Most of the Coastal Security Service personnel were military and the majority were from the RVN Navy. On occasion a very small number were recruited from the Army Infantry. The Coastal Security Service worked alongside the U.S. Naval Advisory Detachment in assigning the missions to various teams, training and PT Boat maintenance. Administratively, the Coastal Security Service personnel were detailed to their jobs by the Navy. The Coastal Security Service commanders were all experienced Navy personnel with long service records and as many as four of them were subsequently promoted to the rank of commodore.
In addition to a number of administrative units, Coastal Security Service had two principal subordinate parts which were the Sea Patrol Force and the SEAL force, often referred to simply as the SEALS.
1. Sea Patrol Force
The Sea Patrol Force had the most personnel and could be viewed as the nucleus of the Coastal Security Service yet some of the of its staff, including regular Navy personnel, had seldom heard of the Coastal Security Service. In reality, the Sea Patrol Force was simply one unit of the Coastal Security Service as were the SEALS. In order to understand this more clearly it will be necessary for the reader to become familiar with the duties, billets, personnel and equipment as well as the various activities of the Sea Patrol Force.
The principal duty of the Sea Patrol Force was to carry out special seaborne military operations against North Vietnam in its territorial waters north of the 17th Parallel. In this regard, we can look at the Sea Patrol Force as similar to Squadron 219 of the RVN Air Force which undertook infiltration of the North by helicopter. However, in addition to dropping off and retrieving the various SEAL teams in the coastal areas of North Vietnam, the PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force also achieved many specialized missions. Some of these, which will be mentioned later, included shelling the enemy, confiscating ships in the area and engaging in psychological warfare, etc.
B. Base Locations
The base location of the Sea Patrol Force was right next to the Deep Water Pier and the military harbor complex at the foot of Monkey Mountain on Sơn Chà Peninsula in Ðà Nẵng. This was also the location where large U.S. freighters offloaded their cargo and U.S. Navy troop transports were docked. This spot was not far from the RVN Military Coastal Region 1 Headquarter (Bộ Tư Lệnh Hải Quân Vùng 1 Duyên Hải). To get there from the City of Ðà Nẵng it was necessary to go through a control point at Cầu Trắng (White Bridge), pass the Deep Water Pier on the left and arrive at the Sea Patrol Force base on the right. Somewhat further along was the Headquarters of the South Vietnamese Naval Headquarter of Coastal Military Region 1 mentioned above.
The base consisted of two long single-storied structures that were parallel to each other and had fibro-cement sheathing on the roofs. The billet which was situated on higher ground at the base of the mountain was reserved for officers and the building on the other side near the road housed the boat crews. The officer quarters were divided into many small rooms to which two men were assigned and every four occupants shared one of the bathrooms. The crew quarters consisted of long barracks in which the crew of each PT Boat slept together.
In addition to the barracks there were also other facilities such as recreation areas and warehouses, etc…
Across a small road directly opposite the base and near the Deep Water Pier was the docking area for the PT Boats as well as the repair and maintenance facilities of the Mobile Support Teams.
From the time that the Infiltration by Sea Teams were first set up in 1956 until the Coastal Security Service was officially founded at the beginning of 1964, the means of transport changed with the times and according to the requirements of the mission. In the beginning the infiltration teams used regular fishing junks. Later however, more modern PT Boats were used and in the end high speed or fast PT Boats were employed.
In the beginning, as we well know, the Seaborne Infiltration Force (Toán Xâm Nhập Ðường Biển) was set up under the direction of the CIA and consisted of Nautilus junks. These were fairly large wooden boats that were enclosed and measured thirty meters in length. They looked like all the other fishing boats that operated in the Gulf of Tonkin. The junks, powered by sails and engines had a top speed of less than ten nautical miles per hour. Armament consisted of a heavy machine gun and the individual weapons that were manned by the crew.
Until the middle of 1963 there were seven Nautilus junks in Ðà Nẵng, numbered from one to seven, that were used to infiltrate coastal areas of North Vietnam. They operated under the command of Captain Ngô Thế Linh who himself belonged to the Special Forces that were led by Colonel Lê Quang Tung. Most of the crews of the Nautilus junks were civilians who had evacuated South from the northern provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh or Nùng ethnic minorities who were born in North Vietnam. A number of American and Vietnamese officers trained the crews and the infiltration teams. The crews of the various junks changed or were augmented according to the requirements of each mission.
During 1962-1963 many infiltration missions in North Vietnam to resupply, land SEAL teams or carry out raids were successful because the junks could easily blend in with the local fishing vessels in the area. However, the junks were very slow and routinely took 24 hours to travel the distance from the base in Ðà Nẵng to the Quảng Khê target area situated just south of the 18th Parallel. And, as time wore on improved intelligence sources allowed the enemy to map the routes taken by the Nautilus junks with some precision. For these reasons, the Nautilus program was then being viewed as ineffective. A case in point was the mission to attack the communist naval base at Quảng Khê on June 28, 1962. Due to a combination of weak firepower and slow speed a Nautilus II junk was pursued and sunk by an enemy patrol craft. From that moment on, the CIA replaced the Nautilus junks with fast patrol craft (PCF) which were known as Swifts. They were much faster than the junks and had more firepower.
The Swift Boats
Due to the fact that the Nautilus junks had outlived their usefulness in the effort to infiltrate North Vietnam, they were replaced in mid 1963 by three fast PCFs which were known affectionately as Swifts. These Swift Boats were relatively small with a range that extended to the Northern seaport of Ðồng Hới. Later, during the Vietnamization program, the RVN Navy outfitted many of these Swifts to become units of the RVN Coast Guard.
The Swift was a snub-nosed aluminum PT Boat about 50 feet in length which was manufactured by Seward Seacraft in Burwick, Lousiana. It was a 19 ton vessel with a draft of 3.5 feet and was powered by two diesel engines that provided enough thrust to achieve a top speed of about 28 nautical miles per hour. It was armed with a twin .50 caliber machine gun and an 81 millimeter mortar that was piggybacked with another .50 caliber machine gun. The craft was fully operable with a crew of five.
Compared with the Nautilus junks, the Swifts were fast and had a heavy firepower capability but they had a relatively short operating range that allowed them to go only as far North as Ðồng Hới which is located about 60 nautical miles north of the 17th Parallel. They were not able to compete against the faster P-4 or the Swatow boats of the North Vietnamese which were equipped with a 37 millimeter cannon. For that reason as well as the tactical requirements of the missions, the Coastal Security Service was equipped in early 1964 with what were known as Fast Torpedo Patrol Boats (PTF) which were larger, faster and had a greater range as well as heavier firepower. The use of these fast torpedo boats and Vietnamese frogmen was officially proposed by the U.S. Special Operations Unit in a document dated September 27, 1962.
The Fast Torpedo Patrol Boats (PTF)
There was a total of three types of these fast boats that were used in Vietnam: first, the WW2 vintage fast torpedo boats, then the Nasty boat that was made in Norway and finally the U.S. built “Osprey.” A special point was made of dismantling the torpedo tubes on all of these boats because the targets in North Vietnam consisted of only small ships that did not require the use of such a weapon. Other armament on board was also modified to meet the specific needs of the assigned missions.
The fast PT Boats were put under the authority of the Mobile Support Team (MST), which at that time in March, 1964 was commanded by Lieutenant Burton Knight and operated under the direction of MACSOG in Saigon. As for the upper level chain of command, MACSOG was responsible to the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities who reported to the Pentagon and Committee 303 at the National Security Council with input from the National Security Administration. Of course, the U.S. personnel in Ðà Nẵng who comprised the Naval Operation Support Group placed the base in Coronado, California under the direction of Colonel Phil H. Bucklew. This group had the responsibility for the special activities of the U.S. Navy in the Pacific as well as for the management of the teams that provided the Special Operations Group with the logistics support for its operations in Vietnam.
The Early Fast PT Boats
The first two fast PT Boats that were equipped for the Sea Patrol Force were the type used in WW2 and were similar to former President John F. Kennedy’s PT 109. Nicknamed the gas boats they had a Packard engine that ran on airplane fuel. From the beginning, those officials familiar with the missions of the SEALS in Ðà Nẵng and Saigon did not approve of the use of these old PT Boats but were under orders from Washington to try them out. For that reason the U.S. Navy, in January, 1963, outfitted two PT Boats, the PT-810 and the PT-811, that had been kept in reserve in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
These were WW2 type torpedo boats but were built in 1950. The original equipment included torpedo tubes, 40 millimeter cannons fore and aft, two 20 millimeter cannons and a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on each side. In contrast to the Nasty boats, these two ships retained their forward 40 millimeter guns and added two .50 caliber machine guns. Both PT Boats were renamed PTF-1 and PTF-2. After test runs both PT Boats ran into quite a few technical problems and were returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard for repairs. About this time, the U.S. Navy received two new PT Boats that had been procured in Norway. Known by their Norwegian name “Nasty.” Both boats were renamed after they arrived in Vietnam as PTF-3 and PTF-4.
On January 19, 1964, both PT Boats, PTF-1 and PTF-2, were carried by the U.S. warship Pioneer Myth from Norfolk, Virginia and arrived at Subic Bay, the Philippines in February. Some time in March, 1964, they arrived in Vietnam. At this time the Nasty PTF-3 and PTF-4 were already in Vietnam having arrived at the end of February. When PTF-1 and PTF-2 were given dry runs in Ðà Nẵng, it was noticed that they were not safe and reliable for many reasons.
First, a gasoline powered boat could explode very easily if hit by a round during one of its missions. Second, the engine backfired very noisily and was loud when it was running and, thirdly, it was very difficult to restart after it was stopped as the engine components seemed to hang up when it was hot. The third reason created a very dangerous situation because it was necessary to shut down the engine to avoid excessive noise when the crew was delivering or retrieving a team but it was also necessary to be able to quickly restart the engine in an emergency. Finally, the engine usually died when the boat was shifted into reverse. However, with all its faults the gasoline powered boats had lots of firepower and a relatively high speed that made them very effective in attack or fire support missions.
In addition to the safety concerns mentioned above, when these older model PT Boats broke down, which they did in short order, it was difficult to procure spare parts for them. Moreover, there was another obstacle to using the PT Boats that had been built in the U.S. and that involved U.S. law according to which the means of transportation and armament that could be used in commando operations could not be sent beyond U.S. borders. To do otherwise would create diplomatic problems. The older model PT Boats participated in quite a few operations but they ran into mechanical difficulties during their activities on July 30th and August 8, 1964. Shortly after, both the PTF-1 and the PTF-2 were replaced with more modern boats that were built in Norway.
There was a total of two older PT Boats that were used in the Sea Patrol Forces. One of the two commanders commented on these gasoline powered boats as follows:
The engine did not run smoothly when idling and made a strange roaring sound. Starting the engine was very difficult. When it first kicked over it belched a large backfire and blew out a large fireball for a distance of a meter and a half. The large propeller churned up the water forcefully so that when the boat was docked or in port it created large waves. The engine only ran well at top speed and easily cut off when it was going slow. It created problems for the mechanics who had to stand over the engine to make sure it didn’t shut down. Once off, the engine was very difficult to start and sometimes drained all the air from the pressure tank which supplemented the battery power. The top speed was very fast at 35 to 40 nautical miles per hour with a full load of fuel and 40 to 45 when it was returning with its fuel tanks near empty. There was not a ship around that would pull alongside or go head to head with us. And the commanders of the other boats often referred to us as the pair of sea monsters.
The PT Boats were equipped with two 40 and two 20 millimeter cannons, as well as two .50 caliber machine guns. Our missions were only attack raids and did not involve dropping or retrieving any personnel so they were leisurely and always successful. The missions of the other boats included drops and pickups that sometimes were delayed due to bad timing or other obstacles. Many times the trips were uneventful but there were occasions when long waits were necessary.
Norwegian Fast Patrol Boats (Nasty). Due to the insurmountable weaknesses inherent in the above mentioned gassers the Sea Patrol Force was equipped with the Nasty at the end of 1965. The Nasty was the most modern PT Boat in the world at that time and built jointly by the Norwegian Navy and West Germany.
The architect of the Nasty PT Boat was Jan H. Lingen of Norway who drew up the plans after conferring with officers of the Royal Norwegian Navy and incorporating the best characteristics of both the American built PT Boats and the British Fairmile “D.” This type of coastal patrol boat could carry a crew of nineteen. The first Nasty PT Boat built for the Norwegian Navy was known by the acronym KNM TJELT (P-343). Norway built a total of 42 Nasty PT Boats which included 20 for itself, six for Greece, two for Turkey and 14 for the U.S. to use in Vietnam.
The first two Nasty PT Boats were turned over to the U.S. Navy in 1963 at Little Creek, Virginia and after testing were named PTF-3 and PTF-4. On May 3, 1963, both ships proceeded to San Diego, California for training. On September 17th, both PT Boats were carried by the warship Point Defiance (Landing Ship Dock – LSD-31) to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and on to Subic Bay in the Philippines one month later.
At Subic Bay both ships were fitted with extra fuel tanks in order to extend their operating range. The 40 millimeter gun on the foredeck was replaced by an 81 millimeter mortar with a .50 caliber machine gun which was piggybacked On February 22, 1964, both boats were taken to the USS Carter Hall for transport to Vietnam. However, while being loaded, PTF-3 suffered major damage to its hull as a result of a freak swell and had to return to Subic Bay for repairs. PTF-3 finally arrived in Ðà Nẵng at the end of February, 1964.
On February 1, 1964, Norway turned over an additional four Nasty PT Boats at its harbor at Bergen. They were called PTF-5, 6, 7 and 8 respectively. They were loaded on the USS Point Barrow (AKD-1) for transport to Subic Bay on March 3rd. Following their refitting and upgrading, these Nasty PT Boats arrived in Vietnam a few months later.
The Nasty PT Boat had a special laminated wooden hull and weighed 75 tons. It was 24.7 feet wide with a displacement of 3.7 feet in the front and 6.1 feet in the rear. It could carry 18 tons or 6,100 gallons of fuel which at moderate speed would give it a range of 1,000 nautical miles. The British built Napier and Deltic had an 18 cylinder engine that could deliver a speed of 35 nautical miles per hour when it was fully loaded and maintain a maximum tactical speed that could approach 50 when it was not carrying a lot of fuel.
As for weaponry, the Nasty was equipped with an 81 millimeter cannon-typed mortar mortar with a .50 caliber machine gun piggybacked on the foredeck. A 40 millimeter cannon was mounted on the rear deck and each side was protected by a 20 millimeter cannon. Navigation equipment included electronic positioning devices, sonic depth finder and Decca radar that was effective within a range of 50 nautical miles. The main screen was situated in the Combat Information Center (CIC) and repeater units were located on the bridge. The radar was usually used for operations or navigation but the antenna could be tilted to 15 degrees when necessary to use as an air defense mechanism. Although the radar was up to date at that time the electronic circuitry used light emitting diodes that easily became loose or burned out in rough seas. The radio system also included voice as well as a conventional signal system.
A special feature of the Nasty was the ease of handling which allowed the ship captain to control the engines from the bridge without having to pass along an order during a tactical operation or in an emergency. The bridge was uncovered without a place to sit and relatively low so as to offer less wind resistance. When navigating at high speed the front half of the ship often came up out of the water and when it hit a wave going in the opposite direction it rose and then slammed down as if it were galloping. Anyone on the bridge had to assume a defensive position and be prepared to roll with the ship in order to prevent himself from being soaked by the splashing waves. The laminated hull of the Nasty was tough and able to withstand the rough seas without breaking or cracking. With these special characteristics, the Nasty PT Boats were well liked by their commanders and became the backbone of the Sea Patrol Force.
In order to replace a number of Nasty PT Boats that required long term repairs or were damaged while carrying out their missions, the Sea Patrol Force received a number of U.S. made fast PT Boats known as the “Osprey.” These boats, of which we received six around the middle of 1968, were built by John Trumpy and Sons of Annapolis, Maryland.
The Osprey was modeled after the Norwegian Nasty except that the hull was constructed of aluminum instead of wood. The Osprey was air conditioned and well suited to the long missions it was undertaking. Although it was rumored that the aft section of the Osprey was prefabricated in Norway, its hull was made of aluminum so that it remained heavier than the Nasty. It did have a speed that was about five nautical miles slower than the Nasty and it rode somewhat higher in the water. While the armament was the same on both ships the aluminum hull of the Osprey could not withstand the wear and tear of bad weather. It was usually carried high by the waves and then slammed down with the result that cracks appeared in the hull after only six months in operation. For that reason four of these PT Boats were brought to Vietnam for testing but were subsequently returned to the U.S. and became PTF-23, 24, 25 and 26 in the Navy.
Before getting into the special and more important aspects of the manpower that made up the Sea Patrol Force, it is necessary to mention the earlier sea infiltration teams that could be viewed as the forerunners of the Sea Patrol Force and the Coastal Security Service.
According to superficial World and American public opinion, special forces operations aimed at North Vietnam were wholly organized by the RVN itself and the personnel involved were all Vietnamese. However, in reality there were a number of Taiwanese and third country personnel that were recruited by the CIA and participated in the program in its early stages. Just as the CIA hired Taiwanese personnel to pilot the planes that dropped special forces in North Vietnam, it also hired third country personnel to be used for commando raids that originated in Ðà Nẵng.
In the beginning while Nautilus junks were in use and the crews were all Vietnamese, the majority originated from the provinces of Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh or were Nùng ethnic minorities who had come South as refugees. The Nautilus junks were disguised to look exactly like North Vietnamese fishing junks and in order to infiltrate among them the crews were Vietnamese who looked like the local fishermen. The majority of the landing teams were also Vietnamese. However, in spite of that, there were some early missions in the Móng Cái area near the Vietnamese/Chinese border that utilized frogmen from Nationalist China but they may have only participated in actions that actually took place in the territory of China.
Later, due to mission requirements, the CIA replaced the Nautilus junks with Swift patrol boats. But because they were new and modern, the civilian Vietnamese were not qualified to operate them. So the CIA hired a number of third country personnel to serve as commanders. According to U.S. documents and a recent interview with Sven Oste, a Swede, all the Swift commanders were Norwegian nationals. (Mr. Oste interviewed two of the Norwegians, each of whom had served as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam).
In addition to the Norwegian commander, each boat had three Vietnamese civilians: a helmsman, a gunner and an interpreter. The three Norwegian commanders were often referred to in a joking manner as the “Vikings.” They were recruited in Norway in July, 1963 and completed their final mission on May 27, 1964. They left Vietnam in June, 1964 when their contract expired. The consensus was that the Norwegian commanders were relatively capable and effectively carried out their assigned missions.
After the contract of the Norwegians expired in June, 1964, a number of Chinese were recruited as replacements but by the time their training was completed, the Swifts were no longer being used in missions north of the 17th Parallel.
In the beginning, the infiltrated landing teams had a number of third country nationals, such as the Nationalist Chinese, who participated in early missions near the Vietnamese/Chinese border. However, following that all personnel were SEALS, the majority coming from the ranks of the frogmen of the RVN Navy.
Early on the CIA hired German nationals to be trained as skippers for the PTFs which would then operate with Vietnamese personnel and Nùng ethnic minorities in support positions. However as time went on the Germans were dismissed because they were usually inebriated. The Germans were under contract and used that as a basis for objecting to the dismissal but the CIA made a cash settlement and ended the matter amicably. The German group did not carry out even one mission with the PTFs. The first operations, which were undertaken in July and August, 1964, were all under the command of RVN naval officers. The great majority of those in the landing teams on board the PTFs were Vietnamese nationals and a few Nùng ethnic minorities.
From the moment that the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force were officially established, the crews of the PTFs and the Swifts were all military volunteers from the Navy of the RVN. Because the number of volunteers always exceeded the actual manpower requirement, selections were made very carefully and based on the operational experience, esprit de corps, physical condition and tactical ability of the applicant. Security background checks were also very rigorous as clearances were required at the secret and top secret level. Once selected every recruit had to sign a six month contract. When the volunteer signed the contract he enjoyed a salary level equal to all others be they officers or enlisted personnel. Additionally, each individual received a bonus for every mission north of the 17th Parallel and an allowance for food. The budget for this was provided by the U.S. Government. Each volunteer also drew his regular Navy salary on a monthly basis.
As for the volunteer selection process, an officer who served many years in the Sea Patrol Force put it this way:
In as much as our lives were inextricably involved with the fleet we were greeted one day by one of our superior officers who came down to talk to us about recruiting a number of young naval officers to carry out a special assignment aboard a PT Boat. While an adventurous lot we were also admirers of the heroic image of President Kennedy when he was the commander of PT-109 during WW2. Therefore, it didn’t take us long to leave the fleet and take up this new challenge. Our class included six officers who when added to our six colleagues from Class 11 of the Naval Officer Academy (Khóa 11 Sĩ Quan Hải Quân) became the first young officer group for the Sea Patrol Force.
Once a volunteer signed a contract to enter the Sea Patrol Force he was no longer under the control of the Navy. He had become a member of the Special Forces and was not required to wear his Navy uniform except for flag raising ceremonies on Monday mornings or when high ranking personnel came to visit. While on base most of the volunteers usually wore the uniform of the RVN infantry and then donned the simple black outfit of the local peasants when they went on a mission. They also changed their identity and used an alias. As for mail, that was received through a box number that was used for the entire force.
In the beginning the landing teams fired time-delayed rockets at their targets. These were in addition to the regular armament with which each PT Boat was equipped. However, because the rockets were lacking in accuracy the teams subsequently used 57 millimeter recoilless rifles for fire reinforcement. These mobile recoilless gun nests could be set up anywhere as they did not need a permanent mount. They were usually placed on the deck at the base of the 81 millimeter mortar whenever a target on shore was being shelled. The entire landing team also practiced firing the 57 millimeter recoilless rifle from the shoulder position so that it could be used from a small inflatable boat. In addition to the 57 millimeter recoilless, there were also 90 and 106 millimeter weapons but they were not used on a regular basis. There were also many types of time-delayed mines that were used by the SEALS in various sapper missions. As for personal weapons, the landing teams used the AK-47 of the Communist Bloc or the Swedish made submachine gun, also known as the K-gun.
F. Intelligence and Aerial Photography
Before setting out on a mission the boat commanders and the landing team leaders usually received a briefing on the enemy situation and also examined the latest aerial photographs of the target area. Intelligence was often provided by prisoners or local fishermen who had been captured for that purpose. Most of the aerial photos were taken by the top secret U-2 aircraft whose high altitude put it well beyond the range of North Vietnamese planes or anti-aircraft fire. The U-2 planes usually took off from Biên Hòa near Saigon or from Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
Two U-2 spy planes were permanently based at the Biên Hòa airfield. U-2 aerial photography was the principal source of intelligence for OPLAN-34A. Typically, a U-2 would photograph the target early in the morning when a mission was scheduled. By noon the photos were in the office of MACSOG in Saigon. Sometimes the aerial photographs were made at lower altitudes by a pilotless drone or taken by planes that flew at night and used radarscope photography.
G. Esprit De Corps
Naturally there was an inherent danger each time the 17th Parallel was crossed to carry out a mission. However, any worry or uneasiness was not caused by the presence of enemy forces but by the feeling that it was very insecure to operate behind enemy lines. During the first missions, even though we followed a sea route, everyone became tense when we entered the territorial waters of the enemy by passing the imaginary 17th Parallel. By contrast, when we returned to our own seas everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Over time familiarity with the missions made the operations less stressful. Moreover, compared with the patrol boats of the North Vietnamese, the fast PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force had greater fire power and faster speed which always provided us with an advantage. So, early jitters dissipated over time but we still had to be very cautious and focus on achieving the mission. Having served in the River Assault Group (RAG) in South Vietnam we observed that cross border missions in the North were a lot less dangerous. The various operations in the narrow canals and streams of South Vietnam made our boats good passive targets for the enemy since he could hide in the brush on both sides of the waterways and ambush us at any moment. Conversely, the modern PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force were out on the open seas and always maintained the offensive.
Every mission across the 17th Parallel was a great adventure as well as a challenge and each of them was relatively short, seldom exceeding a 24 hour period. With appropriate compensation and not really a lot of danger, the esprit de corps of the Sea Patrol Force remained extremely high. Proof of this lay in the fact that lots of crew members volunteered to serve with other crews that were short handed, even though it may not have been their turn. These volunteers often went on two or three times as many missions than they would have had they simply stayed with the crews to which they were assigned.
2. Navy SEALS
A CIA directed base was established at Mỹ Khê beach in November, 1962 so that American SEALS, an acronym that stands for sea, air and land, could provide training for the landing teams. While the base was under the authority of the CIA until 1964, the training was done entirely by the SEALS.
Mỹ Khê is located in the eastern part of the Tiên Sha Peninsula which runs north from the base of Monkey Mountain to Marble Mountain, both of which the local inhabitants know by Vietnamese names. The Tien Sha Peninsula is part of a larger area east of the City of Ðà Nẵng. All of the SEAL bases were located along the beach at Mỹ Khê. The SEAL teams lived and trained in individual camps which were relatively small and accommodated up to no more that about 30 or 40 trainees. There was one camp known as Romulus that was reserved for SEALS who were recruited from infantry units and another called Vega which was used exclusively for SEALS that were formerly Navy frogmen and a third that provided training exclusively in underwater demolition. In addition there was one camp reserved for the Nùng ethnic minority contingent that served as guards at the camps.
Sometime in 1964 a team of U.S. Navy SEALS began training Vietnamese SEAL teams under the command of Captain Cathal L. Flynn. The various SEAL teams were trained in the techniques of paddling an inflatable raft, landing on the beach, swimming underwater and using explosives, etc. They were also provided at the outset with arms training that consisted of using the 3.5 inch time-delayed rocket which was furnished by the CIA.
In principle, a team could land near the target, fire a rocket and then beat a hasty retreat back to base before the time-delayed fuse detonated the round. However, this type of rocket was ineffective because it was not very accurate. The time-delayed system often malfunctioned and the fact that it could explode unexpectedly made it especially dangerous. This rocket was used a few times in North Vietnamese landings but was later sidelined as ineffective in favor of the 57 millimeter recoilless rifle. This weapon was a light cannon that directed the explosive blast out the rear instead of requiring that it be set firmly on a base to absorb the recoil.
In March, 1964, Navy Captain Trịnh Hòa Hiệp of the Frogmen Unit of the RVN Navy was assigned to command the Vietnamese SEALS at Mỹ Khê. This team was very effective and produced excellent results.
VIII. SOME ACTIVITIES
During its approximately ten year period of operation, the Nautilus junks and the PT Boats of the Sea Patrol Force as well as the SEAL teams carried out thousands of assignments of every variety. Following are those missions worthy of mention.
1. Nautilus Junk Operations
Although the Nautilus junks were in operation since 1956 their first assignments were supply trips in support of the underground teams in North Vietnam and they occurred only rarely, perhaps once or twice a year. Later, in 1962 and 1963 Nautilus operations became more regular and had more positive objectives. Following are a number of activities that are representative of those undertaken by the Coastal Security Service and the Sea Patrol Force teams during this period:
Mission of Nautilus I, January 12, 1962. At 5 AM on January 12, 1962, Nautilus Junk I left Ðà Nẵng on its way to North Vietnam to carry out a liaison and supply mission for the operatives who were underground in the North. After a trouble free two-day trip in the Gulf of Tonkin, Nautilus I arrived at the point of contact at Hòn Gai. Shortly before arrival an agent known as Ares (which actually was Phạm Chuyên, a spy working for North Vietnam) requested many essential supplies including a radio. Except for the captain of the Nautilus, the crew was very young and not clear about the purpose of the operation. Not long before that, under the authority of the agency for coastal penetration, Nautilus I put a person named Quang safely ashore at Hà Tĩnh near Ðèo Ngang. Other crew members also went ashore a number of times to mingle with the local fishermen for the purpose of gathering information.
When it arrived at Hon Gai, Nautilus I anchored near a small island and pretended to be fishing as it waited for nightfall. After dark the Nautilus I followed the secret signal of Agent Ares and when it arrived at the specified location it was ambushed. The junk and its entire crew fell into the hands of the enemy. Agent Ares was never heard from again!
Mission of Nautilus II, June 28 1962. On June 28, 1962, the crew of Nautilus II left Ðà Nẵng to undertake a special mission north of the 17th Parallel. The objective was to put four frogmen ashore at the mouth of the Gianh River where they would place mines to destroy the Swatow ships of the Communists at the Quảng Khê Naval Base which was located nearby. Their names were Lê Văn Kinh, Nguyễn Hữu Thảo, Nguyên Văn Tâm and Lê Văn Chuyên. All four were members of the first 18-membered team of RVN frogmen who were sent to Taiwan for training in August, 1960.
After arriving on site, the frogmen, who were part of the underwater demolition team, prepared to put the mines in place. No one knew why, but unfortunately, a mine exploded prematurely and fatally wounded one of the frogmen. The explosion alerted the Communist Coast Guard and one of its boats gave chase. The Nautilus II headed back to the 17th Parallel at full speed but the Communist patrol boat was faster and managed to catch up and sink the Nautilus II near the 17th Parallel. CIA personnel in Ðà Nẵng had heard voice communications among the Communist vessels but were unable to do anything to come to the aid of Nautilus II.
The result was that the team leader of the frogmen, Lê Văn Kinh and one other named Nguyễn Văn Tâm were captured. There was only one person who escaped from the Nautilus II by hiding under the sail of the sunken ship and he was later picked up by a rescue mission that originated in Ðà Nẵng.
A Mission in July, 1962. In this mission an agent named Nguyễn Châu Thanh was successfully landed in the area of Hà Tĩnh. According to the plan, the crew of Nautilus III was assigned this mission but at the last minute it was given to the crew of another vessel.
Mission of Nautilus VII. In July, 1963 Team Dragon consisted of six Nùng ethnic minority personnel under the command of Mộc A Tài whose mission was to land in the area of Móng Cái, which is located on the Chinese border with North Vietnam, and proceed to destroy a coastal radar facility. Additionally, Team Dragon was given unlimited authority in this area that was heavily populated by the Nùng and therefore well-known to all of them. They were to contact some former soldiers who had served in the 22nd Infantry Division of the RVN under the command of Colonel Wòng A. Sáng and had remained underground in the North since the evacuation to the South in 1954. The Topographical Service had contacted Colonel Sang to learn about the status of these former soldiers who were still underground in that locality. If they were located by Team Dragon they would be used as guides and for other tasks related to the mission.
The junk Nautilus VII had the responsibility to transport Team Dragon to the drop off point. The crew of the Nautilus had been warned to be careful in following a prescribed sea route in order to avoid being picked up by the radar station on Hải Nam Island and thus be discovered invading the territorial waters of North Vietnam. Unfortunately, the Nautilus was discovered when it reached the drop off point and the landing team had gone ashore. Nautilus VII later returned to Ðà Nẵng but a number of the crew and all of the landing team had been captured. One of those who had been captured related the following:
The missions to invade by sea were very successful. The proof is that I completed eleven assignments before being caught. Our operations could be divided into three categories which were: observation runs to gather intelligence, trips to drop off commandos and destructive raids on enemy targets. We had a total of seven junks and the crew members were always rotating. For example, in the beginning I was with the team of Nautilus II and then served with Nautilus IV and finally went with Nautilus VII when I was captured. Nautilus IV infiltrated the major North Vietnamese port of Hải Phòng twice and returned safely both times. Though our missions were often in distant locations such as at Móng Cái near the Chinese/North Vietnamese border and in the area of Ðèo Ngang which is located in the province of Hà Tĩnh, we successfully completed them on numerous occasions. As far as I know, Nautilus II was the only junk that was lost during its mission to transport frogmen to lay mines at Quảng Khê in June, 1962.
2. Operations of the PTF’s
There are no documents concerning the activities of the Swifts and the fast patrol boats prior to 1964 when foreigners from Germany and Norway served as boat commanders under the direction of the CIA. However, many successful missions were carried out after 1964 when the Coastal Security Service was established and the PT Boats were operating under the command of the RVN Navy. It is also necessary to add that all the MACSOG missions were of a strategic rather than a tactical nature. Therefore, emphasis was not placed on destroying targets or neutralizing lots of enemy soldiers but on gathering intelligence, psychological operations and creating havoc behind enemy lines.
Throughout approximately eight years of operation, the fast patrol boats and the Sea Patrol Force accomplished about 1,000 raids into the territorial waters of North Vietnam, most of these occurring during the five year period from 1965 to 1970. Of special interest was the fact that during the period when U.S. aircraft were bombing North Vietnam, some naval crews were undertaking six or seven missions per month.
The Sea Patrol Force had 12 teams which were simply numbered 1 through 12 and each crew consisted of 19 people. There were also 12 fast patrol boats so that theoretically each boat had its own crew. Therefore the first boat was sometimes referred to as the first crew and vice versa. A fast patrol boat of the Sea Patrol Force never operated alone north of the 17th Parallel. Every mission included from two to four fast patrol boats depending on the importance and location of the objective. Every crew was assigned to a particular boat but when it went on a mission only the best boats were utilized. Therefore, it was quite routine for the crew of one vessel to on occasion man another.
Following are a number of typical operations that took place in June, 1964.
On June 12th, two boat crews dropped off landing teams at two different locations in the Tonkin Gulf. One team landed in the area of Cửa Ron which was located in the province of Hà Tĩnh and the other landed further north in the province of Thanh Hóa. The group at Cửa Ron used a 57 millimeter recoilless rifle to destroy a North Vietnamese military outpost at Hải Khẩu. The team at Thanh Hóa used explosives to destroy the bridge at Hàng River. All 26 of the team members returned to the PT Boat unharmed.
In the early morning of June 27th, a group of seven demolition experts worked together with a 24-man support team to blow up a bridge on National Route 1 near the province of Thanh Hóa. They killed two soldiers who were guarding the bridge and four other North Vietnamese troops. The team suffered no casualties.
At dawn on July 1st, a team of about 30 used a 57 millimeter recoilless rifle to destroy a building that housed the water works at the mouth of the Kiên River which was located near the coastal city of Ðồng Hới. Sometime just after midnight Fast Patrol Boats 5 and 6 landed a party by inflatable raft. As the landing team made its way back on board the enemy opened fire. The two patrol boats came in close to the shore to provide fire support with their 20 and 40 millimeter cannons. Two of the landing party were lost but the others captured two enemy soldiers. Later, the North Vietnamese let it be known that one of those captured was a commando who confirmed that his landing team had indeed destroyed the Hàng River Bridge on June 27th. He also said that all of the commandos were well trained and familiar with the technique of having a force land to destroy a target and then beating a hasty retreat by returning to the boats with little difficulty. Finally, he stated that the commandos preferred going ashore by sea rather than being dropped in by air because it was safer and the support was more effective.
3. Psychological Warfare Operations
In addition to the missions to drop a team that would destroy a target or capture North Vietnamese cadre or soldiers, the fast patrol boats undertook missions on the high seas that did not require a landing party. These operations included searching for enemy documents on the fishing junks and capturing a few local fishermen for interrogation, shelling targets on shore and dropping psywar leaflets on the coastal population centers, etc.
Leaflet drops usually took place in the highly populated areas south of the 18th Parallel. Large quantities of them were placed in the shell of an 81 millimeter mortar that was fired into the coastal villages and communities from the fast patrol boats when they were 1,500 to 2,000 meters offshore. The shell would explode overhead like a flare and the leaflets would flutter down from the sky. Sometimes the fast patrol boats also distributed radios wrapped in waterproof plastic in the villages along the coast so that the population could listen to South Vietnamese radio stations such as the Voice of Freedom (Tiếng Nói Tự Do), Mother of Vietnam (Mẹ Việt Nam) or the Sacred Sword of Patriotism (Gươm Thiên Ái Quốc).