The History of the boats in the Panama Canal



Operation Just Cause

Upon Orders from the President George H. Bush, the Removal of Manuel Noriega and his Regime was authorized. Panama had been a long time Base for U.S. forces and HQ for U.S. SOUTHERN COMMAND with many units stationed in Panama. The Scope of the Panama Invasion is to large so we will only address the Special Boats Units (SBU) and SEALs.

The Naval Special Warfare Units stationed there already had intimate knowledge of the areas.
They were, at the time of the action, NSWU-8 with 5 platoons of SEALs form SEAL Team 2 and 4, and Special Boat Unit 26 which had, MkIII and IV PBs ,PBR MkIIs, and PBLs. These units were based at Rodman Naval Station Panama. These units were called by U.S. Special Operations Command "Task Force White" and divided in to 4 Task Units each with a separate Mission.

On the evening of 20 Dec 1989 "Task Unit Papas" mission was the capture of Paitillia airfield and to deny President Noriega an escape by air. They left in a little flotilla of 2 PBs and 15 CRRCs for a short 5 mile transit to offshore of the objective. The PBs were acting as Command Control and Security for the CRRCs. The insertion of the large SEAL force of 3 Platoons and Airforce CCs, went without incident. Around 1 am the Seal Force was compromised by Panamanian Defense Forces (PFD) and a savage fire fight broke out. The end result was that the airfield was taken with 4 SEALs killed and 8 wounded. This mission would cause many "Lessons Learned" so mistakes would not be repeated.

Task Unit Charlie was assigned to secure the Atlantic Side of the Panama Canal. It was comprised of two PBRs and 8 SEALs, and on 20 Dec. 89, TF Charlie blocked all vessels entering the Canal. They also patrolled the shipping channel near Colon preventing the PFD from commandeering boats. Mid morning on the 20th Dec TF Charlie was ordered to investigate the German Merchant ship "Asian Senator". The ship was reported to have 30 PFD on Board. When the SEALs saw armed men in civilian clothes they engaged and called in the PBRs for fire support. The heavy firepower of the PBRs caused the Panamanians to surrender. During the period of 20 Dec to 26 Dec TF Charlie on occasion traded shots with PFD ashore and detained one Colombian vessel with looted electronics, and searched 31 Boats at the Panama Canal Yacht Club.

TF Foxtrot was comprised of SEALs, PBs and PBRs and PBls and a native Cayuga canoe. TF Foxtrot was operating on the Pacific side of the Canal conducting Coastal Patrol and Interdiction. Critical security from the sea off Howard Air Force Base were provided by the PBs which kept all vessels from approaching the base offshore. SEALs and SBU Crewmen used a Native Cayuga Canoe. The SEALs  launched from the Canoe and searched the tiny islands off Howard AF Base for infiltrators. Two PBRs protected the Bridge of the Americas. PBLs and SEALs searched vessels coming and going in the area.

On 21 Dec. TF Foxtrot Intercepted searched and seized the Passe Porte Tout and Macho de Monde, 2 of Noriegas sports yachts, on board 18 Panamanians and large qualities of arms and ammunition.
26 Dec TF Foxtrot shifted its operational areas to waters off Papal Nunciature the last refuge of Noriega and ended operations 2 Jan 1990.

TF Whiskey was a small SEAL Unit using a CRRC, Their very successful mission was a combat swimmer attack on the 65' Panamanian Patrol Boat Presidente Poras using a stealthy underwater attack, setting charges on the unsuspecting vessel tied up at Balboa Harbor. When the charges blew, it destroyed the PFD Patrol boat.