|© 2002 Robert H. Stoner - used by permission
OPERATIONS FROM SEA FLOAT/SOLID ANCHOR IN 1970
(SW) Robert H. Stoner (Ret.)
(See more photos)
It was called
Operation Sea Float/Solid Anchor by the U.S. Navy and Tran Hung Dao
III by the South Vietnamese; a joint US/Vietnamese attempt to inject
an allied presence into An Xuyen Province, 175
miles southwest of Saigon. Its purpose was to extend allied control over the
strategic Nam Can region of the Ca Mau peninsula. Heavily forested, the area
sprawled across miles of mangrove swamp. The site selected was on the Cau Lon
river, which connected to the Bo De and Be Hap rivers. These were salt water
rivers. Any fresh or drinking water used afloat or ashore had to be brought
in by ship. The entire area had been solidly held by the Viet Minh against the
French and by the Viet Cong against the Saigon government (and its American
The reality was less grandiose: Commander,
Naval Forces Vietnam (COMNAVFORV) begged, borrowed, and shanghaied materials
for this operation from various commands in-country. On 25 June 1969, three
7th Fleet dock landing ships (LSD) began the off-load of the 11 ammo barges
which became my home between May and November of 1970. There were approximately
700 officers and men on 11 barges; this did not include the crews of a VNN large
infantry landing craft (LCIL) or large landing ship support (LSSL) and a USN
gas turbine gunboat (PG) which provided protection.
SEA FLOAT had a support
staff, galley, intelligence section, communications section, supply
department, a detachment of HA(L)-3 "Seawolf" UH-1B attack helicopters, a motley
collection of VNN-owned and American-advisored river assault group (RAG) boats,
two MST detachments with 2 light, 2 medium, 1 heavy SEAL support craft (LSSC,
MSSC, HSSC), 3 SEAL platoons, a UDT detachment, 6 to 8 coastal junks, some miscellaneous
VNN and USN fast patrol craft (PCF) "Swift" boats. I worked for MST
Detachment "Charlie" and we owned the HSSC, an MSSC, and both LSSC.
|SEA FLOAT as
seen from the air in late 1969 or early 1970. The construction at the top of
the picture is the beginnings of the advanced tactical support base (ASTB) SOLID
ANCHOR (North bank of the Song Cau Lon). The swampy nature of the terrain is
clearly shown by the large areas of standing water. The helicopter pad for the
HA(L)-3 "Seawolf" gunships are on the left (West end), followed by
the fuel and ammunition barges, followed by the galley (North), tactical operations
center (South), administration (North), crew berthing (South), MST, Beach Jumper,
HA(L)-3 berthing (North), SEAL/UDT berthing (two center hooches), and more crew
berthing/supply (South). Showers and heads were on the ends of the four East-facing
barges. Photo: Ed Lefebvre
ANCHOR in 1971 (looking North). The Kit Carson Scout (KCS) camp is on the East
side (right) of the canal across from the base. The MST hooch is on the right
side of the South group of five hooches in the center; UDT was in the upper
end of the fourth hooch; the three SEAL platoons were in the North block of
five hooches in numbers 3 through 5; the tactical operations center was directly
East of the MST and SEAL hooches. The showers and head facilities are between
the upper and lower blocks of hooches to the West; a single small while hooch
in the center. Photo: Ed Lefebvre
|ASTB SOLID ANCHOR in 1971
(looking South). The KCS camp is to the left of the canal. Note the results
of the defoliation to prevent ground attacks through the mangrove swamp are
very apparent in this shot. Water-filled bomb craters from the B-52 strike that
leveled Old Nam Can in 1968 are still evident. In order to build the base on
such soggy ground, the Navy brought in $6 million worth of sand in barges to
provide a foundation for everything here. Even then, they still had to put interlocking
steel pilings along the river and canal banks to keep the tidal currents from
eroding the sand about as quickly as it was put in place. Photo:
I was no stranger to the strange
river craft that plied the dangerous waters around the barges; I had been transferred
from the Mobile Riverine Force (TF-117) in the Mekong River Delta below Siagon.
After the MRF was disbanded in October 1969, we'd taken our mother ship for
a river division of RAG boats back to Long Beach Naval Shipyard for decommissioning.
I was transferred to Boat Support Unit ONE in January 1970 and shortly found
myself back in-country serving with its deployed assets: the Mobile Support
At the time I arrived, the most reliable
boat we had was the HSSC. The "Heavy," actually a modified LCM-6 landing
craft, mechanized, ran very well. The same could not be said for our two LSSC
The LSSC was built of aluminum. It
was 24 feet long and about 9.5 feet wide. The LSSC used an AN/PRC-25 or AN/PRC-77
FM radio, a small Raytheon search radar, carried a .50 Browning M2HB and two
7.62mm M60 machineguns, a crew of 2 to 3, could haul 6 to 7 SEALs, and was powered
by two Ford 427 cubic-inch gasoline engines which drove Jacuzzi water pumps.
It drew about 18 inches of water when fully loaded. It had ceramic armor tiles
and flak curtains along the sides of the crew compartment.
Both of our LSSC had been sunk; one
had been completely submerged, but the other had been only partially so. Their
styrofoam innards (which provided sound suppression and flotation) were either
wholly or partially waterlogged. This meant the LSSC couldn't get up to speed
when we needed it most. When I arrived, one boat was sitting on its trailer
on the beach with two bad engines. Its front bow patch had been removed to allow
access to the waterlogged styrofoam. The foam was being scraped-out by hand
before re-foaming. The second LSSC only had one bad engine and wasn't as badly
waterlogged. (It hadn't been completely sunk). This boat was used in a water
taxi role until we got another engine for it.
The MSSC was a cathedral hulled,
aluminum, 36-foot, twin engined boat, with MerCruiser outdrives. Its layout
followed the lines of a commercial design. It had an AN/VRC-46 FM radio, the
same Raytheon radar as the LSSC, three .50 BMG (or two .50 BMG and a 7.62mm
GE Minigun) and four 7.62mm M60 machineguns. It carried a crew of 5 and up to
18 SEALs. However, this MSSC was not operational also. It had sucked a huge
gulp of salt water at engine shutdown. (The Chevy 427 cubic-inch gasoline engines
had a high-rise exhaust manifold for the underwater exhaust to prevent water
being sucked back into the engine at shutdown; sometimes they worked, but not
The HSSC was a much-modified LCM-6
landing craft. With General Motors 6-71 diesel engines to push its flat-bottomed
bulk, the HSSC carried armor and firepower to make up for its lack of speed.
There was a Mk 2 Mod 1 piggy-back 81mm mortar/.50 BMG gun behind the cut-down
bow ramp. A helicopter landing pad had been welded across the top of the well
deck. A gun tub was attached to the front of the helo pad. The gun tub contained
a GAU-2B/A 7.62mm GE Minigun and an M40A1 106mm recoilless rifle graced the
center of the helo pad. From below the helo pad, the snouts of four M2HB .50
BMGs and four M60 7.62mm machineguns poked (two each per side). A Raytheon radar
topped the after deckhouse and a M2HB .50 BMG covered the stern. Bar armor protected
the after deckhouse, gun tub, and hull above the waterline from B-40 (RPG-2)
and RPG-7 shaped-charge anti-tank rockets. Heavy flak blankets lined the inside
of the well deck, engine room, and deckhouse to protect the crew from flying
splinters if the sides were penetrated by a rocket. The only thing the crew
couldn't defend against was a command-detonated underwater mine (and the bad
guys were very good with them, if they could successfully lay them).
When the barges had first been moored
in the Cau Lon river by the site of old Nam Can (it had been flattened by airstrikes
during and after the 1968 Tet Offensive), special multiple-point moorings were
required because the river currents typically were between 6 and 8 knots. And,
because the Cau Lon, Bo De, and Be Hap rivers connected with the South China
Sea on the east and Gulf of Thailand on the west, these currents were subject
to reversal due to tidal effects. Current reversal and water levels were significant
factor in operations for several reasons:
First, the HSSC couldn't hold its
own against the currents caused by the tides. Operations had to be planned to
travel when currents were weak or to go with the current when the tide was going
out or coming in.
Second, all boats had to make sure
they weren't stranded by the tide when working a canal. The rule of thumb was:
If the tide is running out, and you're in doubt, get out!
Third, operations in "Square
Bay" at the western mouth of the Cau Lon River were especially hazardous.
The main channel (which changed daily) was only 12 to 15 feet at high tide and
3 to 5 feet deep everywhere else outside the channel. At low tide the water
level dropped so that everything except the main channel became acres and acres
of mud flats.
All things considered, this operational
area was one of the most God-forsaken places anyone could image; I could never
understand why anyone would want it. It was a full circle, 50-kilometer diameter
I never really liked the LSSC. It
was cramped and crude. Two of our detachment members, Jimmy Wells and "Wally"
Wallace did, and they usually took the LSSC out when needed. This time, for
whatever the reason, I got tagged to go on the LSSC with Jim and Wally for a
solo night op; that is, we weren't using a cover boat for backup.
The SEALs had purchased some sampans
from the local Vietnamese who lived in a ramshackle bamboo and thatch village
called the "Annex" (Ham Rong) about 5 kilometers east from our base.
They used the sampans to do very stealthy insertions and extractions on canals
that were too narrow and shallow for the LSSC. The usual mode of carry was to
tie two sampans across the rear engine hatches and a third across the bow, if
required. On this operation we only used two.
We'd received notice of the op early
in the afternoon. Briefing was at 1800. By 2030, the two sampans had been secured
to the LSSC. The three of us and six SEALs got underway in the LSSC. The mission
was a simple reconnaissance up a side canal off one of the main canals that
emptied into the river.
One thing you could say about our
op area: when the sun went down, it got dark very fast. On this night were favored
by a clear sky with lots of stars and no moon. By 2200 we'd dropped off our
SEALs and pulled back to act as a waterborne guardpost to watch the mouth of
the canal they'd entered. We tied up to a fish stake that was near the middle
of the canal. One of us manned the radio for an hour; another watched the banks
with an AN/PVS-2B starlight scope, and one slept (if possible). The jobs were
rotated hourly. As it turned out, no one slept this night. It was probably a
combination of adrenaline (as in my case) or maybe some "stay awakes"
someone had gotten from the SEAL corpsman. ("Stay awakes" were stimulants
designed to keep the user awake for long periods of time. I only took the "stay
awakes" once and it acted to put me to sleep; in other people they acted
to produce hallucinations. Because of their unpredictable affects, most of our
MST people didn't use these pills.)
While on waterborne guardpost, no
one smoked and the little talk done was in muffled whispers. Any kind of noise
carries a long way at night, especially across water. The only break in the
monotony was when there was a burst of radio static on the handset every 30
minutes. This was done by the SEAL radioman by keying the transmitter on the
handset which indicated all was OK; our response was two bursts in return.
Dawn came early at this time of year
and we received word to extract about 0430. The extraction point was another
canal about a kilometer down the canal we were on. We moved quietly downstream
to them and they told us when they heard our muffled engines. One of the SEALs
flashed a blue-lens strobe light at us and we confirmed we'd located them. We
set the engine throttles to idle and the two sampans came out to meet us. These
were silently and quickly stowed. We made our way back to the main river. Once
on the main river, we hit the throttles and were on our way home.
The MSSC was fast and roomy. It carried
300 gallons of gasoline in four 75-gallon bladders (paired) on either side of
the hull at the waterline. The interior of the well deck was covered with ceramic
armor tiles and flak curtains. Its main fault was the steering cables, electrical
cables, and engine throttle controls all ran down the starboard side instead
of being split up. This almost caused the loss of the boat when a B-40 rocket
hit had severed the steering and electrical cables (and just missed the fuel
bladder!). Fortunately the engines stayed in operation and SEAL Dave Bodkin
crawled across the engine hatches (under fire) to install the emergency tiller
he used to steer the MSSC out of the kill zone.
When we got our MSSC, one of the
main engines had to be replaced. About six weeks after our arrival at base,
our officer-in-charge (OIC) and three of us took it down river to Square Bay,
up the coast to Song Ong Doc, up river to Ca Mau, and by canal to our mobile
repair team (MRT) at Binh Thuy. The MRT detachment at Naval Support Activity
Binh Thuy worked very hard to keep all the boats operational. They had 2 HSSC,
9 MSSC, a dozen LSSC, an LCPL, and a bunch of lesser craft to work on.
After being at Sea Float, Binh Thuy
was really living in luxury: laundry facilities, a decent bed with clean linen,
and a cold beer after work. It was paradise! Our only concern was for the security
of our boat while it was being worked on; the Vietnamese would steal anything
that wasn't locked-up. (We learned they had even stolen the 24-volt instrument
panel light bulbs from the MSSC at Ca Mau on our way to Binh Thuy.) All portable
gear, weapons, and ammo were removed and locked in a Container, Express (Conex)
box. We took turns sleeping on the boat to make sure we left with everything
we came with.
A new engine really made the MSSC
move out. She was a joy to drive and handled like a high-powered ski-boat when
at full throttle. When we returned to Sea Float, our sister MST detachment "Bravo"
had returned. Now the SEALs had two MSSC from which to operate.
I was always on the lookout for more
ways to beef up the firepower of the MSSC. We considered the Mk 19 Mod 0 40mm
automatic grenade launcher. However, all the ammo we had was linked incorrectly
and it jammed. We didn't have a linker-delinker, so the Mk 19 went to storage
in our Conex box.
I managed to get a .50 AN/M3 Browning
aircraft machine gun that our SEALs had captured. At first, the intelligence
officer was bound and determined it was a Russian 12.7mm machinegun until I
showed him it had been made at Springfield Armory, Massachusetts. The SEALs
then fought off attempts by the An Xuyen province chief to reappropriate it.
In the end, they gave it to me to spite the province chief. After swapping and
adding parts gotten from the base armory, I was ready to test fire the gun.
Our OIC and three of us took the
MSSC up river, past the Annex, to test the gun. As we were moving along, I was
resting on the gun and looking at the beach. Suddenly, I saw a puff of mud and
debris and a big, black blob come cartwheeling at us. Rocket! I'd seen where
it came from and hit the triggers on the .50. The aircraft gun let out a throaty
roar and ate 2/3 of my 426-round ready service ammo can before I knew it! Just
as quickly we pulled out-of-range and my OIC turned around and asked me what
all the commotion was about. I told him someone had just shot a rocket at us,
they'd missed, and I had just splattered them with the .50. He nodded and resumed
conning the boat. My test fire had worked better than planned; however, the
lack of spare barrels forced me to use the aircraft .50 for only special ops
where its fast rate of fire (1,150 rounds a minute) could be decisive.
Halfway through our tour, MST headquarters
(Naval Special Warfare Group - NSWG) in Siagon decided to upgrade the MSSC with
the 7.62mm GE Minigun to replace the after .50 BMG. The Minigun was an electrically
powered Gatling gun scaled-down from the M61 20mm Vulcan cannons used on fighter
and attack jets. The gun could fire 6,000 rounds a minute; however, the motor
controller only allowed two rates of 2,000 and 4,000 rounds a minute. The gun
ran off the boat batteries and carried 3,800 rounds of linked 7.62mm ammunition
in its ready service magazine. It had two triggers: the left for 2,000 rpm and
the right for 4,000 rpm. The gunner always started with the left first and then
the right to keep the gun from jamming; it sounded like a two-speed chainsaw
when firing. Even with the flash suppressors, there was a large muzzle blast
and a near solid streak of tracer heading towards the target. It was impressive
to shoot, and it took an impressive time reload the magazine. We learned not
to get lead-fingered on the triggers the hard way . . .
Our sister detachment, Bravo, had
gotten relieved. Some relief personnel had just arrived aboard and our OIC had
arranged to show the new OIC the op area. We were also going to test the new
Minigun on the way back from Square Bay. We quickly made it down to Square Bay,
pointed out the places of interest, and started home. Suddenly, we started taking
sniper fire from the treeline. . .
Things happened in a blur. The OIC
hit the throttles. The portside gunner and I were taken by surprise by the acceleration
and went sprawling on the deck. The after gunner saw the muzzle flashes, hunkered-down,
and let the Minigun rip! He didn't let off on the triggers until he ran dry.
Meanwhile, the other gunner and I kept slipping and falling on the Minigun's
spent cartridge brass as we tried to get to our guns. When we'd almost make
it, the OIC would fishtail the boat to give the after gunner a better field
of fire and we'd go down again!
We rapidly cleared the ambush site
and passed out-of-range. We then set about reloading the Minigun and found out
why it wasn't a good idea to run its magazine dry. It took 10 minutes to link-up
the 750-round sections of 7.62mm ammo into the 3,800 round belt and stow it
in the magazine, bring it through the feed booster, and pull it trough the feed
chute! Not a good idea while under fire, so fire short bursts to conserve the
supply became the rule.
For longer-range missions, the MSSC
was invaluable as a radio relay point and its larger size allowed the carriage
of larger sampans. A joint MSSC/LSSC/sampan operation was organized such that
the bigger sampans were loaded on the MSSC and smaller sampans on the LSSC.
The SEALs either rode the MSSC or split-up between the boats as determined by
the operation. Each boat provided cover for the other during insertions or extractions.
I was on the MSSC this night with
all the sampans and SEALs. The LSSC would be our cover-boat for the operation.
We got to the insertion point and the LSSC went in, while we covered, to establish
right flank security on the canal. After they'd secured the right flank, we
nosed the boat in to take the left flank. Once beached, we off-loaded the sampans.
The SEALs continued in the sampans up the canal that was too shallow for either
boat to follow. After insertion both boats retracted from the beach and moved
to prearranged positions where they could keep other canals and each other under
observation. The SEALs on the beach used the LSSC-to-MSSC-to-tactical ops center
(Sea Float/Solid Anchor) radio relay when help from rotary or fixed wing air
support was needed.
While the SEALs were mucking about
in the jungle, the time on the boats was spent keeping watch, sweating, monitoring
the radio, sweating, and swatting mosquitoes that were about in bloodthirsty
swarms. This time was different. It was 0530 and the sun had just made it over
"BLACK BEAR, BLACK BEAR, THIS
IS TRADEWINDS. OVER."
"BLACK BEAR. GO."
"THIS IS TRADEWINDS. REQUEST
EMERGENCY EXTRACTION! REQUEST EMERGENCY EXTRACTION! OVER."
Two sets of engines grumbled to life.
Adrenaline pumped. Both boats got underway headed for the emergency extraction
point. Both boats went into the canal: LSSC in the lead, MSSC providing cover.
The canal narrowed.
"SIERRA CHARLIE, THIS IS BLACK
BEAR. WE CANNOT PROCEED FARTHER. WE WILL SET UP HERE AND ACT AS COMMO LINK.
"TRADEWINDS, SIERRA CHARLIE.
BLACK BEAR CANNOT PROCEED FARTHER. WE WILL PROCEED AS FAR AS WE CAN. CAN YOU
DISENGAGE AND COME TO US? OVER."
"TRADEWINDS. THAT IS AFFIRMATIVE.
WE ARE COMING OUT NOW. TRADEWINDS, OUT."
Time dragged. Eyes and ears strained
to pick out signs of the LSSC or sampans. Finally the LSSC emerged with the
sampans in tow. The boats nestled together against the beach as the sampans
were stowed. There were no casualties, but some of the SEALs weren't happy.
As they came aboard the MSSC, the SEAL OIC slammed his XM-177E2 (CAR-15) against
the bulkhead in frustration.
"THOSE DINKS WERE THREE (rice
paddy) DIKE LINES OVER, AGAINST THE TREES, AND WE WERE BOTH OUT OF EACH OTHER'S
RANGE. THEY HAD AKs (Russian/Chinese assault rifles) AND WE HAD M-16s, CAR-15s
AND STONER'S (a U.S. 5.56mm belt-fed machinegun). WE TRADED ROUNDS FOR AN HOUR.
NO ONE COULD HIT ZIP! I'LL FIX THAT NEXT TIME!" (He did. Next time he took
a silenced, XM-21 7.62mm sniper rifle to the field.)
After everyone boarded, the boats
got underway and out to the main river. From there they proceeded at maximum
speed back to base.
The HSSC was a fortress. It had firepower.
It had armor. In short, just the kind of boat the bad guys loved to hate (which
they did). There was a big canal just past the Annex that had been begging for
exploration for some time. It was deep enough for the HSSC even at low tide,
and there were places where we could turn around (the HSSC was 56 feet long).
This evening's adventure was to insert and extract a Beach Jumper Unit "Duffel
Bag Team." (This team planted and monitored vibration- and body heat-activated
sensors that helped track movements of the bad guys around our base.) On the
way out, we were to play some "Wandering Soul" tapes the Psychological
Warfare boys had dreamed up to terrorize the guerillas. The line was the guerillas
would become so frightened, they'd come over to the government side. We never
got to hear the tape nor was the "Duffel Bag Team" ever able to plant
their guerilla-tracking sensors. We got ambushed first.
My general quarter's station was
the forward 81mm mortar/.50 BMG mount. Mike Meils was the starboard forward
.50 gunner. "D.J." Desjardins was on the Minigun. Don King was on
the after .50 by his engine room. Our OIC Lt. (jg) Fulkerson and Qunicy Butler
were driving from the coxswain's flat in the deckhouse. We'd loaded the 81mm
mortar and 106mm recoilless rifle with anti-personnel flechette (beehive) rounds.
Each contained 2,000 or 6,000 tiny steel nails with fins. When fired, they acted
like a gigantic shotgun. They were ideal for ambush situations.
We'd entered the canal. It was a
low tide and the water was out. The banks of the canal were actually even with
the top of the helicopter pad (which meant the water was approximately 8 to
10 feet below the top of the bank). My gun was covering the left bank and the
106mm was covering the right. I had gone over to the starboard forward .50 gunner
to ask a question about something. I remembered one of the PsyWar boys was sitting
immediately in back of him when there were two very fast explosions and the
world changed from black to white.
I looked for my gunner and the PsyWar
guy; both were gone. I looked at my gun and it seemed to be a half mile away
and lit-up like day by the muzzle flashes of the .50 machineguns. I remember
a crazy rationalization going through my mind:
"THIS IS INSANE. THAT GUN MOUNT
IS LIT-UP LIKE A CHRISTMAS TREE. YOU COULD GET KILLED UP THERE! NOPE. THOSE
.50s HAVE GOTTEN THEIR HEADS DOWN BY NOW. BETTER GET UP THERE AND GET THE GUNS
WORKING OR YOU'RE GOING TO LOOK REAL STUPID IN FRONT OF THE GUYS."
I was at the guns in what seemed
to be two giant steps. The 81mm beehive went first and was followed by 150 rounds
of .50 armor-piercing incendiary (API), incendiary (INC), and armor-piercing
incendiary tracer (API-T). We made it out of the kill zone and around a bend
in the canal where we beached.
"SEAWOLF. SEAWOLF. THIS IS BLACK
BEAR. SCRAMBLE! SCRAMBLE! OVER."
"BLACK BEAR, SEAWOLF. ROGER
SCRAMBLE. HAVE TWO CHICKS ON THE WAY (TO) YOUR LOCATION. OUT."
Then I discovered the mortar and
.50 could not fire forward; the bow ramp had not been cut down low enough. I
"GREAT. THE MINIGUN IS JAMMED.
THE 106 MAY BE SHRAPNEL DAMAGED. THE TWO FORWARD .50s CAN'T COVER THE FRONT
OF THE BOAT. MY GUNS CAN'T FIRE BECAUSE THE BOW RAMP IS IN THE WAY. SO JUST
ME, MY M3 "GREASE GUN" (.45 submachine gun), AND THREE 30-ROUND MAGAZINES
ARE GOING TO HOLD OFF THE WHOLE NORTH VIETNAMESE ARMY!"
I heard helicopters in the area and
saw their flashing anti-collision beacons.
"BLACK BEAR, SEAWOLF ONE-FOUR.
WE THINK WE ARE CLOSE TO YOUR POSITION. CAN YOU AUTHENTICATE? OVER."
"ROGER, SEAWOLF. WATCH FOR MY
It didn't register with me immediately
what the radio had said until I caught the white flash of the strobe light in
my peripheral vision. And I thought: "DAMN. IF THEY DIDN'T KNOW WHERE WE
WERE, THEY SURE DO NOW!"
"BLACK BEAR, SEAWOLF ONE-FOUR.
WE WILL COVER YOUR EXTRACTION. ARE YOU READY? OVER."
"ROGER, SEAWOLF. EXTRACTING
The HSSC backed off the bank and
we headed back the way we'd come. I watched the banks for any kind of movement.
We're starting through the place we got hit before. Good. Almost through . .
. BLAM! BLAM! Hit again. Same drill: Return fire; get past kill zone; get beyond
bend in river; beach the boat.
"BLACK BEAR, SEAWOLF. WE SAW
YOU GET HIT. ARE YOU OK? OVER."
"AFFIRMATIVE, SEAWOLF. OVER."
"THIS IS SEAWOLF. UNDERSTAND
YOU ARE OK. WE WILL STRAFE BOTH SIDES OF THE BANK WITH ROCKETS AND MINIGUNS.
For the next fifteen minutes the
two UH-1B gunships raked the ambush site with 2.75-inch rockets and Miniguns.
Meanwhile, our OIC had asked me whether we had something special for our friends
to remember us by. I said yes, and broke out eight white phosphorous (WP) rounds
for the mortar.
After the gunships finished, my forward
gunner and I dumped four "Willie Pete" mortar rounds on both sides
of the ambush site. The gunships orbited overhead and covered us until we arrived
at the main river.
Back at Sea Float everyone had heard
about the ambush. Lots of anxious faces greeted us as we tied up. Everyone was
still running on adrenaline but no one was hurt. We went to the MST hut to debrief.
At debrief, the OIC asked who was screaming just after we'd been hit on the
way in. D.J. confessed he was the one, but there was a reason:
"WHEN WE GOT HIT, I OPENED UP
WITH THE MINIGUN. I GOT OFF TWO OR THREE BURSTS AND IT JAMMED. I GRABBED A LAW
(M72 light anti-tank weapon) AND IT MISFIRED. I GRABBED MY M-16 AND WENT THROUGH
TWO MAGAZINES BEFORE IT JAMMED. I COULDN'T CLEAR IT. I WAS SO FRUSTRATED THE
ONLY THING I COULD THINK TO DO WAS POINT MY FINGER AND YELL: 'BANG! BANG! TAKE
THAT YOU SON-OF-A-B***H!' AND I THREW THE EMPTY MAGAZINES AT THE BEACH!"
We finally figured out what it was
the bad guys had used on us when the sun came up. From all the leaves, twigs,
and garbage it was evident the culprits were Claymore-type, remotely-detonated
directional mines set in the trees and set to fire on "Swift" boat
patrols at high tide. We had crossed them up, because we'd gone through at low
tide. When they fired at the sound of our engines, the mines on both banks shot
over the top of us. Twice! Final confirmation of the type came when I found
a piece of scorched olive-green sheet metal with Chinese characters about six
feet from where I'd been talking to my gunner the night before.
Author's Note: The radio traffic
in this narrative are re-constructions of dialog. They are for dramatic purposes.
For Detachment "Charlie" the actual call sign was "Black Bear."
SEALs were always "Tradewinds." The HA(L)-3 call sign was "Seawolf,"
but the number is made up (Detachment 1 used two digit numbers beginning at
"1" plus a number between zero and 9, with 6 indicating the commanding
officer's bird). The LSSC call signs are also made up for dramatic effect.
EPILOG: SEA FLOAT/SOLID ANCHOR
SEA FLOAT was established June 25,
1969. SEA FLOAT moved ashore to SOLID ANCHOR in mid-September of 1970. The SOLID
ANCHOR base was heavily rocketed and mortared in late January 1971. SOLID ANCHOR
was formally turned over to Vietnamese Navy on April 1, 1971. The last Americans
left SOLID ANCHOR on February 1, 1973.
What happened to SEA FLOAT? After
the Americans moved ashore from SEA FLOAT to SOLID ANCHOR in September, the
empty barges became the object of scavengers from the village called the "Annex"
(Ham Rong) about 5 kilometers to the east. Building materials used to construct
the hooches were recycled by the locals. On the night of October 20, 1970, the
advanced tactical support base at BREEZY COVE (Song Ong Doc) was destroyed by
mortars, recoilless rifles, and a company-sized ground attack. The old SEA FLOAT
barges were used to rebuild a New Song Ong Doc several miles up river from the
old base. In June 1971, the remaining barges were moved to Ca Mau.
© 2002 Robert H. Stoner - used by permission