sailors also gave critical support to allied forces fighting to contain the enemy surge in I Corps. From September to October 1967, River Section 521 and Hunterdon County deployed to the river areas south of Danang and to Cau Hai Bay near Hue. PBR units operated permanently in the northern reaches of South Vietnam after 24 February 1968, when COMNAVFORV established Task Force Clearwater, under the operational control of the Commanding General III Marine Amphibious Force. The mission of the task force was to secure the Perfume River (which gave access to Hue from the sea) and the Cua Viet River. The Task Force eased supply efforts to American forces arrayed along the DMZ and holding the besieged outpost at Khe Sanh. Home for the task force headquarters was Mobile Base II, a floating barge complex stationed first at Tan My and later at Cua Viet. Because heavily armed North Vietnamese Army units were presented in this region, COMNAVFORV strengthened the 20-boat PBR task force with monitors, armored river craft, PACVs, and landing craft minesweepers. Task Force Clearwater could also call on helicopter, attack aircraft, artillery, naval gunfire, and ground troop support from other units in the I Corps region. Convoys bristling with weaponry were required to maintain the line of communication with forward combat units. The naval forces carried out equally vital minesweeping and patroling operations. During 1968, Task Force Clearwater's support was crucial to the successful defense of Khe Sanh, the recapture of Hue, and the defeat of the enemy offensive in I Corps.
Riverine Assault Force
While the object of the Game Warden force was to reduce the enemy's logistic support, that of the joint Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force (MRF) was to locate, encircle, and destroy Communist units in battle. American military leaders patterned the MRF after the French naval assault divisions, ordinassauts, which performed well in the Indochina War from 1946 to 1954. The Americans designed a formation especially suited to the Mekong Delta, where the absence of dry land and abundance of navigable waterways made it desirable to station ground troops on board a mobile afloat base. In addition to transporting infantry and artillery, the naval component was intended to provide gunfire support for land sweeps from heavily armed and armored river craft. As finally organized, the Mobile Riverine Force consisted of an Army element, the 2d Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division, augmented in mid-1968 by the 3d Brigade, and a Navy element. The MRF was under COMUSMACV's overall direction.
The Commanding General II Field Force, Vietnam, exercised operational control of the Army contingent while COMNAVFORV commanded the naval component, designated the Riverine Assault Force (Task Force 117). Commander Task Force 117, also titled Commander River Assault Flotilla One for purposes of supply and administration, directed the operations of River Assault Squadrons 9 and 11 (also assigned task group numerical designations). After June 1968 squadrons 13 and 15 joined the force. That same month, the task force was reorganized into Mobile Riverine Group Alpha with squadrons 9 and 11, and Mobile Riverine Group Bravo, with squadrons 13 and 15.
Each 400-man squadron, divided further into two river assault divisions, marshalled a powerful fleet of five monitors. Each monitor was protected with armor and equipped with .50 caliber, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter gun mounts, two 40- millimeter grenade launchers, and an 81-millimeter mortar. Another two or three similarly armed and armored craft served as command and control boats. A total of 26 armored troop carriers that mounted .50-caliber machine guns, rapid-fire grenade launchers, and 20-millimeter cannon transported the Army troops. Also installed on the former amphibious landing craft were helicopter landing platforms. A number of craft mounted flame throwers or water cannon to destroy enemy bunkers. A modified armored troop carrier functioned as a refueler for the river force. Beginning in September 1967, to augment the firepower of these converted landing craft, each squadron was provided with 8 to 16 newly designed assault support patrol boats for minesweeping and escort duties.
In addition to leading the naval combat flotilla, Commander Task Force 117 also functioned as Commander River Support Squadron 7. He was responsible for the Mobile Riverine Base from which normally one or two infantry battalions and one river assault squadron operated.
Mobile Riverine Base Composition
2 self-propelled barracks ships (APB)
1 LST (another LST operated between the MRF and Vung Tau)
1 specially configured landing craft repair ship (ARL)
1 non-self-propelled barracks craft (APL)
1 repair, berthing, and messing barge (YRBM)
2 large harbor tugs (YTB)
1 net-laying ship (AN)
Mobile Riverine Base Ships
Askari (ARL 30)
Benewah (APB 35)
Caroline County (LST 525)
Cohoes (AN 78)
Colleton (APB 36)
Indra (ARL 37)
Kemper County (LST 854)
Mercer (APB 39)
Nueces (APB 40)
Vernon County (LST 1161)
Washtenaw County (LST 1166)
Whitfield County (LST 1169)
Windham County (LST 1170)
Satyr (ARL 23)
Sedgwick County (LST 1123)
Mobile Riverine Force units rotated between the afloat base and Dong Tam, a logistic complex three miles west of My Tho that Army engineers and Navy Seabees built especially for the joint operation. The base contained barracks, mess halls, repair shops, floating crane YD 220, a C-130 airstrip, small drydocks, and waterfront facilities for the river craft. Further, the Army based the headquarters of the 2d Brigade, 9th Infantry Division at Dong Tam.
The Navy's first Mobile Riverine Force contingent arrived in South Vietnam on 7 January 1967, when Whitfield County disembarked River Assault Squadron 9 at Vung Tau. This and following units underwent extensive preparation in river warfare at the Naval Inshore Operations Training Center, Mare Island, California, before deployment to Southeast Asia. On 28 February, COMNAVFORV activated Task Force 117 under Captain Wade C. Wells. In March River Assault Squadron 11 joined River Assault Squadron 9 at Vung Tau. By June 1967, support ship Kemper County, barracks shipsBenewah and Colleton, and other vessels had arrived in-country to round out the Navy's MRF contingent.
MRF units had already fought minor actions against the Viet Cong in the Rung Sat and in the vicinity of Dong Tam. On 1 June, with the MRF up to strength and most units acclimated to the combat area, the force began intensive operations to find and destroy enemy guerrilla units around Dong Tam. The first major battle occurred between 19 and 21 June when the Army-Navy team trapped three Viet Cong companies about 15 miles south of Saigon and killed 255 enemy soldiers. Another 59 Communists died in the area during July. Reacting to intelligence that two Viet Cong battalions were preparing to attack Dong Tam, the Mobile Riverine Base ships weighed anchor and steamed 61 miles upriver to a new site. There they joined with Vietnamese Marine, Vietnamese Army, and U.S. Army battalions in decimating and scattering the prospective enemy assault force. The MRF recorded success of another sort in September when a landing and sweep maneuver in the eastern Rung Sat uncovered a cache of 105 rifles and machine guns, 165 grenades, 60 howitzer and mortar shells, and 56,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. A small enemy hospital and 850 pounds of medicine were found soon afterward.
The Viet Cong, however, eventually adjusted to MRF tactics and struck back. During Operation Coronado V in September 1967 the enemy sprang an ambush along a two-mile stretch of the Ba Rai River southwest of Saigon. By the end of the four-hour engagement, half of the vessels in the convoy had been hit by enemy fire, three sailors were dead and 77 were wounded. Another six men were killed or wounded in an ambush later that same month. Still, the MRF, acting in conjunction with the Vietnamese Army 7th Division, trapped elements of the Viet Cong 263d and 514th Main Force Battalions in October and inflicted 173 casualties on these units.
From October to the end of November, the Mobile Riverine Force searched for enemy troops reportedly concentrated north of the Mekong between Sa Dec and Dong Tam, but the enemy avoided significant contact. Then, on 4 December, the Viet Cong triggered an ambush against River Assault Division 112 on the Ruong Canal northeast of Sa Dec. The river sailors turned the tables when they fought through the ambush and landed troops on the enemy's flank. Soon other American and Vietnamese combat units surrounded and killed 266 Viet Cong and captured 321 small arms and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.
MRF actions during the 1968 Tet Offensive were the key to allied military success in the delta and earned the force the Presidential Unit Citation. Exploiting the inherent mobility and firepower of the riverine command, COMUSMACV used it as his primary reaction force in the vast delta. During the first week of February 1968, the MRF battled through the streets of My Tho to help recapture the overrun city, and then shifted to Vinh Long for several days of intense combat with three Viet Cong battalions. For the rest of the month the Army-Navy team fought around the delta's chief city, Can Tho. The force killed 544 of the enemy in this period of almost constant crisis.
During the first three months of 1968, the Mobile Riverine Base traveled almost 1,000 kilometers while conducting operations in Dinh Tuong Province and entering new areas in Vinh Long and Phong Dinh Provinces. In March, ten armored troop carriers, three monitors, and one command and control boat of River Assault Division 112 deployed to I Corps and supported allied ground troops with gunfire on the vital Cua Viet and Perfume Rivers.
During the second quarter of the year when the Communists mounted serious post-Tet attacks, the riverine force decimated the Viet Cong 514th Main Force Battalion near Cai Lay in the delta and another formation south of Saigon. Fighting to relieve pressure on the capital, the MRF inflicted 687 casualties on besieging enemy forces.
In July and August, the Mobile Riverine Force ranged throughout the delta with its full complement of river craft, support ships and 9th Division troops. In the latter month, the MRF joined with other Army and Navy units and with Vietnamese forces in a large- scale penetration of the U Minh Forest, a longtime Viet Cong stronghold. Although the enemy fiercely resisted this intrusion, causing heavy allied casualties, this military presence was maintained. The operation heralded a subsequent campaign to deny the Communists security in any area of the delta. Having demonstrated their worth during two years of combat, Mobile Riverine Force units would be in the vanguard of this new strategic approach to the war.
The Naval Advisory Effort
The U.S. Navy continued its program of training and equipping its sister service that had begun in 1950. From 1965 to 1968, however, the American naval effort in Vietnam overshadowed the Vietnamese Navy's contribution to the struggle. Further diminishing that contribution was political in-fighting among Vietnamese naval officers that resulted in the removal of three successive chiefs of naval operations during 1965 and 1966. Relative stability returned in 1967 and 1968, but the command disruption retarded the development of leadership in the Vietnamese Navy and this in turn hindered overall progress.
The Naval Advisory Group redoubled its efforts to strengthen the shaky organizational, personnel, and material base of the Vietnamese Navy. To accomplish this task, the group assigned advisors to each large South Vietnamese naval vessel, each Coastal Force and River Force group, and to the headquarters, ship and boat repair facilities, supply installations, and training facilities. The Naval Advisory Group contingent increased from 235 officers and men in early 1965 to 540 in mid- 1968. Approximately half of the men were officers and the other half enlisted.
Because the Chief, Naval Advisory Group directed the Market Time coastal patrols and helped plan the activation of the U.S. river patrol and riverine forces in 1965, he could not devote enough attention to his training responsibility. Hence, in February 1966 the American naval command appointed a Senior Advisor, Vietnamese Navy Headquarters, and assigned him responsibility for improving coordination between the two naval services. In October 1967 he was retitled Senior Naval Advisor, assigned a larger staff, and placed in charge of all U.S. naval advisors in the field. He served directly under the Chief, Naval Advisory Group.
The average American naval advisor was dedicated to preparing the Vietnamese Navy to some day stand alone against the Communist foe. Often assigned to vessels or bases lacking even basic amenities, the advisor also shared the risks of combat with his hosts. His task was a heavy one. Not empowered to give orders, he could only hope to persuade his Vietnamese counterpart that a particular course of action was warranted. That advice often was ignored. Aside from the natural difficulty of getting others to accept counsel, the naval advisor was often hampered by the language barrier and differences in cultures, educational levels, and personalities that separated him from his counterpart. Furthermore, the one-year tour completed by most advisors did not allow them enough time to learn the job and bring about meaningful change. Despite all this, the Naval Advisory Group helped improve the Vietnamese naval service in important respects.
The Vietnamese Navy, which grew from a force of 8,242 men, 44 ships, and 200 other vessels in early 1965 to one of 17,574 personnel, 65 ships, 300 junks, and 290 other craft in mid-1968, underwent several organizational changes as well. In April 1965 the Joint General Staff (JGS) decided to enhance their control of the Vietnamese Marine Corps by making it a separate service within the armed forces. In addition, the JGS redesignated the I, II, III and IV Naval Zones as Coastal Zones and, along with the newly created III and IV Riverine Areas, placed them under the operational control of the army commanders of the I, II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. Because of its special riverine characteristics, the Rung Sat remained in the navy's charge. Thus, with the exception of ships steaming outside of territorial waters, most of the navy's combat forces came under army direction. Administrative responsibility for the navy, however, remained with the Chief of Naval Operations. Another significant reorganization occurred in July 1965 when the JGS formally integrated the 3,500-man, paramilitary Coastal Force into the navy. Thereafter, the command's divisions and the old coastal district designations were dropped and the coastal zones became the operational sectors. In a similar move, in October the following year, the Vietnamese Navy was assigned administrative responsibility for the headquarters and training center of the 24 paramilitary Regional Force Boat Companies and maintenance responsibility for their 192 vehicle and personnel landing craft (LCVP).
On 1 January 1966, the Sea Force was renamed the Fleet Command and reorganized along functional lines. Flotilla I, comprised the submarine chasers (PC) and escorts in Squadron 11, the motor gunboats in Squadron 13, and the large support landing ships (LSSL) in Squadron 15. The minesweepers in Squadron 17 were responsible for sea patrol, inshore patrol, river patrol, and minesweeping duties, respectively. Flotilla II controlled Squadrons 22 and 24, which consisted of the Vietnamese Navy's landing ships and craft, coastal oilers, and other vessels providing logistic support.
Throughout this period, the Vietnamese Navy continued to suffer from serious deficiencies. Perhaps the greatest was the careerism and interservice political activity of many naval officers, which hamstrung coordination and cooperation in operations and lowered the morale and motivation of naval personnel. The emphasis on politics disrupted the training of sailors, many already educationally unprepared in the technical skills essential for the operation of complex vessels, weapons, and equipment. Aside from the political factor, training in gunnery, seamanship, and communications skills was hurt by the Vietnamese stress on instruction at shore-based schools, rather than on board ships. Unfortunately, few Vietnamese sailors were released from operational duty to receive training ashore. At the same time, the Recruit Training Center at Cam Ranh Bay, the Advanced Training Center in Saigon, and the Naval Training Center at Nha Trang, which included the Naval Academy, were hard-pressed to handle the great number of men entering the service during this period. Some relief was afforded by the training of Vietnamese officers and men on board U.S. naval vessels and in the United States. The quality of training improved somewhat as a result of these measures and the hard work of many Vietnamese sailors and American advisors.
The material condition of the navy raised even more serious concerns. Officers and men in the operational units often showed little regard for the maintenance of their ships and craft. Compounding the problem was the inability of the ship and boat repair facilities to cope with the growing backlog of work orders generated by the increased tempo of the war and the doubling in size of the navy. The lack of skilled workmen severely hampered operations at the Eastern Repair Facility at Cuu Long near Saigon and the Western Repair Facility at Can Tho, which handled River Force and Coastal Force work. The same condition existed at the smaller establishments at Danang, Cat Lo, Qui Nhon, An Thoi, and Rach Gia, which supported the Coastal Force exclusively. A number of these repair operations barely functioned. The situation was not much different at the larger Saigon Naval Shipyard, the country's main industrial facility and ship repair yard. Between 1965 and 1968, the 1,500-man skilled labor force lost 640 workers to other higher paying wartime enterprises and to the draft. As a result, ship overhauls fell from 23 in 1965 to 6 in 1967. Tasked to build Yabuta junks for the Coastal Force, the yard completed 90 in 1965, 39 in 1966, and only 15 in 1967. The repair crisis was partially eased by the dispatch to the yard of American naval technicians, improved management procedures by U.S. naval advisors, and the use of the Ship Repair Facility on Guam for major overhauls.
Of the three major combat commands in the Vietnamese Navy, the Coastal Force was most beset by problems. By mid-1968, hull and equipment deterioration and the disposal of inefficient sailing junks had reduced the number of vessels in the 600-craft force by half. Of the remainder, almost one-third were not operational for lack of repairs, spare parts, supplies, or fuel. The addition to the force of the newly constructed Yabuta junks only partially offset this loss of operational vessels. The Yabuta, fiberglass- hulled to retard damage from marine borers, was crewed by five men and armed with .30-caliber and .50-caliber machine guns and other automatic weapons. The craft, powered by 110-horsepower Graymarine diesel engines, could reach speeds of 10 to 12 knots.
Personnel problems proved equally vexing. Although authorized almost 4,000 men, the Coastal Force often fell short by 700 to 800 men. Lacking the prestige of the other combat branches and with its men underpaid and isolated in austere bases, the junk force had great difficulty recruiting personnel, especially those with technical knowledge. Further, only a few of the coastal group bases created formal training programs to increase the skills of those men enlisted. Encouraged by U.S. naval advisors, the Vietnamese Navy took limited steps in late 1967 and 1968 to improve the training effort and to better the living conditions of the junkmen, but much remained to be done.
Although the primary mission of the Coastal Force was to curtail Communist seaborne infiltration by patroling waters close inshore, it registered little success in this regard. American operations in the outer Market Time sectors received greater attention and this discouraged Vietnamese initiative. While the junk force stopped and searched hundreds of thousands of coastal craft, fewer than 50 percent of the patrol units were on station at any one time, and rarely at night. Still, the coastal groups did seize or destroy a number of junks, sampans, and other craft carrying enemy munitions and personnel and contributed to the general deterrence role of the Market Time force.
The Coastal Force devoted most of its attention to amphibious raids, patrols of shallow inlets and river mouths, troop lifts, and blocking support for allied ground sweeps. For instance, during Operation Irving in October 1966, ground forces and junk units in II Coastal Zone killed 681 Viet Cong troops. In addition, the junkmen established a government presence among the fishermen and provided them with medical services and other assistance. Sometimes the Coastal Force sailors convinced Communist soldiers to desert their units.
The enemy, who often attacked the 27 vulnerable Coastal Force bases, overran the triangular-shaped fortifications of Coastal Group 15 at Cua An Hoa in July 1965 and of Coastal Group 16 at Co Luy in August 1967. Other bases, however, withstood repeated assaults. In doing so, these facilities played a part in the allied effort that denied the enemy easy access to the coastal regions.
From 1965 to 1968, progress was uneven for the Fleet Command, another major component of the Vietnamese Navy. The Fleet Command grew, with an increase of 300 personnel and the acquisition of 3 more LSSLs, 8 PGMs, 6 LCM(M)s, 1 patrol rescue escort (PCER), and 1 YOG. But maintenance and repair of vessels, crew training, and the quality of leadership remained marginal. In contrast to the Coastal Force, the Fleet Command vessels were overmanned, hurting shipboard efficiency and habitability. Many of these factors detracted from the command's operational readiness and performance at sea and on the rivers. Normally, only 50 percent of the escorts and motor gunboats were available for ocean patrol, and this effort constituted a minor part of the total Market Time campaign. The river patrol and escort mission aided the allied cause, especially with the protection of shipping transiting the Mekong River to Cambodia. But because of inattention to defensive precautions, these operations could be costly, as demonstrated by the loss to mines in 1966 of an LSSL and damaging of a large infantry landing ship (LSIL) and a utility landing craft (LCU). Viet Cong mines also took their toll of the command's MLMS fleet, which worked to keep open the shipping channel to Saigon. In August 1966 and again in January 1967, enemy mines sank an MLMS in the Rung Sat. The logistic flotilla, charged with supplying Vietnamese Navy bases throughout the country, transported 4,000 tons of cargo and 5,000 passengers in 1966, but only 3,000 tons of cargo and 3,000 passengers the following year. Little improvement occurred in 1968.
Despite operational deficiencies, the Vietnamese Navy's blue-water sailors had worked with their American naval advisors to rectify problems and increase efficiency. By the end of 1968 the rivers and inshore coastal waters were more secure than they had been at the beginning. Further, on 15 May 1967, Fleet Command units began to take over sectors of the Market Time outer barrier from U.S. ships; by the end of the year vessels were stationed in each of the coastal zones.
As the Vietnamese Navy's primary combat arm, the River Force was charged with operating with the army to defeat the enemy in the vital Mekong Delta. Recognizing the importance of this mission, the Naval Advisory Group worked to procure new and replacement craft. The River Force received hundreds of craft from 1965 to mid-1968, including specially configured LCM 6 and LCM 8 landing craft that served as monitors, command boats, troop transports, minesweeping boats, patrol vessels, and fuel barges. The United States also provided the river sailors with 27 American-built river patrol craft (RPC). Unfortunately, these vessels proved to be too noisy, underarmed, and easily slowed by river vegetation.
The acquisition of all the new craft enabled the Vietnamese Navy to create another seven river assault groups. However, six of the newer groups (28-33) operated with eight fewer craft than the normal complement of 19 river craft. The 27th RAG, a special formation, deployed 22 boats. Formed by the Vietnamese Navy in June 1968, River Patrol Group 51, contained the first eight PBRs turned over by the U.S. Navy and assigned duty on the Long Tau and Dong Nai rivers. The following month, the 32d RAG redeployed to Thua Thien north of Hue where it incorporated a six-boat detachment based there since May 1967. The other components of the River Force, the River Transport Group, until dissolved in March 1966, and the 28-boat River Transport Escort Group, added to the mobility and firepower of the command.
River Assault Group Dispositions
21st RAG My Tho
22d RAG Saigon
23d RAG Vinh Long
24th RAG Tan An
25th RAG Can Tho
26th RAG Long Xuyen
27th RAG Saigon
28th RAG Saigon
29th RAG Can Tho
30th RAG Saigon
31st RAG Vinh Long
32d RAG Long Xuyen
33d RAG My Tho
The River Force did not fully employ its strength. The political troubles of 1965 and 1966 in the Republic of Vietnam, in which high-ranking River Force officers figured prominently, damaged morale and distracted personnel from their military mission. The navy and the army rarely launched joint amphibious assaults against the Viet Cong. Operations reflected the River Force's lack of technically skilled crewmen, the poor maintenance and repair of river craft, and the absence of inspired leadership. Usually, only half of the command's units were ready for combat action, and many of these boats were committed by the army to static guard, resupply, troop lift, or other nonoffensive duties. The reliance on defense over offense reflected the historic Vietnamese strategy of husbanding resources until there was clear advantage over an enemy. The Vietnamese Navy's River Force sailors often fought hard and bravely, killing many of the enemy and suffering heavy losses of their own, but their valor and sacrifice was not rewarded with strategic success.
The Naval Advisory Group and all other U.S. Navy units in-country employed civic action to win the support of the Vietnamese people for the government of the Republic of Vietnam and the allied cause. Wherever American forces operated, they instituted programs to provide the local inhabitants with medical assistance, hygiene and sanitation instruction, and English language training. Units distributed clothes, toys, medicines, and soap provided through the Navy's Project Handclasp and kits supplied by Care for instruction in such subjects as midwifing, agriculture, carpentry, and masonry. Chaplain Corps personnel often ministered to Vietnamese civilians. Seabee Technical Assistance Teams, renamed simply Seabee Teams, devoted their complete attention to the nation-building task. Assisted by local workers, the team constructed bridges, small dams, roads, houses for refugees, schools, dispensaries, market places, and municipal offices, usually in localities hotly contested by the government and the Communists. CM3 Marvin Shields, the first sailor awarded the Medal of Honor in the Southeast Asian conflict, was a member of Seabee Team 1104. His self-sacrifice in the line of duty during a Viet Cong attack on the work site at Dong Xoai in June 1965 reflected the average Seabee's dedication to the allied cause. So well thought of by American and Vietnamese officials was the work of the Seabees that the number of teams in the II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones was increased to 15 by 1968.
Many sailors took action, often out of pure humanitarian concern, to ease the plight of the Vietnamese villagers caught in the upheaval of war. The men freely donated their food rations, made financial contributions to orphanages, and solicited further help from friends and relatives back home. While the long-term value of the Navy's civic action programs in South Vietnam cannot be determined, they clearly improved relations between naval units and the population among which this war without front lines was fought.
The Navy's Logistic Support of the War
Much of the material assistance provided the Vietnamese people came by sea, as did 99 percent of the ammunition and fuel and 95 percent of the supplies, vehicles, and construction resources consumed by the massive allied war effort. With primary responsibility for the sea line of communication to Southeast Asia, the Navy oversaw the development of a 7,000-mile, transoceanic lifeline to American forces fighting ashore, steaming in the South China Sea, and to bases throughout the Pacific.
By mid-1967, the Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service operated a fleet of 527 reactivated World War II Reserve Fleet ships and chartered vessels under U.S. and foreign registry. Throughout this period, MSTS shipping carried over 40,000 U.S. and allied combat and support troops to South Vietnam. The allied requirements for transportation were passed from MSTS representatives in the ports of Danang, Chu Lai, Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, Vung Tau, Phan Rang, and Vung Ro through the MSTS office in Saigon to the MSTS Far East, headquartered in Yokohama, Japan, and finally to Commander MSTS in the United States. Many types of vessels sailed in the MSTS fleet, including converted escort carriers Core, Card, Point Cruz (T-AKV 19), and Kula Gulf (T-AKV 8), which served as aircraft ferries. Corpus Christi Bay (T-ARVH 1), formerly seaplane tender Albermarle (AV 5), operated as a helicopter repair ship for the Army. In addition to the great number of standard cargo hulls, the service operated ships that carried cargo stowed in easily handled containers and new roll-on/roll-off ships that could quickly load and unload vehicles through rear or side ports. Arriving at Danang on 1 August 1967, Bienville was the first such container vessel to reach South Vietnam. Fuel tankers included the 190,000-barrel capacity Maumee (T-AO 149), the 140,000-barrel Cache (T-AO 67), and the 30,000-barrel Chattahoochee (T-AOG 82), the latter of which was used for storage and shuttle services in-country.
MSTS also controlled as many as 16 troop transports in the Pacific during the buildup of forces in South Vietnam. A fleet of LSTs, the number of which increased from 17 to 42 by mid-1968, handled cargo shuttling along the coast. In-port lighterage and terminal duties were accomplished by the MSTS-contracted Alaska Barge and Transport Company, which operated 19 tugs and 33 barges. The total MSTS effort ensured that the 550,000-man U.S. contingent in South Vietnam was well supplied, armed, and prepared to stay in the battle against the determined enemy.
The Service Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet (SERVPAC), which controlled or coordinated the actions of the logistic ships and shore support facilities throughout the Pacific area, supplied the Navy in Southeast Asia. SERVPAC's primary subordinate commands for the forces afloat were Service Group 1 based in San Diego for the Eastern Pacific, Service Squadron 5 in Hawaii, and Service Group 3, based in Sasebo, Japan, for the Western Pacific. The latter group's Service Squadron 3 was also the Seventh Fleet's logistic Support Force (Task Force 73). The task force, designed for flexibility and versatility, could concentrate a great number of ships in Southeast Asia to provide the 100 units of the deployed fleet with ammunition, petroleum products, supplies, and repairs. The task force provided the fleet with repair parts, communications, and towing, salvage, port service, postal, and medical support as well as the universally desired movies that passed from ship to ship. The replenishment of fleet combatants at sea, a process constantly improved by new equipment and techniques such as vertical replenishment by shipboard helicopters, enabled the ships to operate for long periods at Yankee and Dixie Stations on the Market Time patrol, and on the naval gunfire support line. In a typical year, from 70 to 97 percent of the deployed fleet's requirements for fuel, ammunition, and provisions were satisfied by sea transfer. This task was eased considerably by modern, multifunction logistic ships such as the combat stores shipMars (AFS 1) and fast combat support ship Sacramento (AOE 1). Other vital specialized ships included hydrographic survey ships Maury (AGS 16), Towhee (AGS 28), and Tanner (AGS 15), and hospital ships Repose and Sanctuary. These last vessels carried the most modern equipment and a skilled naval medical staff of 24 doctors, 29 nurses, and 250 corpsmen in addition to dental surgeons and chaplains. Medical evacuation helicopters generally took no more than 30 minutes to fly wounded troops from their units to the ships, positioned close offshore. This deployment saved thousands of lives and eased untold suffering. Salvage vessels such as Reclaimer (ARS 42) and fleet tug Lipan (ATF 85) freed many grounded vessels, including destroyer Frank Knox, Terrell County (LST 1157), and infiltrating Communist trawlers. Task Force 73's medium and light lift craft, comprising Harbor Clearance Unit 1, recovered vessels sunk in the inland waterways of South Vietnam.
The Service Force commander also directed the activities of the Navy's Pacific-wide shore establishment. This included the Naval Ship Repair Facilities and Naval Supply Depots in Yokosuka, Japan; Subic Bay, Philippines; and Guam; the Naval Magazines at Guam and Subic; the Naval Ordnance Facilities at Yokosuka and Sasebo, Japan; the Fleet Post Office at San Francisco; and the Headquarters Support Activity in Taiwan. The headquarters for area coordination, including the separate Commanders Naval Forces, Marianas, Japan, and Philippines also reported to Commander Service Force.
In July 1967, the Navy strengthened SERVPAC's ability to support the naval effort in Southeast Asia when it placed under his command the Fleet Activities at Yokosuka, Sasebo, and the Ryukyu Islands; the Naval Base at Subic; the Naval Stations at Subic, Guam, and Pearl Harbor; and the California Naval Stations at San Francisco, Treasure Island, Terminal Island, Long Beach, and San Diego. The air, submarine, cruiser-destroyer, and other type commands in the Pacific Fleet, however, continued to ensure the readiness of their units through interaction with U.S.-based parent commands and the Naval Ship, Air, Ordnance, and other systems commands.
SERVPAC took care of the administrative needs of another three commands: the Naval Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet; the Naval Support Activity, Danang; and the Naval Support Activity, Saigon. COMUSMACV, however, directed the operations of the Seabee units and the support activities.
In contrast to the Seabee teams, which had been in South Vietnam since 1963 to assist the counterinsurgency and nation-building programs, the naval construction battalions were deployed to support Navy and Marine Corps combat forces. On 19 May 1965 at Danang, the Navy activated the 30th Naval Construction Regiment and placed it under COMUSMACV's III Marine Amphibious Force. This arrangement lasted until 1 April 1966, when the newly established Naval Forces, Vietnam, took over the command responsibility. In Saigon exactly two months later, the Navy activated the 3d Naval Construction Brigade, which by the end of 1966 ran the operations of all Seabee units in-country under COMNAVFORV guidance. A final command alignment occurred on 1 August 1967, when the brigade headquarters was shifted from Saigon to Danang for improved control of the 30th Naval Construction Regiment and the newly activated 32d Naval Construction Regiment. The former command directed the Seabee battalions in the Danang area while the latter controlled the construction effort around Hue from its headquarters at Phu Bai.
The Seabee presence in South Vietnam increased dramatically during the period, especially in the predominantly Marine I Corps Tactical Zone. Between 7 May 1965, when the 600-man Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 10 landed at Chu Lai, and mid-1968, the construction force grew to over 10,000 men formed into 4 major headquarters staffs, 15 thirteen-man counterinsurgency teams stationed country-wide, 12 battalions, and 2 maintenance units. Besides NMCB 10, Commander Naval Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet deployed NMCBs 3, 5, 9, and 11, and the Atlantic Fleet's NMCBs 4 and 8 for eight-month tours of duty at Chu Lai and Danang during 1965 and 1966. The increase in combat activity in northern I Corps necessitated the deployment of additional units to Vietnam, including the Atlantic Fleet NMCBs 1, 6, and 7, and the newly commissioned NMCBs 40, 53, 58, 62, 71, 74, 121, 128, and 133. By July of 1968, five construction battalions operated from Danang, two from Chu Lai, two from Phu Bai, two from Quang Tri, and one from Dong Ha. In addition, Construction Battalion Maintenance Units 301 and 302 maintained and repaired naval base facilities at Dong Ha and Cam Ranh Bay. Further, smaller detachments built facilities at Dong Tam, Cu Chi, Pleiku, Long Binh, Nha Trang, and other locations in the southern areas of South Vietnam. Although remaining under the operational control of the Seventh Fleet's Commander Amphibious Task Force, Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 operated for short periods in South Vietnam, installing pontoon piers and offshore fuel lines to support combat forces ashore, and assembling special pontoon barges for use by the Navy's river forces.
Often working under fire as they had during World War II and the Korean War, the Seabees in Vietnam provided invaluable support to the allied ground campaign. The naval units completed helicopter pads, airfield runways, taxi strips, and hangars at Chu Lai, Danang, and Phu Bai. They also built port facilities and boat ramps at Danang and Cua Viet; surfaced, resurfaced, and kept open Route 1 and other vital roads and erected thousands of bridges, including the 2,000-foot-long Liberty Bridge over the Thu Bon River southwest of Danang. The Seabees also constructed fortifications, observation towers, fuel storage tanks, barracks, mess halls, storage buildings, ammunition storage areas, and medical facilities such as the Navy's 400-bed station hospital at Danang. The Seabees operated stone quarries, drilled wells, and repaired damage from Viet Cong rocket, artillery, and mortar fire. The Navy's construction units were especially valued during the Tet Offensive, when they prepared facilities and defenses for Army divisions dispatched to I Corps, repaired a crucial bridge across the Perfume River to Hue, and helped reopen land communications to the besieged Marine base at Khe Sanh. These accomplishments were not without cost. From 1965 to 1968, 57 Seabees were killed and hundreds were wounded in the line of duty.
Naval Support Activities
Over the span of several years, the Naval Support Activity Danang, became the Navy's largest overseas logistic command. But in March of 1965 when Marine combat troops moved ashore into I Corps, the support establishment was rudimentary. The port of Danang contained only three small piers, three LST ramps, and a stone quay that were inaccessible to oceangoing vessels; even smaller craft had trouble approaching. The scarcity of lighterage and the heavy weather that often buffeted the harbor made ship- to-craft cargo transfers hazardous and inefficient. Warehouses, open storage areas, cargo handling equipment, and good exit routes from the port were limited.
From March to July 1965, III Marine Amphibious Force troops delivered supplies to the units in the field while the Seventh Fleet ran port operations. Soon, the fleet dispatched Naval Beach Group 1, Cargo Handling Battalions 1 and 2, nucleus port crew, Mine Force, Service Force, underwater demolition team, and explosive ordnance disposal units to Danang. In addition, the Navy took charge of the offloading, storage, and delivery of supplies common to all the allied forces in I Corps. Additional responsibilities included harbor defense and the transshipment of cargo to the smaller ports in the region. The fleet also managed logistic operations at these locations.
The Navy took formal control of the I Corps logistic establishment on 15 October 1965, when it established Naval Support Activity, Danang. During the next several years, the command created subordinate naval support activity detachments at Chu Lai, Hue, Tan My, Dong Ha, Cua Viet, Phu Bai, and Sa Huynh. These detachments decentralized the support function and improved the logistic flow.
The naval commander of NSA Danang had great resources at his disposal to accomplish his mission. Logistic vessels included LCM 3, LCM 6, and LCU landing craft; harbor utility craft (YFU); small harbor tugs (YTL); open lighters (YC); refrigerated barges (YFRN); Army craft; and a refrigerator ship. While base facilities were under construction, the fleet deployed to Danang LSTs, an LSD, and an attack transport (APA), the latter for quartering and messing NSA personnel. The harbor defense unit used landing craft, picket boats, and 16-foot Boston Whalers to monitor and protect the maritime traffic. A small craft repair facility and a floating drydock (AFDL) helped keep NSA vessels in working order. Over 130 rough terrain and warehouse forklifts and 20 cranes eased cargo handling.
The logistic establishment at Danang functioned with growing efficiency by mid-1968 as it built new port and shore facilities. Seabees, initially using materials pre-stocked long before the war in Advanced Base Functional Component packages, constructed three deep-draft piers for oceangoing ships, two 300-foot wooden piers, an LST causeway, and the Bridge Cargo Complex that consisted of a 1,600-foot-long wharf, 300,000 cubic feet of refrigerated storage space, and 500,000 square feet of covered storage space. Amphibious fuel lines were laid along the sea floor to storage tanks ashore at Red Beach, north of the city, and the Marine air facility at Marble Mountain to the south.
During 1965 the logistic operation at Danang suffered from lack of suitable or sufficient harbor craft, cargo handling equipment, and port personnel. Management and planning of the logistic flow needed refinement, as ships arrived en masse with cargo improperly stowed and packaged. Storage areas ashore were limited by space and access. Finally, the harsh Northeast Monsoon made cargo operations at Danang and throughout I Corps hazardous and difficult during the winter months.
From 1966 to 1968, however, new resources and management procedures dramatically improved the situation. By July 1968 the Naval Support Activity handled 350,000 tons of cargo each month for the 200,000 allied troops in I Corps. Danang had become the largest fuel complex in South Vietnam capable of holding over 500,000 barrels. The station hospital begun in 1965 had treated over 21,000 casualties, 44,000 nonbattle patients, and one million outpatients flowing in from the hostile and disease-ridden I Corps environment.
The outlying NSA detachments proved godsends during the Tet Offensive, when they assumed the logistic support of the sometimes isolated allied forces. The units at Dong Ha and Cua Viet on the Cua Viet River pushed supplies and ammunition through to the 3d Marine Division holding the line at the DMZ while the Tan My detachment assisted the troops locked in combat at Hue. The support establishment at Chu Lai supplied the 1st Marine Division while the one at Sa Huynh supplied Army troops near Duc Pho. Naval Support Activity, Danang, thus helped the American and other combat contingents withstand, and eventually roll back the enemy's 1968 onslaught. In contrast to Danang, a logistic establishment already existed at Saigon when major U.S. forces came ashore in South Vietnam in 1965. The Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon, gradually turned over most of its responsibilities for common support of the other services to the Army, but the command continued to provide valuable assistance. During a single month in 1965 the activity's Saigon port operation offloaded over 330,000 tons of cargo from 96 ships and transshipped 40,000 tons to other coastal centers. Throughout the year HSAS divisions acquired 2.7 million feet of storage space, managed 54 bachelor officer and enlisted quarters, oversaw 318 construction contracts, and distributed 60,000 books and magazines from the activity library to outlying bases. The Saigon Station Hospital's 109 medical personnel continued to treat thousands of patients.
Naval Support Activity, Saigon, which the Navy activated on 17 May 1966, two days after HSAS ceased operations, was charged with providing logistic support to naval units in the II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. The newly created NAVFORV directed the operations of NSA Saigon. The support activity supplied the Navy's Coastal Surveillance Force, River Patrol Force, Riverine Assault Force, and the various specialized headquarters, offices, and detachments operating in the three southern corps areas. NSA Saigon provided the commands with ammunition, weapons, and communications equipment; transported cargo and personnel; repaired and maintained ships and craft; stocked spare parts; and built bases and facilities. Finally, NSA saw to the quartering, messing, payroll, and recreational needs of the naval officers and enlisted personnel in Vietnam.
The Saigon activity developed subordinate support bases for the combat forces similar to those of NSA Danang's. NSA Saigon detachments at Qui Nhon, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh Bay, An Thoi, Cat Lo, and Vung Tau primarily served the Market Time operation, although the last two bases were home to other naval combat units as well. The concentration of the Task Force 115 headquarters, naval air units, and other large contingents at Cam Ranh Bay required greater command authority and logistic resources. As a result, in September 1967, NSA Saigon upgraded the detachment to the Naval Support Facility, Cam Ranh Bay. Detachments were also established at Can Tho (and later moved to nearby Binh Thuy), Nha Be, Vinh Long, Sa Dec, My Tho, Tan Chau, and Long Xuyen. These units saw to the special needs of the Task Force 116 PBR commands. The Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Dong Tam, supplied only the Mobile Riverine Force naval units.
To perform its work, NSA Saigon operated many logistic support vessels, including repair and maintenance ships Tutuila (ARG 4), Markab (AR 23), and Krishna (ARL 38); LSTs; and barges used for berthing and messing personnel and for providing fuel, water, supplies, and repairs. The support activity also ran an air transportation service, nicknamed "Air Cofat" (the unit operated from a building once owned by the French Cofat cigarette company). The naval unit flew C-47, C-117, TC-45J, HU-16, and H-46 aircraft from Tan Son Nhut Airfield near Saigon. By mid-1968 NSA Saigon had developed its logistic support system to such a degree that naval combat operations were rarely constrained by the lack of supply. By August, the 2,500-man activity transported 6,000 to 8,000 tons of cargo each month by water to forces in the field. Air Cofat delivered another 300,000 to 400,000 pounds of supplies and 3,500 passengers. The repair and maintenance vessels kept the 487 in-country combat and support craft ready for operations throughout the southern corps areas and on the coast. NSA Saigon's skill in maintaining the flow of logistics to the naval combat forces helped them take the steam out of the enemy's attacks in the capital region during 1968.
08 November 1997