River Assault Squadron FIFTEEN was commissioned with modest ceremony at San Diego, California on 11 May 1968. Commander Walter C. DEAL, Jr. took command. At this time the squadron was still in the process of being formed at Vallejo, California. Officers and personnel assigned to the squadron were undergoing training at the U.S. Naval Inshore Operations Training Center at Mare Island Naval Shipyard. The River Assault Craft were being built at various locations. On 4 June 1968, Commander DEAL commissioned River Assault Division 151, Lieutenant J.P. FERRARA commanding and River Assault Division 152, Lieutenant D.M. TOBOLSKI commanding.
Each River Division was to consist of thirteen Armored Troop Carriers (ATC), one or two Command Communication Boats (CCB), one or two Monitor Howitzers, one Monitor Flame and four Assault Support Patrol Boats (ASPB). Each division would have approximately 225 men assigned. The squadron staff was to consist of twelve personnel.
On 24 June 1968, the first personnel completed training and reported in-country Vietnam for duty. There were no boats available. From then until 7 August 1968, the squadron was stationed in Vung Tau, Republic of Vietnam aboard the USS BEXAR, the USS OKANOGON, and the USS INDRA.
On 7 August 1968, the first boats arrived in-country and outfitting began. Readying a boat and its crew for operations averaged ten days. As boats became operational, they were chopped to River Assault Squadron THIRTEEN operating in the Vam Co – Soi Rap Rivers. River Assault Squadron FIFTEEN’s boats participated in riverine operations in the Rung Sat Special Zone and in the area just southwest of Saigon while attached to River Assault Squadron THIRTEEN. During this period, Commander River Assault Squadron FIFTEEN spent two tours of temporary additional duty as Commander River Assault Squadron NINE.
It was not until 29 September 1968 that units of River Assault Division 151 participated in their own independent operation. Commander River Assault Squadron FIFTEEN and Commander River Assault Division 151 and his division participated in two operations in the Mang Thit – Nicolai Canal from 19 Sep to 1 Oct and from 5 to 7 Oct 1968. During these operations, the squadron supported the 9th ARVN Division and local Regional and Popular Forces. Action and contact with the enemy was sparse. The highlight of this operation was the successful defoliation of an area heretofore used by the Viet Cong for storage and regrouping.
River Assault Division 152 was completing outfitting on 9 October when River Assault Division 151 participated in a landing on the Song Vam Co Tay in support of the 7th ARVN Division. This one day operation netted one Viet Cong killed in action and several enemy weapons captured.
On 10 October 1968, Commander river Assault Division 151 and his River Assault Craft were detached for independent duty in the Saigon “Rocket Belt” area.
Commander River Assault Division 151, in conjunction with the 3/39th U.S. Army Infantry Division, operated from Nha Be and in the area of Can Giouc. River Assault Division 151 also operated with local Regional Forces participating in many troop insertions, RECON in force missions, Riverine Assault Reconnaissance Element patrols, Starlight and Eagle Float operations. From 10 October to 6 November, several river assault craft of River Assault Division 151 were continually engaged in some form of operation. On 16 October, the division supported a 36 person MEDCAP team in eastern Long An Province and later moved south of Can Giouc to ambush some Viet Cong who had been spotted. Results: two Viet Cong killed in action and a Hoi Chan. On 19 October, ATC 151-1 captured a Viet Cong prisoner, the first for the boats. From 22 to 24 October, the division engaged in search and destroy missions throughout Long An Province, resulting in one Viet Cong killed in action, two Viet Cong prisoners of war, many bunkers destroyed and many assorted weapons captured. The night of 27 October marked the time River Assault Division 151 began conducting night ambushes. The river assault craft were credited with most of the resulting KIAs. The morning of 31 October, “Charlie” finally retaliated by ambushing the river assault craft south of Can Giouc with rockets. ATC 151-13 took four B-40 rocket hits resulting in two USN and fourteen USA wounded. The river assault craft successfully suppressed the ambush, but damage to the enemy could not be determined. The night of 1 November found the river assault craft on night ambush stations, which netted fifteen Viet Cong killed in action. “Charlie” got his dander up on 2 November and ambushed the boats again, wounding two U.S. Army troops. The remainder of the time was spent in continuing operations of the same nature. The Viet Cong ambushed the river assault craft on 17 November, wounding one USN. Operations were terminated on 24 November 1968, and the division returned to the Mobile Riverine Base at Can Tho.
River Assault Division 152 was initiated into battle on 13 October. Supporting the 6/31st of the 9th Infantry Division and Regional forces, an attempt was made to capture a Viet Cong Province Chief in Donh Luong Province. The Province Chief slipped away, but four Viet Cong were killed. 22 October found River Assault Division 152 supporting the Vietnamese Marine Corps’ 4th Battalion in western Thoung Dinh Province, conducting a search and destroy mission. A Viet Cong District leader, a squad leader and a tax collector were captured.
On 12 October, the Command Headquarters were shifted to the USS NUECES (APB-40). After a period of stand down, River Assault Division 152 embarked on the longest operation yet made by the Mobile Riverine Force. Commencing 1 November and lasting to 22 November, River Assault Division 152, with assorted River Assault Squadron THIRTEEN boats supported the 4th Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps in conducting search and destroy missions in Kien Giang Province. This action was part of an overall push by Commanders, Task Force 115, 116, and 117, known OPERATION SEA LORDS. The river assault craft were ambushed on six different occasions by the Viet Cong. Material damage was slight. Eight USN were wounded the first three days of the operation. The river assault craft participated in many riverine assault Reconnaissance element patrols and also used the 105mm Howitzers in indirect fire support for the first time. Results of the first phase were twenty Viet Cong killed in action and many weapons captured, including a 75mm recoilless rifle and an 82mm mortar. On 9 November, the center of operations shifted to an area known as the “Three Sisters”. There was no significant contact during the period 9-14 November 1968. On the 16th, the river Assault craft moved to western Chuong Thien Province where the Vietnamese Marines accounted for eight Viet Cong killed in action and two Viet Cong captured. The river assault craft, maintaining blocking and interdiction stations and conducting Riverine Assault Reconnaissance Element patrols, were credited with ten sampans destroyed. Two Viet Cong ambushes resulted in minor damage to an ASPB. The suppressive fire from the boats netted one Viet Cong killed in action. As a climax to the long operation, “Charlie” said good-bye to the river assault craft with an eight round mortar attack. There were no casualties to the river assault craft.
On 5 December, River Assault Division 152, with the 4th Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps, moved to the twin rivers area of southern Chuong Thien Province for one of the squadron’s most rewarding operations to date. The six day operation netted fifty-five Viet Cong killed in action, thirteen tons of captured rice and several tons of captured arms and ammunition. Among the arms were included seven heavy AA machine guns, three LAW’s, a 57mm R/R, 221 B-40 rounds, and 390 pounds of TNT. The boats had 75 B-40 rockets fired at them in fourteen separate ambushes. Only five hits were made (two of which failed to explode) with four USN wounded. On 12 December, River Assault Division 152 returned to the Mobile Riverine Base for stand down.
On 24 December, the boats of river Assault Divisions 151 and 152, with the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, Vietnamese Marine Corps, commenced a new phase of OPERATION SEA LORDS, pushing into a section of southwestern Kien Giang Province where no government forces had entered in over five years. The area proved particularly difficult to subdue, as the Marines were unable to maintain contact with the Viet Cong and the boats were subjected to a number of highly accurate ambushes. A total of 36 River Assault Squadron FIFTEEN and THIRTEEN personnel were wounded in the course of the fourteen day operation. The squadron could claim the record for the longest sustained ambush as a result of a Viet Cong multi-company action on New Years Eve that extended three kilometers and lasted over an hour. The boats returned to the Mobile Riverine Base on 6 January after having been ambushed 10 times. The operation results included fifteen Viet Cong killed in action and sixteen captured, along with a large hospital complex destroyed and several hundred pounds of medical supplies captured. Commander D.R. DIVELBISS relieved Commander DEAL as Commander River Assault Squadron FIFTEEN on 29 December while in the area of operations.