Brown Water Navy in Vietnam
Robert H. Stoner, GMCM
3 covered the MOBILE RIVERINE FORCE. In Part 4 we will look at the Naval Support
Activities. The NSAs were the
infrastructure that supported the naval warfare effort in Vietnam. Whether the NSA was a shore installation or a
floating barge complex, the support activities were the home base for all the
logistics that kept the boats and aircraft operational. For the most part, the role of the NSA
personnel was unheralded. Yet, without
their efforts, the operations of the ships, boats, and aircraft of the Brown
Water Navy could not have been sustained.
naval war in South Vietnam
during the years 1964 to 1975 was very dynamic.
For the Americans aiding the South Vietnamese, the effort was several
fold: (1) build and equip a capable Vietnamese Navy; (2) teach the new VNN how
to fight; (3) how to keep itself supplied; and (4) how to keep itself
Naval Bases and Support Activities
South Vietnam was divided into four Corps areas: I
Corps was in the North, II Corps was the central highlands, III was the area
around the capital city of Saigon,
and IV Corps extended from the Mekong River Delta to the tip of the Ca Mau
Peninsula. The number and scope of the
naval bases and NSAs grew as American Navy presence expanded in Vietnam.
[Author’s Note: I
want to thank the Mobile Riverine Force Association for their help in the
tabulation of the various Naval Support Activities in the Republic of Vietnam. The original information has been expanded
and enhanced for understanding by dividing the activities into Corps Tactical
Zones. Also, maps have been added.]
Below: A map of Vietnam showing
the four Corps Tactical Zones (CTZ) and the provincial boundaries. Also shown are the large population centers.
Bases and Support Activities of Vietnam
(Listed by Corps Tactical Zone)
I CORPS TACTICAL ZONE
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Chu Lai 1964-1971
site, fifty-six miles southeast of Da
Nang, became a major naval logistic base almost
overnight. In the latter months of 1964,
U.S. naval leaders concluded
that an additional air facility was required in the I CTZ to ease the current
and projected over-crowding of units and aircraft at the Da Nang airfield. Soon after construction of the proposed 8,000
foot jet-capable airfield was ordered, Pacific Fleet units moved ashore. In May
1965 Amphibious Construction Battalion 1, protected by Marine Forces, installed
two pontoon causeway piers and an amphibious fuel line along the sea bottom,
and Naval Construction Battalion 10 laid down aluminum matting for the runway
and taxiways. By the end of the month, half of the airfield was completed,
enabling the immediate operation of Marine Air Group 12 elements from Chu Lai.
logistic support by sea to the air group, the growing Marine ground force, and
some of the Navy’s Coastal Surveillance Force units were an absolutely
essential but difficult task for the Naval Support Activity, Da Nang,
Detachment Chu Lai. The Viet Cong interdicted the roads and rail lines in the
vicinity of the coastal site, and air transport resources were limited.
secure from enemy action, the sea line of communication was threatened by
natural conditions. There was no harbor at Chu
Lai. Chu Lai was located at the mouth of
the Truong River.
The unprotected coastal site was subjected to heavy seas especially
during the winter monsoon period; both the causeway and the fuel line were
damaged in 1965. There were few facilities
ashore, and deep powdery beach sand hindered both over-the-beach movement and
While the establishment
of permanent base facilities was underway, steps were taken to maintain
support. Landing craft transferred
supplies from Da Nang, and LSTs delivered cargo,
especially ammunition, from the naval depot at Subic Bay in the Philippines and from Sasebo, Japan. By the fall of 1965, smaller LSMs were
crossing the Truong
River at high tide to
offload at the temporary ramp. The river
finally opened to larger ships, including LSTs, fuel barges, and coastal
freighters, when dredges cleared a 16-foot channel in the spring of 1966. The
weather continued to hamper operations at Chu Lai, witnessed by the loss of the
Mahnomen County (LST-912) in January 1967. The ship broached off Chu
Lai beach after being torn from her anchor by 18-foot waves and subsequently
broke apart on the rocks.
The construction of
permanent facilities continued to improve the logistics situation. By 1967 portable fuel storage bladders were
replaced by a rigid-wall tank farm that was connected to fuel lines laid along
the sea bottom. A hard topped road and
ramp complex enabled sailors to offload as many as six LSTs simultaneously. Chu
Lai soon became the second busiest port in the I CTZ after Da Nang.
By September 1969 the Naval Support Activity Da Nang,
Detachment Chu Lai, handled over 86,000 tons
of cargo each month in support of the First Marine Division and First Marine
Air Wing elements. The Naval presence in Chu
Lai diminished after June 1970, when logistics facilities were turned over to
the Army, whose units were playing a greater operational role in the I Corps
region. The coastal operating base was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Cua Viet
The furthest north of the
Navy’s bases in Vietnam,
Cua Viet was under mortar, rocket, and ground attack for most of the war by the
North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Because of
its location on the Cua
that skirted the boundary of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), the base was
uniquely situated to provide fuel, ammunition, administration, supplies, and
construction materials to Marine and Army combat forces.
In March 1967, the Da Nang NSA Detachment
Cua Viet was established to augment the efforts of the nearby base at Dong
Ha. Together, Cua Viet and Dong Ha
provided logistical support to American and allied units operating around the
DMZ area. Cua Viet acted as a
trans-shipment point for supplies headed for Dong Ha. The detachment’s work was made difficult not
only by enemy fire but by the physical environment. Winds and rains of the winter monsoons were
particularly harsh at Cua Viet. Outside
the river mouth, shoals endangered ships making the 90 nautical mile trip from Da Nang. Crossing the bar was made difficult by
shifting sand bars (solved by continuous dredging) and enemy direct fire
weapons. In March 1967, the USS CAROLINE
COUNTY (LST-1126) became the first major naval vessel to enter the river and
tie up at Cua Viet.
The 61-man detachment at
Cua Viet gradually improved living conditions at the base. At first, the LST ramp consisted of one steel
mat for off-load of supplies. By the end
of the year, a more permanent soil and cement hardened landing area was in
place. The detachment increased the
efficiency of the ship-to-shore fuel line and the tank storage facility. Tankers discharged fuel at Cua Viet that was
then transferred to LCM-8 landing craft with fuel bladders for further
transport to Dong Ha. The Cua Viet detachment
also operated a small boat repair facility and cargo staging area.
As the South Vietnamese
began to take over a greater combat role in the war, U.S. forces were withdrawn from
such forward areas as the DMZ. Task
headquarters and a number of river patrol boats redeployed to Tan My in
February 1970. At the same time, NSA Da Nang, Detachment Cua
Viet was disestablished and became an ATSB for limited support of naval
units. By the end of the year, all U.S. forces at Cua Viet had been withdrawn to Da Nang.
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Da Nang
At the height of the
American involvement in Vietnam,
the port of Da
Vietnam, was the Navy’s largest overseas
shore command. From this port city, over
Vietnamese, and allied forces fighting in the I Corps Tactical Zone were
supplied with everything that they needed to combat the VC and NVA aggressors.
The U.S. Navy
established the MST-1 detachment to train Vietnamese crews and maintain PTFs in
February 1964. The PTFs, under
Vietnamese officers and crews, conducted over 1,000 raids against North Vietnam
from March-April 1964 to January 1972.
Because of Da Nang’s
strategic location on rail, air, and highway routes, development of its
facilities into a large deepwater port was essential. By the end of 1964, preparations were well
underway to improve Da Nang’s
base and port facilities. The airfield
was expanded and new runways were constructed, so were piers, fuel farms,
warehouses, and ammunition magazines.
Marine ground security and helicopter units were stationed at the
When Marines deployed to Vietnam in large numbers beginning in March
1965, Da Nang
became the focus of the growing War. For
the next four years, Da Nang
hosted various Army Divisions, and two Marine Divisions of the III Marine
Amphibious Force. Together these forces,
along with allied and South Vietnamese units, fought the VC and NVA enemy in
the I Corps Tactical Zone. The Navy
provided logistics support to the Coastal Surveillance Forces that patrolled
offshore to interdict the smuggling of arms and supplies by North Vietnam
to the South by sea. The PBRs of Task
fought to keep the rivers of I Corps open to allied logistics traffic. The Da
Nang base became home to the Seabee’s 13th
Naval Construction Regiment, and – later – the 3rd Naval
Construction Brigade and 32nd Naval Construction Regiment.
reached its peak in 1969. At that time
the command controlled 250 ships, landing craft, lighters, tugs, barges,
floating cranes that made it the largest concentration of such vessels in all
of Southeast Asia. The command had 450 officers, 10,000 sailors,
and had a civilian work force of 11,000 Vietnamese and civilian
contractors. There were three deep-draft
ship piers for ocean-going ships, while LSTs used the Tien Sha, Bridge, Museum,
and Ferry cargo facilities. The port
controlled 900,000 square feet of supply depot space, 2.7 million square feet
of open-air storage space, and 500,000 cubic feet of refrigerated storage
space. The port handled 320,000 tons of
cargo each month and the two tank farms reached a capacity of 50 million
gallons that year.
In May 1969, the
Americans began the turnover of assets to the South Vietnamese government. The NSA was charged with assisting the
Vietnamese with this effort. A training
program was established to replace the various American and contractor jobs
with Vietnamese who could do these tasks.
The 13th Naval Construction Regiment relocated to Okinawa in December 1969.
December 1969 also saw the transfer of landing craft, barges, and
lighters to the Vietnamese Navy. In May
1970, the Naval Hospital was turned over to Army
control. The naval command continued
training Vietnamese counterparts as the Army assumed overall logistics control
in the I CTZ in June 1970. In November
1971, the 3rd Naval Construction Regiment furled its colors. NSA Da
Nang was disestablished in April 1972. On 29 March 1973, the last American units at Da Nang – several fleet
air detachments and the Naval Communications Station – were redeployed or
disestablished in place. The Navy’s
nine-year stay in Da Nang
came to an end.
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Dong Ha
Located several miles
south of the DMZ, Dong Ha was exposed to more North Vietnamese attacks than any
other naval activity. The site, on the
south bank of the Cua
was within range of NVA rockets, artillery, and mortars. Sappers often tested the perimeter defenses
of the base. During August and September
1967 alone, enemy fire destroyed thirteen 10,000-gallon fuel storage bladders
and an ammunition dump. In addition,
enemy swimmers and water mines inflicted damage to craft tied up to the piers
and craft transiting the river. Because
of Dong Ha’s strategic river position and Republic of Vietnam’s
major north-south highway Route 1, the risks were considered justified. Logistics support for American and allied
forces fighting near the DMZ was absolutely essential.
In late 1966, LCU and YFU
landing craft brought building materials, fuel, ammunition, and supplies 90
nautical miles from Da Nang to the mouth of the Cua Viet
River and to a site 8
miles up river at Dong Ha. However,
these landing craft proved no match for the northeast monsoon. The difficulty of crossing the bar at the
river’s mouth made further development a necessity. The NSA Da
Nang created detachments at Dong Ha and Cua Viet. A dredge was brought in to keep the Cua Viet
River mouth free of sand
bars so that the larger landing craft could get in to Cua Viet. The LSMs and LSTs would come to Cua Viet
where their cargo would be off-loaded to LCM-8 landing craft for the short but
dangerous trip to Dong Ha.
For the remainder of
1967, the 35-man NSA Detachment at Dong Ha brought in artillery guns, construction
materials, airfield building supplies, and equipment for the base at Quang
Tri. By November 1967, the detachment
was handling 72,500 tons of supplies of all kinds a month. Seabees built two landing sites for the LCMs,
LCUs, and barges. This capability was a
boon for Army and Marine units during the 1968 Tet Offensive. Dong Ha’s logistic capabilities provided the
needed margin of victory for these units.
In February 1970, the Dong Ha detachment was disestablished and the
facilities were turned over to the South Vietnamese in November in 1970.
U.S. Naval Patrol Boat Base, Hoi An
Hoi An was coastal city
located at the mouth of the Cua Dai River south of Da Nang, South Vietnam. Hoi An was well-placed to support patrols
inland by the PBR units based
there. The base was turned over to the
Vietnamese Navy in 1971
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Hue-Tan
My-Phu Bai 1965-1970
From a modest beginning,
the Navy's facilities in the area of Hue, Vietnam's old imperial city and third largest
population center in the republic
of Vietnam, developed
into a major combat and logistics complex.
This followed the deployment after 1967, of large Marine, Army, and
South Vietnamese forces.
The Marine presence near Hue,
primarily at Phu Bai, was limited in the early stages of deployment. The Navy worked to provide responsive
logistics support. Naval leaders recognized that the most direct line of
communication to the South China Sea, the Hue River
and a six mile-long road, had the best potential. Alternate road, rail, and air approaches from
Da Nang were
subject to frequent enemy attack or were unable to accommodate the many tons of
supplies needed. Tan My, at the mouth of
the Hue River and end of the six-mile road, was well-placed to support the
growth of Allied forces north of Hue.
From 1965 to 1967 steps were taken to improve logistics facilities at Hue and Tan My and the
line of communication between. An old boat ramp at the Hue city park was refurbished and an
adjoining cargo staging area enlarged. The ramp was manned by a detachment of
Naval Support Activity, Da Nang.
Utility landing craft
(LCU) carrying supplies and – later -- fuel regularly plied the twelve miles of
river between the Hue and the Col Co (Colonial Company) ramp at Tan My. On occasion, fleet amphibious cargo ships
(AKA) anchored off the coast and shuttled craft directly upriver to Hue.
The road between Hue
and Tan My was unimproved and wound its way through rice paddies and non-secure
villages before crossing a causeway to Col Co ramp. The roadway frequently was
inundated during the winter monsoon deluge during this period. Navy Seabee units resurfaced and widened the
road in key spots. It soon became the preferred approach to Phu Bai, where another
detachment of the Da Nang
Support activity was established.
The Col Co ramp at Tan My, previously operated by a private company to service
Vietnamese sampans and junks, was gradually improved to accommodate the
simultaneous berthing and off-loading of four LSTs. Before the construction of a
pipeline for Hue,
the facility was used to transfer fuel from suitably equipped landing craft to
tanker trucks. The vessels shuttled between Col Co and nearby Thuan An, where a fuel
storage tank farm and floating offshore discharge line were installed in April
1966. Subsequently a more permanent sea
bottom-laid fuel line connected tankers with the storage tanks. This facility was operated by a 38-man
detachment of Naval Support Activity, Da
naval units stationed in Tan My lagoon included a contingent of the Coastal
Surveillance Force and a refrigerated converted lighter that maintained cold
provisions for the force in the region.
The Navy's units in the Hue
area were especially taxed to maintain logistics support for allied forces
during the enemy Tet Offensive of 1968. The ramp and cargo staging facilities
in the city were under constant attack by rockets, mortars, and ground forces
from 31 January 1968 to 3 February 1968 and at times thereafter. The fuel storage tanks there were set ablaze. For a time the unit at the ramp was forced to
seek protection at the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam
(MACV) compound. At the same time the
vessels at Tan My had to put out to sea to avoid Viet Cong fire. Later, the same vessels transported civilian
refugees to Da Nang. River cargo operations were halted for ten
days, but despite the loss of eighteen men and two LCUs and damage to 44 other
craft, naval units continued to deliver vital supplies and ammunition to the
American combat troops fighting to recapture Hue.
The severity of the enemy's Tet Campaign demanded a great reinforcement of the
allied command in the I CTZ. Naval
combat and support forces were increased.
Early in 1968, units were deployed there from stations further south in
the Mekong Delta region. These were PBR,
minesweeping, and patrol air cushion vehicle (PACV) units that comprised Task
Force CLEARWATER. The task force was charged with securing the
two major waterways of the I CTZ: the Cau
and the Hue River.
The PBR element of the Hue
River Security Group, and Task Force CLEARWATER
headquarters, were located in Tan My lagoon on Mobile
Base 1. Mobile Base 1 was a floating
base that consisted of large connected pontoons. Huts for berthing, messing, repair, and command
and control functions were built on these pontoons. Other units and the Naval Support Activity, Da Nang Detachment were
As security on the river was improved during 1969 and 1970, Vietnamese Navy
units gradually relieved the America
naval force as part of the Vietnamization process. During this time, logistics responsibility in
the Hue area
was relinquished to the Vietnamese. In
the spring of 1970 Naval Support Activity, Da Nang, withdrew Mobile Base 1 and
disestablished the detachments at Phu Bai and Tan My.
U.S. Naval Support Activity Detachment, Sa
Sa Huynh was a remote
American base 100 miles south of Da
Nang. The site
was located on an island at the boundary of the I CTZ. The island was chosen in 1967 as the least of
several undesirable sites from which to support Army operations in the Duc Pho
The drawbacks of the base
were many. A channel through the
surrounding lagoon required constant dredging to be kept open to
civilian-manned LSTs. An amphibious fuel
line and pontoon causeway proved inadequate to the fury of the winter monsoon
and was swept away. In August 1968,
naval leaders established the Naval Support Activity, Da Nang, Detachment Sa
Huynh, to get the base in better condition.
LCU ramps, fuel storage bladders, and various base facilities were
constructed on the island. By September
1969, the base was handling 3,000 tons of supplies for Army troops fighting
inland. The Sa Huynh facility was turned
over to the Vietnamese in February 1970.
U.S. Naval Intermediate Support Base,
Thuan An 1971
on an island near Tan My in the Republic
of Vietnam, the naval
installation at Thuan An provided logistics support to American and Vietnamese
When American forces
withdrew from the Hue area in early 1971 as part
of the decreasing U.S.
involvement, the logistics tasks of the Hue,
Phu Bai, and Tan My bases were concentrated at the newly constructed Thuan An
intermediate support base. The Navy’s Seabees prepared facilities for the
provision of fuel, maintenance, administrative, financial, and other support
services for river and coastal patrol boats in northern I Corps Tactical
Zone. In September 1971, the Vietnamese
Navy relieved American naval forces at Thuan An.
II CORPS TACTICAL ZONE
U.S. Naval Base, Cam Ranh Bay 1965-1971
base at Cam Ranh Bay, in the Republic
of Vietnam, served as the
nerve center of the Navy’s MARKET TIME anti-infiltration operations during the
war. With one the largest natural
harbors in the Far East and centrally placed on the 1,500-mile coast of South Vietnam,
Cam Ranh Bay was long seen as a strategic site.
In the early 1960s
American naval leaders evaluated the bay as a possible fleet anchorage and
seaplane base from which to support the South Vietnamese nation. During 1964 seventh fleet reconnaissance
aircraft, seaplane tender Currituck (AV-7) and Mine Flotilla 1 units carried
out hydrographic and beach surveys and explored sites for facilities ashore.
This preparatory work
proved fortuitous when a North Vietnamese trawler was discovered landing
ammunition and supplies at near by Vung Ro Bay in February 1965; the incident
led U.S. naval leaders to
develop Cam Ranh as a major base to support
the Coastal Surveillance Force. During
the following years, the Navy deployed the fast patrol craft (PCF), and patrol
gunboat (PG) units.
The site became the
center of coastal air patrol operations with the establishment in April 1967 of
the U.S. Naval Air Facility, Cam Ranh Bay, and the basing there of SP-2 Neptune
and P-3 Orion patrol aircraft. In the summer of 1967, Commander Coastal
Surveillance Force and his staff moved their headquarters from Saigon to Cam Ranh Bay and set up operational command
post to control MARKET TIME effort. Countrywide coordination also was enhanced
with establishment of the Naval Communications Station.
In the beginning the
shore facilities at Cam Ranh Bay were extremely limited, requiring interim
measures to support assigned naval forces. Army depots provided common supplies,
while Seventh Fleet light cargo ships USS MARK (AKL-12) and USS BRULE (AKL-28)
delivered Navy-peculiar items from Subic Bay in the Philippines. Until mid-1966 when
shore installations were prepared to take over the task, messing and quartering
of personnel were handled by APL-55,
anchored in the harbor. Also, a pontoon
dock was installed to permit the repair of the coastal patrol vessels. Gradually the Naval Support Activity, Saigon,
Detachment Cam Ranh Bay, improved the provision of maintenance and repair,
supply, finance, communications, transportation, postal service, recreation,
and security support.
With the concentration at
Cam Ranh Bay of MARKET TIME headquarters and forces during the summer of 1967,
the demand for base support became extraordinary. Accordingly, the Naval Support Activity Saigon, Detachment Cam Ranh Bay, was re-designated the
Naval Support Facility, Cam Ranh Bay, a more autonomous and self-sufficient
status. A greater allocation of
resources and support forces to the shore installation resulted in an improved
ability to cope with the buildup of combat units. In time, the Cam Ranh Bay facility
accomplished major vessel repair and dispensed a greater variety of supply
items to the MARKET TIME anti-infiltration task force. In addition, the naval contingent at the
Joint Service Ammunition Depot issued ammunition to the coastal surveillance,
river patrol and mobile riverine forces as well as to the Seventh Fleet’s
gunfire support destroyers and landing ships.
Seabee Maintenance Unit 302 provided public works assistance to the many
dispersed Naval Support Activity, Saigon
As a vital logistics
complex, Cam Ranh Bay continued to function long after the Navy’s combat forces
withdrew from South Vietnam
as part of the Vietnamization program.
Between January and April 1972 the Naval Air Facility and the Naval
Communications Station turned over their installations to the Vietnamese Navy
and were disestablished. The headquarters and naval operations center for the
Commander, Coastal Surveillance Force redeployed to Saigon,
thus ending the Navy’s seven-year operation at Cam Ranh Bay.
U.S. Naval Operating Station, Nha Trang
Located 30 miles north of
Bay in South Vietnam, Nha Trang served as
an operating station for naval units during the Vietnam War. Between 1965 and
1967 the Navy established there a 20 man-coastal surveillance center to
coordinate anti-infiltration patrol operations by Americans and Vietnamese
units and a 120-man harbor security unit to protect vessels delivering supplies
to the Army’s port complex. The Navy’s base facilities were turned over to the
Vietnamese when U.S.
forces turned over responsibility for the war in 1970 and 1971.
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Qui Nhon
on the central coast of Vietnam,
Qui Nhon provided an operating base and logistics center for the Navy’s Coastal
Surveillance Force. With easy access to
coastal waters and the shipping lanes of the South China
Sea, the port was well-placed to support the MARKET TIME
Beginning in the second
half of 1965, PCF units deployed to Qui Nhon to initiate patrols. Subsequently,
naval leaders established a coastal command center to coordinate the efforts of
and South Vietnamese elements and American patrol aircraft. On several
occasions other naval units staged from the base. One such example was the inland foray by PBRs
in April 1968.
III CORPS TACTICAL ZONE
Advanced Tactical Support Base (ATSB), Ben Keo 1969-1971
on the Vam Co Dong
River, this village was
the location of an Advanced Tactical Support Base (ATSB). PBR
units were deployed there as part of Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT to interdict the
movement of enemy troops and supplies across the Cambodian border.
Seabees brought in
materials from the I Corps Tactical Zone and constructed the installation
during 1969 and 1970. The Seabees built a defensive perimeter, fuel and
ammunition storage facilities, personnel accommodations, and a helicopter pad.
The complete facility was
transferred to the Vietnamese Navy when the U.S. naval forces were withdrawn
from the forward area in April 1971.
U.S. Naval Intermediate Support Base, Cat
This Vietnamese town, on
the Dong Nai
River east of Saigon,
was developed into a naval logistics center.
Designated an intermediate support base, Cat Lai supplied American and
Vietnamese river force operating bases in the III CTZ with maintenance,
financial, repair, material, and administration support. After Training Vietnamese Navy personnel to
carry out these logistics responsibilities, the U.S. Navy withdrew its advisors and
disestablished the base in September 1971.
U.S. Naval Combat and Logistics Base, Cat
on the northern shore of South Vietnam’s Cape Vung
Tau, served as a naval base and logistics base during the Vietnam War. U.S.
Naval leaders chose the site for several reasons: ready access to the South
China Sea, ready access to the river approaches to Saigon, and ready access to
the Mekong Delta. Cat Lo was strategically placed and the
facilities of the existing Vietnamese Navy base were immediately available to U.S. units.
operational forces were based at Cat Lo: (1) components of the Coastal
Surveillance Force; (2) the Saigon
River minesweeping force;
and (3) a River Patrol Force. Beginning
in late 1965, naval units began scouring the coast for communist seaborne
infiltrators, and soon afterwards minesweeping craft initiated their escort and
patrol mission on the narrow waterways leading to Saigon,
the country’s main port. Cat Lo acted as
a staging and logistics base for the move deep into the Mekong
Delta by the Navy’s River Patrol Force.
From March to June 1966,
the USS BELLE GROVE (LSD-2) and the USS TORTUGA (LSD-26) brought the first PBRs
with the deployment to Cat Lo of River Division 53 and River Division 54
elements. Once the base at Nha Be became
operational in mid year, the PBR
unit relocated there, but other river forces remained, such as Patrol Air
Cushion Vehicle (PACV) Division (107).
Until redeployment to the Da
Nang area in June 1968, the experimental PACVs were
tested in swamp, river, and coastal environment around Cat Lo.
To maintain the various
combat forces, Naval Support Activity, Saigon established a detachment at Cat
Lo that provided berthing, messing, supply, repair, transportation,
communications, and other logistics support.
Although Amphibious Construction Battalion 1 installed a pontoon pier
and built a ramp for the PACVs, additional measures were required to support
the American units before shore facilities were established. Floating cranes, YD-220 and YD-174, were
stationed at Cat Lo to prepare newly arrived PBRs for in-country operations and
to overhaul PCF or "Swift" boats.
The naval facility at Cat
Lo diminished in importance as minesweeping activities were concentrated at Nha
Be south of Saigon, and as the river patrol
units used bases deeper into the Delta. Cat Lo resources were turned over to
the Vietnamese Navy in April 1971.
U.S. Naval Advanced Base, Go Dau Ha
close to the Cambodian border on the Vam Co Dong
River, Naval ATSB Go Dau Ha provided U.S. forces
with an advanced base of operations. PBR units staged there as well as the boats of the
River Assault Groups (RAG) in the effort to hinder communist infiltration that
threatened nearby Tay Ninh and Saigon, further southwest.
Acquiring sufficient land
at Go Dau Ha began as a problem, but during 1969 the Army’s engineers created a
landfill and metal reinforced base area on the riverbank. Soon afterward, Seabee units built sleeping
and messing facilities, fuel and ammunition storage, defensive works, and a
Go Dau Ha was turned over
to the Vietnamese Navy in April 1971.
U.S. Naval ATSB, Hiep Hoa 1969
on the Vam Co Dong River northwest of Saigon,
Heip Hoa served as an ATSB for American naval forces. PBR
units patrolled the sector of river around the site as part of the Operation
GIANT SLINGSHOT anti-infiltration campaign.
The river forces disrupted the constant flow of communist men and
munitions into the capital region.
During 1969, Seabees and
construction materials were transported from Da Nang to Heip Hoa for development of the
shore facility. While the river sailors
used a partially destroyed, abandoned sugar mill for sleeping quarters, the
Seabees began construction of better quarters, base defense, fuel and
ammunition storage, and a helicopter pad. However, the lack of troops for
protection from ground attack forced the evacuation of the naval force to
nearby Tra Cu later in 1969.
U.S. Naval Operating Base, Long Binh
This vast Army command
and logistics complex northeast of Saigon in Vietnam also served as a naval
operating base during 1969-1970. River
patrol units carried out anti-infiltration duties on the waterways of the area
from this facility on the Dong
Nai River. Vietnamese Navy units relieved their American
counterparts there in November 1970.
U.S. Naval Support Activity, Nha Be
seven miles south of Saigon, was a major combat and logistics base. As naval leaders concluded early, the site
was strategically placed at the junction of the Long Tau and Soi Rap, the main
rivers between the port of Saigon and the South China Sea. Nha Be was also positioned near waterways
traversing the Viet Cong-infested Rung Sat Special Zone (RSSZ) and the eastern Mekong Delta region.
Nha Be was ideally located for support of river patrol and minesweeping
operations. In addition, the Vietnamese
Navy’s River Assault Group compound there was suitable for a small American
In March 1966 a
detachment of Mine Squadron 11, employing 57-foot minesweeping boats (MSBs) and
converted landing craft, became the first U.S. naval unit to deploy at Nha
Be. During the next five years the U.S. minesweeping force patrolled the water
approaches to Saigon, escorted commercial and
military vessels, and worked to keep the ship channels free of enemy
mines. While vessels were damaged or
sunk, the absolutely vital water line of communication never was severed by
Viet Cong action.
Also in March 1966, the
first units of the navy’s River Patrol Force tied up at Nha Be and soon
afterwards began operations against the Viet Cong waterborne traffic in the
Rung Sat and the Mekong Delta. Eventually, the
base was able to support 40 PBRs engaged in Operation GAME WARDEN. Other
components were Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 1 and Helicopter Attack
(Light) Squadron 3. Detachments of these
units flew from helicopter pads at nearby Cruickshank Airfield. Both surface and air units at Nha Be took
part in Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT. GIANT
SLINGSHOT sought to interdict communist men and supplies infiltrating from
Cambodia on the Vam Co Dong and Vam Co Tay Rivers during 1969-71.
The support base at Nha
Be developed into a major logistics complex. In the beginning, the sailors had
to rely on Army depots in Saigon for supply
items common to both services and were quartered in tents at the Vietnamese
installation. However once the Naval
Support Activity Saigon Detachment Nha Be, was
established, conditions improved. A pier
for the PBRs was fashioned with Army pontoons and YRBM-16, a large converted
lighter, was stationed at the site.
YRBM-16 made berthing, repair, spare parts, and supplies available for the
PBR units. An Army crane was used
for hull repair of the MSBs. These and other measures were taken to provide
Twenty acres of nearby
swampland were filled with dredged soil, and by December 1966, work was begun
on permanent base facilities. These
facilities included depot-level repair, administrative, communications,
storage, maintenance, quartering, and messing buildings, four 1,000-barrel fuel
storage tanks, and a boat pier. Although securing potable water and shoring up
the landfill presented problems, Nha Be became a key naval support complex in
the Saigon area.
By late 1968, 84 craft
and the recently deployed headquarters of Naval Support Activity Saigon were based there. The facility continued to serve
the Navy’s needs until its turnover to Vietnamese Navy and the disestablishment
of Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Nha Be, in April 1972.
U.S. ATSB, Phu Cuong 1969-1970
at the foot of a major bridge crossing the Saigon River,
the naval ATSB at Phu Cuong provided a relatively secure staging area for PBR units operating against communist infiltrators
to the northwest of the capital city.
Initially the Army
provided the naval contingent with logistics support, but once Phu Cuong was
designated as an ATSB, supplies flowed from the Naval Support Activity,
Saigon’s depot at nearby Newport.
As Americans forces
withdrew from the war in Vietnam
the Phu Cuong facility was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy.
U.S. Naval Forces Vietnam Headquarters and NSA, Saigon
In August 1950, eight
officers and men arrived in Saigon to staff the Navy section of the newly
created Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), Indochina. The Navy section’s job was to administer
American military aid given to the French in their fight against the
communist-led Viet Minh insurgency.
Between 1950 and 1954, hundreds of ships and craft, including the light
carrier USS BELLEAU WOOD (CVL-24), amphibious ships and craft, riverine craft,
yard craft, barges, and floating cranes were provided to the French
Expeditionary Forces in its unsuccessful fight against the Viet Minh forces.
Under the terms of the Geneva Agreement on Indochina, Vietnamese living in areas
controlled by the communist Viet Minh (North
Vietnam) could be evacuated by sea to the non-communist South Vietnam. During late 1954 and 1955, the Navy presence
in Saigon increased to handle the large
numbers of refugees from the north.
Seventy-four Navy ships and 39 Military
Sea Transportation Service
civilian-crewed vessels transported over 310,000 passengers, 60,000 tons of
cargo, and 8,000 vehicles mostly to the port of Saigon.
As the French withdrew
from Indochina, the Navy section of MAAG
worked to develop the fledgling South Vietnamese Navy. Between 1955 and 1961, American advisors made
progress in both men and equipment. By
the end of 1961, the 63-man naval advisory team had created a 4,500-man
Vietnamese Navy with 119 ships, landing craft, and boats. There was also a paramilitary junk force for
coastal patrol. The advisors also
provided assistance to the Saigon Naval Shipyard, the largest facility of its
kind in Southeast Asia.
In November 1961, a team
headed by GEN Maxwell D. Taylor, chief military advisor to President John F.
Kennedy, recommended that the Navy’s role in the counter insurgency struggle
change from the advisory to the combat support role. The resulting growth in the number of U.S. support units deployed to South Vietnam
called for a buildup of logistics resources.
Because the Navy had been the lead service assigned to logistics support
for SEA, it was directed to assume the task of supporting both Army and Air
Force commands in-country.
The Navy’s Headquarters
Support Activity, Saigon (HSAS), was
established in July 1962. HSAS provided
U.S. military services in the capital of Saigon with supply, fiscal, public
works, medical and dental, transportation, commissary and exchange, special
services, security, and general administrative support. Commanding Officer, HSAS, directed activity
operations from the ex-French Cofat [Compagnie de Fabrication du Tabac] factory building on Hung Vuong
Street, but other offices, warehouses, and personnel quarters were spread
around the city. From this
decentralized complex, HSAS personnel carried out activities such as the management
of both officer and enlisted quarters, messes, rest and recuperation (R&R)
flights to other Asian cities, USO shows, and Armed Forces Radio services. The command ran the 72-bed Saigon Station
Hospital on Tran Hung Dao Street
and a dental clinic. Naval chaplains
attached to HSAS attended to the spiritual needs of Armed Forces
personnel. The HSAS transported mail,
commissary and exchange items to far-flung U.S. bases in-country and along the
Though it was in the
minority, other naval units formed part of the growing Saigon
military community. A subordinate
command of the Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks (BuDocks), the
Officer-in-Charge of Construction, established his office on Tu Do Street. The OIC of Construction and his staff oversaw
the building of airfields, warehouses, and other facilities by civilian
contractors. The Navy established the
headquarters of Naval Construction Battalions, U.S.
Pacific Fleet Detachment, Vietnam. This office coordinated Seabee units that
were heavily involved building naval and Army Special Forces camps and doing
civil actions projects. Another 7th
Fleet detachment flew reconnaissance missions over Vietnam and conducted coastal
surveillance from the nearby Tan Son Nhut airfield during 1962 and 1963.
In December 1963, the Vietnam
conflict entered a more critical phase after the fall of President Diem. Additional American forces were required to
stem the increased communist tide.
American leaders established the Military Assistance Advisory Command, Vietnam, in May
1964. MACV replaced MAAG and the former
MAAG personnel were absorbed by MACV.
The old Navy section of MAAG became the Naval Advisory Group, Vietnam, and by
the end of 1964 there were 235 naval personnel in the 4,900-man MACV command to
attend to the needs of the growing Vietnamese Navy.
During the twelve months
of 1964, HSAS supplied over 100 local and field exchanges, maintained 186,000
square feet of warehouse space, 200,000 cubic feet of refrigerated storage, and
127,000 square feet of outside storage.
It also continued to provide messing, berthing, medical and dental,
administrative, and personnel services during this time.
At the end of 1964,
American leaders anticipated a major build-up of U.S.
and allied forces within the Republic
of Vietnam. Pacific military leaders gradually
transferred HSAS responsibilities to deploying Army logistics commands. However, HSAS continued to function with
increased responsibilities during 1965.
Each month, the port facilities in Saigon handled 330,000 tons of cargo
from 96 ships, transported 40,000 tons of cargo to other destinations within
Vietnam, acquired 2.73 million cubic feet of warehouse storage, maintained 54
bachelor officers and enlisted quarters, the real estate division was managing
318 construction contracts, and the 109 medical personnel of the Saigon Station
Hospital treated thousands of patients.
In May 1966, the resources of HSAS were turned over to the Army and HSAS
The influx of large
American and allied combat forces into Vietnam
from 1965 to 1968 caused the naval establishment in Saigon
to undergo dramatic expansion. In early
1965, a headquarters and operations center was established at the NAG for the
Commander, Coastal Surveillance Force.
These activities became part of Task Force 115 and were named Operation
MARKET TIME. MARKET TIME units did
country-wide air and sea patrols of the Vietnamese coastline to prevent North
Vietnamese smuggling of arms and supplies to communist units fighting in South
Vietnam. Squadrons of SP-2 Neptune maritime aircraft flew from Tan Son Nhut airfield
in support of MARKET TIME activities.
Helicopter Combat Support Squadron ONE
detachments operated from the Tan Son Nhut facility. MARKET TIME activities were subsequently
moved to Cam Ranh Bay.
Operations to prevent the
mining of the Long Tau shipping channel became a high priority. The Long Tau was the main shipping channel
that all supplies had to transit to reach the port
of Saigon from the South
China Sea. The first
minesweeping units were converted landing craft operating from Saigon Naval Shipyard.
Later, dedicated units from Mine Squadron 11 operated from Nha Be. On 18 December 1965, the headquarters for the
River Patrol Force, Task Force 116, code name Operation GAME WARDEN were
initially established in Saigon. The
River Patrol Force headquarters were subsequently moved to Can Tho. Operation GAME WARDEN patrols sought to
interdict communist arms and supplies on the inland rivers and canals of Vietnam.
By 1966, the diverse
nature of the naval commitment to Vietnam resulted in a major
reorganization. All of the Navy’s
headquarters, advisory, coastal surveillance, helicopter and fixed-wing
aircraft, mine warfare, river patrol, and harbor defense units were brought
under one command on 1 April 1966. This
was Commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam
(ComNavForV) with headquarters in Saigon. ComNavForV assumed responsibility for
coordination with the Saigon-based Military
Sea Transportation Service office,
with the OIC of Construction, and with the Commander, Coast Guard Activities, Vietnam.
Although HSAS was
replaced by the Army’s own logistics commands for general support, naval units
in the southern part of Vietnam
continued to need Navy-specific support.
On the same day that HSAS was disestablished, 17 May 1966, these duties
were assumed by the Naval Support Activity, Saigon. NSA Saigon became responsible for all naval
activities within the II, III, and IV Corps Tactical Zones. NSA Da
Nang was responsible for all activities within the I
Corps Tactical Zone.
To improve logistics flow
to naval units in the field, NSA Saigon established subordinate detachments at
An Thoi, Cam Ranh Bay, Cat Lo, Nha Be, Qui Nhon, Can Tho-Binh Thuy, Dong Tam,
Sa Dec, Vinh Long, Vung Tau, and Ben Luc.
These sites were chosen because of their proximity to the waterways on
which the combat units operated and their accessibility to support ships and
craft. Another important criterion for
port selection was the presence of Vietnamese Naval installations that could
provide base facilities and defenses for American naval tenants.
NSA Saigon had assigned
or operational control of many vessels including dedicated fleet repair and
maintenance ships, amphibious ships and craft, and a great variety of barges for
berthing, messing, fuel and water supply, and repair. NSA Saigon also ran an air transportation
service, called “Air Cofat” that operated various helicopters and fixed-wing
On 30 April 1972, the
Commander, Naval Construction Battalions closed down and the staff relocated to
the United States. In June 1972, the NSA Saigon turned over its
assets and responsibilities to the Vietnamese and was disestablished. The Naval Support Facility at Newport carried out a
similar transfer. The ComNavForV
headquarters turned over its responsibilities to the Vietnamese on 29 April
1973, and brought an end to the combat phase of U.S.
Navy activities in Vietnam. After March 1973, the only naval personnel
remaining in Vietnam
belonged to the naval section of the Defense Attaché Office of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. For the next two years, this section oversaw
the dwindling U.S. military
assistance to South Vietnam. By April 1975 all U.S.
personnel were withdrawn from South Vietnam
shortly before the country fell to the communist invaders from North Vietnam. The Navy’s 25 year experience in Vietnam had
come to an end.
U.S. Naval Support Activity Detachment,
Vung Tau 1966-1971
on a peninsula jutting from South Vietnam
into the South China Sea, Vung Tau was a natural site for the U.S. Naval
facility developed there. An added bonus
was the resort town of Vung Tau overlooked the
entrance to the serpentine river approach to Saigon
-- the nation’s capital and main port.
American naval presence at
Vung Tau dated from 1954, when Naval Brach Group 1 helped French authorities
construct an emergency tent camp for thousands of refugees evacuated from North Vietnam
as part of the "Passage to Freedom" sealift operation.
Eleven years later, the
Navy established both surface and air units of the Coastal Surveillance Force
there. These units patrolled the South
Vietnamese coastline in search of infiltrating communist ships and craft. A coastal surveillance command center at Vung
Tau coordinated the operations of PCFs and SP-2 Neptune
aircraft patrol units. Inshore Undersea Warfare Group-1-Detachment 1 (IUWG-1-1)
was stationed on the mountaintop overlooking Vung Tau harbor and performed
harbor patrols using their boats out of Cat Lo.
The Vung Tau site was also
an interim staging area for the Navy’s forces deploying deeper into the Mekong
Delta region south and west of Saigon. Beginning in January 1967, ships carrying the
men and specialized landing craft that would form the naval component of the
joint Army-Navy Task Force 117 (Mobile Riverine Force), anchored off Vung Tau.
USS BENEWAH (APB-35) and
USS COLLETON (APB-36) were self-propelled barracks ships that would house the
Army infantry and the Navy boat crews of Task Force 117. At the same time, the repair and maintenance
ships Tutuila (ARG-4)
and Askari (ARL-30), non-self
propelled barracks ship (APL-26),
and repair, berthing, and messing barge YRBM-17 arrived to provide the force
with mobile support. The Mobile Riverine Force
shifted to Dong Tam in June 1967, after training and material preparations were
completed, but Vung Tau continued to serve its logistics needs.
Vung Tau also provided an
operating base for the Navy’s helicopter and fixed wing assault units. In May
1967 Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 established a headquarters at Vung
HAL-3 began its combat operations in South Vietnam
from Vung Tau. Later, the HAL-3 command center moved to NSA Binh Thuy, deep
in the Mekong Delta. Nevertheless, detachments of the Seawolves
squadron continued to use the air facilities at Vung Tau. From April 1969 onwards, half of the
fixed-wing Light Attack Squadron 4 (VAL-4)
flew from the nearby U.S.
Army airfield at Vung Tau. [The other
half of VAL-4 flew from Binh
Under the direction of
Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment
Vung Tau, logistics support was provided the locally based air and coastal
patrol units as well as the river units deployed forward. On a weekly basis, an LST usually stationed
off Cape Vung
Tau, delivered food, fuel, ammunition, and other supplies to the floating base
of the Mobile Riverine Force operating near
Dong Tam. An Army-Navy liaison team used
a small pier and warehouse to process and transfer incoming cargo to the
LST. Also anchored in the roadstead were
the repair ships USS TUTUILA (ARG-4) and – later -- USS MARKAB (AR-23). These ships provided depot-level repair and
maintenance support to many river and coastal combat vessels, including the
LSTs. In addition to these units, harbor
defense and harbor clearance units were based at Vung Tau. Two heavy lift craft and other vessels of the
HCU-1 command, belonging to Service Force U.S.
Pacific Fleet, were positioned offshore prepared to salvage vessels in distress
from the many waterways of South
As the Navy’s
installations at nearby Cat Lo and in the Mekong Delta completed their
development and took on greater logistics responsibilities, the Vung Tau
facility diminished in importance. However, Vung Tau continued to serve as the
maritime gateway to the southern regions of South Vietnam.
U.S. ATSB, Tra Cu 1968-1971
Tra Cu was a small
Vietnamese town located on the Vam Co Dong River
and was the location of a Navy ATSB. The
base formed part of Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT.
Its job was to interdict the flow of weapons and supplies from Cambodia to the Saigon
area. A section of PBRs patrolled
various points along the Vam Co Dong and Vam Co Tay Rivers.
From December 1968
through the year 1969, Seabees brought from the I CTZ developed the base at Tra
Cu building defensive works, ammunition bunkers, a tactical command center,
helicopter pad, huts to house base personnel, and a mess hall. The site also hosted a 50,000-gallon fuel
farm for the boats and helicopters.
These additional facilities were required when a detachment of PBRs
deployed to Tra Cu when enemy ground threats against the base at Hiep Hoa.
The base at Tra Cu was
turned over to the Vietnamese in April 1971.
IV CORPS TACTICAL ZONE
Support Activity, An Thoi 1966-1971
the Navy’s bases in South Vietnam,
An Thoi, on the southern tip of Phu Quoc Island
in the Gulf of Thailand, was the most isolated. Almost
1,000 miles from Subic Bay, it severely taxed
the Seventh Fleet’s mobile logistics support force during the Vietnam War. Naval leaders recognized early the strategic
value of the site: from there the naval forces could readily interdict sea
infiltration of communist men and supplies from Cambodia. Another favorable consideration was the
availability to American units of real estate near the Vietnamese Navy’s
In the summer of 1965, An
Thoi was selected as a Coastal Surveillance Force combat and logistic base. Due
to the U.S. Navy’s shortage
of suitable vessels, the U.S.
Coast Guard was called on to begin patrol operations in that area. Coast Guard
Division 11, with nine 82-foot Point-class cutters (WPBs), began MARKET TIME
coastal patrol operations from An Thoi in July 1965. The WPBs were joined by U.S. naval
forces using PCFs and a gunboat of the Royal Thai Navy. In addition, a coastal surveillance command
center was established to control operations in the sector.
While the Naval Support
Activity, Saigon, Detachment An Thoi, worked to improve berthing, messing,
supply, repair, transportation, security, and other support for the combat
units, the 7th Fleet provided additional assistance. Repair ships USS KRISHNA (ARL-38) and USS TUTUILA (ARG-4)
and non-self propelled barracks ships APL-21
and APL-55 were deployed to the
site at various times from 1965 to 1969. Although new base facilities and a
contractor-built 3,500-foot airstrip eased logistics problems, An Thoi
continued to require much fleet support.
By May 1971, the An Thoi
Logistics Support Base was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy. An Thoi furnished major overhaul services for
river and coastal combat craft and supplied a number of smaller U.S. bases in the Gulf of Thailand
Support Base, Ben Luc 1968-1971
close to the junction of the Vam Co Tay and Vam Co Dong rivers, Ben Luc served
as the main support base for the Navy’s GIANT SLINGSHOT operations during the
Vietnam War. The main objective of this
operation was to interdict communist infiltration from the nearby
"Parrot’s Beak" border area of Cambodia using river patrol,
riverine assault, and helicopter units.
In December of 1968,
American naval forces deployed to forward staging positions along both
rivers. At Ben Keo, Go Dau Hau, Hiep
Hoa, and Tra Cu on the Vam Co Dong, and at Moc Hoa, Tan An, and Thuyen Nhon on
the Vam Co Tay, Seabees were brought in from the Da Nang area to set up
advanced base defenses, fuel and ammunition storage, a helicopter pad, sleeping
and messing facilities, and other essentials. Facilities at Ben Luc were
prepared for the intermediate level repair of the PBRs and for supply of
supporting ATSBs. Due to its location in relation to the two key waterways and
to Route 4, the main road to Saigon, Ben Luc
was well-suited for its role.
The base site chosen on
the bank nearest to Saigon -- in case the Viet
Cong destroyed the bridge -- was less than ideal. When the Navy’s survey team arrived at Ben
Luc they found the site underwater and river material inadequate for landfill
use. To obtain funds for expensive
truck-transported fill, Navy leaders designated Ben Luc a combined
U.S.-Vietnamese naval base, thereby enabling the effort to tap into available
Vietnamization program allocations.
Other problems hindered
the base development effort. Fears that
the French had laid a minefield in the area prompted a time-consuming search by
an EOD team. The dredge "Western Eagle" was damaged by a Viet Cong
rockets and -- on another occasion -- a crane-bearing barge tipped over,
dropping machinery into the river.
Finally, an LST from Da Nang
transporting material required for construction of the installation was unable
to off-load its cargo because the facilities at Ben Luc were too crude. The
ship was diverted to Newport Pier near Saigon and the resources were transferred to trucks for
delivery to the site.
At the time base
facilities were under construction, the Navy took interim measures to provide
logistics support to the patrol forces up river. YR-9, a floating workshop with spaces that
were ideal for an operations and communications center, was grounded at the
site. In addition, the USS HARNETT
COUNTY (LST-821) temporarily anchored in the river to provide berthing for the PBR crews.
The intermediate support
base was commissioned in July 1969 as Naval Support Activity Saigon,
Detachment Ben Luc. By September of
1969, 812 men worked at the installation and as many as 70 vessels were tied-up
or anchored in the river.
The Vietnamese Navy
forces of operational control for GIANT SLINGSHOT in May 1970. In April 1971, the turnover process was
completed when Ben Luc and the ATSBs on both rivers were turned over to the Republic of Vietnam.
Support Activity, Can Tho and Binh Thuy 1966-1971
situated in the center of South Vietnam’s
vital Mekong Delta was the hub of American
naval operations in the region. The site was chosen because of its location on
the Bassac River.
Can Tho was ideal as a base for operations against Viet Cong supply
traffic on surrounding waterways. Its
other attractive feature was the city’s accessibility to logistics vessels
deployed in the South China Sea. An existing Vietnamese Navy installation
could partially accommodate the first increment of the American PBR units scheduled to deploy there. Can Tho was the largest city west of Saigon, and key Vietnamese naval and military command
headquarters were located there.
In May 1966, a ten-boat
section of River Division 51 deployed to Can Tho to start the GAME WARDEN
operations in the area. Although the
Vietnamese River Assault Group base possessed a marine railway and a number of
storage buildings, the logistics support for the Americans was austere in the
beginning. Quarters were a special
problem, and necessitated the acquisition of facilities in the city. When the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Can Tho, was established in August
1966, conditions improved. Seabees
installed portable fuel bladders and connected a number of pontoons to form a
small pier for the PBR unit. In October, YRBM-9 [a repair, berthing, and
messing barge] arrived at Can Tho, easing support problems enough to allow the
deployment from Saigon of Commander River
Patrol Force and his staff.
At the same time the
Naval Support Activity oversaw the deployment of a major base complex at nearby
Binh Thuy, and by mid-summer 1967 this facility was prepared to receive
In July 1967, the
headquarters of the River Patrol Force was moved to Binh Thuy, and shortly
afterward the Naval Support Activity Saigon,
detachment Can Tho, was redesignated Detachment Binh Thuy. Another headquarters
took shape in the area when the Deputy ComNavForV, was charged in late 1968
with implementing Operation SEALORDS [Southeast Asia Land,
Ocean, River, and Delta Strategy].
SEALORDS sought to interdict the infiltration of communist troops and
supplies from Cambodia.
To enhance support from
Binh Thuy of naval combat units throughout the Delta, a great effort was made
during 1968 to improve the airstrip at Can Tho and to complete a 1,500 foot
airstrip, hangers, aircraft repair shops, and berthing and messing facilities
at Binh Thuy. As a result, in 1969 major
components of Helicopter Attack (light) Squadron 3, the “Seawolves”, and Light
Attack Squadron 4, the "Black Ponies" the Navy’s only combat air
support units based in South
Vietnam, were established there.
As SEALORDS operations
got underway, steps were taken, under the Vietnamization program, to diminish
the Navy’s role in the Delta and to enhance that of the Vietnamese Navy. Between 1969 and 1972 American naval
personnel trained their Vietnamese counterparts; turned over river craft,
equipment, and installations to them; and conducted the U.S.
withdrawal. The turnover of the Bin Thuy
Logistics Support Base and the disestablishment of the Naval Air Squadron and
the Naval Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Binh Thuy, in April 1972,
concluded the major U.S. naval presence in the Can Tho-Binh Thuy area.
U.S. Naval Combat Base, Chau Doc 1969-1971
Chau Doc on the Bassac River
was the site of a naval combat base during the Vietnam War. American and Vietnamese river forces staged
from the base while patrolling the rivers and canals along the Cambodia border
as part of Operation SEALORDS anti-infiltration strategy of 1969-1970.
U.S. Naval Logistics Installation, Cho Moi
a village on the Mekong River, was the site of a naval logistic installation
during the Vietnam War.
U.S. naval leaders chose Cho Moi for the
role of interdicting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese infiltration into the
Mekong Delta from Cambodia. The Cho Moi intermediate support base
and Vietnamese river forces patrolling the area with supplies and boat repair.
Once the Vietnamese Navy
was prepared to handle this task, U.S. naval forces withdrew and the
base was disestablished in 1971.
Support Activity, Dong Tam 1966-1971
on the My Tho branch of the Mekong
River, was the home for a
unique joint-services formation, the Mobile Riverine Force. Composed of a
brigade of the Army’s Ninth Infantry Division and the Navy’s Riverine Assault
Force, the 5,000-man unit was created to launch swift, wide-ranging offensive
operations against the Viet Cong by using the many waterways in the
region. To retain flexibility, logistics
support resources were concentrated on river-based ships, smaller craft and
pontoon barges that deployed with the combat units.
However, recognition that
supplemental shore facilities were needed prompted the search for a suitable
site. Anticipating operations against
the Viet Cong in the southern and western approaches to Saigon, Army and Navy
leaders sought a base site that was centrally located and on a major river in
the region. The My Tho area possessed
some assets, but there was a scarcity of unoccupied land on which to locate a
base. About 5 miles west of the city, at
Dong Tam, there were several hundred acres of abandoned rice paddy that could
be developed to support a base.
In August 1966, dredges
began filling a 1-square mile area with river sand and at the same time
excavating a boat turning basin. This
work was dangerous; three of the five dredges used at Dong Tam from 1966 to
1969 were damaged or sunk by Viet Cong swimmers. Another vessel was sunk when it dredged up
live ordnance that exploded.
Regardless of the risk,
by January 1967 the site was ready to receive construction forces. Seabees moved ashore and began work on
berthing, messing, administrative, and recreational facilities with pre-
stocked materials transported from Saigon by
the USS BRULE (AKL-28), USS MARK (AKL-12) and YFR-889. Navy Seabees installed a pier using six
In January 1967 the Naval
Support Activity, Saigon, Detachment Dong Tam, was established to provide the
naval component of the Mobile Riverine Force
with fuel, ammunition, and supplies.
Maintenance and repair of river craft were also responsibilities. While the detachment worked to build up the
logistics base, interim measures were taken to support the assault force. A 12,000 gallon fuel barge, eight mechanized
landing craft (LCM-3), a repair, berthing and messing barge -- YRBM-17, a non-self
propelled barracks ship -- APL-26,
and floating crane YD-220 were dispatched to the site in the first half of
With the base prepared,
River Assault Squadron 9 elements of the Navy’s assault force deployed to Dong
Tam in March and April 1967. Each squadron consisted of various converted
landing craft, including two command craft (CCB) five monitors, twenty-six
armored troop carriers (ATC), sixteen assault patrol boats (ASPB), and one
refueler. Mobile support for the entire Mobile Riverine Force was by two
self-propelled barracks ships (APBs) BENEWAH (APB-35), USS COLLETON (APB-36),
two tank landing ships (LST) two tugs (YTB) and a non-self propelled barracks
barge (APL-26) and landing craft
repair ship USS ASKARI (ARL-30),
and a repair barge (YFNB).
By the end of 1967 the
base at Dong Tam was able to provide boat-berthing, dry dock, maintenance and
repair, supply, communications, sleeping and messing facilities for one river
assault squadron. The Army compound accommodated an infantry battalion and
an artillery battalion. These units
periodically rotated with their counterparts afloat. In addition, a detachment a detachment of the
Navy’s Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron 3 was based at Dong Tam for support
of the MRF.
During 1968 the responsive
logistic support provided by the detachment at Dong Tam, as well as the support
enabled the Mobile Riverine Force to surprise
and destroy widely separated enemy units. During the Tet Offensive of 1968, the
MRF saved My Tho, Can Tho, and Vinh Long from complete enemy destruction.
Although the Mobile
Riverine Force was disbanded in August 1969, Dong Tam continued to serve the
Navy in Vietnam.
As a logistical Support Base, it provided river craft with major overhauls and
stocked large amounts of supply items for smaller installations in the
area. In September 1971, once the
Vietnamese Navy was prepared to take on the responsibility for support of river
operations in the region, the U.S.
Navy turned over its facilities at Dong Tam.
ATSB, Ha Tien 1968-1970
The American Naval Base
at Ha Tien, on the South Vietnam-Cambodia border served as an ATSB for PBR units engaged in anti-infiltration operations
along the Vinh Te Canal. The Ha Tien
facility was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in December 1970 after two
years of operation.
Operating Base, Kien An 1969-1970
Situated on the Cai Lon River in the Mekong Delta, Kien An served as
operating base for the U.S.
and Vietnamese river. Developed during
1969, the base was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in December 1970.
Intermediate Support Base, Long Phu 1967-1971
Long Phu, located at the
mouth of the Bassac River in the Mekong
Delta, served as a logistic facility for American and Vietnamese river and coastal
units. As an intermediate support base,
Long Phu provided smaller operating bases in the region with fuel, maintenance,
administration, and supplies. The
installation was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in September 1971.
U.S. ATSB, Long Xuyen 1967-1971
austere facility at Long Xuyen, served as an ATSB for U.S. Naval
Forces. From August 1966 to April 1967,
the 20 PBRs of River Division 53 patrolled a segment of the Hau Giang River as part of Operation GAME
WARDEN. The unit was provided with boat
repair, supply, and other logistic support by a detachment of Naval Support
U. S. naval leaders chose the Long Xuyen
site because it was accessible by water and air (with a 3,000-foot airstrip)
and because a South Vietnamese Navy River Assault Group base already existed
there. It was hoped that co-location of
American and Vietnamese forces would foster allied cooperation and lessen the
need for the construction of new facilities.
Steps were taken in 1967 to improve this forward base, including the
installation of a pontoon pier and a fuel storage bladder, the extension of an
existing boat ramp, and deployment of a fuel oil barge. U.S.
naval forces shifted to Tan Chau on the Cambodia border in 1969 and the
Long Xuyen facility was disestablished when the enemy presence in the area
Later in the war, the
Navy developed an intermediate support base at Long Xuyen that provided
supplies and repairs in the river units operating along the Cambodian
border. The Facility was turned over to
the Vietnamese Navy in September 1971.
U.S. ATSB, Moc Hoa 1968-1971
on the Vam Co Tay River north of Vietnam’s Plain of Reeds, Moc Hoa
served as an ATSB. Moc Hoa sat astride an infiltration route from Cambodia that
had been used by the VC. The U.S.
Navy established the staging base there for the PBR
units that patrolled this sector of the Vam Co Tay
in Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT.
In 1969 the Navy’s
Seabees deployed to the site from the Da
Nang area and soon provided the river force with a suitable
base. The Seabees installed sleeping and
messing facilities, fuel and ammunition storage, helicopter pad, defensive
bunkers, and an operation center.
The Advanced Tactical
Support Base at Moc Hoa was transferred to South Vietnam in April 1971.
U.S. Naval Support Activity, My Tho
strategically placed city in the republic
of Vietnam’s Mekong
Delta region was the home for several PBR. Naval leaders chose to develop a base at My
Tho because it was at the junction of Route 4 -- the only relatively good road
traversing the Delta and it was on the My Tho River branch of the Mekong. This river was important for the Navy’s conduct
of the GAME WARDEN interdiction operation, and it provided easy access for
logistics ships deployed in the South China Sea.
factor in My Tho’s selection was its proximity to Kien Hoa Province, the birthplace of the Viet
Cong National Liberation Front and long a communist stronghold. The subsequent
enemy mortar and rocket attacks on the U.S. naval Installations attested
to the validity of this assessment. Finally, the location of American naval
units at the Vietnamese Navy River Assault Group base – it was hoped -- would
foster allied cooperation and make use of existing facilities.
In June 1966 a ten-boat section
of River Division 53 began patrol operations from the My Tho base, which hardly
warranted that description. Repair,
spare parts, and ammunition were stored in tents or rudimentary shelters. Personnel were quartered away from the
waterfront in leased buildings, including the less than sumptuous two-story
Victory Hotel. To alleviate these
problems construction began in November on new structures at a nearby
Site. Although the base was fully
operational by March 1967, with establishment of the Naval Support Activity
Saigon, Detachment My Tho, additional construction provided helicopter
facilities at the existing 1,600 foot airstrip, a 1,000 barrel fuel tank farm,
and a mine defense net upriver. The My Tho base was turned over to the
Vietnamese Navy in November 1969.
U.S. ATSB, Nam Can 1969-1971
the most remote of all the Navy’s bases in Vietnam
was Nam Can. It was
situated on the north bank of the Cau Lon River on
the Ca Mau Peninsula. Establishment of a shore
facility at Nam
Can resulted from a strategic decision to penetrate recognized Viet Cong
strongholds in order to disrupt enemy supply lines and hinder waterborne
movement. Reasserting the sovereignty of
the South Vietnamese government over this area was another prime
consideration. Consequently, in June
1969, naval harbor craft towed the first of thirteen pontoons that were to
comprise a floating base complex to a mooring point off the deserted Vietnamese
town of Nam Can.
Operations from this
mobile facility, named SEA FLOAT, soon improved security in the surrounding
area, prompting plans to develop an installation ashore on the site of the
destroyed town. Designated SOLID ANCHOR,
the base was designed to protect and support U.S. and South Vietnamese naval
forces engaged in river and coastal operations.
were legion. Building material had to be
shipped in from distant areas -- especially Saigon
which was 150 miles from the site.
Because local dredged fill was unsuitable, even sand was barged in. In addition, the heavy equipment of Seabee
Battalion ONE repeatedly became
mired in the extremely porous ground.
Equally difficult were the on-going rocket and mortar attacks as well as
the task of clearing the surrounding scrub and bush away from the perimeter. Defoliation operations helped keep the enemy
from getting close to the base.
Nonetheless, during 1970-71 the Nam
Can Intermediate Support Base became fully functional and provided the allied
combat units on the Cau
with vital assistance.
The Vietnamese Navy
assumed the SOLID ANCHOR mission in April 1971 and ended the last major
American combat operation in Vietnam.
In September of 1971, U.S.
naval personnel turned over control of the shore facility to their Vietnamese
U.S. ATSB, Phuoc Xuyen 1969-1971
Phuoc Xuyen, on the south
bank of the Grand Canal, about 15 miles west of Thuyen Nhon, was the site of
one of the Navy’s Advanced Tactical Support Bases. PBR
units taking part in Operation SEALORDS, the interdiction of communist arms and
supplies from Cambodia, received basic supplies of fuel, food, and ammunition
from the facility. The ATSB was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in April
Intermediate Support Base, Rach Soi 1969-1971
town, on the western coast of South
Vietnam near Rach Gia, was the site of a
naval logistic base. U.S. naval
leaders selected Rach Soi during 1969 as a base from which to support a new
strategy called Operation SEALORDS.
SEALORDS sought to interdict the flow of communist supplies and troops
from Cambodia. Located at the western end of two major
canals, which American and Vietnamese river forces patrolled as a key part of
the overall plan, Rach Soi was well placed to provide the area’s river patrol
boat (PBR) operating bases with
supplies and boat repair.
In June 1971, the
intermediate base at Rach Soi was disestablished and the base continued to
support the Vietnamese Navy.
U.S. Naval Support Activity Detachment, Sa
on the south bank of the Mekong River in the center of the Mekong
Delta, Sa Dec was the site of a forward combat base during the Vietnam
War. A ten-boat section of River
Division 52 first deployed there during the summer of 1966 as part of Operation
Naval leaders chose Sa
Dec as a staging area because the city lay astride the key waterway of the area
and was accessible to logistics support vessels steaming up-river from the South China Sea. In addition, a Vietnamese Army compound
there contained adequate facilities, including a boat yard and a small marine
railway for the intermediate-level repair of river patrol craft.
A detachment of Naval
Support Activity, Saigon provided the combat
unit with logistics support and oversaw base development, including the
installation of a pontoon pier, fuel storage bladder, and a boat ramp. The
naval facility at Sa Dec was turned over to the Vietnamese Navy in April 1971.
U.S. ATSB, Song Ong Doc 1969-1971
Located on the west coast
of South Vietnam, the ATSB
at Song Ong Doc served for a short time during the Vietnam War as an
operational base for the U.S.
and Vietnamese river forces. During late
1969 and 1970, allied naval units patrolled the area’s numerous waterways as
part of the SEALORDS strategy to interdict the Viet Cong supply lines and troop
On the night of October 20, 1970,
the ATSB at BREEZY COVE (Song Ong Doc) was totally destroyed by mortars,
recoilless rifles, and a company-sized ground attack. Naval leaders decided to rebuild the base
using old SEA FLOAT barges and salvaged SOD barges. The barges were used to build a base at the
town of Song Ong Doc,
several miles up river from the former base at the river mouth. In June 1971, the barges were moved to Ca
Mau. As part of the Vietnamization
program, the Song Ong Doc facility was completely turned over to the Vietnamese
U.S. ATSB, Tan An 1968-1969
The Navy established an
ATSB at this site on South Vietnam’s Vam Co Tay River
for a short time during the Vietnam War.
Initially, naval leaders planned to support anti-infiltration river
patrols on the river northwest of Saigon from
a repair, berthing, and messing barge – YRBM - stationed at Tan An. However
when the vessel was deployed to another location down river, the shore
facilities proved inadequate to support the PBR
unit based there. As a result, in March
1969 the naval force re-established its base of operations on Mobile
Support Base II, which consisted of connected pontoons moored in the river.
U.S. Naval River Patrol Base, Tan Chau
Tan Chau was the site of
a naval operating base located on the Cuu
of the upper Mekong on the South
Vietnamese-Cambodian border. Tan Chau provided PBR
units with a relatively secure haven from which to patrol the waterways of the
region. The facility served as a key staging base during the Operation SEALORDS
anti-infiltration campaign of 1969-1970. The Tan Chau installation was turned
over to the Vietnamese Navy in December 1970.
U.S. ATSB, Thuyen Nhon 1969-1971
of Operation GIANT SLINGSHOT anti-infiltration operations, the Navy established
an ATSB at Thuyen Nhon on the Vam Co Tay
River. PBR units staged there while acting to cut the flow
of communist men and supplies into South Vietnam
from the near by "Parrot’s Beak" section of Cambodia.
During 1969 and 1970 Seabees,
using materials brought in from Da Nang constructed an operation center,
defensive bunkers, ammunition and fuel storage facilities, a helicopter pad,
sleeping quarters, and a mess hall.
The Vietnamese Navy
Naval Forces at Thuyen Nhon in April 1971.
U.S. Naval Facility, Vinh Long 1966-1971
This Vietnam city, in the eastern sector of the
Mekong Delta was the site of a U.S.
naval facility. Vinh Long was selected
for a number of reasons: U.S. naval leaders intended to interdict communist waterborne
movement with units patrolling the major rivers in Operation GAME WARDEN; the
city was located on the wide Co Chien River; it was accessible to U.S.
logistics support vessels in the South China Sea; and facilities at the
Vietnamese River Assault Group base were ready to accommodate an American river
Beginning in August 1966 PBR units
deployed to Vinh Long. From there they
operated against the Viet Cong supply network.
The following year (1967), the PBR
forces were joined by a detachment of HAL-3,
At the beginning, base support was crude. Spare parts and supplies were
dispensed from small shacks, and boat repairs were performed using a boat ramp,
an engine lifting rig, and a small crane.
Quarters for the men were established in the city in two crowded villas
six kilometers from the PBR base.
Conditions gradually improved as the navy devoted resources to the base
development. Seabees installed a pier
with Army supplied pontoons and a portable fuel storage bladder. Initial Progress in the creation of support
facilities suffered a set back when Viet Cong forces overran the base during
the Tet Offensive of 1968. The tactical
operations center was destroyed along with its communications equipment, along
with the spare parts buildings. Vinh
Long personnel were forced to evacuate to the USS GARRETT COUNTY (LST-786).
Naval leaders acted quickly to provide mobile support. YR-9, a converted large
covered lighter, was based at Vinh Long to handle maintenance and repair tasks,
and APL-46, a messing and berthing
barge, dropped anchor off the river city in October 1968. At that time the 20-boat PBR force, a detachment of SEALs, and the Naval
Support Activity, Saigon Detachment Vinh Long
moved afloat. Following the relief, in
January 1969, of YR-9 and APL-46
by YRBM-20, a vessel that performed all the functions of the two former craft,
naval contingent was completely mobile.
On 1 February 1969, the Naval Support Activity, Saigon
Detachment Vinh Long, was disestablished. However, the facility continued to
serve as an intermediate support base until September 1971, when the Vietnamese
Navy assumed control.
R1 End of Part 4