On 3 October 1966 members of the newly formed River Assault Squadron NINE reported to Naval Amphibious Base, Coronado, California to commence training. After a week of classes concerned with introducing the personnel to the mobile riverine concept, a one week school of counter insurgency was completed. The next phase of training was conducted at Whidbey Island, Washington, where squadron personnel went through intensive survival, escape and evasion training tailored to meet the demands of survival situations in southeast Asia.
On 1 November 1966 River Assault Squadron NINE was commissioned at the Naval Amphibious Base in Coronado, California. San Diego would serve as the Squadron’s home port. The new squadron had a complement of eight (8) officers and nine (9) enlisted staff members with a programmed complement of three hundred and fifty-five (355) men assigned to fifty (50) boats. The original squadron organization was set up in the following manner:
LCDR C. L. HOROWITZ, USN
Chief of Staff
LT. M.R. WILLENBUCHER, USN
ENS W. A. MACKAY, USN
Commander River Assault Division 91
LT C. H. SIBLEY II, USN
Chief of Staff RAD 91
LTJG A. F. BREININGER, USN
Commander River Assault Division 92
LT A.H. DINGE, USN
Chief of Staff RAD 92
LTJG R. A. COLOMBO, USN
The squadron proceeded to Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo, California for training. The training consisted of small boat handling and proved to be very effective. Training was conducted in waterways very similar to those in the Mekong Delta of the Republic of Vietnam where the squadron would soon conduct combat operations. Formal training at Vallejo ended on 16 December 1966 and squadron personnel began preparations for their deployment to combat operations in the Republic of Vietnam on 4 January 1967.
On 4 January 1967 River Assault Squadron NINE deployed for Combat Operations in the Republic of Vietnam. The newly formed squadron was under the command of LCDR C. L. HOROWITZ who had a staff of three (3) officers and nine (9) enlisted men. In the first month of combat operations the squadron was to utilize only one of the two River Assault Divisions that made up the squadron. River Assault Division NINETY-ONE, composed of two (2) officers and one hundred and thirty-five (135) enlisted men, would conduct operations in Vietnamese Navy boats until their complement of 25 assault craft arrived in-country. River Assault Division NINETY-TWO would bring the squadron to full strength with its arrival two months later.
The squadron established its base onboard the USS WHITFIELD COUNTY (LST-1169) after its arrival in the Republic of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. Serving as a temporary support ship, WHITFIELD COUNTY was anchored in Vung Tau Harbor one mile from the city of Vung Tau.
During the training period the squadron was divided into two segments. The first segment commenced training with the U. S. Army’s 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, utilizing Vietnamese Navy assault craft. Simultaneously the second segment underwent training as observers aboard Vietnamese Navy RAG boats at Can Tho and My Tho. This training would soon pay dividends as the squadron reassembled to conduct its first combat operation.
Acting in support of the 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 9th Infantry Division, River Assault Squadron NINE prepared to go into combat at 0800, 16 February 1967. Operation River Raider ONE in the Rung Sat Special Zone marked the first Army/Navy riverine assault operation since the Civil War campaigns in the Mississippi Valley. This operation failed to produce any significant contact with the enemy but it did establish the fact that the navigable waterways in the Republic of Vietnam had changed from an enemy resupply asset to an Allied avenue of attack.
The arrival of River Assault Division NINETY-TWO on 28 February paved the way for more extensive combat operations. The planning for these operations was conducted in a series of joint meetings by Army and Naval officers. The Riverine Force was scheduled to make a series of strike operations in the Mekong Delta’s Rung Sat Special Zone during the month of March. Although these operations would fail to gain any decisive victory over the communist insurgents, the end of March would find the Army/Navy team welded into a hard-hitting riverine strike force.
The operations in March also marked the first test of the squadron’s first shipment of assault boats. They participated in their first combat operations on 18 March 1967. The new craft proved to be better armored and armed with a wider assortment of weapons then the older Vietnamese Navy RAG boats.
The squadron, along with 10 of the new assault craft shifted its base of operations to Dong Tam on 10 April 1967. Initial operations from Dong Tam commenced on 12 April in support of 3rd Battalion, 47th Infantry and 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry. Squadron operations were primarily of the quick reaction type. Taking advantage of hard intelligence gained from agent reports, elements of the squadron embarked company-sized reaction forces at Dong Tam and transported them to various locations along the My Tho River and connected waterways. The assault craft conducting these operations provided resupply and both direct and indirect fire support to the infantry units.
After about four months of constant operations, squadron boats ran into their first real test on 15 May in a multi-battalion operation west of Dong Tam in the Cai Nay and Cai Be districts of Dinh Tuong Province. The River Assault Squadron NINE craft in support of the Army units were utilized primarily in preventing Viet Cong from evading Army search and destroy drives by depriving them of the use of the narrow waterways of the province. The continuous patrols instigated by the boats along strategic canals proved to be of great detriment to the Viet Cong. To regain the canals they launched a series of rocket attacks against the boats. The assault craft withstood each attack and in each instance suppressed the enemy fire. It was a satisfying operation for the squadron and resulted in a decisive victory over elements of the Viet Cong 514th Local Force Battalion.
This major contact was but a promise of things to come as the squadron commenced operations in the Viet Cong-infested Long An Province in early June. Again acting on agent reports, River Assault Squadron NINE, operating in conjunction with other elements of Task Force 117, commenced an operation into eastern Can Giouc district of the province. River Assault Squadron NINE was acting in support of 3/47th Infantry and 4/47th Infantry. Soon after the insertions of these units at their designated beaches on 19 June 1967 the assault craft began to receive light to moderate small arms and automatic weapons fire. The craft returned this fire and managed to relieve pressure both from themselves and the Army units they were supporting.
At about 191430H LT A. C. MARANO, Commander River Assault Division 92, reported that his monitor had been hit by a B-40 rocket, his 40MM gun was damaged and that he and three members of his crew were wounded. CCB 92-1, the squadron’s communications and command boat, went to the aid of the disabled monitor. After the two assault craft had established fire superiority in the area Armored Troop Carriers 92-7 and 112-8 were beached near the Army units’ position and members of these two boats went into the field to aid and evacuate wounded even though the area was still under heavy enemy fire.
After insuring that all the wounded personnel were removed from the area, LCDR C. L. HOROWITZ continued coordinating units in the battle area to insure proper utilization of the assault crafts’ weapons. At about 1800H he was wounded while scouting the narrow stream for night stations. LCDR HOROWITZ completed his coordination efforts and then turned the squadron over to LT A. C. MARANO before being MEDEVACED from the area. LT MARANO directed the squadron in effective and deadly fire support of the Army units throughout the night.
During the period of this operation there were 15 U. S. Navy personnel wounded in action. However, this action again served to prove both the ruggedness and reliability of the boats and the men of River Assault Squadron NINE. The direct hit of enemy rockets, small arms, and automatic weapons did not stop units from completing assigned missions.
The next major encounter with the Viet Cong occurred during Operation CORONADO V. Prior to this operation captured papers and statements by prisoners of war indicated that the 261, 263 and 514 Viet Cong Battalions were in the area of southern Dinh Tuong Province. The enemy strength was established at approximately 1500 men. The task of reducing this enemy force was assigned to Task Force 117.
River Assault Squadron NINE acted in support of 3/47th Infantry and landed the units at its assigned beaches on 28 July 1967. After inserting their troops the assault craft quickly established blocking stations. These patrols continued throughout the night and into the next day with only sporadic sniper fire being received by the boats.
The curtailment of river traffic by the assault craft reduced the combat effectiveness of the Viet Cong battalions to such a degree that they were forced to launch an attack in the early hours of 29 July. Monitors 91-1 and 91-3, while providing direct support to the Army units from their blocking stations, were hit repeatedly by rocket, recoilless rifle and automatic weapons fire. Monitor 91-3 suffered nine personnel casualties and Monitor 91-1 suffered eleven. The seriously wounded were MEDEVACED using the newly installed helicopter platform mounted on Armored Troop Carrier 92-4. This speedy evacuation played a direct role in the wounded personnel’s recovery and subsequent return to duty.
LT C. H. SIBLEY, Commander River Assault Division NINETY-ONE, directed more assault craft into the battle zone to come to the assistance of the beleaguered monitors. Monitor 91-2 and ATC 91-10, part of the relieving force, received direct rocket hits after arriving at the scene of action. Despite these new casualties the assault craft soon forced the silencing of enemy weapons. This forced cessation of enemy fire lasted until the following day. Small arms fire and one recoilless rifle round were directed at the boats on their transit back to the Mobile Riverine Base.
The heavy enemy fire had accounted for 22 men of the squadron being wounded but once again River Assault Squadron NINE had overcome all obstacles and completed a successful mission. Approximately 300 detainees were picked up by River Assault Squadron NINE units and unknown but probably high number of enemy could be attributed to the guns of the Squadron.
The steadily increasing pace of combat operations continued into the month of September. On 15 September 1967 units River Assault Squadron NINE, acting in support of 3/47th Infantry, participated in Operation CORONADO V in Long An Province. Although this operation was conducted in a similar manner to those previous months, troop insertions, blocking stations and gun fire support, its success was spectacular. During this engagement approximately 210 insurgents were killed, 150 wounded, and over 1000 of their weapons captured.
Moving into the month of October the Mobile Riverine Force marked another first. A M-132-Al flame configured armored personnel carrier was shoe-horned into an ATAC of River Assault Division NINETY-TWO. Tests were initiated and the results were excellent. This weapon would prove to be a great asset in future combat operations. It would give yeoman service as a destroyer of offensive bunkers.
This weapon was first put into play on Operation CORONADO VII (21-23 October) in the Rung Sat Special Zone. This operation was conducted to provide security to the Republic of Vietnam Lower House election conducted 22 October. The security provided by units of River Assault Squadron NINE and other elements of River Assault Flotilla ONE allowed 83.2 percent of all registered voters to move to the polls without incident. Numerous civilians reported that the presence of U. S. boats on the waterways of the district was a significant factor in providing reassurance to the voters. This indicates that extensive operations conducted by the Mobile Riverine Force in the district during the month were very successful in undermining the Viet Cong influence in the area.
In November plans were made for Operation CORONADO IX in the Viet Cong base areas 470/471 in western Dinh Tuong/eastern Kien Phong provinces. This operation area was initially targeted because of attack on PBR’s (Patrol Boat River) in the area.
In order to implement all phases of CORONADO IX the Mobile Riverine Base, composed of three shallow draft barracks ships, one support ship, and one repair ship, had to be relocated to the vicinity of Sa Dec. This marked the deepest penetration the Mobile Riverine Base had made into the heart of the Delta.
A series of two-day strike operations were initiated from the MRB into the nearby enemy infested waterways and then discontinued as the enemy showed a marked desire to avoid contact with the riverine force. The MRB relocated to Dong Tam at the close of the strike missions and River Assault Squadron NINE was soon teamed with units of River Assault Squadron ELEVEN and deployed on the last phase of CORONADO IX. The primary mission of this operation was to clear the Xang Canal of obstructions; this canal had been closed since 1964 by a series of barriers constructed by the Viet Cong.
The plan of action was to insert one infantry battalion at strategic points along the canal to provide security for demolition experts as they destroyed the obstructions. The assault craft would once more establish blocking stations and control all water traffic. During the night the patrols received enemy fire as ATC 92-10 and an Army LCM-8 were hit by rocket and small arms fire.
Shortly after completing CORONADO IX the MRB relocated for operations in the vicinity of Sa Dec. On the afternoon of 04 December, a detachment of River Assault Division NINETY-ONE craft under the command of LTJG A. F. BREININGER, Chief Staff Officer of the division, encountered heavy ambush on the Rach Roung. Although several RAD 91 sailors were wounded in the battle, the boats suppressed enemy fire and decimated the Viet Cong 502 Local Force Battalion.
Elements of the squadron continued to provide support to Army units engaging in two-day search and destroy missions in the Cam Son Secret Zone of Dinh Toung Province for the remainder of the month.
The first year of combat operations for the unique river squadron came to a close with change of command ceremonies conducted onboard the squadron’s Command Communications Boat. On 29 December 1967, CDR. L. H. HAMEL relieved LCDR C. L. HOROWITZ and assumed command of River Assault Squadron NINE. It is perhaps indicative, and in keeping with the squadron’s spirit, that the change of command ceremonies occurred while on combat operations.