Operation 34A and the Nasty Class PT Boats
This is the inside story of Operation 34A and the Nasty Class PT Boats - and the crews that
manned them during the Vietnam War.
By Jack H. Jennings and Tran Do Cam
Most Americans consider that our involvement in the Vietnamese War began with the Tonkin
Gulf incident. The fact is our involvement began almost immediately following the 1954
Geneva Peace Accords that divided the country at the 17th parallel. The Pentagon Papers
leaked some information, but the whole story of this operation is only now becoming known. Immediately following the Accords, CIA Director Allen Dulles sent Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale to Vietnam as Deputy Director of the Office of Special Operation with orders to implement clandestine operations against the North. Highly experienced in such operations,
in the 1950’s Lansdale performed similar duties for President Magasasay eliminating the Philippines of Huk Communists.
Lansdale recruited and trained Vietnamese civilians to carry out the initial counterinsurgency operations against North Vietnam. Lansdale relied on a variety of ethnic Vietnamese crews to accomplish this mission including Nung and other minorities that came from areas close to the Chinese border. For security reasons, Lansdale used Saipan as a training center. Later, the
CIA borrowed trained counterinsurgency operatives from Taiwan for commando raids into
North Vietnam. Early operations used native junks since they blended into the fishing boats
off the North Vietnamese waters. These operations continued over the years, some highly
successful while others were less so resulting in the complete loss of some crews. The code
name for these operations was Nautilus after the mysterious submarine from Jules Verne’s
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Missions consisted of inserting spies recruited by the CIA
and commando raids conducted by Republic of Vietnam frogmen. As the NVN Navy improved intelligence gathering capabilities, the routes used by Nautilus missions became well known
and the junks soon lost their advantage of blending in. The NVN simply waited for the junks
to cross the 17th parallel. The junk’s slow speed and weak firepower became too much of a disadvantage against North Vietnam’s heavily armed Swatow and P-4 gunboats.
In July 1962, the CIA and the Department of Defense determined that the CIA did not have
the operational capability and capacity to effectively carry out the mission and determined
that the DOD should have operational control. Admiral Harry Flelt, Commander in Chief,
Pacific, analyzed the situation and recommended that PT Boats and Frogmen be used to carry
out the mission. President Kennedy, himself a WWII PT Boat commander, liked the idea and approved its immediate implementation. On January 1, 1963, the Military Assistance
Command, Vietnam Special Operations Group (MACV-SOG) assumed the responsibility for operations.
Operations Plan 34A
In May 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed Admiral Flelt to prepare a plan to support the
RVN Navy effort to carry out special operations in North Vietnam. On August 14th, the JCS approved the final plan that became OPLAN 34-63. Slight adjustments were again made and approved on September 9, 1963. Before fully implemented, a coup d'état against President
Ngo Dinh Diem took place on November 3, 1963. Despite the command confusion, commando raids continued under OPLAN 34-63. By December 1963, MACV-SOG became disappointed
with performance and sought ARVN military participation. A new plan, known as OPLAN 34A
was prepared that included ARVN with U. S. Navy support and was approved by JCS on
December 15, 1963. Secretary of Defense McNamara and President Johnson wanted to
deliver a strong message to North Vietnam that the U. S. would not accept the Communist invasion of the RVN. The main objective was to combine the attacks against the North with Diplomatic pressure to warn the North to cease their infiltration in Laos and RVN. Thus, the United States entered into a new phase of the clandestine operations against the North.
To support this operation, the U. S. Navy set up a base in Danang consisting of SEALS, U. S. Marine intelligence officers, and other specialists experienced in guerrilla operations. Two PT
Boat crews along with necessary maintenance crews were sent to train Vietnamese crews in
PT Boat operations and methods to use them in commando raids. On January 21, 1964,
JCS approved the implementation of the first phase of OPLAN 34A. The maritime section of
OPLAN 34A had the main objective of conducting operations on the sea routes and to engage
in psychological warfare against North Vietnam. The JCS maintained tight control over
operational planning leaving the details of completing the plan to MACV-SOG personnel.
The organizational structure that specialized in running the coastal commando operations consisted of the Vietnamese Navy Coastal Security Service comprised of VN SEALS and Boat
Crews and technical specialists. All Vietnamese SEAL Teams and Boat Crews were recruited
from the brightest and best of the VN Navy with superior service records. In addition, a small number of VN Army specialists were recruited and trained in SEAL tactics. The junks were
rapidly replaced with NASTY class PT Boats. At that time, the NASTY was considered the best
and most modern PT Boat in the world.
Tonkin Gulf Incident
By early 1964, operations using the newly arrived PT Boats were in full swing with excellent success. On July 30, 1964, impressed with the operational success, the JCS ordered to triple
the August schedule over that of July. This was a six-fold increase over the June schedule.
On the night of July 30, the more aggressive schedule involved a nighttime raid on Hon Me
and Hon Nieu islands off Thanh Hoa coast. This was a four boats raid involving PTF-2, PTF-3,
PTF-5, and PTF-6. (PTF-2 was one of the gasoline-powered boats; the others were NASTY’s).
At midnight, the four boats split up and headed for their respective objectives. At Hon Me, a fuselage of heavy machine-gun bullets met PTF-3 and PTF-6 causing heavy damage to the
bow of PTF-6 and wounding four crewmen. Suddenly, a crewman sighted a Swatow patrol
boat mooring near the island. With insufficient time to get a SEAL team ashore to blow up
the target, the crew blasted a water tower and several military buildings with 40 mm and
20 mm gunfire. Caught in the glare of an illumination flare fired by the Swatow, the PTF’s continued to pour fire into the targets. In less than 25 minutes, the attack was over. It was
now thirty minutes into August 1, 1964. Both boats sped away at 55 knots, easily
outdistancing the Swatow only making about 45 knots.
At Hon Niew, PTF-2 and PTF-5 had better luck. They approached unnoticed and hammered a communications tower silhouetted in the moonlight. Only light machine gun fire was returned with no damage. After forty-five minutes of pounding the tower and other targets, both boats raced back to Danang. North Vietnam lodged a complaint with the International Control Commission. The United States denied involvement. In response, the North Vietnamese commenced a buildup of their naval presence and shifted about one-third of their 50 P-4 and Swatow gunboats from Haiphong to that area. General Westmoreland recognized that the successful 34A operations were responsible for this response.
At about the same time as the implementation of OPLAN 34A, the Navy began Desoto patrols along the coast that were designed to eavesdrop on communications from North Vietnam.
These patrols were conducted by American tin cans that were careful to stay in International Waters, at least four miles off shore in the case of North Vietnam. General Westmoreland and Admiral Sharp, Pacific Fleet Commander-in-Chief, had discussed using the Desoto patrols to
assist in the direct conduct of 34A operations, however, this was abandoned to preserve the plausible deniability of U. S. involvement. Nevertheless, in July 1964, Westmoreland had requested that Desoto monitor the upcoming 34A operations in case they were needed for
Two days following the attacks on Hon Niew and Hon Me, at 1600 on August 2, frustrated with
its inability to interdict the Nasty boats, North Vietnamese launched a torpedo attack against
USS Maddox (DD-731) using four Soviet torpedo boats. Maddox, supported by aircraft from
USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14), shot up the attacking boats leaving one boat dead in the water.
The battle was over in 22 minutes. Maddox took machinegun rounds from a North Vietnamese PT boat, but steamed out of the area without further damage and no loss of life. The North Vietnamese had naturally connected the Desoto destroyers with the events of late July and
early August since Maddox was steaming off the coast of Hon Me island at the time.
Undeterred by the events of August 2, the maritime operations from Danang launched a four
boat 34A operation on August 3. The objective was to bombard a radar station at Vinh Son
and a security post on the banks of the Ron River; both about 90 miles north of the 17th
parallel. PTF-1, PTF-2, PTF-5, and PTF6 were the boats involved. After a successful attack,
the PT Boats kicked into flank speed of 50-plus knots easily outdistancing pursuing enemy Swatows. Knocking out the radar station blinded North Vietnam contributing to their
On August 4, Maddox and USS Turner Joy (DD-951) reported that they were involved in an attack. The next day, on 5 August, planes from Ticonderoga and USS Constellation (CVA-64) struck an oil storage site in North Vietnam and destroyed coastal vessels. On 7 August, the
U. S. Congress passed the Tonkin Gulf Resolution with overwhelming support. Now it is well known that the August 4 attack did not actually occur. This series of events permanently disrupted attempts by President Johnson to send a message to the North Vietnamese
government through the Canadian delegation to stop its war against the South, thus setting
the course of action for the next ten years.
The ICC immediately headed for Danang to investigate the PT Boat base. In the meantime,
the Navy relocated the PT boats south to Cam Ranh Bay where they lay low until the ICC investigation was over; a week later they were back in Danang the crew having spent the
week camping out on a small pier. Back in Washington, President Johnson ordered a halt in
34A operations to avoid any ambiguous message. By now, the veil of secrecy as to the
location of the PT Boats was thin. Ambassador Maxwell Taylor, in Saigon, objected to the
halt of operations. Following the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the attacks again commenced in
Why the NASTY Class PT Boat
The search for a boat dates back to 1959 when the Navy was looking to replace the aging
WWII torpedo boats. The top choice was the 80-foot Nasty Class patrol boat used with considerable success by the Norwegian Navy since 1957. Built in Norway, the boat had two British-built supercharged diesel engines delivering 3,100 shaft horsepower and could reach speeds of 44 knots fully loaded and speeds of over 50 knots after burning off some fuel. The cruising range could extend to about 1,000 miles at a speed of 20 knots. The Navy ordered
16 NASTY class boats and classified them as Patrol Torpedo, Fast, or PTF.
To fill in the demand before the NASTY’s arrived, Navy planners found two old WWII vintage
PT Boats build in 1950. These boats were powered by Packard engines running on gasoline
but proved unreliable in this mission due to engine problems and noise. In fact, the engines
were difficult to start at times: this proved to be a serious weakness when on an insertion into North Vietnam waters when suddenly surprised by a Russian made P-4 or Swatow patrol boat. By the end of 1965, when enough NASTY’s became available, the gasoline boats were replaced
and used for target practice.
The firepower of the NASTY was significant consisting of a 40 mm gun on the aft deck and two
20 mm guns, one on the port and one on the starboard side. An 81 mm mortar with a 50
caliber machine gun mounted piggyback was placed forward of the bridge. On some missions,
the crews carried a 57-mm recoilless rifle for additional firepower.
In total, 16 NASTY boats saw service in Vietnam. As the demand for 34A operations increased and some were lost in action, an American company, Trumpy Boat Company, commenced building
a knock-off of the NASTY called Osprey. The Osprey’s were of aluminum construction while
the NASTY’s were laminated wood. The flexibility of the wooden construction actually proved
to be superior and some of the Osprey design developed stress cracks in battle conditions and
at flank speed in rough seas.
Many of the missions north of the 17th were simply milk runs with a continuous threat of
meeting up with shore bombardment, attack by air or an attack by P-4 or Swatow gunboats.
In addition, the North Vietnamese sometimes used suicide junks to try to sink a NASTY.
During the length of the Vietnamese war, only one boat was lost to direct enemy action when
a North Vietnamese bi-plane dropped a homemade bomb that unluckily hit PTF-9 on the
fantail flooding the engine room. Other boats were lost when they ran aground racing south following an attack or while being chased by an enemy gunboat.
Direct action against the Russian made P-4 and Swatow gunboats was always one-sided. The NASTY was a superior boat with superior crews and superior firepower. In most cases, the
North Vietnamese simply avoided direct combat or faked engine trouble to avoid a fight, or
they radioed back that the NASTY was pulling away out of gunfire range. The after-action
report by some aggressive NASTY officers sets the tone for the entire war:
On the night of February 19-20, 1971, four PTF’s were near the island Hon Niew
observing and photographing Chinese shipping. Suddenly the boats were attacked by
a North Vietnamese P-4, which was engaged and easily sunk. Mission compromised;
the four PTF’s headed south and within an hour were engaged by a P-4 and a Swatow.
The PTF’s left the attacking boats heavily damaged and continued south. Between Hon
Gio Island and the coast, a P-4 torpedo boat and a Shanghai class gunboat again
attacked them. The PTF’s left the attacking boats damaged and speed back to Danang
at 55 knots, undamaged and with one KIA.
During the duration of OPLAN 34A, the NASTY’s sank the majority of the P-4 boats.
OPLAN 34A missions were of a strategic nature primarily involving clandestine psychological warfare and secondarily commando raids to destroy military targets. Psychological operations included tax extraction from fishing boats, propaganda distribution using the 81-mm mortar
and other operations creating havoc behind enemy lines. Some included taking snatches that were taken to Cu Lao Cham Island offshore from Danang were they were well fed and led to believe that they actually lived in a secret liberation zone of the Sacred Sword of Patriotic
League located in North Vietnam. Later taken back to the north, plump and well fed, with the expectation that they would spread the story of the lifestyle outside of communism. Most of
the psychological operations occurred north of the 18th parallel in more densely populated
areas. Additionally, psyc-operations included dropping radios with a fixed frequency set on a
CIA run station.
Vietnamese SEAL teams conducted raids and shore bombardment mission designed to destroy specific targets and to extract snatches. Military snatches in these missions were also carried
to an offshore island for interrogation and perhaps reeducation.
The following first-hand account describes the typical psychological operation:
“During 1967, we undertook a special psychological warfare program. We captured
more than 300 fishermen in a three-month period. We took two individuals from every village. After delivering them to Cu Lao Cham we made sure that they were well fed.
Each person ate a half chicken every day and after three months, was plump and had a healthy complexion. We took each back to their hometown to see what the reaction
would be both locally and to the regime. It came as no surprise to us during the next
six months that when we tried to capture the same individuals, they were nowhere to
be found. After almost nine months had passed, we finally captured one fellow who
signed: ‘You folks hurt us. When you released us, the local government officials
noticed that we were fat so they put us in the thought reform camps and just released
The Vietnamese Navy recruited boat officers from the most motivated and highest ranked graduates of the Naval Academy. Likewise, boat crews came from the most capable and experienced seamen. Motivation and espri-de-corps were always high among the crews and MACV-SOG maintained morale by supplementing their pay with an extra payment for each
trip north and with special rations. As an example of the high morale, crewmen always volunteered for difficult missions in addition to their own schedules.
There were rumors that American personnel were on board PTF’s on missions to the north.
This is not true, at least during the period from 1965 to 1970 when the authors were with the PTF’s in Danang.
Over the roughly eight years in operation, OPLAN 34A sent over 1,000 missions into waters
off North Vietnam. Nearly all missions were successful and achieved their primary or
secondary objective. Few were complete bust, and none failed because of poor leadership or
lack of skill. As an example of leadership and seamanship, the Vietnamese crews lost less
than 40 casualties out of the thousands of individual missions. The single worst skirmish was
a blue-on-blue event with one boat loosing two officers. Clearly, the crews that manned the NASTY’s were the best that Vietnam had to offer and they lived up to the highest standards.
- Jack Jennings served with Boat Support Unit 1 during 1965-1966. He now resides in Dallas
Texas and can be reached by E-mail at Jack@Jennings.net.
- Tran Do Cam served for five years as Executive Officer and Commanding Officer of PTF’s. He now resides in Austin Texas and can be reached by E-mail at DoCam11@yahoo.com.
Story copied from http://www.mrfa.org/Operation34a.htm
Thankfully this article do not mentioned that some of these PT boats were commanded by ex Norwegian Navy MTB officers .
South Vietnamese Navy Coastal raiders (part 1)
Author: Trần Ðỗ Cẩm (firstname.lastname@example.org)
English translation: Donald C. Brewster, May 2000
Internet edition: Phạm Cường Lễ, May 2004
Classified Information Disclosed for the First Time
The Navy of the Republic of Vietnam Was Active in the Gulf of Tonkin
"THE GULF RAIDERS"
English translation by Donald C. Brewster, May, 2000
Internet edition by Phạm Cường Lễ, May 2004
Before learning more about the organization and activities of the Coastal Security Service, it will be necessary to clarify a few things in an effort to avoid any misunderstanding. This article is based in large part upon those things that I (the author) know and remember from the five continuous years during which I served as an Executive Officer and then a Commanding Officer of a PT Boat in the Sea Patrol Force of the RVN. I participated in more than one hundred missions of every type in the territorial waters of North Vietnam from 1965 to 1970. I learned of a number of major incidents which occurred around this period from the reports of others and gathered some information through recent interviews with those who took part in the missions.
Therefore, while every attempt is being made to be objective, time always affects memory to some degree so that errors are not always avoidable. However, it is hoped that well-informed sources, especially the original participants, would happily contribute their thoughts and fill in the blanks so that the veracity of the naval history of the Sea Patrol Force would be ensured. We also wish to clarify that our desire is to present the truth without censure or criticism of anyone, especially those Vietnamese and American srohtua whom we esteem and admire. They have worked hard to research and collect material on the subject of the Sea Patrol Force and Coastal Security Service of the RVN. To them we give our heartfelt thanks.
Trần Ðỗ Cẩm
Dedicated to the Comrades in Arms of the Coastal Security Service
The author reserves all publication rights.
Please contact Trần Ðỗ Cẩm at: email@example.com
The war in Vietnam between the Nationalists and the Communists took different forms as both sides tried many different ways to gain an advantage and eliminate the enemy from the battlefield. The print media and numerous films have meticulously analyzed and clearly reiterated the famous clashes such as the Tết Offensive and the incursions into Laos as well as the battles at Quảng Trị, Kontum and An Lộc, etc., in which the combatants of both sides invariably totaled many army divisions. Of course, just below the surface of the conventional war which everyone knew all too well, there was a hidden aspect of which few were aware.
When we speak of what were known then as covert operations we must remember that even those who were engaged in them knew only their duties or the part they played. Beyond being aware of the designation, Special Forces, those who were not directly involved did not have a clear view of what was happening. In general, Special Forces included many of the various military services that made up the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), which sometimes even included civilian personnel. Their duties included raids into enemy territory or behind enemy lines to gather intelligence and attack enemy targets. They also carried out many missions to detain individuals for questioning and engaged in psychological warfare operations among the enemy population.
Because these activities were very dangerous and carried out under cover of darkness, the great majority of the Special Forces rank and file were volunteers. We all have heard of the famous flying teams known to the Vietnamese as the Thunder Tigers (Lôi Hổ) or Black Dragons (Hắc Long) and Squadron 219 (Phi Ðoàn 219) of the Air Force. Equally well known are the Delta Force and Rangers, etc., who were part of the infantry. In regards to the Navy however, except for the SEALS, all other units remain shrouded in secrecy to this very day.
In every special operation conducted behind enemy lines, especially those that included cross-border missions into North Vietnam, Laos or Cambodia, the participants were usually divided into two groups: the operations team which was usually nicknamed "the team" ("toán") had the duty of actually going ashore to carry out the mission they had been given and the support team, which had the responsibility for providing the transport that would drop off and retrieve the operations team as well as provide fire support when required.
Infantry teams did not have an inherent transport or fire support capability by either air or sea and therefore could only undertake duties that fell into the category of the former. By contrast, the Air Force, which did not have its own operations team, could only participate by providing transport and support. As for the Navy, it was unique in that it could undertake both special and support operations because in its makeup was an inherent capability to perform both tasks mentioned above.
The special operations that were carried out by the various teams such as the Thunder Tigers, Black Dragons, Squadron 219 and the Delta Force took place within the territory of the RVN, Laos or Cambodia while the later incursions into North Vietnam were undertaken almost exclusively by the existing units of the RVN Navy. The operational elements of the Navy were the SEALS and a transportation/support unit which was known as the Sea Patrol Force.
In an operational sense Sea Patrol Force was considered a unique unit of the Special Forces that could undertake special missions inside North Vietnam. Those missions included shelling targets on shore, capturing and detaining fishermen to develop intelligence and distributing pamphlets, etc., all without the assistance of any other force. Both the SEALS and the Sea Patrol Force operated under the authority of the Coastal Security Service.
In that the Coastal Security Service was always an integral part of the Special Forces, we should scrutinize its personnel and organization so that the task of understanding this service will become clearer and easier.
II. THE BACKGROUND OF THE VARIOUS ORGANIZATIONS THAT INFILTRATED NORTH VIETNAM
Right after the Geneva Peace Agreement that divided Vietnam into North and South was signed in 1954, Mr. Allen Dulles, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), assigned Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale to South Vietnam to assist Premier Ngô Ðình Diệm in consolidating his position in the South and organizing paramilitary units that had been left in place in North Vietnam before the Communists came to power. Colonel Lansdale assumed the post of Deputy Director of the Office of Special Operations that was directed at that time by Brigadier General Graves Erskine. His mandate was to take charge of secret counterinsurgency operations in Vietnam as he had done for Philippine President Magasasay who was successful in exterminating the rebel forces of the Huk Communists during the 1950's. Colonel Lansdale's organization in Vietnam was called the Saigon Military Mission (Phái Bộ Quân Sự Saigon) and it included Infantry Major Lucien Conein, a professional spy who would play a very important role in the political upheavals that characterized the First Republic in South Vietnam (Ðệ Nhất Cộng Hòa).
Just before the North was handed over to the Communists many Vietnamese civilians were recruited by Colonel Lansdale. Most of them came from the Vietnamese ethnic minority known as the Nùng and some were native to Móng Cái, which is situated near Hải Phòng. Others came from areas near the Chinese-Vietnam border, however, they were all sent to Saipan for training in the basics of counterinsurgency.
By the time Vietnam had been officially divided in two, the Nùng had been well trained and assigned to small teams. Subsequently, the warships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet put troops ashore near the areas that the Nùng recruits called home and ordered them to infiltrate and remain inactive in place until they received further orders. Weapons, radios and gold were prepositioned in secret locations to be retrieved when needed. One of the undercover spies at this time was a man named Phạm Xuân Ẩn but Colonel Lansdale was not aware that he was an agent of the Vietnamese Communists who had infiltrated our organization.
After the situation in South Vietnam had become relatively stable, President Ngô Ðình Diệm organized a special intelligence unit to operate exclusively under his control at the Palace. It was directed by Dr. Trần Kim Tuyến, a native of Huế in Central Vietnam. One of the units under the authority of Dr. Tuyến that included guerrilla activity was the Liaison Office (Sở Liên Lạc) which was run by Colonel Lê Quang Tung and his Deputy, Colonel Trần Khắc Kinh. Captain Lê Quang Triệu, the younger brother of Colonel Lê Quang Tung, was responsible for recruitment at the Liaison Office and was also the Company Commander for the intra-service company known informally as the Palace Guard (Ðại Ðội Liên Binh Phòng Vệ Phủ Tổng Thống). In addition, Presidential Adviser Ngô Ðình Cẩn also had his own intelligence organizations in Central Vietnam.
The Liaison Office was divided into three parts known as the Northern Operations Service (Sở Bắc), the Southern Operations Service (Sở Nam) and the First Observation Group (Liên Ðội Quan Sát).
Northern Operations Service. This service was also called Office 45 (Phòng 45) under the command of Infantry Captain Ngô Thế Linh. Although called the Northern Operations Service, this group also undertook covert operations in Laos and Cambodia. Generally speaking the Northern Operations Service shouldered the responsibility for guerrilla activities that took place outside the territory of the RVN.
Southern Operations Service. The southern service was also known as Office 55 (Phòng 55) and was under the command of Infantry Captain Trần Văn Minh. It was responsible for guerilla operations within the territory of the RVN.
The First Observation Group. In addition to the Southern and Northern Operations Service, the Liaison Office also had a special structure of which only a few people were aware. It was called the First Observation Group and was established in 1956 with the assistance of the U.S. Pentagon and the CIA.
Outwardly, the group was only a regular outfit with a number of administrative personnel but in reality all of its activities were under the disposition of the Liaison Office. The Personnel of this group received special training to infiltrate and lay low in the South in the event the RVN fell into Communist hands after the general elections that were called for in the Geneva Accords. These operational teams of the group remained in place until 1958 and even though the elections were canceled, the teams still buried weapons and explosives as well as radios and gold, etc., in preparation for underground operations when and if they became necessary.
III. THE INFILTRATION ROUTES
In 1958 when the situation in the South had become relatively stable, President Ngô Ðình Diệm officially requested that the U.S. provide assistance in carrying out guerrilla operations in North Vietnam. Therefore, when Mr. William Colby of the CIA was assigned to Saigon on January 1, 1959 to make whatever arrangements were required, the coordination of guerrilla activities between the U.S. and the RVN officially started. In general, operations to infiltrate North Vietnam were carried out by air and by sea.
1. Infiltration by Air
As for the use of air, in the beginning the CIA hired a number of pilots from the China Air Lines Company in Taipei in order to train Vietnamese pilots. Later, the Transport Squadron of the RVN Air Force led by Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Cao Kỳ, undertook flights that dropped special force paratroopers in the North.
The first flight occurred on May27, 1961 when Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Cao Kỳ himself flew as the lead pilot in a C-47 aircraft. Four members of the team known as Caster were dropped into a mountainous jungle area of Sơn La, a province not too far from the Chinese border. They were all Nùng ethnic minorities who had originated in Sơn La and were now serving with the 22nd Infantry Division, a unit that consisted mostly of ethnic minorities from the North who had come South. The Caster team was led by Hà Văn Chấp and had been placed under the authority of the Topography Exploitation Service of Office 45 (Sở Khai Thác Ðịa Hình thuộc Phòng 45) also known as the Northern Operations Service. After completing the mission the aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Kỳ returned safely through the airspace over Laos.
2. Infiltration by Sea
The infiltration of North Vietnam by sea began very early, only a few years after the country was divided in two. Various incursions began in1956 when the Liaison Office needed a number of wooden junks in order to step up the placement of personnel and resupply by sea those teams that were already in place in North Vietnam.
In the beginning there were only six civilians, all of whom were natives of Quảng Bình Province and had earlier evacuated to the South. They were recruited in the city of Nha Trang to enter the new ocean going force that had just been established. This early operation into the territorial waters of North Vietnam consisted of a number of short incursions, each of which lasted for only a few days and was accomplished in small junks that looked like all the other fishing junks in the area and thus easily used them as cover. Later as the need for operations increased more personnel were recruited and a number of larger junks were outfitted to accomplish the task at hand. The force that included all of these civilian personnel was a part of the Northern Operations Service which remained under the command of Infantry Captain Ngo Thế Linh. Captain Ngô Thế Linh was known affectionately to all of us as "Mr. Bình" and was generally viewed by all those who came after as the founding father of the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force of the RVN.
While support and liaison missions by sea continued, it was not until February, 1961 that the secret service of Dr. Trần Kim Tuyến, with the help of the American CIA, actually put two spies ashore in Quảng Yên. Both of these individuals, one who hailed from the RVN and the other, a northerner named Phạm Chuyên, landed safely. Phạm Chuyên had been a mid-level Communist cadre who rallied to the RVN through its Returnee Program by coming south across the 17th Parallel in 1959. His alias was Ares and proof later surfaced indicating that he was a double agent.
3. Nautilus Fishing Junks
Following the placement ashore of the two agents mentioned above, the junks used in the infiltration of the territorial waters of North Vietnam were given the nickname of Nautilus after the name of Captain Nemo's mysterious submarine found in Jules Verne's science fiction classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The missions were also known as Nautilus and during this period infiltration of North Vietnam by sea proceeded relatively easily.
Up until this time the Nautilus operations were all conducted by the CIA. The Nautilus crews were civilians that had been recruited by the CIA but there were also a number of RVN Navy frogmen that had received special training to carry out sapper attacks using explosives. Most of these frogmen were in a team of 18 sailors that had received special training in Taiwan in August, 1960.
IV. CHANGING COMMAND
In the beginning a number of Nautilus missions to infiltrate by sea produced good results because the enemy had not yet been able to mount a defense or otherwise react to them. But as time went on, the missions were less effective because the enemy increased his shore patrol forces and many of the missions by junk were disclosed in advance by improved enemy intelligence.
The use of junks had only one advantage and that was that they could hide among the local fishing vessels. However, as intelligence was developed by the enemy from the crews of the fishing junks whom we had detained, it appeared that the enemy knew very well the routes that were used for infiltration and it became difficult to avoid contact during the missions. Moreover, the Nautilus junks all had very slow speeds and weak firepower that kept them from protecting themselves when discovered and pursued.
For these reasons, Admiral Harry G. Felt, U.S. Commander in Chief, Pacific, decided that the secret organizations of the CIA did not have sufficient capability to complete their infiltration missions. He proposed that assets of the U.S. Navy be used and suggested replacing the Nautilus junks with U.S. submarines.
To find a solution to this problem Defense Secretary Robert McNamara convened a meeting in or around July, 1962 that included the Defense Department, Department of State and the CIA. Everyone in attendance agreed to transfer responsibility for the commando attacks on North Vietnam from the CIA to the Department of Defense. The transfer itself was dubbed Operation Switchback and was to be completed within one year. In December, 1962, the National Security Council Special Working Group agreed with Admiral Felt's earlier recommendation to use PT Boats and frogmen to carry out the infiltration missions into North Vietnam. Of course at that time neither the vessels nor the personnel had yet arrived on site.
Operation Switchback formally began on January 1, 1963. From then on, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) assumed the responsibility for operations along the border that were being directed at that time by CIA Officer Gilbert Layton. Layton remained as Colonel George Morton's deputy when he replaced Layton and set up Team C of the Special Forces with its headquarters in the city of Nha Trang. As for the activities in North Vietnam, even though they were under the authority of MACV, CIA Officer W. T. Cheney remained in charge. By April, 1963, a Special Forces Training Center had been set up in Long Thành to train the teams that would be dropped in North Vietnam. Meanwhile, the CIA made preparations to turn over the infiltration missions into North Vietnam to the military authorities.
IV. OPERATIONS PLAN 34-A
In May, 1963, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered Admiral Harry G. Felt to prepare a plan to support the RVN's effort to carry out special operations in North Vietnam. In June, 1963, Admiral Felt and the Joint Chiefs outlined a preliminary operational plan, the strategy of which was to use hit and run attacks against the North Vietnamese in order to compel them to reduce their military efforts against the RVN. According to this plan, ARVN would provide the personnel and the U.S. would supply the transportation and training. The plan was known as OPLAN 34-63 and was accepted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff on August 14th with the request that a few small details be changed. Adjustments were made to the plan and it was approved once again on September 9, 1963.
In the Conference on Vietnam that was held in Honolulu on October 20th, William Colby, who had been reassigned from his post in Vietnam to CIA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to serve as CIA Director for all of the Far East, indicated to the Secretary of Defense that based on the experience of the CIA, dropping small teams into North Vietnam would be unsuccessful. However, high placed U.S. officials disagreed arguing that the CIA had failed because it lacked the means and the capability. Therefore, the CIA was ordered to turn over the plan to infiltrate North Vietnam to the Army.
While preparation for the plan was proceeding nicely, an unexpected development occurred that had major consequences for the project. That was the Coup d'etat against President Ngô Ðình Diệm that took place on November 3, 1963. It caused considerable confusion for the Government of Vietnam and affected the implementation of its operational plans. The two people who led President Diem's secret service, Dr. Trần Kim Tuyến and Colonel Lê Quang Tung no longer existed. Brigadier General Lê Van Nghiêm was assigned to the post of Special Forces Commander and was replaced only a few months later by Colonel Pham Ðình Thứ. However, Office 45 or the Northern Operations Service and Office 55 or the Southern Operations Service still remained under the direction of Ngô Thế Linh and Trần Văn Minh.
Even though there were obstacles the guerilla attacks by sea continued. Within the parameters of OPLAN 34-63 and during November, 1963, a number of frogmen who made up the operational teams left Ðà Nẵng for training at the Cửa Việt Naval Base where they would prepare for a sapper mission to destroy ships in the harbors of North Vietnam just north of the 17th Parallel. One mission which was planned for December, 1963, was aimed at North Vietnamese patrol craft at the Quảng Khê Naval Base which was situated at the mouth of the Giang River in Quảng B7nh Province and was also the location of the Southern Sector Headquarters of North Vietnam's Navy. Before the mission began the American advisers provided aerial reconnaissance photos of the base at Quảng Khê. While underway the mission was scrubbed due in part to inclement weather. One of the frogmen who participated in the raid was Vũ Văn Gương.
While progress was achieved in training, guerrilla operations did not produce the desired results by the end of 1963. The reason was that the organization lacked structure and most of the civilian personnel did not have the technical training or the discipline of the military. Therefore, the direct participation of ARVN was needed.
Both the CIA and MACV ordered adjustments to OPLAN 34-63 and after a time a new plan known as OPLAN 34 A became the centerpiece for infiltrating North Vietnam by sea. The new plan, dubbed Operation Tiger by the CIA was presented to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on December 15, 1963.
A few days before on December 12th, Defense Secretary McNamara advised Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge that President Johnson wanted to emphasize the special operations aimed at North Vietnam and also wanted ARVN with U.S. support, to assume responsibility for them. These operations were designed to subtly inform North Vietnam that the U.S. would not accept the Communist invasion of the RVN and if North Vietnam stubbornly persisted in the use of force, it would be defeated.
To summarize, the principal objective of OPLAN 34A was to combine the attacks against North Vietnam with military and diplomatic pressure to serve as a warning to North Vietnam to not increase its activities in Laos and in the RVN. Thus, from a plan that was implemented by the CIA with the objective of gathering intelligence and wreaking havoc on the North, OPLAN 34A had now become an operation that was heavily weighted on the political aspects of the confrontation.
Also on December 15, 1963, in response to high level directives, the U.S. Navy set up a Mobile Support Team (Toán Yểm Trợ Lưu Ðộng) in Ðà Nẵng. This team consisted of a number of U.S. Navy frogmen known as SEALS, U.S. Marine Intelligence Officers and many American specialists experienced in guerrilla operations. Additionally, two PT Boat crews had recently arrived in Ðà Nẵng. The purpose of the Mobile Support Teams was to train Vietnamese crews in how to operate the PT Boats and use them in commando raids by sea. The U.S. would provide maintenance and support services.
On December 19th, the U.S. Army Command in the Pacific asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff for permission to implement OPLAN 34A on an experimental basis for a period of 12 months.
VI. MACSOG AND THE TECHNICAL SERVICE IS ESTABLISHED
It is worth noting that OPLAN 34A called for the participation of ARVN but since the RVN was not involved in planning for the project, it was not able to make timely preparations. It was on January 21, 1964 that the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed to implement the first phase of OPLAN 34A. It was not until that time that Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge advised the RVN Chief of State Dương Văn Minh about the plan and requested that the RVN cooperate by supplying ARVN manpower.
On January 24th, the Special Operations Group was formed with Colonel Clyde Russell as its commander and since it operated under the authority of MACV, this special group became known as MACVSOG or MACSOG. Later in 1964 the Special Operations Group was renamed the Studies and Observation Group (Toán Nghiên Cứu và Quan Sát) to give it a more civilian sounding title but it was still called by the acronym MACSOG.
Speaking generally, OPLAN 34A had four main responsibilities: to insert teams by airdrop, provide logistic support by air, conduct operations on the sea routes and engage in psychological warfare. Of all these projects, the "air team" had the most personnel as the CIA left behind 169 Vietnamese who were still in training at Long Thành, the majority of them civilians.
On January 28, 1964, General Nguyễn Khánh's takeover of the GVN, or as he called it "reform," slowed down the progress of MACSOG as the U.S. needed the acceptance and cooperation of the new government. General Khánh was a proponent of striking against the North so the Strategic Technical Service (Sỡ Kỹ Thuật) was set up on February 12th under the direction of Colonel Trần Văn Hổ at the RVN Ministry of Defense. Its mandate was to work along with MACSOG. This service was actually the reincarnation of the Topographic Exploitation Service (Sở Khai Thác Ðịa Hình) which had formerly been directed by Colonel Lê Quang Tung during the time of the First Republic. Its name was later changed to the Strategic Technical Directorate (STD, or Nha Kỹ Thuật).
VII. THE COASTAL SECURITY SERVICE
As for the command function, Washington maintained total control and was responsible for all operational planning. MACSOG and the Technical Service in Vietnam shouldered the responsibility for carrying out the operations. MACSOG and the Technical Service had almost no voice or any influence when it came to proposing, approving or arranging the schedule for the operations.
As for organization, the American side maintained a group under MACSOG which was known variously as the Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) or the Maritime Operation Group (MAROPS) that specialized in running the coastal commando operations that had the responsibility for putting guerrillas ashore and carrying out sapper attacks against enemy vessels. In addition to these military operations they also implemented exploratory/survey operations along the coast of North Vietnam.
On the Vietnamese side, the Technical Service and the Coastal Security Service both worked right alongside the Naval Advisory Detachment. These two organizations were often called NAD/Coastal Security Service and they were headquartered together to facilitate coordination at a place in Ðà Nẵng known as the White Elephant. Those in command at Coastal Security Service coordinated closely with the Naval Advisory Detachment concerning the disposition of personnel and the briefings and after action reports for each mission, etc. Coastal Security Service also worked very closely with the Mobile Support Teams.
When the coastal infiltration teams operated under the direct authority of the CIA in the past there were a number of RVN Navy frogmen involved but the majority of Nautilus personnel were civilians. But, when Operation Switchback turned the command and control of the special operations from the CIA to the U.S. military, the Nautilus junks were slowly replaced by more modern PT Boats. The Sea Patrol Force was also established to include officers and crew members from the RVN Navy who were especially chosen for this duty. The Sea Patrol Force was placed under the operational authority of the Coastal Security Service which was under the jurisdiction of the Technical Service.
South Vietnamese Navy Coastal raiders (part 2)
Most of the Coastal Security Service personnel were military and the majority were from the RVN Navy. On occasion a very small number were recruited from the Army Infantry. The Coastal Security Service worked alongside the U.S. Naval Advisory Detachment in assigning the missions to various teams, training and PT Boat maintenance. Administratively, the Coastal Security Service personnel were detailed to their jobs by the Navy. The Coastal Security Service commanders were all experienced Navy personnel with long service records and as many as four of them were subsequently promoted to the rank of commodore.
In addition to a number of administrative units, Coastal Security Service had two principal subordinate parts which were the Sea Patrol Force and the SEAL force, often referred to simply as the SEALS.
1. Sea Patrol Force
The Sea Patrol Force had the most personnel and could be viewed as the nucleus of the Coastal Security Service yet some of the of its staff, including regular Navy personnel, had seldom heard of the Coastal Security Service. In reality, the Sea Patrol Force was simply one unit of the Coastal Security Service as were the SEALS. In order to understand this more clearly it will be necessary for the reader to become familiar with the duties, billets, personnel and equipment as well as the various activities of the Sea Patrol Force.
The principal duty of the Sea Patrol Force was to carry out special seaborne military operations against North Vietnam in its territorial waters north of the 17th Parallel. In this regard, we can look at the Sea Patrol Force as similar to Squadron 219 of the RVN Air Force which undertook infiltration of the North by helicopter. However, in addition to dropping off and retrieving the various SEAL teams in the coastal areas of North Vietnam, the PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force also achieved many specialized missions. Some of these, which will be mentioned later, included shelling the enemy, confiscating ships in the area and engaging in psychological warfare, etc.
B. Base Locations
The base location of the Sea Patrol Force was right next to the Deep Water Pier and the military harbor complex at the foot of Monkey Mountain on Sơn Chà Peninsula in Ðà Nẵng. This was also the location where large U.S. freighters offloaded their cargo and U.S. Navy troop transports were docked. This spot was not far from the RVN Military Coastal Region 1 Headquarter (Bộ Tư Lệnh Hải Quân Vùng 1 Duyên Hải). To get there from the City of Ðà Nẵng it was necessary to go through a control point at Cầu Trắng (White Bridge), pass the Deep Water Pier on the left and arrive at the Sea Patrol Force base on the right. Somewhat further along was the Headquarters of the South Vietnamese Naval Headquarter of Coastal Military Region 1 mentioned above.
The base consisted of two long single-storied structures that were parallel to each other and had fibro-cement sheathing on the roofs. The billet which was situated on higher ground at the base of the mountain was reserved for officers and the building on the other side near the road housed the boat crews. The officer quarters were divided into many small rooms to which two men were assigned and every four occupants shared one of the bathrooms. The crew quarters consisted of long barracks in which the crew of each PT Boat slept together.
In addition to the barracks there were also other facilities such as recreation areas and warehouses, etc...
Across a small road directly opposite the base and near the Deep Water Pier was the docking area for the PT Boats as well as the repair and maintenance facilities of the Mobile Support Teams.
From the time that the Infiltration by Sea Teams were first set up in 1956 until the Coastal Security Service was officially founded at the beginning of 1964, the means of transport changed with the times and according to the requirements of the mission. In the beginning the infiltration teams used regular fishing junks. Later however, more modern PT Boats were used and in the end high speed or fast PT Boats were employed.
In the beginning, as we well know, the Seaborne Infiltration Force (Toán Xâm Nhập Ðường Biển) was set up under the direction of the CIA and consisted of Nautilus junks. These were fairly large wooden boats that were enclosed and measured thirty meters in length. They looked like all the other fishing boats that operated in the Gulf of Tonkin. The junks, powered by sails and engines had a top speed of less than ten nautical miles per hour. Armament consisted of a heavy machine gun and the individual weapons that were manned by the crew.
Until the middle of 1963 there were seven Nautilus junks in Ðà Nẵng, numbered from one to seven, that were used to infiltrate coastal areas of North Vietnam. They operated under the command of Captain Ngô Thế Linh who himself belonged to the Special Forces that were led by Colonel Lê Quang Tung. Most of the crews of the Nautilus junks were civilians who had evacuated South from the northern provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh or Nùng ethnic minorities who were born in North Vietnam. A number of American and Vietnamese officers trained the crews and the infiltration teams. The crews of the various junks changed or were augmented according to the requirements of each mission.
During 1962-1963 many infiltration missions in North Vietnam to resupply, land SEAL teams or carry out raids were successful because the junks could easily blend in with the local fishing vessels in the area. However, the junks were very slow and routinely took 24 hours to travel the distance from the base in Ðà Nẵng to the Quảng Khê target area situated just south of the 18th Parallel. And, as time wore on improved intelligence sources allowed the enemy to map the routes taken by the Nautilus junks with some precision. For these reasons, the Nautilus program was then being viewed as ineffective. A case in point was the mission to attack the communist naval base at Quảng Khê on June 28, 1962. Due to a combination of weak firepower and slow speed a Nautilus II junk was pursued and sunk by an enemy patrol craft. From that moment on, the CIA replaced the Nautilus junks with fast patrol craft (PCF) which were known as Swifts. They were much faster than the junks and had more firepower.
The Swift Boats
Due to the fact that the Nautilus junks had outlived their usefulness in the effort to infiltrate North Vietnam, they were replaced in mid 1963 by three fast PCFs which were known affectionately as Swifts. These Swift Boats were relatively small with a range that extended to the Northern seaport of Ðồng Hới. Later, during the Vietnamization program, the RVN Navy outfitted many of these Swifts to become units of the RVN Coast Guard.
The Swift was a snub-nosed aluminum PT Boat about 50 feet in length which was manufactured by Seward Seacraft in Burwick, Lousiana. It was a 19 ton vessel with a draft of 3.5 feet and was powered by two diesel engines that provided enough thrust to achieve a top speed of about 28 nautical miles per hour. It was armed with a twin .50 caliber machine gun and an 81 millimeter mortar that was piggybacked with another .50 caliber machine gun. The craft was fully operable with a crew of five.
Compared with the Nautilus junks, the Swifts were fast and had a heavy firepower capability but they had a relatively short operating range that allowed them to go only as far North as Ðồng Hới which is located about 60 nautical miles north of the 17th Parallel. They were not able to compete against the faster P-4 or the Swatow boats of the North Vietnamese which were equipped with a 37 millimeter cannon. For that reason as well as the tactical requirements of the missions, the Coastal Security Service was equipped in early 1964 with what were known as Fast Torpedo Patrol Boats (PTF) which were larger, faster and had a greater range as well as heavier firepower. The use of these fast torpedo boats and Vietnamese frogmen was officially proposed by the U.S. Special Operations Unit in a document dated September 27, 1962.
The Fast Torpedo Patrol Boats (PTF)
There was a total of three types of these fast boats that were used in Vietnam: first, the WW2 vintage fast torpedo boats, then the Nasty boat that was made in Norway and finally the U.S. built "Osprey." A special point was made of dismantling the torpedo tubes on all of these boats because the targets in North Vietnam consisted of only small ships that did not require the use of such a weapon. Other armament on board was also modified to meet the specific needs of the assigned missions.
The fast PT Boats were put under the authority of the Mobile Support Team (MST), which at that time in March, 1964 was commanded by Lieutenant Burton Knight and operated under the direction of MACSOG in Saigon. As for the upper level chain of command, MACSOG was responsible to the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities who reported to the Pentagon and Committee 303 at the National Security Council with input from the National Security Administration. Of course, the U.S. personnel in Ðà Nẵng who comprised the Naval Operation Support Group placed the base in Coronado, California under the direction of Colonel Phil H. Bucklew. This group had the responsibility for the special activities of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific as well as for the management of the teams that provided the Special Operations Group with the logistics support for its operations in Vietnam.
The Early Fast PT Boats
The first two fast PT Boats that were equipped for the Sea Patrol Force were the type used in WW2 and were similar to former President John F. Kennedy's PT 109. Nicknamed the gas boats they had a Packard engine that ran on airplane fuel. From the beginning, those officials familiar with the missions of the SEALS in Ðà Nẵng and Saigon did not approve of the use of these old PT Boats but were under orders from Washington to try them out. For that reason the U.S. Navy, in January, 1963, outfitted two PT Boats, the PT-810 and the PT-811, that had been kept in reserve in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
These were WW2 type torpedo boats but were built in 1950. The original equipment included torpedo tubes, 40 millimeter cannons fore and aft, two 20 millimeter cannons and a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on each side. In contrast to the Nasty boats, these two ships retained their forward 40 millimeter guns and added two .50 caliber machine guns. Both PT Boats were renamed PTF-1 and PTF-2. After test runs both PT Boats ran into quite a few technical problems and were returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs. About this time, the U.S. Navy received two new PT Boats that had been procured in Norway. Known by their Norwegian name "Nasty." Both boats were renamed after they arrived in Vietnam as PTF-3 and PTF-4.
On January 19, 1964, both PT Boats, PTF-1 and PTF-2, were carried by the U.S. warship Pioneer Myth from Norfolk, Virginia and arrived at Subic Bay, the Philippines in February. Some time in March, 1964, they arrived in Vietnam. At this time the Nasty PTF-3 and PTF-4 were already in Vietnam having arrived at the end of February. When PTF-1 and PTF-2 were given dry runs in Ðà Nẵng, it was noticed that they were not safe and reliable for many reasons.
First, a gasoline powered boat could explode very easily if hit by a round during one of its missions. Second, the engine backfired very noisily and was loud when it was running and, thirdly, it was very difficult to restart after it was stopped as the engine components seemed to hang up when it was hot. The third reason created a very dangerous situation because it was necessary to shut down the engine to avoid excessive noise when the crew was delivering or retrieving a team but it was also necessary to be able to quickly restart the engine in an emergency. Finally, the engine usually died when the boat was shifted into reverse. However, with all its faults the gasoline powered boats had lots of firepower and a relatively high speed that made them very effective in attack or fire support missions.
In addition to the safety concerns mentioned above, when these older model PT Boats broke down, which they did in short order, it was difficult to procure spare parts for them. Moreover, there was another obstacle to using the PT Boats that had been built in the U.S. and that involved U.S. law according to which the means of transportation and armament that could be used in commando operations could not be sent beyond U.S. borders. To do otherwise would create diplomatic problems. The older model PT Boats participated in quite a few operations but they ran into mechanical difficulties during their activities on July 30th and August 8, 1964. Shortly after, both the PTF-1 and the PTF-2 were replaced with more modern boats that were built in Norway.
There was a total of two older PT Boats that were used in the Sea Patrol Forces. One of the two commanders commented on these gasoline powered boats as follows:
The engine did not run smoothly when idling and made a strange roaring sound. Starting the engine was very difficult. When it first kicked over it belched a large backfire and blew out a large fireball for a distance of a meter and a half. The large propeller churned up the water forcefully so that when the boat was docked or in port it created large waves. The engine only ran well at top speed and easily cut off when it was going slow. It created problems for the mechanics who had to stand over the engine to make sure it didn't shut down. Once off, the engine was very difficult to start and sometimes drained all the air from the pressure tank which supplemented the battery power. The top speed was very fast at 35 to 40 nautical miles per hour with a full load of fuel and 40 to 45 when it was returning with its fuel tanks near empty. There was not a ship around that would pull alongside or go head to head with us. And the commanders of the other boats often referred to us as the pair of sea monsters.
The PT Boats were equipped with two 40 and two 20 millimeter cannons, as well as two .50 caliber machine guns. Our missions were only attack raids and did not involve dropping or retrieving any personnel so they were leisurely and always successful. The missions of the other boats included drops and pickups that sometimes were delayed due to bad timing or other obstacles. Many times the trips were uneventful but there were occasions when long waits were necessary.
Norwegian Fast Patrol Boats (Nasty). Due to the insurmountable weaknesses inherent in the above mentioned gassers the Sea Patrol Force was equipped with the Nasty at the end of 1965. The Nasty was the most modern PT Boat in the world at that time and built jointly by the Norwegian Navy and West Germany.
The architect of the Nasty PT Boat was Jan H. Lingen of Norway who drew up the plans after conferring with officers of the Royal Norwegian Navy and incorporating the best characteristics of both the American built PT Boats and the British Fairmile "D." This type of coastal patrol boat could carry a crew of nineteen. The first Nasty PT Boat built for the Norwegian Navy was known by the acronym KNM TJELT (P-343). Norway built a total of 42 Nasty PT Boats which included 20 for itself, six for Greece, two for Turkey and 14 for the U.S. to use in Vietnam.
The first two Nasty PT Boats were turned over to the U.S. Navy in 1963 at Little Creek, Virginia and after testing were named PTF-3 and PTF-4. On May 3, 1963, both ships proceeded to San Diego, California for training. On September 17th, both PT Boats were carried by the warship Point Defiance (Landing Ship Dock - LSD-31) to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and on to Subic Bay in the Philippines one month later.
At Subic Bay both ships were fitted with extra fuel tanks in order to extend their operating range. The 40 millimeter gun on the foredeck was replaced by an 81 millimeter mortar with a .50 caliber machine gun which was piggybacked On February 22, 1964, both boats were taken to the USS Carter Hall for transport to Vietnam. However, while being loaded, PTF-3 suffered major damage to its hull as a result of a freak swell and had to return to Subic Bay for repairs. PTF-3 finally arrived in Ðà Nẵng at the end of February, 1964.
On February 1, 1964, Norway turned over an additional four Nasty PT Boats at its harbor at Bergen. They were called PTF-5, 6, 7 and 8 respectively. They were loaded on the USS Point Barrow (AKD-1) for transport to Subic Bay on March 3rd. Following their refitting and upgrading, these Nasty PT Boats arrived in Vietnam a few months later.
The Nasty PT Boat had a special laminated wooden hull and weighed 75 tons. It was 24.7 feet wide with a displacement of 3.7 feet in the front and 6.1 feet in the rear. It could carry 18 tons or 6,100 gallons of fuel which at moderate speed would give it a range of 1,000 nautical miles. The British built Napier and Deltic had an 18 cylinder engine that could deliver a speed of 35 nautical miles per hour when it was fully loaded and maintain a maximum tactical speed that could approach 50 when it was not carrying a lot of fuel.
As for weaponry, the Nasty was equipped with an 81 millimeter cannon-typed mortar mortar with a .50 caliber machine gun piggybacked on the foredeck. A 40 millimeter cannon was mounted on the rear deck and each side was protected by a 20 millimeter cannon. Navigation equipment included electronic positioning devices, sonic depth finder and Decca radar that was effective within a range of 50 nautical miles. The main screen was situated in the Combat Information Center (CIC) and repeater units were located on the bridge. The radar was usually used for operations or navigation but the antenna could be tilted to 15 degrees when necessary to use as an air defense mechanism. Although the radar was up to date at that time the electronic circuitry used light emitting diodes that easily became loose or burned out in rough seas. The radio system also included voice as well as a conventional signal system.
A special feature of the Nasty was the ease of handling which allowed the ship captain to control the engines from the bridge without having to pass along an order during a tactical operation or in an emergency. The bridge was uncovered without a place to sit and relatively low so as to offer less wind resistance. When navigating at high speed the front half of the ship often came up out of the water and when it hit a wave going in the opposite direction it rose and then slammed down as if it were galloping. Anyone on the bridge had to assume a defensive position and be prepared to roll with the ship in order to prevent himself from being soaked by the splashing waves. The laminated hull of the Nasty was tough and able to withstand the rough seas without breaking or cracking. With these special characteristics, the Nasty PT Boats were well liked by their commanders and became the backbone of the Sea Patrol Force.
In order to replace a number of Nasty PT Boats that required long term repairs or were damaged while carrying out their missions, the Sea Patrol Force received a number of U.S. made fast PT Boats known as the "Osprey." These boats, of which we received six around the middle of 1968, were built by John Trumpy and Sons of Annapolis, Maryland.
The Osprey was modeled after the Norwegian Nasty except that the hull was constructed of aluminum instead of wood. The Osprey was air conditioned and well suited to the long missions it was undertaking. Although it was rumored that the aft section of the Osprey was prefabricated in Norway, its hull was made of aluminum so that it remained heavier than the Nasty. It did have a speed that was about five nautical miles slower than the Nasty and it rode somewhat higher in the water. While the armament was the same on both ships the aluminum hull of the Osprey could not withstand the wear and tear of bad weather. It was usually carried high by the waves and then slammed down with the result that cracks appeared in the hull after only six months in operation. For that reason four of these PT Boats were brought to Vietnam for testing but were subsequently returned to the U.S. and became PTF-23, 24, 25 and 26 in the Navy.
Before getting into the special and more important aspects of the manpower that made up the Sea Patrol Force, it is necessary to mention the earlier sea infiltration teams that could be viewed as the forerunners of the Sea Patrol Force and the Coastal Security Service.
According to superficial World and American public opinion, special forces operations aimed at North Vietnam were wholly organized by the RVN itself and the personnel involved were all Vietnamese. However, in reality there were a number of Taiwanese and third country personnel that were recruited by the CIA and participated in the program in its early stages. Just as the CIA hired Taiwanese personnel to pilot the planes that dropped special forces in North Vietnam, it also hired third country personnel to be used for commando raids that originated in Ðà Nẵng.
In the beginning while Nautilus junks were in use and the crews were all Vietnamese, the majority originated from the provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh or were Nùng ethnic minorities who had come South as refugees. The Nautilus junks were disguised to look exactly like North Vietnamese fishing junks and in order to infiltrate among them the crews were Vietnamese who looked like the local fishermen. The majority of the landing teams were also Vietnamese. However, in spite of that, there were some early missions in the Móng Cái area near the Vietnamese/Chinese border that utilized frogmen from Nationalist China but they may have only participated in actions that actually took place in the territory of China.
Later, due to mission requirements, the CIA replaced the Nautilus junks with Swift patrol boats. But because they were new and modern, the civilian Vietnamese were not qualified to operate them. So the CIA hired a number of third country personnel to serve as commanders. According to U.S. documents and a recent interview with Sven Oste, a Swede, all the Swift commanders were Norwegian nationals. (Mr. Oste interviewed two of the Norwegians, each of whom had served as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam).
In addition to the Norwegian commander, each boat had three Vietnamese civilians: a helmsman, a gunner and an interpreter. The three Norwegian commanders were often referred to in a joking manner as the "Vikings." They were recruited in Norway in July, 1963 and completed their final mission on May 27, 1964. They left Vietnam in June, 1964 when their contract expired. The consensus was that the Norwegian commanders were relatively capable and effectively carried out their assigned missions.
After the contract of the Norwegians expired in June, 1964, a number of Chinese were recruited as replacements but by the time their training was completed, the Swifts were no longer being used in missions north of the 17th Parallel.
In the beginning, the infiltrated landing teams had a number of third country nationals, such as the Nationalist Chinese, who participated in early missions near the Vietnamese/Chinese border. However, following that all personnel were SEALS, the majority coming from the ranks of the frogmen of the RVN Navy.
Early on the CIA hired German nationals to be trained as skippers for the PTFs which would then operate with Vietnamese personnel and Nùng ethnic minorities in support positions. However as time went on the Germans were dismissed because they were usually inebriated. The Germans were under contract and used that as a basis for objecting to the dismissal but the CIA made a cash settlement and ended the matter amicably. The German group did not carry out even one mission with the PTFs. The first operations, which were undertaken in July and August, 1964, were all under the command of RVN naval officers. The great majority of those in the landing teams on board the PTFs were Vietnamese nationals and a few Nùng ethnic minorities.
From the moment that the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force were officially established, the crews of the PTFs and the Swifts were all military volunteers from the Navy of the RVN. Because the number of volunteers always exceeded the actual manpower requirement, selections were made very carefully and based on the operational experience, esprit de corps, physical condition and tactical ability of the applicant. Security background checks were also very rigorous as clearances were required at the secret and top secret level. Once selected every recruit had to sign a six month contract. When the volunteer signed the contract he enjoyed a salary level equal to all others be they officers or enlisted personnel. Additionally, each individual received a bonus for every mission north of the 17th Parallel and an allowance for food. The budget for this was provided by the U.S. Government. Each volunteer also drew his regular Navy salary on a monthly basis.
As for the volunteer selection process, an officer who served many years in the Sea Patrol Force put it this way:
In as much as our lives were inextricably involved with the fleet we were greeted one day by one of our superior officers who came down to talk to us about recruiting a number of young naval officers to carry out a special assignment aboard a PT Boat. While an adventurous lot we were also admirers of the heroic image of President Kennedy when he was the commander of PT-109 during WW2. Therefore, it didn't take us long to leave the fleet and take up this new challenge. Our class included six officers who when added to our six colleagues from Class 11 of the Naval Officer Academy (Khóa 11 Sĩ Quan Hải Quân) became the first young officer group for the Sea Patrol Force.
Once a volunteer signed a contract to enter the Sea Patrol Force he was no longer under the control of the Navy. He had become a member of the Special Forces and was not required to wear his Navy uniform except for flag raising ceremonies on Monday mornings or when high ranking personnel came to visit. While on base most of the volunteers usually wore the uniform of the RVN infantry and then donned the simple black outfit of the local peasants when they went on a mission. They also changed their identity and used an alias. As for mail, that was received through a box number that was used for the entire force.
In the beginning the landing teams fired time-delayed rockets at their targets. These were in addition to the regular armament with which each PT Boat was equipped. However, because the rockets were lacking in accuracy the teams subsequently used 57 millimeter recoilless rifles for fire reinforcement. These mobile recoilless gun nests could be set up anywhere as they did not need a permanent mount. They were usually placed on the deck at the base of the 81 millimeter mortar whenever a target on shore was being shelled. The entire landing team also practiced firing the 57 millimeter recoilless rifle from the shoulder position so that it could be used from a small inflatable boat. In addition to the 57 millimeter recoilless, there were also 90 and 106 millimeter weapons but they were not used on a regular basis. There were also many types of time-delayed mines that were used by the SEALS in various sapper missions. As for personal weapons, the landing teams used the AK-47 of the Communist Bloc or the Swedish made submachine gun, also known as the K-gun.
F. Intelligence and Aerial Photography
Before setting out on a mission the boat commanders and the landing team leaders usually received a briefing on the enemy situation and also examined the latest aerial photographs of the target area. Intelligence was often provided by prisoners or local fishermen who had been captured for that purpose. Most of the aerial photos were taken by the top secret U-2 aircraft whose high altitude put it well beyond the range of North Vietnamese planes or anti-aircraft fire. The U-2 planes usually took off from Biên Hòa near Saigon or from Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
Two U-2 spy planes were permanently based at the Biên Hòa airfield. U-2 aerial photography was the principal source of intelligence for OPLAN-34A. Typically, a U-2 would photograph the target early in the morning when a mission was scheduled. By noon the photos were in the office of MACSOG in Saigon. Sometimes the aerial photographs were made at lower altitudes by a pilotless drone or taken by planes that flew at night and used radarscope photography.
G. Esprit De Corps
Naturally there was an inherent danger each time the 17th Parallel was crossed to carry out a mission. However, any worry or uneasiness was not caused by the presence of enemy forces but by the feeling that it was very insecure to operate behind enemy lines. During the first missions, even though we followed a sea route, everyone became tense when we entered the territorial waters of the enemy by passing the imaginary 17th Parallel. By contrast, when we returned to our own seas everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Over time familiarity with the missions made the operations less stressful. Moreover, compared with the patrol boats of the North Vietnamese, the fast PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force had greater fire power and faster speed which always provided us with an advantage. So, early jitters dissipated over time but we still had to be very cautious and focus on achieving the mission. Having served in the River Assault Group (RAG) in South Vietnam we observed that cross border missions in the North were a lot less dangerous. The various operations in the narrow canals and streams of South Vietnam made our boats good passive targets for the enemy since he could hide in the brush on both sides of the waterways and ambush us at any moment. Conversely, the modern PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force were out on the open seas and always maintained the offensive.
Every mission across the 17th Parallel was a great adventure as well as a challenge and each of them was relatively short, seldom exceeding a 24 hour period. With appropriate compensation and not really a lot of danger, the esprit de corps of the Sea Patrol Force remained extremely high. Proof of this lay in the fact that lots of crew members volunteered to serve with other crews that were short handed, even though it may not have been their turn. These volunteers often went on two or three times as many missions than they would have had they simply stayed with the crews to which they were assigned.
2. Navy SEALS
A CIA directed base was established at Mỹ Khê beach in November, 1962 so that American SEALS, an acronym that stands for sea, air and land, could provide training for the landing teams. While the base was under the authority of the CIA until 1964, the training was done entirely by the SEALS.
Mỹ Khê is located in the eastern part of the Tiên Sha Peninsula which runs north from the base of Monkey Mountain to Marble Mountain, both of which the local inhabitants know by Vietnamese names. The Tien Sha Peninsula is part of a larger area east of the City of Ðà Nẵng. All of the SEAL bases were located along the beach at Mỹ Khê. The SEAL teams lived and trained in individual camps which were relatively small and accommodated up to no more that about 30 or 40 trainees. There was one camp known as Romulus that was reserved for SEALS who were recruited from infantry units and another called Vega which was used exclusively for SEALS that were formerly Navy frogmen and a third that provided training exclusively in underwater demolition. In addition there was one camp reserved for the Nùng ethnic minority contingent that served as guards at the camps.
Sometime in 1964 a team of U.S. Navy SEALS began training Vietnamese SEAL teams under the command of Captain Cathal L. Flynn. The various SEAL teams were trained in the techniques of paddling an inflatable raft, landing on the beach, swimming underwater and using explosives, etc. They were also provided at the outset with arms training that consisted of using the 3.5 inch time-delayed rocket which was furnished by the CIA.
In principle, a team could land near the target, fire a rocket and then beat a hasty retreat back to base before the time-delayed fuse detonated the round. However, this type of rocket was ineffective because it was not very accurate. The time-delayed system often malfunctioned and the fact that it could explode unexpectedly made it especially dangerous. This rocket was used a few times in North Vietnamese landings but was later sidelined as ineffective in favor of the 57 millimeter recoilless rifle. This weapon was a light cannon that directed the explosive blast out the rear instead of requiring that it be set firmly on a base to absorb the recoil.
In March, 1964, Navy Captain Trịnh Hòa Hiệp of the Frogmen Unit of the RVN Navy was assigned to command the Vietnamese SEALS at Mỹ Khê. This team was very effective and produced excellent results.
VIII. SOME ACTIVITIES
During its approximately ten year period of operation, the Nautilus junks and the PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force as well as the SEAL teams carried out thousands of assignments of every variety. Following are those missions worthy of mention.
1. Nautilus Junk Operations
Although the Nautilus junks were in operation since 1956 their first assignments were supply trips in support of the underground teams in North Vietnam and they occurred only rarely, perhaps once or twice a year. Later, in 1962 and 1963 Nautilus operations became more regular and had more positive objectives. Following are a number of activities that are representative of those undertaken by the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force teams during this period:
Mission of Nautilus I, January 12, 1962. At 5 AM on January 12, 1962, Nautilus Junk I left Ðà Nẵng on its way to North Vietnam to carry out a liaison and supply mission for the operatives who were underground in the North. After a trouble free two-day trip in the Gulf of Tonkin, Nautilus I arrived at the point of contact at Hòn Gai. Shortly before arrival an agent known as Ares (which actually was Phạm Chuyên, a spy working for North Vietnam) requested many essential supplies including a radio. Except for the captain of the Nautilus, the crew was very young and not clear about the purpose of the operation. Not long before that, under the authority of the agency for coastal penetration, Nautilus I put a person named Quang safely ashore at Hà Tĩnh near Ðèo Ngang. Other crew members also went ashore a number of times to mingle with the local fishermen for the purpose of gathering information.
When it arrived at Hon Gai, Nautilus I anchored near a small island and pretended to be fishing as it waited for nightfall. After dark the Nautilus I followed the secret signal of Agent Ares and when it arrived at the specified location it was ambushed. The junk and its entire crew fell into the hands of the enemy. Agent Ares was never heard from again!
Mission of Nautilus II, June 28 1962. On June 28, 1962, the crew of Nautilus II left Ðà Nẵng to undertake a special mission north of the 17th Parallel. The objective was to put four frogmen ashore at the mouth of the Gianh River where they would place mines to destroy the Swatow ships of the Communists at the Quảng Khê Naval Base which was located nearby. Their names were Lê Văn Kinh, Nguyễn Hữu Thảo, Nguyên Văn Tâm and Lê Văn Chuyên. All four were members of the first 18-membered team of RVN frogmen who were sent to Taiwan for training in August, 1960.
After arriving on site, the frogmen, who were part of the underwater demolition team, prepared to put the mines in place. No one knew why, but unfortunately, a mine exploded prematurely and fatally wounded one of the frogmen. The explosion alerted the Communist Coast Guard and one of its boats gave chase. The Nautilus II headed back to the 17th Parallel at full speed but the Communist patrol boat was faster and managed to catch up and sink the Nautilus II near the 17th Parallel. CIA personnel in Ðà Nẵng had heard voice communications among the Communist vessels but were unable to do anything to come to the aid of Nautilus II.
The result was that the team leader of the frogmen, Lê Văn Kinh and one other named Nguyễn Văn Tâm were captured. There was only one person who escaped from the Nautilus II by hiding under the sail of the sunken ship and he was later picked up by a rescue mission that originated in Ðà Nẵng.
A Mission in July, 1962. In this mission an agent named Nguyễn Châu Thanh was successfully landed in the area of Hà Tĩnh. According to the plan, the crew of Nautilus III was assigned this mission but at the last minute it was given to the crew of another vessel.
Mission of Nautilus VII. In July, 1963 Team Dragon consisted of six Nùng ethnic minority personnel under the command of Mộc A Tài whose mission was to land in the area of Móng Cái, which is located on the Chinese border with North Vietnam, and proceed to destroy a coastal radar facility. Additionally, Team Dragon was given unlimited authority in this area that was heavily populated by the Nùng and therefore well-known to all of them. They were to contact some former soldiers who had served in the 22nd Infantry Division of the RVN under the command of Colonel Wòng A. Sáng and had remained underground in the North since the evacuation to the South in 1954. The Topographical Service had contacted Colonel Sang to learn about the status of these former soldiers who were still underground in that locality. If they were located by Team Dragon they would be used as guides and for other tasks related to the mission.
The junk Nautilus VII had the responsibility to transport Team Dragon to the drop off point. The crew of the Nautilus had been warned to be careful in following a prescribed sea route in order to avoid being picked up by the radar station on Hải Nam Island and thus be discovered invading the territorial waters of North Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Nautilus was discovered when it reached the drop off point and the landing team had gone ashore. Nautilus VII later returned to Ðà Nẵng but a number of the crew and all of the landing team had been captured. One of those who had been captured related the following:
The missions to invade by sea were very successful. The proof is that I completed eleven assignments before being caught. Our operations could be divided into three categories which were: observation runs to gather intelligence, trips to drop off commandos and destructive raids on enemy targets. We had a total of seven junks and the crew members were always rotating. For example, in the beginning I was with the team of Nautilus II and then served with Nautilus IV and finally went with Nautilus VII when I was captured. Nautilus IV infiltrated the major North Vietnamese port of Hải Phòng twice and returned safely both times. Though our missions were often in distant locations such as at Móng Cái near the Chinese/North Vietnamese border and in the area of Ðèo Ngang which is located in the province of Hà Tĩnh, we successfully completed them on numerous occasions. As far as I know, Nautilus II was the only junk that was lost during its mission to transport frogmen to lay mines at Quảng Khê in June, 1962.
2. Operations of the PTF's
There are no documents concerning the activities of the Swifts and the fast patrol boats prior to 1964 when foreigners from Germany and Norway served as boat commanders under the direction of the CIA. However, many successful missions were carried out after 1964 when the Coastal Security Service was established and the PT Boats were operating under the command of the RVN Navy. It is also necessary to add that all the MACSOG missions were of a strategic rather than a tactical nature. Therefore, emphasis was not placed on destroying targets or neutralizing lots of enemy soldiers but on gathering intelligence, psychological operations and creating havoc behind enemy lines.
Throughout approximately eight years of operation, the fast patrol boats and the Sea Patrol Force accomplished about 1,000 raids into the territorial waters of North Vietnam, most of these occurring during the five year period from 1965 to 1970. Of special interest was the fact that during the period when U.S. aircraft were bombing North Vietnam, some naval crews were undertaking six or seven missions per month.
The Sea Patrol Force had 12 teams which were simply numbered 1 through 12 and each crew consisted of 19 people. There were also 12 fast patrol boats so that theoretically each boat had its own crew. Therefore the first boat was sometimes referred to as the first crew and vice versa. A fast patrol boat of the Sea Patrol Force never operated alone north of the 17th Parallel. Every mission included from two to four fast patrol boats depending on the importance and location of the objective. Every crew was assigned to a particular boat but when it went on a mission only the best boats were utilized. Therefore, it was quite routine for the crew of one vessel to on occasion man another.
Following are a number of typical operations that took place in June, 1964.
On June 12th, two boat crews dropped off landing teams at two different locations in the Tonkin Gulf. One team landed in the area of Cửa Ron which was located in the province of Hà Tĩnh and the other landed further north in the province of Thanh Hóa. The group at Cửa Ron used a 57 millimeter recoilless rifle to destroy a North Vietnamese military outpost at Hải Khẩu. The team at Thanh Hóa used explosives to destroy the bridge at Hàng River. All 26 of the team members returned to the PT Boat unharmed.
In the early morning of June 27th, a group of seven demolition experts worked together with a 24-man support team to blow up a bridge on National Route 1 near the province of Thanh Hóa. They killed two soldiers who were guarding the bridge and four other North Vietnamese troops. The team suffered no casualties.
At dawn on July 1st, a team of about 30 used a 57 millimeter recoilless rifle to destroy a building that housed the water works at the mouth of the Kiên River which was located near the coastal city of Ðồng Hới. Sometime just after midnight Fast Patrol Boats 5 and 6 landed a party by inflatable raft. As the landing team made its way back on board the enemy opened fire. The two patrol boats came in close to the shore to provide fire support with their 20 and 40 millimeter cannons. Two of the landing party were lost but the others captured two enemy soldiers. Later, the North Vietnamese let it be known that one of those captured was a commando who confirmed that his landing team had indeed destroyed the Hàng River Bridge on June 27th. He also said that all of the commandos were well trained and familiar with the technique of having a force land to destroy a target and then beating a hasty retreat by returning to the boats with little difficulty. Finally, he stated that the commandos preferred going ashore by sea rather than being dropped in by air because it was safer and the support was more effective.
3. Psychological Warfare Operations
In addition to the missions to drop a team that would destroy a target or capture North Vietnamese cadre or soldiers, the fast patrol boats undertook missions on the high seas that did not require a landing party. These operations included searching for enemy documents on the fishing junks and capturing a few local fishermen for interrogation, shelling targets on shore and dropping psywar leaflets on the coastal population centers, etc.
Leaflet drops usually took place in the highly populated areas south of the 18th Parallel. Large quantities of them were placed in the shell of an 81 millimeter mortar that was fired into the coastal villages and communities from the fast patrol boats when they were 1,500 to 2,000 meters offshore. The shell would explode overhead like a flare and the leaflets would flutter down from the sky. Sometimes the fast patrol boats also distributed radios wrapped in waterproof plastic in the villages along the coast so that the population could listen to South Vietnamese radio stations such as the Voice of Freedom (Tiếng Nói Tự Do), Mother of Vietnam (Mẹ Việt Nam) or the Sacred Sword of Patriotism (Gươm Thiên Ái Quốc).
South Vietnamese Navy Coastal raiders (part 3)
Missions to capture fishermen for the purpose of indoctrination began on May 27, 1964. In this operation a fast patrol boat and a Swift captured a fishing junk in the waters off Ðồng Hới. Six fishermen along with their junk were brought to a place called Cù Lao Chàm Island which was located off the coast of Ðà Nẵng. In an effort to win their support, the fishermen were treated very kindly and were well fed. On June 2nd, the fishermen and their junk were returned to where they were captured and they brought along with them the various gifts of cloth, food and plastic utensils, etc., that they had been given during their stay.
The PT Boats captured three more junks on July 7th and an additional two on July 20th. Following this the Swifts did not undertake any further missions north of the 17th Parallel and the task of observing and capturing the fishermen was taken over exclusively by the fast patrol boats. However, these boats were faster than the Swifts and when towing them in to Cù Lao Chàm without a crew they were often swamped and sunk. So for that reason the crew was transported on our boats but the junk was left behind. When the fishermen were returned, small bamboo rafts were brought along and the fishermen were released on these tiny craft in the area where they were captured.
Sometime later there were American documents alleging that the junks left behind were rigged with explosives and left as floating ****y traps. This allegation was baseless. The fact that the junks were not towed was really a decision that was based on the practicalities of the matter and not on any desire to inflict harm on the enemy.
The people who depended on fishing for their livelihood eked out an existence under the Communist regime and were very poor. As a consequence their junks were very fragile and very primitive. They had to be kept relatively close to the shore and used only on those days when the ocean was calm. For that reason, even the Swift, which was a small patrol boat, had to be very careful when towing a junk and could not exceed ten nautical miles per hour to avoid sinking or otherwise damaging the fragile vessels. The people who lived in the area of the 17th Parallel such as the inhabitants of Ðồng Hới and Quảng Khê at least had junks to fish with though they were quite rudimentary. Further north in the area of Thanh Hóa and Nghệ An the fishermen were so poor that they had no junks at all. They had to use a type of raft ("mảng") made of large bamboo logs which were lashed together with a fiber of split bamboo.
Naturally, these rafts had no engines and were powered by sail or oars. No fabric was available for the sails so they were made of palm fronds or a sort of woven bamboo and the mast was made of a large tree trunk. Fishing with one of these rafts meant that those on board were always wet because while the raft floated on the surface it sank ankle deep in the water! Even if one wanted to tow one of these rafts it was not possible. If they were lucky the fishermen had clothes with untold layers of patches and the majority had a coat like covering made of palm fronds that were tied together. Their very modest fishing gear consisted of droplines and hooks.
We recall once searching a junk near the estuary known as Lạch Trường which is the opening to the Sầm Sơn Beach near Thanh Hóa. It was a December day with a steady drizzle and a cold north wind. As we approached one of the fishing rafts described above we saw a half dozen or so fishermen dressed in cone hats and wearing palm frond overcoats which they held tightly around themselves. They were huddled in one corner as if to protect each other from the cold. As they looked somewhat suspicious those who conducted the search from on board the PT Boat used a megaphone to order the fishermen to stand and raise their hands.
The fishermen seemed embarrassed but when they saw that guns were aimed in their direction they complied with the order. Everyone on board the PT Boat was astonished because when the palm frond overcoats were released they fell to the deck revealing the completely ***** body of each fisherman. Under the palm frond coats, they had on not one stitch of clothing. When they were brought on board and given a solid meal we learned that each citizen of North Vietnam was allowed to buy only two yards of cloth per year from the regime's monopoly and they did not have the money necessary to make a purchase on the black market. Therefore, whenever they went fishing the lucky ones wore old patched rags while the majority wore only a coat of palm fronds to provide some protection from the elements. Whatever attire they may have owned was set aside to be used for important occasions only.
As for psychological operations, an experienced commander of the Sea Patrol Force gave the following account:
During 1967 we undertook a special psychological warfare program. For a period of almost three months we captured more than 300 fishermen in the area from Ðồng Hới to Thanh Hóa. We took two individuals from every village. After delivering them to Cù Lao Chàm we made sure that they were well fed. Each person ate a half chicken every day and after three months was plump and had a healthy complexion. We took them back, each to his hometown, to see what the reaction would be both locally and by the regime in North Vietnam. It came as no surprise to us during the next six months that when we tried to capture the same individuals again, they were nowhere to be found. After almost nine months had passed we finally captured one fellow who sighed: you folks hurt us. When you released us the local government officials noticed that we were fat so they put us in the thought reform camps and just released us.
IX. THE FAST PATROL BOATS AND THE TONKIN-GULF INCIDENT
At the time that the Maddox, a U.S. Navy Destroyer, was attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin, its mission coincided with the operations of the fast patrol boats of the Sea Patrol Force. Because there has been much speculation that the fast patrol boats and the Destroyer Maddox were coordinating their efforts to provoke North Vietnam into making an attack at sea so that the U.S. would have a pretext for bombing North Vietnam, we are summarizing herewith some of the events related to this matter so that the reader can find out for himself what really happened.
1. Operations of the Destroyer Maddox
Early on July 31, 1964, the Maddox, a U.S. Navy Destroyer arrived in the coastal waters of Vietnam just off the 17th Parallel to begin patrolling the coastal waters of North Vietnam. Its mission was known as Operation De Soto. At noon on August 2nd when the warship was located about 18 nautical miles offshore and approximately 10 nautical miles away from Hòn Mê, three North Vietnamese torpedo boats marked T-333, T-336 and T-339, fired torpedoes at the Maddox. The result of the encounter was that the North Vietnamese boats were heavily damaged while the Maddox remained unscathed.
On the morning of August 3rd, the Destroyer Maddox received orders from Admiral Johnson, Commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet to continue Operation De Soto but this time the Destroyer Turner Joy would join the mission as a reinforcement. According to a U.S. Navy report, at 9:34 PM local time on August 4th, both warships reported that they were under attack by North Vietnamese ships and commenced firing at 9:39 PM. At that time the target was 8,000 yards away. Later many people said that the second confrontation had never occurred.
2. The Activities of the Fast Patrol Boats During Operation De Soto
On July 22, 1964, four PT Boats including PTF-3, 4, 5 and 6, were preparing to go on an operation to land commandos who would then attack various military outposts at Hòn Mật island and a coastal radar facility near Vinh Sơn (near the Bến Thủy harbor in the city of Vinh). However, the missions were scrubbed at the last minute because aerial photography taken that morning by a U-2 spy plane showed that two enemy Swatow ships were spotted in the area of Hòn Niếu and three others were observed near Hòn Mê which was about 50 nautical miles north of the target area. Naturally, the fast patrol boats undertook another mission to patrol the coast and prepare to do battle at sea with the North Vietnamese ships in the area instead of dropping off SEAL teams on the shore. It was not clear whether the enemy ships simply slipped away but we did not intercept them on that day.
On July 27, 1964, two fast patrol boats were providing support for two Swifts that were searching fishing junks in the waters off Vinh Sơn when enemy Swatow boats appeared. They may have come from the Quảng Khê base that was located near the mouth of the Giang River. Under orders to be on guard for enemy ships that attacked unexpectedly from the front, the fast PT Boats that were escorting the Swifts proceeded quickly to open water and prepared for battle but the North Vietnamese Swatows dared not chase after the PTFs. Because the main mission was to search fishing vessels and not attack enemy ships, the fast patrol boats returned to base without incident.
On July 30, 1964, a group of four PT Boats including PTF-2, 3, 5 and 6, went out on an operation. The objective was to land teams on the islands of Hon Niếu and Hòn Mê for the purpose of using sapper charges to destroy various military positions. Hòn Mê was located about 12 kilometers from shore and around 19 degrees North in the open sea off Lạch Tray, also known as Sầm Sơn. Hòn Niếu lay further South and only about four kilometers off Bến Thủy Harbor that is located at the city of Vinh in Nghệ An Province.
This was a very desperate mission fraught with danger because commando teams were to be dropped off deep in enemy territory and intelligence as well as aerial photographs indicated that enemy ships were laying in ambush in the target area. For that reason, the crews of the fast patrol boats had all been carefully selected on the basis of each members time in service and his combat experience.
Just before midnight on July 7th, at 11:15 PM to be exact, the fast patrol boats arrived at the final rendezvous point Southeast of Hòn Mê. The coordinates for this position were 19 degrees North and 106.16 East. At this location the PT Boats split up into two pairs. The Northern two included PTF-3 and 6, which headed toward the target on Hòn Mê, and the Southern pair, which was made up of PTF-2 and 5, started moving toward the objective at Hòn Niếu.
The Northern PT Boats reached their target that was located in the Southern area of Hòn Mê at 9:00 PM on July 31st. While it is called an island, Hòn Mê is really a mountain that rises out of the sea. It is covered with large trees and dense vegetation that make it very difficult to observe what is happening on the island, especially at night. At the summit of Hòn Mê, which is 500 meters above sea level, there was a North Vietnamese artillery emplacement. Intended for coastal defense, it could hit targets on the high seas within a radius of 15 nautical miles.
Both PT Boats cautiously proceeded to the target according to the prescribed formation, one boat providing cover as the other moved to the drop off point, about 2,000 meters offshore. The landing team was making preparations to go ashore with explosives to blow up a lookout tower and various other military installations on the island. As the SEAL team was preparing to drop its pneumatic raft, a Swatow was spotted close to the shore by one of the crew looking through binoculars. At that moment the enemy ship opened fire first with a 37 millimeter cannon and a heavy machine gun. Although attacked first the PT Boats returned fire and effectively silenced the enemy after engaging him for only a few minutes. The appearance of the enemy ship at Hòn Mê came as no surprise to the crews of the PT Boats. It merely confirmed the intelligence they had already received.
Having been discovered, it was now imperative that the landing be canceled but the fast patrol boats switched to an alternative plan and shelled coastal targets with their regular armament which included 20 mm, 40 mm guns and 81 millimeter mortar. The landing team's 57 millimeter recoilless rifle provided an extra degree of firepower for the bombardment. This shelling was the first time that targets on shore were hit by the fast patrol boats within the framework of OPLAN 34A.
In a period of only about 20 minutes PTF-3 and 6 laid down a deadly wall of fire that completely destroyed the designated targets as well as many machine gun nests. Having completed the mission, the two PT Boats left the area shortly after midnight. According to later U.S. reports, a Swatow identified as T-142 had come to assist the force defending Hòn Mê and did its utmost to follow the activities of the fast patrol boats but dared not engage in hostilities. Documents captured by the Americans noted that the ship in question made up an excuse when reporting to the enemy high command that it had to quit the chase because the fast patrol boats traveled at such a high rate of speed. It is possible that this particular Swatow may not have been discovered by the fast patrol boats because it was hiding near the shore.
At the same time that the hostile action at Hòn Mê was unfolding, the two boats that made up the Southern pair were only 800 meters from their objective which was a radio installation on the island of Hòn Niếu. However, perhaps because the enemy at Hòn Mê had sounded the alarm, the defenders at Hòn Niếu were prepared for an imminent attack. Realizing the disadvantage inherent in landing a team under these conditions, the officers in charge decided to scrub the landing in favor of shelling the target from the two fast patrol boats that comprised the Southern pair. Because of the clarity and relative closeness of the target, the radio station was destroyed by the first few volleys. After that the fast patrol boats turned their weapons on secondary targets such as military and defensive installations. After more than a half hour of destructive fire, throughout which the enemy did not respond, PTF-2 and 5 left the area and returned to base.
The Northern pair arrived back in Ðà Nẵng around 10:00 AM on July 31st and the Southern pair arrived a little later about 11:00 AM because PTF-2 had developed engine trouble during the long journey.
On the afternoon of July 3rd, four PT Boats PTF-1, 2, 5 and 6, left the base at Ðà Nẵng to undertake a mission. The objective was to destroy various targets along the North Vietnamese coast in an area known as the Cape of Vinh Sơn and Cửa Ron which were located near the city of Vinh approximately 70 nautical miles North of the 17th Parallel. PTF-2 developed engine trouble again and had to turn back.
At approximately 11:00 PM PTF-1 and 5 directed their fire on the radar facility at Vinh Sơn for about 20 minutes. PTF-6 remained alone at the mouth of the Giang River firing at various targets on shore and a group of North Vietnamese torpedo boats that were docked at the Quảng Khê Naval Base. A North Vietnamese PT Boat left port to give chase to PTF-6 but returned after about 40 minutes because it was unable to catch up. When the mission was completed all the PT Boats returned safely to Ðà Nẵng.
In the attacks that took place on Hòn Ngự and Hòn Mê during the night of July 30th and the dawn of July 31st, North Vietnam did not let it be known that the warship Maddox had been involved. But in the attack that occurred on the night of August 3rd and into the dawn of August 4th, North Vietnam clearly indicated that the attacking force included four PT Boats from Ðà Nẵng and two American Destroyers. One of the reasons that North Vietnam did not know exactly how many ships were engaged in the attack was because the radar station at Vinh Sơn had been heavily damaged by the fire from the PT Boats and was knocked out of commission.
X. NORTH VIETNAMESE COASTAL DEFENSE CAPABILITY
The North Vietnamese coastal defense system included naval ships and specialized junks. It also included radar facilities and artillery that were placed at locations all along the coast. North Vietnamese Navy: North Vietnam's naval ships could only operate in the shallow coastal waters. Based on the intelligence that was available at that time, the North Vietnamese Navy had four SO1 escort vessels, 12 P-4 torpedo boats and a number of Swatow PT Boats.
SO1 Escort. The SO1 escorts weighed in at about 250 tons and were provided by the Soviets, two in 1960-61 and two in 1964-65. They were 140 feet in length and 20 feet wide. With a diesel engine and a crew of 30 they had a top speed of about 28 nautical miles per hour. Their armament included two 25 millimeter cannons mounted on the bow and behind the bridge. There were also four positions where depth charges could be launched against submarines. On February 1, 1966, one of the SO1 vessels was sunk by an American plane. The remaining three were broken down or otherwise unfit for service as they were not observed on the scene at the time. As for the patrol boats which were lighter, they were very old and while their firepower was heavy their speed was relatively slow so that they were not a cause for concern.
P-4 Torpedo Boat. The P-4 torpedo boats could be seen as the most effective weapons in the arsenal of the North Vietnamese Navy as they were capable of inflicting heavy damage on their enemy. These boats were small with a gross weight of about 50 tons. Diesel powered with a length of 85 feet and a width of 20 feet, they had a top speed of about 40 nautical miles per hour. Their armament included one heavy machine gun mounted behind the bridge and a torpedo tube on each side. Each torpedo had a warhead equal to 550 pounds of TNT which could sink a large warship. However, the effective range of the torpedoes did not exceed one kilometer. They were also equipped with a 253-type radar that had a range of 15 nautical miles in good weather. Normally, the P-4 would have to travel at high speed to launch a torpedo but when traveling very fast the radar antenna would have to be folded down to reduce wind resistance and to avoid damage from the heavy sea. Although the P-4 had a fairly high speed it was far inferior to the speed of our fast patrol boats. Also, the radar range was very limited and its firepower consisted of only one machine gun. For these reasons the P-4 was not a real contender against our fast patrol boats. American planes during their air raids against North Vietnam sank the majority of the P-4 boats.
Swatow PT Boat. The Swatow PT Boats had a displacement of 67 tons, were 83.5 feet long and were 20 feet wide amidship. They were equipped with two double 37 millimeter cannons. These Swatow ships of the North Vietnamese were fairly equal contenders with our fast patrol boats but our ships were faster and the Swatow had a difficult time trying to keep up. American planes also sank a fairly large number of the Swatow boats. During the years when our fast patrol boats were active, direct contention with the coastal defense vessels of the North Vietnamese were very rare and only a few instances of such confrontations were ever known to have occurred. This was due partially to the fact that small North Vietnamese vessels did not dare to go far from shore because they were afraid of an air attack and partially because they were painfully aware of their inferior capability. A fast patrol boat commander gave the following account of one such rare occurrence:
On five years of operations we only came face to face with a North Vietnamese patrol boat once in early 1965 in a joint mission with our two sister ships. While enroute to Mũi Ðào which is north of Ðồng Hới at about three in the morning the radar picked up the echos of three vessels speeding toward us from shore at high speed. Immediately after notifying the U.S. Seventh Fleet, we formed into a battle formation and increased our speed to 55 nautical miles per hour. In keeping with standard naval tactics we attempted to form into a T-formation in order that our weapons would begin firing together. The enemy also jockeyed for position. In the end we faced off in an irregular position. The enemy opened fire first but we refrained from shooting until they were about 1,000 yards away.
In the skirmish that followed one of our ships was damaged lightly by an enemy shell and a number of personnel were wounded. Our two ships that were escorting the third returned safely. In the days that followed our intelligence reports indicated that the enemy force received fairly heavy damage because they commenced firing too early and concentrated their fire on only one target. They received direct hits from our other two vessels.
Decoy Fishing Junks. Having seen the fast patrol boats searching fishing junks and detaining the fishermen, the Vietnamese Communists took advantage of what they saw as an opportunity to arm fishing junks with both weapons and explosives. Thus disguised, they waited in ambush among the other real fishing junks. When the fast patrol boats approached the enemy opened fire unexpectedly with a B-40 or tossed explosives onto the PT Boats. While this technique caused damage on a few occasions, all of the crew of the decoy vessels were killed and then each junk was sunk on the spot.
Coastal Radar Defense. North Vietnam placed a number of radar stations along the coast in order to monitor the activities of the fast patrol boats that operated out in the ocean. However, as time went on, all of the radar stations were destroyed or under constant air attack which rendered them ineffective.
Coastal Artillery Defense. This consisted of artillery emplacements that were located on the peaks of the islands or on the high rocky outcrops along the coast in order to fire out to sea. The range of the artillery was quite far, about 15 nautical miles, and even though they fired on a fairly regular basis no fast patrol boat was ever hit. At times the enemy would place a fairly large junk in position as bait. They then would predetermine the coordinates and wait for a fast patrol boat to approach before opening fire. However, even this tactic did not produce an optimum result. They were never able to hit a PT Boat but they did hit a number of U.S. warships which presented them with larger targets.
Throughout the eight years that it was in operation, the Sea Patrol Force suffered negligent enemy damage. As for the PT Boats, not a single one was ever sunk by enemy fire and only a number of them ever sustained light damage. Of course, there were a number of PT Boats that ran aground. This was easy to understand because most of the missions were carried out at night and close to shore in areas that were unfamiliar. All of those that ran aground were subsequently bombed and destroyed by U.S. aircraft to keep them from falling into enemy hands. There was also one case when a PT Boat was sunk by mistake by an American plane.
As for personnel, enemy impact was very light. There were only about 30 or 40 casualties that occurred during the thousands of individual missions that were carried out. The heaviest personnel loss occurred when one of our boats was mistakenly hit by friendly fire during a skirmish and two officers were killed.
XII. MISTAKES AND DISPUTED FACTS CONCERNING THE SEA PATROL FORCES
Because it was an irregular unit that was cleverly disguised, only a few people really knew the backgrounds of the personnel who made up the Sea Patrol Force. It was not uncommon for even those who served together in the various naval units to be unaware of a comrade's origins except when the mission took place in the Ðà Nẵng area. The PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force are also a source of much heated debate, especially among srohtua and people who are not familiar with the Navy.
The war ended almost 30 years ago but there is still much misinformation and considerable controversy concerning the Sea Patrol Force. Some falsehoods and misconceptions are still propagated by personnel who served with MACSOG as well as by American writers. This is not because there is a deliberate effort to distort the truth. It is rather the nature of classified operations. Each individual is aware of only a part of the missions on a "need to know" basis. Therefore only a very few had a broad and complete view of the entire program.
Following are some "truths" concerning a number of disputed facts and mistakes that are known to us and can be found in American and Vietnamese books written on this subject.
In the book President's War, the author Anthony Austin writes that while there were Vietnamese on the various PT Boats there were no RVN Navy personnel. All of the crews consisted of direct hires. A MACSOG document entitled Maritime Operation stated that RVN Navy personnel were not recruited during the period prior to the beginning of 1964. Therefore, civilian personnel had to be hired.
In his book Tonkin Gulf and the Escalation of the Vietnam War, historian Edwin Moise of Clemson University, wrote the following on page 15, There is good evidence that the Nasty boat crews belonged to the South Vietnamese Navy and wore uniforms while on operations. Professor Moise also wrote on page 15 that, The RVN Navy had said it was assigning the cream of its men to this program and the officers in particular were convinced that they were the cream.
The Truth: From the moment that the Sea Patrol Force was founded, the crews of the PT Boats were all RVN Navy personnel. However, they were NOT in uniform when they went on missions. Professor Moise was right when he wrote that all of the officers were the cream of the crop.
THE EQUIPMENT AND THE MISSION
In the book The RVN Navy Goes to Sea, (Hải Quân VNCH Ra Khơi) author Ðiệp Mỹ Linh wrote on page 69 that the PT Motor Torpedo Boat was about eighty feet long with a composite/plastic hull. It was built in Norway, ran on fuel oil and had a top speed that exceeded 50 nautical miles per hour. The various PT Boats of the Coastal Security Service were nicknamed Nasty and Swift. Every PT Boat was routinely equipped with an 81 or 130 millimeter rotating mortar located behind the bridge. Two .50 caliber double barreled machine guns mounted on the sides and an automatic 40 millimeter double barreled anti-aircraft cannon. The author also wrote on page 69 that: after returning from a mission in North Vietnam our crews were tired and exhausted in both body and soul. The patrol forces of the RVN were often stopped and hit by the patrol forces of the enemy at Hòn Cọp. MIGs that flew in pairs discovered the boats with radar and then attacked them with heat seeking missiles. The Vietnamese Communists usually used the Kronstad PT Boat that had a top speed of 35 nautical miles per hour and the P-4 which had a top speed of 65 nautical miles per hour and was equipped with six .50 caliber double barreled machine gun positions with which to attack the PT Boats of the RVN.
The Truth: The PT Boat hulls were constructed of laminated wood or aluminum, not composite/plastic. Only the Norwegian built boat was known as a Nasty. Swift was a nickname used by the Sea Patrol Force. The fast patrol boats only had an 81 millimeter mortar that was mounted in FRONT of the bridge not behind it and did not have a 130 millimeter gun at all. It was another type of boat that had an 81 millimeter mortar mounted behind the bridge. The PTF had 40 millimeter single barreled, not double barreled, cannon. Our crew members were tired after a mission that kept them up all night but not to the point of exhaustion.
Our PT Boats were not routinely stopped and fired upon by enemy PT Boats at Hòn Cọp because most of the North Vietnamese PT Boats had been sunk. Those ships that remained stayed close to shore as they dared not to engage our patrol boats that had more firepower and were faster. Moreover, our PT Boats could call in U.S. air support when necessary. We recall operation Double Tango in which our fast patrol boats blockaded and shelled Hòn Cọp continuously for a full month and never observed a North Vietnamese PT Boat offer any resistance.
Throughout the five years of experience with the Sea Patrol Force that included over two hundred missions, we never saw a North Vietnamese PT Boat with ***** eyes. We also never tracked one with radar at night. According to our experience in thousands of missions there were only a few instances of confrontations between our fast patrol boats and North Vietnamese PT Boats. The North Vietnamese refer to Hòn Cọp Island by another name: Con Cò Island. Speaking of this location a PT Boat commander said the following:
North of the 17th Parallel and about 30 nautical miles off Vinh Linh is a small island that Radio Hanoi continuously praised as the Con Cò Island of heroism. The island was home to a North Vietnamese naval base and an artillery emplacement that was used for shore defense. It was a sad situation for the comrade troopers on the island who had to maintain an alert status for months on end because every time we went past we would receive an order to lob in a few rounds to wake them up. American planes also used this island to drop whatever extra ordinance they were carrying before returning to their bases.
In regards to the Kronstadt boat, under ideal conditions these boats had a top speed of about 28 nautical miles per hour and it is not certain that the enemy even had this type of craft. As for the P-4, its top speed was 45 nautical miles per hour. There are no reports confirming that there were ever more than a very few attacks on our fast patrol boats by North Vietnamese planes. Their airborne heat seeking missiles were only used for targets they encountered in their dogfights in the air or for targets on the ground such as tanks. As for targets at sea the MIGs routinely used air to surface missiles.
EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING
In an article entitled The SEALS and Sea Patrol: the Battle With Communist Troops Along the Coast, (Biệt Hải và Hải Tuần: Trận Chiến với Cộng Quân ở Duyên Hải) was published in the Vietnamese newspaper, Economy, on December 3, 1999. Its author, Vương Hồng Anh wrote the following:
...SOG naval advisors modified 12 Swift river patrol boats to be used in secret missions. With a top speed of 80 kilometers an hour the PT Boats were armed with 40 millimeter cannon and various light weapons. SOG took the boat crews and SEAL teams from Long Thành to be trained to go ashore and attack targets along the coast. These teams were trained at a secret base in the South near Saigon. The boat crews were trained to go out into the high seas of the South Vietnamese coast from 100 to 110 kilometers and then head into North Vietnamese waters from the open seas. Such a tactic would be necessary because the coastal waters were crowded with boats and rafts making it difficult to slip by undetected and avoid pursuit or discovery.
The Truth: The Swift is not a river patrol boat but a coastal patrol boat. A river patrol boat is a small boat with a fiberglass hull. An ocean going PT Boat may operate in a river but the reverse is not true. If a river patrol boat were to venture out into the high seas it could be capsized by a large wave, especially if it is 100 to 110 kilometers offshore. The crews of the fast patrol boats and the Swifts were all trained in the waters off Ðà Nẵng. The mission routes usually took us along the coast of North Vietnam and we were very seldom 100 kilometers away from shore.
COMMUNIST NAVAL BASE
Vương Hồng Anh also wrote about the mission to attack and destroy boats belonging to the North Vietnamese Communists at Hòn Cọp as follows:
The first mission was undertaken by a SEALS team that secretly attacked and destroyed a North Vietnamese Communist vessel at Hòn Cọp.
The Truth: The North Vietnamese Communists did not have a naval base at Hòn Cọp and that island did not have a beach or a place to drop anchor. The North Vietnamese Communist naval base closest to the 17th Parallel was at Ðồng Hới. Based on our knowledge of the situation, the mission was directed at the Quảng Khê base that was located at the mouth of the Giang River.
THE BOAT CREWS
Did American personnel who trained the boat crews actually go on missions north of the 17th Parallel? Although strictly forbidden, was this policy absolutely observed? According to Colonel Bucklew, Chief of the Support Group for Naval Operations who was also responsible for the Americans serving with MACSOG, the prohibition was habitually violated.
Historian, Edwin Moise, also interviewed Colonel Bucklew concerning this matter and wrote on page 16 of his book as follows, Indeed, he is not aware of any cases in which the PTFs from Ðà Nẵng went on combat operations without American personnel on board. His recollection is that the Americans were running the boat with the Vietnamese along in what was essentially an apprenticeship role. He states that there were suggestions during 1964 that Vietnamese officers and men be given actual responsibility for handling the boats on combat missions, but that these suggestions had been opposed on the grounds that the Vietnamese did not have the skills.
In an interview conducted by historian Moise on March 10, 1988 with Vice Admiral Roy L. Johnson, who had served as Seventh Fleet Commander starting in June, 1964, Johnson recalls that the Vietnamese crews proved unreliable. When sent out on an operation against the North they sometimes just cruised around in circles for a few hours off shore, and then filed a false report that they had conducted the assigned operation. Admiral Johnson is "pretty sure" that American crews were used on raids against the North Vietnamese coasts by August 1964. If the change had not come by this time, it came soon after.
The Truth: There were never any Americans that went along on the missions that were conducted in the territorial waters of North Vietnam north of the 17th Parallel. The belief that American crews took the fast patrol boats into North Vietnam only exists in the imagination of the Seventh Fleet Commander because he has always believed that only his crews were reliable. There were many practical cases that serve as proof that an experienced commander of a PT Boat is much more well versed in naval warfare and more reliable than the advisers who were still wet behind the ears.
Moreover, when the PT boats went out on a mission they followed an established route that required them to check in at certain points and times so that friendly forces would not mistake them for the enemy. Therefore, there never was any cruising around in circles.
On this subject of Americans, a Vietnamese commander who served for many years in the Sea Patrol Force said the following:
The Sea Patrol Force was probably the only unit in the armed forces of the RVN that in eight years of fighting in enemy territory was never accompanied by an American adviser. Our naval advisers were only responsible for providing support, i.e., intelligence, logistics and maintenance. They had a profound respect for us. Occasionally a few officers or noncoms would joke that somehow they were going to accompany us on a mission but no one believed that the joking would ever come to pass. On one mission that consisted of two ships, I took the second position. After crossing the 17th Parallel, two U.S. noncommissioned artillery officers suddenly appeared on deck and cheerfully volunteered to serve under my command while on that mission. Somewhat shocked, I asked the commander of the lead boat for a decision. He then reported to our operations office and within ten minutes we received an urgent request for the joint mission to return to base. When we returned to our base, we noticed that the two adventurous Americans were whisked away in a vehicle "that was shrouded in secrecy." They were taken to the airport for an immediate trip home. We were happy that this incident only happened once.
We hope that the foregoing, though far from complete, will cast a little light on the truth connected with the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force. The purpose of this article is to also commemorate and show our gratitude to those warrior SEALS who responded to the call of their homeland and did not hesitate to charge into the waters of North Vietnam.
Trần Ðỗ Cẩm
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