Disclosed for the First Time
The Navy of the Republic of Vietnam
Was Active in the Gulf of Tonkin
"THE GULF RAIDERS"
The Navy of the Republic of
Vietnam (RVN) expanded as the war intensified. To keep pace with the
developing situation on the battlefield, large warships such as destroyers
and cruisers, etc., were added to the fleet and units with special
responsibilities were established. These included the Sea Patrol Force as
well as the Coastal Security Service with its amphibious forces that were
similar to U.S. Navy SEALS. Hundreds of modern PT Boats were turned over by
the U.S. Navy so that the RVN Navy could defend the coast from the 17th
Parallel to the Gulf of Thailand and also patrol the labyrinth of rivers and
canals that crisscross the 3rd and 4th Tactical Corps Areas, which includes
all of the land area in the Mekong Delta. Additionally, the RVN Navy
undertook special projects in the territorial waters north of the 17th
Parallel. The unit that implemented these special activities was the Coastal
Security Service. The Sea Patrol Force with the assistance of the frogmen
had operational responsibility and it was equipped with the fast and modern
PT Boats. Every member of these two units had secret or top secret security
clearances. The headquarters of the Coastal Security Service and the bases
of the Sea Patrol Force were located at Da Nang, a large city in Central
At no time did the RVN Navy ever disclose any data concerning its operations
against North Vietnam. Many intrepid members of the RVN Navy, such as Naval
Captains Luu Chuyen and Lien Phong, sacrificed their lives while doing their
duty in the Gulf of Tonkin. A number of others were captured and imprisoned
by the enemy.
In an effort to record the historic facts surrounding the activities of the
RVN Navy so that future researchers will have accurate data on which to base
their chronicles, the Federation of Associations of the RVN Navy and
Merchant Marine has set up a Commission of Naval History and appointed a
former Naval Captain as its first Chairman.
Now as we enter the third millennium, the Vietnamese Newspaper of Florida is
very happy to publish an article on this subject by Mr. Tran Do Cam, himself
a former PT Boat Commander with the RVN Sea Patrol Force, with historical
details concerning the activities of both units that have never before been
On the occasion of welcoming in the Lunar New Year, we wish to take a moment
to honor the brave warriors who paid the ultimate sacrifice in order to
protect the territorial integrity of the Fatherland and preserve both
freedom and democracy for their countrymen. We pray that the homeland will
be peaceful and prosperous and that our fellow citizens will escape from the
yoke of domination that is the Communist Party and make vigorous progress in
the new millennium.
Mr. Chu Ba Yen, Editor
Annual Yearbook - Directory
Florida Vietnamese Newspaper
P.O. Box 277625, Mirama, FL 33027-7625
Excerpted in its entirety from page 80 and translated from the Vietnamese by
Donald C. Brewster, May, 2000.
A SPECIAL NAVAL UNIT OF THE
REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM
The Coastal Security Service
Tran Do Cam
Dedicated to the Comrades in Arms of the Coastal Security Service
The author reserves all publication rights. Please contact him
on the Internet at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
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 Tet Offensive and the incursions into Laos as well as the
battles at Quang Tri, Kontum and An Loc, 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 or Black Dragons and
Squadron 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 ӴeamԠhad 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 (SPF). In an operational sense SPF 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
SPF operated under the authority of the Coastal Security Service (CSS).
Before learning more about the organization and activities of the CSS, 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 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 SPF
of the RVN. I participated in more than two 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 SPF 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 authors whom we esteem and admire. They have worked
hard to research and collect material on the subject of the SPF and CSS of
the RVN. To them we give our heartfelt thanks.
In that the CSS 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 Invaded North
Right after the Geneva Peace Agreement that divided Vietnam into North and
South was signed in 1954, Mr. Allen Dulles, Director of the CIA, assigned
Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale to South Vietnam to assist Premier Ngo
Dinh Diem 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 Lansdaleҳ organization in
Vietnam was called the Saigon Military Mission 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
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 Nung and some were native to Mong
Cai, which is situated near Hai Phong. Others came from areas near the
Chinese 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 Nung 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 Nung 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 Pham Xuan
An 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
Ngo Dinh Diem organized a special intelligence unit to operate exclusively
under his control at the Palace. It was directed by Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen, a
native of Hue in Central Vietnam. One of the units under the authority of
Dr. Tuyen that included guerrilla activity was the Liaison Office which was
run by Colonel Le Quang Tung and his Deputy, Colonel Tran Khac Kinh. Captain
Le Quang Trieu, the younger brother of Colonel Le 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. In addition, Presidential Adviser Ngo Dinh Can also had his own
intelligence organizations in Central Vietnam.
The liaison office was divided into three parts known as the Northern
Operations Service, the Southern Operations Service and the First
1. Northern Operations Service
This service was also called Office 45 under the command of Infantry Captain
Ngo The 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.
2. Southern Operations Service
The southern service was also known as Office 55 and was under the command
of Infantry Captain Tran Van Minh. It was responsible for guerilla
operations within the territory of the RVN.
3. 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 Ngo Dinh Diem 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 Nguyen Cao Ky, undertook flights that dropped special force
paratroopers in the North.
The first flight occurred on May27,1961 when Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Cao
Ky 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 Son La,
a province not too far from the Chinese border. They were all Nung ethnic
minorities who had originated in Son 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 Ha Van Chap and had
been placed under the authority of the Topography Exploitation Service of
Office 45 also known as the Northern Operations Service. After completing
the mission the aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Ky 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
Quang Binh 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 The Linh. Captain Ngo The Linh was known affectionately
to all of us as Mr. Binh 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. Tran Quang Tuyen, with the
help of the American CIA, actually put two spies ashore in Quang Yen. Both
of these individuals, one who hailed from the RVN and the other, a
northerner named Pham Chuyen, landed safely. Pham Chuyen 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 Nemoҳ mysterious
submarine found in Jules Verneҳ 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 sailors in team 18 that had received special training in Taiwan in
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
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
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 Councilҳ Special Working Group agreed with
Admiral Feltҳ 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 Mortonҳ 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 Thanh 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.
V. 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 RVNҳ 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 d҅tat against President Ngo Dinh Diem 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 Diemҳ secret service, Dr. Tran Kim Tuyen and Colonel Le Quang Tung
no longer existed. Brigadier General Le Van Nghiem was assigned to the post
of Special Forces Commander and was replaced only a few months later by
Colonel Pham Dinh Thu. However, Office 45 or the Northern Operations Service
and Office 55 or the Southern Operations Service still remained under the
direction of Ngo The Linh and Tran Van 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 Da Nang for training at the
Cua Viet 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 Quang Khe Naval Base which was situated at the mouth of
the Giang River in Quang Binh Province and was also the location of the
Southern Sector Headquarters of North Vietnamҳ Navy. Before the mission
began the American advisers provided aerial reconnaissance photos of the
base at Quang Khe. While underway the mission was scrubbed due in part to
inclement weather. One of the frogmen who participated in the raid was Vu
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
Also on December 15, 1963, in response to high level directives, the U.S.
Navy set up a Mobile Support Team in Da Nang. 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 Da Nang. 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 Duong Van 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 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 ӡirԠteams had the most personnel as the
CIA left behind 169 Vietnamese who were still in training at Long Thanh, the
majority of them civilians.
On January 28, 1964, General Nguyen Khanhҳ takeover of the GVN or as he
called it, ӲeformԠslowed down the progress of MACSOG as the U.S. needed the
acceptance and cooperation of the new government. General Khanh was a
proponent of striking against the North so the Strategic Technical Service
was set up on February 12th under the direction of Colonel Tran Van Ho 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 which had formerly been directed by Colonel Le Quang Tung during the
time of the First Republic. Its name was later changed to the Strategic
Technical Directorate (STD).
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
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 CSS both worked right alongside the Naval Advisory
Detachment. These two organizations were often called NAD/CSS and they were
headquartered together to facilitate coordination at a place in Da Nang
known as the White Elephant. Those in command at CSS coordinated closely
with the Naval Advisory Detachment concerning the disposition of personnel
and the briefings and after action reports for each mission, etc. CSS 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 CSS which was under the jurisdiction of the Technical Service.
Most of the CSS personnel were military and the majority were from the RVN
Navy. On occasion a very small number were recruited from the Army Infantry.
The CSS worked alongside the U.S. Naval Advisory Detachment in assigning the
missions to various teams, training and PT Boat maintenance.
Administratively, the CSS personnel were detailed to their jobs by the Navy.
The CSS commanders were all experienced Navy personnel with long service
records and as many as four of them were subsequently promoted to the rank
In addition to a number of administrative units, CSS 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 CSS yet some of the of its staff, including regular Navy
personnel, had seldom heard of the CSS. In reality, the Sea Patrol Force was
simply one unit of the CSS 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
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 Da
Nangҳ Son Cha Peninsula. 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 1st Naval Coastal Zone Headquarters. To get
there from the City of Da Nang it was necessary to go through a control
point at Cau Trang, 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 1st Naval Coastal Zone 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
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 CSS 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.
- Nautilus Junks
In the beginning, as we well know, the Seaborne Infiltration Force 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 Da Nang,
numbered from one to seven, that were used to infiltrate coastal areas of
North Vietnam. They operated under the command of Captain Ngo The Linh who
himself belonged to the Special Forces that were led by Colonel Le Quang
Tung. Most of the crews of the Nautilus junks were civilians who had
evacuated South from the northern provinces of Nghe An and Ha Tinh or Nung
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 Da Nang to the Quang Khe 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 Quang Khe 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 ӓwiftsԮ 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 Dong
Hoi. 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 Dong Hoi 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 CSS 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 WW II vintage fast torpedo boats, then the ӎastyԠboat
that was made in Norway and finally the U.S. built ӏspreyԮ 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 Da
Nang 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
- Early Fast PT Boats
The first two fast PT Boats that were equipped for the Sea Patrol Force were
the type used in WW II and were similar to former President John F. Kennedyҳ
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 Da Nang 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 WW II 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
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 Da Nang, 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
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 ӰiggybackedԮ 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
Da Nang 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
As for weaponry, the Nasty was equipped with an 81 millimeter anti-aircraft
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.
- PTF Osprey
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 invasion 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 Da Nang.
In the beginning while Nautilus junks were in use and the crews were all
Vietnamese, the majority originated from the provinces of Nghe An and Ha
Tinh or were Nung 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
Mong Cai 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
In the beginning, the 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 Nung 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 Nung 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 WW II. 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 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
In the beginning the landing teams fired time delay 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 Bien Hoa near
Saigon or from Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
Two U-2 spy planes were permanently based at the Bien Hoa 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
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
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
2. Navy SEALS
A CIA directed base was established at My Khe 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
My Khe is located in the eastern part of the Tien 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 Da Nang. All of the SEAL bases were
located along the beach at My Khe. 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 Nung 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-delay 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-delay fuse detonated the round. However, this type
of rocket was ineffective because it was not very accurate. The time-delay
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 Trinh Hoa Hiep of the Frogmen Unit of the RVN
Navy was assigned to command the Vietnamese SEALS at My Khe. 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
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 Da Nang 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 Hon Gai.
Shortly before arrival an agent known as Ares 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 Ha Tinh near Deo 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!
Nautilus II Operations.
On June 28, 1962, the crew of Nautilus II left Da Nang 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 Quang Khe Naval Base
which was located nearby. Their names were Le Van Kinh, Nguyen Huu Thao,
Nguyen Van Tam and Le Van Chuyen. All four were members of the first team of
frogmen of the RVN Navy that totaled 18 and had received training in Taiwan
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 Da Nang had
heard voice communications among the Communist vessels but did nothing to
come to the aid of Nautilus II.
The result was that the team leader of the frogmen, Le Van Kinh and one
other named Nguyen Van Tam 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 Da Nang.
A Mission in July, 1962
In this mission an agent named Nguyen Chau Thanh was successfully landed in
the area of Ha Tinh. 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
Mission of Nautilus VII
In July, 1963 the Dragon Team consisted of six Nung ethnic minority
personnel under the command of Moc A Tai whose mission was to land in the
area of Mong Cai, which is located on the Chinese border with North Vietnam,
and proceed to destroy a coastal radar facility. Additionally, the Dragon
Team was given unlimited authority in this area that was heavily populated
by the Nung 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 Woon A. Sang 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 the Dragon Team they would be used as guides and for other tasks related
to the mission.
The junk Nautilus VII had the responsibility to transport the Dragon Team 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 Hai 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
Da Nang 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 invaded the major North Vietnamese port of Hai
Phong twice and returned safely both times. Though our missions were often
in distant locations such as at Mong Cai near the Chinese/North Vietnamese
border and in the area of Deo Ngang which is located in the province of Ha
Tinh, 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 Quang Khe in June, 1962".
2. Operations of the Fast Patrol Boats
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 CSS 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, naval crews were undertaking
six or seven missions per month.
The Sea Patrol Force had 12 teams which were simply numbered l 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,
- 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 Cua Ron which
was located in the province of Ha Tinh and the other landed further north in
the province of Thanh Hoa. The group at Cua Ron used a 57 millimeter
recoilless rifle to destroy a North Vietnamese military outpost at Hai Khau.
The team at Thanh Hoa used explosives to destroy the Hang River Bridge. 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 I near the province of Thanh Hoa. 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
Kien River which was located near the coastal city of Dong Hoi. 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 cannon. 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 Hang 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, Mother Vietnam or the Sacred Sword of Patriotism.
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 Dong Hoi. Six fishermen along with their junk
were brought to a place called Cu Lao Cham Island which was located off the
coast of Da Nang. 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 Cu Lao
Cham 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
Sometime later there were American documents alleging that the junks left
behind were rigged with explosives and left as floating booby 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 Dong Hoi and Quang Khe at least had
junks to fish with though they were quite rudimentary. Further north in the
area of Thanh Hoa and Nghe An the fishermen were so poor that they had no
junks at all. They had to use a type of raft 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 Lach Truong which
is the opening to the Sam Son Beach near Thanh Hoa. 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 naked
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 regimeҳ 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 Dong Hoi to Thanh Hoa. 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 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 Hon Me, 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 PTFs 3, 4, 5 and 6, were preparing
to go on an operation to land commandos who would then attack various
military outposts and a coastal radar facility near 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 Hon Nieu and three others were observed near Hon Me
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 Son when
enemy Swatow boats appeared. They may have come from the Quang Khe base that
was located near the mouth of the Gian 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 us.
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
Nieu and Hon Me for the purpose of using sapper charges to destroy various
military positions. Hon Me was located about 12 kilometers from shore and
around 19 degrees North in the open sea off Lach Tray, also known as Sam
Son. Hon Nieu lay further South and only about four kilometers off Ben Thuy
Harbor that is located at the city of Vinh in Nghe 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
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 Hon Me. 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 Hon Me, and the Southern
pair, which was made up of PTF-2 and 5, started moving toward the objective
at Hon Nieu.
The Northern PT Boats reached their target that was located in the Southern
area of Hon Me at 9:00 PM on July 31st. While it is called an island, Hon Me
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 Hon Me, 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 Hon
Me 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, 40 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
Hon Me 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 Hon Me 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 Hon Nieu. However,
perhaps because the enemy at Hon Me had sounded the alarm, the defenders at
Hon Nieu 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 Da Nang 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 Da Nang 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 Son and Cua 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 Son
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 tropedo
boats that were docked at the Quang Khe 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 Da Nang.
In the attacks that took place on Hon Ngu and Hon Me 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 Da
Nang 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 Son had been heavily damaged by the fire from the PT
Boats and was knocked out of commission.
X. North Vietnamese 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 Vietnamҳ 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 SO I escort vessels, 12 P-4 torpedo
boats and a number of Swatow PT Boats.
The SO 1 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 SO 1 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.
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.
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 Mui Dao which is north of Dong Hoi 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 vesselsԮ
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
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
XII. A Number of Mistakes and Disputed Facts Concerning the Sea Patrol
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 comradeҳ origins except when the
mission took place in the Da Nang area. The PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force
are also a source of much heated debate, especially among authors 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 Presidents 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 on page 15 that: There is good
evidence that the Nasty boat crews belonged to the South Vietnamese Navy and
wore uniforms while on operationsԮ 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
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 his book, The RVN Navy Goes to Sea, author Diep My 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
cannonԮ 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 Hon Cop. 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
Hon Cop 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 Hon Cop
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 the naked eye.
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 Hon Cop Island
by another name; Con Co Island. Speaking of this location a PT Boat
commander said: 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
Co 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.
Under ideal conditions the Kronstad boat 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
An article entitled, The SEALS and Sea Patrol: the Battle With Communist
Troops Along the Coast, was published in the Vietnamese newspaper, Economy,
on December 3, 1999. Its author, Vuong Hong Anh wrote that: ..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 Thanh 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
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 Da
Nang. 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
Writer, Vuong Hong Anh, also wrote about the mission to attack and destroy
boats belonging to the North Vietnamese Communists at Hon Cop as follows:
The first mission was undertaken by a SEALS team that secretly attacked and
destroyed a North Vietnamese Communist vessel at Hon Cop...
The Truth: The North Vietnamese Communists did not have a naval base at Hon
Cop 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 Dong Hoi. Based on our knowledge of the situation, the mission was
directed at the Quang Khe base that was located at the mouth of the Gianh
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 Da Nang 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 commander that 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 saw an armored vehicle that whisked these
two adventurous American friends away 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.
= = = = = = =
This article was excerpted in its entirety with the permission of the author
and the publisher from pages 80 to 107 of the Florida Vie Bao Directory
Yearbook, 2000 c/o Mr. Chu Ba Yen, Publisher, P.O. Box 277625, Miramar,
Florida 33027 - 7625
Translated from the Vietnamese language in June, 2000 by Donald C. Brewster,
Frederick, Maryland with the able assistance of the author, Mr. Tran Do Cam
of Austin, Texas. This translation is a result of our joint effort and In
the process of working together we became good friends during this Spring of
the new millennium.